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Nearly 50,000 people - more than two-thirds of them women - travelled to China from all over the world to participate in the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing (Sept. 4&shyp;15, 1995), and the parallel NGO Forum on Women held in Huairou (Aug. 30 through Sept. 8, 1995). They came carrying the hopes and concerns of the 2.8 billion women and girls who constitute half of humanity. The final document of the conference, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, was unanimously adopted by the 181 UN member states present, and more than 100 countries and most UN organizations made specific commitments to its implementation.

The world now has an ambitious blueprint to enhance the social, economic and political empowerment of women; improve their health; advance their education and training; promote their marital and sexual rights; and end gender-based violence.

Mental health issues had unprecedented visibility at the UN Conference and NGO Forum. In the first draft of the platform, in 1992, there was virtually no language on mental health or provision for psychological counseling for women in distress. NGO representatives in New York, especially in the World Federation for Mental Health and ISTSS, had worked for three years leading up to this conference to have mental health concerns included in relevant sections of the platform (all forms of violence against women; impact of armed or other kinds of conflict on women; international trafficking; burdens of poverty and programs for poor women; needs of migrant, refugee and displaced women; special concerns of the girl child). These issues were promoted through lobbying governments, recommending new language on mental health for the platform and interacting with other nongovernmental organizations. The efforts contributed to the inclusion of important language on mental health issues in the final Platform for Action.

At the recent UN General Assembly meeting in the fall of 1995, many discussions focused on effective follow-up. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali appointed Assistant Secretary-General Rosario Green to oversee the implementation of the Beijing provisions concerning the UN.

During the 40th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, March 11&shyp;22, 1996, implementation of strategic objectives and action in the critical areas of concern were again discussed. A preliminary report of government efforts to implement the Platform for Action six months after Beijing shows progress. For example, interministerial commissions are being established in many countries and concrete national initiatives may be expected to follow.

Legislation is being introduced in a number of countries. In the United States, Congresswomen endorsed a "Contract with Women in the USA," which summarizes key parts of the Platform most relevant to women living in the United States. An interagency Council to coordinate implementation was established, chaired by Donna Shalala, head of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Yet, monitoring progress will be a difficult job. Change is likely to come only incrementally, and only where advocates, in most cases nongovernmental organizations, fight existing practices, laws and customs.