More than 10,000 representatives from 189 countries, including those in Central Asia and the Caucasus, and hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) gathered this week at the United Nations to discuss the status of women in the world.
The Beijing Plus Five Conference was designed to assess progress made and problems remaining since the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. At that conference, representatives from 189 countries reached consensus on a Platform for Action, which calls on governments to address 12 critical areas of concern to women, including poverty, education, health, violence, armed conflict, the economy, the environment and others.
Yet, five years later, many governments still have not translated their pledges into policies. Dasa Silovic, a senior advisor to the United Nations Gender Development Program, said she hopes this week's meeting will generate political will and financial support to push the platform forward. "We know what we want. We have fought for what we want. We've come a long way, but that is not enough," she said. "This is where we need to put our political will behind our words."
Central Asia was well represented at the meetings, both by official delegations and by non-governmental organizations.
Among the Central Asian NGOs attending were the Business Women's Associates from Khujand, Tajikistan; the Women's Crisis Center "Sabr" from Samarkand, Uzbekistan; the Tashkent-based Women's Committee of Uzbekistan; the Feminist League and the Youth Information Service, from Kazakhstan, and the Gender in Development Bureau from Kyrgyzstan.
Uzbekistan's Deputy Prime Minister, Mrs. Dilbar Gulyamova, addressed the assembly at the opening session. She stressed the positive synergies that exist between the government and NGOs in Uzbekistan. In the last few years, she said NGOs had "become a noticeable force" in her country that has "raised the efficiency in identifying and addressing different women's issues."
Outside of the conference halls, Kyrgyzstan's Mission to the United Nations erected a photomontage depicting Kyrgyz women and children in the mountain villages. Elmira Ibraimova, Kyrgyzstan's Ambassador to the United Nations, mentioned that the exhibit also reflects her country's recent initiative at the United Nations to declare the year 2000 the "International Year of Mountains." [For background see Eurasia Insight].
Central Asia also contributed to the Youth Caucus. Gulmira Asanbaeva of Kyrgyzstan represents the NGO Gender in Development Bureau. She seeks recognition for a category of females often excluded from official discussion: young women, ages 18 to 30, whom she says are not only discriminated against for their gender, but also suffer from lack of respect. "Young women are not identified by governments, civil society, or the international donor community. As a result, few funds are forthcoming to address the problems of this group."
In contrast, she says that governments recognize the problems of the "girl-child," which account for one of the critical areas under the Program for Action. Likewise, women over 30 are both seen and heard in their societies. Alina Khamatdinova of Kazakhstan, coordinates gender programs for the Youth Information Service in Almaty. She says the main problems women face in her society are domestic violence and lack of educational and employment opportunities. At the conference, Khamatdinova, 21, says she is gaining valuable experience and making "great connections with girls of my age." She says she hopes to build an international network of participants from the Youth Caucus when she returns home.
In addition to these two young Central Asian women, the conference also attracted some of the world's most powerful women, including US First Lady Hillary Clinton, who spoke about the importance of microcredit loans.
Developing economic opportunities for women was one of the conference's main themes. In the past five years, many parts of the world have witnessed progress in this area. However, the countries of the former Soviet Union are lagging behind. A new report released by The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) found that women's share of paid employment in industry and services has increased in most regions of the world, with the exception of parts of Eastern Europe.
Moreover, the report revealed that in the small-business sector, women's share of work as an employer or as a self-employed person is rising in all regions -- except Northern Africa and Central Asia.
That finding might have come as a surprise to Mrs. Gulyamova. She told the assembly that in Uzbekistan "female entrepreneurship directed to the development of the industrial sector, in particular, production of consumer goods, which incorporate usage of the Republic's natural raw resources, has been developing during the last few years."
Bea Hogan is a journalist who is an expert on Central Asian political and economic affairs