Global action on women’s equality


A chara, – It was 25 years ago that 50,000 delegates landed in Beijing for the Fourth World Conference on Women, the largest ever global gathering to discuss and advance women’s equality and human rights.

I was among the delegates at the conference, which aimed to secure a strong commitment from world leaders on policies to promote and advance women’s rights. Over three weeks the Beijing Platform for Action was agreed to promote women’s equality and to which nation states would sign up.

The final text of the Beijing Platform for Action contained significant commitments to address women’s inequality, and it was heralded as a success in achieving consensus across such potentially divisive issues as reproductive rights, land ownership and women in conflict resolution. The platform also included recognition of violence against women as a human rights issue, not a “domestic” issue to be dealt with at the family level.

But how far have we come?

These questions are being teased out at a high-level United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York being held to mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Conference with the theme “Accelerating the realisation of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”.

In a recent report, UN Women, the United Nations body dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, said progress since Beijing has been far too slow and uneven, and warned gender equality is lagging while hard-fought gains are under threat. It said globally progress on women’s access to paid work has ground to a halt over the past 20 years, while women are on average paid 16 per cent less than men, rising to 35 per cent in some countries.

The report concluded that women continue to shoulder the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work, and nearly one in five women (18 per cent) have faced violence from an intimate partner in the past year. New technologies are fuelling new forms of violence, such as cyber-harassment, for which policy solutions are largely absent. Some 32 million girls are still not in school, and men still control three-quarters of parliamentary seats in the world.

Goal witnesses daily in the countries in which we work the unfinished business of Beijing. While we’ve seen significant progress on poverty eradication in the past quarter of a century, today 12 million girls get married each year before the age of 18; that is roughly 33,000 every day, or one every two seconds.

There are some 650 million women alive today who were child brides, struggling with a wide range of attendant health and social problems.

Women in rural parts of Africa still spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water, and the World Economic Forum indicates that it will take another century to close the gender gap.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Beijing conference was using multilateral diplomacy to promote and advance women’s human rights. With over 170 nation states participating, there was surprisingly little rancour and more than enough co-operation to achieve the ground-breaking and still inspiring Beijing Platform for Action.

In a world where multilateral leadership has been seriously undermined, this is a challenge.

Now 25 years on a renewed global commitment is needed where individuals, states, agencies and NGOs such as Goal collaborate to reinforce efforts to achieve the promise of Beijing. – Yours, etc,


Deputy Chief Executive,


Carnegie House,

Library Road,

Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.