1985 World Conference on Women
Nairobi, Kenya, July 15-26, 1985


The UN's Third World Conference on Women in Nairobi represented the culmination of ten years of work on gender empowerment. Attended by approximately 1,400 official delegates from 157 countries and 15,000 NGO representatives, the conference aimed to evaluate the progress made during UN Decade for Women and devise a new course of action for the advancement of women. While substantial progress had been made in the last ten years, it was clear that there was still a great deal to be done. Participants were especially vocal on the subject of violence against women, which they felt had not been given the attention it deserved. At the same time, many others believed that the conference needed to focus on finding ways to strengthen the role of women in Peace and Development initiatives. At the Nairobi conference, participants set their differences aside and awarded equal consideration to these interrelated and mutually reinforcing goals.

The Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies, adopted by the conference, provides a blueprint for action until 2000 that link the promotion and maintenance of peace to the eradication of violence against women throughout the broad spectrum of society. The document urges member states to take constitutional and legal steps to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, and tailor national strategies to facilitate the participation of women in efforts to promote peace and development. At the same time, it contains specific recommendations for gender empowerment in regard to health, education and employment.

The greatest achievement of the Nairobi conference is that, despite the acute differences dividing the 157 member states, representatives were able to find a common ground on all the issues addressed and unanimously adopt the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies.

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What happened after Nairobi?

• In December 1985, the UN General Assembly released a document on the Implementation of the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women. The strategies recommended, amongst other things, to create a greater awareness of the Forward-looking Strategies and the role of women in Peace and Development. Consequently, in 1986, the First World Survey on the Role of Women in Development was published followed by The World's Women: Trends and Statistics in 1991.

• The Nairobi conference revealed that women movements had grown in number and scope, and that they represented an international force for equality, peace and development. After Nairobi, women's movements began to emerge more frequently on the global scene. At the September 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo (ICPD), for instance, women's movements pushed for the recognition of women's health, education and rights as prerequisites for effective policies in population and development. In addition, many important recommendations for the advancement of women were made in the conference's Programme of Action. These recommended actions included the establishment of mechanisms for women's equal participation and equitable representation at all levels of the political process and public life, as well as the formulation of laws, programmes and policies to enable employees of both sexes to harmonize their family and work responsibilities.

• The storm initiated at Nairobi on the subject of violence against women did not dry out. The issue received further credence in June 1993 at the UN World Conference on Human Right s in Vienna, which led to the appointment of Radhika Coomaraswamy as the first Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women at the UN Human Rights Commission. Finally, on December 20 th 1993, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Key Outcomes:

The data presented by the United Nations to the delegations of Member States revealed that the improvements observed had benefited only a limited number of women. Thus, the Nairobi Conference was mandated to seek new ways of overcoming obstacles for achieving the objectives of the Decade: equality, development and peace. Three basic categories were established to measure the progress achieved: constitutional and legal measures; equality in social participation; equality in political participation and decision-making. The Nairobi Conference recognized that gender equality was not an isolated issue, but encompassed all areas of human activity. It was necessary for women to participate in all spheres, not only in those relating to gender.