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International Women’s Day: Looking back to Beijing and beyond 2015

published 6 March 2015 updated 6 March 2015

2015 is an auspicious year for International Women’s Day celebrations: we mark the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the most advanced document on women’s rights and empowerment ever signed by world leaders.

The 189 members of the United Nations who unanimously took this bold step at the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, outlined critical areas of concern and concrete actions that governments, UN institutions and civil society must take if humanity is to become truly gender equal, and women’s and girls’ human rights are to be promoted, protected and fulfilled.

It is definitely a moment to acknowledge some critical achievements that have brought us closer to meeting these objectives. Over the last twenty years, the global gender gap in education has become narrower and some countries have reached parity in school enrolment; the number of women dying in child birth has almost halved; and in 46 countries, women now hold more than 30% of the seats in national parliaments in at least one chamber.

But there is still a long way to go; progress on implementing the Beijing Platform for Action has been slow and uneven.

This year we also take stock of progress made on reaching the Millennium Development Goals(MDGs) and the Education for All (EFA) objectives set in 2000 to be achieved by 2015. The 2014 MDG Report highlighted the serious challenges that still remain, including the fact that 60% of the 781 million adults and 126 million youth worldwide who lack basic literacy skills are women and girls; and although poverty rates were halved between 1990 and 2010, 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty today.

Poor women’s work subsidises the global economy with US$9 trillion annually(you read that correctly: nine trillion dollars every year). We are talking here about women who are trapped in low paid precarious forms of work while shouldering a heavy load of unpaid care work in their families. The gender-based exploitation of women in poor countries saves the world the equivalent of the combined GDPs of Britain, France and Germany each year.

Because education is a human right in itself and an enabling right that transforms lives, education unions’ work to advance the rights of women and girls to and in education, is without parallel.

Education International calls on all its member organisations to renew their efforts this year.  So much more needs to be done for the vision in the Beijing Platform for Action to become a reality for the world’s women and girls, boys and men. When we empower women and girls, we empower humanity.