Gender and the law

Gender and Media: Media is one of the most important socializing agents. As millions of lives are being conditioned and shaped by what is heard on the radio, what is viewed on television, video and cinema films; what is read in print and what is seen on the stage. Media transmit values and attitudes that highly affect the attitude and behavior of individuals. The issue of women and media can be looked at from three perspectives: women’s portrayal, the content, and women as media consumers. The relationship between consumers and their decision making capacity, impacts on portrayal. It is a universal phenomenon that women and men are portrayed in stereotypical ways, more intensified in many developing countries. As Andersen (1988) indicated, not only are women and men cast in traditional roles, but also are omitted from roles that portray them in a variety of social context. Women tend to be portrayed in roles in which they are trivialized, condemned, or narrowly defined, resulting in the "symbolic annihilation" of women by the media. Men on the other hand, are usually depicted in high-status jobs in which they dominate women. Women are usually portrayed doing domestic chores, or appearing as sex objects and sometimes, they are presented to be selfish and cruel.


Many women do not receive information from the media.  Information is at the heart of education; information is the basis of health; information defines every aspect of production, distribution and exchange; and information defines social relationship at all levels. These days there is a fast rate of information transmission and exchange; and this is made possible because of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs). ICTs are growing at a faster rate than any other technology and affecting every aspect of people’s lives. There is no doubt that such advances present tremendous opportunities for human development. ICTs have the potential to reduce poverty, empower people and facilitate the democratization process. However, it can also widen the gaps between the haves and the have-nots and between women and men. The voices and concerns of women with low or no incomes, and with limited access to education, to public institutions, and to positions of decision-making risk being further marginalized.

There are a number of constraints women encounter in accessing information, especially accessing information using ICTs. According to (Dominguez, 2001), Ethiopian women share similar constraints in accessing ICTs with women in other African countries. These include low literacy, limited access to resources and decision-making, limited or no access to computers, limited telecommunication infrastructure, unreliable telephone line, high cost of telephone calls, and lack of time. Women who have access usually use ICTs for work purposes, and not for personal growth. Even in their work women's utilization of ICTs is often limited to using e-mails. However, considering the important role ICTs play in the provision of information and reducing poverty some efforts need to be made to create access. The World space satellite radio network does not at this stage seem to assist rural Ethiopian women, because there is a missing technological link between the satellite and the rural village. Further, the initial cost of the receiver and the low rural electricity coverage and high bill is beyond the reach of the majority of Ethiopians. Ethiopian women are excluded even from conventional information sources. A good example here is the case of agricultural extension programs, where information is almost wholly transmitted to men, although women contribute substantially to agricultural production. The formation of the Ethiopian Media Women Association (EMWA), with the objectives of training and exchanging experience for capacity building is an attempt to address problems of gender and the media. Ethiopia is also a member of the East African Media women Association (EAMWA).

Socialization, as a process of transmitting culture, has been defined as consisting of “complex process of interaction through which the individual learns the habits, beliefs, skills and standards of judgment that are necessary for effective participation in social groups and communities.” Socialization is a process, which not only allows the baby to know about the basic norms of the society, but also helps in the gradual development of one’s self. Development of ‘the self’ or the ‘the ego’ comes with the help of role playing, where a child puts himself/herself in somebody’s else’s shoe and tries to get his/her self image through others’ perception. Coming to know about the ‘other’, he knows about the ‘self’. Thus the child comes to learn about the norms, expectations and different roles to be played in the group through the process of socialization. A child learns about hiss/her gender identity by learning what is s/he expected to do by others. An individual learns about his or her gender identity by knowing what s/he is not, or in other words, by learning about the other which helps in the emergence of one’s self. For instance, a male child learns to confirm to his own gender group by neglecting all activities that a girl child does. Thus, a male child becomes violent and plays hazardous games keeps way from dolls and kitchen set or else he would be branded a girl.

Socialization is a continuous process that helps one to learn the normative behavior, which mostly happens to be stereotypical behavior. The very first thing the child is socialized into is the views regarding his/her gender identity.

Socially constituted gender roles form stereotypes. A stereotype, according to the Webster’s New World’s Dictionary, (1998), is an “unvarying pattern, specifically a fixed or conventional notion or concept of a person, group, idea etc. held by a number of people and allow for no individuality or crucial judgment”. However, social psychologists define a stereotype as being a cognitive structure containing the perceiver’s knowledge, belief, and expectancies about human social group. Stereotypic behavior can be linked to the way the stereotype is learned, transmitted and changed and this is part of has socialization process.  The process of the stereotypification of gender, has a sort of biological determinism, which starts with the reproductive ability of woman. Some say for women ‘anatomy is destiny’. Women are characterized with lack, the lack of the genital. Thus they are incomplete. They stand inferior to man biologically; even physically, they are weaker. This sort of biological determinism has been used, to justify the submissive position of women. (Bhasin 2000: 10).

Individuals are converted from biological male and biological female into man and woman respectively with the process of socialization, which takes up the task of gendering individuals.

regarding socialization, Ruth Hartley (Hartley cited in Bhasin, 2000) believed socialization takes place through four processes, namely, manipulation, canalization, verbal appellation and activity exposure.

Manipulation refers to how a child is handed. Boys are taken to be strong and girls are given more feminine designation of being pretty. Such experiences on one’s physique matters in shaping the self-image and personality of boys and girls. 

The second phase canalization involves the familiarization of boys and girls with certain objects, which later shapes their perceptions, aspirations and dreams. Well, we all know that anything that is pleasurable in the childhood becomes a memory to be cherished through out one’s life. “Verbal appellation” likes “strong” for boys and “beautiful” for girls help them construct different identities. It is always strength versus beauty. The fourth process activity exposure pertains to different kinds activities, boys and girls are exposed to. Girls are asked for help by their mothers and boys usually accompany their fathers outside the house.

This is how the idea of gender is constructed and slowly permeates into the psyche of the individual. As mentioned earlier, gender is socially constructed and, so does one’s personality. It is important to note here that the basic difference between a man and a woman does not seem to have any genetic foundation. It is the result of one’s culture, which is injected into an individual through socialization process. Let us have a look at the basic differences between  a man and a woman in most societies and from where this difference springs from a psychoanalytic perspective.

Gender construction: a psychoanalytic view

The learning of gender differences in infants and the young children is centered on the presence or absence of penis. “I have a penis’ is equivalent to ‘I am a boy’ while I am a girl is equivalent to ‘I lack a penis’.

