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[image, unknown] New Internationalist Issue 270

Simply... Storming the citadels

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Men still rule the world. Contrary to popular myth, women have gained very little over the last ten years - and lost a lot. But they are not giving up. This year, in the run-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women, activists from all over the world have prepared their own 'platforms for action' - action that will, if it is carried out, chip away at the monoliths of male power.


Women are getting poorer. Economic restructuring is happening everywhere and has affected women in particular because cuts in government spending have been mainly in so-called 'social' areas of health, education and welfare and other public services.
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  • a 50-per-cent reduction in the numbers of people living in extreme poverty by the year 2000
  • a change in adjustment policies to take more account of human need
  • access to land, capital and credit on equal terms with men
  • more access to paid work, which would entail better childcare, health services and housing - and would mean men had to pull their weight in the home
  • recognition of women's unpaid contribution to the economy
  • equal pay for the same work and equal pay for different work of the same value


Although some women have managed to become directors of companies, judges, and even prime ministers and presidents, they are still the exception and not the rule.


  • involvement at all levels of decision-making in proportion to their share of the population
  • greater numbers of female politicians, lawyers, scientists, trade-union leaders...
  • powerful positions to be made more appropriate and open to people with dependents - both women and men
  • girls to be given the skills and the confidence to be leaders


Women suffer from violence both at home and in society at large. Whether physical or mental, this prevents them from exercising any of their rights.


  • a non-violent society, educating boys when they are young that violence is not acceptable, and promoting a more just and equal society
  • all governments to ratify CEDAW (The Commission on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) and any national legislation which allows discrimination against women to be repealed
  • the elimination of traditional practices that impede the health, well-being and development of girls
  • legislation which categorizes family violence as a crime and which recognizes rape and sexual violence in times of conflict as war crimes
  • all kinds of sexual abuse, from child abuse to forced prostitution, to be made illegal and the perpetrators tried and punished


While women in most countries live longer than men, they are more likely to suffer ill-health throughout their lives. Half a million still die each year as a consequence of pregnancy and childbirth and many more die young, worn out from bearing too many children.


  • access to adequate and affordable healthcare
  • the right to refuse early marriage and to choose the number and spacing of their children
  • family planning to be affordable, available and acceptable to all - men as well as women
  • more and better health education
  • men and women to know about and be able to practise safe sex


Educating girls is not only valuable in itself - it also improves maternal and family health and promotes better living conditions. Yet girls are still not getting as much or as good an education as boys. Around 90 million girls are still denied access to primary schooling and 600 million women make up two-thirds of the world's illiterates.


  • girls to have equal access to education, including free and compulsory basic education and the same chances as boys for secondary and further education
  • educational materials to be aware of gender issues
  • effective literacy programmes aimed at women
  • women and girls to be shown by the media in active roles


Women are the first victims of environmental destruction and have been in the forefront of environmental campaigns. At the same time those with few resources have had no option but to deplete their immediate environment in the interests of their own and their families' survival.


  • a ban on the dumping and import of toxic and solid wastes
  • a halt to nuclear testing and the production of nuclear weapons
  • investment in renewable energy resources
  • inclusion in decision-making processes on environmental issues
  • education of rural women about alternative sources of energy which reduce women's work while protecting the environment

Sources: Summaries of the regional Platforms of Action (governmental and non-governmental) for the Fourth World Conference on Women by the Feminist Majority.

Illustration by POLYP


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New Internationalist issue 270 magazine cover This article is from the August 1995 issue of New Internationalist.
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