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The 1995 United Nations Fourth Wand Conference on Women in Beijing adapted a Platform for Action, endorsed by 189 governments, that remains a powerful agenda for women's equality and human rights worldwide. In the words of Bella Abzug: "It was in Beijing that we really gave birth to a stronger and newer global movement for democracy. The Beijing Platform for Action is the strongest statement, though not perfect, of consensus on women's equality, empowerment, and justice ever produced by governments."

The Platform for Action addresses 12 key arenas for change: women and poverty, education and training of women, women and health, violence against women, women and armed conflict, women and the economy, women in power and decision making, institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, human rights of women, women in the media, women and the environment, and the girl-child (see Appendix). As Bella declared in Beijing: "We have a contract here -- that's what we call the Platform for Action from the Beijing conference -- a contract with the world's women. It may not be legally binding, but I believe it is politically binding." Together, the Center and WEDO took steps to make this vision a reality in the United States.

At the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) Fourth National Forum for Women State Legislators in San Diego in November 1995, Bella Abzug gave a keynote address about Beijing and Center President Leslie Wolfe and Vice President Jennifer Tucker convened an informal meeting with several women state legislators to discuss strategies to respond to anti-woman policies generated by the right wing in their states and to promote a multiethnic feminist policy agenda. This conversation provided the initial impetus for creation of the Contract with Women of the USA and pointed the way to a new approach to Beijing implementation.

Together, the Center and WEDO "translated" the Beijing Platform for Action into U.S. relevant terms -- and the Contract with Women of the USA was born. In fact, the Contract includes enduring principles that have long guided the Center's work -- empowerment of women as decision makers, ending the burden of poverty, ensuring access to quality health care, guaranteeing women's sexual and reproductive rights, ensuring women's workplace rights, promoting educational equity, and ending violence against women. The Contract "is a blueprint for state legislators to develop policies and programs that enable women and girls to achieve their full potential and attain genuine equality," noted the Center's President, Leslie R. Wolfe (see Appendix).

Indeed, the Center's "niche" in post-Beijing implementation activities in the United States has been to build a network of women state legislators in all 50 states who endorse the Contract's principles and work to implement them in their states. In this era of devolution of many federal responsibilities to the states, the leadership of women state legislators is especially crucial to protect and expand women's rights. And a powerful group of legislators worked with the Center to launch the Contract.

On March 8,1996 -- International Women's Day -- the Center and WEDO officially announced the creation of the Contract with Women of the USA. At the same time, women's legislative caucuses in six states - Arizona, California, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, and New York - hosted media events to publicly pledge their support for the Contract's principles and to announce their own Contracts with the women of their states. These six states were followed on April 15 by Florida and Oregon, where women legislators announced their state Contracts at a series of press events.

In Arizona, Representatives Marion Pickens and Sue Lyons, Senator Ruth Solomon, Councilmember Carol Smith, and members of the Arizona delegation to Beijing launched the Contract with the Women of Arizona; California Assemblymember Sheila Kuehl and 13 state legislators announced the Contract with California's Women. In Illinois, Representative Sara Feigenholtz introduced a resolution supporting the Contract with Women of the USA, with Representatives Barbara Flynn Currie, Carol Ronen, and Jan Schakowsky.

More than 25 Maryland women legislators, led by Delegate Sue Hecht and Senator Jennie Forehand, announced the Pledge to Maryland Women, introduced as a resolution. The Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) Women's Caucus announced the Covenant with Minnesota Women, led by Senators Sandra Pappas, Janet Johnson, Jane Ranum, Ellen Anderson, and Pat Piper and Representatives Phyllis Kahn and Mary Jo McGuire. In New York, the Legislative Women's Caucus -- led by Assemblymember Joan Christensen, Chair of the Assembly Task Force on Women's Issues and the Legislative Women's Caucus and Senator Suzi Oppenheimer, Chair of the Senate Democratic Task Force on Women's Issues -- announced Women 2000: Putting Women on the Public Policy Agenda, a five-year plan to integrate women's issues into the state's public policy agenda.

Finally, the Florida House Women's Caucus endorsed the Contract with Women of the USA at a press conference in the State Capitol, led by Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz with other state legislators and community leaders. And Oregon Representative Kitty Piercy and eight other legislators brought together representatives of a broad range of women's, labor, environmental, and community groups to voice their support of the Contract with Women of the USA.

Women state legislators nationwide moved quickly to join the Contract network. On Women's Equality Day, August 26, 1996 -- the 76th anniversary of women's suffrage -- the Center announced the charter members of the Contract National Honor Roll of State Legislators, representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia, who publicly endorsed the Contract with Women of the USA (see Appendix for the current and alumnae members of the Honor Roll).

The Contract network is the only network of state legislators which is explicitly women's issues-based and built on a commitment to a pro-choice, multiethnic feminist policy agenda. These are the women state legislators who are ready to take leadership on legislative and policy initiatives to implement the Contract principles and to stand up for women's rights in their legislatures, in their own districts, and in the federal policy arena.

To encourage and expand their efforts, the Center serves as their "national support center" -- providing materials, technical assistance and strategic advice on a full range of policy issues. We maintain a state legislative clearinghouse for innovative legislation; produce Action Alerts on timely federal and state issues; publish a quarterly newsletter, the State Legislative Report; produce analyses of federal and state legislation, regulations, and policy proposals; publish Action Kits on specific policy issues; and prepare op-eds for state legislators on cutting edge issues. We also share the Center's publications with legislators, to offer them more in-depth analyses on such issues as women and HIV/AIDS, welfare reform, Medicaid managed care, violence against women, reproductive rights and health, work/family and workplace diversity, and educational equity -- all to help women legislators decipher the intersection of new federal laws which simultaneously delegate more authority to the states but also creat e new limits on traditional areas of jurisdiction.

Finally, the Center meets with current Contract participants and other legislators at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) annual meetings and at annual meetings of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL), Southern Women in Public Service, and the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women (NOBEL/Women), for example. We have brought a range of issues to these meetings by convening sessions and speaking on panels on HIV/AIDS, postsecondary education as a welfare reform strategy, access to health care for low income women, and sexual trafficking of women and girls, for example. We also feature women legislators as speakers at key women's conferences, including the 1999 national conference on Welfare and the College Option, which the Center co-sponsored, and our workshops at both the 1999 Black Women in the Academy II conference and the 2000 African American Women and the Law conference.

We also are proud to work in partnership with our sister organizations that represent women state legislators, including the NCSL Women's Network, the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), the Center for Policy Alternatives, the Women Legislators Lobby of Women's Action for New Directions (WILL/WAND), and the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women (NOBEL/Women). And we continue to expand our collaboration with the Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO).

This report, Bringing Beijing Home to the Women of the United States, presents examples of several legislative initiatives that demonstrate how state legislators have worked to implement the promises of Beijing for the women of their states. Although this first Contract progress report is necessarily incomplete, it does reflect how women state legislators -- and several male colleagues -- are seeking to create and implement a public policy agenda that advances women's human rights and truly reflects the principles of the Beijing Platform for Action.

We present this report to our own federal and state government leaders, to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session in June 2000, and to our colleagues in sister organizations worldwide who share our struggles to guarantee that all of our national governments will reaffirm their commitments from Beijing and continue to make progress for women's human rights.

Leslie R. Wolfe


June 2000
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Title Annotation:international agenda for women's rights and equality
Publication:Bringing Beijing Home
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Jun 1, 2000
Previous Article:Dedication.
Next Article:Implementing the contract with Women of the USA -- Women state legislators lead the way.

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