27/02/2006
Economic and Social Council
WOM/1539

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on the Status of Women

Fiftieth Session

2nd & 3rd Meetings* (AM & PM)


NO TOOL FOR DEVELOPMENT MORE EFFECTIVE THAN EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN, SAYS


DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL , AS WOMEN’S COMMISSION OPENS 50TH SESSION


Speakers Highlight Commission’s Critical Role

In Shaping Women’s Progress Since 1946 Inception


Following six decades of United Nations efforts to promote the advancement of women, the international community was starting to grasp that there was no tool for development more effective, than the empowerment of women, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette told the Commission on the Status of Women, as it opened its fiftieth session this morning.


During its two-week session, which is due to conclude on 10 March, the 45-member Commission of the Economic and Social Council will focus on two substantive themes, namely the enhanced participation of women in development and equal participation of women in decision-making processes.


Marking a milestone for the United Nations, Ms. Fréchette said this year’s historic session of the Commission demonstrated the critical role the Commission had played since 1946 in shaping women’s progress at the global and national levels, including by helping to develop legal measures and raising awareness of the challenges confronting women worldwide.  From Mexico to Copenhagen and from Nairobi to Beijing, the Commission had generated momentum for change and had sustained that momentum.  It had also been the catalyst for bringing a women’s prospective into the work of the United Nations.


The Commission had not only moved with the times, but was ahead of the times, she added.  Ten years after Beijing, the world community still had a far way to go regarding women’s actual representation at the highest levels of national and international leadership, including at the United Nations itself. Yet, the world was beginning to understand that women were every bit as affected as any man by the challenges of the twenty-first century, and so, therefore, should be equally engaged in all decision-making.


Economic and Social Council President Ali Hachani ( Tunisia) noted that the Commission had played a catalyzing role in integrating gender equality in the economic and social sectors, helping to emphasize the synergies among the Council’s technical commissions.  A prime objective of the Economic and Social Council reform effort was to strengthen it as the central mechanism for follow-up of the outcomes of major United Nations conferences and summits.  The Commission on the Status of Women was vital in that regard.  Implementation of the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action was essential for attaining development objectives, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration.  If 2005 was the year of commitments made, 2006 should be the year of application, he added.


Rachel N. Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, recalled that, when the Commission had been created in 1946, the world, after the Second World War, had been in the throes of radical change.  At its first session in February 1947, the new world had called on the Commission, not only to raise the status of women, but also to ensure that women played an equal role in building a free, prosperous and moral society.  The Commission had come a long way since then.  Women had made remarkable achievements in the last 60 years.  The fiftieth session heralded the start of a new awakening and should, as such, mark the dawn of a new era in making the next decade of women’s empowerment one of implementation and determined action.


Gender inequality and pervasive gender discrimination could not be reversed by a handful of promising practices and successes, Noeleen Heyzer, the Executive Director of United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), said.  If gender equality was central to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, it must also be central to the institutional arrangements for United Nations reform and the commitments to convert aid effectiveness into development effectiveness.  That did not mean merging women’s entities into greater bureaucracy and invisibility at a time when they were most needed.  Powerhouses were needed to provide the energy and direction for gender equality and women’s empowerment within the United Nations, Governments, civil society and the private sector.  The houses that women built could become those powerhouses, she said.


Carolyn Hannan, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women and Rosario Manalo, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women also made statements in the morning session.


The representatives of Austria (on behalf of the European Union), South Africa (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Sweden, Italy, Nigeria, Antigua and Barbuda, Indonesia, Namibia, the United Republic of Tanzania, El Salvador and China also spoke.


Two parallel roundtables were held in the afternoon on the theme “Incorporating gender perspectives into national development strategies, as requested at the 2005 World Summit, for achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including Millennium Development Goals”.  In the two discussions, speakers representing both Governments and non-governmental organizations described the huge gap remaining between policy and practice.  While many gender mainstreaming policies existed, implementation lagged.  Describing a kind of “policy evaporation”, many speakers emphasized the need for Governments to be held accountable for their development commitments, including the goal of women’s empowerment.


