The long journey since Beijing & what lies ahead


By Subhalakshmi Nandi and Lyric Thompson

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action that was signed by UN member states at the Fourth UN Conference on Women in 1995 was an important milestone to accelerate gender equality globally. It brought with it the promise of removing barriers impeding women’s equal participation in the economy, politics, social and cultural life on one hand, and of ‘mainstreaming gender’ into broader goals and actions for social justice, peace and development, on the other. Twenty-five years on, we are interrogating how this vision has been met by countries.

The Agenda for Sustainable Development 2030 was critical in the recognition of the limitations of ‘gender mainstreaming’. The twentieth anniversary review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (2015) had already shown that institutional mechanisms, accountability and resourcing for equality and women’s empowerment (GEWE) remained far from what had been envisioned; especially in the context of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination faced by women and girls. By 2015, the focus on gender was present everywhere and yet, it was nowhere. Gender equality advocates thus fought the good fight and ensured that gender appeared as a crosscutting priority, as well as a standalone goal (Goal 5) in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

What does gender mainstreaming look like today?

Today, we have a great opportunity to mainstream gender across social, economic and environmental pillars of the SDGs. We also have momentum across a range of government and development actors for addressing voice, choice and security in the context of the standalone goal on GEWE. We are excited by the announcement of Feminist Foreign Policies by various governments, that we hope will permeate decisions and actions relating to aid, trade and security, as also in their respective domestic policymaking.

At the same time, the world has got more complex in these last two and a half decades. The agenda for GEWE is characterized by growing inequalities and newer forms of marginalization that further put women and girls at a disadvantage, such as in the face of conflict, violent extremism, climate change and disaster. And most disturbing of all, globally there is evidence of reversion on commitments from battles already fought and won.

Where do we go from here?

The twenty-fifth anniversary commemoration of Beijing is a moment of reflection for those of us in the community of feminist researchers, practitioners and gender equality advocates. How we work together to ensure there is no going back on promises made, and that there is indeed forward movement? A large part of this will be determined by the intent and political will of our governments. While we may not have much control over this, we will need to continue the push for countries to increase their commitments to gender equality as an overarching principle and as an adequately funded standalone goal for achieving the SDGs. We also have the formidable task of supporting our governments to help operationalize their existing commitments by conducting rigorous and independent research, and facilitating monitoring, evaluation, and learning. If there is any learning on ‘gender mainstreaming’ that the feminist community has had in the last twenty-five years, it is that ‘constructive engagement’ with policy and policymakers is the way to go.

Finally – and perhaps, most importantly in today’s context – in order to ensure that our research and policy findings and recommendations find resonance and acceptance, we need to create, re-create,  strengthen and be part of wider constituencies and coalitions of gender equality advocates to generate knowledge together with, to work with, and to support each other. This cannot be done without inter-movement dialogue, inter-generational learning and exchange, and applying an intersectional analysis. As a feminist research organization, at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), we are ambitious to do our bit to ensure that that the evidence we generate can uphold and meaningfully contribute towards giving voice and visibility to all of the above, as well as continue to help shape policy, program and movement-building agenda for the years to come.

As such, together with feminist advocates, academics, practitioners and policy experts around the world, we are launching a global campaign to get governments to honor the legacy of Beijing by embracing feminist foreign and domestic policies; significantly increasing their level of investment in women’s rights organizations and movements; and partnering directly with feminist civil society in the development and promulgation of these policies. Together, let us ensure that 25 years on, women’s rights are indeed human rights.

For more information on the global campaign and how to get involved, please contact Mitchell Cahill at mcahill@icrw.org.


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