Africa: Beijing Conference Follow-up, 06/07/00

Africa: Beijing Conference Follow-up, 06/07/00

Africa: Beijing Conference Follow-up Date distributed (ymd): 000607 Document reposted by APIC

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Region: Continent-Wide Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+

+gender/women+ Summary Contents: This posting contains several reports - from the Flamme on-line newsletter and from the Economic Commission on Africa communications team - on this weeks's UN Beijing +5 Conference, the follow-up on the Fourth World Conference on Women and implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.

For additional reports consult the following web sites:

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5 June : Introducing the Flamme Newspaper

Flame/Flamme is a partnership between APC-Africa-Women and FEMNET (who initiated the network); the Nairobi-based African Women and Child Feature Service; IPS and the Johannesburg-based Gender Links. Formed during the preparations for the Africa Regional Conference on Women, Flame/Flamme aims to promote debate and discussion on gender equality in Africa. This publication is available, in English and French, on the Internet at

FLAME/FLAMME TEAM Co-ordinator: Rosemary Okello-Orlale (Africa Women and Child Feature Service) Managing Editor: Colleen Lowe Morna (Gender Links) English Editor: Lucy Abala (Nation Media Group) French Editor: Nana Rosine Ngangoue (Inter Press Services) Opinion Editor: Muthoni Wanyeki (Kenya) Correspondents: Ferial Haffejee (South Africa), Mercy Wambui (Ethiopia), Hope Kabuchu (Uganda), Wanjiku Gitau (Uganda), Tafadzwa Mumba (Zimbabwe), Pat Made (Zimbabwe), Bernadette Moffat (South Africa), Tuma Abdallah (Tanzania) Electronic Information Dissemination: Jennifer Radloff Editorial Assistant: Zohra Khan Layout: Rebecca Holmes and Ruth Omukhango You can contact the Flame/Flamme team at: 6th Floor Church Centre (opposite United Nations headquarters) 777 United Nations Plaza Tel: (212) 646 227 1344 Fax: (212) 535 227 0873 This paper is produced with the support of the Ford Foundation.




June 6, 2000

NGOs may have been allowed in the General Assembly Plenary but they have once again been excluded from the real action.

After a frustrating time yesterday trying to follow up contentious issues, especially around reproductive health, poverty, debt and globalisation, the NGOs resorted to what they know best-pitching tent along the corridors and trying to lobby their member countries.

NGOs found themselves in the plenary where general debate takes place while the real negotiations take place in two working groups deliberating on reproductive health issues and poverty, debt and globalisation. Despite effectively being out in the cold the NGOs are determined that, come Thursday when the working document will be ready for the plenary, they will have lobbied enough to influence recommendations in the contentious areas.

The one area on which everyone agrees is that commitments made in the Beijing Platform for Action five years ago have not been fully implemented. Beyond this general agreement, additional wording, either inserted to strengthen arguments or to weaken implications, trickles in on almost every area that touches on achievements and obstacles in the implementation of the critical areas of the Platform for Action.

As witnessed in previous UN negotiations in the post-Rio era, the art of reaching consensus, particularly on delicate issues, provides opportunities for uncompromising governments to evoke the sovereign rights of each state to take on defensive positions. Reading between the lines of the 72-page document and the veiled G-77 reluctance to emerge with strong positions is a clear reluctance to make any real move forward. The document proposes to serve the interests of women "in consistency with national laws and development priorities with full respect for the various religions and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of its people".

Take violence against women. The EU proposes a number of additional implementation measures, such as the introduction of effective legislation, protection orders and so on, while the G-77 only proposes to review and revise "where appropriate" existing legislation on violence against women.

While national laws remain wanting and development priorities continue to marginalise women's concerns, hiding behind state sovereignty is the code word for business as usual. Simply put, our governments do not want to be pinned down to specifics, and do not want to be held too accountable.

Still on violence against women, text referring to "thorny" issues such as reproductive and sexual rights remain in brackets. The section on women and health contains a proposal for the inclusion of "sexual and reproductive rights as adopted in the ICPD report as well the need for increased attention to sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS) infection among women and girls". This issue, identified in the ICPD report as requiring further action, is now being disputed.

Still contentious are all references to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS, reference to a "rights based" approach to health and health care for women, the right to enjoy high standards of sexual and reproductive health, issues on safe and responsible sex practices in negotiating sex, behaviour and relations, healthcare education and the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health information, education and services.

Says a delegate from Togo: "I think delegates forget that words such as "forced marriages, female genital mutilation, marital rape and incest which are disputed in the document, are at the very centre of people's lives." The NGOs report that most of the areas that are raising hot debate are at the very core of women's survival, especially in Africa.

Examples of other issues under contention behind closed doors are:

* Women and Poverty: A proposal by the G-77 to include the negative consequences of globalisation and structural adjustment programmes, high costs of external debt servicing and declining terms of international trade that have impacted heavily on women is being debated behind closed doors;

* Education and training of women: Lack of political will, commitment and the inappropriate application of structural adjustment policies that have severely affected the education sector is disputed.

* Women and Health: Inclusion of "sexual and reproductive rights as adopted in the ICPD report as well the need for increased attention to sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS) infection among women and girls" as an area requiring further action is disputed.

All reference to sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS, reference to a "rights based" approach to health and health care for women, the right to enjoy high standards of sexual and reproductive health, issues on safe and responsible sex practices in negotiating sexual activities, behaviour and relations healthcare education and the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health information, education and services remains contentious.

* Women and armed conflict: The importance of a gender-sensitive application of international human rights and humanitarian law, reduction of availability and use of anti-personnel land mines. Pending discussion are issues relating to economic sanctions, development of high tech armaments decline in international assistance to countries in developing countries hosting large refugee populations and the provision of needs of internally displaced women and children. Under-representation of women in peace-keeping and lack of gender awareness in peace-building, post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction is pending discussion.

* Women and the economy: Paternity leave and parental leave for sick children, equal access or rights to ownership of and control over land and other forms of property and to inheritance in relation to national legislation is disputed.

The status of this document at this very late stage is surprising to those who went through the same debate in the ICPD and World Social Summit for Development process. But where issues of culture and religion are concerned, debate over wording is necessary as it sends an important message-issues of women's equality are not welcome.

A major concern is the lack of specific recommendations touching on resource allocation to accelerate the implementation process. Unless delegates are pinned down to specific approaches and solutions, laws will continue to remain unchanged and policies remain undeveloped to advance the cause of women.


ECA Press Release No 05/2000


UNHQ, New York, 05 June 2000 (ECA) -- Five years after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, some 10,000 representatives of governments, the United Nations system, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations are attending a five-day meeting that started today to assess implementation of the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action for the Advancement of Women.

The Special Session on "Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the 21st Century", being held from 5 - 9 June 2000 at UN Headquarters in New York, is being convened by the United Nations General Assembly, to review progress made in the implementation of each of the 12 critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform of Action.

The African presence is strong, and includes Tanzanian as chair of the session. Other speakers on this first day of the Session on progress made in their respective countries in implementing the Platform for Action included Namibia, Gabon, Tanzania, Tunisia, Angola and Ghana.

In her statement, Nana Agyeman Rawlings Chairperson of the Ghanaian delegation and First Lady of Ghana, insisted that although the majority of rural, grassroots women in Africa and elsewhere were not even aware that the Session was taking place, their needs and concerns should be the main focus of the meeting.

The Special Session will review and share best practices, positive gains, lessons learned, and modalities for overcoming obstacles and constraints. It will consider further actions and initiatives for achieving gender equality in all walks and levels of life in the new millennium.

Parallel to the special session, special forums, seminars, and panels have been organized -- including one on micro credit that featured Hilary Rodham Clinton, First Lady of the United States. Ms. Clinton strongly supported the idea of small loans and grants as a proven, humane method capable of bringing about major changes in the lives of women worldwide and uplifting families and communities.

Addressing the parallel opening of the NGO gathering on the occasion of the Beijing + Special Session, UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan said that the meeting was among the most important that would take place in this Millennium year. "Its outcome will not only be crucial to the rights and lives of women everywhere, it will also be crucial to the achievement of the goals I have asked the world's leaders to support at the Millennium Summit on behalf of all the world's peoples".

Mr. Annan said that although progress has been made in implementing the Beijing Platform, there was still a long way to go. "Just as the Platform for Action could not have been drafted without you, it cannot be implemented without you," he stressed. "We need your energy, expertise and extraordinary spirit to move it forward, to demonstrate that empowering women not only means better lives for women, it means better lives for everyone on the planet - men and women alike."

The Platform is a consensus document emanating from all regions of the world. It details concerns in the 12 summary areas as well as delineated modalities -- including establishment of national machinery for advocating policy, coordinating and monitoring action, and institutionalizing the concept and practice of gender equality and gender mainstreaming in all plans, programmes and projects, at all levels.

As many Member States have pointed out, the Platform has functioned as a road map for action to raise the status and participation of women. Speakers in plenary are addressing gains have been made in implementing the Platform, challenges and obstacles continue to impede an improved quality of life for women and girls, and the need for social, political and financial recommitment to accelerated action for full implementation of the Platform.

