Beyond Beijing: Strategies and Visions towards Women’s Equality
By Patricia A. Made and Isabella Matambanadzo
Published by SADC Press Trust
THE First World Plan for Action for Women was adopted in Mexico City in 1975 and called upon governments to develop strategies that would bring gender equality, eliminate gender discrimination and integrate women in development and peace-building.
The Second World Conference, held in Copenhagen in 1980, brought together 145 member-states to review the Mexico Plan for Action and stated that despite the progress made, special actions needed to be taken in areas such as employment opportunities, adequate health care services and education.
At the Third World Conference held in Nairobi in 1985, the UN revealed to member-states that only a number of women benefitted from the improvements and participants were asked to find new areas to ensure that peace, development and equality could be achieved.
Three sectors identified in Nairobi include equality in social participation and equality in political participation and decision-making.
The conference further recognised the necessity of women to participate in discussions in all areas and not only on gender equality.
And, the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 was the largest conference the United Nations had ever organised.
Over 189 governments, 17 000 participants including 6 000 government delegates, more than
4 000 representatives of NGOs,
4 000 journalists and all the UN organs attended the conference.
The 189 UN member-states adopted unanimously the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) to ensure the improvement of all women without any exceptions.
The BPFA outlined 12 critical issues, which constitute barriers for the advancement of women, and identified a range of actions that governments, the UN and civil society groups should take to make women’s human rights a reality.
The critical concerns identified in the BPFA include; poverty of women, unequal access to education, lack and unequal access to health care systems, violence against women, vulnerabilities of women in armed conflict, inequality in economic structures, inequalities in power and decision-making as well as institutional mechanisms to improve the advancement of women among others.
Made and Matambanadzo, in their book, highlight that at the conference, emphasis was placed on looking at the world through women’ eyes: “The 189 countries which committed themselves to looking at the world through women’s eyes must realise that it takes more than just signing solemn declarations to change matters.
The real task is to move from words full of rhetoric to practical action and implement what has been agreed on.”
Made and Matambanadzo note that ‘Take Beijing Home’ was a popular chant at the conference.
Indeed, Beijing was brought to Zimbabwe as strides have been made in the increased participation of women in various sectors in Zimbabwe.
For education, ‘affirmative action’ has been the driving force at all tertiary institutions which has seen an increased enrolment of women and girls for previously male-dominated fields like engineering and medicine.
The special measure reserves 60 seats for women to be elected through a system of proportional representation, based on the votes cast for political party candidates in the lower house (National Assembly).
For the 60 elected Senate seats, male and female candidates are listed alternately, with every list headed by a woman candidate.
As a result, women comprised 124 of the 350 MPs in the 2013 Parliament.
And, the current Cabinet has only three women out of 22 ministers.
There is still more to be done in the business world where very few women like Divine Ndhlukula who owns Securico, a security company, and Grace Muradzikwa, who is the chief executive officer at NICOZ Diamond, an insurance company, among a few others.
The book also highlights that culture and tradition, to a certain extent, perpetuate gender inequalities: “There were arguments that the role of women was determined to a great extent by customs and traditions, but also defined by economic circumstances and the background of Western colonial dominance.
Labidi cites two problems among those that need to be addressed. The first was sexuality, which involved situations in which men beat up women when they did not want to have sexual intercourse.
And the other was the myth that men were closer to God.”
Both culture and many religions portray women as being under men and supposed to be respectful and obedient. Hence at times, women who go against this norm are labelled ‘too-forward’ and ‘unfit’ for marriage.
Made and Matambanadzo note that strategies in the future should identify the structural gender differences and possible imbalances as well as the structural causes of gender disparities.
It would be equally important to identify the cultural roots for gender structures.
This will involve recognising and acting on the basic gender distortions in economic activity, promoting increased and equitable participation of women in governance and civil society as well as upholding and respecting women human rights.
It also recommends that in adopting gender equality as a strategic objective, the focus should no longer be seen as a ‘women’ concern but must be viewed as a central issue for society.
And within agencies, there is need for a broader sharing of responsibility and accountability for gender equality, as well as increased levels of gender expertise to provide the necessary advice and support.
“Although women comprise half or more of total country populations in the region, their equality in numbers is not reflected in SADC’s structures,” write Made and Matambanadzo.
“Gender is about men and women and improving the conditions of living of all people .We have to sensitise men at the top on becoming gender sensitive. The issues of women do not affect women only, men have to be together with women and helping in changing social attitudes and that those who are not gender sensitive will realise and start to ask why these women are subordinated.”
And, both the Beijing Platform for Action and the African Platform recognise the need for peace as a prerequisite to development.
The platforms also call for mechanisms to predict and prevent conflicts before they break out and ongoing programmes at all levels to promote and sustain peace.
One of the most common forms of violence among women is gender based violence and murder whose methods include axing, cutting, burning, battering, raping, sexual cleansing rituals, witch hunts and suicides.
“Violence against women has become a common, cruel and systematic feature of modern African societies. Most cases go unreported, with many women silently enduring severe levels of violence.
Zimbabwe has seen increased cases of gender based violence and in most cases women are the victims and this has been flamed by the advent of social media sites particularly facebook and WhatsApp.”