Looking Beyond Beijing
BY JACK FREEMAN
It is a paradox. Women do not have complete equality with men in any country on earth, not even in Scandinavia and that is beyond dispute.
In the United States not long ago, you may recall, an effort to pass a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women legal equality was defeated despite a vigorous campaign to enact it.
And yet at the Fourth World Conference on Women the concept of equality for women was applauded, endorsed, ratified and enshrined by representatives of every government on earth. Indeed, it seemed to be the least controversial point in the whole Platform for Action.
The question is: Why were the nations of the world so willing to preach what they are all so unwilling to practice? Why did they all find it so easy to denounce attitudes and actions that are their very own?
Are we truly going to leave Beijing and enter a brave new world in which women are no longer underpaid, underfed, undervalued, under-represented and under constant threat of violence and abuse, even in their own homes?
Or is there some other explanation? Can it be that the nations of the world felt so free here in Beijing to raise their voices for equality only because they thought nothing else would really be expected of them? After all, for the past 50 years the halls of the United Nations have rung with pledges to keep the peace and yet, as everyone knows, there is still no peace.
Since 1948 we have heard nation after nation voice support for human rights but let's face it, where are human rights not being violated? (Never mind that it was not until 1993 that the world's nations even acknowledged that women's rights are human rights too.)
Every nation is also on record in support of development. At the Beijing Conference, as at all that have gone before, every speaker praised development. And yet the poorest nations of the world keep getting poorer.
While some delegates from the donor nations were in Beijing to "talk the talk" of development and gender, back in their capital cities legislators were voting to reduce budgets for development assistance. Some were even voting despite the global population crisis to reduce their support of family planning programs.
The good news is that the conference has ended; no longer will the nations be able to go on talking about what they could do, or should do, or hope to do, to raise the status of women. All the talking had to stop. Now the action must begin.
Some women's groups attending the conference have warned that they will be monitoring nations' performances and checking them against their promises. Nobody should have any illusions that it will make a difference. After all, peace groups, human rights groups and development groups have been monitoring and watching and reporting on the nonperformance of nations for decades and so what?
Indeed, the nations are almost beside the point. Although the Beijing Platform for Action was negotiated by representatives of national governments, its recommendations cover many "actors," including the media and business even though they didn't participate in the negotiation process.
Regardless, it is not the media that will turn the dream of women's equality into a reality. Neither will it be the private sector. Nor is it the governments of nations or even the United Nations.
If the promise of equality made in Beijing will be kept, it will not be because of what is done by any government. It will only be because of what is done by the world's women. And make no mistake: No matter how much help they may get from other quarters, the truth is that women will have to do it for themselves.
From Earth Times