20 Years after Beijing: Taking a few steps back?

UNwomen-Logo-Blue-TransparentBackground-enUN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is set to be the biggest conference yet solely dedicated to women’s issues. With 900 participants it has set itself as both a celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which is celebrated as a pivotal moment in the progression of women’s rights but also a point of rejuvenation as the process of ensuring gender equality moves forward. Yet, the fault-lines and alliances that have appeared in the run-up to the Conference as well as the potential of push-back against what has stood for 20 years raises a serious points of concern. Could the CSW actually be a moment of regression rather than forward momentum?

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action focused on, amongst other elements, Women and PovertyEducation and Training of Women, Women and HealthViolence against WomenWomen and Armed ConflictWomen and the EconomyWomen in Power and Decision-making, Institutional Mechanism for the Advancement of WomenHuman Rights of WomenWomen and the MediaWomen and the Environment and The Girl-child. It also explicitly recognised the role that women’s advocates and feminists had done to bring these issues to the fore, this acknowledgement was key in understanding the role that women had played in attempting realise their own equality and the price that some advocates paid in doing so.

The growing strength of the non-governmental sector, particularly women’s organizations and feminist groups, has become a driving force for change. Non-governmental organizations have played an important advocacy role in advancing legislation or mechanisms to ensure the promotion of women. They have also become catalysts for new approaches to development.

Together with the Millennium Development Goals, (MDG) which, amongst others, aimed to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education…no later than 2015 and to improve maternal health as well as reducing child mortality, these two platforms were considered concrete steps forward. Whilst the implementation of both the Beijing Platform and the MDGs has left a tremendous amount to be desired, for example if we look here in Ireland we can see serious problems with achieving what was set out in both these documents, the presence of such aims gave advocates a strong grounding on which to base their claims against governments and other organisations.

What has struck many as problematic in the run-up to Beijing is the pre-ordained settlements that appear to have been made prior to the CSW itself as well as the roll back that some are calling for. The Women’s Rights Caucus is reporting that the Holy See (which is a non-member permanent observer state), Indonesia, Nicaragua, Russia and the Africa group of countries are attempting to limit references to human rights in the final text and critically to remove mention of the role feminist groups play in advancing gender equality from the DeclarationThe Holy See is also advocating the removal of the standalone gender equality target proposed in the Millennium Development Goals from the declaration. The Women’s Rights Caucus and have asked organisations to support its call to stop the Declaration from being watered down.

These are serious attempts to undermine the achievements of Beijing and the MDGs. Removing references to feminist groups is a clear assertion that feminism lack legitimacy in advocating gender equality, that less radical voices are required and that ignoring feminist voices is an acceptable stance for a government to take. Such a retrograde step against one doctrine which has been so fundamental in achieving what has been gained by women is astonishing. Failing to acknowledge past achievements and a future role is a clear attempt to re-write the history of women and to prevent feminism from taking a lead in the future. Whilst women are used to being written out of history, such a blatant attempt to do so within a history about women seem preposterous.

The advocacy of the Holy See, itself a form of doctrine, and the significant role it has a religious group above all other religions, who must rely on states to make their cases, ought to be seriously questioned. Allowing one religion to have such a powerful voice against women’s substantive equality when it is completely dominated by one sex and one view of the role of women should be a serious issue for the UN. The Holy See’s alliance against feminism, the use of human rights and gender equality as fundamental part of development needs also to be queried by those within the Church. The World Bank and IMF, which are currently leading a campaign against the gender pay gap, have repeatedly stated that women’s substantive equality within the workforce will be a strong driver of economic development. Whilst we can question what the World Bank and the IMF regard as development and their past roles regarding gender, their acknowledgement that restricting women’s choices in the workforce has a negative impact on a whole country ought to be a stronger voice than the Holy See.

Whilst the final outcome of the CSW remains open it is frustrating that 20 years after Beijing women must again fight to have their history, rights and development acknowledged, a step we perhaps had thought had already been taken.

