“It is that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights"
--Hillary Rodham Clinton
The then First Lady of the United States made the above quote on the day of the Declaration of the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995 to emphasise that women are humans, are a part of civilised society and their rights are human rights.“Beijing Platform for Action” (BPfA) is a comprehensive plan declared at the Fourth World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace held by the United Nations in the year 1995 at Beijing. A Declaration made about 25 years ago is still considered the most progressive blueprint ever made for advancing women’s rights (UN Women).
189 governments were joined by 17,000 participants and 30,000 civil society activists for the opening of the Fourth World Conference on Women. After prolonged deliberation and negotiation, the Platform for Action was declared, commitments and goals for empowering women everywhere, identifying 12 areas of concern including women in decision making, education, and others. Since then, women policymakers, advocates of gender equality and civil society organisations along with UN Women have strived and are still striving to achieve what the Declaration intended to. This article intends to trace progress of key areas in the plan particularly in South Asia from 1995-2015 and the role of women in advancing the agenda for women.
In South Asia, often a girl child’s struggle to live healthy outweighs the preference given by her family to her brothers. Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) reported in 2014 that South Asian region has some of the highest level of discrimination in the family code and son bias than in all other regions. The 1984 law in Bangladesh which binds the legal age of marriage for both girls and boys have shown progressive results however at a slow pace. After 10 years of the Beijing Declaration, in 2011, 74% of women aged 15-19 were married and 11% of girls gave birth before the age of 15. Sexual violence cases including marital rape which is still not a legal crime in South Asian countries are on a rise.
Access to opportunities like owning land and other productive resources are limited to women. According to USAID, 2010, only 2% of women in Afghanistan own land. However, seeds to promote gender equality are sowed by some countries like Pakistan which forged the 2011 Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Law which seeks to protect women’s rights to inherit.
Civil society organisations, women’s collective organisations and local organisations have strived and succeeded in pushing policy makers for gender equal commitments. Public accountability against gender-based violence has also been achieved to some extent. However, political participation of women and their representation at the decision-making level has not received what have been dreamt of. Actions for gender parity are taken by countries like electoral quotas at the sub-national level, but representation of women has been low with a regional average of 18%.
The SIGI considers Bhutan to be the top-most performing country in South Asia for being able to address gender violence through strict legal practices as well as women’s rights within the family, in the workplace and their access to productive resources. The 2013 Domestic Violence Prevention Act criminalising both rape and marital rape with stricter penalties in Bhutan was a positive step towards ending GBV. Women’s rights within the family and at the workplace, legislation to facilitate women’s access to resources and assets by the 1979 Land Act and in 2007, the government reported that 45% of property titles in urban areas were registered to women. Since 1981, women have had equal access to financial facilities however the situation is difficult for rural women. However, participation of women in parliamentary politics has been low due to absence of electoral quotas. Women represent only 6.4% in the lower house and 2% in the upper house. Bhutan’s first-ever woman district administrator was appointed in 2012 and its first woman minister in the year 2013.
Poverty levels in South Asia decreased to 216 million in 2015 from 275 million in 2013 and 536 million in 1990. However, poverty levels are still not low, and with decreasing rates of poverty but not at a faster rate will lead to a rise in violence on women. Rape which is used a weapon of war, women living in border regions suffer from the pain of violence and remain under-reported. Rising global warming and the resulting immigration of climate refugees, women face the greater brunt of it.
The several data gaps make analysis difficult at the dearth of data on the various intersections of gender. Specific data on the intersections which include age, religion, place of birth (rural or urban), sexuality, caste, class and other intersections makes us able to understand the greater picture. Women belonging to different categories of society are marginalised and therefore lose their identities as human beings. Thus to create a gender-equal society policymakers and decision-makers must use an intersectional lens to address gender inequality. Equal rights, access to justice, criminalising violence and protecting their rights within the family will ensure women’s political agency. For example, Bangladesh’s pervasive violent political culture hinders women’s political participation. They fear of becoming victims of political attacks and murders and the interference by their families in their political participation.
Greater representation of womxn policymakers in the parliaments will lead to a better analysis of womxn’s problems from womxn’s perspectives relating to economic, health, sexual and reproduction. Policymakers like Maneka Gandhi, the then Women and Child Development Minister in 2014, raised the issue for the mandatory establishment of an Internal Complaints Committee at every workplace and organisations should report about it to stop sexual harassment of women at workplaces. She also advocated for the establishment of a Local Complaints Committee at each district by the district officer for informal workers. However, mandatory reporting was silenced by the dominant gender policymakers. The implementation of the Beijing Platform for action needs a worldwide commitment. Gender Equality and womxn's representation in both national and international organisations is a pressing need. When there is equitable representation then policymakers will use an intersectional lens, because womxn policymakers will be able to look into a problem in a nuanced way because of their lived experiences rather than being appropriated by men.
More women from South Asian countries should participate in international politics to ensure the creation of an equal world.
12 critical areas. (n.d.). Retrieved from UN Women Website: https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/csw59/feature-stories
Schafer, H. (2018, October 17). Finishing the job of ending poverty in South Asia. Retrieved from World Bank Blogs: https://blogs.worldbank.org/endpovertyinsouthasia/finishing-job-ending-poverty-south-asia
Social Institutions and Gender Index. (2014). Retrieved from Social Institutions and Gender Index: https://www.genderindex.org/wp-content/uploads/files/docs/BrochureSIGI2015.pdf page: 46-49
The Beijing Platform for Action. (n.d.). Retrieved from UN Women Website: https://beijing20.unwomen.org/en/about
Debarati Ganguly, Advocate, Women for Politics
Debarati is a third-year undergraduate student of Economics at Basanti Devi College, University of Calcutta. She is enthusiastic about gender, international relations, political economy, diplomacy, and globalization. She is an avid writer and has published articles on gender, climate, international relations, public administration, pandemics, and human rights violations. She looks forward to a career in academia and research. You can reach out to her through LinkedIn.
This article gives the views of the authors, and not necessarily represent the position of Women for Politics. Photo credit: