UNITED NATIONS, New York, June 5–On the opening day of the special U.N. session on the status of women worldwide, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan greeted the estimated 15,000 attendees from nearly 200 countries with an address that emphasized the importance of education.

Annan outlined the session’s target areas, including violence against women, HIV infection and trafficking. When he mentioned the impact of armed conflicts, he added a personal reference, “especially in my home continent, Africa.”

He tied all these issues together with a single solution:

“It is lack of education that leads to HIV. It is lack of job prospects that lead women vulnerable to trafficking. . . Large numbers of women are engaged in production at starvation wages . . . that will only change when women are making decisions as policy-makers, as lawyers, as bureaucrats,” he said.

“The future of this planet depends on women,” he said to a polite ovation. Following Annan’s speech, the chair of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, Christine Kapalata of Tanzania, told the delegates that the so-called Outcome Document was complete, although some areas were still in contention. The Outcome Document assesses the progress of governments and non-governmental organizations in the similar meeting held five years ago in Beijing. Calling for action in 12 specific areas, the document details specific goals and responsibilities for both governments and non-governmental organizations to advance women’s equality.

“We have made much progress . . . but inequalities remain,” she said.

Chronic Disputes Delay the Outcome Document

The commission, the U.N. agency responsible for funding women’s programs and other U.N. agencies, as well as hundreds of non-governmental organizations have prepared for this week, submitting papers for use in composing the Outcome Document.

By one Sunday morning, sections dealing with chronic areas of dispute remained open to discussion. These include language on reproductive health and reproductive rights, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and the International Criminal Court. Disparities between developing countries and the major powers are evident in disputes over globalization, credit, and microcredit as well.

These areas will be debated every day this week in the General Assembly, with delegates being permitted to choose among alternatives developed by non-governmental organizations. The assembly is expected to vote on the final version Friday.

“I am confident,” said Kapalata, “that consensus will be reached on the remaining paragraphs of the text.”

Kapalata’s assertion was, in the estimation of several non-governmental representatives, quite optimistic: the reproductive rights and HIV platforms are thought to be especially problematic.

Across the Street, Celebration and Urge for Change

The Platform for Action, 1995

  • Poverty
  • Education and training
  • Health
  • Violence
  • Armed conflict
  • Economy
  • Decision-making
  • Institutional mechanisms
  • Human rights
  • Media
  • Environment
  • The girl-child

A very different energy was evident at the opening ceremonies for the Non-Governmental Organizations, across the street from the United Nations building and bearing the tagline: “Women2000: Beijing + 5.”

In contrast to the U.N.’s quiet, sober demeanor and still largely male representation, Dag Hammarskjold Plaza was filled with women and girls from around the world, many waving flags and banners and cheering as at a political rally.

There Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D. -New York.) announced her initiative to restore U.S. aid for international family planning to 1995 levels, a move likely to be resisted by several prominent Republicans in the U.S. Congress.

Linda Tarr-Whelan, head of the U.S. delegation to the special session, told the crowd: “What we are trying to accomplish is a mind-shift for a better future for all.”