Beijing+5: 23rd special session of the General Assembly

Action For Gender Equality And The Advancement Of Women

United Nations
General Assembly Special Session
"Women 2000: Gender Equality,
Development and Peace for the Twenty-first Century"
New York, 5-9 June 2000

       In 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women succeeded in bringing about a new international commitment to the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere, and moved the global agenda for the advancement of women into the twenty-first century.  The Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action, adopted unanimously by representatives from 189 States, constitute a powerful agenda for women's empowerment and gender equality.

The Beijing Platform for Action defined a set of strategic objectives and spelled out actions to be taken by governments, the international community, non-governmental organizations and the private sector for the removal of the existing obstacles to women's advancement.  It aimed at accelerating the implementation of the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women and removing the obstacles to women's active participation in all spheres of public and private life through a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision-making.

The commitments made by governments in Beijing reflected the understanding that women's equality to men must be a central component of any attempt to solve the world's social, economic and political problems.  Thus, where once women fought to put gender equality on the international agenda, gender equality is now one of the primary factors shaping that agenda.

Despite the advances women have made in many societies, progress made towards achieving gender equality has been slow and erratic.

  • Women's concerns are still given second priority almost everywhere.
  • Women continue to face discrimination and marginalization, both subtle and blatant.
  • Women do not share equally in the fruits of development.
  • Women constitute 70 per cent of the world's poor.


The General Assembly special session, "Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-first Century", also known as Beijing + 5, will be held at United Nations Headquarters in New York from 5 to 9 June 2000.  It will focus on examples of good practices, positive actions, lessons learned, and the obstacles and key challenges remaining.  It will also consider further actions and initiatives for achieving gender equality in the new millennium.  At the end of the special session, governments are expected to issue a political declaration calling for a recommitment to the Beijing Platform for Action.

The call for a high-level review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action was made by the UN General Assembly in January 1998 (resolution A/RES/52/231), when it reaffirmed that the implementation of the Platform for Action would require immediate and concerted action by all to create a peaceful, just and humane world based on all human rights and fundamental freedoms.  This included the principle of equality for all people of all ages and from all walks of life.


As the UN intergovernmental bodies advocate for equality between men and women, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) acts as the preparatory body for the special session.  Each year since the adoption of the Platform for Action in 1995, the Commission, which is responsible for monitoring the follow-up to the Beijing Conference, has examined several of the critical areas contained in the Platform for Action, in order to assess progress and recommend priorities for accelerating implementation. In its preparatory role, CSW held open-ended deliberations which allowed for the full participation of all UN Member States, specialized agencies and observers.  The first two sessions of CSW acting as preparatory committee for the special session took place in 1998 and 1999.  The third and last session took place from 3 to 17 March 2000.

Among the other preparatory activities for the special session are:

  • Preparation of national action plans by governments.  So far, 116 Member States and two Observer States have prepared and submitted such plans to the United Nations.
  • Five regional meetings in 1999 and 2000-Bangkok, Thailand (October 1999), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (November 1999), Beirut, Lebanon (December 1999), Geneva, Switzerland (January 2000), and Lima, Peru (February 2000).
  • A UN workshop on  "Beijing + 5 - Future Actions and Initiatives" in Lebanon in November 1999.
  • Analysis by the UN Secretariat of 135 replies from UN Member States and Observer States to the Secretary-General's questionnaire on the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (document E.CN.6/2000/PC/2).
  • Activities by various UN bodies, organizations and agencies as input to the special session.
  • On-line working groups on the 12 critical areas of concern of the Beijing Platform for Action, conducted on the WomenWatch website of the United Nations: (
  • Activities around the world by non-governmental organizations.

Action since Beijing

Much has been achieved by governments, the United Nations system and civil society in the follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women. Governments have enacted and revised legislation to bring it into line with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, other international and regional human rights instruments, and the demands of the Beijing Platform for Action.  Women's access to justice at the national and international level has improved, with courts in various countries having rendered judgements that reflect a commitment to gender equality.

