You might have heard that September 5th is the 20th anniversary of a very significant step in the path to gender equality: the Fourth World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace that took place in Beijing, China in 1995. You may have seen the #Beijing20 hashtag across social media in recent days. And you may be wondering what a 20-year-old conference has anything to do with you, today, and why you should be interested in it, why you should pay attention.
Though much progress has been made, and there are many rights “We” in the United States may take for granted (like the right to vote, run for president, go to any school or college we want, work, own property, prosecute perpetrators of violence against us), there are still major issues — including one-third of women and their children living on the brink of poverty, access to healthcare, domestic violence — that urgently need to be changed. And, the rights that you may take for granted, as you rightly should actually, are not there for women in more than 100 other countries whose delegates signed the Beijing Platform for Action, creating a roadmap to full participation of women and girls in every aspect of society.
In today’s world, we can no longer think of “we” as people within our family, community, gender or even physical borders. If inequalities between women and men exist anywhere in our country and the international community, they exist for all of us. There is no us and them anymore. We’re all communicating across continents, developing virtual relationships and connecting digitally without a thought of the distance between us.
On September 5th and every day afterwards remember that there are no human rights that “they” are denied that “we” enjoy, be that defined by gender or geography. When it comes to humanity, we are them and they are us.
So, #Beijing20 is relevant to every single one of us, and we have to continue to talk about it and take action wherever and whenever we can.
There will be countless essays critiquing how we as a country, an international community and civil society have measured up against the 12 “critical areas of concern” articulated in the Platform for Action, which are:
- poverty of women
- unequal access to education
- unequal access to healthcare systems
- violence against women
- vulnerabilities of women in armed conflict
- inequality in economic structures
- inequality in power and decision making
- institutional mechanisms to improve the advancement of women
- lack of respect for and inadequate protection in human rights
- under-representation of women in the media
- inequalities in natural resource management
- and violation of the rights of the girl child.
Evaluating our outcomes and progress is a crucial exercise. This 20th Anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on where we are and the work left to be done. Some countries will fare better than others, but no country will have a perfect score on every concern, and that includes the United States.
You might look at the daunting list above and believe strongly in achieving the goals, but think that these issues are outside of your scope and power, that it’s work for politicians, lawmakers, diplomats and activists. That’s where I disagree. That’s where A Woman’s Nation disagrees.
Because we in A Woman’s Nation believe that the actual first step to full gender equality in the United States and around the world starts with awakened minds and hearts led by the values of consciousness, compassion and care. And that is something you can act on right away, every minute of your everyday life.
Every step thereafter, whether small, in our actions towards each other, or large in setting national policy, is powered by these values that are necessary to achieving social, political and economic equality among women and men everywhere.
It’s simple — incredibly complicated, and yet so simple: in the world that A Woman’s Nation envisions, all humans live with regard for one another. We are all seeking a society that doesn’t prioritize one human’s rights over another based on gender. One’s wellbeing is not at the expense of another’s. Everybody cares about each other and demonstrates that value by refusing to accept poverty, discrimination, and violence in their homes, schools, workplaces, and communities.
What does refusing to accept these things look like? It requires a shift in focus. And it starts with you. Not a full-time activist, global organization, politician, lawmaker, diplomat or the government (though they all have important roles they must play).
It starts with just you.
Although the 1995 Platform for Action that came out of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing 20 years ago called upon the private sector, in addition to governments, the international community, and nongovernmental organizations, to take action against the 12 critical concerns listed above, it left out a lot of us — the human beings who are living in this world plagued by poverty, discrimination, and war without the power to set a policy agenda or enact laws.
There are millions of us.
And if each one of us took an action that is consistent with a conscious, compassionate, and caring society, we would be that much closer to the vision the majority of us want. That is how awareness is raised. A dialogue starts and becomes a national conversation, minds shift and behaviors change, policy makers take notice and the agenda reflects that, and society evolves.
Each one of us can start right away by paying fair wages to those we hire, expressing gratitude to those who care for us, recognizing the value of motherhood and celebrating it, practicing mutual respect and acceptance in our homes, and teaching our children that people of all abilities, genders, beliefs, and ethnicities share the same human rights.
Each of us can act every day, for all of us.