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Beijing + 10: Revitalizing Global Feminist Resistance
Robin Lloyd is an editor of Peace and Justice News. Peace and Justice Center, 21 Church Street, Burlington Vermont, 05401; 802/863-2345, firstname.lastname@example.org, <www.pjcvt.org/publications.htm>. This is an edited version of an article which appeared in the April, 2005 issue.
The UN Commission on the Status of Women met from February 28 through March 11, 2005, at the UN headquarters in New York, to review progress made since the landmark Beijing Women's conference in 1995. "Governments worldwide have adopted a piecemeal and incremental approach to implement[ing] (the Beijing platform) that cannot achieve the economic, social, and political transformation underlying the promises and vision of Beijing" warns the Women's Environment and Development Organization, in their report, Beijing Betrayed.
The trends that have created an environment hostile to the advancement of women's rights, the report says, are growing militarization, the dominance of neo-liberal economic frameworks and market-driven policies, and rising fundamentalist movements.
To address these ominous trends, it was concluded that a simple Draft Declaration should be issued, reaffirming the Beijing Declaration; and that our precious time together in New York should be spent in "serious examination of progress on and obstacles to women's rights in the context of the larger global forces, and on looking at the resources and interventions needed for progress."
The Bush administration did their best to torpedo this agenda. At the very beginning of the meeting came its announced refusal to join the consensus that had formed in support of the draft statement issued by the Bureau of the Commission of the Status of Women. It proposed an amendment stating, "We reaffirm that the Beijing Platform and the outcome of the 23rd Special Session of the General Assembly (Beijing +5) do not create new international human rights and do not include the right to abortion." When you consider that abortion is state policy in China, a frequently used sex selective process in India, and a woman's right in the US, this controversial statement was not going to fly. One woman in the audience declared "Bush's proposal is a weapon of mass destruction against women's rights."
Countries across all regions resisted US pressure to break consensus. Finally, the US backed down. The head of the US delegation to the UN's Commission on the Status of Women, Ellen Sauerbrey, told reporters that the delegation would withdraw its proposed amendment. She said she was "pleased that other countries agreed" with the US position and the amendment was therefore not needed.
"The reality is that they heard loud and clear the voices of 6,000 women here saying 'No,' echoing millions of other women worldwide," said Charlotte Bunch, executive director of the Center for Women's Global Leadership < www.cwgl.rutgers.edu>.
The participants didn't allow the Bush administration's attack to derail pro-active agendas. I attended a fascinating seminar on Eliminating Violence Against Women in Muslim society, sponsored by the Women's Learning Partnership (video clips of the conference are available at <www.learningpartnership.org/events/2005/womensmovement.phtml>).
Several panelists explained that the Vatican and some Arab countries support US right-wing initiatives, and stoke the fires of fundamentalism. They share a common understanding: a focus on controlling women's bodies and sexuality, and a commitment to restrict access to family planning. A common theme emerged during the day: "We must be able to interpret the Koran for ourselves. We want to read the texts."
The most critical comments on the status of global feminism came from an Indian feminist, Devaki Jain. Since September 11, 2001, she said, we have seen a resurgence of masculinity. Discrimination against women is universal. "We need to rebuild the feminist movement." Looking back at the vitality of the women's movement that led to the first international women's conference in Mexico in 1975, she was disappointed by the lack of progress. "I deplore that we come here to the UN to do a report card. We have become like accountants. The UN used to be an international space, despite its bureaucracy. Now it is being taunted and molested by you-know-which government. It is losing its dignity; it is a dominated space."
In closing she asked, "How do we revitalize
the international feminist movement?" We should design a
retaking of the UN by showing the universality of women's rights
as human rights. The feminist movement needs to look at the forces
that are destroying what we built, and rebuild through global