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
95/07/31 Focus: U.S. Support for the 4WCW
Bureau of Public Affairs
Focus on 4WCW: U.S. Support for the 4WCW
In September, the United States will join the international community at
the Fourth World Conference on Women--4WCW--in Beijing, China. A
parallel meeting for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) NGO Forum
'95, will be held at about the same time.
The United States welcomes the opportunity to participate in this
important event. U.S. goals are increasingly linked with those of a
peaceful and prosperous international community, and global prosperity
is closely linked with the fortunes and freedoms of the world's women.
At the 4WCW, all nations will focus attention on women--the aspirations
they share and the challenges they face. The conference enables us to
build support for policies that invest in women and girls, such as
economic and educational opportunities. By moving these issues to the
top of the policy agenda, the 4WCW can make a difference in the quality
of life for women and families around the world. The 4WCW will adopt a
comprehensive Platform for Action to empower and improve the lives of
girls and women. This action plan can serve the United Nations and
national governments as a guide for setting public policy as the 21st
century approaches. And it provides citizens with benchmarks by which
they can measure progress in their own countries and communities.
Value to Americans
Women everywhere share the same aspirations--access to opportunity,
thriving families, economic security, quality health care and education,
personal safety, and the ability to participate in the decisions that
affect their lives.
In looking toward this conference, Americans can take pride in the
progress they have made in these areas. At the same time, Americans
have much to learn from the experiences of women elsewhere, i.e., in an
area such as micro-enterprise loans for women entrepreneurs. The 4WCW is
a chance to exchange information and experiences about ideas that work.
The challenges women face are also similar. There is a whole range of
inequalities that separate girls from boys, and women from men. In too
many parts of the world, girls are given less to eat, are provided with
less medical care, and are forced to work harder and at an earlier age
than boys. In the United States, women make up too large a percentage of
those in poverty and constitute too small a percentage of those in
power. These inequities exact an unacceptable cost in human potential
and in the well-being of individuals, families, and communities. They
warrant our attention and action.
Americans have a stake in how women live around the world. Improving the
status and lives of girls and women is an important goal in its own
right. It is also the key to building a safer, more secure, and peaceful
Policies that improve the status of women enable communities to
alleviate poverty, develop local economies, expand the number of
educated and healthy citizens, sustain the environment, and strengthen
families. Educating girls and women is one of the best development
decisions any country can make.
Serious problems facing the world will never be solved until women are
able to use their full potential on behalf of themselves, their
families, and their global and local communities.
The Path to the 4WCW
The 4WCW is the latest in a continuum of recent international meetings
that have underscored the importance of advancing the status of women:
-- At the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio
de Janeiro, world leaders embraced the concept that the effective
participation of women as environmental managers is vital to achieving
-- At the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, governments
acknowledged that women's rights are human rights--universal,
inalienable, and indivisible--and that attention to gender-specific
violations is necessary to ensure the enjoyment of human rights for all;
-- The Cairo 1994 International Conference on Population and
Development recognized women's health and rights as the cornerstones of
effective population and development policy; and
-- At the 1995 World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen,
governments determined that women's equality and political and economic
empowerment are essential to combat poverty and social disintegration.
These conferences and the 4WCW build on previous UN efforts in support
of women. The foundation for this increased empowerment and
participation was laid during the UN Decade for Women, 1976-85.
Throughout the decade, women and governments worked toward advancing the
status of women under the themes of equality, development, and peace.
The experience of the past 10 years, including both the progress made
and the obstacles faced, has demonstrated that the essential ingredient
for change is women's empowerment--access to and participation in all
levels of decision-making and all institutions of society.
What is at Stake
The 4WCW is an opportunity to reaffirm past commitments, link them to
women's lives, and put them into action. In preparatory meetings for
this historic gathering, a few important issues were left open, or
unresolved, including some that were the subject of consensus at recent
conferences. The U.S. will work to defend those hard-won and important
agreements, and to proceed with the critical work of the 4WCW.
Much is at stake, including the idea that the world's nations can come
together to craft solutions to our most serious problems. For that
process to work, we must negotiate in good faith, abide by our
commitments, and translate words into effective policies and actions.
U.S. Policy Goals
The following U.S. goals are embodied in the Platform for Action, and
the international community has agreed to most of them. The exact
language will be finalized at the 4WCW.
Improve Women's Economic Security
Although women have entered the labor force in record numbers over the
last two decades, they comprise a majority of the world's poor. In some
countries, 60-80% of the people in poverty are women. About 60% of poor
adults in the United States are women.