“At a very early stage, the little boy develops an object-cathexis of his mother, which is originally related to the mother’s breast…, his father by identifying himself with him. For some time, this two relationships exist side by side, until the sexual wishes in regards the mother become intense and the father is perceived as an obstacle to them; this gives rise to the Oedipus complex.

So, “in repressing the erotic feelings towards the mother and accepting the father as superior being, the boy identifies with the father and become aware of his male identity”. The father represents an all-powerful protector; the omnipotent lawmaker who yields the rod of punishment. In psychoanalytic terms, the father is the breaker of the mother-child dyad, the transcendental signifier of law, culture and language. If the boyr is at war with his father, he is at war with himself. He suffers from worthlessness and shame, and through the process of identification, he intends to internalize the voice of the torturer.


Cultural construction of masculinity and femininity

This socialization process is so strong in men and women that one can notice a deep chasm between them in terms of their perspectives, priorities in life, their dreams and aspiration and lifestyle and their ways of looking at things. ‘Human beings are not isolated atomistic individuals; they live and thrive in communities in rational units. Life is not just rules and principles but also individuals and responsibilities. And this is where the difference between man and woman lies. The feminine that is associated with woman is characterized as passive. Tenderness consideration and physical weakness are synonymous to the feminine genre. The masculine is defined as dominant and encouraging male violence against women as virile. Men are supposed to be high on strength and prowess.  Men and women have different moral orientations. Men speak the language of right and women the language of responsibility.

Right from their childhood, boys attempt to dominate and control. But girls are encouraged to be good mothers. So the first thing they do is attract a man to depend on: they are expected to be emotional, unstable, weak and talkative about their problems. They are valued for their look or smallness but not their strength and brains.

Men’s predominance in the public domain and their association with reason distanced them from talking about relationships, emotions, which is rooted in culturally construed and historically specific form of masculinity. Right from their childhood, men have been treated by their parents as independent and out going. With masked emotional dependence on women and weak skills of communication as far as feelings are concerned, men have also suffered from this gender game. Culture has made women more expressive and it also happens that their expressiveness is confused with the display of weaknesses. In order to conform to the codes of socialization meant for men, men bottle-up their emotions and eventually fail to be expressive. Culture has made them unexpressive for which they suffer from depression and have learnt to keep quite and not to talk about their problems as it is considered feminine. Their silence on problems has been mistaken for strength and courage but the truth is that it shatters them from within.

The society does not follow one single model of masculinity or femininity. However, it may boast machismo in men and there is a general notion that it is the most ideal way for men to behave, and for women to find it desirable. There are different expressions of masculinity and femininity. At the level of the society these contrasting versions are ordered in a hierarchy, which is oriented around one defining premise- the domination of men over women. That is why men take advantage from the dominant position of “hegemonic masculinity”. Some call this as “patriarchal dividend for those who benefit from it. Femininity can be of various types. The most popular and one which has been accepted as a general norm to be followed for women has been named as “emphasized femininity”. It complements the “hegemonic masculinity”. It is oriented towards accommodating the desires and interest of men, which is characterized by compliance, nurturance and empathy. It is supposed to be the embodiment of motherhood and sexual reciprocity. This type of femininity is the most prevalent image of woman.


Patriarchy and its structures


Patriarchy refers to male domination and female’s acceptance and internalization of that dominance. Its literal meaning is the supremacy of the father. In the current discourse it can be replaced with “male rule”. ‘Patriarchy may also be described as a system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress and exploit women.’ It is both a social structure and an ideology that perpetuates such a structure and vice-versa. Most of the institutions of the society are patriarchal in nature, regardless of whether it is the state, religion, educational institutions, family or the media. The ideology of patriarchy is so deep rooted in the society that all kinds of violence and subjugation of women appears to obvious.

Culture itself has certain demands from male and female separately. This male dominant society has looked down upon women. As indicated earlier, there exists a certain basic difference between men and women. Women tend to stress on relation ships and responsibility while men emphasize rules and rights, which make both of them different. This quality is not the matter of being inferior or superior.

Our male dominated society has frequently claimed  that the development of the child requires the mother to devote herself completely to the welfare of the child and it is the primary duty of the mother to shower all kinds of affection and care to the child. The father is not expected to carry out such duties. It does not come under the domain of man. It must be noted that motherhood is also socially constructed. Nevertheless, the patriarchal knows how to appropriate results in its favor without giving much effort.

The world of a man and a woman has been divided into two halves, forming many pairs of binary opposites. It is a world of body versus mind, nature versus culture, emotion versus reason, and private versus public. These dichotomies stand in chainto each other that shape the culturally constituted roles for men and women. This dichotomy is perpetuated by patriarchy itself.

Nature versus culture

 The male dominated society and male culture decree that dominance is the male temperament and subordination the women’s. Women were allocated domestic service and attending upon children while men did the rest. The limited role allocated to women arrested her at the biological level, which was nearer to the animal instinct. When a child is born, the mother in most cultures is usually in charge of breast feeding the baby, taking care and socializing it. Infant and children are considered a part of nature. They are unsocial zed like animals. They are unable to walk upright, they excrete without control and above all, they do not speak. Thus, infants and children are close to ‘nature’. Moreover, women with their association withinfants and children are tagged together with ‘nature’. Since men lack a natural basis meant for family orientation, i.e., they do not reproduce, the cultural reasoning seems to go that men are the ‘natural’ proprietors of religion, ritual, politics, and other realms of cultural thought. Thus men are associated with culture, i.e., the higher form of human thought involving art, religion and law.

Private versus public

These physical and social roles of women and men have extended their association with nature and culture respectively. The nature/ culture debate can further be extended to a form of private/ public dialogue which divides the roles of men and women into another dichotomy. No doubt, in our society, a gender hierarchy exists. The ideology of patriarchy remains intertwined with other social institutions. This becomes clear from the private/public realm. The private sphere popularly known as the domestic has no economic, political or historical significance. It does not contribute to one’s social life. It is tagged as the ‘personal’. The private realm stands in opposition to the public sphere. It needs to be nourished with understanding, co-operation, care, and selfness and of course bundles of emotions. The public sphere is a competitive world, which requires being aggressive, reasonable and ambitious with no trace of emotions.

