After 25 years of the historic Beijing Platform For Action, feminists have again conglomerated to revisit, review and rewrite the objectives and promises that were once created to ensure empowerment for women and gender equality in the world by emphasising on eliminating violence against women, ensuring access to family planning and reproductive healthcare, providing formal employment and reducing wage gaps and advocating sustainable development. While the agendas made in Beijing in 1995 seemed quite promising, the governments have failed to advocate equality, development and peace for all women which has led to the growth and sustenance of various forms of discrimination and violence against women in every part of the world.
Hence, 150 feminist organisations from over 45 countries all over the world have decided to call for a Women’s Global Strike on International Women’s Day, that is 8th March 2020, in order to assert their disappointment for the failure of nation states to ensure a more gender sensitive, just and equal world for women and marginalised communities. These organisations such as APWLD have asked, “Women from every corner of the world to stop or slow down their formal, informal or care work and come together to demand women’s human rights.“
When the Beijing Declaration was discussed and reviewed at the Asia-Pacific Regional Forum, feminist activists realised that oppression against women structurally continued to persist, along with precarious combinations of modern-world inventions of militarism, neo-liberalism, globalisation, fundamentalism, neo-colonialism and environmental destruction. New kinds of patriarchies emerged which, rather than dismantling the gendered status quo, often tend to nurture traditional forms of patriarchal subordination as well as create new insidious forms of subjugation against women in the form of wage gaps, climate change repercussions, labour force participation rates and socio-cultural stigmatisation.
While the agendas made in Beijing in 1995 seemed quite promising, the governments have failed to advocate equality, development and peace for all women which has led to the growth and sustenance of various forms of discrimination and violence against women in every part of the world. Hence, 150 feminist organisations from over 45 countries all over the world have decided to call for a Women’s Global Strike on International Women’s Day.
Beijing +25 Asia-Pacific CSO Forum
I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Asia-Pacific CSO Forum held in Bangkok, from 24th to 26th November, 2019, where civil society organisation activists, government delegates, media representatives and policy makers from almost 45 countries mostly from this part of the world examined and debated the agreements that were made 25 years ago.
The three day Convention had assigned Anger, Hope and Action as themes to organise the various speakers from different parts of the Asia-Pacific region, with a viewpoint that would cover the various intersections of marginalities that women live within. The main message however was clear: #FeministsWantSystemChange!
The representatives were told to express anger about the ways in which women have been and still are subordinated by patriarchal mechanisms of misogyny. The following day was meant to restore hope and build solidarities to fight together against all that makes us angry and the final day was meant to discuss the various ways we can implement our theories into practice. Of course, the discussions and debates were not neatly boxed within any stringent categories but they continuously overlapped with one another to create a more inclusive dialogue between the participants.
The motivation in the Forum was directed to understand how far have we come over the years, where we failed, what are the challenges that women are facing in today’s society and what could be the possible ways to mitigate such forms of gender based discrimination. However, activists fear that the present world of fascist leaders and their cabinets are regressing, rather than progressing towards a gender equal world. With the rise of right wing leaders in India, Brazil, Russia, America, England etc., there is a counter force acting to perpetrate gender inequality and status quo which would help them stay in power and practice a violent dictatorship in the garb of a false democracy.
History And Today
Gender equality, an idea that was conceptualised and promised centuries ago had been taken on board as a serious matter of concern more recently in the year 1995 in Beijing, as feminists and activists had gathered together to discuss and debate the dire demand for a gender just world. From 4th to 15th September, 1995 various governments across the world assimilated in the hope for moving towards a progressive society by empowering the women of the world. It was also the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. Their goal included the development, equality and peace for all women in order to acknowledge, amplify and advance the voices and narratives of women and their experiences.
While inequalities persisted even before the Declaration and still continue to persist in different parts of the world, the Beijing 1995 Platform was certainly a historic moment internationally to realise the state of women all across the globe and work together towards making concerns of women an integral part of developmental agendas
While inequalities persisted even before the Declaration and still continue to persist in different parts of the world, the Beijing 1995 Platform was certainly a historic moment internationally to realise the state of women all across the globe and work together towards making concerns of women an integral part of developmental agendas which were initially constructed on gender neutral grounds.
In India, such a step would be termed as ‘positive discrimination’, a terminology used for caste-based reservations, whereby governing bodies inquire and recognise the systemic ways in which particular identity groups are structurally and socially marginalised within multiple tangents of gender, race, caste, religion, class, ethnic identity, disability, country or creed and create policies and programs that would target in mitigating these complex intersectional predicaments. Hence, not only do we have to realise the intersections within humans in this case, women, but also the ways in which certain issues take different forms by the virtue of its temporal and spatial contexts.
The Beijing Declaration was meant to encourage governments to make gender-sensitive policies and programmes as well as focus on the aspects of gender based discrimination even while formulating apparent ‘gender neutral’ laws and policies. Civil society networks, non-governmental organisations and other community based organisations were encouraged to do the same, in order to influence the bureaucratic mechanisms to ensure effective implementation of the policies and programmes meant to eliminate gender based discriminatory actions in the world such as violence against women, oppression by educational and employment institutions, religious orthodoxies and the violation of human rights.
Although such a progressive forum did sound quite promising, and probably we did move towards some progressively motivated gender equal world, however, the pace of mobilisation has been quite slow and it has also failed to acknowledge the complexities of social positions of women that not only differ with respect to the countries they belong from, but also within local contexts of socio-cultural diversity. The Platform for Action did make gender equality a mainstream matter at hand, but their plans of action could not be practically implemented for all women of the world including dalit women, women with disabilities, women living in conflict areas, queer women or Muslim women. This can be understood within the present context of India.
In India, there might have been more women in schools, colleges and offices, but a further inquiry reveals that the status quo has still been in tact as most of the women who were able to mobilise themselves were already hailing from privileged backgrounds of caste, class, location (urban/rural) and religion. Further, the labour force participation rates for women in India have been constantly declining, which also makes us wonder whether women who still are able to access education and are relatively mobile have been unsuccessful in acquiring employment, due to this competitive neo-liberal and capitalist world which is apathetic towards multiple oppressions that women face and they focus mainly on privilege based competencies.
The Need Of The Hour: Connect The Global To The Local And Vice Versa
One of the most obvious questions that I expect to be asked is, “Why should India care about these global activisms?”
It is in fact quite true that there lies a huge gap between the global and the local forms of activism that feminists advocate in their own capacities. However, various CSOs have attempted at mitigating these gaps by providing space and funds for grassroots organisations to collaborate or represent their work and the organisation in order to synthesise solidarities between the international, national, regional and local feminisms.
The Asia Pacific CSO Forum saw many Indian grassroots organisations such as the Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum, Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch, Rising Flame, All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch, Nazariya QFRG talk about their work, all of which had unique and distinct objectives for the upliftment of women and queer people belonging from different forms of marginalities, such as disability, marginalised sexualities, caste based oppression, agricultural sectors etc.
This sort of representation in international platforms matters because both the local and the global can influence, motivate and shape the kinds of micro and macro activisms that are being threatened by state and bureaucratic authorities in power. Only when such unities are formulated, our individual feminisms become collective feminisms, more self reflexive and lead to creating networks of mutual support and strength to pressurise governments to take up feminist concerns, women’s rights and gender equality as salient issues in the holistic development of nation states.
Featured Image Source: Women’s Global Strike official site