Video: Mixed Progress on Gender Equality
Josette Sheeran and Aamina Awan discuss progress on gender equality since the 1995 Beijing Declaration. (Asia Society)
In 1995, more than 17,000 people descended on Beijing for the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women — an event that yielded the landmark Beijing Declaration, with 189 countries unanimously agreeing to an agenda on women’s empowerment and gender equality. Twenty years later, at an Asia Society New York screening of the new documentary A Single Step: Journeys of Women Leaders, some of the women depicted in the film said that progress has, at best, been mixed.
“Everyone was coming from different perspectives; there was no real global dialogue,” said Asia Society President Josette Sheeran on her experience at the 1995 conference, noting that there was a large disconnect between the goals of women from developed and developing countries. “I think that has changed. I think there’s this evolution of a global dialogue and connectedness between women — if you go online, the way young women are connecting across the world.”
Sheeran added that there are many ways in which gender equality has actually moved backwards. “In some places there’s a tragic reality for girls — in many places girls are the last to get a piece of food, and often they don’t get it.”
Global Youth Engagement Lead for UN Women Aamina Awan agreed with Sheeran's assessment. “Twenty years later we still do not have any country in this world that is gender equal,” she said. “You look at some countries that have made great progress, and then we look at a lot of countries that are lagging behind. [It’s right to bring up] the kidnapping of those girls by Boko Haram, which shows that there’s still a lot of resistance out there to the equality of girls and women.”
Peggy Liu, chairperson of the Joint U.S.-China Collaboration on Clean Energy (JUCCCE), pointed to China, where Communist Party policies and proclamations like “women hold up half the sky” actually brought gains toward gender equality up through the 1970s. Liu said she’s felt less discrimination as a woman in China than she has in the United States. “But on the other hand, we’ve made a big step backwards in this generation in women’s rights,” she noted, citing the issue of son preference and sex-selective abortion, which has led to a massive surplus of males in China. “Unfortunately the value system in Chinese society has taken a step backwards.”
In the above video clip, Sheeran and Awan discuss the landscape for gender equality in the 20 years since the Beijing Declaration.