At the outset of today’s meeting, Commission Chairperson, Carmen Maria Gallardo (El Salvador) recalled that at the first meeting of the fiftieth session, held in March 2005, the Commission had elected a new Bureau for a two-year term.  At that meeting, the appointment of the Vice-Chairperson-cum-Rapporteur had been deferred.  To fill that position, the Commission elected Dicky Komar ( Indonesia) to serve for the Commission’s fifty-first and fifty-second sessions.


In other business, the Commission approved the nominations of Nadjeh Baaziz ( Algeria), Westmorland Palon ( Malaysia) and Hedda Samson ( Netherlands) to serve on its Working Group on Communications for the fiftieth session.  It also adopted its agenda and draft work programme for the current session and reviewed other organizational matters.


The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again Tuesday, 28 February at 10 a.m. to hold two panel discussions on the themes of the session.


Background


The Commission on the Status of Women met today to begin its fiftieth session.  During its two-week session, the Commission will focus on two substantive themes: “Enhanced participation of women in development: an enabling environment for achieving gender equality and the advancement of women, taking into account, inter alia, the fields of education, health and work”; and “Equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes at all levels”.


(For background on the current session, see Press Release WOM/1538 issued on 24 February.)


Statements


CARMEN MARIA GALLARDO ( El Salvador), Chairperson of the Commission, welcomed all ministers, heads of delegations and heads of national machineries for gender equality, representatives from Governments and representatives from the United Nations system.  She also welcomed representatives of civil society, including non-governmental organizations and networks, attending the Commission.  Their involvement and support at the national and international levels continued to be of critical importance to the Commission’s work in efforts to achieve full and accelerated implementation of the goals and objectives of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the outcome of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly. 


The strengthening of a gender perspective in the various programmes of the United Nations system constituted an important element of the ongoing reform within the Organization, she said.  The Commission, for its part, continued to be the catalyst in those efforts.  Since the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, the Commission had systematically monitored the 12 principle areas of concern.  It had focused its attention on, among other things, the human rights of women, the elimination of violence against women, the eradication of poverty among women and the role of men and boys in guaranteeing equality.  This year, the Commission had organized a panel of experts on the gender dimension of international migration, which would provide input to the Economic and Social Council’s high-level dialogue on international migration and development, to be held in September.  The Commission would also seek to promote closer cooperation with the other subsidiary bodies of the Council.


She emphasized the importance of the participation of non-governmental organizations and their contribution to the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcome of the Assembly’s twenty-third special session.  A few days ago, the members of the Commission had engaged in dialogue with the non-governmental organization community in New York.  The process of global transformation and the revitalization of the United Nations required the assistance of all Member States, in particular that of women.  While efforts at the international level had led to some progress, there were important goals and commitments to be achieved and assumed.  The current session, commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment of the Commission, represented a new stage for the international community.  The Commission would continue to raise its voice to ensure that the importance of promoting the rights of women was recognized.


Deputy Secretary-General LOUISE FRÉCHETTE said she was delighted to be at today’s historic session.  Sixty years ago, the Commission had been established as a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council.  The fiftieth session marked a milestone for the United Nations.  Over the past six decades, the Commission had played a critical role in shaping women’s progress at the global and national levels, including by helping to develop legal measures and raising awareness of the challenges confronting women worldwide.  The Commission’s work had also paved the way for the General Assembly to adopt, in 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.  That landmark treaty had now been ratified by 181 countries and had become a crucial tool in the struggle to improve the conditions for women everywhere.  It had also laid the groundwork for the adoption, in 2000, of the Convention’s Optional Protocol.  Today, women in some 70 countries could use that tool to seek remedies for violations of their rights.


She said the Commission had also played a pivotal role, from Mexico to Copenhagen and from Nairobi to Beijing, by helping to generate momentum for change and by helping to keep that momentum going.  The Commission had also been the catalyst for bringing a women’s perspective into the United Nations work.  Working in partnership with civil society organizations, it had provided a forum for women to meet, share experiences and sustain networks so essential for achieving change.  The Commission had not only moved with the times, but was also ahead of the times.  The two themes the Commission would be discussing were central to women’s programmes around the world.  Ten years after Beijing, the world community still had a far way to go regarding women’s actual representation at the highest levels of national and international leadership, including at the United Nations itself.


