The date remains in people's minds. In September 1995, the fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing, adopted an ambitious declaration and platform for action, highlighting women's rights and the fundamental role of women in reducing poverty.
The SDC did not wait for the Beijing conference to involve women more closely in its activities; it embarked on this logic in the mid-1980s. But the new circumstances inspired it to draft and adopt a policy on gender equality in 2003 backed up by a tool-kit ("Gender in practice"). These documents guide its action.
The inescapable issue of gender
Looking back over the twenty years since the Beijing Conference, the SDC can show progress on a number of fronts to which it contributed: the goal of equal school enrolment rates for girls and boys has nearly been achieved and maternal mortality has been reduced by about half.
Ursula Keller, SDC’s Gender Policy Advisor, is encouraged by the key importance given to the objective of gender equality: "Making the gender issue an essential factor of genuinely sustainable development has become the rule in planning cooperation projects." This can be achieved both through greater attention to the needs of the most vulnerable population groups, where women end up often twofold discriminated against, and by placing emphasis on awareness-raising activities. Workshops and information campaigns carried out in the villages complement the legal reforms which are promoted at the national level.
The results to be achieved must be rigorously defined too. "Raising the involvement of women in a rural development project is good, but it is still important that their rights, role and the responsibilities entrusted to them translate into positive results," Ursula Keller explains. In other words, the negative stereotyping of women must be fought and the obstacles that impede their access to social services and positions of power must be overcome. To achieve this, men must be included in the change process.
Ursula Keller sums it up: "Although visible progress has been made there is still a long way to go." Many challenges lie ahead indeed. These include acts of violence committed against girls and women, in particular in conflict situations where the security of the population is not assured, and the different forms of discrimination they are subjected to when they seek access to services or employment.
For the period from 2015 to 2018, the SDC has set three thematic priorities in line with the objectives defined by the FDFA for gender equality and women's rights:
- Strengthening women's rights in fragile contexts
- Facilitating women's access to natural resources, education and a satisfactory income
- Increasing women's participation in decision-making processes
For example, in Tajikistan the SDC supports various awareness-raising activities on domestic violence, which is mainly perpetrated against women, while consolidating several structures protective of victims.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, the SDC's rural development projects aim in particular to encourage women's economic empowerment.
Africa Brief – June 2014: Gender equality at the heart of rural development
In Macedonia, local authorities are being made aware of the importance of integrating the specific needs of women into the laws and budgets on which they vote.
The projects implemented by the SDC in the field complement the Swiss government's advocacy efforts at the multilateral level, in particular within the framework of the annual sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women, in New York.
The final wording of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals this year will mark another important step in the integration of the gender issue in the international agenda. Switzerland is not only arguing for the definition of a specific goal on gender equality but also for the inclusion of gender indicators in other goals. For instance, the programmes on reducing poverty in the world must take into account the fact that 70% of the poorest people in the world are women.