UNITED NATIONS (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - World leaders on Monday pledged to ramp up action to achieve gender equality by 2030, but some women's rights activists were impatient with new promises after sluggish progress made in the past 20 years.
Women and girls have come a long way in some areas, such as health and education, since the signing of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995.
But progress overall has been uneven and even stagnant in other sectors, such as employment, according to officials and representatives gathered at the United Nations for the 59th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
In 1995, 189 nations at the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing signed the landmark document calling for the "full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life."
"Progress remains unacceptably [slow], and our gains are not irreversible," said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during the CSW opening session.
"Even at this time, there are five countries in the world where not a single woman is represented in Parliament, and eight countries in the world where not a single woman is a cabinet member," he said.
Signatories to the 2015 declaration agreed to increase investment in women's empowerment, strengthen the implementation of laws protecting women and girls and stamp out discriminatory norms as well as put more resources into the gathering of data to track progress, among other things.
A record 1,100 NGOs and 8,600 representatives registered at CSW, which runs through March 20, will review progress made in implementing the Beijing recommendations.
A report published this week by the Secretary-General's office highlighted areas of stagnation and regression in women's rights, and said that no country had yet achieved full gender equality.
In his speech, Ban said women continue to suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change, conflict, discrimination and economic malaise.
Violence against women "persists at alarmingly high levels," with one in three women saying they had experienced violence in their lifetime, according to the report.
"This year is our opportunity to finish the unfinished business of Beijing (and) make transformational change possible for all women and girls," said the head of the United Nations Development Program Helen Clark.
Women's rights activists also took to the U.N. stage Monday and voiced concern at the limited progress made since the Beijing Declaration.
"The overwhelming lack of political commitment and financial resources, plain old sexism and misogyny, along with increasing religious fundamentalisms have affected the quality of the agreements produced by governments within the U.N. and at other levels," said Lydia Alpizar, executive director of the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID).
Alpizar said the text of this year's political declaration was "weak" and she asked for greater inclusion of civil society in setting the women's rights agenda.
Her remarks echoed concerns raised by other women's rights groups ahead of CSW, which branded the U.N. set of commitments as "bland."
"This is the moment when we must have all resources needed - the political commitment and the action - to achieve real transformations," said Alpizar.
Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Lisa Anderson