Beijing +25 – Looking back, looking forward

1995 marked a seminal year in the global fight for gender equality. How far have China and Germany come, and what remains to be done?

Women’s rights have come a long way in the 25 years since 1995, when the Fourth World Conference on Women was organized by the United Nations in Beijing. However, there have not only been achievements, but also some setbacks. What have we accomplished since 1995, and what remains a goal? What have we learned in the last 25 years? How can we work together in the future? These are all questions Chinese and German scholars tried to answer at the Fourth German-Chinese Conference on Gender Equality and Development.

In an attempt to truly gain an understanding of the overall progress and setbacks, the conference participants, invited by China Women’s University and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Beijing, discussed all of the 12 critical areas of concern mentioned in the Beijing Platform for Action, the set of commitments that came out of the 1995 conference. While all presentations garnered interesting comments and questions, the highlights of the discussion were the topics of Women and Poverty as well as Women and Media. 

Women and Poverty was an especially timely topic as China announced the eradication of absolute poverty at the end of 2020. Many of the poverty alleviation measures specifically address women and girls. During the presentations, scholars quickly realized that the Chinese poverty alleviation campaigns mainly target rural areas, whereas German research and policies mainly target urban areas. Nevertheless, the double discrimination of poor women because of both their economic situation and their gender persists in both countries. Researchers agreed that they need more data to fully comprehend the specific situation of women in poverty in both urban and rural areas. Participants from both countries called for the incorporation of gender perspectives into policy plans and the improvement of ownership by affected women in the process of poverty alleviation, both crucial for long-lasting success in this field.

The presentations on Women and Media showed some similarities between Germany and China. Especially in the programming of traditional media, the majority of women are still displayed in traditional gender roles. Social media provides women with a tool for empowerment. Yet, in both countries, women are often victims of violence on social media. While in Germany much of this violence is psychological, China also had a few cases of physical violence against women being displayed on social media. In the extreme cases, criminal investigations ensued. During the discussion, however, some researchers called for a better regulation of all kinds of media, and the implementation or improvement of media supervision with regard to gender equality.

Progress globally since the Fourth World Conference on Women is especially visible in the field of education. However, in countries like China and Germany, where this target of the Beijing Platform for Action has been met, new challenges arise. The discussion briefly touched upon the reasons why few women choose to go into the area of science, technology, economics and mathematics, known collectively as the STEM subjects. The impacts of this were also discussed, such as in implicitly gender-biased algorithms – a topic that remains to be fully explored at the next conference. In the end, scholars agreed that global cooperation and exchange on gender equality are paramount for the next steps in fully implementing the Beijing Platform for Action and other international agreements.

For more information on the work by FES in China visit their website and contact one of the two representative offices in the country located in Shanghai and Beijing.

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