Would a Fifth UN Women's Conference Make a Difference?

7 years ago

Jean Shinoda Bolen is asking you to sign a petition for a Fifth UN World Conference on Women. Said petition would be delivered to the UN Secretary-General, to the chair of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and to the woman who will be appointed to head the new women's "super-agency" in March 2010. Shinoda Bolen explains:

A UN 5th World Conference on Women (5WCW) would be the most influential and far-reaching women's conference ever held. Grassroots activism and political leadership needs to be mobilized or it won't happen.

The fourth conference was held in Beijing in 1995, drew over 40,000 participants, and led to the Beijing Platform for Action, which if implemented would have created a world in which women's rights and human rights were one and the same. The empowerment of women changes priorities: safety for women and children, nutrition, health and education, and concern for the environment are women's concerns.

Yes! The empowerment of women makes a huge difference in society. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, makes this case very compellingly. At BlogHer, Britt Bravo urged women to read the book in their bookclubs. Great idea!

So why am I not inspired by the call for another world conference? It's two tiny letters in Shinoda Bolen's description of what happened after the 1995 conference: if. "If implemented." What I take away from that -- and from Kristoff and WuDunn and zillions of other sources of information on the status of women around the world -- is that it doesn't matter, that all the talk in the world isn't going to influence anything until societies are ready to hear the message. Maybe there's a better use for the resources that would go toward a big conference.

Or maybe I am just jaded and cynical. Lots of awesome feminist blogs, like See Jane Do, My Blooming Life, and Buzzen Donna are circulating the petition and making statements about why this would be a good thing.

Vital Voices blog reports that the "United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) has requested member governments to respond to a questionnaire on the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, which was adopted at the conference to guide progress on women's rights around the world. UN regional commissions are simultaneously evaluating achievements and considering challenges in the period from 2004 to 2009." This is a good start. But the question I return to time and again is what happens in nations that have done nothing since the Beijing Platform for Action was initiated? What about countries that actually lost progress (*cough*United States*cough*) in the last 15 years?

I like the idea of a conference, and I can see how it would energize and excite advocates for women's empowerment. I just wonder if the results will justify the expense, or if it is better to put the funding toward small, grassroots organizations around the world. What do you think?

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants and is the author of Off the Beaten (Subway) Track.

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