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May 1995: Background on the UN World Conferences on Women


                            LEADING TO


                    September 4 - 15, 1995

                       and the parallel
                         NGO FORUM '95
               August 30 - September 8, 1995
                        Beijing, China

                     UN CONFERENCES AND NGO FORUMS

A UN world conference usually involves two related events -- an official 
government conference and a forum for non-governmental organizations 
(NGOs).  These two events are held simultaneously or sequentially in the 
same city.


UN government conferences and their parallel NGO Forums focus attention 
on a particular issue or world problem.  They serve to change and 
advance world public opinion and policy.  They are also a major 
opportunity for those interested in, and working on, an issue to meet, 
discuss the subject, exchange experiences and organize new groups or 
networks.   The effects of world conferences can be profound and long 

For example,  The 1985 World Conference to Review and Appraise the 
Achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women in Nairobi marked 
the first time the world paid attention, and governments acknowledged, 
the pervasive problem of violence, including domestic violence, against 
women.  The recent UN Conference on the Environment and Development in 
Rio in 1992 refocused public attention at the global level on 
environmental issues.  The 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in 
Vienna declared women's rights to be human rights, and violations of 
women, such as systematic rape in times of war, as human rights 
violations.  The conference recommended the appointment of a special 
rapporteur on violence against women and such a person was subsequently 
appointed by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

                          GOVERNMENT CONFERENCES

These are composed of official delegations representing U.N. member or 
observer states.  Delegates represent their government's interests, and 
speak for their governments, not as individuals.  All nations come 
together as equals.  All have a voice, and all have an equal vote.

     Preparations: The U.N. establishes the purpose, themes, date and 
location of the conference.  The U.N. Secretary General appoints a 
conference secretary general who handles administration, logistics, 
relations with host government, and substantive concerns of the 

     A preparatory committee  (PrepCom)  is selected  (such as the Human 
Rights Commission, the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, etc.)  to 
prepare the conference agenda and develop a proposed conference 
document.  It also establishes guidelines for the role of NGOs in the 
conference -- their access to the formal conference and the general 
rules for the separate NGO Forum.  Often, U.N. regional preparatory 
meetings and regional NGO forums are held preceding the world 

     Nations select their own delegates to the conference.  The 
selection is made by foreign ministries and heads of government.  
Countries sometimes hold national meetings to discuss the conference 
agenda and that nation's priorities and input to the conference 

At the world conference governments exchange views on the subject matter 
and a document is discussed and adopted -- a plan or program of action -
- that generally represents global consensus on the subject matter of 
the conference.

During the world conference, drafting  committees are often established 
to work out the final version of the document.  Delegates from each 
nation participate in committee sessions. Negotiations on the conference 
document and on resolutions can be influenced by individual delegates or 
by relationships between delegates who are experts on the subject or 
advocates for a particular point of view.  Regional groups frequently 
caucus to discuss and compromise issues.

On the final vote on acceptance or rejection of the document each nation 
has one vote and usually is instructed from their capital on how to 
vote.  By their vote, sometimes made with specified reservations, 
countries commit themselves to goals, standards of behavior, and 
actions.  The conference document and resolutions may suggest new 
international institutions or other ways and means of dealing with the 


The conference document is distributed worldwide by the U.N. The 
document and any resolutions adopted at the conference are taken up at 
the U.N. General Assembly or by U.N. specialized agencies for action.  
The document, media attention and overall public awareness serve to 
change world public opinion and  educate or inform the public.  The 
document itself can serve individuals and organizations as an organizing 
and leveraging tool to use with governments, other institutions and 
international organizations.

                               NGO FORUMS

The NGO Forum is usually open to anyone interested in attending.  (More 
commonly described as private non-profit or voluntary organizations in 
the United States, NGOs are non-governmental organizations.)  The Forum 
is intended to provide a structured meeting place for persons and groups 
interested in the subject matter of the government conference.  They are 
occasions for like-minded individuals as well as adversaries to come 


The Committee of Non-Governmental Organizations with U.N. consultative 
status (CONGO) establishes a forum planning committee made up of 
volunteers from organizations with consultative status and, usually, 
other NGOs with an interest or competence in the subject matter 

     The planning committee, with its coordinator or director, obtains a 
site, sets the date, establishes a forum newspaper and handles 
logistics.  It raises funds to cover forum expenses (not including 
funding of workshops, seminars, exhibits, etc.), sets the program based 
on submissions from interested groups; organizes briefings; and produces 
a printed programs.

     Interested groups and individuals (NGOs) fill out the program.  
They organize workshops, seminars, and other events and apply to the 
coordinator for a time and space.  Some groups hold a series of 
workshops; most just one.  NGOs must finance their own events and 

The forum takes no official action.  It is  primarily an   information 
exchange, spirited debate, networking and organizing opportunity.

