Beijing+25: Latin American Feminists Secure Gains, Demand Progress

This blog is the fourth in our series on the Beijing+25 process, providing analysis on the last regional meeting that took place in Santiago, Chile, January 2020. IWHC will continue the Beijing+25 series. Follow along, here.

Latin American and Caribbean feminists and Member States, met in Santiago, Chile for the XIV Regional Conference on Women in January. The meeting was held months after its initial postponement due to demonstrations and protests in Chile, led by feminists and other activists in response to the country’s growing social and economic inequalities. 

Right Here, Right Now

Inside the gates of the United Nations Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Carolina Valdivia, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Chile and Isabel Plá Jarufe, Minister of Women and Gender Equity, welcomed Member States to the XIV Regional Conference on Women. They, in turn, were greeted with silent demonstrations as women wore eyepatches and left the hall to protest the government’s inaction on gender-based violence. Outside, hundreds of feminists gathered to perform La Tesis’ Un Violador en Tu Camino, a Chilean protest song about state violence and rape culture that has become an anthem for feminists worldwide.

Bringing the spirit of the song into the halls of the UN, feminist and women’s rights organizations demanded accountability from states on issues related to the health and well-being of women throughout the region, as well as the full realization of the Beijing Platform for Action. Advocates urged delegates to incorporate the strongest, most inclusive language into the regional document, but they also took every opportunity to demonstrate support or rejection of Member States’ priorities and remarks inside the plenary. 

In a courageous display of defiance, feminists turned their backs on officials from Chile, Bolivia, and Brazil as they spoke, demonstrating that their words rang hollow as women in their countries continue to face government-sponsored discrimination. While Damares Regina Alves, Minister of State for Women, the Family, and Human Rights of Brazil presented, she recognized Brazil as “the best country in the world for a girl.” Alves, who is also an evangelical pastor, has a long track record of opposing abortion and LGBTQ rights. Early in her term, Alvez proclaimed a “new era…where boys wear blue and girls wear pink.”Just recently, she initiated an abstinence-only campaign to decrease teenage pregnancy rates.

Naira Leite of Odara Instituto da Mulher Negra, an IWHC grantee partner in Brazil, further explained the effects of Brazilian political leadership:

The current political situation in Brazil has been to erase the policies and rights conquered by the women’s movements throughout history. The Bolsonaro administration has been radically opposed to any discussion of gender, stating that it needs to eradicate “gender ideology” and dismiss any debate on abortion, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights, confronting maternal mortality, the right to universal access to reproductive and sexual health services, or coping with violence and femicide.

Feminists to the Front

Feminists noted the region has seen progress since the approval of the Beijing Platform for Action, however challenges remain, as gender equality faces threats, especially in countries with increased religious fundamentalism. Thus, the regional Feminist Civil Society Declaration demanded:

  • Access to safe, legal, and free abortion throughout the region.
  • Governments classify the criminalization and blocking of access to abortion as state violence, acknowledging that sexual rights and reproductive rights are human rights.
  • Governments address gender economic inequality, ensuring decent work, food sovereignty, universal access to social protection, and the eradication of violence against women, including harmful practices such as child, early, and forced marriage and forced child and adolescent maternity.
  • An end to all forms of repression against women, including the use of sexual violence as a tool for police and military control amid crises in countries, as recently occurred in Chile and Nicaragua.
  • The elimination of institutional racism and xenophobia.
  • Governments establish policies with an intersectional perspective and support public services and social programs protection for black, migrant, and indigenous women and girls, and others who suffer discrimination based on race or ethnicity.
  • Immediate attention to climate change and its effects throughout the region, with emphasis on Caribbean nations.
  • Governments recognize that capitalist development models built on the legacy of colonialism limit the possibilities of women’s economic autonomy, particularly of girls, indigenous women, afro-descendants, youth, migrants, workers, including sex workers, generic sex dissidents, people with disabilities, and people living with HIV.

In a sign of hope and a nod to the progress secured by Latin American feminists, the declaration also included a powerful statement on the impact of feminist mobilization:

We are used to repeating that Latin America and the Caribbean is the most inequitable region of the world, but now we are…also the region with the most powerful and mobilized feminism on the planet!


Intergovernmental Outcome

IWHC attended the regional meeting in support of our grantee partners and the broader feminist movement with the purpose of monitoring negotiations, particularly the role of the United States given their aggressive behavior and demand for a vote at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP). Fortunately, the United States did not attend the regional meeting and equally regressive Brazil left negotiations early, allowing the regional declaration, known as the Santiago Commitment, to be adopted on January 31.

The Santiago Commitment is arguably the most progressive of the regions, recognizing that women and adolescent girls in all of their diversity are often subject to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and marginalization throughout their lives. Additionally, in the Santiago Commitment governments agreed to:

  • Promote universal access to and financing for comprehensive, accessible, affordable, and good-quality health services, including sexual and reproductive health services, for women, adolescents, and girls in all their diversity.
  • Further promote the full exercise of sexual and reproductive rights in relation to: comprehensive sexual education and information; safe, good-quality abortion services, in cases where abortion is legal or decriminalized under national legislation.
  • Promote legislation, multisectoral policies, and comprehensive action plans to prevent, address, punish, and eliminate different forms of gender-based violence and discrimination against women, adolescents, and girls, including those with disabilities.
  • Implement gender-sensitive policies to mitigate the impact of
    economic crises and recessions on women’s lives, and promote regulatory frameworks and policies to galvanize the economy in key sectors, including the care economy.
  • Integrate a gender perspective into national policies on climate change adaptation and
    mitigation, recognizing its differentiated effects on women, adolescents, and girls, as well as on other marginalized groups.
  • Reaffirm the fundamental role played by nongovernmental organizations, particularly feminist and women’s organizations and movements, and promote exchanges and partnerships between these organizations to ensure successful implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Regional Gender Agenda.

The progress achieved in the Santiago Commitment would not exist without the contributions from feminist civil society in the region, including RESURJ, Realizing Sexual and Reproductive Justice, Vecinas Feministas por la Justicia Sexual y Reproductiva, the regional members of Girls Not Brides, and young people, just to name a few. As Shi Alarcón Zamora of Vecinas Feministas Costa Rica and Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica states:

The political impact of feminist civil society in the recent Regional Conference on Women not only safeguarded advances in human rights, but also influenced progress on women’s rights, in all their diversity, in the region with a reproductive justice and intersectional lens.

While the Santiago Commitment saw progress, paramount issues related to sexual and reproductive health and rights continue to be shelved. Sex worker rights were noticeably absent in the document despite an increased call for inclusion by feminists and sex worker networks that demanded inter-governmental spaces recognize sex workers and sex worker rights. And while the commitments on abortion were positive, they ultimately fell short of women’s movements demands for governments to fully decriminalize abortion and remove laws and policies that limit access to abortion care.

Indeed, if governments intend to fulfill the Beijing Platform for Action, then they must address the needs, health, and well-being of all women, not just the ones they conveniently want to list, and they must continue to convene with feminist movements to ensure the voices and realities of women and young people on the ground reach the halls of power. Though the Commission on the Status of Women has been postponed, feminists from Latin America and the Caribbean will continue to stand in solidarity to echo their priorities, and hold their governments accountable: Nothing about us, without us!

Photo: IWHC

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