North Shares Responsibility for Slow Progress in Beijing+5!
Members of the Women's International Coalition for Economic Justice (WICEJ) 8 June 2000
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Diplomats from around the world, along with over 5,000 women activists, are gathered at the UN this week to measure progress made in achieving women's social, economic, cultural and political rights five years after an historic conference in Beijing. In 1995, governments and the UN system made bold commitments to advancing women's human rights. In the halls of the UN this week, the official document for how to further implement this agenda is bogged down by the intransigence and lack of interest of many governments and a lack of timely leadership from within the UN itself, despite the energetic lobbying of women's organizations from around the world.

Many governments, representing every region of the world have responsibility for the near total breakdown in diplomatic negotiations. Much has been written in the press about the intransigence of a small group of conservative countries assisted by the Vatican, who, in the name of preservation of cultural and religious tradition, seek to roll back gains made in Beijing by reopening debates about the universality of women's rights, including leadership roles, reproductive health and the definition of the family. However, these are not the only UN difficulties in reaching consensus on women's rights. The fact is all nations, including the rich nations of the North, have refused to budge on certain issues. For the North, these include issues related to the erosion of women's economic and social rights in the context of corporate globalization. Pointing to conservative developing countries becomes an easy means of avoiding scrutiny of their own shortcomings in protecting the economic well-being of women.

The Beijing commitments and the global women's movement loudly affirm that the rights to freedom from violence, equal access to decision-making, and reproductive health cannot be separated from women's economic and social rights. The governments' continued attempts to separate women's rights and affirm only some of these rights gives the religious right an opening to obstruct progress in this forum.

The position taken by some Northern government delegates and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) --that all would be fine if a right-wing "cabal" of countries were less rigid-- is not only false, it smacks of racism and exacerbates the North/South divide in the UN. A common tendency is for the US, European Union and other Northern states to smugly point the finger at corrupt Southern governments, calling for better governance and accountability and scolding them for not upholding UN agreements on social development indicators, human rights and women's human rights. At the same time, these Northern nations set the macro-economic policies, through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and World Trade Organization (WTO), that are devastating developing economies, cutting social service and regulatory budgets, and violating women's economic human rights to jobs, housing, healthcare and an adequate standard of living. The history of colonialism and Northern-supported corrupt Southern dictators makes such remonstrations ring hollow. This is an cynical game being played in the name of advancing women's rights, while pushing forward a neo-liberal economic agenda that hurts women of both South and North.

Women have gathered in New York this week in the thousands to talk, among other things, about the role that the 1997 global financial crisis, the WTO, IMF and World Bank policies, and transnational corporations play in devastating their hopes for decent jobs and economic security. In economic terms, women have been set back since 1995 by the forces of the global free market--there is little progress to measure here. According to the UNDP's 1999 Human Development Report which focuses on the effects of globalization, few countries have made substantial progress in overcoming the gender gap in poverty, measured in literacy rate, income levels and life expectancy. This certainly includes poor women in the United States, blindsided by a welfare reform that is little more than a program to move them into low wage, insecure jobs or homelessness.

For the world's women, particularly the global women's movement represented in New York this week, the defense of human rights is not an either-or proposition. It is not a question of letting conservative nations off the hook on reproductive rights or the universality of human rights. Nor will we absolve struggling developing countries for their failure to advance a women's agenda despite the ups and downs of the global economy. At the same time, we will not ignore the double standards of the elite Northern governments who would limit a women's agenda to the individual realm and ignore the economics.

Women of the world demand both gender justice and economic justice. We denounce a UN game that would trade one for the other, leaving us on the sidelines. Long after this special session is over, the NGO's who networked at the UN this week will be organizing at the local, national, regional and international level to hold governments of both North and South, as well as the international financial and trade institutions, accountable for delivering on all of our human rights.

Members of the Women's International Coalition for Economic Justice (WICEJ) 8 June 2000



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