The causes of women's poverty are complex. In many cases, women living
in poverty reflect widespread economic underdevelopment, unemployment,
and human suffering throughout a society. Women are afflicted by poverty
for unique reasons as well. Women may be impoverished when they are left
to raise children alone. Many fully employed women remain poor, confined
to low-wage jobs or denied access to the education, credit, and
resources needed to advance. Too few women receive training in science
and technology--which can open the door to high-wage employment.
Although the gap has narrowed in the U.S. since 1963 when women earned
an average of 60 cents for every dollar men earned, there is still a gap
between their wages--75 cents for every dollar. The gap is wider for
some groups: in 1992, the average African-American woman earned 64
cents, and the average Hispanic woman 55 cents for every dollar men
Women make great contributions to their families' well-being. When both
wage-earning and unpaid work are taken into account, it is clear that
women provide substantial, primary, or sole economic support to a large
proportion of the world's families. In households with two wage-earning
parents, the father's income typically exceeds the mother's, yet mothers
usually contribute a larger proportion of their income to family needs.
At the Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development, the international
community agreed that women are pivotal in efforts to address poverty.
The 4WCW will build on the Copenhagen agreement by offering an action
plan to enhance women's economic self-reliance. It asks governments to
remove legal and practical barriers that prevent women from obtaining
training, credit, property, and opportunity, and urges support for
women-owned businesses and micro-enterprises--especially in technical
Women in the U.S. have progressed in this area. The number of women
starting their own businesses has more than doubled in the last 10
years. During the current Administration, the U.S. Congress has made $33
million available for small loans to those ventures through the Small
U.S. citizens' groups also are pioneering new ways to help women
overcome poverty. Some help women break into technical, traditionally
male-dominated occupations. For example, Orientation to Nontraditional
Occupations for Women in Columbus, Ohio, trains low-income women for
careers in carpentry, plumbing, and electrical engineering. As the U.S.
works to implement the 4WCW Platform for Action, it will seek to
replicate strategies such as these across the country.
Empower Women and Strengthen Families
Families are the most important unit of society. Within them, we
develop self-esteem, learn how to care for others, and begin to develop
our values. But families around the world are challenged as never
before, and women and children bear the greatest burden. Policies that
acknowledge the realities of work and family life, and ensure a better
balance of parental responsibility for children, are critical to
improving the lives of women and strengthening families.
Countless families are struggling to make ends meet while caring for
children and elderly family members. In most countries, it is difficult,
and sometimes impossible, to sustain a family on one person's income.
Therefore, economic necessity--and increased opportunity--have led
millions of women to enter the paid labor force in recent years. Yet as
their wage-earning responsibilities have increased, women have not
experienced a corresponding lessening of their domestic duties.
At the same time, the number of single-parent households has soared. In
the U.S., nearly one in five households with children is headed by a
single parent--about twice as many as 15 years ago. Families are
sundered for many reasons--divorce, death, war, or migration in search
of economic survival and opportunity. But the result is often the same:
Most single-parent families are headed by women, and many are
More than one-third of all female-headed families in the U.S. are living
in poverty. In part, this is because fathers often fail to meet their
obligations to their children when marriages break up. Two-fifths of
divorced fathers do not pay court-ordered child support.
These trends add immeasurably to the difficulty of women's lives. They
also deprive children of the resources and nurturance they need to
Governments and the private sector can ease the burdens on women by
enacting policies that support children and the adults who care for
them. For example, the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act, signed into
law by President Clinton in 1993, guarantees that most workers will not
have to choose between keeping their job and caring for a new child or
sick family member. In the last year, the U.S. has also helped to
strengthen families by providing new resources for child immunization,
Head Start, family preservation and support services, and enforcement of
The Platform for Action urges the adoption of policies that preserve the
integrity of families, and recognizes the needs of those--such as
single-parent families--that face special challenges. The platform seeks
to encourage men to shoulder their full share of responsibility as
parents, by promoting their involvement in child care as well as
ensuring their contribution to the financial support of the children
they father. It also suggests ways to increase the earning power of poor
women--especially those with children--through training and self-help
programs. Finally, the Platform for Action recommends measures--such as
the Family and Medical Leave Act--that enable parents to better balance
jobs and family responsibilities.
Promote Life-long Education
Education is a core American value. Without education, women and men are
unable to participate effectively in a democracy, protect their health
and that of their families, and contribute to and benefit from a rapidly
changing economy. Although the gender gap in education is narrowing
worldwide, about 130 million children--two-thirds of whom are girls--
lack access to primary school. Nearly two-thirds of the illiterate
people in the world are women.
Universal education helps girls and women fulfill their aspirations as
individuals, strengthens families, and has well-documented benefits for
the broader society. These include increased economic productivity; less
dependence on government benefits; and families that are smaller,
healthier, and better educated. The gains can be dramatic. For example,
it has been shown that women's wages rise 10-20% for each year of
education they receive. In the poorest countries, each year of basic
education of mothers is associated with a 5-10% decline in child
In many parts of the world, discrimination limits girls' access to
education. Because boys are seen as having greater earning potential,
parents often are more willing to invest in education for their sons. In
the U.S. and other countries where primary education is universal,
schools can fail to benefit girls in subtle ways. For example,
researchers have found that in American schools, girls receive less
attention, less praise and less detailed instruction from teachers than
do boys. Worldwide, girls are steered into training for low-paying jobs.
Girls and women remain under-represented in science and technical
education--at a cost to both their future earning capacity and to the
broader goal of social and economic development.
The platform asks governments to close the gender gap in primary and
secondary schooling by the year 2005, and to ensure universal access to
primary education by the year 2015. It suggests ways to attract more
girls and women to fields of study where they are under-represented. It
proposes to broaden women's access to technical training--including
training in "non-traditional" careers and continuing education. It
encourages adult and family engagement in learning to promote literacy
for all. These goals are closely aligned to steps the Clinton
Administration has already taken to strengthen and improve educational
outcomes for students of all ages. Key to this effort is the
implementation of national education goals now embodied in the GOALS
2000: Educate America Act. Education reform strategies include
encouraging gender-equitable teaching and learning methods, eliminating
gender-bias in curriculum materials, and involving girls and women in
advanced math and science courses. The Administration's new School-to-
Work systems link education and employment opportunities for girls and
women through educational, mentoring, and training activities,
particularly in non-traditional areas.
The Platform for Action also asks governments and schools of all kinds
to develop education and training programs that are free of gender bias.
U.S. citizens groups have been pioneers in developing programs and
materials free of gender-bias. Organizations including Girls, Inc. and
the American Association of University Women are working to ensure that
schools give girls the encouragement and opportunity they deserve. For
example, a program called "Girls Can!" is developing community-based
models for correcting gender-bias in education.
Improve Women's Health Throughout Their Lives
Health policies and services should enhance women's physical,
psychological, and social well-being throughout the life span. Girls and
women often face particular barriers to health care services they need--
in part because of gender discrimination, poverty, or the lack of
primary health care and social services. The platform calls for
improving women's access to appropriate, affordable, and quality health
care and related information and services. It acknowledges that programs
and services must take into account women's multiple roles and
responsibilities, including their role as primary custodians of family
Although women experience many of the same health problems as men, they
face unique health risks as a result of both gender inequality and
biological difference. Too often, women are subjected to the
inappropriate or over-prescription of drugs, or medically unnecessary
care including the overuse of Caesarian sections. The platform seeks to
address these issues and calls for ensuring voluntary and informed
consent for all health services. In addition, the platform makes
specific reference to the importance of addressing physical and mental
health issues associated with aging, nutrition, environmental and
occupational health hazards, substance abuse--including tobacco and
illegal drugs--and ensuring that girls and women of all ages with any
form of disability receive supportive services. Special emphasis is
placed on the prevention and early detection of health problems,
particularly breast, cervical, and other cancers of the reproductive
The platform addresses important ethical issues such as eliminating
practices of over-medication and medically unnecessary or coercive
medical interventions. It calls for ensuring responsible, voluntary, and
informed consent for all health services. It advocates research actions-
-including research on how gender-based inequalities affect women's
health--to be taken by governments, the UN, health professions, and
other appropriate governmental and private institutions.
Women of reproductive age face heightened health risks as well. Every
year, 500,000 women die of pregnancy-related causes. Most of those
deaths occur among women in developing countries who have had several
closely spaced pregnancies or who resort to unsafe abortions. An African
woman, for example, is 200 times more likely than a European woman to
die in childbirth. Universal reproductive health care, including family
planning, would go a long way toward preventing these deaths. It would
also reduce infant mortality, by enabling women to avoid high-risk
births. Better reproductive health care would also slow the deadly
advance of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Women are the fastest-growing group of persons living with HIV/AIDS
infection. Indeed, in some U.S. cities, AIDS already has become the
leading cause of death among women aged 25-44.
