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MANILA, Philippines — A Filipino women’s rights advocate opened the 59th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) on Monday, March 9, in the UN Headquarters in New York.
Philippine Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chair Patricia Licuanan, head of the Phlippine delegation, called for the revival of the “spirit” of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BDPA) on gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The main committee then in Beijing was chaired by Licuanan, who helped pave the way for the landmark document.
Herstory of Beijing+20
Licuanan recalled the 1995 conference, attended by over 50,000 people from across the globe, was highly participatory and non-hierarchical.
Advocates, non-governmental organizations, and government representatives from 189 countries debated on women’s issues and policies.
The end of the conference saw the birth of the BDPA, the “most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights,” according to the UN.
The Platform for Action made comprehensive commitments under 12 critical areas of concern:
- Women and the environment
- Women in power and decision-making
- The girl child
- Women and the economy
- Women and poverty
- Violence against women
- Human rights of women
- Education and training of women
- Institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women
- Women and health
- Women and the media
- Women and armed conflict
Licuanan said that the BDPA should serve not only as a guide but also as an inspiration for future steps towards breaking gender barriers.
She also emphasized that gender equality within laws, although vital, are still insufficient in ensuring de facto equality. She encouraged governments to also mainstream gender issues and to properly collect, analyze, and use data as a powerful tool in convincing the public on how serious of a problem gender inequality is.
Before Beijing, the first 3 UN world conferences on women were held in Mexico in 1975, Copenhagen in 1980, and Nairobi in 1985.
The BDPA inspired some of the Philippine’s policies promoting women’s rights such as the:
- Magna Carta of Women Act of 2009 (RA 9710)
- Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 (RA 7877)
- Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act of 2004 (RA 9262)
- Gender-sensitivity trainings among government offices
- Requiring government agencies to devote at least 5% of its overall budget for Gender and Development (GAD) programs
In 2010, Licuanan pushed for a framework for GAD programs among universities and colleges, in collaboration with the Philippine Commission on Women, the Civil Service Commission, the University of the Philippines, Miriam College, and St Scholastica.
This initiative also educated the heads of public and private higher education institutions on gender, women, and development.
Although laws are in place and the Philippines ranked 9th out of 142 counties in terms of gender-fairness in 2014, according to World Economic Forum, CHED emphasized that numerous challenges towards gender equality in all dimensions of life still persist.
Nevertheless, according to CHED, “Filipino women should appreciate the changes and progress toward gender equality over the years and look forward to a future where equality and empowerment is fully achieved for women everywhere.”
According to Licuanan, the BDPA “broke ground” on violence against women, pulling the issue out of the “domestic and private” sphere and onto the public’s consciousness.
Same old challenges
Twenty years after the BDPA, however, the same problems still plague countries worldwide, Licuanan observed, adding that the issue of reproductive health (RH) rights remains “highly controversial with little prospect of consensus.”
As of 2014, the Philippines fared poorly in 4 out of the 7 Milennium Development Goals (MDG) indicators for achieving gender equality and women empowerment.
The Philippines will also most likely fail in improving maternal health, another MDG set to be achieved by the end of 2015.
|PH Maternal Mortality Ratio
(Source: National Statistical Coordination Board)
While the Philippines’ contraceptive prevalence rate increased from 40% in 1993 to 55.1% in 2013, this is still a long way to go from the 100% MDG target by the end of 2015. Meanwhile, the RH knowledge and rights of adolescent girls remain a concern, especially among lower-income families. (READ: Kids having kids)
On the upside, the country’s antenatal coverage has been increasing over the years.
Other “old problems” include poverty, inequality in terms of women’s rights, economic and political participation, health, and education.
Full realization of gender equality
On March 9, the CSW adopted a new declaration which plans to achieve the “full realization of gender equality and the empowerment of women by 2030.”
The declaration reaffirmed the goals from BDPA and recognized that “progress has been slow and uneven.”
Until today, “no country has fully achieved equality and empowerment for women and girls,” the UN admitted.
Speaking at the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEP) event at the UN on Tuesday, March 10 (US time), former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also said change has been far too slow in various areas, including women’s economic participation, leadership, and security. (READ: Hillary: Women’s full participation is century’s great unfinished business)
Clinton cited the recently released “No Ceilings Full Participation Report” posted on the data visualization site NoCeilings.org, which highlights the following information:
- Women work more hours a day without pay
- The US is one of 9 countries worldwide that doesn’t provide for paid maternity leave
- We don’t have enough female executives
- One in 3 women suffers physical or sexual violence
- Women have unequal Internet access
The new CSW declaration pledged to call on all governments to take more concrete actions in eliminating gender-based discrimination through stronger programs, strategies, and law implementations for women and girls.
It also highlighted the role of men and boys in achieving equality for all.
The UN CSW will hold its 59th Session from March 9 to 20, gathering delegates representing different UN member states, international organizations, and civil society.
The UN session will focus on the progress and challenges since the implementation of the BDPA 20 years ago, and the empowerment of women in the post-2015 development agenda.
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