The 12 critical areas of concern include: women and poverty, education and training for women, women and health, violence against women, women and armed conflict, women and the economy, women in power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, human rights of women, women and the media, women and the environment and the girl-child.


Daily updates by the ECA Communication Team, related links on the Special Session on Beijing + 5 and the contents of a new CD-ROM launched by the African Centre for Women are available on the ECA Website at:

For more information about ECA's participation in the Special Session, please contact: Lorna Davidson, Sophia Denekew or Mercy Wambui C/o Regional Commissions New York Office 31st Floor UN Secretariat New York Tel: +1-212-963-6905 Fax: +1-212-963-1500 Email:



Rosemary Okello and Ferial Haffajee

June 6, 2000

With the attendant United Nations pomp and ceremony, secretary-general Kofi Annan yesterday opened the Beijing+5 conference before an audience of over 7 000 women from every corner of the world. But beneath the calm conference exterior, a cauldron is bubbling as key issues of contention emerge.

African women, organized under the aegis of the G77 group of countries, are pushing for a tougher line on the impact of globalisation. Demanding debt relief, the African lobby wants the conference to consider the structural aspects of female poverty.

This lobby also wants considerably beefed-up commitments for women and decision-making. Some delegates argue that it's time to push for equal representation of male and female politicians at all levels of governance. "Without decision-making power, you can't accomplish anything," believes Sarah Longwe, the chairperson of FEMNET. The conference is likely to hear calls for a 50:50 gender representation a step up from the 30:70 ratio for political representation that is the accepted benchmark.

Because the new world is also characterized by supranational authorities like the United Nations, the Bretton Woods Institutions and the World Trade Organisation, African lobbyists want the conference to plan ways to make these institutions more accountable and representative. "We believe there should be gender parity in peace-keeping and peace-making missions," says Kenyan delegate Nish Muthoni-Matenjwa.

African women are also on the defensive against attempts to rollback progress against basic patriarchal practices. "I think delegates forget that forced marriages, female genital mutilation, marital rape and incest which are disputed in the document are at the very fibre of peoples lives in Africa," said a delegate from Togo.

The conference is also divided on how it should set itself goals. African NGO's say that concrete outcomes in the form of quotas are essential and must not be trumped by nebulous goals. But groupings like the European Union favour more loose commitments and pledges.

Conference chairperson Christine Kapalata admitted yesterday that she is presiding over a fractious house. "Many paragraphs [on the conference outcome declaration] remain outstanding," she told delegates. "But with genuine political will and understanding, I am confident consensus will be reached."

It's going to be a long road between now and Friday when the conference declaration must be passed. Part of the reason for tough negotiations is that while it's been only five years since Beijing, the world has changed fundamentally. Globalisation has trailed what Annan calls a "complex, inter-connected world" in its wake. It's a more unequal world in which the benefits have, as yet, yielded themselves only in the developed world.

HIV/Aids has reached pandemic proportions in Africa and women are at the coalface of the disease yet the conference will again face an onslaught on women's reproductive rights. There is an attempt to water down draft commitments to sexual and reproductive rights because religious conservatism is a growing force in Africa, Asia, South as well as Latin America. This same force is attempting to take back ground covered on the right to sexual orientation.

Francoise Girard, senior programme officer at the International Health Agency says some UN member countries are backtracking on consensus reached on reproductive rights in the previous UN conferences. " We are tired of countries reaching consensus on reproductive rights issues. This time round we want concrete measures taken to ensure that women enjoy their reproductive rights."

According to Girard, reproductive health issues have been bracketed throughout the working document. She is particularly angry that a paragraph guaranteeing the youth access to information on reproductive rights has been bracketed, despite the fact that HIV/Aids is ravaging the youth.

Few countries agree with the rollbacks, but there is a danger that the end of this meeting will achieve few concrete measures because delegates will be defending a minimalist position. Moreover, NGO's lobbying for reproductive rights are excluded from the working groups where key negotiations take place.

Yesterday morning, members of the Coalition for Health and Rights made up of 66 women's organizations, were spotted in their purples scarves in the corridors outside Conference Room 6 furiously lobbying member countries.

Referring to the position taken by the Holy See and Nicaragua, which have led the attack on reproductive rights, Girard vowed: "Expect that women will get together and prevail upon them. We cannot wait any longer."


Message-Id: <> From: "APIC" <> Date: Wed, 7 Jun 2000 08:26:25 -0500 Subject: Africa: Beijing Conference Follow-up

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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