Nevertheless, while there is no formal interchange between the forum and 
the delegations to the government conference, the two events can and do 
influence each other.  The conference document, while drafted and 
debated in advance, is a working document that may be amended.  NGO 
members often lobby conference delegates and can influence the final 

                     INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S YEAR, 1975

In 1972 the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 1975 to be 
International Women's Year (IWY).  The proclamation called for action to 
promote equality, the involvement of women in development efforts and 
the recognition of women's role in strengthening peace and promoting 
friendly relations among nations.

The General Assembly's action came at the recommendation of the UN 
Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).  Established in 1947, the CSW 
prepares reports and recommendations on women's rights and status and 
has served as the preparatory body for the U.N. conferences on women.

During 1975, the World Conference of the International Women's Year was 
held in Mexico City.  More than 1,000 delegates, representing 133 
countries, participated in the official UN conference; 75% of the 
delegates were women.

The parallel conference for non-governmental organizations, the NGO 
Tribune, drew 6,000 women and involved information exchange, debate, 
networking, and leadership development.  It came to be known as the 
world's largest consciousness-raising session and attracted extensive 
media attention.

The government conference adopted a World Plan of Action for the 
Implementation of the Objectives of the International Women's Year.  The 
Plan, drafted by the CSW, incorporated input from grass-roots 
organizations and women's groups around the world and set minimum goals, 
such as the eradication of illiteracy.  The Plan provided a blueprint to 
NGOs, governments and international organizations for improving the 
status of women.

The conference also approved a draft Convention on the Elimination of 
all Forms of Discrimination against Women,  subsequently adopted by the 
General Assembly in 1979.  In force as of 1981 after its ratification by 
a required 20 states, as of March, 1995 it has been ratified by 139 
countries.  The United States signed it in 1980.  President Clinton 
pledged to seek Senate approval of ratification.  The Senate Foreign 
Relations Committee voted it successfully out of committee in late 1994, 
but it was not considered by the full Senate before adjournment.  It 
must now be taken up in Committee again.  Its  ratification remains a 
top priority for the Administration among human rights treaties.


The General Assembly endorsed the Mexico City Plan of Action in 
December, 1975 and proclaimed 1976-1985 as the U.N. Decade for Women: 
Equality, Development and Peace.  It called for a mid-decade conference 
in 1980 and added three sub-themes:  employment, health, and education.

During the first half of the decade the International Research and 
Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) and the U.N. 
Voluntary Fund for the Decade of Women were created.  Now called UNIFEM, 
the latter provides direct financial and technical support to low income 
women's groups in developing countries.

The most widely quoted statistics to come out of the research conducted 
during the first half of the decade contained the ILO's sobering, yet 
galvanizing, revelations that:

     While women represent 50% of the world population and one-third of 
the official labor force, they perform nearly two-thirds of all working 
hours, receive only one-tenth of the world income and own less than 1% 
of world property.

The mid-decade conference in 1980 in Copenhagen drew 1,326 delegates 
from 145 states.  Another 8,000 women attended the NGO Forum.  The 
Copenhagen conference adopted A World Programme of Action.  It called 
for women's participation in politics and decision-making, and for the 
elimination of discrimination in law and policy.  It encouraged 
governments and international institutions to conduct more research and 
to collect gender disaggragated data.

The Decade for Women ended with the U.N. World Conference to Review and 
Appraise the Achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women: 
Equality, Development and Peace  held in Nairobi, Kenya.  The conference 
drew 1,400 delegates from 157 nations.  The NGO Forum drew an estimated 
14,000, 60% of them women from developing countries.

The conference adopted a plan of action for 1986 - 2000, the Nairobi 
Forward Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women.

The Strategies validated the goals and objectives of the earlier Mexico 
City and Copenhagen documents, and indicated concrete measures to 
overcome obstacles to their achievement, especially in light of the 
worsening world economic situation that was slowing women's advancement 
and at times setting them  back.

                              AND NGO FORUM '95

In calling for a Fourth World Conference in Beijing in 1995, the General 
Assembly, in 1990,  recognized that "the pace of implementation of the 
Forward Looking Strategies must be improved in the crucial last decade 
of the 20th century."

The Platform for Action that is expected to emerge from the Fourth World 
Conference on Women is not intended to replace the Nairobi document but 
to accelerate its implementation, based on the accomplishments of the 
past ten years and the most stubborn or difficult obstacles to women's 
progress that remain.

The preparatory body for all four women's conferences has been the U.N. 
Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). At its 1993 annual session, the 
CSW adopted five goals for the Beijing conference:

--  sharing power in private, public, political and economic life;
--  full access to the means of development (education, employment and 
--  overcoming poverty;
--  promoting peace and defending women's human rights;
--  inspiring a new generation of women and men working together for 

The final draft of the Platform for Action negotiated by governmental 
delegations at the final PrepCom in March outlines critical areas of 
concern and proposes objectives and actions.

