Some 80 world leaders made a commitment on behalf of their governments to end discrimination against women by 2030 and announced they would take concrete action to accelerate change in their countries. The heads of state made their pledges at an event convened at the United Nations at the end of September.
Ironically, it was the People’s Republic of China, host of the historic 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, and UN Women, which cohosted the “Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: A Commitment to Action.”
Commitments covered a range of issues addressing the most pressing barriers for women, such as increasing investment in gender equality, reaching parity for women at all levels of decision-making, eliminating discriminatory legislation, and addressing social norms that perpetuate discrimination and violence against women.
China’s president Xi Jinping, leader of a country not known for its egalitarian treatment of women, said at the opening of the event, “We still have a long way to go in achieving gender equality. …The international community should reaffirm the spirit of the Beijing Conference with a renewed commitment and pledge greater efforts to promote gender equality and women’s all-around development. …China will do more to enhance gender equality as its basic state policy, give play to women’s important role as ‘half of the sky’ and [will] support them in realizing their own dreams and aspirations in both career and life. Chinese women, through their own development, will also play a greater part in the global women’s movement and [will] make greater contributions to gender equality in the world.”
To support women’s development worldwide—and the work of UN Women—the Chinese leader announced his country will contribute $10 million to implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and to realize related goals beyond 2015’s development agenda. President Xi also pledged China’s support for women and girls in other developing countries, promising to provide health care, vocational training, financing for education and other assistance.
In his remarks, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon told the assembled world leaders: “As heads of state and governments you have the power and the responsibility to ensure that gender equality is—and remains—a national priority,” he said, urging government heads first “to create and energetically implement coherent gender equality policies. Second, provide significant financing for gender equality so that commitments become reality. And third, monitor progress so that all governments will hold themselves and each other accountable for the pledges made here today.”
UN Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN under-secretary-general, said, “The highest leaders in [their countries] are taking personal responsibility for their commitment to gender equality and the empowerment of women. Now the world looks up to them to lead” in taking action to ensure the pledges become reality, she said. “Today we take the first firm steps towards 25 September 2030.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was emphatic that women’s voices are needed to achieve peace, and to further development, noting both were emphasized “at this year’s G7 Summit—our commitment [is] to women’s empowerment and initiative to provide vocational training and entrepreneurial opportunities for women in developing countries. …In Germany …we have expanded childcare and we finally have a law on women in leadership positions. …We all committed in 1995 to implement the Beijing Platform for Action. Now we are making a new commitment… Commitments are good. Action is better. Let us take action!”
While actions will vary, they are expected to align behind a common message: sustainable development goals cannot be achieved without gender equality. If countries act immediately to translate the goals into action, and close many remaining gaps in implementing the landmark 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, the world could reach gender equality by 2030. All government commitments were posted throughout the course of the event at: http://beijing20.unwomen.org/en/step-itup/commitments
The heads of state and governments of Chile, Croatia, Iceland, Kenya and Mexico were cochairs of the event. (Denmark, Kenya and Mexico had previously hosted three World Conferences on Women before the 1995 Beijing Conference). Besides government representatives, participants at the UN gathering included gender equality champions from civil society, the business world and multilateral organizations.
The Global Leaders’ meeting was the culmination of an 18- month long effort, spearheaded by UN Women, to review the status of implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action on its 20th anniversary. A record 167 countries undertook national reviews that assessed progress and gaps as a basis for new national action plans to accelerate achievement of women’s empowerment and gender equality. To learn more, go to: unwomen.org/stepitup.