Home        About us       CEDAW       UN Treaties       Q and A       Reporting to UN Bodies       Resources       Publications       Contact us


The CEDAW Convention and the Beijing Platform for Action:
Reinforcing the Promise of the Rights Framework



Kristen Timothy
Marsha Freeman




February 2000





Introduction:  The Beijing Platform and Women’s Human Rights

World Conferences and Women: Toward the Rights Framework

Table: Complementarity of the Platform and the CEDAW Convention

Rights and the Platform for Action: Monitoring Promises

Conclusion and Recommendations





Introduction:  The Beijing Platform and Women's Human Rights

The Fourth World Conference on Women was a major human rights accomplishment for women.  It marked the convergence of political and legal processes to underscore, on a global scale, the centrality of human rights to the struggle for equality.  The Conference Declaration and Platform for Action is built on a rights framework, invoking the substance and the language of human rights in every section, and referring specifically to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women as well as to the other human rights treaties.   
The Platform for Action must be brought into the new millennium as a reaffirmation of the global commitment to women’s human rights made at Beijing in 1995.  The Beijing + 5 review provides an opportunity to recommit to implementation of the Platform with specific reference to women’s human rights as stated in the CEDAW Convention and the other international human rights treaties. Conversely, the CEDAW Convention provides a clear framework for pursuing and monitoring implementation of the Platform for Action for years to come.  

World conferences such as Beijing—and Teheran (human rights) in 1968, Nairobi (women) in 1985, Rio de Janeiro (environment) in 1992, Vienna (human rights) in 1993, Cairo (population) in 1994—are political events that mark global recognition of major issues and an attempt to find consensus among governments about approaches to those issues. The preparations and the conferences themselves are a major political process, engaging governments in discussion with their constituencies and with other governments to forge agreements on priorities and commitments.  Human rights enforcement is a more legally oriented process, based on documents and obligations that have the force of law.  The Beijing Conference brought the two processes together, engaging citizens and governments in a dialogue that was political in nature but informed by the legal precepts of the human rights enterprise. Platform implementation, therefore, should be informed by human rights principles, and assessment of human rights implementation should be made with reference to the commitments made in the Platform.

World Conferences:  encapsulating the political climate

World conferences are organized to deal with issues “whose time has come.”  The determination to hold a world conference arises out of discussions within the United Nations among member states.  While world conferences are mounted through the infrastructure of the United Nations for the member states, the international donor community and, particularly in recent years, the international NGO community have played a considerable role.
World conferences take place in a political context.  They involve all the nations of the world, focus on globally important subjects such as human rights, environment, and social development, and generate enormous interest from civil society as well.  As the goal is to arrive at a consensus on issues, proposals to address them, and, in some cases, commitments, the process is a classic political exercise in negotiating ideas and language that most of the participating states can accept if not wholeheartedly endorse.  As the product of a political process, the final conference document is a political one, carrying the weight of a consensus achieved as a result of the events and processes leading up to it.  It is essentially an advisory statement, indicating policies that governments should adopt to achieve the goals stated by the conference.   
The world conference process has its limitations.  The final conference documents do not carry legal obligations, and the promises are not binding.   A change in government or economic climate may result in a loss of commitment.  Conference documents rarely include mechanisms for measuring or monitoring implementation. Assessments at international levels are not carried out on a country-by-country basis, allowing governments to report without fear of close examination.  The review process is cumbersome, and assessments frequently result in generalities that are difficult to apply on a real-time country level. Implementation and monitoring therefore require advocacy and watchfulness on policy development and execution, from both inside and outside government.
But world conferences should not be dismissed as “merely political.” They are important in that they provide a forum for extensive discussion of critical issues at national, regional and global levels. Because very few nations refuse to participate, and even states that are not members of the UN want to be included,  these conferences provide an opportunity to air issues on the widest possible stage.  Moreover, in the nineties, the conferences and their preparatory processes have developed as an opportunity for the NGO community to define issues and advocate cutting-edge positions that expand the boundaries of discussion.   
As a direct result of expanded discussion and NGO input, the world conferences held in the 1990s have culminated in a new level of attention specifically to the human rights of women.  Reference to human rights opens the process to a new level of assessment, monitoring and advocacy.  If world conference commitments are matched with human rights obligations, review of implementation becomes a more specific, demanding, and useful exercise.
Referencing human rights obligations:  long-term commitments
Human rights obligations, as articulated in the international human rights treaties, are undertaken by States parties with a clear understanding that they are legal obligations. While the undertaking may be the product of a particular political moment, the obligation continues indefinitely, regardless of changes in ruling party or even forms of government.  A treaty ratification is a government commitment for the long term, with obligations to continuously self-monitor, make changes in legislation and policy, and report periodically to a body that will examine performance with specificity.  With respect to certain treaties, ratification of an Optional Protocol also subjects the government to scrutiny of performance relating to specific individuals and events.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, was adopted in 1979 as the culmination of more than a generation of efforts to articulate the human rights of women.  As noted below, the Convention includes rights recognized in earlier treaties applying specifically to women and incorporates as well the rights stated in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  These two basic human rights treaties include provisions stating the international obligation of nondiscrimination (Article 2 of each) and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex (Article 3 of each), but they do not reference with specificity the obstacles to women’s enjoyment of human rights.   The CEDAW Convention states specific obstacles and requirements for implementation—and as such is a guide for eliminating discrimination across the board.  
The heart of the Beijing Platform for Action also is elimination of discrimination on the basis of sex. Accordingly, the CEDAW Convention, which defines discrimination against women, is extraordinarily useful as a guide for policy development to implement the Platform.
Assessing implementation:  monitoring processes converge  
While the Platform for Action does not include specific monitoring mechanisms, the political context of world conferences and specifically of the Beijing process produced a form of accountability that should not be discounted.  As a result of their intense involvement in the Beijing preparatory process, NGOs all over the world developed expertise in issue identification, advocacy skills, and the confidence to apply these skills in dealing directly with their governments.  Governments are now inescapably aware of women’s constituencies.  Women no longer accept excuses for inaction.  And they vote.
At the same time, NGOs have recently developed expertise in using the CEDAW Convention and other processes to raise their governments’ level of accountability for treaty implementation.  Thanks to efforts by international NGOs and certain treaty body experts and UN staff, the treaty implementation and review process, which for many years was very low profile, government oriented, and a bit of a mystery to NGOs, has become another avenue of advocacy that can have concrete results.
Accountability is the essence of monitoring both the Platform for Action and the CEDAW Convention.   The Beijing  + 5 review provides a unique opportunity to demand government accountability for the promises made to women in every context.
Neither the Platform for Action nor the CEDAW Convention include clear indicators by which performance of obligations can be assessed in all areas.  Treaty experts, government officials, UN specialized agencies and Secretariat, and NGOs all have useful skills and information that can be marshaled to develop indicators that would be invaluable as to both Platform and CEDAW Convention monitoring.  Indicators and benchmarks would provide a guide to sex-disaggregated data collection and make accountability more readily measurable.  This would  simplify collaboration by all parties to define and meet implementation goals.

World Conferences and Women:
  Towards the Rights Framework
The adoption of the 1967 Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was an early milestone in the process of understanding women’s rights as human rights.  Drafted by the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the Declaration was the response to a generally perceived need to consolidate in one document all the international standards concerning women’s rights developed in the UN since 1945. These rights were articulated in individual treaties addressing trafficking and prostitution (1949), political rights (1952), nationality of married women (1962), marriage (1962), equal remuneration for work of equal value (1951), discrimination in employment (1958), discrimination in education (1958), and racial discrimination (1965).  
With the Declaration having laid the foundation, the 1968 International Conference on Human Rights (Teheran) adopted a resolution on promoting women’s rights in the modern world and a long-term UN program for advancement of women that became a blueprint for global action.  
The first global women’s conference organized by the United Nations was held in Mexico City in 1975.   The Conference called for a UN Decade for Women and proposed drafting of a convention on women’s human rights.  The Mexico City conference also marked the first time that a major NGO gathering was held in parallel with the official conference.  The two later Decade conferences, Copenhagen (1980) and Nairobi (1985), addressed the rights issues in different ways and are distinguished primarily as providing opportunities to establish a global agenda for equality.
In December 1979, in an action central to the accomplishments of the Decade for Women, the General Assembly adopted the first comprehensive international treaty on women’s human rights. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Convention), based on the 1967 Declaration, further consolidated the articulation of women’s human rights stated  in other treaties, including some ILO conventions. The product of negotiation within a CSW that by that time had a majority of members from the global South, the CEDAW Convention addressed both civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights. With the inclusion of articles specifically addressing the issues of discriminatory custom and tradition and  the rights of rural women, the Convention clearly reflected the concerns of women in the developing world. [1]
The United Nations Decade for Women saw parallel rights-based and political activities in the drafting and adoption of the CEDAW Convention and the far-ranging discussions held at the  World Conferences on Women.  Ten years later, these processes converged at the Fourth World Conference. At Beijing, 189 governments adopted a human rights approach to equality and women’s empowerment that aligned with the development issues addressed at the Decade conferences.
From Mexico City to Beijing:  evolving a human rights approach to gender equality  

At the first global women’s conference, held in Mexico City in 1975, women’s rights were considered mainly in the context of reviewing national legislation to test its conformity to relevant international instruments, and enforcement of that legislation.  The idea of a binding international instrument specifically addressing women’s human rights was discussed, but only as a recommendation.   The main topics covered at the Conference included:

- increased participation by women in the labor force,
- better treatment of women workers—reflecting ILO conventions
health and education
- the “family in modern society”
- population and demographic trends
- housing and related facilities
- social questions as they affect women: equal access to social services, migrant women, the elderly, female criminality, prostitution and trafficking

Proposed follow-up activities centered on studies and collection of information to document the situation of women to men and steps governments could take to improve social services to place women on a par with men.  

In setting the agenda for the second global women’s conference, held in Copenhagen in 1980,  the General Assembly focused on the themes of employment, health and education.  The agenda did not even address women’s rights in a broad context as had the Mexico City conference.  This was a reaction to the difficulties that were being encountered at that time in the CSW to reach agreement on a comprehensive women’s human rights convention.  The choice of agenda items also was a reflection of the prevailing global emphasis on development and on the achievement of the goals of the United Nations Development Decades.  In the end, the Copenhagen Programme for Action focused on promoting a significant role for women in the development process through education, health care, access to the labor force, and support for their role in agriculture.  The Conference skimmed over the question of women’s human rights.  
The third world conference on women was held in Nairobi at the end of the Decade for Women in 1985.  The final document, the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies to the Year 2000, attributed most forms of inequality, particularly in the developing world, to “mass poverty and the general backwardness” [2] of the majority of the world’s women, rather than to government failure to recognize universal principles and standards of justice.  It identified “gender” differences—socially determined factors that lead to discrimination between women and men—as obstacles to equality. [3]
Recommendations proposed in the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies were organized according to the themes of equality, development and peace.  Recommendations under the theme of equality,  the most relevant to women’s human rights, focused primarily on de facto rights and on women’s participation in decisionmaking, the question of multiple legal systems (customary and statutory), underuse of women’s talents because of discrimination, discrimination against women in rural areas, and discrimination in ownership of land and access to credit.  Recommendations under the theme of development focused primarily on integration of women into socioeconomic development.  Strategies proposed under the rubric of peace dealt primarily with women in situations of armed conflict but, notably, included for the first time attention to violence against women.  
Women’s rights were officially recognized as human rights for the first time on a global stage, at the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna in 1993.  This recognition was largely a result of lobbying by the women’s NGO community.  Moreover, women’s human rights were understood, consistent with the CEDAW Convention, to be universal and indivisible and to include economic, social and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights.   The accomplishment of Vienna—the inclusion of women as full actors in the human rights enterprise—paved the way for the full integration of human rights into the women’s development enterprise at Beijing.
Beijing:  centering on rights
Beijing was the first global conference in which women in development issues were closely and explicitly linked to women’s human rights.  The Platform for Action also is the first global political agreement in which the CEDAW Convention is clearly reflected. [4]
The Beijing Platform for Action mentions “rights” approximately 500 times and includes human rights as one of the twelve Critical Areas of Concern.  Signatories called for restraint from violating women’s human rights and placed new emphasis on vigorous “promotion” and “protection” of rights.  The Platform for Action “upholds” the CEDAW Convention (para 7) and notes that since 1985 there had been many “violations of and failure to protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms of all women, and their civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights including the right to development” (para 42).   The Platform calls for protection of a wide range of rights, including:
a. the right to education,
b. right to economic resources including property rights (para 166c),
c. right to equal pay for equal work or work of equal value (para 165a)
d. freedom of association and the right to organize (para 166l) and 175c),
e. workers’ rights (para 178a), right to collective bargaining (178h), and
f. the right to participate in government (para 181)
Complementarity of the Platform and the CEDAW Convention
This chart, an expansion on one originally developed by the Division for the Advancement of Women, indicates the relationship between the Platform for Action’s Critical Areas of Concern and the CEDAW Convention.

Beijing Platform For Action

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women- CEDAW

  Declaration and Mission Statement:
  • Commitment to equal rights as enshrined in   the UN Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, CEDAW Convention, Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Recognize women’s human rights as universal, indivisible, inalienable
  • Take all necessary measures to eliminate discrimination against women and girls
Article 1    Definition of discrimination

Article 2    Action obligations

Article 3    Take all appropriate measures, including legislation

Article 4    Temporary special measures
(affirmative action to eliminate discrimination)
  A.  Poverty   Article 3  Take all appropriate measures, including legislation

Article 5  Modify patterns of conduct to eliminate customary practices based on stereotypes

Article 10   Access to education, adult education, family planning information

Article 11   Right to work; equality in employment; equal pay; social security

Article 12   Full access to health care

Article 13   Family benefits, credit

Article 14  Rural women’s participation in development planning; access to health care, education, social security, agricultural credit, equal treatment in land reform and resettlement schemes

Article 15   [mf1]  Recognition of legal capacity

Article 16   Equality as to ownership, management and enjoyment of property

General Recommendation No. 21 (Articles 15, 16)

Beijing Platform For Action

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women- CEDAW

  B.  Education and training Article 5    Modify patterns of conduct to eliminate customary practices based on stereotypes

Article 10   Equality in all areas of education, including adult education and training

Article 11.1(c)  Right to receive vocational education and training

Article 14.2(d)  Rural women’s right to education and training

  C.  Health Article 5    Modify patterns of conduct to eliminate customary practices based on stereotypes

Article 12   Access to health care, including family planning

General Recommendation No. 24 (Article 12)

  D.  Violence Against Women   Article 3  Take all appropriate measures, including legislation

Article 6   Trafficking

General Recommendation No. 19 indicates obligations to address violence against women under each Convention article  

  E.  Armed Conflict Article 8   Right to represent their governments in international fora and to participate in international organizations  

Beijing Platform For Action

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women- CEDAW

  F.  Employment, Economic Structures   Article 5   Modify patterns of conduct to eliminate customary practices based on stereotypes

Article 11  Equality in all areas of employment, right to work, equal pay, benefits, training, social security; protective legislation to be reviewed periodically

  G.  Power and Decisionmaking Article 7  Equal participation in public life

Article 8  Equal participation in international fora

Article 14.2(e,f)  Rural women’s right to organize self-help groups and cooperatives; participate in community activities

Article 16  Equal rights and responsibilities to freely choose a spouse; during the marriage and its dissolution; equal rights and responsibilities as to deciding on having and on raising children, choosing a family name and an occupation, managing property

General Recommendation Nos. 21 (Article 16), 23 (Articles 7 & 8)

  H.  Mechanisms Article 3  Take all appropriate measures to ensure women’s development and advancement

  I.  Human Rights of Women Entire Convention  

  J.  Mass Media Article 5  Modification of patterns of conduct, to eliminate prejudice and stereotyping

Beijing Platform For Action

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women- CEDAW
  K.  Environment
Article 7 & 8  Participation in public life and decisionmaking that affects women’s lives

Article 14  Rural women’s participation in development planning

  L  Girl Child
All articles except those that implicitly apply only to adults

Article 16.1 (d, f) Best interest of the child shall be paramount in making family decisions; equal decision making as to number and spacing of children

Article 16.3  No child betrothal; minimum age for marriage
From a rights perspective, the  Platform for Action moves beyond the CEDAW treaty in some areas and adds breadth to others.  For example, it includes an entire section on violence against women, which is not mentioned in the CEDAW Convention because in the 1970’s when the Convention was drafted, the issue had not yet received international attention and very little hard data and evidence had yet been collected.  The Platform section on armed conflict reflects a new level of attention to and public discussion of the searing experiences of women caught in war zones.  The effect of media on women’s lives and women’s roles as portrayed in the media, the relationship between women and the environment, and the special roles and needs of girl children have only recently been documented as status of women issues.    
At the same time, not all of these newly recognized issues are addressed from a rights perspective; the language of rights in the Platform is not invoked to the same degree as to each Critical Area of Concern.  But the Platform and the Convention are complementary.  If invoked together, the two instruments along with other international agreements and treaties constitute a global basis for advocating gender equality.  
Women and Poverty  
This Critical Area contains the least direct references to rights.  It focuses primarily on women and development, but it does mention rights of women migrants (para 58k) and indigenous peoples (para 61c).  Notably it calls for protection of women’s right to full and equal access to economic resources, including the right to inheritance and to ownership of land and other property, credit, natural resources and appropriate technology (para. 60f). The Convention, negotiated twenty years earlier, did not directly address the question of poverty, but did single out rural women in Article 14.  Subsequent interpretation of CEDAW has encompassed the problems of poor women and their need to access economic resources and social services without discrimination to overcome conditions of poverty.  
Education and Training
The Platform calls for education as a human right (para 69).  Within this framework it calls for ensuring the rights of women and girls to freedom of conscience and religion(para 80f), for ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (80j), and for human rights education programs for women.  It refers to the right of indigenous women and girls to education; calls for an international campaign promoting the right of women and girls to education (87c); to rights of migrant women (148b) and to the right to self-determination (149a). [5]   The CEDAW Convention addresses non-discrimination in education and the need for women and girls to have the same opportunities as men and boys to all types of education.  
Women and Health
The Platform states at the outset that “women have the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health” (para 89). Their enjoyment of this right must be secured throughout the life cycle (para 92). This Critical Area refers to rights in over two-thirds of the paragraphs and sub-paragraphs. The section is built on the agreements reached at the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994) and in some instances has expanded on the ICPD Plan of Action.  Despite the controversy surrounding women’s health, the 1990s brought considerable evolution in the international agreements in this important area. The CEDAW Convention addresses health issues primarily in Article 12;   in 1998 the Committee adopted a General Recommendation on women and health taking the Platform into account and building on scholarship in this area as well as efforts made by NGOs to examine this issue in a rights framework.  
Violence Against Women
The Platform states clearly that violence against women violates and impairs or nullifies women’s enjoyment of their human rights (para 112).  Building on gains made at the World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna, 1993) , this section mentions rights 13 times, including references to the UN Commission on Human Rights, which is invited to renew the appointment of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women. The CEDAW Convention notably is silent on this question, but in 1991 the Committee adopted General Recommendation No. 19, indicating the manner in which each article of the Convention should be invoked to deal with the issue.  
Women and Armed Conflict  
In this section, the Platform states boldly that “violations of the human rights of women in situations of armed conflict are violations of the fundamental principles of international human rights and humanitarian law” (para 131).  It repeatedly refers to international humanitarian law and human rights instruments and calls for non-discrimination in their  application.  In particular, the Platform singles out acts of violence against women, such as rape, in particular systematic rape, forced prostitution and other forms of indecent assault and sexual slavery, during armed and other conflicts (145e).  It also addresses the rights of refugee and displaced women.  Article 8 of the Convention is not so bold, addressing only the right to participate in international fora and organizations.  The Platform expands the discussion, by linking women’s rights issues to international humanitarian law and other treaties.  
Women and the Economy  
The Platform makes the link between financial, monetary and commercial  and other economic systems and women’s access to economic resources.  It identifies obstacles to women’s employment, appropriate working conditions and control over economic resources.  It advocates that workers’ rights apply equally to men and women.  Many of its provisions can also be found in Article 11 of the CEDAW Convention.  Workers’ rights had been under discussion for years, particularly at the ILO, and had evolved considerably with respect to women by the time the CEDAW Convention was adopted.
Women in Power and Decision-making
Here the focus of the Platform is fundamentally grounded in the Convention, but includes more detail on the types of actions, including training, required to move more women into decision-making positions.  
Institutional mechanisms  
Article 3 of the Convention is very broad compared to this section of the Platform. The Platform language draws on the experience of the United Nations Decade for Women, when the question of national machineries for the advancement of women received considerable attention as a means to institutionalize advocacy for gender equality and to monitor progress.  Rights as an issue are not an element of the discussion.  
Human Rights of Women
This section of the Platform, while repetitive of agreements reached by the international community in other fora, is a core section of the Platform and represents a breakthrough in evolving the human rights framework for achieving women’s equality.  It encompasses all of the articles of the Convention and advocates strengthening the Convention and other human rights instruments in the service of women’s  human rights.  It reiterates in rights terms a number of the provisions found elsewhere in the Platform, such as protection from violence.  It also calls for strengthening the enforcement of women’s human rights at national level and for an emphasis on legal literacy for women.  This section provides the clearest link between the Platform and the Convention and includes the single most successful call for concrete action in the Platform:  as per Para 230(k), an Optional Protocol to provide for individual complaints under the Convention was drafted by the CSW and adopted by the General Assembly in 1999.
Women and the Media  
The relationship between women and the media and new technologies, addressed with considerable attention in the Platform, is not mentioned at all in the Convention. The Convention, as in other areas that have emerged for international discussion since the late 1970s,  can be read to cover this area, but the Committee has yet to explore it in any depth.
Women and the Environment
This section of the Platform refers to rights only once, notably in paragraph 253c concerning safeguarding existing intellectual property rights of women engaged in practices related to traditional medicine, biodiversity and indigenous technologies. While women’s interest in and right to protection of the environment is arguably covered by several articles of the Convention, the treaty lacks specific language referring to the environment.  The efforts of women’s NGOs to define women’s interest in the environment and to identify women as a special group for attention in this area took shape during the 1990s in relation to the International Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992).
The Girl Child
This section and others draw on the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  References to children in Article 16  of the CEDAW Convention can be linked to this section, as can provisions relating to education and health.  The CEDAW Convention should be seen as complementary to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which defines the human rights of children—girls and boys equally—to grow into adults with full human rights as defined in the other treaties.      
Rights and the Platform for Action: Monitoring Promises
The Platform for Action encompasses a wide range of objectives that are directly parallel to the rights enumerated in the CEDAW Convention and other human rights instruments.  And like the CEDAW Convention, it emphasizes the right to nondiscrimination on the basis of sex as well as equality between women and men.  To the extent that the objectives of the Platform correspond to civil and political rights, measurements of compliance can be based on well-established methodologies and standards for evaluating implementation of human rights treaties dealing with those categories of rights.  Theories of state action (or inaction) as to civil and political rights and basic concepts of freedom from torture, freedom of association and speech, right to fair trial, etc, are sufficiently developed to provide clear measures of compliance as to those elements of the Platform.
The Platform also includes numerous economic, social and cultural objectives that are parallel to the economic, social and cultural rights enumerated in the CEDAW Convention and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  The formulations in these documents present a problem of assessment, as neither the Platform nor the treaties include reference to indicators of compliance.   The language of the Platform is particularly problematic in this regard, as words such as “develop,” “enhance,” or “promote” do not lend themselves to measurement.  Moreover, many of the strategies outlined in the Platform call for gradual steps and programmatic approaches rather than time-bound, goal-oriented action.  Assessment of implementation therefore requires a conceptual approach that takes these measurement issues into account, such as progressive realization and measurement of conduct, [6] while incorporating the principle of nondiscrimination.
Assessing progress
Many states argue, with respect to both Platform commitments and human rights treaty obligations, that they do not have adequate resources or time  to fully comply with international standards.  The concept of progressive realization—a term lifted directly from the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 2)—has developed to meet those arguments and provide a standard by which  even the poorest country can be judged to have made a positive effort to comply.  The Maastricht Guidelines, adopted in 1997, [7]   require States parties to international treaties to take certain steps immediately and others as soon as possible to meet their treaty obligations.  The Guidelines reinforce and elaborate upon the Article 2 obligation and its articulation in General Comment No. 3 to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. [8]  
Taking into account a country’s economic status and the concept of progressive realization, the critical factor in assessing progress under both the Platform for Action and the CEDAW Convention is whether women and men are treated equally by and benefit equally from policies designed to implement rights.  If a state argues that resources are inadequate for full implementation, under both the CEDAW Convention and the Platform, even partial implementation must benefit women and men equally.    
Measurement of implementation requires analysis of data gathered over time, preferably disaggregated into relevant categories.  Such data are dramatically lacking as to women and girls.  Moreover, there is little formal agreement on the international level as to appropriate indicators or benchmarks for assessing progress over time.  Some countries have undretaken participatory processes to identify indicators that can be accepted by governments and NGOs.  
One possibility for advancing international agreement as to relevant indicators or benchmarks would be an examination of the Concluding Comments of the CEDAW Committee, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Comittee on the Rights of the Child, as well as the CEDAW Committee’s General Recommendations and the CESCR’s General Comments.  The Concluding Comments indicate the respective committees’ concerns with specific implementation issues and specific practices.  The General Recommendations/General Comments reflect the Committees’ analysis of the most important elements of certain rights.  These commentaries, taken together, could provide insight into the most significant areas in which indicators should be developed.  And they certainly can provide an immediate reference point for review of Platform implementation.  
The concept of core obligations is linked to that of progressive implementation.  A state that lacks resources to fully implement an economic or social right can and should be evaluated, at the least, in terms of meeting a minimum level of obligation.  The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has indicated that as to that treaty, there exists a minimum core obligation not to deprive “any significant number of individuals of [all the rights in the Covenant, including] . . . essential foodstuffs, of essential primary health care, of basic shelter and housing, or of the most basic forms of education . . .” [9]   Core obligations refer only to a baseline requirement; the mandate of progressive realization requires that states allocate increasing resources to implementation as their economies grow.  And the principle of nondiscrimination, included in the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as well as the CEDAW Convention, requires states to implement even the core obligations in a nondiscriminatory manner.    
This approach would be extremely useful in evaluating implementation of Platform commitments.  The Commission on the Status of Women and CEDAW Committee could define, and governments could state whether they have met, a minimum standard of performance with respect to, for example, delivering health care to women and girls, or providing training for employment in all sectors, or training police to deal appropriately with instances of violence against women.  Evaluation could include both statistical indicators and examination of practices.  
Since 1995 the Commission on the Status of Women has taken up discussion of each of the Critical Areas of Concern with a view to identifying measures for accelerated implementation of proposed strategies.  The CSW’s recommendations have been very broad and nonspecific as to measuring change or assessing results in light of goals and objectives.   This is in part because the Platform itself, as a negotiated document, provides very few measurable targets.  However, the post-Beijing appraisals could have moved the discussion toward development of indicators for measuring progress.  The Beijing + 5 review provides an opportunity to do so on a large scale and with a global commitment.
Obligations of conduct and obligations of result
Both the Platform and the CEDAW Convention call for governments to develop policies and programs to achieve equality.  Indicators for assessing implementation of policies and programs—meeting obligations of conduct—will differ from indicators for assessing results.  Neither type of indicator has yet been well developed, and those relating to conduct are notoriously difficult to define.     
Some of the CEDAW Committee’s questions to States parties during country reviews, and the Committee’s Concluding Comments, indicate the importance of changing conduct as well as the possible content of conduct indicators.  Such indicators could be qualititative or descriptive, indicating practices that seem promising in terms of results.  They also could be quantitative, measuring the number of women who use particular services as a proportion of the population.  The most difficult task in developing indicators of conduct is to explore the relationship between certain practices or services and the desired results.  For example, does a policy of compulsory education through grade six result in (a) provision of  educational services available to all girls; (b) full attendance by girls; (c) increased literacy rates?  The Beijing + 5 review could promote discussion of this issue and recommend documentation of promising practices with an obligation to report on their effectiveness in reaching women.  
At the same time, the essence of the enterprise is results.  While statistical indicators abound, their adequacy and their meaning remain under debate.  Does an increased literacy rate for girls, for example, as called for in the Platform, correlate to real improvement in their lives—better jobs, greater participation in family and community decisionmaking, later marriage?  Or do the policies and the analysis of their effect have to be better developed—to examine content of curriculum, promotion and support of different types of education for girls, support of changes in family dynamic to promote their release from traditional expectations and household duties?  
The Beijing + 5 review could include discussion of indicators that have been developed on a national or regional basis, as well as the indices of nondiscrimination developed for the United National Development Program’s Human Development Report:  the GDI, measuring disparities between the accomplishments of men and of women and the extent to which capabilities are expanding; and the Gender Empowerment Measure, which examines whether women and men actively participate in economic and political life and in decisionmaking.  
The Commission also could recommend documentation of practices that seem promising, for wider application.   Indeed, the current review could include descriptions of such practices, documented to show relevance and results.     
The Commission could call on the UN specialized agencies, which have conducted some of this analysis, to cooperate in an effort to develop indicators.  It also could call on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to support the analysis, as indicators are critical to evaluation of treaty implementation as well.  The Report of the Seminar on Appropriate Indicators to Measure Achievement in the Progressive Realization of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights [10] invited the UN specialized agencies to develop indicators to measure human rights implementation.  The moment may have arrived for human rights experts and experts from the specialized agencies to address the issue of indicators.  The CSW could provide an impetus towards action by dealing directly with it in the Beijing + 5 review.  
Further commitments to action undertaken in the Beijing + 5 review should be stated with a view to establishing a baseline for monitoring progress in Platform implementation over the next five years.  Governments should present in their statements to the Preparatory Committee and the Special Session, information on the indicators and benchmarks they have applied to assess their progress, together with examples of successful practices linked to Platform objectives and strategies.  States parties to the CEDAW Convention should indicate the link between their implementation of the Platform and their progress in meeting obligations under the Convention.  Where resources are deemed to be limited or new initiatives have been in place for only a short time, reporting should focus on meeting core obligations, with due attention to the principle of nondiscrimination on the basis of sex.  

Conclusion and Recommendations

The Beijing + 5 review offers an opportunity for the United Nations and NGOs to constructively revisit the commitments made in the Platform for Action, evaluating progress and committing to new methods of implementation and monitoring.  The discussion cannot be effective without consistent reference to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the principles of which pervade the Platform.  The results of the review can provide guidance to both the Commission on the Status of Women and the United Nations human rights bodies, particularly the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, for more effective promotion and monitoring of progress toward achievement of women’s human rights.  To that end, the following recommendations are offered:


Include in reports to CSW as the preparatory body, and to the General Assembly in its Beijing + 5 review, information on the indicators and benchmarks they have used to assess their own progress in Platform implementation, together with examples of successful practices.  Where resources are limited or new initiatives have been in place for a short time, reporting should focus on meeting core obligations.


Incorporate into the Beijing + 5 review and future monitoring a framework for analysis that takes into account the human rights commitments made within the Platform for Action.Develop a method of appraising progress under the Platform for Action that takes into account accomplishments and shortfalls on a country basis, along the lines, for example, of the NGO Report Card.

Encourage efforts by the Division for the Advancement of Women, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the UN specialized agencies, to formulate indicators for the monitoring of women’s human rights implementation under the international human rights instruments taking the Platform for Action into account.  In this regard, the efforts of ECOSOC and the UN system to agree on development indicators, as well as the indicators developed by UNDP for its Human Development Report, should be taken into account.


Revise the Guidelines Regarding the Form and Content of Initial Reports of States Parties, No. 8, to require greater specificity in linking the content of country reports to the commitments under the Platform for Action, and include questions on that linkage in the constructive dialogue with governments.

Examine General Recommendations and Concluding Comments to identify factors that the Committee considers critical to implementation and make this analysis available to States Parties and to the CSW.  

Develop, in conjunction with its general recommendations, indicators of conduct and a statement of core obligations under each article, taking into account the principle of nondiscrimination on the basis of sex, and actively use these tools to assist in monitoring government performance under the Convention.  

[1] For a discussion of the negotiations on the draft Convention, see Lars Adam Rehof, Guide to the Travaux Preparatoires of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Netherlands:  Maartius Nijhoff Publishers, 1993).
[2] Forward-Looking Strategies to the Year 2000,  Third World Conference on Women para.44.
[3] Ten years later, the concept of “gender” came under attack during preparations for the Fourth World Conference.  Despite long-established usage of the term, certain governments indicated severe discomfort and attempted to eliminate the concept from the Platform.
[4] The development of the rights framework for Beijing reflects a massive international NGO effort to define the rights issues and effectively monitor and participate in the UN and regional preparatory processes.  The United Nations supported considerable NGO access to the process, particularly during the 1995 CSW preparatory session and the Beijing conference, and many governments included NGOs on their delegations.  Much of the Platform language was heavily contested; NGOs, working with certain governments, provided insight, support, and lobbying to move the agenda towards greater emphasis on rights as well as expanding the boundaries of the entire discussion.The Platform section on the Girl Child, for example, was added after the African regional preparatory meeting, at which the official meeting adopted the section almost verbatim from a proposal by a core group of concerned African NGOs.  The language of Para 2, reiterating that human rights are universal, inalienable, and indivisible, was heavily negotiated, with considerable input from NGOs.  The paragraph referring to inheritance (274d) reflects a compromise between African governments, which supported an unequivocal statement of full equality in inheritance that would fly in the face of most African customary law, and Islamic states, which resisted language that appeared contrary to the Shar’ia law on inheritance.  The African governments’ position reflected considerable influence by NGOs, which had focused for years on inheritance as a critical issue of discrimination under customary law.
[5] The reference to self-determination represents a political compromise somewhat unrelated to the question of education.
[6] For a basic, authoritative outline of these and related concepts, see The Maastricht Guidelines on Violations of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 20 Human Rights Quarterly, 691  (1998).
[7] Id., p. 694.
[8] CESCR 5th Sess., 1990, UN Doc. E/1991/23, Annex III, para. 10.
[9] CESCR General Comment No. 3, op.cit.
[10] A/Conf.157/PC/73 (1993)

COPYRIGHT© 2009 All materials on this web site copyright of International Women's Rights Action Watch, University of Minnesota, USA