1980 World Conference on Women
Copenhagen, July 14-30, 1980

(Adopted on 11 December 1980 by the General Assembly at its 35th session)

There was a general consensus that significant progress had been made as representatives of 145 Member States met in Copenhagen in 1980 for the second world conference on women to review and appraise the 1975 World Plan of Action. Governments and the international community had made strides toward achieving the targets set out in Mexico City five years earlier.

An important milestone had been the adoption by the General Assembly in December 1979 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, one of the most powerful instruments for women's equality. The Convention, which has been termed "the bill of rights for women", now legally binds 165 States, which have become States parties and obligates them to report within one year of ratification, and subsequently every four years, on the steps they have taken to remove obstacles they face in implementing the Convention. An Optional Protocol to the Convention, enabling women victims of sex discrimination to submit complaints to an international treaty body, was opened for signature on Human Rights Day, 10 December 1999. Upon its entry into force, it will put the Convention on an equal footing with other international human rights instruments having individual complaints procedures.

Despite the progress made, the Copenhagen Conference recognized that signs of disparity were beginning to emerge between rights secured and women's ability to exercise these rights. To address this concern, the Conference pinpointed three areas where specific, highly focused action was essential if the broad goals of equality, development and peace, identified by the Mexico City Conference, were to be reached. These three areas were equal access to education, employment opportunities and adequate health care services.

The deliberations at the Copenhagen Conference took place in the shadow of political tensions, some of them carried over from the Mexico City Conference. Nevertheless, the Conference came to a close with the adoption of a Programme of Action, albeit not by consensus, which cited a variety of factors for the discrepancy between legal rights and women's ability to exercise these rights, including:

• Lack of sufficient involvement of men in improving women's role in society;

• Insufficient political will;

• Lack of recognition of the value of women's contributions to society;

• Lack of attention to the particular needs of women in planning;

• A shortage of women in decision-making positions;

• Insufficient services to support the role of women in national life, such as co-operatives, day-care centres and credit facilities;

• Overall lack of necessary financial resources;

• Lack of awareness among women about the opportunities available to them.

To address these concerns, the Copenhagen Programme of Action called for, among other things, stronger national measures to ensure women's ownership and control of property, as well as improvements in women's rights to inheritance, child custody and loss of nationality. Delegates at the Conference also urged an end to stereotyped attitudes towards women.



Report of the World Conference of the United Nations
Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace,
held in Copenhagen from 14 to 30 July 1980, A/CONF.94/35:

Paragraph 33. In accordance with their obligations under the Charter to maintain peace and security and to achieve international cooperation in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, bearing in mind, in this respect, the right to live in peace, States should help women to participate in promoting international cooperation for the sake of the preparation of societies for a life in peace.

Paragraph 76. Women of the entire world should participate in the broadest way in the struggle to strengthen international peace and security, to broaden international cooperation and develop friendly relations among nations, to achieve detente in international relations and disarmament, to establish a new economic order in international relations, to promote guarantees of fundamental freedoms and human rights

Paragraph 77. Solidarity campaigns with women struggling against colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, racial discrimination and apartheid and for national independence and liberation should be intensified; such women should receive all possible assistance, including support from agencies of the United Nations system as well as other organizations.

Paragraph 78. The efforts of intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations to strengthen international peace and security should be intensified in every way. The active participation of women in the activities of such organizations should be supported.

Domestic and sexual violence

The Report of the World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace, Copenhagen, July 1980, U.N. Doc A/CONF.94/35 (80.IV.30), was the first time domestic violence was explicitly mentioned in an official document of the United Nations. Domestic violence is referred to several times in the document. The Legislative Measures section states:

Legislation should also be enacted and implemented in order to prevent domestic and sexual violence against women. All appropriate measures, including legislative ones, should be taken to allow victims to be fairly treated in all criminal procedures.

• Ratification and implementation of CEDAW

• Enact legislation guaranteeing women the right to vote, to be elected or appointed to political office, and to exercise public functions on equal terms with men

• Legislation to accelerate full and equal participation of women and to eliminate existing inequalities between women and men

• Provision of counseling and legal aid for women for effective legal protection

• Distribute information about apartheid and racism and its effects on women in S. Africa in particular, and involve all women in efforts to eradicate apartheid and racism, and to promote and maintain peace

• Reject as inhuman all policies that perpetuate apartheid, racial segregation, or any other ideologies based on theories that racial groups are inherently superior or inferior

• Sever all ties with apartheid regimes and widely distribute information on the effects of apartheid

Key Outcomes:

This Conference recognized that there was a disparity between women's guaranteed rights and their capacity to exercise them. Participants identified three spheres in which measures for equality, development and peace were needed: Equal access to education; Equal access to employment opportunities; Equal access to adequate health care services.