United Nations Strategic Bridges

This section explains the United Nations Strategic Bridges initiative that aimed to unite the women’s sport advocacy movement using United Nations networks and to build stronger links with the global women’s movement. It includes the initial 1999 outline of the initiative, followed by a 2003 update.

Report: WSI, IAPESGW, IWG, and the Global Women’s Sport Advocacy Community
From: Carole A. Oglesby, WSI President and Elizabeth Darlison, WSI Secretary General
April 8, 1999

RE: United Nations Strategic Bridges

The recent Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meetings at the United Nations (March 1 to 19) confirmed completely the importance of the integration of the global women’s sport advocacy movement into the women’s movement spearheaded by the United Nations-oriented structures. This integration is, of course, much more difficult to achieve than it may appear. Women involved in sport advocacy are often isolated, under-resourced, and completely engrossed in struggles of their own; in a sport, country, or region. Women in the general women’s movement often do not understand the importance of sport, exercise, physicality in the lives of women, and view our issues as “frivolous” in the great order of concerns.

If we are to maximize the potential for women to become involved in, and enjoy, the many benefits of a physically active lifestyle we need to:

  1. Use recognized and effective structures such as the United Nations to develop stronger links with the global women’s movement.
  2. Develop more effective global, regional, and national networks, particularly through the NGO movement, to link with our global women’s sport and physical activity movement.
  3. Articulate clearly, and lobby effectively for, the benefits of sport and physical activity in women’s lives.

Using the United Nations networks, especially the 4th World Conference on Women with its “Beijing Platform for Action” (PFA), as a springboard, this strategy paper identifies some of the ways in which we can achieve these objectives.

The first United Nations International Year for Women was in 1975. This was also the first year of the four global conferences for women sponsored by the United Nations – Mexico City 1975, Copenhagen 1980 (the mid-decade conference), Nairobi 1985, and Beijing 1995. Beijing was by far the biggest conference with over 40,000 NGO representatives meeting together to strengthen networks, develop strategy, and lobby governments to improve the status and rights of women worldwide.

The aim of the United Nations Women’s Conferences is to produce an internationally agreed set of standards and principles, and an action plan for implementation. The action plan to come out of the 4th World Conference in Beijing is called the “Platform for Action.”
Preparation for a United Nation Women’s Conference usually requires a minimum of two years work during which the agenda objectives and the scope of the conference are determined by the 185 Member States of the United Nations. This process involves national and regional level meetings, expert group meetings, data gathering, and drafting position papers, all of which are fed into the global discussions.

Nongovernment (NGO) networks are a crucial part of the preparation process. For the Beijing conference, NGO’s were extremely well prepared. Information which was the result of meetings of “grass roots” women in villages through to national and regional expert meetings was all fed into an “NGO Draft Platform for Action” which was then used to influence and change what became the “official” government PFA. The majority of the government lobbying, the debating, and the setting of the content and language of the “action” (e.g., PFA) document occurs before the actual conference itself, at the last Preparatory Conference (PrepCon).

The final preparatory conference for the Beijing Conference was held at United Nations headquarters in New York. At the New York PrepCon, (organized in much the same way as the conference itself) the basic structure, form, and language of the Platform for Action was determined, leaving only the more contentious issues to be debated and voted upon by governments at Beijing.

Sport, Physical Activity, and the Platform for Action (PFA)
The Beijing Platform for Action was the first declaration from any United Nations Women’s Conference to explicitly include statements concerning sport and physical activity. At the New York PrepCon 1995, a small contingent worked on behalf of the inclusion of these statements: Pendukeni Ivula-Ithana, representing both the Namibian government and the International Working Group; and NGO representatives Marg McGregor (Executive Director CAAWS – the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport) and Elizabeth Darlison (Secretary General WSI, WomenSport International). These individuals managed to secure the support of both government delegates and nongovernment representatives outside sport, to ensure that sport and physical activity were included in the PFA.

At the Beijing government conference, the wording of the statements was confirmed and immediately prior to the government conference in Beijing, NGO-oriented workshops were given by representatives from the Women’s Sports Foundation, the Muslim Women’s Sports Organization, and the Chinese Women’s Sports Federation. The International Olympic Committee also sent a delegation to the Beijing Conference.

Statements on Sport and Physical Activity in the PFA
Critical area of concern – Education and training of women
Strategic Objective B4 – Develop nondiscriminatory education and training
83(m) Provide accessible recreational and sports facilities and establish and strengthen gender-sensitive programmes for girls and women of all ages in education and community institutions and support the advancement of women in all areas of athletics and physical activity, including coaching, training, and administration, and as participants at the national, regional, and international levels.

Critical area of concern – Women and health
Strategic Objective C2 – Strengthen preventative programs that promote women’s health
107(f) Create and support programs in the education system, in the workplace and in the community to make opportunities to participate in sport, physical activity, and recreation available to girls and women of all ages on the same basis as they are made available to men and boys.

Critical area of concern – The girl child
Objective L4 – Eliminate discrimination against girls in education and science
280(d) Promote the full and equal participation of girls in extra curricula activities such as sports, drama, and cultural activities

Other statements in the Platform either mention physical activity in a certain context or have strong implications for sport and physical activity:


  1. Strategic objective: Women and health (101) “. . . The long-term health prospects of women are influenced by changes at menopause, which, in combination with life-long conditions and other factors such as poor nutrition and lack of physical activity;
  2. Strategic objective: Women and health (106) Give particular attention to the needs of girls, especially the promotion of health behavior, including physical activities;
  3. Strategic objective G2: Increase women’s capacity to participate in decision-making and leadership (195a) Provide leadership and self-esteem training . . . To strengthen (their) self-esteem and encourage (them to take) decision-making positions.
  4. Strategic objective B4: Develop nondiscriminatory education and training (83h) Develop leadership and train opportunities for all women to encourage them to take leadership roles both as students and as adults in civil society.

Beijing + Five
Although another mid decade United Nations Women’s Conference has not been organized for the year 2000, preparations are underway for a United Nations General Session focused on a comprehensive 5-year review and appraisal of the Platform for Action and other emerging issues – Beijing + Five. Beijing + Five will be in New York (June 5-9, 2000). A major NGO gathering will be held at the same time as the United Nations Government Sessions in order to review and assess the implementation by governments of the Platform (see pp. 3-4 for details of government reporting processes, preparatory meetings, and the like).

To influence the outcome of Beijing + Five with regard to a higher profile for sport and physical activity, the process of influencing governments needs to begin as soon as possible. The suggested strategy for undertaking this task is set out in this paper.

Where to From Here?
To promote greater global involvement of girls and women in all areas of sport and physical activity we will need to work in a coordinated and organization-focused way towards the achievement of three key objectives:

  1. To build support within both governments and the NGO community for the current planks (statements) within the Platform;
  2. To make explicit the contribution of sport and physical activity to other existing planks in the Platform;
  3. To prepare the ground for the addition of future planks.

We suggest that there are two basic strategy steps which, if completed effectively, will ensure that we achieve these objectives:

Step 1
The first step can be accomplished by coordination between WSI and the rest of our community. An “amplified PFA” is now being prepared. To this end we are collecting data and writing summaries in order to create a document in which, following PFA planks that either include sport/exercise or have an implication relating to sport/exercise, a summary of research and implications will be supplied. We are optimistic about obtaining funding for the attractive publication and distribution of this document. This amplified PFA will provide “talking points” for women’s sport advocates to utilize as they approach governmental representatives and others from the worlds of sport, business, and sister organizations in the general women’s movement.

Not only will it be important for us all to take this amplified PFA to the widest possible audience. It will be enormously helpful if members of our advocacy community contribute to the document itself. We encourage you to gain access to the PFA (if you have not already) and scrutinize each plank for possible “sport/exercise” contributions. If you have ideas along this line, please contact Carole. We will make certain that you are appropriately credited for any contributions to the amplified PFA.

To summarize, Step 1 involves the creation of this “amplified PFA” and lobbying and advocacy by all of us to the widest possible outside communities. The intended effect, of course, is to make clear (where it is not now) that sport and physical activity make a significant contribution to the general advancement and empowerment of women.

Step 2
The governments of the 185 United Nations member states have been sent a questionnaire this year which is intended to examine the progress and implementation of PFA. This questionnaire is extensive, some 10 pages in length, and can be viewed at the following website: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/followup/question.htm

For more information see

These government reports are to be submitted to the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) by April 30, 1999 and, ostensibly, will be made public thereafter. These submissions, and other documents and reports, will be utilized over the next 12 months to prepare for the two important United Nations events in New York City next year: PrepCon for Women 2000/Beijing + Five (women’s groups own preparations for the June United Nations meeting) and Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly-Women 2000/Beijing + Five (June 5 to 9).

The United Nations Division for the Advancement for Women has indicated very clearly that they would like to encourage nongovernmental organizations, including women’s groups and other organizations of civil society, to contribute to all aspects of the preparatory process leading up to Beijing + Five. Despite this, at recent United Nation meetings Carole attended all the NGO’s were very concerned that their own governments would either not cover what should be reported, report erroneously, or fail to report at all. Plans are already underway to both study the working papers’ governments have prepared and to correct and expand them for next year’s meetings. The term “shadow report” is used to denote the NGO version of the official reports. The “shadow reports” will be developed by geographic national and regional bodies as well as “content area” groups (e.g., women and violence, women in business, health . . . and sport?). We, in the sport advocacy community, need to become integrally involved in the networking around these “shadow reports.”

Subtask 2.1 Encourage our membership in every country to gain access and study their own country submission; add, modify, and correct sport/exercise information.

Subtask 2.2 Encourage efforts to network with United Nations regional bodies involved in the material and strategy development leading to the March and June meetings. Regional bodies identified in the New York City meetings follow. There are others and we will pass information along as soon as we can obtain it. These United Nations regional meetings are open only to accredited delegates. We will have to be in contact with delegates to these meetings in advance of the meetings themselves.

African Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Addis Ababa November 23-26. Mid-decade review of progress in Beijing and DaKar PFA public/private, cross-sectional dialogue. NGO may attend. Contact jonssonk.uneca@un.org.

Economic Commission for Latin American and Caribbean (ECLAC) 8th Regional Conference in 2000

Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP) meets October 26-29, 1999 in Bangkok. Contact United Nations Building, Rajadamnern Nok Ave., Bangkok 10200. Email: Kruavanichkit.unescap@un.org.

Economic and Social Commission Western Asia ESCWS plans meeting in 1999

Eastern Europe meeting under sponsorship of Ford Foundation

Subtask 2.3 The United Nations, and other international bodies’, women’s groups to be approached by WSI, IAPESGW, and IWG to intercede on behalf of women’s sport advocacy. Personally, we believe if this is the “first level” of our involvement (i.e., Steps 1 and 2.1 and 2.2 do not materialize) this must be regarded as “last ditch” at best. We will be strikingly more successful if we can, for once, make our presence felt at local, national, and regional meetings.

A general timeline was established by the NGO’s in New York City:

  • May – September: NGO shadow reports developed;
  • September – December: Regional United Nations meetings and reviews;
  • December – February: Central NGO coordination through International Women’s Tribune Center and other bodies;
  • March 2000, PrepCon: Final strategy developed;
  • June: NGO “Gathering” simultaneous to United Nations General Session – same time and place as United Nations session but much smaller in scope.