    Governments have taken steps to ensure that the realities of women's lives are more explicitly addressed in the planning and policy-making processes designed to confront the great social challenges of our time, in particular to eradicate poverty.  Non-governmental organizations have become more sophisticated in their advocacy work for women's empowerment and equal participation in decision-making processes at all levels.  The entities of the United Nations system have placed gender units and focal points strategically in central policy and decision-making positions to enable them to better influence such processes for gender equality.
    Attention to gender equality concerns has also continued in intergovernmental processes, particularly through the follow-up to global conferences and summits.  For example, the link between the persistence of poverty and women's inequality are being highlighted at various international fora, such as the UN General Assembly and in the preparatory process for the five-year review of the World Summit for Social Development in 2000.  Attention is being drawn to women's empowerment and gender equality as both a means and an end in the fight against the ancient enemy of poverty.

Major achievements and obstacles in the implementation of the 12 critical areas of concern of the Beijing Platform for Action

Women and poverty

Progress has been achieved in increasing recognition of the gender dimensions of poverty and efforts have been made to mainstream a gender perspective into poverty eradication policies and programmes.  Progress has been made by pursuing a two-pronged approach of promoting employment and income-generating activities for women, and providing basic social services, including education and health care.

Income inequality, unemployment and deepening levels of poverty of most vulnerable groups, especially rural and poor women, contribute to the widening economic gap between men and women.  High debt burdens, military spending and low levels of development assistance are thwarting national efforts to combat poverty.

Education and training for women

Progress was achieved in girls education and training at all levels, especially where there was sufficient political commitment and resource allocation.  Measures were taken in all regions to initiate alternative education systems to reach girls in indigenous communities and other disadvantaged groups; to encourage girls to pursue non-conventional fields of study; and to remove gender biases from education.

Efforts to eradicate women's illiteracy and increase girls' access to all levels and types of education were constrained, among others, by a lack of resources to improve educational infrastructure and undertake educational reforms; persisting gender discrimination and bias; and sex-segregated occupational stereotyping in schools and communities.

Women and health

Progress has been seen in the increased use of modern contraceptives; testing and development of male contraceptives; increased attention to HIV/AIDS infection among women; the introduction of a gender perspective into health-related educational activities, including the gender-specific health problems of older women; better prevention and treatment of sexually-transmitted diseases.

Progress was constrained by the absence of a holistic approach to health care for women and girls throughout the life-cycle, exacerbated by a lack of gender-sensitive health research and technology, data disaggregated by sex and age, and user-friendly indicators. A shortage of financial and human resources led to inadequate infrastructure and service delivery.

Violence against women

Governments have initiated policy reforms and mechanisms such as interdepartmental committees, guidelines and protocols to address violence.  New laws have also been introduced or existing laws reformed to protect women from various forms of violence, including sexual assault, harassment and trafficking.  The eradication of female genital mutilation has received international policy support, with a Special Ambassador appointed by the UN Population Fund.

A lack of understanding of the root causes of violence against women and inadequate data on the various forms of
violence hinders efforts. Socio-
cultural attitudes and values reinforce women's subordinate place in society. Although improving, the response of legal officials, especially criminal justice officials, is weak in many countries, while prevention strategies remain fragmented and reactive.

Women and armed conflict

The statutes and rules of the Ad Hoc International Criminal Tribunals on the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and of the International Criminal Court incorporate gender concerns and gender-sensitive prosecutorial policies. Women's potential contribution to peace-building, peace-making and conflict resolution is recognized.  Guidelines for the protection of refugee women have been adopted and gender-based persecution has been accepted as a basis for refugee status in some countries.

The absence, at all levels, of women in decision-making positions related to peace-keeping, peace-building, post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction presents serious obstacles.  The changing pattern of conflict, marked by the targeting of civilians and the involvement of non-state actors, has had an adverse impact on women and girls.  Wide access to weapons, facilitated by the proliferation of and trade in arms, and particularly small arms, has further aggravated armed conflicts.

Women and the economy

Governments have enacted legislation to comply with international labour conventions that promote women's economic rights, equal access to economic resources and equality in employment. Women's share of employment has substantially increased, especially in the service sector.  Governments have made provisions to address discriminatory and abusive behaviour in the workplace and to prevent unhealthy working conditions.

Benefits of the growing global economy have been unevenly distributed, creating wider economic disparities, unsafe work environments and persistent gender inequality in the informal economy and rural sector. Women with comparable skills to men lag behind men in income and career mobility in the formal sector. Few countries have legislated in favour of women's ownership of land and other property. Failure to recognize that women have both productive and reproductive roles has meant that women have greater responsibilities and burdens as well as more unpaid work.

