Beijing+25: a global vision of gender equality proves elusive

As we approach the 25th anniversary of the watershed 1995 Beijing conference, its visionary blueprint for gender equality, including in the environmental domain, not only has yet to be fully realised, it is under threat in many parts of the world. Joint action is needed from civil society, urges Anke Stock of Women Engage for a Common Future.

This article was originally published in EEB’s weekly newsletter META on 1 October 2019, read it here. Photo credit: EEB.

In 2020, the landmark UN Fourth World Conference on Women, which was held in Beijing will be celebrating its 25th anniversary. This mega gathering, where feminists and women’s rights activists came together, resulted in the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) which, a quarter of a century on, remains a visionary blueprint for the advancement of women’s human rights and gender equality.

By addressing 12 critical areas of concern, the BPfA aimed to remove all discrimination and obstacles to women’s full and equal participation in all spheres of public and private life, as well as to secure their equal participation in economic, social, cultural and political decision-making.

Every five years, governments have come to the United Nations to report back on progress they have made on implementing the BPfA and feminist organisations have come along to hold them accountable.

Despite the progressive nature of the Beijing platform, the world of today remains very removed from the vision set in 1995. We are registering setbacks to hard-fought for women’s rights on an almost daily basis. In particular the populist conservative backlash in various countries is endangering the gains made in recent decades, be it on women’s access to sexual and reproductive rights, to the free choice of a partner, to equal pay and pensions and to legal protection to see their persecutors brought to court.

Elusive gender equality

As already highlighted in the 20-year review report in 2015, not one single country has achieved gender equality. There has been slow and uneven implementation of the BPfA, with serious stagnation and even regression in several areas and regions.

Change has not been deep enough, nor comprehensive enough, and it is not irreversible. Rather the opposite: conservative groups and governments are lending their support to counter-forces to women’s rights, including the promotion of traditional family structures and male authoritarianism. Violence against women’s human rights defenders is on the increase and macho-fascism is on the march.

All together for equality

However, gender equality and the realisation of women’s and girls’ rights are fundamental prerequisites for achieving human rights, peace, security, and sustainable development. This means that gender equality is not just essential to the BPfA, it is also vital to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. That is why we need everyone to stand up for gender equality and the human rights of all women, men and non-binary people.

The coming 12 months are crucial. At the regional and global level, governments will meet to present their progress on the commitments made 25 years ago in Beijing. Civil society will need to mobilise to prevent a further regression and to push for transformative new commitments.

The first important meeting in Europe will be the regional review at the United Nations in Geneva at the end of October 2019, followed by the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW64), culminating in the Generation Equality forums in Mexico City and Paris between May and July 2020.

Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF) will mobilise and engage its network, in collaboration with the Women’s Major Group and young feminists. We plan to organise demonstrations, advocacy meetings and social media campaigns. We welcome support from all EEB partners and beyond.


Learn more about our Beijing+25 preparations here.