Magazine article The Christian Century

Women's Rights Reaffirmed at Beijing

Magazine article The Christian Century

Women's Rights Reaffirmed at Beijing

Article excerpt

The 150-page Platform for Action of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women and its shorter preamble, the Beijing Declaration, have been called the blueprints for women's rights into the 21st century. Among other things, the statement affirms the human rights of women and girls and calls the "advancement of women and the achievement of equality" a matter of human rights and a condition for social justice.

Carol Kolsti, a Disciples of Christ minister and president of Church Women United of Texas, says her experience in China changed her fundamental understanding of the world. "I think a global view of life is what I have gained. You can't get it when you're just performing the duties of life in your own community."

Kolsti, of Austin, Texas, was part of a 54-member delegation representing Church Women United, an ecumenical women's organization and one of hundreds of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) officially recognized by the United Nations. More than 3,200 NGOs participated in an NGO Forum, held in conjunction with the official conference. The NGO Forum took place in the town of Huairou, 50 kilometers from Beijing.

Kolsti acknowledged that most individual forum participants were unable to influence directly specific decisions being made by governmental representatives at the conference in Beijing.

Janice Love, leader of the World Council of Churches'delegation to the UN Conference, pointed out that the standards set in Beijing for policies on women's issues "are considerably better" than what currently exists in many countries. "Whenever governments sit together and by consensus work through a declaration of standards . . . they are forced to think through what many of the issues are," she said. Once the platform was adopted, "They are, in effect, allowing themselves to be held accountable to this new standard."

However, she also criticized the unwillingness of governments to tackle the issue of economic justice in relation to women's rights. Love, a United Methodist from South Carolina, is moderator of the WCC's board for international affairs. Although there were "several major gaps" in the Platform for Action of the World Conference, which included the issues of economic justice, migrant women, and racism, Love said she was "delighted" by the strong focus in the final statement on the need to overcome violence against women. …

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