Concluding, she said the international community as a whole was beginning to understand that women were every bit as affected as any man by the challenges of the twenty-first century, and so, therefore, should be engaged in the decision-making processes in equal strength and numbers.  The world also understood that there was no tool more effective for development, than the empowerment of women and girls, and that there was no other policy as sure to improve nutrition and health, and to increase the chances of education for the next generation.  World leaders had given voice to those principles at the 2005 World Summit.  Progress for women was progress for all.  She was confident that the Commission’s current session would be used to reinvigorate efforts for women around the world.


ALI HACHANI ( Tunisia), President of the Economic and Social Council, said that, throughout the past years, the Council had not only facilitated progress between the genders, but had also helped to favour the cause of women around the world.  He was sure that, in the future, the Commission would continue to help solve problems in the economic and social fields.  This year was an important one for the Council, as it commenced a historic reform process, to create a more effective Council -- the principal body responsible for concerted efforts and for formulating recommendations on matters of social and economic importance.  A prime objective of the reform effort was to strengthen the Economic and Social Council as the central mechanism for follow-up of the outcomes of major United Nations conferences and summits.  A reformed Council would recognize that it was up to the technical commissions to examine the progress achieved in the follow-up to those conferences.  The Commission on the Status of Women was vital in that regard.


He noted that the Commission would adopt a new work programme for the next several years.  The catalyzing role played by the Commission in integrating gender equality in the economic and social sectors, helped to emphasize the synergy existing among the Council’s technical commissions.  Horizontal cooperation among the various commissions strengthened the capacity of the Council to deal with a range of intersectoral subjects.  The two thematic topics for the Commission’s current session would lead to interesting results for the other substantive bodies.  Equality in decision-making between men and women was essential for good governance.  Also, the strengthened participation of women in the areas of education, health and employment was also relevant for the work of the other commissions.  The current session’s recommendations would be of great use for the Commission for Social Development and the Commission on Population and Development.  The application of the results of Beijing was essential for attaining development objectives, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration.  If 2005 was the year of commitments made, 2006 should be the year of application, he stated.


RACHEL N. MAYANJA, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, recalled that the Economic and Social Council had created the Commission in 1946, when the world, after the Second World War, had been in the throes of its most radical change, aimed at saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war.  The new world had called on the Commission, at its first session in February 1947, not only to raise the status of women, but also to ensure that women could play an equal role in building a free, healthy, prosperous and moral society.  The Commission had come a long way since then.  During the past 60 years, women of the world had made remarkable gains.  Joining forces with Governments, the dynamic world women’s movement and international organizations, the Commission had worked hard to bring women’s advancement and empowerment to the centre of the United Nations quest for peace, development and human rights.  Today, gender equality was at the heart of the Organization’s mission.


It was, therefore, not surprising that, in September 2005, in the face of the multiple threats of the globalized environment, including extreme poverty, deadly pandemics and terrorism, the World Summit had brought Heads of State and Government together in reaffirming their commitment to the full and effective implementation of the goals of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action as an essential contribution to achieving internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.  The Commission must be encouraged by that confidence, while, at the same time, being candid in its assessment.  No country had fully implemented the recommendations of the Platform for Action, nor had any society reached the full, de facto, equality for women.


She challenged the Commission to think how Member States, United Nations entities and civil society organizations could turn to implementation of global commitments for gender equality, using the current momentum of United Nations reform to further advance gender equality.  The Commission should examine how to better reflect those commitments in a new multi-year programme of work for 2007-2009, to be adopted by the Commission.  The Commission might also wish to reflect on its working methods, to further enhance its effectiveness and contribute to real changes at the country level.  In that regard, it might wish to strategically use interactive events, ensure sustained focus on key issues, explore, more in depth, emerging issues and introduce policy and review sessions.


The Summit Outcome and the ongoing reform of the United Nations offered fresh opportunities to intensify implementation of global commitments to women, she said.  While the full implementation of the Beijing Platform should remain the ultimate goal, a fully implemented and engendered Summit Outcome would usher in a new era for the empowerment and advancement of women.  Thanks to the dynamic efforts of delegations, United Nations entities and civil society, unprecedented attention had been paid to gender equality in the preparations for the Summit.  The Summit Outcome had reaffirmed and updated gender-related commitments contained in the Millennium Declaration, by committing the world’s leaders to the full implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.


