Columbia Concludes Series on Innovations in Women's Rights Advocacy: Beijing +25 & Beyond
April 27, 2021, New York — Women’s human rights advocacy has diversified and expanded globally over the past 25 years. The Human Rights Institute (HRI) at Columbia Law School and the Global Health Justice and Governance Program (GHJG) at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, jointly organized a six-month virtual event series to explore innovations in women’s rights advocacy since the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action (BPfA) was adopted unanimously by 189 countries at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.
Through a series of six events, activists and artists from around the world reflected on key questions, such as what the Beijing Declaration achieved, how youth activists are maximizing Beijing+25 to advance women’s rights today, and the role of art as a tool for activism.
The virtual series featured intergenerational dialogue between activists and artists, and the goal was to connect with a wide audience on paths forward to advance women’s rights. Nearly 900 people from 95 countries participated.
Jessica Pierson, Assistant Director of Programs at HRI, discussed how the series—which was convened virtually as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic—offered a unique platform to expand the reach of these critical conversations.
“In the virtual learning environment we were able to bring together activists, artists, and academics from around the world, and experiment with new formats. This series used music, visual art, film, and other artistic mediums to shed light on avenues to end gender-based violence, protect and expand voting rights, advance reproductive justice, and to fight for gender equality.”
The series featured advocates, artists, and academics with expertise in human rights, gender justice, and civic engagement, including Lina Abou Habib from the American University of Beirut; William Crow and Stacie Brennan from Lehigh University Art Galleries; Rahima Sajid from the Malala Fund at International Alliance of Women; Sarah Overton from The Dream Unfinished Orchestra; Etaf Rum, author of A Woman Is No Man; and Dr. Wendy Chavkin from Global Doctors for Choice; among others.
Each event incorporated art, such as film, music, visual art, fiction, and featured partnerships from across Columbia University schools—and even campuses—as well as external NGOs such as The Dream Unfinished: An Activist Orchestra, The Commonwealth Youth Network for Peace, and the Center for Women's Global Leadership at Rutgers University, among others.
Each event was recorded and can be viewed on HRI’s YouTube channel:
- “How the Beijing Women’s Conference Speaks to Us Today” opened the series, spotlighting activists who attended the Beijing conference in conversation with youth leaders responding to the pressing crises of our times.
- “20 Years of UNSCR 1325: The Link Between Peace and Gender Equity” featured a conversation on the relationship between peace, conflict, and women’s equity, and the ways conflict resolution and justice systems can aid in restoring peace.
- “Art As Activism: Documenting Change” celebrated the radical practices of creatives across the globe who use visual art and photography to advance civic and social justice issues.
- “A Musical Meditation on Women's Suffrage and the Fight for Intersectionality” featured a recording of The Dream Unfinished: An Activist Orchestra’s community reading of Fannie Lou Hamer’s 1964 speech, “I am Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired,” and emphasized themes of the speech that still resonate today.
- “Cross-Sectoral Approaches to Ending Gender-Based Violence: Art, Activism, and Research” focused on strategies and practices to eliminate gender-based violence, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- “Lessons from the Movement to Overturn Ireland’s Abortion Ban: The 8th Film Screening with Panel Discussion” concluded the series, illustrating how activists overturned the constitutional ban on abortion in Ireland, and the role of activists as documented by researchers and the filmmaker of “The 8th”.
Within the context of COVID-19, and the rise in antiracism protests in the US, each event offered an important reminder of the role of advocacy in creating change to improve gender and racial justice, especially during health emergencies.
“During this year of crisis, experienced by so many as disenfranchisement, racism, grief, uncertainty, and suffering, it felt particularly important to invoke the strength of collaborative, intergenerational, and interdisciplinary activism, and talk about how to build movements that create lasting social change,” shared Emily Maistrellis, Senior Program Officer for GHJG and a co-organizer of the series. “There is so much to learn from the sexual and reproductive health and rights movement(s), and we designed this series with the intention of celebrating some of the many achievements of the last 25 years, while also teasing out where there have been missed opportunities and setbacks, and reflecting on what our demands for the future should be.”
The series was co-sponsored and implemented in partnership with the Feminist and Women's Movement Action Plan (fwMAP), the Columbia Society of International Law (CSIL); the Columbia University Institute for the Study of Human Rights; the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, NY (NGO CSW/NY); RightsLink; and Soroptimist International. For more information about the series, click here.