The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA), celebrated by feminist activists as a triumph for women's rights, is 20 years old. The world that it once described has changed profoundly in some respects, and yet in others remains surprisingly similar. This IDS Bulletin reflects on those changes and continuities, tracing the trajectories of the Beijing conference in different policy arenas, national settings and domains of practice.
Articles chart the development of policies and practice worldwide, drawing out both obstacles to progress and gains for women's rights. They explore three major areas: creating more opportunities for women to earn a living and exercise economic autonomy; enhancing women's political representation and enabling women to have more of a say in the decisions that affect their lives; and affirming women's rights to have control over their own bodies and a sexuality of their own choosing. Many articles concern the long, slow process of turning the commitments of Beijing into real gains for women's rights and the implications for turning subsequent commitments into action. Contributors identify a number of pathways forward to reanimate some of the radical potential of gender equality and women's empowerment now.
As the SDGs shape future development policy and funding, women's rights organisations and transnational networks have an important role to play in monitoring implementation, holding states to account and mobilising consumer and political pressure on non-state actors. They can contribute directly to the realisation of women's rights and empowerment by challenging limiting gender stereotypes and social norms by raising consciousness and collective action.