Preparing for the Vienna Conference

Regional movements and networks for women’s human rights challenged limited interpretations of human rights that had excluded women at the official inter-governmental global and regional preparatory meetings for the Vienna Conference held in: Geneva, Switzerland; San Jose, Costa Rica; Tunis, Tunisia; and Bangkok, Thailand. Women sought to build momentum for the acceptance of the call for women’s rights as human rights by ensuring that it came from the Global South and as well as the Global North.  For example, Latin American activists organized a satellite event in San José, parallel to the official governmental meeting, and developed a 19 Point Agenda for the realization of the human rights of women. African advocates, coordinated by Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF), organized sub-regional meetings to formulate demands to include women’s rights on the agenda for the Vienna Conference, and presented a regional NGO position paper at the final international preparatory committee meeting in Geneva.

Regional advocacy and mobilization was critical as governments came to the last preparatory meeting without agreement on the core tenets of a negotiated document. Prior governmental meetings had broken down along North-South divisions and over a traditional understanding of human rights: Northern governments emphasized civil and political rights, while Southern ones insisted on socio-economic rights. These disagreements were in sharp contrast with the agendas developed by women’s human rights advocates, which included both and were working in North-South coalitions presenting joint positions.

A final strategic consultation on plans for Vienna was held in February 1993 at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership in NJ, where the idea of holding the Global Tribunal developed.   The women’s caucus formed in Geneva at the final international preparatory committee in April of 1993 included women from Global South countries, brought by UNIFEM and Novib, as well as representatives of international women’s and human rights NGOs. The presence of diverse voices and strategies brought new energy to the caucus and was critical to its success in adding important language on women’s rights in the draft document sent to the Vienna conference.

Category: Movement Activism