The Committee heard reports by the Deputy Assistant Administrator of the UNDP, Thelma Awori, and the Director of UNIFEM, Noeleen Heyzer, on their activities on behalf of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
As the operational and catalytic fund within the United Nations system promoting women's empowerment, UNIFEM would work with women's organizations to find ways in which they could strengthen and use the Convention in their advocacy work, said the Director of UNIFEM. More specifically, she said the Fund would seek to provide technical assistance to, and build the capacity of, groups working on women's human rights.
Ms. Awori said the UNDP's commitment to the empowerment of women and elimination of discrimination had two major prongs: building country capacity among 134 nations to strengthen the enabling policy and legal framework for gender equality and improving women's access to assets and resources, including decision-making. Overcoming poverty was the most serious challenge confronting the majority of women around the world today, she said.
In follow-up comments experts stressed the crucial nature of the work of UNIFEM and the UNDP at a time when economic restructuring, loss of social services and a backlash against women's advancement threatened the overall situation of women.
The Committee will meet again at a time to be announced.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this afternoon to hear reports from the Director of UNIFEM and the Deputy Assistant Administrator of the UNDP on the implementation of article 21 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
At its tenth session, the Committee decided to provide, under an agenda item on implementation of article 21 of the Convention, opportunities for specialists from the specialized agencies and other United Nations bodies to present to the Committee in plenary information related to specific articles or to issues being considered for general recommendations and suggestions.
THELMA AWORI, Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Director of the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support of the UNDP said the Agency's commitment to the empowerment of women and elimination of discrimination had two major prongs: building country capacity to strengthen the policy and legal framework for gender equality; and improving women's access to assets and resources, including decision-making. Overcoming poverty was the most serious challenge confronting the majority of women around the world today. The Platform for Action adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) marked a major shift in the emphasis from women as reproductive agents, important in the social sphere to a more balanced emphasis which placed women as major economic actors in the national and global arenas.
That shift in policy had brought an increased demand for research and data on women and work, she continued. Strengthening the statistical base and database was essential for informing an enabling policy. The UNDP 1995 Human Development Report had provided a major conceptual breakthrough in the development paradigm and accounting systems that underlie the equalization of both paid and unpaid work done by women.
In attempting to bring people to the centre of development, the UNDP was challenging the exclusion of important economic factors for sustainable and balanced development, she continued. One such factor was social capital: a nation's stock of cooperation, trust, love, caring, networks and organizations, which if absent made a country unbearable to live in. Today, those factors had no economic value in economic policies. Women predominated in the "care economy", which tended to be unpaid or undervalued and which men tended to avoid because of its low status. By far the most valued principle was power, the male principle. Love was seen as "fluffy and weak". Those who exercised power were considered successful, but caring for families or the aged was not seen as a mark of success. Taking into full account the
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principles of the "care economy" for macroeconomic policy was difficult at present.
She said power unbalanced by love was the basis of hierarchy and the seed of civil and domestic violence -- nationally and globally. The UNDP had taken the first step in the long journey to bring human values into the economic equation. A small booklet entitled "Sustainable Human Development and Macroeconomics" was available in UNDP country offices and the Gender in Development Unit was supporting and promoting concepts to make the world a place in which women and men can live. The Agency was trying to give value to the "care economy" sectors in which women predominate.
NOELEEN HEYZER, Director of UNIFEM, said that its women's human rights programmes had focused on three main areas: mainstreaming women's human rights in the United Nations human rights mechanisms; the eradication of violence against women; and work around the Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee.
She stressed that the Committee was a critical instrument and area of work if the promotion and protection of women's human rights was to be achieved. In that regard, key objectives included increased coordination between United Nations organizations working to strengthen the Committee; the achievement of universal ratification of the Convention; support for the removal of reservations; strengthening the work of the Committee; and supporting the development of an optional protocol to the Convention.
As the operational and advocacy fund within the United Nations system which promoted women's empowerment, UNIFEM would work with women's organizations to promote ways in which they could strengthen and use the Convention in their advocacy work.
More specifically, she said UNIFEM would seek to provide technical assistance to, and build the capacity of, groups working on women's human rights. The Fund would facilitate the exchange of information between the Committee and non-governmental organizations, and support the participation of women's rights advocates in national, regional and international meetings. It would support dissemination of action-oriented information on the Convention and on the Committee to women's human rights groups and other agencies.
She said the Fund was in a unique position within the United Nations system to work with the non-governmental community and the Committee to mobilize support around the Convention. Due to the nature of its mandate, UNIFEM was often called upon in developing countries to serve as a broker and facilitator between women's organizations, national governments and other members of the United Nations system. The Fund thus worked with both women's
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groups and governments to enhance the ratification and implementation efforts being made with regard to the Committee.
She outlined a training programme initiated by UNIFEM involving women from countries which were presenting reports to the Committee. The women were given an intensive orientation and were allowed to observe the Committee in session. Several of the women also brought information provided by non- governmental organizations to the Committee.
An expert pointed out that the UNDP was working in 134 countries, some of whom had not ratified the Convention. The UNDP thus had an advocacy opportunity for ratification and for the removal of reservations by countries which had signed the treaty.
Another expert referred to the countries overdue on their reports -- some by as much as 15 years. Governments were also in need of guidance in the preparation of reports in order to provide adequate information to the Committee. Efforts by the UNDP to promote the value of women's work in the home were significant. That important work should not be put to the wrong use by States parties. The UNIFEM should be able to do for the Women's Convention what the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) was able to accomplish on behalf of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Education and information dissemination programmes were crucial to the promotion of the Convention and both the UNDP and UNIFEM were in key positions through their regional offices to accomplish such advocacy.
The economic restructuring, the loss of social welfare programmes and the backlash against women's equality had had a particularly devastating effect on the overall situation of women, an expert said. The work of UNIFEM and the UNDP thus became even more important to counter some of those negative effects.
Ms. AWORI said the UNDP was working to give support for women who were suffering under increasingly adverse economic conditions.
Ms. HEYZER said UNIFEM was a small and catalytic fund which invested its small resources in areas where it could effect significant change. The UNIFEM was working to build women's economic capacities to allow them to take advantage of new opportunities in a global economy. The basis for all the empowerment of women was the rights of women as contained in the Convention. Women needed to be involved in the creation of new institutions that were sensitive to women's needs.
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