A Participant’s Experience in Beijing+20

–  Manju Thapa

 The United States of America, a country located very far from the tiny Himalayan State Nepal. And there stands the city of New York, usually known as ‘the economic capital of the world’. It was crowded by  the people of which very few were familier and most of them were completely strangers. More than 8000 participants from all over the world were gathered there. Seemed like a biggest celebration of its kind on earth. It was dated March 10, 2015.

I was extremely thrilled when I entered the corridors of the headquarter of the United Nations Organization (UNO). It was early in the morning when I find myself queuing for the participant’s official identity card. One major aspect of the occasion which was making me enormously energized was the fact that there were participants representing diverse nationality, ideas, beliefs, caste, colour, gender, and generation, but all of them were purely bound  by one goal – the 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, review of the 20 years of Beijing Declaration and Platform for Actiom (BPFA), evaluation of the Committment and the Action Plan of the 23rd Special Session of the UN, further committment on the agenda that has not been implemented, map out more new initiatives, the inclusion of the goals of women empowerment and gender equality in the post 2015 development agenda, and so on and so forth. It was such a great place where different individuals had to play different roles. Although women reprentatives were extremely in a large number but the male participants too were there in a significant number. Male involvement for gender equality was one of the main agenda as well as a strategy of that Session. The outside environment of the meeting hall was aromatic with colourful and attractive flowers whereas the Session-halls were heated with intellectualy intense discourse. Different activities shown by the government delegates, civil society representatives and the mediapersons really was exhilarating. Thus, as a witness and as a participant, I too was trying to make my time ever meaningful.

At that very time, since the airport was closed due to various reasons, the Turkish Airlines Boing were either delayed or cancelled, most of the Nepali delegates could not reach on time and participate the programme early from the beginning. It was on March 9 that the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon welcommed all the participants and delivered his inaugural speech. He emphasized saying if the new development agenda is to be truly transformative, women must be at its centre and front. He pointed out that women continue to suffer disproportionately from the economic crisis, from the impacts of climate change, from the displacement caused by conflict, persecution and so much else. He further added that women bear the burden. Women pay the price. But women are not just the victims; they are agents of  progress and change. The UN Secretary-General with putting emphasis said, ‘Our goal must be: 50:50 by 2030’, and urged governments to work closely with women’s groups and organizations, particularly the human rights defenders on the front lines. He further noticed that even at this time, there are five countries in the world where not a single woman is represented in Parliament, and eight countries in the world where not a single woman is a cabinet member. The UN Secretary-General didnot disclose the names here of those countries but he strongly urged the leaders of those countries to change this unacceptable situation.

During two weeks-long review session of the Commission on the Status of Women, on the one hand, the presentations from the government delegation and the concerning discourse were officially scheduled and went on, whereas, on the other hand, around 200 side-events and NGO-initiated 400 parallel sessions were organized for  a greater analysis and heated discussion. The official Nepali delegation was led by Ms Nilam KC, the Minister for Women Children and Social Welfare. Minister KC addressed the Session on behalf of the Nepal Government on March 11 stating that Nepal’s committment towards gender equality and women empowerment, as affirmed by the BPFA, has grown more powerful and influencial. She said that during the two decade long journey after the Beijing Conference, Nepal has accomplished significant achievements in rising gender equality and women empowerment in the economic, social and political areas. She further said that such challenges ie sexual and domestic violence against women, harmful socio-cultural traditions, patriarchal values still exist whereas the rights and the security concern of the women who go for foreign employment still remains a grave challenge. She pointed out the need to address the challenges against disparities among women caused by class, caste, region and other discrimination and of the women with disability.

Around 50-60 women representing non-government sector from Nepal were participating the global event. But a lack of strong coordination, effective communication and live exchange of ideas was sensed missing. A number of participants were seen irritated saying, ‘all should already be managed by Nepal’s Permanent Mission at New York, but they ignored the matter.’ A number of diplomatic Missions of other countries which has the same social and economic status as that of Nepal were organizing side events and trying to draw the attention of the world towards their particular issues. The concerned ministries of different countries, their embasseys, their Permanent Mission to UNO and their national NGOs were enthusiastically organizing side events and parallel sessions on different issues/topics. But Nepal’s Permanent Mission to UNO remain silent and absolutely inactive. No one from the official delegation organized or coorganized any event on behalf of Nepal Government. Almost all the Nepali delegates returned simply after participating the UN’s official programme, side events and the parallel discourses. Representing the civil society, only three Nepali women – Ms Shanta Laxmi Shrestha, the BBC Chair, Ms Bandana Rana, the NNBN Chair and Ms Dr. Renu Rajbhandari- were seen in some events either as co-organizer or pyanalist.

