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Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995

In this step, you will watch footage from the documentary "Makers: Once and For All" and start to learn more about the Beijing 1995 conference.
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SPEAKER 1: People are asking, does feminism have a future?
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SPEAKER 2: This is a very polarising conference in Beijing. You’ve got feminists, pro-abortionists, all kinds of radicals all over the country going there.
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SPEAKER 3: It is not anti-family. It is not opposed to motherhood, but it is a conference about women and what is happening to women throughout the world.
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SPEAKER 4: In 1995, I was trying to start up a women’s non-profit in Boston, where I went to college. And randomly, I called up some office at the United Nations. And I started to talk to this woman about what I was planning to do with this NGO I was starting up. And she said, are you familiar with what’s going to be happening this summer, the UN fourth World Conference on women? And she starts telling me about how it’s anticipated to be when the largest gathering of women actors and advocates of all time. And I hear those words, and I think, that’s it. I’ve got to go.
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SPEAKER 5: What do these conferences really accomplish anyway?
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SPEAKER 6: They’re going to talk about the five sexes. I only thought there were two. But– [LAUGHTER]
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SPEAKER 7: I was still studying at the college at the time. I was graduate student, major on gender and women’s history in Peking University. I got very excited when I heard that, oh, this big conference will be held in China.
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SPEAKER 8: The United Nations makes a terrible gaffe in bringing a human rights conference on women to China, which has the worst record in the world.
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SPEAKER 9: We would not be sitting here talking about it were it being held on a different peace of soil.
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SPEAKER 10: I grew up in the central part of Kenya. By the age of 12, we were farm workers. And I used to hate the way we used to be treated. So I was always very conscious about issues of inequality. Therefore, when Beijing was in the planning, I say that’s what I want to do.
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SPEAKER 11: This is half the world’s humanity rising up and demanding voice.
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SPEAKER 12: This conference is going to come out with 147-page document that is going to address the concerns of women throughout the world.
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HILARY CLINTON: I was coming of age at a time when there were many jobs girls couldn’t have. There were many schools that we couldn’t attend. So when I heard about the conference, I very much wanted to go because whatever role I played, I wanted to be seen as supporting the full participation of girls and women. It was just profoundly important.
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[SHOUTING]
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The hated wall is being swept away in a tide of change. The sounds of peace and freedom are heard around the world. Freedom had won. The Cold War was over.
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FELICE GAER: In the early 1990s, we had just had the end of the Cold War.
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CHARLOTTE BUNCH: We felt like we had what was called then a peace dividend. We had optimism to actually grow human rights around the world.
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GEORGE BUSH: The widening circle of freedom– today, tomorrow, and into the next century.
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LYDIA ALPIZAR DURAN: There was so much hope that our lives can be better and in all these areas.
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BILL CLINTON: The global economy the information and revolution, unparalleled change and opportunity.
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KRISTEN TIMOTHY: Everyone was talking about disarmament, and they were talking about all kinds of issues other than women’s issues.
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JANE FONDA: Women’s issues were viewed as peripheral. In the years before Beijing, there were other international conferences. And it was all men at the table.
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RACHEL KYTE: In the course of that period, there were a series of global conferences. And basically, what we did was update how we saw the world as a community of nations. And in all of those negotiations, language was and women and children added on to whatever the sentence was. And what happened in 1995 is suddenly it was like no more and women and children. It was what development– that’s about us.

In this step and the following you will watch clips from the documentary Makers: Once and for all with some guiding questions.

This documentary reflects on the Fourth Women’s Conference that was organized in Beijing, organized by the Commission on the Status of Women of the United Nations in 1995. The conference focused on negotiations between delegates of 189 countries over an agenda for women’s empowerment that is known as the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action. During the conferences, delegates and representatives from politics and civil society delivered speeches.

The documentary was made in honor of the 20th anniversary of the conference in 2015. It captures various perspectives and narratives about the conference and the political context in which it was organized.

Watch the first 5 minutes of the documentary that we shared here, and note down your answers to the following questions:

Why is the conference discussed as polarizing? In what way did it mark a broader change in international politics?

References

You can find the full video here:

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