Return to: Index of "World Conference on Women Press Releases and Statements"
Index of "Intl. Organizations and Conferences" || Electronic Research Collections Index || ERC Homepage

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. 

NGO Forums

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 
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 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 
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; 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.

Contact Information

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
Phone: 212-963-8385
Fax: 212-963-3463

NGO Forum. Ms. Supatra Masdit of Thailand is the Convenor of the NGO 
Forum. Contact:

NGO Forum on Women, Beijing '95
211 East 43rd Street, Suite 1500
New York, NY 10017
Phone: 212-922-9267 or 922-9268
Fax: 212-922-9269

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 
committee is:

China Organizing Committee
Fourth World Conference on Women and NGO Forum on Women Beijing '95
No. 15 Jianguomen St.
Beijing 100730
P.R. China
Phone:  861-522-1133, ext: 3006
Fax:  861-522-5329

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 
local organizations.

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 
this address:

G/Conference Secretariat
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW, Room 1318
Washington, DC 20520
Phone: 202-647-3129
Fax: 202-647-4787

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.  

To the top of this page