Reviewing the major decisions of the Summit for possible entry points for gender, she said the Outcome had placed a strong emphasis on development.  Reform of the Economic and Social Council was particularly important for the Commission’s work, as one of the Council’s functional commissions.  The Summit had recommitted itself to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, including gender equality, and agreed on concrete actions, such as adding $50 billion a year to fight poverty, liberalize trade and realize the “quick wins” actions identified by the Millennium Project.  The Summit had also stressed the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, and in peacebuilding, which currently remained marginal.  Having travelled to the Sudan in September 2005 to meet with Sudanese authorities and women, in both Darfur and in the South, she had noted that, despite an active presence of women in the Sudan’s North-South Peace Negotiations that had culminated in the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January 2005, they were altogether excluded from the peace negotiations on Darfur.  The overall situation of Sudanese women continued to be dire, as they shouldered the thrust of the post-conflict problems, she said, and called the Commission’s attention to their plight.


Another country in transition from conflict to peace was Afghanistan, she added.  Afghan women had gained 27 per cent of seats in the Wolesi Jirga, or House of the People.  There had also been improvements in access to education, reductions in maternal mortality, greater awareness of gender equality within the Government and in efforts to combat violence.  Yet, Afghan women’s human security conditions remained extremely poor.  In that regard, two reform processes agreed by the Summit could be strategic entry points for gender perspectives, namely Security Council reform and the creation of the Peacebuilding Commission.  Also in the realm of women and peace, the Summit had reaffirmed its commitment to the full and effective implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security.  In that connection, the Council had endorsed a system-wide action plan, which comprised inputs of 37 United Nations entities.


Violence against women, as a persisting violation of women’s human rights, was one of the issues that had received significant attention in the Summit Outcome, she continued.  The Summit had also called for increased representation of women in Government decision-making bodies, including through ensuring their equal opportunity to participate in the political process.  Recent elections in Chile, Finland, Germany, Latvia and Liberia had raised women to the highest positions of Government.  According to available data, in January 2006, in 20 States, women’s representation was over 30 per cent.  Numbers of women at cabinet level had been growing in some countries, and three countries -- Chile, Spain and Sweden -- had reached gender equality in Government, although, worldwide, women accounted for only 14 per cent of ministers.


World leaders had also undertaken to actively promote the mainstreaming of a gender perspective in the design, implementation and evaluation of programmes and polices in all political, economic and social spheres, she said.  In a major breakthrough, the Summit Outcome had not only recognized the importance of gender mainstreaming as a tool for achieving gender equality, but had also encouraged the Secretary-General to take further steps in mainstreaming a gender perspective in the Organization’s policies and decisions.


The fiftieth session heralded the start of a new awakening for all, she said.  It should mark the dawn of a new era in making the next decade of women’s empowerment one of implementation and determined action, as the Commission sought to address identified gaps and challenges.  In times of change, it was necessary to be pragmatic, yet visionary.  “Working together, seizing opportunities presented by the Summit Outcome and the reforms underway, we can turn into a formidable force for gender equality and empowerment of women”, she concluded.


CAROLYN HANNAN, Director, Division for the Advancement of Women, introduced the reports before the Commission, saying that the discussion guide for the Commission’s high-level round table was contained in a conference room paper.  The round table would provide an opportunity to share experiences in mainstreaming a gender perspective into national development strategies.  The Commission would consider two thematic issues, whose examination was at the core of the Commission’s work.  Before the Commission was a Secretary-General’s report providing an overview of the challenges, as well as strategies for creating an enabling environment for gender equality and the advancement of women, with examples in the areas of education, health and employment.  The Secretary-General’s report on decision-making analyzed the current situation of women in decision-making processes and conditions for achieving their effective participation and leadership.  Consideration of those two issues would be further enriched by the two panel discussions to be held tomorrow.


To support the consideration of those issues, she said, the Division had organized two expert group meetings prior to the Commission’s current session.  One of those meetings was held in November 2005, in Bangkok, organized in conjunction with the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).  The other meeting was held in October, in Addis Ababa, and was organized in collaboration with the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).  With regard to emerging issues, the Commission would hold a high-level panel on the gender dimensions of international migration, the conclusions of which would be submitted to the high-level dialogue on international migration and development, to be held in September.


During the session, she continued, the Commission would further consider its working methods and programme of work.  Regarding follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and the Assembly’s twenty-third special session on women, the Commission had before it a number of reports and conference room papers, including reports of the Secretary-General on the situation of, and assistance to, Palestinian women and the situation of women in Afghanistan.  She also reported on key activities of the Division during the past year, including technical cooperation projects regarding the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention, and drew attention to the large number of parallel events organized around the current session of the Commission.


NOELEEN HEYZER, Executive Director, United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), said the Commission met at a critical moment along the pathway towards gender equality, one which could not be de-linked from larger political and economic shifts and environmental upheavals.  Despite the global consensus that gender equality and women’s empowerment were essential to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, there were no similar institutional arrangements, increased resources and strengthened operational mechanisms to assist countries to advance gender equality.  The international community was paying the cost of that institutional neglect, for, the first target for 2005 -- gender parity in primary and secondary education -- had been missed.  Women still held only 16 per cent of parliamentary seats worldwide.  Poverty among women was still passed on from generation to generation, trafficking in women and girls had become a major concern, and HIV/AIDS infection rates were increasing, especially among young women.  In that critical context, it was not surprising that the Commission was debating the effectiveness of gender mainstreaming as a strategy for achieving gender equality.  But, the issue was not gender mainstreaming, but understanding how progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment happened, and taking the necessary steps to make sure they were further strengthened.


Significant progress had been made in creating the normative environment for gender equality and women’s empowerment, she said.  The African Union’s Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality, which set benchmarks for Member States to achieve gender equality, and its adoption of the Additional Protocol on Women’s Human Rights, were exemplary.  And, women were increasing their share in high-level decision making positions, as highlighted most recently by the election of Africa’s first women President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia, and Michelle Bachelet as Chile’s first woman President.  UNIFEM was also encouraged by progress within the United Nations.  Gender equality was now featured more prominently in the frameworks for action of United Nations country teams.  Gender equality and women’s empowerment were more prominent in the strategic planning documents of the major United Nations organizations.


Gender inequality and pervasive gender discrimination could not be reversed by a handful of promising practices and successes, she said.  If gender equality was central to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, it must also be central to the anticipated significant increase in the volume of official development assistance, the institutional arrangements for United Nations reform and the commitments to convert aid effectiveness into development effectiveness.  Making gender equality central did not mean merging women’s entities into greater bureaucracy and invisibility, just at a time when they were most needed.  It meant ensuring they had the mechanisms of authority, voice, resources and accountability needed, to be equal players with other critical issues emerging from the World Summit.  To date, that had not happened.


She highlighted four key actions requiring strengthening, including transforming power relationships, upscaling gender equality through harmonization and alignment, ensuring greater accountability and strengthening institutional arrangements and resource allocations for gender equality.  At the current critical time, what was most needed were powerhouses that could provide the energy and direction to gender equality and women’s empowerment, within the United Nations, Governments, civil society and the private sector.  The houses that women built could become those powerhouses.  They needed to become strong and powerful institutions that functioned as centres of excellence within the United Nations reform agenda, sharing knowledge and strategies that had worked.


Business as usual could not continue, and the rules of the game needed to be changed, she said in conclusion.  The United Nations reform process provided an opportunity for work on women’s empowerment and gender equality to be properly institutionalized and operationalized.  If the United Nations was to remain a legitimate development player in the twenty-first century, it must stay at the forefront to assist countries to deliver on gender equality and women’s empowerment.  “This is a time for bold decisions, if we are to shape a world fit for our children,” she said.


ROSARIO MANALO, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that since she last addressed the Commission, two States -- Oman and Monaco -- had acceded to the Convention, bringing the total number of States parties to 181.  In addition, 76 States parties had now ratified or acceded to the Optional Protocol to the Convention.  During its thirty-fourth session, the Committee had examined progress in implementation of the Convention in eight State parties.  While the Committee noticed progress in the implementation of the Convention in a number of areas, including legislative reforms, it also found persistent gaps in implementation of the Convention’s provisions.


She recalled that the General Assembly had approved the Committee’s request for extension of its meeting time, enabling the Committee to hold three annual sessions of three weeks each, in 2006 and 2007.  As a result, the Committee would be able to consider reports in a timelier manner, which would contribute to better implementation of the Convention at the national level, and thus enhanced enjoyment by women of their human rights.  The Committee was implementing a number of other measures to enhance the visibility and accessibility of its work, including the dissemination of concluding comments, in all languages, via the website, together with all documentation pertaining to a State’s presentation of its report.  She added that the Committee continued to pay careful attention to the existing proposals for reform of the human rights treaty bodies, including the proposals for establishment of a standing unified treaty body, and the transfer of the Committee, and its servicing, to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.


MARIA RAUCH-KALLAT, Federal Minister for Health and Women of Austria, speaking on behalf of the European Union, outlining examples of steady progress on the issue of women’s empowerment, noted that the declaration of the 2005 World Summit, that progress for women was progress for all, had been unanimously subscribed to by world leaders and substantiated by a number of important commitments for the advancement of women.  The declaration constituted an integral part of the United Nations reform agenda.  The Union underlined the important role of women in peacebuilding processes.  During the negotiations for the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission, the Union had argued for the need to involve a gender expert in the Commission’s country specific consultations.  On women, peace and security, she noted that, what had begun as a bold initiative at the grass-roots level to empower women and girls in situations of conflict, had resulted in a landmark Security Council resolution, in 2000.  Also, 181 countries were now party to the Anti-Discrimination Convention, which had become the treaty with the second highest number of ratifications.


Over the last 50 years, the Commission on the Status of Women had been the motor which had energized the machinery of women’s rights within the United Nations, she said.  The Commission had drawn its power from its intense cooperation between gender experts representing Governments, a vast number of women’s non-governmental organizations, academic experts and United Nations representatives.  This year’s session should be used to carefully draft a new multi-year programme of work and to update the Commission’s methods of work.  The full implementation of the Beijing Conference must be the ultimate goal of that endeavour.  The Union would engage in the negotiations on the two sets of agreed conclusions with an open spirit.  The Union was particularly interested in what constituted an “enabling environment” for achieving gender equality.  Legal and regulatory frameworks certainly played an important role in shaping that environment.  Discriminatory practices and traditional and stereotyped attitudes, however, had not changed as quickly as the frameworks.  When addressing that gap, special attention was needed to the eradication of violence against women and girls, education, and the involvement of men and boys in the implementation of commitments.


In the coming days, the Commission would have the opportunity to take stock of progress made in the area of equal participation of women and men in decision-making at all levels, she said.  More research was needed on the question of women’s equal access to and full participation in the economy, the media, non-governmental organizations or the private sector.  The Union strongly supported the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Beijing +5 Platform Declaration and outcome document of the General Assembly’s twenty-third special session.  The Union’s strategy to achieve gender equality combined gender mainstreaming and specific actions wherever they were needed.  The Union was committed to improving the situation of women in line with the goals defined in the Beijing Platform for action, both within Europe itself and at a global level.  It regularly assessed progress in meeting its commitments on the basis of a set of core indicators covering the objectives agreed in Beijing.


She said it was imperative to eradicate violence against women and girls in all its forms, and awaited with great anticipation the Secretary-General’s comprehensive report later this year.  Gender equality could not be achieved without guaranteeing women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.  Expanding access to sexual and reproductive health information and health services were essential for achieving the Beijing Platform for Action, the Cairo Programme of Action and the Millennium Development Goals.  Countless women and girls all around the world, including Europe, suffered from the effects of harmful customary or traditional practices, including female genital mutilation, forced or underage marriages and crimes committed in the name of honour.  That was why she had founded a “Network against Harmful Tradition” at a ministerial conference in Brussels, in January 2006.  The network would, among other things, serve as an international platform, and focus on ways and means to eradicate harmful traditional practices.  The Union would do its utmost to contribute to a constructive debate and a rich outcome of the session, she said.


SIVU MAQUNGO (South Africa), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the future themes and improvement of the Commission’s working methods, should aim to promote gender equality and the advancement of women, and enhance the Commission’s role in gender mainstreaming.  The Group expressed appreciation to the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, for its ongoing work in coordinating the system-wide implementation of gender mainstreaming in the United Nations.  He also noted, with satisfaction that, as a result of the revitalization process, the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) was now better positioned to contribute to women’s empowerment.  Member State commitment of sufficient resources was indispensable to securing the medium-and long-term sustainability needed for the Institute, to fully comply with its mandates.