Gender and workplace

With the industrial revolution came a separation between work place and home. There emerged the idea of public and private space. Prior to this, women had a considerable influence within the household due to their importance in economic production, as the house happened to be the production centre at the same time?  Due to the kind of work, they took up, Men were more exposed to the outside world, thus becoming an integral part of the public sphere due to the public sphere due to their participation in local affairs, politics and the market. But women were relegated to the domestic sphere. Mostly, jobs stand gendered. Women traditionally have been doing household works like cooking and taking care of children. Thus, certain jobs have been branded feminine and masculine. One can see occupational segregation based on gender. This refers to men and women being concentrated in different kinds of occupation. Occupational segregation has two dimensions, vertical and horizontal. “Vertical segregation” refers to the tendency of women to remain in the second position, whereas men remain in influential position. “Horizontal segregation” refers to the tendency of men and women to occupy different categories of jobs.  Women shouldered the responsibility of taking on household tasks, while men were mostly seen in jobs outside home.

Things get extremely difficult for women who are working because they have to bear the double burden of domestic work, as well as work place.

The Ethiopian society can be regarded as a “traditional, ancient and conservative one. “Horrendous” traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation, abduction, marital rape and early marriages would require an attitudinal change not only on the part of men, but also on the part of women.  Female genital mutilation, for example, has long been practiced in the country and is not unique to any religious group.  Throughout the ages, female genital mutilation, (a practice that affected some 80 per cent of the female population), had been endorsed by women.  In her view, education, the “great liberator”, would emancipate women from such harmful traditional practices. Some progress has been made despite great socio-economic, political and cultural odds. The minimum punishment for rape is five years, whereas previously it was the payment of a camel.  A new family code has been adopted by some of the regional states and a new criminal code has come into effect.  A growing grass-roots movement was working to bring women’s issues to the forefront.  Women’s rights had first been recognized as a result of their military contribution to fighting a fascist regime and further progress would only be realized by their continued hard work and toil.

Human Rights of Women: Ethiopia has ratified both the UN Charter adopted in 1948 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1949. Both these international instruments prohibit the negative discrimination of women based on their sex. The UDHR identifies targets and requires the promotion and protection of civil, political, economic, and social rights of people. Though the UDHR prohibits all forms of discrimination based on sex, an additional instrument was necessary, to accommodate the special situation and needs of women, and accelerate the process of closing the gap between men and women. Accordingly the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted in 1981. Ethiopia ratified the convention in the same year. CEDAW outlines a variety of political, social, economic, and legislative issues that States have to work on to eliminate discrimination against women and create equality between men and women. It also reiterates that state parties will adopt the necessary measures to achieve human rights of women identified in the Convention. CEDAW also discusses a procedure for reporting and follow up of the measures states have taken in order to eliminate discrimination against women.

The Constitution adopted in 1995 by the FDRE has amplified the provisions given to women, and assures women of equal rights with men in every sphere and affirmative actions would be taken in order to remedy the sufferings of women because of past inequalities. It also reiterates the rights of women to own and administer property. It sounds women’s right to family planning services and to paid pre-and post-delivery maternity leaves. Since the ratification of the 1995 Constitution, a number of strides have been made in the past few years in amending discriminatory laws. Now the pension benefits of women civil servants is given to their survivors, maternity leave has been extended from 45 days to 3 months, and the family law has been revised. However, there is still a lot to be done. For example, women who marry foreigners are still losing their Ethiopian nationality.

Beijing Plus Five: The United Nations Fourth World Conference, held in Beijing, in September 1995 came up with the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action. The Platform showed a renewed commitment to the goals of equality, development, and peace for all women. It was divided into six chapters and identified 12 critical areas of concern that were thought to be the main barriers to the advancement of women. These were poverty, education and training, health, violence, armed conflict, economic participation, power sharing and decision-making; women focused institutions, human rights, mass media, environment, and the girl child. In October 1998, the UN Division for the Advancement of Women (UN/DAW) sent out a questionnaire to all United Nations Member States requesting a report on the implementation of the Beijing Platform. The responses showed that, except for a few isolated examples where women's lives have improved, in many cases progress has been slow.

Many of the concerns that were included in the Beijing Platform had been considered and placed at the priority list of the Ethiopian government. Attempts have been made to implement policies and proclamations aimed at bringing about gender equality though not much progress has been observed. The constraints include high illiteracy rate, deep-rooted gender stereotyped cultural beliefs and practices, and lack of resources including qualified human labor. In preparation for the Beijing Plus Five, countries the world developed ways of measuring their countries' progress for women. The UN held five preparatory meetings and at the meeting of March 2000, 'the outcome document' was produced. The document reaffirms the 12 areas of the Platform for Action, including measures to:

  • •identify violence against women as a human rights violation;

address the issue of honor killings;

  • monitor trafficking of women and condemn exploitation of women and girls for   economic and sexual purposes;
  • •respond to the impact of HIV/AIDS on the health of women and girls

internationally, particularly in Africa;

  • •expand entrepreneurship and credit availability, including micro-credit;
  • •emphasize "gender mainstreaming" in all economic policies, institutions, and resource allocations;
  • •promote women's role in conflict resolutions and peace-building, and the role of men in promoting gender equality.

The outcome document reaffirms human rights of women and the commitment of the international community to implement the Beijing Platform. Ethiopia has committed itself to take the measures included in the document. What needs to be assessed is the progress that the country is making in implementing the provisions outlined in the outcome document.

The Millennium Development Goal (MDG): The MDG is another instrument that Ethiopia ratified with the aim of reducing poverty. The goals include, among others, enabling all children, both boys and girls, in the world to complete full course of elementary school and eliminating the gender gap at all levels of education, by the year 2015. Though the goals are highly ambitious for most developing countries including Ethiopia, they would reinforce the implementation of CEDAW, Beijing Plus Five and other national instruments.

Labor Law Proclamation: The Civil Service Proclamation of January, 2002, cover issues of employment, salary, promotion, performance evaluation, training, leave and disciplinary measures. Under employment, it states that no discrimination shall be made on the basis of ethnic origin, sex, religion and political affiliation, and other grounds. In addition to this, the proclamation clearly stipulates that in the employment process, if two candidates a man and a woman have the qualification required for a position, preference will be given to the female candidate. There are also provisions given to female civil servants on maternity related issues. The proclamation states that a pregnant civil servant shall be entitled to paid leave for a medical examination before delivery if recommended by a doctor. She will also be entitled to a paid leave of 30 days before delivery and 60 days after delivery. Finally if she does not deliver on the presumed date she can get her annual leave after the 60 days of post-delivery leave. These provisions are supportive of female civil servants, but issues like training and promotion do not seem to take gender issues into account. The personnel statistics issued by the Civil Service Commission shows that, currently many of the training opportunities are utilized by men. These could be because female civil servants have less GPA upon graduation, a problem closely related to the economic, social, and cultural problems a woman encounters in attending and succeeding in education. Therefore, considering the gender related arrangement in our society, mechanisms need to be created to distribute promotions and training fairly among male and female civil servants. If gender issues are neglected in promotion and training the gender equality of the sexes that we are striving to attain will become a dream rather than reality.

Political Participation: In the Ethiopian context, for a woman to hold a key position in politics, economics, and administration is a difficult task. As a patriarchal society, the attitude of the majority of people towards women holding a high position, the way society and workplaces are structured, and the gender division of labor all poses a serious challenge. Women have a marginal position in accessing and succeeding in their education. As indicated earlier, the majority of women in the civil service are in clerical and manual jobs. Therefore, it is not surprising that we do not see many women in key positions both in politics and administration

National policies and inputs on promotion of gender equality


The Transitional Government and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia have formulated several policies to rehabilitate the social and economic infrastructure and create an environment for sustainable development. These include the economic Policy along with its strategy, the Agricultural Development Led Industrialization (ADLI), the National Policy of Ethiopian Women, the National Population Policy, the Education and Training Policy, Health Policy, Developmental Social Welfare Policy, Environmental Policy, Culture Policy, Policy on Natural Resources and Environment, and others.

One of the major policies formulated by the Transitional Government of Ethiopia was the Economic Reform Policy. The main objectives of the policy were to:

  • Øchange the centralized economy to free market economy;
  • Øincrease the participation of the people in order to increase the economic activity of the regions by giving ownership;
  • ØEnable  local industries to use local raw materials and supplies to strengthen the economy;
  • ØCreating relationship and interdependence among the various sectors, especially between agriculture and industry, so as to reduce dependency on imported raw materials and supplies;
  • Øgiving special attention to the agricultural sector since it is perceived to be the basis for the economic development

ADLI as a strategy is believed to have influence on those engaged in agriculture, which form the majority. It is considered to be the best alternative to revive and further develop the devastated economy. Productivity has to be improved in order for the agricultural sector to become both a supplier of food and raw materials for the industry, while creating a market for the output for the industrial sector. This can be accomplished by applying improved and modern way of farming, through the provision of extension services, agricultural inputs, and infrastructure and credit services to small farmers. In this endeavor, emphasis will be given to farmer with small lands holdings and to the establishment of large-scale farms, especially in the lowland areas. This way, it will be possible to get enough yields from limited farming activities and eventually transfer people from agriculture to the other sectors. ADLI also delineates the roles to be played by the government, the people, and the private sector in implementing the strategy. It also describes what needs to be done in the various areas such as industry, minerals, population growth and control, science and technology, infrastructure and social services.

One of the eight issues under the investment program is the participation of women. It indicates that women would be provided with credit services and inputs that would enable them to increase their productivity; conditions will be created and improved to enable women to attend schools and to persist in their education with a view to, improving their chance of holding decision making positions at various levels; and encouraging women's participation in modern economic activities. Though women are given some provisions in the strategy, women’s issue has not been mainstreamed in all the sectors. It is obvious that the issue of gender is central to all the sectors including education, health, population, and food security, and in fact women play an important role in agriculture, which is the main focus of the strategy. Therefore, gender needs to be mainstreamed in all the strategies and programs that will be worked out in order to realize ADLI instead of putting it as one of the issues to be taken up. The main objectives of the National Policy of Ethiopian Women include, creating and facilitating conditions for equality between men and women, creating conditions to make rural women beneficiaries of social services like education and health, and eliminating stereotypes, and discriminatory perception and practices that constrain the equality of women. A number of strategies have also been designed to achieve the above objectives, two of which are the participation of women in the formulation of policies, laws, rules and regulations, and ensuring the democratic and human right of women. The structures were clearly put delineating the responsibilities of the Women's Affairs Office (WAO) under the Prime Minister Office and the Regional and Zonal Women's Affairs Sectors, and the Women's Affairs Department (WAD) in the various Ministries. However, assessments done over the years show that both the (WAO) and the (WAD) in the sectoral ministries lack capacity: they have problems with resources and qualified personnel. In many cases WADs are marginalized and gender is not mainstreamed in many of the activities in the ministries. The structure has problems reaching the grassroots since it stops at the Woreda level, a problem that has limited the implementation of the policy.

The National Population Policy formulated in 1993 was an instrument aimed at harmonizing the rate of population growth with the capacity of the country. The Policy gives serious attention to the issue of gender and describes the important roles women play in controlling population growth. It clearly stipulates that the situation of women has direct bearings on the fertility level of any society and explains how their education, employment and the provisions in the laws given to women are related to their fertility and reproductive health. The goals, objectives and strategies give a central place to the situation and empowerment of women. The goals include raising the economic and social status of women, empowering vulnerable segments of the society such as young children and women, removing all legal and customary practices constraining women's economic and social development and the enjoyment of their rights. Many of the strategies revolve around empowering women through education, employment in both government and private sectors and eliminating cultural and legal barriers.

The Ethiopian Education and Training Policy also has some provisions given to women. One of the specific objectives in the Education and Training Policy is to introduce a system of education that would rectify the misconceptions and misunderstandings regarding the roles and benefits of female education. The policy indicates that the design and development of curriculum and books would give special attention to gender issues. It further states that equal attention would be given to female participants when selecting teachers; training them, and advancing their careers. It also  states that financial support would be given to students with promising potentials. A number of initiatives have been taken to implement the policy. For example, female teachers with less GPA than male teachers are selected and this has increased the number of female teachers in elementary schools. But a lot needs to be done at the high school level. The Women’s Affairs Department in the Ministry of Education has prepared a gender policy and it undertakes a number of activities to help close the gender gap in education. Five regions, Gambela, Benshangul-Gumuz, SNNPRA, Oromiyaa, and Somalia, are targeted because of the low enrollment and high dropout rates of girls. Capacity building of female teachers, guidance and counseling services for female students, and awareness creation in the community are some of the activities. The office also gives assertiveness training to female students at the various higher education institutes and organizes panel discussion on gender issues. Women’s focal points in regional bureaus get support from the WAD in the MOE. However, just like other WADs the office is understaffed and encounters shortage of resources.

The Health Policy was one of instruments designed by the Transitional Government of Ethiopia to improve the health status of people and to facilitate the provision of basic health services. Health is such an inter-sectoral matter that it can not be addressed by any one policy or plan of action. A statement in the health policy reflects this fact: "the government believes that health policy can not be considered in isolation from policies addressing population dynamics, food availability, acceptable living conditions, and other requisites essential for health improvement and shall therefore develop effective intersectorality for a comprehensive betterment of life".

The goal of the health policy is to restructure and expand the health care system and to make it responsive to the health needs of the less privileged rural population, which constitute the overwhelming majority of the population, and are the major productive forces of the nation. The policy supports the democratization and decentralization of the health service system, and strengthening intersectoral activities. The policy accords special attention to the health needs of the family, particularly women and children, and hitherto most neglected regions, the rural population, and pastoralists, as some of its priority areas. The implementation of public policy or government plan of action involves the translation of goals and objectives into concrete achievements through various programs.

The Health Sector Development Program (HSDP) formulated in 1996, is an implementation strategy for the National Health Policy. The Cultural Policy formulated in October 1997 views culture as incorporating the different social, economic, political, administrative, moral, religious, material and oral traditions, and practices of the various peoples and nationalities of Ethiopia. It also recognizes that for development efforts to be effective and sustainable, they have to take into considerations the cultures of people, which impact on the thinking and activities. The policy recognizes that the cultural behaviors, practices, and attitudes that support and promote stereotypes and prejudices against women, those that constrain the expansion of family planning services and the promotion of reproductive health should be slowly eliminated. Instead, situations should be created to promote the equality of the sexes. The content of the Policy clearly elaborates the unfavorable situation of women, and articulates the need for a change that ensures women's active participation in all cultural activities and guaranteeing those equal rights to the benefits. However the strategies outlined in the Policy document do not include in what ways the sector could achieve the gender equality indicated in the policy and the means to eliminate harmful practices.

The Development Social Welfare Policy was formulated by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in November 1996. The main objectives of the policy included studying the causes of social problems and designing preventive and rehabilitative programs with full participation of all stakeholders including the grassroots. The Policy acknowledges that war, famine, economic crises of the past decades have harmed vulnerable groups, i.e., women, the elderly, children, youth and the disabled, and makes these groups the Policy’s central focus. It also explains that women are underrepresented in every sphere including education, employment, politics, and other key decision making positions. It further mentions that one of the major causes of social problems is the economic dependence of women on men. However, talking about the various groups such as children, youth, elderly, and the disabled, it does not say anything about the special problems females encounter as children, parents, youth, the elderly, and the disabled, nor does it mention the measures that need to be taken to alleviate their problems. For example, such problems as harmful traditional practices that victimize female children, teenage pregnancy and abortion, the vulnerability of disabled women to various types of violence are not given attention. Community participation, partnership and coordination, capacity building of actors at various levels, advocacy and awareness creation, implementation of international conventions and other social welfare related laws, and the establishment of data bank system are outlined as some of the major strategies. The policy also articulates that the issues of gender will be mainstreamed in all programs, projects, and services in addressing the target groups mentioned in the policy.

The Federal Policy on Natural Resources and the Environment was formulated in April 1996 with the overall goal of improving and enhancing the health and quality of life of Ethiopians and to promote sustainable social and economic development through the sound management and use of natural, man-made and cultural resources and the environment as a whole to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The policy starts with a conceptual framework that contends that human resources are of great value in themselves and as creators and maintainers of natural resources have to be developed and cared for, if natural resources are to be developed and conserved. The policy gives importance to a participatory approach and the feeling of ownership in developing and conserving natural resources and an important place is given to gender.

It underlines the importance of the integration of social, cultural, and gender issues in sustainable resource and environmental management. Giving a high priority to raising the status of women by increasing female participation in the education system at all levels is indicated to be one of the strategies in the cross-sectoral issues. Increasing the number of women extension agents in natural resource and environmental management and designing programs that involve and benefit the most disadvantaged groups, particularly women, children, the disabled and the landless are considered important. The policy considers the disaggregating of data related to environment and to natural and man-made resource use and management, addressing gender issues by ensuring that energy plans adequately address fuel-wood requirement as two of the strategies in the development and conservation of biomass energy resources. In the area of mineral resource development one of the strategies is providing support to women in mineral development with special practical training and technical assistance particularly in small-scale and artisan mining. The policy gives a central place to institutionally supporting and establishing “Women in Development” desks at federal and regional government agencies concerned with natural resources development and environmental management. These desks would scrutinize projects, programs, policies, directives, rules, and regulations to ensure that gender issues are integrated. Capacity building for local communities to enable them to fully enfranchise their women, disables persons and, as appropriate, youth and children, to effectively participate in the planning and implementation of all development activities is also given importance. The policy is gender sensitive and it promotes highly the participation of vulnerable groups including women in conserving, sustaining, and managing the environment.

National Actors in Gender Equality and Competence Development In this section, only government machinery for the implementation of the women’s policy will be presented, as other national actors have been covered elsewhere in this materialt.

The Women’s Affairs Office (WAO)

The Women’s Affairs Office was established in October 1991, headed by a woman with the rank of a minister. It is charged with the responsibility of coordinating, facilitating and monitoring all government gender programs, particularly the implementation of the National Women’s Policy formulated in 1993. WAO is also responsible for creating a conducive environment for all implementations in the country.

Women’ Affairs Departments

The establishment of gender focal points in Federal ministries and regional councils is one of the main strategies for the implementation of gender and sectoral policies. It was also one of the initial activities undertaken by WAO, after the formulation of the Ethiopian National Policy on Women. The regional council women’s affairs department offices were opened up a little later.

Centre for Research Training and Information for Women in Development (CERTWID)

The CERTWID was established in 1991 with the financial assistance of UNFPA and Addis Ababa University. At the time of establishment CERTWID was placed under the Institute of Development Research. Currently, CERTWID has been upgraded and it is accountable to the office of the Associate Vice President for Research and Graduate studies. The center’s main goal is to enable women to empower themselves socially, culturally, economically and politically so as to be active participants as well as equal beneficiaries of the development process. This goal is realized through its research, training, and documentation activities. CERTWID undertakes its own research and sponsors other independent researchers and graduating BA and MA students to do their research on various issues related to gender. It also disseminates its findings through workshops and distribution of its publications for consumption by researchers, practitioners, and policy makers.

In its training component, CERTWID organizes various training workshops including gender sensitization, assertiveness, gender sensitive research methodology, and leadership. The Center's Documentation Unit serves a wide variety of patrons including Addis Ababa University staff, students, and employees of other governmental and nongovernmental organizations. It has an adequate collection of books, research reports, journals and other magazines published on gender. It can be said that CERTWID is making a great contribution in raising awareness about gender, providing information on gender issues and equipping researchers with knowledge and skills in gender sensitive research methodology. But the centre lacks human resources capacity.