20 Years after Beijing: Taking a few steps back?

The Rationales for Development for Women and the Urban Poor

Two events earlier this month have put global development at the forefront of the Government’s Irish Aid programme’s objectives for 2013. First, the Department of Foreign Affairs co-hosted, with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a forum on Women entrepreneurs in Developing Countries. This was followed by a forum on global poverty with the World Alliance of Cities against Poverty. Naturally, placing socio-economic rights at the forefront of aid and development discussions should be expected to be at the core of these events, however, far too often and increasingly of late, such debates and programmes have become overshadowed and, perhaps, even hijacked by liberal economic concerns. Such economics concerns increasingly appear to possess more weight and often better articulated than a rights based approach or development as a good in itself to be fulfilled. The focus on women and the urban poor is to be welcomed in both instances, yet the conscious effort to phrase these attempts to bring about substantive change in an economic rather than in a rights/dignity setting is a matter of increasing concern.

The first event, centred on access to education and reproductive health, both also Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Continue reading “The Rationales for Development for Women and the Urban Poor”

The Rationales for Development for Women and the Urban Poor

Making Aid More Effective: Base it on People Power!

Human Rights in Ireland is delighted to welcome this guest post from Hans Zomer, Director of Dochas on the forthcoming Busan Meeting on Aid Effectiveness. Dochas  along with a number of other Irish NGOs will be attending the Busan meeting, if you would like to keep up todate with developments as they happen, you can follow Dochas on Twitter @dochasnetwork and also their blog

At the end of November, leaders of rich and poor countries from around the world will gather in Busan, South Korea, to discuss how they can make aid more effective. For further background on Busan and its importance, particularly as it tries to set a course for Governments on how to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, please see Dochas blog for  our earlier blog posts. The meeting in Busan follows up on early summits on this issue, in particular the 2005 Paris Declaration and the 2008 Accra Agenda for Action, which were organised as aid donors realised that the current donor landscape is not conducive to delivering on the MDGs.

The 2005 summit started from a very technocratic point of view, and formulated a set of principles and mechanisms for greater donor coordination: the idea was to make “overseas aid” more effective. The 2008 summit, rightly, broadened the discussion, and looked at how to get better at bringing about “Development” (not just do aid better), and how to get “civil society” involved. At the Accra summit, Governments realised that to “make poverty history”, the international community must do more to address the root causes of poverty.

Continue reading “Making Aid More Effective: Base it on People Power!”

Making Aid More Effective: Base it on People Power!

Gender Equality Initiatives and Measures to Empower Women must Include Women with Disabilities

In continuing the series of blogs on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in advance of the September UN summit this week’s blog focuses on MDG 3 – Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women.  All of the Millennium Development Goals touch upon essential aspects of women’s lives for example, women specific issues such as maternal health, child mortality and in more general terms vulnerability to HIV/AIDs, poverty and hunger. Empowering women is critical to realising the achievement of the MDGs and this is the premise of MDG 3.

While, this goal is recognised to be vitally important for the overall success of the MDGs, women with disabilities remain invisible within its targets. Disability and gender in the developing world are inextricably linked. Importantly gender is recognised as a risk in acquiring a disability. For example, the risk of women becoming disabled in the developing world is exacerbated by cultural practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM). The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that between 100 and 140 million girls worldwide live with the consequences of FGM.[1] Additional to this, inadequate services in maternal health also increases the risk of women acquiring a disability. The WHO estimates that more than 30 women every minute are seriously injured or disabled during labor, rendering large numbers of women in the developing world physically disabled and socially excluded. Statistics show that for every woman who dies from complications of pregnancy, between 30 and 100 live with painful and debilitating consequences.[2]
Continue reading “Gender Equality Initiatives and Measures to Empower Women must Include Women with Disabilities”

Gender Equality Initiatives and Measures to Empower Women must Include Women with Disabilities

