World Conference on Women Sets an International Agenda Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The World Conference of the International Women’s Year, the first international, intergovernmental conference on women, legitimated and placed on the global agenda the special roles, needs, and problems of women worldwide.

Summary of Event

The first international, intergovernmental conference devoted to the advancement of women worldwide met in Mexico City from June 19 to July 2, 1975. The World Conference of the International Women’s Year, sponsored by the United Nations, was attended by 1,200 delegates from 133 countries. Participating nations were represented by 891 women, and also among the 1,200 total delegates were representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), U.N. agencies, various liberation movements, and territories anticipating independence. More than 1,500 media personnel reported on the event. In addition, a parallel NGO conference known as the International Women’s Year Tribune International Women’s Year Tribune attracted approximately 4,000 participants and played a role in raising issues that these participants considered to be important to women worldwide. World Conference of the International Women’s Year, U.N. (1975) Women;international conferences United Nations;women’s rights[womens rights] [kw]World Conference on Women Sets an International Agenda (June 19-July 2, 1975) [kw]Conference on Women Sets an International Agenda, World (June 19-July 2, 1975) [kw]Women Sets an International Agenda, World Conference on (June 19-July 2, 1975) World Conference of the International Women’s Year, U.N. (1975) Women;international conferences United Nations;women’s rights[womens rights] [g]North America;June 19-July 2, 1975: World Conference on Women Sets an International Agenda[01970] [g]Mexico;June 19-July 2, 1975: World Conference on Women Sets an International Agenda[01970] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;June 19-July 2, 1975: World Conference on Women Sets an International Agenda[01970] [c]Women’s issues;June 19-July 2, 1975: World Conference on Women Sets an International Agenda[01970] Sipilä, Helvi Ojeda Paullada, Pedro Kuusinen, Hertta Pahlavi, Ashraf Echeverría, Luis

Helvi Sipilä served as secretary-general of the World Conference of the International Women’s Year, and Pedro Ojeda Paullada, the attorney general of Mexico, was elected president of the conference by the official delegates. Luis Echeverría, the president of Mexico, was the conference’s official host.

At the conference, the delegates adopted the Declaration of Mexico on the Equality of Women and Their Contribution to Development and Peace, Declaration of Mexico on the Equality of Women and Their Contribution to Development and Peace (1975) Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations and by the close of the conference, they also adopted the lengthy World Plan of Action for the Implementation of the Objectives of the International Women’s Year. World Plan of Action for the Implementation of the Objectives of the International Women’s Year (1975) In addition, the delegates adopted a supplemental document consisting of thirty-four resolutions.

The Declaration of Mexico offered several conclusions and goals. In it, the delegates stated that the World Conference of the International Women’s Year affirmed its faith in the objectives of the International Women’s Year, which were equality, development, and peace; proclaimed its commitment to the achievement of such objectives; and strongly urged governments, the entire United Nations system, regional and international intergovernmental organizations, and the international community as a whole to dedicate themselves to the creation of a just society where women, men, and children can live in dignity, freedom, justice, and prosperity.

The World Plan of Action offered guidelines for the achievement of the stated goals. The plan suggested that in elaborating national strategies and development plans in which women should participate, measures should be adopted to ensure that any targets and priorities should fully take into account women’s interests and needs. Strategies and development plans should also make provisions to improve the situation of women and increase their contribution to the development process. There should be equitable representation of women at all levels of policy making and decision making. Appropriate national machinery and procedures should be established if they do not already exist. National plans and strategies for the implementation of the plan of action should be sensitive to the needs and problems of different categories of women and of women of different age groups. Governments should pay special attention to improving the situation of women in areas where they have been most disadvantaged, especially concentrating on women in rural and urban areas.

The resolutions targeted a wide range of concerns, illustrated by some selected examples. Resolution 32 called on South Africa to end its illegal occupation of Namibia. It also urged support for peoples of Southern Africa by measures including support for national liberation movements and for victims of apartheid and racial discrimination. Resolution 13 recommended social security and family security plans specifically for women, including the elderly and the disabled. Resolution 26 recommended the establishment under auspices of the United Nations of an international research and training institute for the promotion of women’s rights.

Cultural, national, religious, and ideological differences among the delegates surfaced during many of the debates, but these differences did not prevent the majority of delegates from agreeing on the declaration, the world plan, or the resolutions. The delegates hoped the documents would guide governments and citizens in their treatment of women worldwide. Goals for women in health care, education, employment, political participation, and many other sectors were identified. The World Plan of Action and the resolutions provided international standards by which to assess the status of women in the United Nations Decade for Women, which was adopted by the United Nations following the Mexico meeting.

The World Conference of the International Women’s Year held in Mexico City in 1975 resulted from the convergence of three movements. First, the Commission on the Status of Women, a commission of the U.N. Economic and Social Council, Economic and Social Council, U.N. had celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary in 1972. Prior to 1972, the United Nations had begun adopting theme years and holding conferences on global areas of concern such as population, food, human rights, and the human environment. The members of the commission adopted a proposal stating that the United Nations should spend a year analyzing the status of women globally. The commission’s action in this matter is widely credited to the leadership of Finnish parliamentarian Hertta Kuusinen. It is widely believed that Kuusinen organized the drafting of the proposal and convinced a government representative on the commission, a delegate from Romania, to present the recommendation. Helvi Sipilä, representing Finland, seconded the proposal.

