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
07/12/95 Focus on UN Fourth World Conference on Women
Bureau of Public Affairs
Focus on the UN Fourth World Conference on Women and Background on UN
Conferences and NGO Forums
A UN world conference usually involves two related events--a conference
of governmental delegations and a forum for non-governmental
organizations--NGOs. These events are held simultaneously or
sequentially in the same city.
The Importance of These Events
UN conferences and their parallel NGO forums focus on a particular issue
or world problem. They serve to change and advance world public opinion
and policy. They also are a major opportunity for those interested in,
and/or working on, an issue to meet, discuss a subject, exchange
experiences, and organize new groups or networks.
The effects of world conferences can be profound and long-lasting. For
example, the 1985 World Conference to Review and Appraise the
Achievements of the UN Decade for Women, held in Nairobi, Kenya, marked
the first time the world focused on and governments acknowledged the
pervasive problem of violence--including domestic violence--against
women. The 1992 UN Conference on the Environment and Development in Rio
refocused global attention 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 wartime systematic rape, as
human rights violations. On the recommendation of this conference, a
special rapporteur on violence against women was appointed by the UN
Commission on Human Rights.
World Conference Preparations
Conferences are composed of official government delegations representing
UN member or observer states. Delegates represent their government's
interests, not themselves. All nations come together as equals, all have
a voice, and all have an equal vote.
The conferences require the following preparations.
-- The UN establishes the purpose, theme, date, and location of the
-- The UN Secretary General appoints a conference secretary general who
handles administrative, logistical, UN-host government relations, and
other substantive concerns of the conference.
-- A preparatory committee--PrepCom (such as the UN Commission on Human
Rights)--prepares the conference agenda and develops 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, UN regional preparatory
meetings and regional NGO forums are held prior to the world conference.
-- Delegates to the conference are selected by foreign ministries and
heads of government of each country. Countries sometimes hold national
meetings to discuss the conference agenda and that nation's priorities
and input to the conference document.
-- At the conference, governments exchange views on the subject matter,
and a plan or program of action--generally representing global consensus
on the subject matter of the conference--is discussed and adopted.
-- Drafting committees are often established to work out the final
version of the document during the conference. Delegates from each
nation participate in committee sessions. Negotiations on the conference
document and 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.
Each nation has one vote on the final acceptance or rejection of the
document 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 of dealing with the issue.
Following the conference, the document is distributed worldwide by the
UN. It and any resolutions adopted at the conference are taken up at the
UN General Assembly or by UN specialized agencies for action.
In the United States, NGOs are more commonly described as private, non-
profit, or voluntary organizations. The NGO forum is usually open to
everyone. It is intended to provide a structured meeting place for
persons and groups interested in the subject matter of the government
NGO forums require the following preparations:
-- The Committee of Non-Governmental Organizations with UN consultative
status--CONGO--establishes a forum-planning committee made up of
volunteers from organizations with consultative status and usually other
-- 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, or exhibits--sets the program based on
sub- missions from interested groups, organizes briefings, and produces
a printed program.
-- Interested groups and individuals fill out the program: They
organize workshops, seminars, and other events and apply to the
coordinator for a time and space. Some groups hold workshops. NGOs must
finance their own events and participation.
The forum takes no official action. It is primarily an information
exchange, spirited debate, networking, and organizing opportunity.
Although 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 outcome.
International Women's Year, 1975
In 1972, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 1975 International Women's
Year--IWY. The proclamation called for action to promote equality, the
involvement of women in development efforts, and the recognition of the
woman's role in strengthening peace and promoting friendly relations
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 UN conferences on women.
The World Conference of the International Women's Year was held in
Mexico City in 1975. More than 1,000 delegates, representing 133
countries, participated; 75% were women.
The parallel conference for NGOs--the NGO Tribune--drew 6,000 women and
involved information exchange, debate, networking, and leadership
development. It was known as the world's largest consciousness-raising
session ever 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 since 1981, to date it has been
ratified by 139 countries. The United States signed the convention in
1980. Senate ratification remains a top priority for this
UN Decade for Women: Equality, Development, and Peace
The General Assembly endorsed the Mexico City Plan of Action in December
1975 and proclaimed 1976-85 the UN 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 UN
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 research conducted
during the first half of the decade contained the International Labor
Organization'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, held in Copenhagen in 1980, drew 1,326
delegates from 145 states. Another 8,000 women attended the NGO forum.
The Copenhagen conference adopted a World Programme of Action calling
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 UN 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
was attended by 1,400 delegates from 157 nations; about 14,000--60% of
them women from developing countries--attended the NGO forum.
The conference adopted a plan of action for the years 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 UN Fourth 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 10 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 UN
CSW. At its 1993 annual session, the CSW adopted five goals for the
-- 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; and
-- 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.
Critical areas as outlined in the current UN draft are:
-- 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 of 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 promote women's positive
contributions to society;
-- Lack of adequate recognition and support for women's contributions
to managing natural resources and safeguarding the environment; and
-- The girl child.
The conference 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 UN regional preparatory meetings were held in 1994. The European UN
regional preparatory conference--in which the United States and Canada
participated--was held in Vienna from October 17-21. It was organized by
the UN Economic Commission for Europe--ECE--based in Geneva. Non-
governmental organizations held an NGO forum in Vienna from October 13-
For the first time at a world conference on women, the UN is accrediting
a larger number of diverse NGOs for the Beijing conference and the
regional preparatory conferences.
United Nations. Ms. Gertrude Mongella of Tanzania is the Secretary
General of the Conference. Contact:
UN Secretariat of the Fourth World Conference on Women
Division for the Advancement of Women
Two United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017
NGO Forum. Ms. Supatra Masdit of Thailand is the Convenor of the NGO
NGO Forum on Women, Beijing '95
211 East 43rd Street, Suite 1500
New York, NY 10017
Phone: 212-922-9267 or 922-9268
Due to the change of site to Huairou, all Forum participants are
required to fill out a "New Hotel Reservation Form" that is being sent
out by the NGO Forum. The deadline for returning this new form to the
China Organizing Committee is July 5, 1995. The address for the
China Organizing Committee
Fourth World Conference on Women and NGO Forum on Women Beijing '95
No. 15 Jianguomen St.
Phone: 861-522-1133, ext: 3006
U.S. Department of State. The Honorary Chair of the U.S. delegation to
the Fourth World Conference on Women is the First Lady, Hillary Rodham
Clinton, although no decision has been made about her attendance at the
Conference. Ambassador Madeleine K. Albright, U.S. permanent
representative to the United Nations, is Chairman of the delegation.
Timothy E. Wirth, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs will serve
as Alternate Chair and Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, former member of
Congress is the Deputy Chair/Director of the delegation.
U.S. preparations for the world conference have included a series of
meetings in the 10 federal regions of the country held in 1994 under the
auspices of the Women's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor in
coordination with the U.S. Department of State and in cooperation with
Overall coordination of U.S. preparations and immediate follow-up for
the conference is the responsibility of the 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, Ann Ganzer, Kathleen Hendrix, Sharon
Kotok, Jeffrey Meer, Regina Rhea, and Lycia Sibilla.
To add your name and organization to the Secretariat's mailing list, use
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW, Room 1318
Washington, DC 20520
The Secretariat holds regular monthly briefings at the Office of
Personnel Management, 1900 E Street, NW. Meetings are scheduled for
Tuesday, July 11 and Tuesday, August 1, from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Call
the Secretariat hotline for further information: 202-663-3070 or, for
the hearing impaired, TDD number 202-647-3750.
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