During the review session, there was an intense discourse on the 12 critical areas of concern of  BPFA  for women’s advancement. More discussion was held on and about the imperative support of men for eliminating the gender inequality and to promote women empowerment, inter-generational dialogue and the eradication of harmful traditional practices. I, too, individually got the pleasant opportunity, during the 59the Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, to paricipate in the side events as well as the parallel sessions organized from March 10-17. Each and every participant had a choice from hundreds of events and sessions to involve the self in the event/session of her/his choice. So, obviously it turned to be a very useful platform to participate in different sessions, learn from there, put forward own ideas in front of the senior pyanalists and to set up informal contacts with the participants from other countries.

I got the lovely opportunity to participate and learn a great deal on different issues of  various interest, such as ‘inter-generational dialogue and youth leadership development in women rights movement, bring to an end the violence against women in the digital and technology age, the world femminist jourmey, men and boys involvement in achieving gender equality, various discourses on women and media, reviews of the women and media action plan, media activism for gender equality in media, women’s voice in social media in post Beijing Conference till 2015, women in parliament to enfluence economic and social changes, education for eradicating the major causes for violence against women and girls, policy and good  practices  introduced for the institutional development of gender equality in education, good policy and practices in caring mental health, terminate the gap in women’s participation and representation in politics and the post 2015 development agenda, Public sector : an opportunity or a challange for women empowerment, imstitutional mechanism : diverse answers, flash deal related to sex trade – sex trafficking and misuse of human rights, and, the achievements and the challanges of  Beijing + 20 for the empowerment of non-white women and girls.’

It was my maiden experience of participating in any of the Commission on the Status of Women programme. I felt myself fortunate for having the great opportunity to participate in this global event and to witness in person how the dialogue on women empowerment and gender equality for international commitment and mechanism takes place, and how they get drafted and come to a conclusion. Along with this, the 59th Session of CSW proved to be an welcome opportunity to all for sharing experiences and hearing with the adamant activists of the associated country on how the initiatives and the concerned activities for women empowerment and gender equality are going ahead. This occasion  made me happy as it created the opportunity to create close contacts jo huh;t . amwjktgand expand our network with other organizations working outside our country.

Some of the participants who had the expereince of representing the country before, either through the government or through the non-government sector,  were seen busy in their personal business whereas the first timers were facing the problem for what/which event/programmes to be participated. In such a situation, if the experienced participants guided the rookies, it would mostly be better for all. As a result of  the lack of proper co-ordination among Nepali participants, who gained and who did not, remained simply on the individaul’s initiation. Someone can bring a lot from the sea whereas another can not. I mean to say what one has to gain from such global event is depend upon the interest, capacity and his/her willingness. However, there is no doubt that `such opportunities comtribute to one’s rise in supremacy.

 In the final hours of the programme, the Executive Director of the UN-Women Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka delivered the concluding remarks saying that we are all aware that there are no shortcuts to realizing gender equality, the empowerment of women and the human rights of women and girls. She noticed that based on the road we have travelled, we know that there are more challenges ahead of us. we know we must continue to work, systematically and relentlessly, to bring about transformation in our familiesm societies, economies, and political and public spaces.

She thanked the participants for passing the political declaration in which the Session strogly reaffirmed the Beijimg Declaration and Platform for Action, the role of civil society and set a target date to end gender inequality.

She urged for strong committment stating crucially, the political Declaration contains Ministers’ pledge to take further action to ensure the full, effective, and accelerated implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. These action, she explained, include : strengthened implementation of laws, policies, strategies; strengthened and increased support for institutional mechanisms for gender equality; transformation of discriminatory morms and gender stereotypes; significantly increased investment for gender equality to close resource gaps; strengthened accountability for the implementation of existing commitments; and, enhanced capacity building, data collection, monitoring and evaluation.

She further stated that we all have to start working on aforesaid commitments immediately, and more intensely, so that the people of the world can hear about ‘stepped up’ commitments, These must be building blocks to ending gender inequality as we implement the Sustainable Development Goals.

She said putting much more emphasis on that we will need to see solid, measurable progress by 2020, and make sure that 2030 is the expiry date for gender inequality. She urged all the governments and broader society to ‘ step it up’ for achieving the goals.

The political declaration passed by this Session has expressed the committment to function its best to achieve the goal of gender equality and women empowermwnt by 2030. The welcome speech delivered in the beginning of the programme by the UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon and the concluding speech given by the executive Director of the UN Women Ms Phunzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has clearly  traced out a direction to governments, NGOs and the civil society.

(Published on 2016/09/07)

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