The second trend that led to the world conference was the increasing efforts of officials in developing countries to respond to the problems of population explosion and food shortages. As experts sought to address these two important issues, the central role of women in society and the need to incorporate women into national development plans became apparent to many policy makers. Finally, the growing strength of the international women’s movement spotlighted the need to address issues of injustice and discrimination against women. An international conference seemed to be an appropriate step.

Significance

The 1975 World Conference of the International Women’s Year helped to legitimate women’s issues globally and empowered women and their male allies in many countries to demand the inclusion of women and women’s concerns in national policy-making arenas. Most important, the conference highlighted the need for baseline data concerning women of every country. U.N. officials increased their requests to member states for data relevant to women, and governments began or expanded collection of such data. A generous gift from Princess Ashraf Pahlavi of Iran allowed the establishment of a technical training and research center concerning women’s issues, as called for at the Mexico conference. Additionally, the Voluntary Fund for the United Nations Decade for Women funded more than three hundred projects by the end of the decade. The World Plan of Action for the Implementation of the Objectives of the International Women’s Year was endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly, which also decreed 1976-1985 as the United Nations Decade for Women.

The second world conference on women, the World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women, World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women (1980) convened in Copenhagen, Denmark, 1980, at the halfway mark of the U.N. Decade for Women. This conference reviewed the progress of the first half of the decade and adopted a program of action for the second half. Although this conference was noted for many debates concerning traditionally divisive topics in international affairs, it once again underscored the importance of women’s participation in national development programs and made specific calls for action relevant to women’s concerns. For example, conference participants called for more extensive involvement by men and by national governments in addressing issues of concern to women and requested increases in the number of women in decision-making positions. The delegates also called for additional services to support women in their daily lives such as day care, health care, and credit, and requested more financial assistance to women.

Regional conferences concerning women’s issues also resulted from the Mexico City conference’s World Plan of Action. Asia and the Pacific, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East held regional conferences on women’s issues throughout the decade. United Nations organizations also increased their emphases on women’s issues, giving greater attention to such areas as female refugees, violence against women, prostitution and trafficking in women, senior women, Palestinian women, and women and apartheid. As a result of the conference, many country-to-country bilateral aid programs soon included larger components of development aid relevant to women’s needs.

The end of the U.N. Decade for Women was marked by the World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievements of the U.N. Decade for Women, World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievements of the U.N. Decade for Women (1995) held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1985. That conference presented a set of forward-looking strategies that represented not a conclusion to the decade begun in Mexico City but rather a reinvigoration of the international women’s movement. The Nairobi conference offered strategies for how governments could promote the equal participation of women with men in legal, social, political, and economic spheres. It addressed the concerns of women in specific areas such as employment; health; education; food, water, and agriculture; industry; trade and commercial services; science and technology; communications; housing, settlement, community development, and transportation; energy; environment; social services; war and peace; apartheid; abused women; women of various age groups; and female migrants.

Many national women’s conferences focused on how to implement the forward-looking strategies in a particular country. During Namibia’s Pan-African Women’s Day Conference in August, 1991, national leaders requested that their government translate the forward-looking strategies into many of the local dialects so that large numbers of women in villages and cities across the country could use the document as a basis for discussion concerning the needs of women in their communities.

The declarations and resolutions that came out of the 1975 World Conference of the International Women’s Year lacked sufficient authority and finances to alter the global role of women. The meeting, however, successfully influenced many governments, international organizations, and individuals to put women’s concerns on the policy agenda throughout the world. The Fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing in 1995, followed up by the U.N.-sponsored Beijing+5 Conference in New York City in 2000. World Conference of the International Women’s Year, U.N. (1975) Women;international conferences United Nations;women’s rights[womens rights]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Inter-Parliamentary Union and United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and Its Optional Protocol: Handbook for Parliamentarians. Geneva, Switzerland: United Nations, 2003. A comprehensive introduction to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Contains the document adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December, 1979. After the twentieth country ratified the convention in 1981, the document acquired the status of an international treaty. The convention highlights the importance of women’s rights and has been referred to as an international bill of rights for women. The document contributed to the new international focus on women initiated, in part, by the Mexico conference.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Joekes, Susan P. Women in the World Economy: An INSTRAW Study. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. The International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, an agency of the United Nations, produced this study on the changing position of women in the international political economy. Situates the roles of women in the world’s industrial, agricultural, and service sectors.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pietilae, Hilkka, and Jeanne Vickers. Making Women Matter: The Role of the United Nations. 3d rev. ed. London: Zed Books, 1996. The authors focus on the role of the United Nations and the 1985 Nairobi conference. They then look back at the role of the United Nations since its creation and the manner in which the United Nations related to women and women’s concerns.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sandler, Joanne. It’s Our Move Now: A Community Action Guide to the UN Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women. New York: United Nations, 1987. This is the document produced by the Nairobi conference held in 1985. It includes the recommendations adopted by the representatives of the 157 countries attending the conference.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">United Nations. International Women’s Year Secretariat. Meeting in Mexico: The Story of the World Conference of the International Women’s Year, Mexico City, 19 June-2 July 1975. New York: Author, 1975. Although this book is not an official document, it contains the texts of the official document produced at the Mexico conference, a foreword by Helvi Sipilä, and text and photographs edited for the International Women’s Year Secretariat.

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