Representatives of nearly every national government and thousands of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) gathered for a special session of the United Nations General Assembly, known officially as "Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-First Century" and informally as "Beijing +5." The weeklong session set out to evaluate what governments have done since the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing, when more than 180 countries endorsed a Platform for Action to empower the world's women.
Despite fears that the review process would end with a watered-down consensus on the Beijing platform, delegates in the end were able to agree to an "outcomes" document, which identifies new challenges and barriers to progress for women and outlines additional activities. At the same time, attempts to break new ground on issues of women's sexual and reproductive rights proved extremely contentious. Western and international women's groups pressed to expand the Beijing document's definitions of women's sexual rights to more clearly state, for instance, support for safe abortions, but their efforts faced strong opposition from a group of largely Islamic and Roman Catholic countries, as well as the Vatican. While virtually no progress was made on these specific issues, the outcomes document preserves language on the human rights of women, including that women have the "right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality" and should be able to do so "free of coercion, discrimination and violence." The final document also recognizes the rapid progression of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and its devastating impact on women.
While delegates were meeting at the United Nations, more than 1,000 women and men participated in a full day of NGO-led workshops and performances entitled "Focus on Women's Health Around the World." During the opening keynote, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala spoke of the importance of health—including reproductive health—in the broader Beijing agenda. "When women have the power to make their own choices about family planning...then, and only then, will they have the tools they need to keep themselves and their families healthy."