If we are to be effective as we carry out steps 1 and 2, we must let one another know about each success and failure. Perhaps we can agree informally, that all individual and national/regional level reports will be directed to one’s “mother organization” (WSI, IAPESGW, IWG). Carole will be the point person for WSI. The point person in each of these organizations will need to supply periodic and relatively frequent (say once a month or every other) compiled reports to the other two organizations.

WSI is prepared to coordinate the process described herein and, on the basis of the information received, to draft a final document to be presented, under the auspices of the global NGO network for women’s sport and physical activity, at PrepCon 2000 in New York in March 2000.

We hope this paper has been reasonably clear. Please contact Carole to clarify any points, to offer ideas and support, or suggest modifications and of course with reports of progress (or lack of it).

If would be very powerful if we could work together towards Beijing + Five. We may then be really ready to build the bridges we have spoken about so often, and to travel upon them.

Carole A. Oglesby, PhD
Pearson Hall, Temple University
Philadelphia, Pa. USA 19122
The Beijing Platform for Action (Table of Contents and Link to pdf)


STRATEGIC BRIDGES – Continuing dialogues

Carole A. Oglesby, 2003

A summary of the treaty-based language providing bases for the governmental,/civil society focus on exercise/ sport/ physical activity and girls and women’s development.


Beijing Platform for Action- 1995
• Strategic Objective B4-Education and training of women
83(m) Provide accessible recreational and sports facilities and establish and strengthen gender sensitive programs for girls and women of all ages in educational and community institutions and support the advancement of women in all areas of athletics and physical activity including coaching, training and administration and as participants at national, regional and international levels.

• Strategic Objective C2-Preventive programs to promote women’s health
107(f) Create and support programs in the education system, in the workplace, and in community to make opportunities to participate in sport, physical activity, and recreation available to girls and women of all ages on the same basis as they are made available to boys and men.

• Strategic Objective L4-Eliminate discrimination against girls in education
280(d) Promote the full and equal participation of girls in extra curricular activities such as sports, drama, and cultural activities.

Commission on the Status of Women/Division for the Advancement of Women (2000).

Agreed conclusions on the critical areas of concern of the Beijing PFA, United Nations Publication, New York, New York.

Pg. 85 Education and empowerment of the girl-child
“Review teaching materials, including textbooks, to promote the self-esteem of women and girls through more positive self-images and revise these materials, highlighting women’s effective role in society including in decision-making, development, culture, history, sports and other social, political and economic endeavors”.

Pg. 89 Labor and the girl-child
“ Ensure that girls who work have access to education and vocational training, health, food, shelter, and recreation on equal and favorable conditions, and are protected form economic exploitation, sexual harassment and abuse in the work place”.

Pg. 95 Women and health
(h) “Adopt preventive and promotional health policies at an early stage where possible in order to prevent health problems and dependence of older women and enable them to lead independent and healthy lives”.
(k) “Encourage women to practice regular sport and recreational activities which have a positive impact on women’s health, well-being and fitness throughout the lifecycle, and ensure that women enjoy equal opportunities to practice sport, use sport facilities and take part in competitions”.

4(b) “ Develop effective preventive and remedial health services to provide appropriate counseling and treatment for mental disorders related to stress, depression, powerlessness, marginalization, and trauma since women and girls may suffer more from these ailments resulting from various forms of discrimination, violence and sexual exploitation, particularly in situations of armed conflict and displacement”. Cite below

Pg. 99
4(f) “Support research on the relationship between girls and women’s physical and mental health, self-esteem and the extent to which women of all ages are valued in their societies in order to address issues such as eating disorders and substance abuse”.

Beijing +5, CSW/DAW 2000

Pg 67, 138(a)
“Promote programs for healthy active aging that stress independence, equality, participation and security of older women and undertake gender-specific research and programs to address these needs”.

Stuhlmiller, C. (1994) “Action-based therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder”, In M. Williams & J. Sommers, (Eds), Handbook of post-traumatic therapy. Westport, Ct. Greenwood Press.