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close this bookGender Justice, Development and Rights: Substantiating Rights in a Disabling Environment. Report of the UNRISD Workshop, New York, 3 June 2000 (UNRISD, 2000, 12 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentNeeds, Rights and the Delivery of Welfare
View the documentWomen in Contemporary Democratization
View the documentMulticulturalism and Universalism
View the documentAgenda
View the documentContributions


On Saturday, 3 June 2000, the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) held a one-day public workshop in New York to coincide with the United Nations General Assembly Special Session for the Beijing +5 review. The event was part of a year-long research project that is assessing how far contemporary debates on and developments in the areas of rights and democracy have strengthened women’s struggles for greater gender justice. A series of papers has been commissioned for this purpose, and some of them were presented and discussed at the workshop in New York.

At the workshop, eight members of the UNRISD research team presented their work. In all, about 200 people attended the event. Reflecting the diverse and rich academic and activist backgrounds of the participants was the high standard of discussion and debate that followed the presentations.

The workshop agenda and a list of contributions to the project can be found at the end of this report. Some of the papers will be published as UNRISD Programme Papers later this year. This UNRISD project is receiving the financial support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and UNRISD core funds (provided by the governments of Denmark, Finland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom).

Gender Justice, Development and Rights

The Special Session for the Beijing + 5 review, Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the 21st Century, took place in a markedly different ideological environment from that of the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing. In the wake of recent financial crises, particularly in Asia, the neoliberal consensus is in considerable disarray. Faith in the ability of unregulated markets to provide the best possible environment for human development has been shaken. In response to obvious failures in the current development model, the international community has begun to move in various directions. As yet, however, there is little coherent orientation to this process.

At the same time, human rights are seen as an inseparable part of the quest for stable democratic rule, and a significant number of governments have made a commitment to observe them. These political changes, as well as new legal instruments, have provided opportunities for civil society organizations to press for the implementation of formally acquired rights. They have also led to a shift in the priorities and practices of many NGOs. One example of this shift has been the widespread adoption of rights - based strategies.

Yet despite the dynamism of the human rights movement, a gulf remains between the articulation of global principles and their application in many national settings. Much the same can be said of democratization; the faith in democracy as a framework for solving the world’s social problems needs to be placed alongside the uneven trends in the actual evolution of democratization across different countries. The gap between global principles and on-the-ground outcomes is particularly striking in the case of women’s rights. The title of the meeting summarizes the contradictory forces both enabling and disabling that the struggle for gender justice currently faces. In order to explore both the consequences of these ideological shifts for women’s political mobilization, and the diverse factors affecting the promotion of democracy and human rights that embraces gender justice, the UNRISD workshop examined three related dimensions of rights-based development:

· the relationship between needs and rights;
· whether democracy has empowered women; and
· women’s rights and multiculturalism.