15 years after landmark gathering, women still lack equal rights

Mar 1, 2010

High-level meeting at the UN assesses advances and challenges in women’s rights

New York - Thousands of government officials, activists and women leaders from all over the world are gathered in NY today to assess the progress and challenges in women’s empowerment at the 54th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. The meeting takes place at the United Nations Headquarters from March 1-12 — 15 years after the milestone gathering in Beijing when governments pledged to advance equality for women everywhere.

“Progress towards gender equality has been uneven and slow, making it more difficult to meet the Millennium Development Goals,” said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark. “To meet the MDGs by 2015, we must all work harder on the empowerment of women, gender equity in education, and on improving maternal health. These are not only critical in their own right, but will underpin progress on other MDGs too.”

At the 1995 gathering, 189 countries unanimously recognized gender equality and the empowerment of women as fundamental for development, peace and human rights, adopting the Beijing Declaration. They also adopted the Platform for Action, an internationally agreed plan for achieving equality for women across critical areas ranging from education and economy to armed-conflict, power and decision-making. The landmark conference was the largest-ever gathering of governmental and non-governmental representatives at a United Nations conference, with around 47,000 participants, men and women.

Challenges ahead

Looking back, it is clear what were once called ‘women’s issues’ have been transformed into matters of primary national and international significance. Stronger women’s networks and alliances have taken shape, across issues and borders. But many challenges remain.

Education – Around 60 per cent of countries have achieved gender parity in primary education, 30 percent in secondary education and only 6 per cent intertiary education. Gender disparities in education are clearly evident in some regions. Sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania, for example, have the largest gender gaps in primary enrolment. The gender gap in school enrolment is more evident in secondary education, where many more countries are falling behind.At the current rate of progress, the target of eliminating gender disparity in all levels of education no later than 2015 remains far from being achieved.

Women in politics - The global average of women holding parliamentary seats (18.6 percent) is far from the target of 30 percent set in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. At the present rate, it will take another 40 years to reach gender parity. By March 2009, 15 women were serving as heads of state or government, up from nine in 2000. Gains were made in Latin America and the Caribbean, where women hold 22 percent of all legislative seats, the highest regional average.

Economy - In developing countries, women consistently lag behind men in formal labour force participation and entrepreneurship, earn less than men for similar work, and have less access to credit and lower inheritance and ownership rights than men do.

Women occupy almost 40 percent of all paid jobs outside agriculture, compared to 35 percent in 1990. But almost two thirds of women in the developing world work in vulnerable jobs as self-employed persons or as unpaid family workers. This type of work accounts for more than 80 percent of all jobs for women in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

As a result of the global economic crisis, many more women are being pushed into vulnerable jobs with limited or no safety nets that guard against income loss during economic hardship. The large number of women unpaid workers in family businesses also adds to their already heavy burden of unpaid care work in households.

Violence - Despite tremendous progress made in establishing international standards and enacting national laws to address gender-based violence, there is still no evident decrease. Security Council resolutions 1888 and 1889 on gender, peace and security are important landmark resolutions, but they are only the beginning of what must be done to ensure the security of women throughout the world.

In the course of her lifetime, at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex or abused by an intimate partner and one in five women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape.  The number is higher during periods of armed conflict.

UNDP works with governments, civil society organizations and the private sector in 166 countries to address women’s needs and to ensure equality and justice for women and girls.

Other Resources:
UNDP side events during the Commission on the Status of Women [PDF]
UNDP’s work on Women’s Empowerment
UNDP Fast Facts on Progress since the Beijing Conference [PDF]
UNDP’s messages for the Commission on the Status of Women 2010 [PDF]

UNDP Around the world