“Generation Equality” – That is the UN motto for World Women’s Day 2020. The roots for this go back 25 years: to the World Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995. How much has been achieved since then? Where do we stand today?

“It went on until three in the last night. But after we fought for this great final document, we were all very, very euphoric.”

Brunhilde Hoffmann will never forget the mood from back then. In 1995, 25 years ago, women around the world celebrated the fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing as the breakthrough for women’s rights worldwide. More than 17,000 people attended the conference – including 6,000 government delegates and more than 4,000 journalists. Around 30,000 women met at the same time at the NGO forum in neighboring Huairou.

Brunhilde Hoffmann helped prepare the UN conference as a lawyer for the German Women’s Council and is still enthusiastic about it today.

“I’m so glad that I was able to experience this, being together with the many women from all over the world. That was very, very uplifting,” says the 83-year-old in a DW interview. 

Beijing, World Women's Conference 1995. The Secretary General of the 4th UN World Women's Conference, Gertrude Mongella and the Vice President of the Chinese Promotion of Women, Huang Zhigi, hand in handHappiness and relief in Beijing after the 4th World Conference on Women in 1995

Finally, the female half of the world’s population should take its appropriate place in politics and society. “Equality, peace and development” is the motto of the Beijing conference. From now on, the standard of equality should apply to political and social decisions. Women should be heard and their voices count as much as the voices of men. All demands were laid down in the Beijing Platform for Action and signed by 189 states.

Generation equality

The young generation is no longer aware of the Beijing World Conference on Women. But 25 years later, the topics and demands are as current as they were then – and still unmatched. If the UN motto for this year’s World Women’s Day on March 8 is: “I am generation equality”, “I am generation equality”, this is also due to the radiance of Beijing.

“A very big aspect arises with me, namely that women’s rights have penetrated society’s minds in the first place,” says Karin Nordmeyer, chair of the German committee of UN Women.

The fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing changed the foundation, even if the everyday life of most women has not improved significantly since then. In Beijing 25 years ago, the claim was that women have the same rights because they make up half of the world’s population.

Women's protests in Zagreb Justice for girlsWomen’s rights are cross-generational and are still as relevant today as they were in Beijing in 1995. This was also shown by the women’s protests in Zagreb.

“That is why it is so important that women do not fall into this trap again, to say that women’s rights must be fought for by women. It is about equality and gender equality. We have to do that,” said Nordmeyer.

New self-confidence

“We have to see that we can get both genders, or rather all genders, to pull together on the same level to save our world,” says Nordmeyer.

In view of the enormous challenges facing mankind, not only all genders but also all generations would have to stand together. The globalized world of today offers new, digital possibilities for global networking compared to Beijing:

“So to use all technical possibilities to communicate with each other, which didn’t exist in Beijing’s time.”

It is also new that the UN’s sustainable development goals, which by 2030 represent a development plan for the whole world, have included women’s rights in all 17 goals. Goal number five does not mean “women’s rights” but “gender equality”.

Targets far away

In the meantime, 143 countries have laid down equality between women and men in the constitution. However, laws only guarantee equality between women and men in eight countries – Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Luxembourg, France, and Latvia. This is shown by a study by the World Bank, which focuses primarily on job, property, family, pension and mobility issues. Germany shares ninth place with nine other European countries. In total, the study considers 187 countries worldwide.

June 2019: Swiss women strike nationwide for equal pay and show their logo on the Roche Tower in Basel.June 2019: Swiss women strike nationwide for equal pay and show their logo on the Roche Tower in Basel.

There is not a single country in the world in which equality between women and men has been fully achieved, as is also shown by the ” Global Gender Gap Index ” of the World Economic Forum, which is even more comprehensive than the World Bank report. This is primarily about economic and social equality – and no country reaches the full 100 points in the index.

This also means that the demands of Beijing in 1995 are still relevant worldwide today. However, there are no plans to call a new world conference on women. Beijing 1995 was the fourth and, for the time being, the last UN women’s conference.

“We came back with the best final document we could expect at the time. That is why we have been and are against a fifth world conference on women,” says lawyer Brunhilde Hoffmann. “Because we are not sure if we can ever fight for such a final document again.”


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