KASAMA Vol. 24 No. 1 / January-February-March 2010 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Beijing + 15: Global NGO Forum for Women

2010 marks the 15th anniversary of the Beijing World Conference on Women. In recognition of this anniversary, the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, New York, organized an NGO Global Women’s Forum to consider implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The Forum took place on 27 & 28 February 2010, immediately preceding the 54th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. The NGO Global Women’s Forum program included two full conference days commencing with an opening ceremony, and continuing with plenary sessions, panel discussions, and workshops.

Global NGO Forum for Women Beijing +15 - Day 1
by CAROLE SHAW (JERA International)
27 February 2010

Beijing + 15 Logo Over the last few days, New York has seen more diversity and colour than usual arriving through the airports, roads and trains. Bit by bit, like pieces of a giant colourful jigsaw, women representing non government organisations and government organisations from around the world have arrived in New York to participate in the Global NGO Forum for Women and to participate in the Commission on the Status of Women 54th Session (CSW 54). Many women faced up to 30 hours delay in flights to get to New York. This is the major policy making forum for women at the United Nations and this year is the 15-year review of the Beijing Platform for Action, a groundbreaking treaty for advancing the situation of women globally.

This year, being a review year, there is a 2-day Global NGO forum prior to the 2-week CSW 54th .

Despite flight delays, jetlag, snow, sleet and transport challenges, over 700 women from around the world attended the opening day of the Global NGO Forum for Women. This year there are approximately 50 Australian women from various NGO’s attending CSW. Many have been extremely active in the national review and have attended a series of meetings, teleconferences and strategising before coming to this event.

Representatives from various Australian NGO’s gathered at the lunch break to share information and to further strategise on how to raise specific issues with NGO delegates and governments alike.

A separate forum for girls and young women was held in a parallel session as part of this Global Forum. I don’t know how many attended this event coordinated by YWCA and WAGGGS [Young Women’s Christian Association and World Association of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides].

The Forum began with welcome remarks from Vivian Pender, Chair of NGO/CSW, New York, who outlined the structure of the conference. The MC, Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, introduced the Keynote Speaker, Dr Sima Samar, an inspiring woman who is currently the Chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. Dr Samar acknowledged all the women and men in the room and shared experiences of coming from a country where actions, platform, resolutions do not have much meaning for women. She highlighted with examples the situation for women in Afghanistan and discussed how culture and religion have been used to stop women’s participation in society, in some cases women [are] deemed to be objects and not human beings. The dire situation where women and girls may not have access to education or health care and where access to justice is taboo for many. Honour killings and child marriages are considered private matters of the family and the state do[es] not intervene.

Afghanistan has signed CEDAW [Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women] without reservations. “We have to make better space for our daughters and our granddaughters …we have not finished our jobs …” One way to change this is to inform women of their rights, so they can know and defend their rights. She called for solidarity and support for women and girls in Afghanistan. Dr Samar stated the importance of independent human rights agencies to monitor and act on women’s rights violations. As she left the stage to a standing ovation, women in the room were left with many issues to contemplate.

Following the keynote speech, panel members were invited to talk on “Advancing Women’s Rights, 1975–2010: What The World Conferences on Women Accomplished”. The prominent panel of Patricia Licuanan, Charlotte Bunch, Gertrude Mongella and Marta Benavides (standing in for Virginia Vargas) and chaired by Jan Peterson, highlighted advances and challenges…

Gertrude Mongella spoke first and acknowledged those women who were the building blocks for women’s development and acknowledged the strength of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) as a process and series of commitments that keep the global women’s movement working together for common aims. Gertrude was the Secretary General of the UN Conference on Women in Beijing, China and [was the founding] President of the Pan-African Parliament. She outlined advances in the African region, Rwanda at 57% of women in parliament, how most girls are in primary school education and many more are now attending secondary education. She discussed new issues: terrorism, the global food crisis and the oil crisis – the need to keep moving forward on these issues. Gertrude highlighted the accessibility gained by women due to computers and mobile phones. “A computer doesn’t know if you are a woman or a man” and doesn’t differentiate in the way it treats you, she stated. However, Gertrude highlighted that “the gun is still loud and clear in many parts of the world” and money for education and social programs is often re‑routed into gun sales and military arms.

Gertrude used the analogy of the BPFA being as a 15‑year‑old girl who has entered a new phase of life – she is now accepted in many areas and old enough to produce children and to reach a new stage of maturity. How mature has the world become, she challenged. As the challenges change, so has the way in which the BPFA has been used to address the issues. Gertrude Mongella encourages all women to continue working towards equality.

Following Gertrude Mongella was Dr Patricia Licuanan, the President of Miriam College (Philippines) and the trustee of the Center for Asia Pacific Women in Politics. Dr Licuanan spoke eloquently on the importance of partnerships and how, since the BPFA conception, the women’s movement has a better sense of allies, perceived and active. The complex processes in a review year of national, regional and international reviews. Partnerships arise through these processes, non-government and government partnerships can achieve many wonderful things. She highlighted 2 examples from the Philippines. Patricia talked of a need to review gender mainstreaming and how it could actually be working against women. Patricia touched on the new GEAR UN Agency [Gender Equality Architecture Reform Campaign] and the potential of this. She urged that women work… to strengthen the movements and to come from a more mature position in advocacy, she highlighted that tenacity and steadfastness does eventually pay off.

Beijing + 15 Logo Charlotte Bunch picked up the threads presented by Patricia on the new UN GEAR entity. She reflected on how she found herself working closely on this ambitious reform that changes the UN structure. Charlotte discussed the importance of the World Conferences, as a ground for bringing together unlikely partnerships to advance the status of women globally. She highlighted how institutional advances had been made at world conferences - how they brought global attention to issues and platforms that were not part of the mainstream debate. How women and governments come together to bring the issue back home and how World Conferences transformed the women’s movement by highlighting the differences, highlighting conflicts (between north and south) and challenging the debate to be more inclusive of the diversity of ALL women. The growth of a diverse and vibrant women’s movement that grew from these debates and conflicts, a women’s movement that was very present here today in this meeting. How spaces and resources have expanded and restricted over the years, and how world conferences brought women together across geographic and social lines to work on common issues. The challenge is to continue strengthening the women’s movement in the absence of world conferences and to continue the work of breaching intergenerational gaps.

Marta Benavides from El Salvador stepped in at the last minute to present Virginia Vargas’ discussion in Virginia’s absence. Marta highlighted how the UN is an instrument, a tool to bring people together. She highlighted advances in elimination of Violence Against Women and acknowledges the advances of the ECLAC [United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean] regional active plan… However, she reiterated the need to address the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] and support women’s role in conflict, democracy and economic development in this new capitalist environment. She challenged economic growth that was dependent on the continued destruction of ecological areas and natural habitat. Marta also talked about the strength of partnerships and encouraged the women’s movement to seek out younger women and include them in existing networks and support in setting up new networks. She indicated that this could be part of the work of the new GEAR entity.

The session broke for lunch and the video “To Empower Women – Beijing 1995” was shown.

During the lunch break, old friends and new friends came together. The Australian flag was flying at the meeting point for the Ozzie contingent where reflections, strategies and issues were discussed. Off for a quick coffee and into the second part of the session.

Panel 2 “The State of the World’s Women: Patriarchy, Violence Against Women and Girls, Women’s Health & Climate Change” was moderated by Afaf Mahfouz from Egypt. Nyaradzayi Gumbodzvanda General Secretary, YWCA (Zimbabwe) …in an entertaining and thought provoking presentation, started her session by calling for a moment of silence for the sisters who died due to preventable disease, those sisters who died giving life, those sisters who died of HIV/AIDS and those human rights defenders who dared to speak out. …She then celebrated the last 15 years of women engaging with the BPFA and engaging on the journey of women’s Human Rights grounded in the premise for transformation. She celebrated Security Council Resolution 1325 which brought women’s rights into the security agenda. She talked about patriarchy being about power, how power is accessed, enjoyed, manipulated. Nyaradzayi spoke of how patriarchy showed the different standards around men and women – who determines what – ownership of resources, and how patriarchy is a formula for keeping women in the margins of economies. She discussed how women’s human rights should be seen in the paradigm of family and community and the need to address the spaces in which women abide in order for women to life their lives and for women to transform their lives. In talking of institutional transformative structures - having women in governance structures and not just as a reference point.