Involvement of Men in Gender Equality Work

The ‘outcome document’ for the Beijing plus five contains the 12 areas of the platform “promote …. and the role of men in promoting gender equality. Gender refers to  both men and women, but is often taken to be women, because when we deal with gender the focus is on women. The reason for this is that up to the present time, it is women who suffer from the existing inequality between the sexes, and as such women have been the main actors to address the issue. This has probably brought about the feeling that gender is women’s issue to be handled by them. It is also true that, though not at a significant level, men are involved, in some instances showing more concern than some women do. In Addis Ababa, there are many consultancy firms managed by men and working on gender, including gender training, having themselves been trained. Many men make positive contributions in many forums. In some instances, especially in the rural setting, men have been seen to pose less resistance to changes that are introduced to achieve improved women’s status. The extent of men’s involvement and to what degree and in what ways they can contribute to gender equality,  is something that needs to be studied.

Poverty reduction strategy (PRS)

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) made a move in 1999 to encourage governments of low-income and heavily indebted countries to prepare poverty reduction strategies with a broad-based participation of various stakeholders. Ethiopia saw this as relevant, because poverty is deep-rooted and wide-spread, and the country seeks debt relief and plans to continue implementing economic reform programs in collaboration with the IMF and the WB. Further, PRS offers the opportunity for close dialogue between the government, the people and among the different stakeholders, contributing to improvements of the democratic process. The Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (I-PRSP) was drafted in September 2000 and submitted to the IMF and WB in November of the same year.

The aim of the interim paper was, to present a broad picture of the poverty reduction strategy that Ethiopia has pursued in recent years, and intended to refine the preparation of the PRSP. The adjustment policies that had been made in cooperation with Breton Wood Institutions had in the mid-1990s triggered Ethiopia to adopt a long-term strategy of Agricultural Development Led Industrialization (ADLI). ADLI envisages a growth process that is inherently poverty reducing, and makes it possible to assess the connection between policies and programs on the one hand and poverty reduction on the other. Generally the link between these two was indicated in the interim document by looking at the economic performances in the 1990s. The PRSP was accepted provisionally and the government offered a period of a year to prepare the PRSP. The PRSP is a tri-annually revised dynamic national strategy, with the goal of reducing poverty by 50% by 2015. The Ethiopian government invited the public to participate and subsequently launched the consultative process of the PRSP at Woreda and Regional levels in August 2001. The majority of Ethiopians live in rural areas and are engaged in farming, and thus ADLI was justified: Since poverty is worse there, it found on poverty reduction in the rural area. It is also understood that prioritization is required since PRSP cannot address each and every poverty issue.

The federal consultation was conducted at the African Conference Centre on 28-30 March 2002. Issues common for all regions were basic necessities, water, food, shelter, and health care; environmental degradation; infrastructure; capacity; peace and stability; empowerment; traditional practices that have negative impact; governance and human rights; and macro-economic stability. Interestingly all regions identified harmful tradition as being an impediment to the struggle against poverty. Secondly, good governance and human rights was an issue raised by several regions, and the need to promote and protect democracy and human rights was highlighted. 


Impact of globalization on women


Over the past two decades, globalization has created a tremendous impact on the lives of women in developing nations. Globalization can be defined as “a complex economic, political, cultural, and geographic process in which the mobility of capital, organizations, ideas, discourses, and peoples has taken a global or transnational form. With the establishment of international free trade policies, such as North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and GATT, transnational corporations are using the profit motive to guide their factories toward developing nations in search of “cheap” female labor. Corporations prefer female labor over male labor because women are considered to be “docile” workers, who are willing to obey production demands at any price. In developing nations, certain types of work, such as garment assembly, is considered to be an extension of female household roles. Therefore, cultural influences in developing nations also impacts employment stratification.

Bringing a high demand of employment opportunities for women in developing nations creates an instantaneous change within the social structure of these societies. Although the demand for female employment brings about an array of opportunities and a sense of independence, the glass ceiling continues to exist with the “feminization of poverty”. Researchers in the fields of Sociology, Anthropology, and Economics have collected empirical data that shows the consequences of globalization on the lives of women and their families in developing nations. Given these circumstances and the empirical evidence collected in the various studies, does globalization have an overall positive or negative impact on the live of women in developing nations?

The impact of globalization is different from country to country whether it is positive impact or negative impact. But the difference is highly significant between developed (industrialized) and developing countries. Its positive impacts:

  • Employment opportunities for women especially in developed countries. It has created economic and job opportunities for women at all levels.
  • Education and knowledge which constitutes a huge advancement in the empowerment of women especially in terms of sharing information.


How globalization has affected women in Ethiopia?


To look into how women are impacted by globalization, it is better to see how globalization is taken or brought to the people. It is brought by government policies or other channels. Wrong impact of globalization implies wrong utilization of the process. For example access to information may be misused by traffickers and drug dealers when poor women seeking job get information from such people. In Ethiopia there are three major constraints to women specifically and the society can generally benefit from globalization. These are:

  • lack of proper infrastructure or other communication channel
  • low level of education and
  • language barrier

There are policies guiding governments to subsidies from public service such as education and public health. In the free market system, where market controls everything, people are forced to pay for services. Applying these policies in poor countries like Ethiopia, it is the poor who are going to be affected.

An environmental crisis (climatic change) is the result of the depletion of Ozone. Climatic change, resulting flooding and drought, has affected the production system where women are in turn affected.


1. Gender defined

Gender is a social attribute ascribing some characteristics or norms and modes of behavior to the female and other to the male sex. The gender of a person is determined by the society and by its way of upbringing children. Gender is, therefore, the result of the interplay of culture, religion, and similar factor of a society. It refers to historically defined identities, roles and behaviors of different groups such as men-women, girls-boys, old men-old women, etc. The female and male sexes are socialized into being one of these groups. The differences among these groups brought about by socio-cultural factors are often mistaken for natural differences between the sexes or considered as a God-given phenomena.

Sex is a natural attribute helping us to identify a person as male or female. A male person biologically differs from a female. This is evident in that while males have mustache, women do not; while women have big breasts that may produce milk, men do not; they also differ in their reproductive organs and their roles in child bearing. Being a male or female is, therefore, a natural phenomenon that we cannot change since the two sexes are born different.

Gender roles refer to the expected duties and responsibilities, rights and privileges of men-women, girls-boys, etc. that are specified by socio-religious and cultural factors. The interplay of these factors determines what kind of clothing is appropriate for the female and for the male sex. It also decides on the amount of food necessary for each, the type of work they perform, the time and the type of place they are supposed to be at, the type of grouping they can join, etc.


