Index of "World Conference on Women Press Releases and Statements"
Index of "Intl. Organizations and Conferences" ||
Electronic Research Collections Index ||
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
May 1995: Background on the UN World Conferences on Women
GLOBAL CONFERENCE SECRETARIAT
BACKGROUND ON THE UN WORLD CONFERENCES ON WOMEN
THE FOURTH UNITED NATIONS WORLD CONFERENCE ON WOMEN:
ACTION FOR EQUALITY, DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE
September 4 - 15, 1995
and the parallel
NGO FORUM '95
August 30 - September 8, 1995
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
THE IMPORTANCE OF THESE EVENTS
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.
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
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
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
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.
U.N. DECADE FOR WOMEN: EQUALITY, DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE
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.
THE FOURTH U.N. WORLD CONFERENCE ON WOMEN
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.
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
Department of State
2201 C St. NW
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.
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