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A R T I C L E S* &* S P E E C H E S
INTERNATIONAL

Beyond Beijing: U.S. Commitments

BY MARJORIE MARGOLIES MEZVINSKY
Director, U.S. Delegation to the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women

The Fourth World Conference on Women held in September in Beijing was a phenomenal success. The Platform for Action broke new ground while building on the Conferences in the past. One nongovernmental member said it best in comparing it with the Third Conference held in Nairobi: "Nairobi provided us a compass. Beijing gives us a map."

* The Platform of Action is that map. It was developed by consensus and adopted by all 185 attending nations. It details critical areas of concern and recommends the concrete actions that can and must be taken by governments, international and local institutions, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations and individuals to address each of the concerns.

* The Beijing Conference was unique in being a "conference of commitments." In response to a proposal by the Australian delegation, the United States joined many nations in announcing a number of actions it would take immediately to further the goals and objectives of the Platform. These commitments, now begun, represent the Administration's first steps in implementing the Platform for Action.

COMMITMENTS

The President's Interagency Council on Women. This is the oversight body at the federal level for the implementation of the Platform. It is a mechanism for high level government officials to analyze their agencies' policies and programs in terms of the Platform's recommendations and develop new initiatives. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is its honorary chair and Secretary Donna Shalala its acting chair.

Changes in the work place. The Women's Bureau at the Department of Labor has initiated a year-long campaign to obtain pledges from employers, organizations and community groups to make systemic changes in policies and practices in the workplace to improve the conditions for women and their families. More than 500 pledges have been received to date in the areas of job security, work and family responsibilities and the valuing of women's work.

Prevention of violence against women. The Office on Violence Against Women at the Justice Department will lead a comprehensive national effort to fight domestic and other forms of violence against women through tough new laws and assistance to states and localities. The Administration declared October to be Domestic Violence Awareness month. President Clinton signed an Executive Memorandum directing all federal agencies to train their employees about domestic violence and resources that are available.

Microenterprise. The Treasury Department will coordinate a Federal Microenterprise Initiative. This will publicize micro-credit and micro-enterprise (very small business) programs, set benchmarks for programs to use in assessing their own efforts and better coordinate and facilitate existing efforts.

Life-span health initiatives. The Department of Health and Human Services is taking action on a range of problems taking into account the additional problems faced by women of low income and from ethnic and racial minorities. Programs include efforts to: reduce smoking among children and adolescents by 50%; reduce teen pregnancy; establish a Governing Council on Children and Youth; inaugurate the National Women's Health Clearinghouse; introduce new initiatives on breast and cervical cancer, the impact of poverty related diseases on women, and the inclusion of women in clinical trials; support contraceptive research and development; continue commitment to the Women's Health Initiative; and develop a public agenda on HIV/AIDS specific to women, adolescents and children.

CEDAW. The Administration reaffirmed its commitment to pursue the ratification by the United States of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

These are the starting points for the Administration. Some agencies have already indicated they are developing further commitments and initiatives. The Council anticipates working closely with state and local government and encouraging them to engage in similar actions. There is plenty of work for all of us at every level of government and in all segments of society.

The above is an exclusive excerpt from WOMANSWORD

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