2.Global and historical perspective on the legal status of women


2.1 Historical Perspective


The four global women’s conferences 1975-1995

Four world conferences on women convened by the United Nations in the past quarter of the century have been instrumental in elevating the cause of gender equality to the very centre of the global agenda. The conferences have united the international community behind a set of common objectives with an effective plan of action for the advancement of women everywhere, in all spheres of public and private life.

 The struggle for gender equality was still in its early stages at the inception of the United Nations in 1945.  Of the original 51 member states, only 30 allowed women equal voting rights with men or permitted them to hold public office. Nevertheless, the drafters of the United Nation Charter had the foresight to deliberately refer to the "equal rights of men and women" as they declared the Organization's "faith in fundamental human rights" and the "dignity and worth of the human person". No previous international legal document had so forcefully affirmed the equality of all human beings, or specifically targeted sex as a basis for discrimination.  At that moment, it became clear that women's rights would be central to the work that lay ahead.

During the first three decades, the work of the United Nations on behalf of women focused primarily on the codification of women's legal and civil rights, and the gathering of data on the status of women around the world. With time, however, it became increasingly apparent that laws, in and of them, were not enough to ensure the equal rights of women.

The struggle for equality entered a second stage with the convening of four world conferences by the United Nations to develop strategies and plans of action for the advancement of women. The efforts undertaken have gone through several phases and transformations

  • from regarding women almost exclusively in terms of their development needs,
  •  to recognizing their essential contributions to the entire development process,
  •  to seeking their empowerment and
  •  the promotion of their right to full participation at all levels of human activity.


2.1.1 The Mexico City conference: Dialogue is open


The first world conference on the status of women was convened in Mexico City to coincide with the 1975 International Women's Year, observed to remind the international community that discrimination against women continued to be a persistent problem in much of the world. The Conference, along with the United Nations Decade for Women (1976-1985) proclaimed by the General Assembly five months later at the urging of the Conference, launched a new era in global efforts to promote the advancement of women by opening a worldwide dialogue on gender equality. A process was set in motion ” a process of learning ” that would involve deliberation, negotiation, setting objectives, identifying obstacles and reviewing the progress made.

The Mexico City Conference was called for by the United Nations General Assembly to focus international attention on the need to develop future oriented goals, effective strategies and plans of action for the advancement of women.  To this end, the General Assembly identified three key objectives that would become the basis for the work of the United Nations on behalf of women:

  • Full gender equality and the elimination of gender discrimination;
  • The integration and full participation of women in development;
  • An increased contribution by women in the strengthening of world peace

The Conference responded by adopting a World Plan of Action, a document that offered guidelines for governments and the international community to follow for the next ten years in pursuit of the three key objectives set by the General Assembly. The Plan of Action set minimum targets, to be met by 1980, that focused on securing equal access for women to resources such as education, employment opportunities, political participation, health services, housing, nutrition and family planning.

 This approach marked a change, which had started to take shape in the early 1970s, in the way that women were perceived.  Whereas previously women had been seen as passive recipients of support and assistance, they were now viewed as full and equal partners with men, with equal rights to resources and opportunities. A similar transformation was taking place in the approach to development, with a shift from an earlier belief that development served to advance women, to a new consensus that development was not possible without the full participation of women.

 The Conference called upon governments to formulate national strategies and identify targets and priorities in their effort to promote the equal participation of women. By the end of the United Nations Decade for Women, 127 Member States had responded by establishing some form of national machinery, institutions dealing with the promotion of policy, research and programs aimed at women's advancement and participation in development.

Within the United Nations system, in addition to the already existing Branch (now Division) for the Advancement of Women, the Mexico City Conference led to the establishment of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to provide the institutional framework for research, training and operational activities in the area of women and development.

An important facet of the meeting in Mexico City was that women themselves played an instrumental role in shaping the discussion. Of the 133 Member State delegations gathered there, 113 were headed by women. Women also organized a parallel NGO Forum, the International Women's Year Tribune, which attracted approximately 4,000 participants.

 Sharp differences emerged among the women gathered at the Forum, reflecting the political and economic realities of the times.  Women from the countries of the Eastern Block, for instance, were most interested in issues of peace, while women from the West emphasized equality and those from the developing world placed priority on development.  Nevertheless, the Forum played an important role in bringing together women and men from different cultures and backgrounds to share information and opinions and to set in motion a process that would help unite the women's movement, which by the end of the Decade for Women would become truly international. The Forum was also instrumental in opening up the United Nations to NGOs, who provided access for the voices of women to the Organization's policy-making process.


2.1.2  The Copenhagen: The Review Process begins


There was a general consensus that significant progress had been made as representatives of 145 Member States met in Copenhagen in 1980 for the second world conference on women to review and appraise the 1975 World Plan of Action. Governments and the international community had made strides toward achieving the targets set out in Mexico City five years earlier.

 An important milestone had been the adoption by the General Assembly in December 1979 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, one of the most powerful instruments for women's equality.  The Convention, which has been termed ”the bill of rights for women", now legally binds 165 States, which have become States parties and obligates them to report within one year of ratification, and subsequently every four years, on the steps they have taken to remove obstacles they face in implementing the Convention. An Optional Protocol to the Convention, enabling women victims of sex discrimination to submit complaints to an international treaty body, was opened for signature on Human Rights Day, 10 December 1999. Upon its entry into force, it will put the Convention on an equal footing with other international human rights instruments having individual complaints procedures.

Despite the progress made, the Copenhagen Conference recognized that signs of disparity were beginning to emerge between rights secured and women's ability to exercise these rights. To address this concern, the Conference pinpointed three areas where specific, highly focused action was essential if the broad goals of equality, development and peace, identified by the Mexico City Conference, were to be reached. These three areas were equal access to education, employment opportunities and adequate health care services.


The deliberations at the Copenhagen Conference took place in the shadow of political tensions, some of them carried over from the Mexico City Conference. Nevertheless, the Conference came to a close with the adoption of a Program of Action, albeit not by consensus, which cited a variety of factors for the discrepancy between legal rights and women's ability to exercise these rights, including:

  • Lack of sufficient involvement of men in improving women's role in society;
  • Insufficient political will;
  • Lack of recognition of the value of women's contributions to society;
  • Lack of attention to the particular needs of women in planning;
  • A shortage of women in decision-making positions;
  • Insufficient services to support the role of women in national life, such as co-operatives, day-care centers and credit facilities;
  • Overall lack of necessary financial resources;
  • Lack of awareness among women about the opportunities available to them.

To address these concerns, the Copenhagen Program of Action called for, among other things, stronger national measures to ensure women's ownership and control of property, as well as improvements in women's rights to inheritance, child custody and loss of nationality. Delegates at the Conference also urged an end to stereotyped attitudes towards women.


2.1.3 Nairobi: "The Birth of Global Feminism"

The movement for gender equality had gained true global recognition as the third world conference on women, The World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace, was convened in Nairobi in 1985.  With 15,000 representatives of non-governmental organizations attending the parallel NGO Forum, many referred to the Conference as the "birth of global feminism". The women's movement, divided by world politics and economic realities at the Mexico Conference, had now become an international force unified under the banner of equality, development and peace. Behind this milestone, lay a decade of work. A lot of information, knowledge and experience had been gathered through the process of discussion, negotiation and revision.

At the same time, delegates were confronted with shocking reports. Data gathered by the United Nations revealed that improvements in the status of women and efforts to reduce discrimination had benefited only a small minority of women. Improvements in the situation of women in the developing world had been marginal at best. In short, the objectives of the second half of the United Nations Decade for Women had not been met.

This realization demanded that a new approach be adopted.  The Nairobi Conference was given the mandate to seek new ways to overcome the obstacles to achieving the Decade's goals” equality, development and peace.

The Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies to the Year 2000, the strategy developed and adopted by consensus by the 157 participating governments, was an updated blueprint for the future of women to the end of the century.  It broke new ground as it declared all issues to be women's issues. Women's participation in decision-making and the handling of all human affairs was recognized not only as their legitimate right but as a social and political necessity that would have to be incorporated in all institutions of society.

At the heart of the document was a series of measures for achieving equality at the national level.  Governments were to set their own priorities, based on their development policies and resource capabilities.

Three basic categories of measures were identified:

  • Constitutional and legal steps;
  • Equality in social participation;
  • Equality in political participation and decision-making.

In keeping with the view that all issues were women's issues, the measures recommended by the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies covered a wide range of subjects, from employment, health, education and social services, to industry, science, communications and the environment. In addition, guidelines for national measures to promote women's participation in efforts to promote peace, as well as to assist women in special situations of distress, were proposed.

Accordingly, the Nairobi Conference urged governments to delegate responsibilities for women's issues to all institutional offices and programs. Moreover, following the Conference, the General Assembly asked the United Nations to establish, where they did not already exist, focal points on women's issues in all sectors of the work of the Organization.

The Nairobi Conference had introduced a wider approach to the advancement of women.  It was now recognized that women's equality, far from being an isolated issue, encompassed every sphere of human activity.  Therefore, women's perspective and active involvement on all issues, not only women's issues, was essential if the goals and objectives of the Decade for Women were to be attained.

2.1.3        Beijing:  Legacy of Success


While the efforts of the previous two decades, starting with the Mexico City Conference in 1975, had helped to improve women's conditions and access to resources, they had not been able to change the basic structure of inequality in the relationship between men and women. Decisions that affected all people's lives were still being made mostly by men. Ways had to be sought to empower women so that they could bring their own priorities and values as equal partners with men in decision-making processes at all levels.

Recognition of the need to involve women in decision-making had begun to emerge during the course of the series of global conferences held by the United Nations in the early 1990s on various aspects of development such as the environment, human rights, population and social development. All the conferences had stressed the importance of women's full participation in decision-making, and women's perspectives were incorporated into the deliberations and the documents that were adopted.

 However, it was with the next in the series of conferences, the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, that a new chapter in the struggle for gender equality can truly be said to have begun.

The fundamental transformation that took place in Beijing was the recognition of the need to shift the focus from women to the concept of gender, recognizing that the entire structure of society, and all relations between men and women within it, had to be re-evaluated. Only by such a fundamental restructuring of society and its institutions could women be fully empowered to take their rightful place as equal partners with men in all aspects of life. This change represented a strong reaffirmation that women's rights were human rights and that gender equality was an issue of universal concern, benefiting all.

The legacy of the Beijing Conference was to be that it sparked a renewed global commitment to the empowerment of women everywhere and drew unprecedented international attention. The Conference unanimously adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which was in essence an agenda for women's empowerment and stands as a milestone for the advancement of women in the twenty-first century. The Platform for Action specified twelve critical areas of concern considered to represent the main obstacles to women's advancement and which required concrete action by Governments and civil society:

  • Women and poverty
  • Education and training of women;
  • Women and health;
  • Violence against women;
  • Women and armed conflict;
  • Women and the economy;
  • Women in power and decision-making;
  • Institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women;
  • Human rights of women;
  • Women and the media;
  • Women and the environment;
  • The girl child.

By adopting the Beijing Platform for Action, governments committed themselves to the effective inclusion of a gender dimension throughout all their institutions, policies, planning and decision-making. What this in effect meant was that before decisions were to be made or plans to be implemented, an analysis should always be made of the effects on, and needs of, both women and men.  For example, instead of striving to make an existing educational system gradually more accessible to women, gender mainstreaming would call for a reconstruction of the system so that it would suit the needs of women and men equally.

The introduction of gender mainstreaming called for the re-examination of society in its entirety and its basic structure of inequality.  The focus was, therefore, no longer limited to women and their status in society but was committed to restructuring institutions and political and economic decision-making in society as a whole.

In endorsing the Platform for Action, the United Nations General Assembly called upon all States, the UN system and other international organizations, as well as NGOs and the private sector to take action to implement its recommendations. Within Member States, national machineries that had been established to promote the status of women were assigned a new function as the central policy-coordinating unit to mainstream a gender perspective throughout all institutions and programs. Within the United Nations system, the Secretary-General designated a senior official to serve as his Special Adviser on Gender Issues, whose role was to ensure system-wide implementation of the gender perspective in all aspects of the work of the United Nations. The Organization was also assigned a key role in the monitoring of the Platform.

The Beijing Conference was considered a great success, both in terms of its size and its outcome.  It was the largest gathering of government and NGO representatives ever held, with 17,000 in attendance, including representatives of 189 governments. The NGO Forum held parallel to the Conference also broke all records, bringing the combined number of participants to over 47,000.

The presence and influence of NGOs, one of the most active forces in the drive for gender equality, had increased dramatically since the Mexico City Conference in 1975. In Beijing, NGOs had directly influenced the content of the Platform for Action and they would play an important role in holding their national leaders accountable for the commitments they had made to implement the Platform.