In preparations for the 4WCW, controversy has flared over the Platform
for Action's provisions on reproductive health. The platform reaffirms
consensus language that was agreed to at the Cairo conference less than
a year ago, which asks governments to ensure universal access to the
full range of reproductive health services, including family planning,
so that every child is wanted and supported as they deserve to be and
women and men can exercise their right to decide the number, spacing,
and timing of their children.
The document's provisions on abortion have been the source of much
debate--and much misunderstanding. While declaring that ". . . in no
case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning," the
Platform for Action asks governments to address unsafe abortion as a
major public health concern. It seeks to ensure that abortion services
are safe when they are not against the law, to provide reliable and
compassionate counseling for all women who have unwanted pregnancies,
and to provide humane care for all women who suffer the consequences of
This represents a hard-won consensus among delegates with diverse
perspectives. These issues, in conjunction with the entire health
section, are recognized by the U.S. as integral to a woman's ability to
control her life and act as an equal partner in society. The U.S.
supported that language in Cairo, and is committed to reaffirm it at the
The ICPD document defined a new direction for population policies,
focusing on people's needs rather than demographic targets.
Protect the Human Rights of Women
In many countries, the human rights of women--and men--are violated by
political persecution, torture, and disenfranchisement. But women face
another dimension of injustice as well. Rape, domestic violence, and
gender-based discrimination are among the abuses that disproportionately
affect women in all parts of the world and prevent the full expression
and enjoyment of their human rights.
Violence is a major threat to women's safety and bodily integrity. From
battered women in the U.S. to the millions of impoverished women living
in refugee camps, women of every class, race, and ethnicity are subject
to violence and its aftermath. Women are most likely to encounter
violence and abuse at home--at the hands of husbands and other male
relatives. While the private nature of this crime makes it difficult to
assess its full extent, research confirms its horrible and universal
prevalence. Worldwide, domestic violence is the leading cause of death
among women 14 to 44 years of age.
The human rights of women also encompass freedom from coercion in
sexuality, contraception, and child-bearing. But many women lack these
fundamental freedoms. Rape, forced prostitution, and forced marriage
remain common--especially among girls and adolescents. And women's
reproductive freedom has been violated by those in power seeking to
limit--or in some instances to increase--population growth. The Platform
for Action condemns all such violations as abhorrent.
In 1993, delegates to the World Conference on Human Rights declared that
the rights of women are an inalienable, integral, and indivisible part
of universal human rights. The Platform for Action reaffirms that
principle, and outlines specific actions for governments to protect and
enhance those rights. For example, it calls on governments to take
responsibility for preventing and punishing acts of violence against
women. It also urges governments to review civil and customary law to
eliminate gender-based discrimination, educate women about their legal
and human rights, and condemn human rights violations of women.
Human rights issues have generated extensive debate during preparations
for the 4WCW. Some delegations seek to renegotiate previously agreed
human rights language from the Vienna and Cairo conferences. Again, the
U.S. stands by those agreements and will work to uphold them.
The U.S. Government is committed to ensuring the human rights of women.
The landmark 1994 Violence Against Women Act seeks to curb family
violence in the U.S. and to help its victims by providing support
networks and violence prevention programs in neighborhoods across the
country. In addition, new provisions strengthen penalties for crimes
against women including rape and spousal abuse. The Administration also
has established an Office on the Prevention of Domestic Violence in the
Department of Justice.
Protect and Support Girls and Youth
The skills, ideas, and energy of girls and young women are vital for us
all to attain our goals. Yet, in many parts of the world, especially in
cultures which prefer sons, discrimination can cost little girls their
lives. Also, in those cultures girls suffer various forms of
discrimination. They are often deprived of food and medical care.
Research in Bangladesh found that boys under the age of five were given
16% more food than girls. A study in India found that girls were more
than four times as likely as boys to suffer from acute malnutrition, but
more than 40 times less likely to be taken to a hospital. Partly as a
result, some 100 million women are missing from the world's population.
The normal ratio of females to males at birth is 105 to 100, but in
South Asia, West Asia, and China the ratio at birth is 94 girls to 100
The Platform for Action asks governments to eliminate preferences for
sons through educational campaigns and other programs. It calls for
public efforts to ensure that girls can realize their potential and
develop self-esteem and to eliminate all forms of discrimination
including in health, education, and forced child labor. It also asks
governments for health and safety protections from all forms of
Enable Women To Participate In Decision-making
When important policy decisions are made--in legislatures, boardrooms,
and at negotiating tables--few women are likely to be present.
