What do we want from Beijing + 20?

Soon-Young Yoon
Soon-Young Yoon

Madame Chair, Excellencies, and distinguished participants,

What do we want from Beijing + 20? When my husband asked me that question, I had one answer: “Hope”. We must believe that violence against women and girls can end in our lifetimes. We must regain our confidence that patriarchy can be dismantled once and for all.

Next year, many global trends may point to a different conclusion. During the Review and Appraisal of the Beijing Platform for Action, you will hear a lot of sceptism about progress made. Governments and NGOs will lament the negative impacts of the global financial crisis, the slow progress on climate change negotiations, and setbacks of the women’s movement due to fundamentalist backlash. With all the backsliding, we could end up discouraged. And that would be wrong.

Let’s look back to 1975 for inspiration. When governments met in Mexico for the first UN World Conference on Women that year, how many recommendations mentioned “Ministries of Women’s Affairs”? None, because those institutions didn’t even exist.

Did governments debate “gender equality” at the UN Conference on Women in Copenhagen in 1980? No—because the concept of gender did not exist in UN documents until 1995. When CEDAW was first introduced, only a handful of governments had signed it. Today, 188 governments have ratified CEDAW. That is how women like Unity Dow in Botswana won the right to pass on full citizenship to her children. That is why so many family and civil laws are being transformed to support women’s rights in Central Asia and in many developing countries. We, the feminist and women’s movements, made that happen. You—with your intellectual and moral leadership – changed all that.

And during Beijing + 20, we can reach even higher. Looking ahead, there are two events that I’d like to “praise and raise”.

Mark your calendars. In January next year, Iceland and Suriname will host a Men’s Conference to Combat Violence Against Women at UN headquarters. Although some of the events that day will be open to women, most of the participants will be men. It will not be a “He for She” meeting in line with the UN campaign in which men talk about what they can do for women. Instead, it will be a men’s conference about men – a barbershop-like gathering when they let down their hair, so to speak, and talk about what happens in personal as well as public lives.

This innovative UN conference is welcome at a time when the role of men and boys is gaining greater importance in achieving gender equality. Mind you, there is still controversy around the men’s meeting. Some of you gathered here today might be angry that women’s “precious political space” gained at the UN is suddenly given back to men.

I would disagree. We are not giving up space, but putting responsibility where it belongs. As Ambassador Pederson of Norway once put it, “Women never caused violence against women—why are they being asked to end it?”. It is, indeed, time for the majority of non- violent men to speak out to other men about changing their behavior and to reevaluate concepts of masculinity.

Another Beijing + 20 event to watch is Cities for CEDAW. Last Friday, I was in a virtual planning committee meeting  to organize a national conference in the United States. The goal of the campaign is to get 100 mayors in the US to adopt CEDAW as a city ordinance by June 2015, just like San Francisco did in 1998. In this campaign, we must weave women’s human rights so tightly into the fabric of the Sustainable Development Goals that it will be impossible to separate them. If we can get it right in cities, we can get it right for countries.

I’m happy to report that more than 230 US mayors supported a resolution on CEDAW at the last National Conference of Mayors. Atlanta, Baltimore, New York City and Los Angeles are among the cities we are counting on to help move this campaign to a successful conclusion.

For the international feminist and women’s movements, Beijing + 20 is our special moment—a near cosmic convergence of global happenings: the end of the Milleninum Development Goals and the launch of new UN Development Agenda.

The NGO CSW/New York is committed to doing its part. We are a 99.9% volunteer organization that welcomes all of you to next year’s NGO CSW Forum from 9 to 20 March in New York, parallel to the CSW. On Consultation Day on 8 March, our Woman of Distinction Awardee will give a keynote address. The Women of the World music ensemble, youth poets, and filmmakers will also celebrate Beijing + 20. On Friday the 13th, we will have a very lucky Celebration March down Second Avenue, wearing banners for equality, development and peace.

By the Chinese calendar, 2015 is the Year of the Sheep. It will be a time when peace, harmony and reconciliation can mark new beginnings. Starting with this wonderful NGO Forum in Geneva, some of us will travel to other regional consultations in preparation for CSW 59. Let us carry hope in our hearts from place to place like an Olympic torch. Then, when we have won the games are, we can pass on the flame to the next generation.