Why We Need a UN Global Conference on Women: 5WCW

The first session I attended at the UN Commission on the Status of Women focused on the need for a UN sponsored 5th World Conference on Women (5WCW). The leaders of this session gave us blue buttons with “5WCW” and urged us to sign a petition to President Obama: http://5wcw.org/. The 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995) was almost 20 years ago. My friend Barb Middleton attended this conference, and inspired our New Wineskins Community with stories of her experiences in Beijing. For about 12 years there have been proposals for a 5th World Conference to bring to fruition the goals in the Beijing Platform for Action, to recommit to women’s rights and empowerment, to celebrate achievements over the decades, and to ensure that global, regional, and national commitments become lived realities for women. The conclusion of the Beijing Platform for Action states: “Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women’s perspectives in all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development, and peace cannot be achieved.” This agenda remains unfinished and calls for a United Nations sponsored 5th World Conference on Women. This would be the first UN World Conference on Women in the 21st Century with the technology to link women’s conferences and initiatives around the world.

On the panel of this UN session I attended were three of the most passionate advocates for a 5th UN World Conference on Women: Jean Shinoda Bolen, Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, and Anwarul Chowdhury.

Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, author and co-founder of "The Millionth Circle"

In 2002, Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D., activist-author, initiated the campaign for the 5th World Conference on Women, and she has led this campaign since then. Dr. Bolen is a psychiatrist, Jungian analyst, and author of ten books including Urgent Message from Mother: Gather the Women, Save the World; Crones Don’t Whine; The Millionth Circle; Goddesses in Everywoman; Crossing to Avalon; and Close to the Bone. An internationally known speaker, she is a past board member of the Ms. Foundation for Women and was in the Academy-Award winning anti-nuclear proliferation film “Women—For America, For the World.” The Millionth Circle Initiative (www.millionthcircle.org) was inspired by her book and led to her involvement at the United Nations.

At the UN session I heard Dr. Bolen speak with passion about the importance of a 5th World Conference on Women. “Together we can make a difference,” she said. “Equality for women is equality for all. People’s right to peace will be the focus of the 5th UN Global Conference on Women.” She highlighted women’s role in peacemaking, saying that women’s natural response to conflict is “tend and befriend.” The vision of the 5th World Conference is to “help bring what mothers universally want for their children to everyone: a peaceful world, good food, air, and water, universal education, medical care, the chance to develop and grow physically, intellectually, and spiritually.”

In this YouTube interview Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen comments further about the need for a 5th UN World Conference on Women.



Nyaradzayi Gumbonizvanda, President NGO Committee on the Status of Women--Geneva, General Secretary World YWCA


Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, another speaker at the UN session I attended, has also been advocating for many years for a 5th UN World Conference on Women. Ms. Gumbonzvanda, from Zimbabwe, is President of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women—Geneva and World YWCA General Secretary. She has served as Regional Director for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in Eastern and Horn Africa covering 13 countries, and as a human rights officer with UNICEF in Liberia and Zimbabwe. In the past two decades her rights-based work has carried her around the world as a leader and public speaker. Ms. Gumbonzvanda is a human rights lawyer with extensive experience in conflict resolution and mediation. For about twenty years, she has been working on issues of women’s and children’s human rights, with a special focus on crisis countries. Active in the women’s movement, she has more specifically focused on issues of violence against women, peace with justice, property rights, economic empowerment, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and HIV and AIDS.

In her appeal for a 5th UN World Conference on women, Ms. Gumbonzvanda stated that this conference is needed to assess and monitor the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. “Such a conference should not renegotiate existing commitments, international laws, and standards on women,” she states in a document of support of 5WCW by the Geneva NGO Committee on the Status of Women. “This conference should identify the barriers to implementation and propose strategic and practical solutions. The conference should also identify the positive factors that can unleash opportunities for women and girls. A 5WCW creates a significant opportunity for women and men to reposition women’s rights and gender equality as central to the post Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agenda. A 5WCW will re-engage the women of the world to reclaim and own the agenda for women’s rights and gender equality as well as their contribution to a world of peace, justice, and development. This conference will be more than a single event in one place and for a few people. It is a global multi-level, multi-year mobilization effort that re-energizes and sustains the women’s movement. It offers opportunities to many young women to own and experience the women and gender equality agenda in their own way. It provides an intergenerational space of learning, sharing, nurturing, and positioning the women’s rights and empowerment agenda.”

Amabassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former UN Under Secretary General, former Security Council President

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former UN Under Secretary General and Security Council President, was another speaker at the session I attended on the need for a 5th UN Global Conference on Women. He has also served as Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UN and as Bangladesh’s Ambassador to Chile, Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela. Ambassador Chowdhury is noted for his work on development in the poorest nations, global peace, and championing the rights of women and children. He has served as Chair and President of the UNICEF Executive Board and as the leading UN Culture of Peace emissary. He led in the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 which ensures that women are part of the peace-making process.

At the UN session I heard Ambassador Chowdhury speak about steps that need to be taken within the UN for there to be a 5th World Conference on Women. He expressed frustration that this conference has not received support from some powerful countries, including the US, despite the support of UN leadership and grassroots women worldwide. He questioned why it has been almost 20 years since the last World Conference on Women. He emphasized the need for the conference to re-energize the goals set at the Beijing 4th World Conference on Women and to evaluate their implementation thus far.

In this YouTube video Ambassador Chowdhury explains why a 5th UN World Conference on Women would strengthen the Beijing Platform for Action.

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