Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

From the Margins to the Mainstream: The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action

  • Marcia Waldron

Summary

The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women provided an important occasion for the international community to assess and to develop its political commitment to the protection of the human rights of women. The author discusses the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action that resulted from the conference and considers whether international machineries for the enforcement of rights will be adequate to deal with rights that traditionally have been marginalized. Recognizing the past and current limitations of international mechanisms, the author argues that working within mainstream institutions as well as developing independent special procedures are necessary measures to ensure that the international system reflects the needs of women.

Sommaire

La quatrième Conférence mondiale des Nations Unies sur les femmes a donné à la communauté internationale une excellente occasion d’évaluer et d’élargir son engagement politique envers la protection des droits de la personne des femmes. L’auteur examine la déclaration de Beijing et la plateforme pour l’action qui ont été produites par la Conférence et se demande si les mécanismes internationaux conviennent à la mise en oeuvre de droits qui ont été traditionnellement marginalisés. Tout en reconnaissant les limites passées et actuelles des mécanismes internationaux, l’auteur souligne l’importance de travailler au sein des institutions dominantes et d’élaborer des procédures spéciales indépendantes, si l’on veut s’assurer que le système international reflète les besoins des femmes.

Copyright

References

Hide All

1 The three previous conferences were held in Mexico City in 1975, in Copenhagen in 1980, and in Nairobi in 1985.

2 These conferences were the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights, the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, and the 1995 World Summit for Social Development.

3 Faison, S., “Women’s Meeting Agrees On Right to Say No To Sex,” New York Times (Sept. 1, 1995) A1; Faison, S., “Women Carry Hopes As Conference Ends,” New York Times (Sept. 16, 1994) A5.

4 World Conference On Women, Report of the Fourth World Conference On Women, UN GAOR, Doc.A/Conf. 177/20, 1985 [hereinafter Declaration or Platform for Action]. See also Report of the World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievements of the United Nations Decade For Women: Equality, Development and Peace, UN GAOR, Doc. A/Conf. 116/38, 1985.

5 Sullivan, D., “Women’s Human Rights and the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights” (1994) 88 AJIL 152 at 164.

6 Declaration, supra note 4, Annex l, para. 9.

7 Ibid., para. 14.

8 Platform for Action, ibid., ch. 3, para. 41.

9 Ibid, para. 44.

10 Ibid., ch. 2, para. 9.

11 Coliver, S., “United Nations Machineries on Women’s Rights: How They Better Help Women Whose Rights are Being Violated” in Lutz, et al., New Directions in Human Rights 25 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989); Meron, T., “Enhancing the Effectiveness of the Prohibition of Discrimination Against Women” (1994) 84 AJIL 213 ; Reanda, L., “Human Rights and Women’s Rights: The United Nations Approach” (1981) 3 Hum. Rts Q. 11.

12 In an institutional sense, the “mainstream” means those generally Geneva-based institutions that are responsible for general human rights matters — e.g., the UN Commission on Human Rights. More substantively, however, the “mainstream” encompasses those human rights guarantees within the “general” human rights instruments, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. For an excellent analysis of the analytical and institutional treatment of women’s human rights under the international human rights system, see Byrnes, A., “Women, Feminism and International Human Rights Law: Metodological Myopia, Fundamental Flaws or Meaningful Marginalisation? Some Current Issues” (1992) 12 Aust. Y.B. Int’l L. 205 , 208; Byrnes, A., “Towards a More Effective Enforcement of Women’s Human Rights through the Use of International Human Rights Law and Procedures” in Cook, R. J. (ed.), Human Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives 190 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994).

13 Byrnes, “Women, Feminism and International Human Rights Law” supra note 12, 205 at 208.

14 See World Conference on Human Rights, Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, UN GAOR, Doc. A/Conf. 157/23, 18 at para. 37 and 20 at para. 42, 1993; Commission on Human Rights, Report of the 51st Session, UN ESCOR, Supp. No. 4, Doc. E/CN.4/176, 1995.

15 Platform for Action, supra note 4, ch. 4, para. 48.

16 Ibid., para. 67.

17 Ibid., para. 164

18 Ibid., para. 214.

19 Ibid., para. 221.

20 H. Charlesworth, “What are Women’s International Human Rights” in R. J. Cook (ed.), supra note 12, 58 at 74–75 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsyl-vania Press, 1994). See also Bunch, C., “Women’s Rights as Human Rights: Toward a Re-vision of Human Rights” (1990) 12 Hum. Rts Q. 486 at 494-95.

21 See generally A. O. Ilumoka, “African Women’s Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights — Toward a Relevant Theory and Practice” in R. J. Cook, (ed.), supra note 12 at 306 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994).

22 Platform for Action, supra note 4, ch. 4, para. 213.

23 R. J. Cook, “Women’s International Human Rights Law: The Way Forward” in R.J. Cook (ed.), supra note 12, 3 at 13-14.

24 See generally, Charlesworth, H., Chinkin, C., and Wright, S., “Feminist Approaches to International Law” (1991) 85 AJIL 613 ; Romany, C. , “Women as Aliens: A Feminist Critique of the Public/Private Distinction in International Human Rights Law” (1993) 6 Harv. Hum. Rts J. 87.

25 Charlesworth, supra note 20, 58 at 69–70.

26 See Bunch, supra note 20. See also Burrows, N., “International Law and Human Rights — the Case of Women’s Rights” in Campbell et al. (eds), Human Rights From Rhetoric to Reality 80 at 82 (London: Blackwells, 1986).

27 Charlesworth, H. and Chinkin, C., “The Gender of Jus Cogens” (1993) 15 Hum. Rts Q. 63 at 69.

28 For an analysis of the importance of the victim’s sex for the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, see International Human Rights Law Group (Women in the Law Project), Token Gestures: Women’s Human Rights and UN Reporting, The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture l (International Human Rights Law Group, 1993). See also Byrnes, “Towards a More Effective Enforcement of Women’s Human Rights through the Use of International Human Rights Law and Procedure” supra note 12, 190 at 194.

29 See Cook, R. J., “State Responsibility for Violations of Women’s Human Rights” (1994) 7 Harv. Hum. Rts J. 125 at 143; Romany, supra note 24, 87 at 110–11.

30 Cook, ibid., 149; Romany, supra note 29, 105.

31 Platform for Action, supra note 4, ch. 4, para. 225.

32 Ibid., para. 222.

33 Feminists have argued that this model, “the similarity and difference” model will force women to look at their situation on the basis of how similar or different their treatment under the law is from that of men. For discussions of the principles of equality and non-discrimination, see Bayefsky, A. F., “The Principle of Equality or Non-Discrimination in International Law” (1990) 11 Hum. Rts L.J. 1 ; K. E. Mahoney, “Canadian Approaches to Equality Rights and Gender Equity in the Courts” in R. J. Cook (ed.), supra note 12 at 439.

34 Bayefsky, ibid., 11. Mahoney, supra note 33 at 442.

35 Cook, supra note 23 at 156.

36 This is the “disadvantage” model: see Cook, ibid., 155–56; Mahoney, supra note 33 at 441–49.

37 Mahoney, supra note 33 at 445.

38 Mahoney, ibid., 443; Bayefsky, supra note 33 at 28–33.

39 Platform for Action, supra note 4, ch. 4, para. 219.

40 L. Reanda, supra note 11 at 15.

41 Platform for Action, supra note 4, ch. 2, para. 32 and ch. 4, paras. 46, 225.

42 See Harris, A. P., “Race and Essentialism in Feminist Legal Theory” (1990) 42 Stanf. L. Rev. 581.

43 Byrnes, “Women, Feminism and International Human Rights Law,” supra note 12, 205 at 216.

44 Ibid., 215.

45 Byrnes, “Towards a More Effective Enforcement of Women’s Human Rights Through the Use of International Human Rights Law and Procedure” supra note 12, 190 at 194.

46 Sullivan criticizes the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action for isolating women’s rights in one section, rather than integrating them into the entire document. See Sullivan, supra note 5, 152 at 159.

47 Platform for Action, supra note 4, ch. 4, para. 225.

48 Ibid., para. 206. There is no specific mention of race and ethnicity although, presumably, they are subsumed under “other relevant indicators.” Notably, there is also no mention of sexual orientation, despite support by some states, such as Canada, for its inclusion.

49 Cultural relativism challenges the view that there is a universal normative order. Human values, including human rights, vary depending on the particular culture. Human rights are little more than culturally specific norms. This view is opposed by the concept of universalism, which argues that values, including human rights, are constant across cultures. The obligations to human liberty and dignity are universal. See generally An’Nairn, A. A., “Towards a Cross-Cultural Approach to Defining International Standards of Human Rights: The Meaning of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” in An’Nairn, A. A. (ed.), Human Rights in Cross-Cultural Perspectives: A Quest for Consensus (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992); Donnelly, J., “Cultural Relativism and Universal Human Rights” (1984) 6 Hum. Rts Q. 400 ; Renteln, A. Dundes, “The Unanswered Challenge of Relativism and the Consequences For Human Rights” (1985) 7 Hum. Rts Q. 514.

50 Declaration, supra note 4, Annex 1, para. 9; Platform for Action, supra note 4, ch. 4, 216.

51 Platform for Action, supra note 4, ch. 4, para. 211.

52 Ibid., ch. 1, para. 9.

53 Ibid., ch. 5.

54 Ibid., ch. 2, para. 9.

55 Ibid., para. 24.

56 Sullivan, supra note 5, 152 at 157–58.

57 Ibid., 158.

58 Mertus, Julie A. and Goldberg, Pamela, “A Perspective on Women and International Human Rights after the Vienna Declaration: The Inside/Outside Construct” (1994) 26 N.Y.U. J. Int’l L. & P. 201 at 206–7.

59 Commission on Human Rights, Report on the Fifth Session, UN ESCOR Supp. No. 4, Doc. E/1994/24-E/CN.4/1994/132.

60 Platform for Action, supra note 4, ch. 4, para. 118.

61 Ibid., para. 224.

62 See A. A. An’Naim, “State Responsibility under International Human Rights Law to Change Religious and Customary Laws” in R. J. Cook (ed.), supra note 12 at 177.

63 Ibid., 179.

64 See Ilumoka, supra note 21.

65 An’Naim, supra note 62 at 178.

66 Ibid., 176–77.

67 Ibid., 173.

68 R.J. Cook, “Women’s International Human Rights Law: The Way Forward” in R.J. Cook (ed.), supra note 12 at 167.

69 World Conference on Women, Regional Platform for Action: Women in a Changing World — Call for Action from an F.CE Perspective, UN ESCOR, Doc. E/CN.6/1995/5. See also European Commission (1995) 9 Bulletin of the European Union 1.

70 E.g., see regional platforms of actions for Africa, E/ECA/ACW/RC.V/EXP/ WP.6/Rev.4, and for the Arab region, E/ESCW/SD/1994/IG.1-WOM/L.4.

71 Platform for Action, supra note 4, ch. 4, para. 231.

72 Ibid.

73 Ibid.

74 Byrnes, “Women, Feminism and International Human Rights Law,” supra note 12 at 211.

75 A. F. Bayefsky argues that distinctions based on sex, like those based on race, are suspect because they are most likely to be unjustified and thus are deserving of the highest scrutiny: “The Principle of Equality Or Non-Discrimination in International Law” (1990) 11 Hum. Rts L.J. 1 at 18-24. See also Charlesworth, H. and Chinkin, C., “The Gender of Jus Cogens” (1993) 15 Hum. Rts Q. 63 , who argue for the inclusion of sex into the accepted category of jus cogens or peremptory norms of human rights from which no derogation is permitted. This category usually includes race but excludes sex as a ground against which one cannot discriminate.

76 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, March 7, 1966, Can. T.S. 1970, no. 28, art. 14; First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, December 19, 1966, Can. T.S. 1976, No. 47; Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, December 17, 1984, Can. T.S. 1987, no. 36, art. 22.

77 Platform for Action, supra note 4, ch. 4, para. 231.

78 Ibid.

79 Ibid., para. 230.

80 Cook, R. J., “State Responsibility for Violations of Women’s Human Rights” (1994) 7 Harv. Hum. Rts J. 125 at 175.

81 Ibid.

82 See Committee On the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Report of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, UN GAOR, 49th Sess., Supp. No. 18, Doc. A/49/18, 1995.

83 Platform for Action, supra note 4, ch. 5, para. 308.

84 Ibid., ch. 4, paras 221, 231.

85 See generally, Mertus and Goldberg, supra note 58.

86 E.g., CERD currently only has one woman member, Mrs. Shanti Sadiq Ali.

87 Platform for Action, supra note 4, ch. 2, para. 28.

88 Ibid., ch. 4, para. 192.

89 Secretary-General, Advancement of the Status of Women in the Secretariat: Report of the Secretary-General, UN GAOR, 48th Sess., Doc. A/48/513, 1993.

90 Platform for Action, supra note 4, ch. 4, para. 192.

91 Ibid., ch. 2, para. 31 and ch. 4, para. 225.

92 Byrnes, “Towards a More Effective Enforcement of Women’s Human Rights through the Use of International Human Rights Law and Procedure,” supra note 12 at 200.

93 Mertus and Goldberg, supra note 58 at 215.

* B.A. (McGill), M.A. (Toronto) LL.B. (Ottawa); of the Bar of Ontario. I wish to acknowledge the helpful comments of Daniela Napoli.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

From the Margins to the Mainstream: The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action

  • Marcia Waldron

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.