In 2015, it will be 20 years since the Beijing Platform for Action was adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women, setting up the agenda for improving women’s participation in both public and private life.
2015 also marks the year when the Millennium Development Goals will expire and a new development framework will be put in place. Civil society, governments and ordinary people are now hard at work discussing the priorities to be set for the post-2015 agenda.
So now is a good time to take a look at the development framework we have been following over the past two decades to see what we’ve achieved and what remains in the battle for gender equality.
An unfinished agenda
I decided to take a look at Europe and Central Asia. A cursory review of the 12 critical areas of concern outlined in the platform reveals that the Beijing agenda is far from being fully implemented.
Even though noticeable progress has been made, there remains a long way to go before equal rights, opportunities and obligations are shared by men and women, and boys and girls.
The main improvements are noticeable in the areas of education and health.
Despite continuing segregation in the education system and higher levels of illiteracy amongst women, access to education for girls has improved throughout the region. Girls stay in school longer today than they did 20 years ago.
Access to healthcare, in particular maternal and reproductive health services, has also improved significantly. More births are assisted by medical personnel and as a result fewer women die during childbirth.
Progress in other areas has been less conclusive.
In political and economic realms, women’s participation continues to lag, and the number of women decision-makers at the highest levels is still very low.
In fact, the regional average of women in national parliaments remains below the global average of 20 percent, reaching only 17.3 percent in 2010.
Moreover, women earn less than men in similar jobs; the gap stands at 20.3 percent across the region.
But one of the most surprising and worrisome developments is in the growing gender imbalances at birth in the South Caucasus and parts of the Balkans, where we’re witnessing an intensification of son preference:
While in the early 1990s, sex ratios at birth was the natural 105 boys for every 100 girls born; in 2010, that number rose to 115 or more boys for every 100 girls. This signifies a worrying trend.
Change is a process that requires moving beyond policy
At the Beijing Conference in 1995, then First Lady of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton presciently remarked in her address:
“The time is now. We must move beyond rhetoric. We must move beyond recognition of problems to working together, to have the common efforts to build that common ground we hope to see.”
Indeed the time is now. We have to work harder to advance our approaches by learning from the previous decades’ successes and shortcomings and ensure we provide a better, more equal future for girls and women in Europe and Central Asia.
>> For the facts and figures, see the presentation below: