A global setback for women's rights

On the International Women's Day, GLOBUS researcher Cathrine Holst warned that the global state of gender equality is under threat. 

Hillary Rodham Clintoon in Beijing, 1995
At the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, Hillary Rodham Clinton famously stated: "Human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights, once and for all" (Photo: Sharon Farmer/Wikimedia Commons) 

There are many signs of a global setback for women's rights at the moment. 

The Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 was widely considered a success. The participating countries committed to a range of concrete and comprehensive measures towards gender equality.

To many, gender equality is still a provocative idea.

20 years later, in 2015, Beijing+20 was supposed to be the follow-up conference. It ended in a total collapse. 

The final document is non-binding and lacks direction. The negotiations met fierce resistance, not least from conservative Muslim states, Russia, the Vatican and Christian conservatives. For instance, Russia systematically set out to replace 'women's rights' with 'protection of the family'.  

European contributions to gender equality 

The EU is widely considered to have been a central agenda setter at the 1995 World Conference. But what was the Union's role at the conference 20 years later? Did the European Union contest the efforts of Russia and others to undermine women's rights? In the GLOBUS project, we will investigate how EU-Russia tensions came to expression under the Beijing+20 negotiations.  

Did the European Union contest the efforts of Russia and others to undermine women's rights?

I have also followed parliamentary debates in Poland, Hungary and other eastern European states where one finds a clear anti-feminist tendency. 

To many, gender equality is still a provocative idea. You often find anti-feminism together with nationalism, anti-immigration, and opposition to the EU, where the claim is that feminists and elites are in power. This is a parallel to what happens across the Atlantic: The Trump presidency does not exactly look promising in terms of gender equality.   

This post is based on an interview with the Norwegian national newspaper Aftenposten: Cathrine Holst: – Vi ser et globalt tilbakeslag for kvinners rettigheter (in Norwegian)

About the author

Cathrine Holst
Professor, Department of Sociology and Human Geography and Research Professor, ARENA Centre for European Studies, University of Oslo
Published Mar. 9, 2017 10:07 AM - Last modified Apr. 3, 2017 12:59 PM
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