Words and Deeds: Holding Governments Accountable in the Beijing + 5 Review Process

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IMPORTANT: This archived action campaign has been completed or discontinued, and the information contained in it may not be current. Please see Take Action for current and ongoing campaigns.
1 Jul 2000

From June 5 - June 9, 2000, government delegates and NGO representatives from more than 180 countries gathered in New York for a Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly to review implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. In the year prior to the Special Session, Equality Now launched an international campaign calling on governments to honor the commitments made during the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women. Equality Now's campaign report, issued in July 1999, highlighted discriminatory laws in 45 countries and called for the repeal of these and other discriminatory laws prior to the Special Session as a show of commitment to the words and spirit of the Platform for Action. The campaign focused on the specific undertaking made by governments in Paragraph 232 (d) of the Platform for Action, to "revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex and remove gender bias in the administration of justice."

Equality Now presented its Beijing + 5 campaign report to the Heads of State and the UN Permanent Representatives of all the countries featured in the report, as well as to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Human Rights Committee, the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Committee, the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, seeking their support for the repeal or amendment of discriminatory laws. Equality Now also met with representatives from a number of United Nations missions and government embassies including Algeria, Australia, Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Israel, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania and the United States. To date, Equality Now has received responses from the governments of the following countries: Australia, The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, France, India, Latvia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Rwanda, Switzerland, Turkey, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Of the 45 countries cited in the campaign report, however, only three, Costa Rica, Peru and Venezuela, have changed the laws highlighted.

At the Special Session of the General Assembly, States adopted an Outcome Document on June 10, 2000 that outlines achievements, obstacles, and further actions to be undertaken by governments and the UN to implement the Platform for Action. Paragraph 21 of the Outcome Document cites gender discrimination as an obstacle to the implementation of the Platform for Action, noting that discriminatory legislation persists and that in a few cases new laws discriminating against women have been introduced. Paragraph 103(c) calls on States to establish legislation "relating to all forms of domestic violence, including marital rape and sexual abuse of women and girls," and Paragraph 103(d) calls on States to establish legislation "to eradicate harmful customary or traditional practices including female genital mutilation, early and forced marriage, and so-called honour crimes that are violations of the human rights of women and girls."

The Outcome Document fails, however, to include concrete numerical goals or a specific time frame for implementing these provisions and others set forth in the Platform for Action. The preliminary draft of the document had included a target date of 2005 for the elimination of all discriminatory laws, but this provision was contested by several States. The final document reflects a compromise with substantially weakened language. Paragraph 102(b) provides that States are to review legislation "with the view to striving to remove discriminatory provisions as soon as possible, preferably by 2005 . . . ." A draft provision calling on States to review all existing legislation and policy to ensure compliance with international human rights instruments including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women was deleted without objection by any governments.

During the Special Session, Equality Now held a press conference at the United Nations, calling for the inclusion of a target date for the elimination of all discriminatory laws in the Outcome Document and highlighting the failure of governments to honor their commitment to end legal discrimination against women, as set forth in Paragraph 232(d) of the Platform for Action. At the press conference, the following women's rights activists presented developments regarding the reform of discriminatory laws in their respective countries/regions: Fatima Al-Abdali (Kuwait); Meaza Ashenafi (Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association); Sapana Pradhan-Malla (Forum for Women, Law and Development - Nepal); Susana Chiarotti (Comité de America Latina y el Caribe para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer, CLADEM); and Jean Kamau (International Federation of Women Lawyers: FIDA-Kenya). During the Special Session, Equality Now also held performances of "Women Can't Wait!" a creative work, commissioned as part of its campaign. Written and performed by Sarah Jones, "Women Can't Wait!" brought to life the impact of discriminatory laws on women around the world. A special performance, introduced by American actress Gwyneth Paltrow, was held in the United Nations on June 7, 2000 for government delegates and NGO representatives.

Although Equality Now's discriminatory laws campaign ended officially with the Special Session, the repeal of discriminatory laws will continue to be a major focus of our work on behalf of the human rights of women around the world. The campaign raised the visibility of discriminatory laws in countries around the world. However, Equality Now is disappointed that only three of the 45 countries highlighted were able to change their laws over the course of the year-long campaign. Equality Now plans to continue its efforts by supporting local, national, and regional initiatives to reform such laws and is developing several individual Women's Action campaigns targeting laws highlighted in the campaign report.

What You Can Do: 

Please write to the heads of state listed in Equality Now's campaign report, and/or to their embassies in your country, expressing your disappointment that the discriminatory laws cited in the report were not repealed or amended prior to the Beijing + 5 Special Session. Raise concern that the failure to implement such a fundamental first step in the effort to end discrimination against women suggests a lack of commitment to the spirit of the Platform for Action as well as a lack of accountability to the specific obligations established therein. Express the hope that governments will demonstrate that they do have the political will to make the Beijing + 5 review process a meaningful one by revoking these laws as soon as possible, in accordance with the commitment made in paragraph 102(b) of the Outcome Document.