The Future is now! On the relevance of the Beijing Platform for Action today

Imagine women* were paid the same as men for the same work.

Women* were equal participants in political processes and decisions.

Perpetrators of gender-specific and sexualised violence were consistently prosecuted and brought to justice.

Women* and girls were no longer disproportionately affected by hunger, poverty and displacement and would no longer perform the majority of unpaid care work.

Then much would be achieved that was set as goals 25 years ago at the 4th World Conference on Women and in the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA): equal power for women, a life with less violence and more justice.

Although 143 countries have enshrined gender equality in their constitutions, gender justice has not yet been achieved anywhere. The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2020 predicts that at the current rate it will take 99.5 years to achieve gender justice.

Women* have always had to fight for their rights. This is still the case today. And everything that was the Beijing Platform for Action called for 25 years ago is still being demanded today.

What we need today are parity laws and the decriminalisation of abortion all over the world. The social discrimination, brutal repression and criminalisation of LGBTIQ people must end. From equal political participation, equal pay and access to education, to consistent protection against violence: we are still far from a gender-equitable world for women* and girls. All this requires social initiatives and political will.

In addition, completely new challenges have arisen: For example, dealing with new reproductive and genetic technologies, which raise new ethical questions about the right to self-determination. Or digitalization, which has brought about new forms of violence online and was not an issue 25 years ago.

Another serious factor is the fact that what we have already achieved is now massively questioned and under attack by nationalist, ultra-conservative, religious fundamentalist, right-wing extremist and right wing populist actors all over the world.

The good news is that at the same time we are witnessing a remarkable wave of mobilisation by and through women* who are opposing this. They are leading many protests for democracy and human rights in Sudan, Iraq and Chile. They are at the heart of the protests against Trump in the USA. And as the climate and resource crisis worsens, it is mainly young women* who are involved in Fridays for Future or Extinction Rebellion and are self-confidently present in the media. More than ever before, women* are taking to the streets, organizing and getting involved, working on- and offline and putting pressure on governments, trying not only to realize their own rights, but to change the social and political realities for all of us.

The new movements are more heterogeneous, more diverse and at the same time more globally visible than previous feminist movements. Pussy Hats in the USA, Daisies in Brazil, Green Bandanas in Chile, Bicycles in Sudan - as diverse as their symbols are, so are the experiences, demands and struggles of the various feminist movements, which are making themselves and their concerns heard around the world.

A quarter of a century after the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action, the question therefore arises as to whether it is still relevant, sensible and timely to stick to its catalogue of demands and demand its implementation. Should the document not be radically revised and supplemented? Who would benefit from this?

A milestone in international women's policy

The 1995 Beijing Platform for Action is and remains a milestone for international women's policy. It asserts that women's rights and equal participation of women are human rights and are translated into national legislation. With it, governments established a global consensus on important gender equality issues.

National, regional and global forums were created to monitor the implementation of the Beijing Declaration, most notably the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

This year's UN Convention on Women's Rights in New York has been cancelled because of the corona epidemic. It wanted to address the achievements and implementation of the Beijing Platform in detail. A political declaration was issued.

Together with the Anti-Discrimination Convention CEDAW (1979) and UN Resolution 1325 (2000), the Beijing Platform for Action thus forms the most important multilateral frame of reference for demanding women* and human rights. All over the world, women* use UN agreements, conventions and resolutions as a reference, are watch dogs over the state of implementation, organise public attention and hold governments accountable wherever (still) possible. A great deal has been achieved in this way: 131 states have institutionalised equality policies or passed anti-discrimination laws. More than 2/3 of the states now have laws against domestic violence. More girls than ever before are attending school worldwide, and the global maternal death rate has fallen by 38%. These advancements, as enshrined in laws and institutions around the world, are achievements of women* who used the Beijing Platform for Action as a reference point. The Beijing Platform for Action is an international norm, and we must not fall behind.

At the same time we can state that - 25 years later - such a document, such a global consensus on women's* rights would no longer be possible today. The anti-feminists would be too powerfully represented at the inter-state negotiating table, too strong is the counter-movement against feminist voices and movements, which silences, defames and fights them.