Women in power and decision-making

An extensive discussion on the participation of women in decision-making and power, and its importance for society, continued at governmental and non-governmental levels, contributing to an increased awareness of the systematic changes that are needed to bring about a gender balance.  An increasing number of countries applied affirmative action policies, including quota systems and targets, developed training programmes for women's leadership, and introduced measures to reconcile the family and professional responsibilities of both women and men.

A gap between de jure and de facto equality has persisted.  Traditionally assigned gender roles circumscribe women's choices in education and careers and compel women to assume the burden for household responsibilities. Initiatives and programmes aimed at women's increased participation in decision-making were hindered by: a lack of human and financial resources for training and advocacy for political careers; and accountability of elected officials for promoting gender equality and women's participation in public life.

Institutional mechanisms
for the advancement of women

National machineries have been instituted and recognized as the institutional base and as catalysts for promoting gender equality, gender mainstreaming and monitoring of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. Progress has been achieved in terms of the visibility, status, outreach and coordination of activities of such machineries. These machineries have contributed to enhancing national capacity for the generation and dissemination of data disaggregated by sex.

A lack of adequate financial and human resources is the main obstacle confronting national machineries, compounded by a lack of understanding of gender equality and of gender mainstreaming, prevailing gender stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes, competing government priorities, and insufficient links to civil society.

Human rights of women

Legal reforms have been undertaken and discriminatory provisions have been eliminated in civil, penal and personal status law governing marriage and family relations, women's property and ownership rights, and women's political, work and employment rights.  Steps have been taken to realize women's de facto enjoyment of their human rights through the creation of an enabling environment, including the adoption of policy measures, the improvement of enforcement and monitoring mechanisms, and the implementation of legal literacy and awareness campaigns. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women has been ratified or acceded to by 165 countries, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention has been adopted by the General Assembly and awaits ratification by 10 States parties to the Convention in order to enter into force.

Discriminatory legislation still exists, and family, civil and penal codes are still not fully gender sensitive. Legislative and regulatory gaps persist, perpetuating de jure as well as de facto inequality and discrimination.  Women have insufficient access to the law, due to lack of legal literacy and resources, insensitivity and gender bias of law enforcement officials and the judiciary, and the persistence of traditional and stereotypical attitudes.

Women and the media

Placement of women in various high-level decision-making positions has occurred, and the establishment of local, national and international women's media networks has ensured global information dissemination, exchange of views, and support to women's groups active in media work.  The development of information and communication technologies, especially the Internet, has provided improved communication opportunities and has influenced the participation of women in the media.  Progress has been made in establishing professional guidelines and voluntary codes of conduct encouraging fair gender portrayal and the use of non-sexist language in media programmes.

Women are still not employed in sufficient numbers in key decision-making positions to influence media policy.  Negative images of women, stereotyped portrayals, and pornography have increased in some places, and some journalists remain biased against women.  The field of information and communication technologies is based on male norms and Western culture.  Development of and access to Internet infrastructure is limited, and depends on political will, cooperative efforts and financial resources.

Women and the environment

National environment policies and programmes have incorporated gender perspectives.  Women's participation in decision-making has been enhanced, with more women assuming high-level and other posts in environmental agencies. In recognition of the link between poverty and environmental degradation, governments have included income-generation activities for women, as well as training in natural resource management and environmental protection.

There is a lack of public awareness about environmental issues and of the benefits of gender equality for promoting environmental protection. Environmental policies and programmes lack a gender perspective and fail to account for women's roles and contributions to environmental sustainability.  The low presence of women in the formulation and execution of environmental policy and their under-representation in decision-making bodies is an aggravating

The girl child

Progress was made in primary and to a lesser extent, secondary and tertiary education for girls, due to the creation of more gender-sensitive school environments, support mechanisms for pregnant girls and teenage mothers, increased non-formal education opportunities and enhanced attendance at science and technology classes. Increased attention was given to the health of the girl child, including the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents.  An increased number of countries introduced legislation to ban female genital mutilation and imposed heavier penalties on sex abusers and those involved in commercial sexual exploitation of the girl child.

Traditional discriminatory attitudes against women and girls and inadequate awareness of the specific situation of the girl child, where, for example, domestic responsibilities often prevent her from pursuing her education, contributed to a lack of opportunities for girl children to become self-reliant and independent. Programmes were hindered by a lack of financial and human resources, statistical data disaggregated by sex, and technical capacity. There were few established national mechanisms to implement policies and programmes for the girl child.
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Published by the United Nations Department of Public Information
DPI/2112-April 2000