Universal Primary Education must be Achieved for All Children

Education has been described as having the power to transform lives. It broadens people choices, empowers them to participate in social and political life and equips them with skills to sustain their livelihoods.  As world leaders gather at the UN at the September summit to discuss progress of the Millennuim Development Goals (MDG’s), the debate on MDG goal two focusing on achieving primary education for all children will be interesting to follow. The specific target of MDG 2 is to ‘ensure that 2015, children everywhere alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling’.[1] In reviewing statistics on education, there would appear to be a consensus that progress has been made with this goal for example 88% of children of official primary school age were enrolled in primary education in 2007, this was an increase from 83% in 2000; enrolment in sub-Saharan Africa has increased by 15% and 95% of primary age children in Latin American and the Caribbean and 94% in South Eastern Asia are in school. [2]However, despite these promising figures, statistics show that 72 million children worldwide were denied the right to education and based on current trends in a world post financial crisis, it is expected that 56 million children could be still out of education in 2015.[3]
Continue reading “Universal Primary Education must be Achieved for All Children”

Universal Primary Education must be Achieved for All Children

MDG 1: Measures to Reduce Poverty and Hunger must include Disability

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have become the overarching focus for poverty reduction work on the international agenda. The MDG’s first goal is to eradicate poverty and hunger. Within this goal there are specific targets, which include halving the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day; achieving full and productive employment and decent work of all including women and young people and finally halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. While progress towards these targets is being made, stark figures such as World Bank latest estimates show that 1.4 billion people in developing countries were living in extreme poverty in 2005. Poverty remains one of the greatest social injustices and not just because of the deprivation it brings through denial of access to basic rights such as food and clean water, but also the limitations it places on people achieving their potential to provide for themselves and their families.
Continue reading “MDG 1: Measures to Reduce Poverty and Hunger must include Disability”

MDG 1: Measures to Reduce Poverty and Hunger must include Disability

Upcoming Millennium Development Goal summit must include disability

With the timeframe for achieving the Millennium Development Goals drawing nearer (2015), the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders to attend a summit in New York on 20 – 22 September 2010. The vision behind this important meeting is to redouble efforts to meet the goals and now more than ever in the face of recent global economic turmoil there is a need to protect those most vulnerable to poverty. Ireland has a key role to play in this summit in its own right and also as part of the EU delegation.

On June 14th, Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin will attend an EU Foreign Affairs meeting, which will determine Europe’s negotiation position for the United Nations. In advance of this, over recent months there has been a lot of NGO activity as to how best Ireland can advance its commitments made both in our development aid policy and our commitments to international treaty and resolutions. Agencies such as Trocaire held a high level roundtable asking what can the EU and Ireland do to speed up the progress towards achieving the goals? Most recently, 45 Irish development NGOs under the umbrella of Dochas wrote to Minister for Foreign Affairs urging that Ireland honours its commitment to international aid and give an undertaking to make all efforts to reach the agreed target of .07% Continue reading “Upcoming Millennium Development Goal summit must include disability”

Upcoming Millennium Development Goal summit must include disability

Making the Millennium Development Goals Disability Inclusive

The United Nations General Assembly established International Disability Day in 1998 to promote awareness of disability issues. It is observed annually on December 3rd and each year has a different theme to highlight the variety of issues faced by disabled people. These themes range from access to decent work, independent living and arts and culture. For 2009, the International Day is focusing on making the Millennium Development Goals Inclusive of disabled people.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) were developed in 2000 as a strategy for poverty reduction, and has been agreed to by all world institutions to meet the needs of the worlds poorest. However, out of the 48 MDG indicators, there was is reference to disabled people or to disability in general. Nearly 10 years later, it is now widely recognised that the MDG’s cannot reach their targets without addressing the needs of disabled people.

Disability affects a large proportion of the world’s population and disabled people are among the poorest of the poor. It is estimated that 10 to 12 per cent of the world’s population – 670-800 million people have a disability, the majority of whom, approximately 80% live in developing countries. The high level of poverty experienced by disabled people stems from their routine exclusion from social and economic life. This exclusion occurs across the globe, be that in developed or industrialised countries.  For example in Ireland, over 60% of disabled people are not in employment and in developing countries the link between disability and poverty is exacerbated.

Evidence suggests that poverty is linked with disability and that disability may aggravate poverty risk. Persons with disabilities make up 20% of the poorest people living below one dollar a day and lacking access to food, clean water, clothing and shelter (Elwan, Ann 1999).

Continue reading “Making the Millennium Development Goals Disability Inclusive”

Making the Millennium Development Goals Disability Inclusive