Are we nearly there yet? Bringing Beijing home!

There is no doubt that 1995 was a pivotal year for women.  At the Fourth Women’s Conference in Beijing the pertinent issues facing women were highlighted and a historic political commitment to women’s rights was made. This commitment is more formally known as the Beijing Platform for Equality, Development and Peace.

From 3rd -5th November 700 people, representing 350 groups and 56 countries gathered in the United Nations office, Geneva with one common purpose, to strive to make the world a better place for women and girls. This forum organised by the Geneva Committee on the Status of Women, provided a unique platform for representatives of non – government organisations to review the achievements of the last 20 years and highlight areas of ongoing concern relating to women’s rights.

The forum was structured around a number of interactive roundtable discussions on themes including women and human rights, violence against women, women in power and decision making, women and poverty, women and health and women and education and training. A panel of experts started each session with stimulating insights, statistics and recommendations informed by their area expertise that paved the way for insights and recommendations from the forum participants.

As General Secretary of YWCA Ireland I felt honoured to represent our association at this important event. To join with 700 human rights activists in the heart of the United Nations is a truly empowering experience with overwhelming symbolism. It is encouraging that we have come a long way in advancing women’s human rights since 1995, however, as one of only two Irish delegates present, the voice of Irish women seemed hugely underrepresented in this review process. As a professional, a mother of daughters, a Christian, a young woman, a rural woman, the compelling challenge to bring home global policies to Irish communities is immediate.  Human rights are only effective if you know about them!

In order to further advance women’s equality in the twenty first century the opportunity to influence global and national policy must be afforded to women from all sectors of society.  Governments, women’s organisations, churches and the wider community must join forces in encouraging women to actively participate in shaping all policy, including policy that relates specifically to women. It is essentialthat all women, regardless of their social or economic status, know that the opportunity to make a difference is within their reach and that their voice matters.NGO Forum

by Audrey Wilson, YWCA Ireland General Secretary

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