Adopted two decades ago in Beijing at the Fourth World Conference on Women, BPfA has become the most prominent international gender equality instrument with its objective to address twelve key areas of concern on women, peace and development: poverty, economy, education, environment, health, political participation, leadership and decision-making, violence and discrimination against women, conflict, human rights of women and girls, and government strategies to promote gender equality. Given the continuous increase in gender disparities regarding development, UN Women together with UNECA try to evaluate methods that were created in fostering gender equality, women empowerment and human rights of women and girls. Noting that more support, commitment and action is needed to realize the full implementation of BPfA.
The highlight in the international effort towards the implementation of BPfA was the creation of UN Women through the UN reform agenda. As part of its commitment to gender equality, in 2010 UN redefined its goal of gender equality by restructuring its previous gender equality entity known as the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to UN Women. The objective of this evolution was to centralize the gender equality development agenda in national, regional and global spheres. Among others, the development of UN Women is entrenched on the principles and values of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BDPfA) and UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325. Although UN Women played a key role in accelerating the implementation of BPfA, many feel that it still lacks a clear implementation strategy, commitment and action.
For African women today, the fourth BPfA appraisal takes place against the backdrop of the continuing global financial/economic crisis; the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, increase sexual violence, child/force/early marriages, violation of human rights of women and girls and the rise of armed forces – Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, Seleka rebels in Central Africa Republic, continuing violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo by LRA and Al-Shabab in Somalia and Kenya. It is now almost a year since the abduction of the 200 Nigerian school girls by the North-east Nigerian Islamist group, Boko Haram. In South Africa lesbian women continue to live in fear of sexual violence, corrective rape and brutal killings as a result of their sexual identity.
On the other hand, African women should take advantage of the Beijing+20 review to voice out their concerns and demands to the national, regional and global government. Taking into consideration that this reviews take place as the global communities prepare to strengthen their strategies for accelerating the success of the 8 MDGs and Education for All due in 2015, the global debate on the the new set of goals to succeed the MDGs – post2015/SDGs and the definition of the African agenda predicted for the next 50 years. In this regard, both UN Women and CSW should use their significant legitimacy within AU, UN, EU and other global communities, civil societies and donors to rally resources and diplomatic support to fully engage regional/global leaders and women in the implementation of BPfA.
Meanwhile, AU has adopted various methods in realizing the implementation of BPfA. In June 2014, AU and UN Women joined the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London. The summit outcome produced a document, “the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict”, which aims to bring justice to the victims of conflict-related sexual violence by prosecuting their perpetrators. A month later, the two organizations also joined the Girl Summit which aimed at ending child, early and forced marriages through global partnership.
The evolution of OAU to AU five years after BPfA was adopted also became a crucial turning point for African Women. AU accelerated its strategy and commitment to advancing gender equality and women empowerment through developing gender instruments aligned with BPfA: Constitutive Act (2000); The Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (2003); Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (2003); The Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (2004); Banjul Declaration (2009); African Women Decade 2010-2020; Fund for African Women (2011); Agenda 2063.
As a result, the World Economic Forum 2014 Global Gender Gap Report indicated that the Sub-Saharan Africa region has closed 69% of its overall gender gap. With Rwanda, Burundi and South Africa leading 13 of the 28 Sub-Saharan Africa countries that have closed 70% of gender gap. Rwanda ranked 7 across the globe in political and economic performance. However, the results indicated a need for AU to formulate an effective, inclusive, and transformative framework for advancing the BPfA concerns on women participation in political and economic decision-making powers. The organization should therefore continuously monitor, evaluate and reform its gender instruments through regular consultations with all relevant stakeholders and ensure the participation of women and girls.