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2020 marks 25 years of The Beijing Declaration. The document, written 25 years ago, is startlingly relevant today.
A two-week period of debate and discussion in Beijing in the year 1995 proved to be a historic commitment to protect and promote the rights of women and girl children. The Beijing Declaration is built on consensus and progress at numerous conferences and summits in Nairobi, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Vienna, Cairo, Copenhagen, thus making it a holistic and concerted effort at accelerating the implementation of strategies for advancement of women.
A gap of 40 plus years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights points at development in the field of women’s rights and largely at the failure of UDHR to take into account the special needs of particular populations like women and children. The Beijing Declaration dedicated itself to the spirit of determination, hope, cooperation and solidarity to bring into life the human rights of women.
Bringing into action the narrative that women’s rights are human rights, Beijing Declaration aims to advance the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere in the interest of all humanity. It places at the centre the concept of justice and development of women and society by laying commitments for twelve critical areas of concern with institutional arrangements at the international, national and regional level.
The declaration aims to ensure full implementation of inalienable, integral and indivisible rights and fundamental freedoms of women as they are a fundamental force for leadership, conflict resolution and the promotion of lasting peace at all levels. Thus, it can be correctly said that the declaration recognizes the idea that violation of human rights of women distorts the lives of both men and women in society as pointed out by Anne Firth Murray in her book ‘From Outrage to Courage’.
Among the twelve commitments, the commitment to enhance the participation of women in decision making and the process of development by acknowledging the importance of realization of the full potential of women seems exciting. It recognized that women are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development and peace. This idea seems powerful as women are the best pioneers of the women’s movement who can best identify the challenges faced by women and recommend measures for the improvement of the same.
Additionally, the need for women to have access to economic resources highlights the breaking of structural barriers which is crucial for exercising the rights of women. This complements the commitment to promote the economic independence of women by addressing structural poverty. This is the best possible answer to deal with the structurally built public-private divide between men and women.
The most surprising feature of the declaration is to ‘Encourage men to participate fully in all actions towards equality‘. The need to involve human beings in the women’s movement is of paramount significance as it breaks the structural notions and promotes solidarity for the universal assertion of the rights of women.
There is a need to change the paradigm of “either/or” to “both/and” that stems from social hierarchical structures and I believe this commitment to include men in the movement is a step towards realizing this goal. The declaration also points at the significance of a harmonious partnership between men and women for the well-being of the society as well as the consolidation of democracy.
It can be rightly said that the declaration recognizes the need for gender-sensitive policies with developing legislation and policies in diverse and interlinked fields ranging from poverty and health to education and armed conflict. A look at PLATFORM FOR ACTION with its institutional and financial arrangements to fulfil the mission statement and strategies seem difficult yet realistic.
The emphasis on strong and consolidated commitment of governments, UN international organisations, NGOs, civil society and other actors and the commitment of sustainable development with social justice and social development is significant here.
However, the language of the declaration does not seem to address the deeply rooted structural inequality stemming from the patriarchal structure of society. In other words, the declaration does not recognize the idea that universal human rights begin from home as said by Eleanor Roosevelt. There is a need to address this. Nonetheless, the declaration is a historic win with a sustained and long-term commitment for the advancement of women and to meet challenges of the 21st century.
Picture Credits – Getty Images
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