The critical areas as outlined in the current U.N. draft:

--  the persistent and growing burden of poverty among women;
--  unequal access to and inadequate educational opportunities;
--  inequalities in health status and unequal access to and inadequate 
health care services;
--  violence against women;
--  effects armed or other kinds of conflicts on women;
--  inequality in women's access and participation in the definition of 
economic structures and policies and the productive process itself;
--  inequality between men and women in the sharing of power and 
decision-making at all levels;
--  insufficient mechanisms at all levels to promote the advancement of 
--  lack of awareness of, and commitment to, internationally and 
nationally recognized women's human rights;
--  insufficient mobilization of mass media to promtoe women's positive 
contributions to society;
--  lack of adequate recognition and support for women's contribution to 
managing natural resources and safeguarding the envirnoment;
--  the girl-child

The Conference itself will be the culmination of a process that has 
involved national and regional preparations and is intended to stimulate 
increased activity at all levels -- from local to global -- to improve 
the status of women and promote equality between men and women.  The 
Critical Areas of Concern and Strategic Objectives and Actions contained 
in the Platform  reflect the groundwork done at these preparatory 
meetings where the issues were raised and actions suggested.

Five U.N. regional preparatory meetings were held in 1994.
The European U.N. regional preparatory conference -- in which the United 
States and Canada participated -- was held in Vienna from October 17-21.  
It was organized by the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) based 
in Geneva.  Non-governmental organizations held an NGO Forum in Vienna 
from October 13-15.

For the first time at a world conference on women, the U.N. is 
accrediting a larger number of diverse NGOs for the Beijing conference 
and the regional preparatory conferences.

The Secretary General of the Fourth World Conference is Gertrude 
Mongella of Tanzania.  The Convener of the NGO Forum '95 is Supatra 
Masdit of Thailand; the Executive Director is Irene Santiago of the 

For information on the Beijing conference:
Fourth World Conference on Women
2 UN Plaza, Room 1204
New York, NY 10017
Telephone: 212 963-3104
Fax: 212 963-3463

For information and accreditation to NGO Forum '95 contact:
NGO Forum Planning Committee
211 E. 43rd St., Suite 1500
New York, NY 10017
Telephone: 212 922-9267
Fax: 212 922 9269

Please note:  All deadlines for application for accreditation to the 
governmental conference and registration to the Forum have passed.  It 
is very important to send in the Request for Hotel form to guarantee a 
room in China.  Hotel rooms will be assigned on a first-come, first-
serve basis beginning May 31, 1995.

                            U.S. PREPARATIONS

The Honorary Chair of the U.S. delegation to the Fourth World Conference 
on Women is the First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Ambassador 
Madeleine K. Albright, U.S. permanent representative to the United 
Nations, is chairman of the delegation; Honorable Marjorie Margolies-
Mezvinsky is Deputy Chair. Other delegates who have been named are Maria 
Antonietta Berriozabal of San Antonio, Tx., Veronica Biggins of Atlanta, 
Ga., Lynn Cutler of Washington, D.C., Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, Fla., 
Dottie Lamm, Denver, Col., and Linda Tarr-Whelan of Washington, D.C.

The United States' preparations for the world conference have included a 
series of meetings in the ten federal regions of the country held in 
1994 under the auspices of the Women's Bureau of the Department of Labor 
in coordination with the State Department and in cooperation with local 

Overall coordination of U.S. preparations and immediate follow-up for 
the conference is the responsibility of the U.S. Department of State.  
Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Timothy Wirth established a 
Conference Secretariat to coordinate preparations for the Women's 
Conference and the related conferences on Population and Development, 
held in Cairo in September, 1994 and the World Summit for Social 
Development, held in Copenhagen in March, 1995.

Theresa Loar is director of the Conference Secretariat.  Secretariat 
staff for the Beijing conference include Mary Curtin, Kathleen Hendrix, 
Sharon Kotok, Jeffrey Meer, Regina Rhea and Lycia Sibilla.

To add your name and organization to secretariat's mailing list, use 
this address:

Conference Secretariat
Department of State
2201 C St. NW
Room 1318
Washington, D.C. 20520
Telephone: 202 647 3129
Fax: 202 647 4787

The Secretariat has been holding regular monthly briefings at OPM, 
Office of Personnel Management, 1900 E. St. NW  Meetings are scheduled 
for Tuesdays, June 6, July 11 and August 1 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Call the 
Secretariat hotline for further information: 663-3070 or, for hearing 
impaired, TDD number 647-3750.

May, 1995
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