Sunday, November 23

Member States overlook Agreed Language on Women’s Rights at Beijing+20

I have always wondered whether when it comes to [inter/governmental ] negotiations on military spending, do member states overlook agreed language in the same way as they do on women’s rights and gender equality. 

For several decades, state authorities have compromised, overlooked and marginalised women’s issues. They give more precedence to military expenses, economy, bilateral / multilateral trade agencies and infrastructural development and little attention to gender responsive actions. Most states have failed to realised that for growth to be attained, efforts must be made to address the gender gaps.

In 1995, 189 head of governments, including African heads agreed in Beijing to take action towards promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment (GEWE). It’s almost 20 years! and little progress has been made towards achieving gender equality across the globe, Africa in particular. Violence against women and girls remain high. Young women and girls still lack access to quality and healthy comprehensive sexuality information, education, services and care.

November 17 -19, 2014, at the ninth Africa Regional Conference on Women (Beijing+20)  in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia - in the attendance of around 23 Gender Ministers, 170 CSOs and 135 experts, we were all reminded by UN Women and partners that, in none of the 12 critical areas of concern of the Beijing Declaration, there has been a critical mass of progress and achievement. Thus the need for restrengthening engagement for gender equality and women’s empowerment (GEWE); accelerating the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, as well as fostering comprehensive, transformational sustainable development goals.

Not just UN Women and partners reiterated on the need for advancing GEWE, some Member states also emphasised on the need for strong commitment to ensure the promotion and achievement of GEWE. And to view GEWE as a development agenda. Sad to say, why this has been the conversation for decades, member states adhering to agreed language on women’s rights at some of the deliberations remains an issue. 

At this year’s Beijing+20 Regional Review, member states made an issue out of the section 3 of the draft declaration on Beijing+20 review  on “Women’s Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights, and HIV/AIDs”. While this is not a new language, it sounded like a new issue for member states. 

SomeCameroon Delegation at Beijing20. pic taken by Bob . M.
In an attempt to further understand why this behaviour is common in almost all intergovernmental negotiations focused on GEWE that I have attended; I  approached some of the Gender ministers, including those in opposition of the section.  In our conversation, I was interested to understand why the opposition and what is their proposed solution. Recognising the fact that some of these language already exists in some of the treaties and conventions, their countries is already a signatory - e.g Maputo Protocol, Beijing Declaration & Platform of Action, Abuja Declaration and ICPD PoA…

Central Africa Republic (C.A.R): The wordings in the french version is different from the english document. Some of it are vague. it is vital to use matching words so to avoid discrepancies and also not contradict previous agreed language or declaration. Note that the fact that this Beijing+20 is a review and follow-up of the previous one, the deliberation seeks to ameliorate, correct, modify and close existing gaps so as to attain and achieve the platform’s objective. 

Zambia: Agreed language must be contextualised. It must be the same across documents, be it ICPD PoA, Beijing Declaration..If needs arise to use new language, or to paraphrased agreed language it should be clear and precise.

Ghana: The first thing to look at in such spaces is whether there has been progress made on previous proposed or agreed language. It is also important to look whether countries did enforced what they had agreed to. With that backdrop, it enables us review, revise our position for future implementation. It is also important to remember that nothing prevents a country from adding on an issue of critical concern, particularly emerging issues and threats that needs immediate address. E.g the Ebola Crisis is an emerging issue and though it was not mentioned in the BPfA in 1995, it cant be ignore today! Moreover, this review, revision and deliberation is to enable us all come to terms with the practical realities and ensure that it is fully implemented. it should be applicable and achievable.

Swaziland: consistency with the language. Often in most of these spaces, delegates rotate as government changes and usually there is no proper handover to inform & briefed the persons representing the country on some of these regional/global conversation. The reason you will find the same country in two separate occasions  making contradictory statements on the same issue. 

As an advice, representatives of member states must endeavour to gain broad understanding around key thematic areas, and also research around those issues to know what has previously been agreed to by their country [predecessors].  

Sudan: A lot of member states are confused. Some have little or no clue on what they had previously agreed to. But to help and facilitate participation, it is important that in clauses on agreed language, reference be made to those articles so that member states are aware that it is not a new language but an already agreed language

Note, some countries also change their delegates and usually these new delegates are not briefed on what has been previously agreed. And when they get in some of these spaces, they speak from a personal position and not the national position. 

Gambia: No idea why members states reject issues which they have already committed to.

Madagascar: The used of unmatched terminology. The english version is clear but the translation is poor and rarely relates to the content or subject of debate. 

Namibia: The understanding of issues in the Africa continent is completely different from that of global spaces. The way things are framed and phrased in spaces like this [e.g ECA] is not the same like in the CSW and other UN Meetings in New York.

re-wording remains a problem. The flow of words is critical for engaging government and stakeholders. 

NIGER: Political environment changes as well as personal opinion too can influence on the country’s position. 

Burkina Faso: The position and interest of government can change within any given period of time and that also impact their negotiations. For instance, at this stage, Burkina Faso is more concern about addressing insecurity and political violence and this can shift our position on many issues.

Cameroon: Typos, wrong phrasing and poor translation from english to french is one of the biggest impediment and reason for opposition. The Cameroon delegation is very ok with the declaration - we don't have any problem with promoting girls and women SRHR information, services and care. In fact, we think this declaration is one of the best so far in the region. 

Listening to all 11 Ministers, the one thing I noted is that everyone of them had at least an excuse. And I hope they realise that now is no time for making excuses. There should be no excuse for not achieving gender equality and women's empowerment (GEWE) in 20 years or more. For advancing GEWE is not about whether a country is french or english. GEWE is an essential human rights and must be fully attained. In summary, my take-home is that women and girls issues, particularly around around their health is still overlooked. States will continue to make excuses and justify their gender insensitive action and we must not allow that to repeat again in the next 15 or 20 so years. They must adhere and fully implement these agreement. GEWE must be realised!  

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Access the full Africa CSO position statement on Beijing+20 here. 

The forum began on November 14th, with the CSO meetings which lasted for 3 days. Followed by the Experts and Ministerial meetings on November 17 - 19th, 2014. 

The conference ended with the adoption of a declaration on Beijing+20.

All about the 9th African regional review on #Beijing20 is online:

Both English and French versions of the CSOs Statement are available on Femnet Secretariat website.  Click here for English and French.

Speeches, news and other presentations and publications from the Inter-Ministerial meeting that took place from 17-19 is also available here:

Press Releases following the Inter-Ministerial meeting: