Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA): Challenges and ways forward for the African countries

The Fourth World Conference on Women held in 1995 resulted in the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BDPfA) by 189 member states of the United Nations that had twelve critical areas of concern to guide the mainstreaming of gender in policies, strategies and programmes. The Declaration called upon member states to commit to the advancement of the goals of equality, development and peace for all women while reaffirming the fundamental principal that the rights of women and girls are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights.

The accountability framework for the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action requires member states of the United Nations to meet on a five-yearly basis to review their implementation, at both regional and global levels, of the Platform for Action with a view to fine tuning, remapping progress and reactivating commitment, taking into account prevailing global and local conditions.

Brief history on BPfA processes

The 1999 (Beijing +5) review noted that progress had been made since the 1995 world conference, although more needed to be done to tackle poverty and violence, trafficking in women and girls and women's participation in political decision making.

The key issues that arose from the 2004 (Beijing +10) included the continued low representation of women in decision-making, inequality in employment and economic activities, unequal access to social and economic resources.

While the 2009 (Beijing+15) regional review revealed that government implementation of various global and continental commitments on gender equality and women empowerment had led to positive changes in the lives of African women, an outcome document, The Banjul Declaration on the Strategies for Accelerating the Implementation of the Dakar and Beijing Platforms for Action was adopted. The outcome document identified seven strategic areas of focus for which a five-year follow-up strategy was formulated that provided concrete actions to accelerate implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA), focusing on the seven strategic areas agreed upon in Banjul. A subsequent mid-term, review carried out by UNECA, in 2013 to assess the progress of implementation of the follow-up strategy showed significant improvement in five of the seven key strategic focus areas identified in Banjul, the Gambia. National Country reviews on key achievements and challenges in promoting gender equality was prepared by Member States.

The 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59) to be held in New York from 9th to 20th March 2015 will be reviewing the progress made by member states twenty years following implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. In preparation for this global review, the regional commissions were encouraged to undertake regional reviews so that the outcomes of intergovernmental processes at the regional level can feed into the UN 2015 global review.

Africa is well prepared for this process: fifty-one African member states have submitted their national reviews which show their accomplishments in the implementation of the BPfA +20.

In this regard, African ministers responsible for gender and women's affairs, who attended the 9th African Regional Conference on Women for the twenty-year review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 19 November 2014 adopted the Addis Ababa Declaration on Accelerating the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action calling for their respective governments to achieve gender equality by 2030, as spelled out in the African Union's (AU) Declaration on Agenda 2063.

The declaration welcomed the decision of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU declaring 2010-2020 as the African women decade and the year 2015 as the Year of Women's Empowerment and Development towards realizing Africa's Agenda 2063

Subsequently, a regional report endorsed by the African ministers during the Addis Ababa review meeting has been prepared by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), analysing the information provided by member states and shall be submitted at the CSW59 feeding into the global Beijing+20 report.

Furthermore, it is important to note that the Beijing+20 takes place at a strategic moment at the crossroads of accelerated efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, review progress and gaps in MDGs, and during the elaboration of the post 2015 development agenda and sustainable development goals. The confluence of these processes provide a once in a generation opportunity to position gender equality, women's rights, and women's empowerment front and center on the global agenda.

Progress attainable so far by African member states

Despite progress in efforts for more gender equality, there remain daunting challenges to implementing BPfA, and that those challenges are compounded by emerging issues, such as climate change, terrorism, conflicts, global economic and financial crises and increasing inequality.
Today many countries in Africa recognize in their constitutions the importance of gender equality. Regional organizations, multilateral and bilateral agencies have integrated gender frameworks in their mandates and many civil societies acknowledge gender inequality as one of the main fields of action for tackling injustice.
'The contribution women make to development is of paramount, and unless development benefits women, it will not benefit the rest of the society'.

Key Achievements by African Member States (20 years of implementation of the BPfA):

1) Near-achievement of gender parity in primary education (North Africa's gender parity index - 0.96; sub-Saharan Africa - 0.92);

2) Notable reduction in maternal mortality by 45 % with 1 country already achieving MDG 5 and remarkable progress witnessed in the continent as a whole;

3) Implementation of various policies, programmes and projects whose objective is to accelerate economic empowerment of women in a wide variety of sectors by all responding member states;  

4) Representation and participation of women in key political decision-making positions (2 female Heads of State - H. E Ellen Sirleaf Johnson - Liberia & H. E. Catherine Samba - Panza - Central African Republic)  ; AU Chairperson _ Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma; Rwanda, South Africa and Senegal are among the top 10 ranking countries for Women in Parliament, with Rwanda ranking first and the only country that has more women in parliament than men;

5) Public-private partnerships (PPPs) between governments, private sector, CSOs, development partners and research institutions  to support and strengthen institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women by all responding member states;

6) Domestication of various global and regional legal frameworks aimed at promoting and protecting the human rights of women and girls (CEDAW, Maputo Protocol, Solemn Declaration, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child).

Persisting Challenges for African Member States (20 years of implementation of the BPfA):

1) Persistent gender inequality at secondary and tertiary education levels;

2) Perennial under-resourcing of national gender machineries - in terms of human and financial resources - curtailing their efficiency and effectiveness;

3) Reversals in the progress towards gender equality and women's empowerment fueled by: the Ebola outbreak in West Africa; an increase in the number of African countries experiencing conflict and crises;

4) Persistent poverty with differential impact on women and children; with women having disproportionate access to food, health, education, training and opportunities for employment ;

5) Inadequate data and statistics disaggregated by age, sex, gender and other diversity leading to difficulties in the formulation and implementation of targeted policy and programmatic interventions.

6) Ineffective implementation of legal and normative instruments on women's human rights; exacerbated by existence of plural legal frameworks - statutory/customary/religious.

Which way forward post 2015?

- Expanding economic opportunities for women: Gender-responsive sector-specific support services in agriculture, the extractive industry, trade, entrepreneurship.

- Strengthening women's agency: Building women's ability to identify and act on economic, social and political opportunities; Challenging harmful social and cultural norms.

- Facilitating institutional frameworks: Formulation and effective implementation of non-discriminatory legal frameworks that support gender equality and women's empowerment.

Food for Thought

- What policy frameworks should African countries put in place to promote gender-responsive industrialization and transformative development in the post 2015?

- Should African countries seek gender-responsive transformative development across multiple sectors simultaneously or select a few high-impact sectors first? Which ones?

- How to ensure that African priorities from the Beijing +20 regional review are given priority?

Compiled by Maureen Bwisa, Programme officer, SID, Nairobi


Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BDPfA)
Banjul Declaration on the Strategies for Accelerating the Implementation of the Dakar and Beijing Platforms for Action
Addis Ababa Declaration on Accelerating the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action
Beijing +20 National Reviews

Photo: Un Women/Flickr