Following Nyaradzayi, Mahnaz Afkhami used the words of Martin Luther King to say “dream” – dream for a peaceful and just world that allows all people to reach their potential.

It is time for a longer vision, a time to rearrange human relationships to reach the goals of gender equality. She discussed the aspects of culture that hold us all, but which also have the potential to give freedom, and the need for a holistic vision to change relationships. It is time to change.

In the final session of the day, Violet Shivutse a health worker from Kenya discussed the young female face of HIV/AIDS and how change to risk behaviour should be determined in development with the community. Violet spoke of the need to include grassroots women and men in decision making about their own health in an informed and systematic way.

Following this session was an open mike where members had the opportunity to share their issues and comments with those in the forum. As the participants flowed out from the venue, the excitement and suspense was poignant in the air. All were tired, most were inspired. All were engaged.

Global NGO Forum for Women Beijing +15 - Day 2
by CAROLE SHAW (JERA International)
28 February 2010

Day 2 of the Global NGO Forum featured 2 further panels –“Voices from Around the World: Regional Priorities and Action” and “Fulfilling the Promise of Gender Equality, Peace and Development: Women Peace and Security, Strengthening Institutional Mechanisms, World Economic Crisis, Building Women’s Leadership, & the Millennium Development Goals”.

While I missed the morning session due to having to get my UN pass, I heard that Cai Yiping from ISIS International presented extremely well. The morning panel allowed each [speaker] …to present the outcomes from their regional processes. Issues and recommendations from the Asia Pacific NGO Forum Declaration, presented to UNESCAP [United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific] in November, 2009 were shared… It is interesting to note that the Global NGO Forum attracted approximately the same number of women which attended the Asia Pacific NGO Forum - approximately 700 women.

It is at this juncture I will point out some of the practicalities of a forum with over 700 women in attendance. The forum was kindly supported by the Salvation Army who provided a free venue. Given that the balance between male and female was a little weighted towards female, some of the male toilets were given over to the women. Just imagine, in the breaks, the numbers waiting for the toilets….. While this is common practice in many establishments (a queue at the ladies room), these queues allowed an opportunity to meet and talk with women from many different countries and backgrounds. The conversation was stimulating and at times very funny… as women discussed the presence of queues at the ladies room in their own countries….! Little did we know that the queuing for the bathroom was merely a training ground for the next few days when many women would need to queue for up to 5 hours to get their passes into the United Nations building.

During the lunch period, regional meetings were held to compile once again summary information from NGO’s present on the challenges, needs and future actions on key issues in their region. These were later presented back to the audience in summary form.

The speakers in the afternoon panel brought informed insights into good practice examples for strengthening institutional mechanisms and addressing the issue of the world economic crisis.

Following the panel, Lynn Nottage presented a section of her Broadway play “Ruined” - one girl’s story of rape and sexual slavery in the Congo, a reading that both shocked and angered the listeners…

As the end of the forum drew to a close special guests Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women; Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of the UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund], H.E. Mr Garen Nazarian, CSW Chair, and Gertrude Mongella, President of the Pan African Parliament (Tanzania) were invited to the podium to be presented with the Global call to action, a statement drawn from the issues of the women of the world and presented to this illustrious group.

There is no formal linkage between the Global NGO Forum and CSW 54, but in the acceptance of the call to action, each special guest spoke on the importance of NGO participation in the development of policy, and in keeping their governments accountable to the commitments made. (Video of the speeches can be found on the JERA International Face Book page and podcasting of all the four panels can be found at the ISIS International web site.)

In the call to action, Pam Rajput shared with the Global NGO forum the initiative presented at the Asia Pacific NGO Forum where to support the GEAR entity, each woman puts one dollar into a fund that shows, as it grows, that governments need to take account of women and allow funding for women’s projects. As there are over 1 billion women in this world, this would soon reach proportions where governments and UN agencies would need to act and listen.

The session finished with a rendition of “We Shall Overcome” to new words. Conversations continued as women poured out of the auditorium and made their way to the subway and surrounding coffee shops.

This is an edited report that was originally published by Isis International – Manila’s e‑newsletter WE!.

You can contact Carole Shaw at: JERA International, PO Box 289, Kangaroo Ground, Victoria 3097, Australia

Listen to:

Related article:

Listen to:

Listen to: