Ritu Sharma

In “The Art of the Possible,” author Dawna Markova wrote: “We are a fulcrum generation. We live, all of us, with one foot in the past and one in the future, in a house built over a fault line.”

Beijing + Five last week was another, powerful, tremor in our feminist earthquake of change.

The tense negotiations around the U.S. General Assembly resolution on women were unsettling to experience, ugly to watch, and left the house a mess. But the rumble was necessary to get some small gains and minimize losses from the original Platform for Action to achieve women’s equality and development agreed upon by United Nations members in Beijing, China in 1995.

For the first time, governments of almost every country in the world grappled with the reality of women being left behind in our globalizing economy–a new issue since the China meeting five years ago.

In fact, the U.N. resolution adopted June 10 puts globalization at the top of the list of current challenges to implementing the Beijing agenda.

“Benefits of the growing global economy have been unevenly distributed leading to wider economic disparities, the feminization of poverty, increased gender inequality…” The list goes on.

Other “new” areas critical to women came to the fore in New York: trafficking of women and children for slavery, servitude, or sexual exploitation, the decimation of an entire generation of women by HIV/AIDS, and, for the first time, international consensus on addressing honor killings and forced marriage.

But despite all the sound and fury, U.N. documents simply encourage governments to act on these life and death issues for women and girls. At the end of the day, delegates can fly home resting easy that there are no real consequences for inaction.

It is up to us to change that. This year, a new coalition called Women’s EDGE has come together to develop comprehensive legislation in the U.S. Congress to implement the commitments the U.S. made in Beijing (and at Beijing +5) to help women around the world.

The GAINS for Women and Girls Act represents the most cutting edge thinking on women’s international development issues in legislation. For example, the act:

  • Creates new programs to address the root causes of trafficking in women and children in countries where the problem is rampant and provides $100 million for this effort.
  • Requires the U.S. to create a “gender equity index” to make sure that its international basic education programs are helping girls.
  • Includes the first-ever Women and International Trade Act, instructing the U.S. government to study how economic globalization is affecting women.
  • And dramatically increases funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs targeting young women in poor countries, HIV/AIDS is growing most rapidly among members of this group.

The GAINS for Women and Girls Act will be introduced into the House of Representatives and the Senate in the coming weeks by a forward-thinking and bi-partisan group of lawmakers.

So, having lived through it, I welcome the earthquakes. Let’s just make sure we get the other foot safely over the fault line to other side–a future with women’s global equality.

Ritu Sharma is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Women’s EDGE and was a member of the official United States Delegation to Beijing + Five.