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U.N. Reviews Women's Progress One Year After Beijing
by Jo Freeman

off our backs, October 1996.

On September 9, one year after the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing China, the United Nations sponsored a commemorative celebration "to honour the pioneers of the advancement of women, at the United Nations and in the Non-Governmental Community."
The day began with a Film Forum of excerpts from seven videos and TV shows made about the largest UN conference ever held, including one on disabled women, one in Spanish, and another on the Peace Train from Helsinki to Beijing.
It ended with a panel featuring speeches by UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala. Other speakers were Florence Butegwa, lawyer and human rights activist from Uganda, Judy Woodruff, anchor and senior correspondent of CNN, Nafis Sadik, executive director of the UN Population Fund and Carol Bellamy, executive director of the UN Children's Fund.
In between, the International Women's Tribune Centre celebrated its twentieth year at a luncheon. The IWTC was formed after the First UN women's conference held in Mexico City in 1975 to encourage women's "full participation in shaping a development process that is just, peaceful, and sustainable." It acts as an information clearinghouse and training center on issues of women and development.
Throughout the last year, conferences have been held all over the world to tell women about the Fourth World Conference and to diffuse the message of its Platform for Action. In some countries women have organized to press their governments to fulfill their commitments; in others they have worked to publicize the Platform.
The U.S. gave its response before the Fourth World Conference even began, when President Clinton announced the formation of the Interagency Council on Women in August 1995. It's chair, Donna Shalala, told the recent UN gathering that "For the last year, members of the Council have reached deep into every Federal department and agency -- to uncover new ways -- better ways -- of serving women and children."
However, she only described some in the Department she heads. They were: "insisting that women are part of every clinical research trial"; "increasing our commitment to breast cancer research"; "moving forward to insure that all women have access to good reproductive health and full reproductive freedom"; developing a "female microbicide ... to protect [women] and their families from the scourge of HIV and AIDS"; "teaching young girls to say 'no' to tobacco, drugs, and pre-marital sex and say 'yes' to their health, their education, and their future." She did not identify which programs were a response to the Beijing meeting and which were already underway before the Platform was written.
A review of global progress was released by WEDO, the Women's Environment and Development Organization founded by Bella Abzug. Based on responses from 51 countries and territories, compiled from surveys of governments and Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), WEDO concluded that the world is making progress slowly, largely through changes that don't cost any money.
It identified some of these as: legal measures to penalize family violence in Latin America, a bill to correct gender bias in property rights in Nepal, parliamentary proposals to give women a third of the seats in parliament and state legislative assemblies in India, equal pay policies in some industrialized countries, and efforts to legalize abortion in South Africa.


Sources for further information:
Beyond Promises: Governments in Motion: One Year After the Beijing Women's Conference, Women's Environment and Development Organization, Sept. 1996, 87 pages. WEDO is at 355 Lexington Ave., 3rd floor, New York, NY 10017-6603; 212/973-0335; fax: 212/973-0335; e-mail:; www: http://www/

The International Women's Tribune Centre publishes a quarterly newsletter and its subsidiary, Women, Ink., publishes numerous books. They are at 777 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017; 212/687-8633; fax: 212/661-2704; e-mail: or

United Nations and the Advancement of Women 1945-1996. Order Publication No. E.96.I.9 from UN Publications 2 UN Plaza, Room 853, NY, NY 10017 or phone 212/963-8302/3.


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