The ‘awareness’’- based solutions for problems facing women generate a lot of chatter but very little genuine change. The last year was full of online discussion of feminist issues, which help inform the public and give voice to survivors. But raising awareness is only half the story. In order to create an equal world for women, there needs to be real policy change, and lots of it.
Some of the tangible policy goals for the next few decades of women’s advancement will be tabled at the 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which was held at the UN Headquarters in New York from 9 to 20 March.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the famous Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which is considered as a roadmap for empowerment of women and achieving gender equality.
It was during the Beijing Conference in 1995 that former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted as having said that, “women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.”
Here’s a brief look at some of the improvements that have been made for women since the Beijing Declaration.
Education: Since 1995, girls and boys worldwide are enrolling in primary school at almost equal rates. That is a huge step forward. The next step is secondary school, where the gender gap widens again.
Maternal Mortality: In the last 25 years, maternal mortality has dropped by 45 percent, which means that half of the women who survive childbirth today would not have made it in a different time. But there is still more work to do — 800 women a day die from basic pregnancy complications, mostly in the developing world.
Water access: Water is an important issue for women, since in many developing countries girls are responsible for fetching water, a task so time-consuming and difficult that it can keep them out of school or put them in danger of being attacked. Between 1990 and 2010, over 2 billion people gained access to clean drinking water, relieving the burden of water-fetching from girls. Still, in Sub-Saharan Africa, women spend 16 million hours per day getting water.
Leadership: Since 1995, the number of women serving in legislatures has nearly doubled — but that still only translates to 22 percent of politicians worldwide.
Obviously, there is still a lot of work to do, especially when it comes to getting women into leadership roles and stopping violence against women. But the advances in health and education since 1995 have been striking. It means we should take heart — even if there is a lot more work to do, progress is possible.
The brief glimmers of progress that have been made since the Beijing Declaration is evidence that when we commit to global action for women, we actually can move the needle toward greater gender equality. What is needed now is more action.