Beyond Gender Mainstreaming

Despite all its achievements, the Beijing Platform for Action is also open to criticism. In Beijing 1995, gender mainstreaming was enshrined as a strategy in the international agreement. This meant and still means that all member states commit themselves to taking a gender-differentiated view of political action and legislative projects, i.e. to analyse the different effects of their policies on women* and men. This was intended to reduce existing structural hierarchies and discrimination. There is a great deal of criticism and resistance to gender mainstreaming from left and right - against the procedure, but also against its implementation. One point of contention is, among other things, whether mainstreaming does not mean adapting to social and socio-economic gender relations and thus cementing stereotypes rather than overcoming them. Moreover, according to current criticism, it leads back to the categories "man" and "woman" instead of dissolving them.

The idea laid out in the Beijing Platform for Action of examining institutional, corporate and political action - i.e. all policy areas and laws - with regard to their effects on gender relations and all forms of discrimination and exclusion should be radically conceived and further developed. Virtually all institutions, organizations, companies and governments shy away from this approach. A gender-differentiated approach is still not found in all policy areas. Hence, it comes as no surprise that the complexity of the causes, the inequality of power, which constitute discrimination and violence, is declared politically irrelevant or delegated back into the silo of women's policy.

As incomplete, open to criticism and in part not up to date as the Beijing Platform for Action is, it is still suitable as a multilateral frame of reference today. It may not be a firewall against repression and violence, against exclusion and oppression, but it is nonetheless - also with the global forums - a point of reference that can still hold governments publicly accountable. At the moment, it would make no sense whatsoever to adapt the document to the new challenges in international negotiations. That would be tantamount to an institutionalised revision of the 1995 achievements in the UN system.

What, then, is a way forward that preserves the Beijing Platform for Action and its principles, but radically develops it, opening it up to new perspectives and new feminist struggles? And this in an increasingly anti-feminist context worldwide?

Intersectionality - of intersections and new pathways

Today, more than ever, feminist resistance is addressing the connection between racism, sexism, classicism and social marginalization.

Women* have very different access to rights, political participation, education or health. "Being a woman*" is not the only reason why one is marginalized or excluded. Women* experience multiple discrimination because of different identities, e.g. as workers, as Women* of Colour, as LGBTIQ* persons, as religious minorities, as old women*, as indigenous people.

These different perspectives and concerns are much more present in public awareness today and many women* organize their interests politically differently than 25 years ago. I believe that they are also an answer:

Intersectionality - the term and the concept that describes the interconnectedness and interrelationships of various forms of discrimination was already in the world 25 years ago, but this view has not found its way into official documents, such as the Beijing Platform for Action. The social and structural differentiations between women*, between women* on different continents, between women* with different historical experiences (colonialism, militarism, wars, slavery) must affect political responses to inequality and discrimination. Most agreements so far do not recognise this intersectionality and the social, political and economic differentiations. However, in international civil society, especially outside Europe, intersectionality is today the basis for feminist strategies to overcome power inequality and discrimination.

Generation Equality - Never turning back

UN Women mobilizes in the 25th year after Beijing under the motto "Generation Equality" and wants to use the international attention with publications and various forums, e.g. in Mexico and Paris, to educate and especially win over young women* in the struggle for gender equality. However, the closing of ranks and building bridges with young women* will only succeed if equality is not exclusively understood as the economic and political participation of white women.

Equality policies and their institutionalisation are by far not enough. Intersectional perspectives must be reflected in political action. And exclusion, inequality, exploitation and discrimination take place between women*. Especially in the discourse on female self-determination, new forms of domination and hegemony are often at stake (see also Christa Wichterich).

Diversity, differences and differentiations characterise feminist movements worldwide today. It is our task to consider them, to make the struggles of People of Colour and the heterogeneous feminist movements all over the world visible and to reflect them in feminist strategies, if international networking is to regain a higher status in feminist politics. More than ever, new forms of solidarity must be developed all over the world as a response to the rollback and as a strategy for a gender-equitable world.

In the diversity and heterogeneity of the global feminist landscape with its wonderful power of mobilization lies the chance and only option to stand up to the worldwide reactionary, right-wing extremist and anti-feminist backlash.

The Beijing Platform for Action is no obstacle to this. Because we must not fall behind its claim that women*'s rights are human rights. In the spirit of the 1995 Beijing motto: Never turning back.