Worldwide, women comprise only 10% of the members of all legislative
bodies. In the U.S., men still hold 95% of senior management positions
in business, although women comprise 46% of the labor force. Women also
are under-represented in the ranks of scientific and technical experts
who guide and influence government policy.
Women lack access to decision-making for many reasons. In some areas,
women are barred from positions of power by law or custom. In others,
laws have changed but centuries of discrimination have left a legacy of
cultural conditioning that effectively prevents women from participating
in public life. The 4WCW asks governments to remove barriers to women's
full participation in all decision-making processes. At the same time,
it seeks to overcome traditions of discrimination through leadership and
self-esteem training for girls and women.
The Clinton Administration has been an active champion of women's
participation in decision-making. The Administration has more women in
positions of real power--47%--than any before it. It has made a
particular effort to appoint women to key policy-making positions in law
enforcement, federal judgeships, and science and technology. Women now
hold the following positions: Secretary of Energy; chief scientist at
the National Aeronautics and Space Administration--NASA, and the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration--NOAA; the
Undersecretary of Commerce for Science and Technology; and Directors of
Research and Development at the Departments of Defense and Energy.
Protect the Environment
Women must have a central place on the agenda for environmental
protection in the 21st century if we are to protect our natural
resources and leave our children a healthy environment.
Women play leadership roles in promoting an environmental ethic,
reducing resource use, and reusing and recycling resources to minimize
excessive consumption and waste. Women's contributions to environmental
management--including grass-roots and youth campaigns to protect the
environment--often have taken place at the local level, where
decentralized action on environmental issues is most needed and
The 4WCW Platform for Action makes the important linkage between women's
health and environmental protection by addressing the lack of
information concerning women's susceptibilities and exposures to
environmental hazards and toxic substances. This is particularly urgent
in light of the increasing environmental hazards worldwide, particularly
in rural and poor urban areas, and the platform is an important step
forward in focusing global attention on this issue.
Encourage Citizen Involvement
Worldwide, women are the driving force in thousands of citizens' groups
and NGOs that work to meet the needs of various groups in society, hold
governments accountable, and improve the quality of life.
The U.S. Government believes that NGOs have a crucial role to play in
shaping the 4WCW Platform for Action and ensuring its implementation. In
preparations for all major UN conferences, the U.S. Government makes
every effort to ensure the full participation of interested citizens and
NGOs and to include NGOs on U.S. delegations. During the world summit in
Copenhagen, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton applauded the important
work of NGOs, often in partnership with our government. In preparation
for the 4WCW, the Departments of State and Labor co-sponsored 10
regional meetings across the U.S. to obtain citizens' views on issues
affecting women. NGOs will also be represented in the U.S. delegation to
the 4WCW, and the U.S. regularly seeks citizen input and participation
in preparations for the conference. During preparatory meetings for the
4WCW, the government held daily briefings for NGOs. In addition to
monthly NGO briefings in Washington, DC, the U.S. also has hosted a
series of open meetings to solicit citizen comment on issues in the
In UN preparatory meetings for the 4WCW, the U.S. delegation has
advocated language in the platform that encourages governments to work
in partnership with NGOs, grant NGOs legal status, and protect their
independence. The Clinton Administration also works with the UN to
facilitate NGO participation in the conference by, for example, applying
fair and transparent visa procedures to all who attend.
Commitments--Putting Words Into Action
To help ensure that the words agreed to come to life, the U.S. supported
language in the draft platform that invites governments to come to
Beijing ready to state specific national commitments for priority
action. The U.S. will propose immediate steps it will take to improve
girls' and women's lives. The U.S. currently receives input from
citizens on policies, programs or legislative initiatives that should be
undertaken to implement the platform.
The platform already contains two commitments:
-- Governments should consult with citizens groups, private sector, and
philanthropic institutions to discuss implementation strategies soon
after the conference; and
-- Have a national strategy to implement the platform by the end of
The Fourth World Conference on Women is an important milestone on the
path to a future that is sustainable and just. We cannot address the
problems that threaten a common future unless women are empowered to
make the decisions that affect their lives--and the world.
The 4WCW document presents a plan of action that is fair and sensible.
It acknowledges the rich context of women's lives, and addresses women's
needs as individuals, as wives and mothers, as workers, and as members
of the human community.
The U.S. supports the broad objectives of the 4WCW conference. It
believes that implementation of the 4WCW Platform for Action will
benefit American women, families, and communities. Perhaps most
importantly, it will help ensure that our children--girls and boys--grow
up in a world that appreciates the dignity and potential of each person.
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