"Women's Rights are Human Rights": Fifteen Years After Beijing, Activists Mark Progress and Chart Future

May 21, 2010
2020 Vision

Thoraya Obaid, Mary Robinson, & Asma Khader
at 2020 Vision symposium
More photos on Flickr

In late February, over 2,000 activists, delegates, and leaders gathered in Manhattan to mark fifteen years since the historic Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. The energy was high at the Global NGO Forum: Beijing +15, where speakers marked progress and achievements and shared challenges for the future. WLP President Mahnaz Afkhami, who participated in the landmark 1995 Beijing Summit, spoke to the audience, discussing key issues facing women today -- including gender-based violence, movement-building, and political participation.

Joining Ms. Afkhami as a speaker at the event was WLP Partner Lina Abou-Habib, who discussed ongoing regional advocacy campaigns for gender equality in the Middle East and North Africa. The Global NGO Forum: Beijing +15 preceded the 54th annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW54) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Renowned Activists Gather to Secure a Future Free from Violence

Violence against women is the most pervasive, harmful, and destabilizing violation of human rights our world knows today. Whether manifested as a weapon in war-torn nations, or in the homes and families of our most advanced societies, nearly every woman on earth will face some form of gender-based violence in her lifetime. This phenomenon has an impact far greater than destabilizing only the family unit, observed US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer. Speaking on March 5th at a WLP event convened in conjunction with the 54th annual meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 54), she identified violence against women as a security issue: "the most dangerous places for women are the most dangerous places in the world." (video of Melanne Verveer keynote)

Joining Ambassador Verveer as keynote speakers at the event were former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, Iranian activist/Nobel-laureate Shirin Ebadi, and UN Population Fund Executive Director Thoraya Obaid.

WLP President Mahnaz Afkhami opened the one-day symposium "2020 Vision: Mobilizing for Women's Rights and Eliminating Violence against Women," at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan. "We believe in the power to change traditions and cultural practices that are harmful and autocratic. This is an opportunity for us to chart a new future," she said to a packed auditorium of over 400 NGO leaders, CSW delegations, professors, students, journalists, and women's rights activists. She marked WLP's 10th anniversary, reflecting on WLP's growth in the context of the Beijing Platform for Action of 15 years ago. Change can be made, she asserted, if we work together to increase political participation and use legal frameworks to encourage existing power structures to become gender-inclusive, and if we frame our work mindful of the culture in which we act. (video of Mahnaz Afkhami opening remarks)

Opening remarks by WLP President Mahnaz Afkhami
Watch the entire 2020 Vision symposium on YouTube

In the second keynote speech, Thoraya Obaid also stressed the importance of culture in shaping women's rights. "People are both shaped by -- and actively shape -- their own cultures," she said, stressing culture as a medium for social change rather than an enemy of women's human rights. "While an effective legal framework is a precondition for ending violence against women, it is not enough to change attitudes and behaviors." To make such laws effective, she argued, we must start at grassroots and local levels and move from there. (video of Thoraya Obaid keynote)

Mary Robinson focused on legal frameworks such as UN Security Council Resolution 1325. Acknowledging the challenges of implementing the resolution, she argued that through education, women (particularly in the Global South) can use tools such as UNSCR 1325 to help end gender-based violence and discrimination in their home countries. "We must try to be more effective to make it a real instrument -- of women participating at all levels," she said, asserting that empowerment could indeed be achieved through better implementation of legal frameworks. (video of Mary Robinson keynote)

The last keynote speaker, Shirin Ebadi, described discrimination faced by women in Iran, particularly those involved with the One Million Signatures campaign. During her speech, she focused on grassroots activism, cultural inclusivity, and legal frameworks as the keys to advancing women's human rights. (video of Shirin Ebadi keynote)

Security, especially in the context of gender-based violence, was the theme of the event's first panel. WLP Partners Asma Khader (Jordan), Sindi Medar-Gould (Nigeria), and Jacqueline Pitanguy (Brazil) discussed legislative achievements and challenges surrounding gender-based violence, as well as political action and future steps needed to achieve lasting equality. (video of Violence Against Women panel)

Women's Rights in
the Middle East

Twitter Hashtag Conversation

From WLP’s Twitter Feed on #AmanGlobal hashtag from March 9-11, 2010

rimakader: #AmanGlobal Why are only men in most countries in Middle East & N.Africa allowed to pass on citizenship to their children?
Tue Mar 09 2010 22:43:25

wlp1: Lina: @rimakader: Most Arab states consider men to be full citizens. Women are "dependent" on fathers, husbands, brothers & sons #AmanGlobal
Tue Mar 09 2010 22:45:36

wlp1: Lina: @rimakader: #Lebanon's Citizenship campaign part of effort to reform nationality laws in Arab region. Citizenship Campaign Website #AmanGlobal
Tue Mar 09 2010 22:46:15

See the conversation on women's rights in the Middle East on our blog and Follow us on Twitter

In the second panel, Iran's One Million Signatures campaign co-founder Parvin Ardalan discussed movement building at the grassroots level along with Amal Abdel-Hadi of Egypt and Lina Abou Habib of Lebanon. The panel focused on regional campaigns for gender-equality and the implementation of CEDAW without reservation in the MENA region. (video of Movement Building panel)

WLP Partnership Plays an Active Role at the 54th UN Commission on the Status of Women

  • On March 8th, WLP participated in a parallel event with AWID entitled "Young Women and Girls as Development Actors: Feminist Perspectives." WLP Executive Director Rakhee Goyal shared our experiences in formulating youth programs, highlighting the need to provide supportive environments for youth to build their vision for equality and human rights.

  • On the same day, WLP, Breakthrough, and CRTD.A (Lebanon) co-organized a panel on "Mobilizing for the Future with Mass Media and Participatory Web." The session brought attention to the innovative ways in which grassroots NGOs can use information, communication, and media technologies to mobilize supporters of women's rights and build effective movements of the future.

  • WLP Morocco/Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc (ADFM) and the Equality without Reservation campaign organized a panel discussion entitled "Their Laws ... Our Lives," during which panelists Amal Abdel Hadi (Egypt), Lina Abou Habib (Lebanon), and Nabia Haddouche (Morocco) detailed the evolution and work of the campaign to lift reservations to CEDAW in Arab countries.

  • WLP Partners Jacqueline Pitanguy (Brazil), Asma Khader (Jordan), and Saida Drissi (Morocco) served on the official delegations of their countries

  • WLP Nigeria/BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights participated in two parallel events sponsored by the Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women (SKSW)

  • Media interest, including coverage of events and speakers, was considerable and included interviews with The Economist, Financial Times, and Voice of America among others. On International Women's Day, March 8th, CNN's Christiane Amanpour interviewed Mahnaz Afkhami, Lina Abou Habib, and Asma Khader, focusing on the status of women's rights in the Middle East. The program was followed by a lively hashtag conversation between the program audience and guests on the microblogging site Twitter.
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