He said the focus of the Commission’s fiftieth session was on two thematic issues, namely the enhanced participation of women in development and an enabling environment for achieving gender equality and the advancement of women.  The discussion of those themes, which were of great importance to the Group, came at an opportune time, as the international community looked back at 60 years of the Organization’s existence.  Despite the noble goals of the United Nations Charter, the international community faced unprecedented feminization of poverty, with some 70 per cent of the world’s poor being women.  Women, especially rural and migrant women, continued to be exposed to inhuman conditions and were victims of multiple forms of discrimination, domestic violence and conflict.  Women were still also denied access to information technology, education and health, while access to all levels of decision-making bodies remained slow and uneven.


An enabling environment was an important precondition to the full realization of the Beijing Platform and the Millennium Development Goals, he said.  In that regard, the achievement of the goals was hindered by, among other things, natural disasters, armed conflict, foreign occupation and unilateral coercive measures.  Central to the reduction of poverty among women, was the importance of increasing their educational and training opportunities.  Women’s education decreased child mortality and improved the health of the family in general.  National budgets needed to be structured, so as to enable women’s access to education.  Increasing women’s access to education and training in science and technology was an area in need of improvement.  It was also necessary to transform educational systems and curricula to instil gender sensitivity and abolish discriminatory stereotypes.  Education could serve as a vehicle for transforming attitudes, beliefs and entrenched social norms.  Education was also directly related to improved health and well being.


He noted that women comprised 70 per cent of the 1.3 billion people who lived on less than $1 a day.  Women still spent more time than men in unpaid work.  Most of the female labour force was in the informal sector.  The working conditions of rural and migrant women workers should be improved, by, among other things, increasing access to productive resources and further developing remittance procedures.  The persistence of conflicts was another major impediment to the advancement of women.  The elimination of conflicts and the attainment of peace was a prerequisite for the implementation of the Beijing Platform and the Millennium Development Goals.  Conflicts exacerbated poverty among women, resulted in the loss of employment and educational opportunities, and perpetuated psychological violence.  Concerted efforts must be made to ensure that women were fully involved in all conflict resolution and peacebuilding initiatives, including at the decision-making levels.


While there was a need to address such challenges at the national level, there was also a need to enhance international cooperation and global partnership, he said.  For effective implementation of the Beijing Platform, the international community should honour its commitments to official development assistance, and it must commit to debt relief and the opening of markets to provide opportunities, particularly to women entrepreneurs.  Increased development assistance in such areas as education, health and job creation, was vital in eliminating gender disparities.


JENS ORBACK, Minister for Gender Equality of Sweden, said that the international community could no longer afford not to take account of the skills and experience of half of the world’s population.  Women’s equal participation in political decision-making, for example in parliaments and cabinets, was necessary, if countries were to have broad based and inclusive economic growth.  He was pleased to note that Sweden was now competing with more and more countries regarding the number of women elected to parliament; Rwanda was in the number one position.  The welfare system was one of the foundations of Swedish society.  Paid work for women and men was one of its cornerstones.  Women and men must have the same opportunities to support themselves and their families.  Also, investments in women’s and girls’ economic, political and social empowerment translated into reduction of family and community poverty. 


His Government considered it a fundamental obligation to counteract trafficking in human beings, he said.  Full gender equality and equal participation of women and men in all fields of society could not be brought about, as long as some women and children, mostly girls, were victims of prostitution and trafficking for sexual or other exploitative purposes.  If men did not buy and sexually exploit women and children, and regard them as commodities, prostitution and trafficking in human beings would not exist.  Since the Swedish Act prohibiting the purchase of sexual services came into force in 1999, the number of men who buy sexual services had fallen, as had the number of women and girls recruited into prostitution and trafficking.


He added that women must be able to exercise the right to make all decisions concerning their own bodies and reproduction.  Efforts to change men’s attitudes towards women and sexuality must be intensified.  Access to sexual and reproductive health and rights was crucial to women’s opportunities to support themselves and to socio-economic growth.  Sweden had recently adopted a policy, stating its position on a range of issues in that area, which provided a strategic tool for the realization of the Millennium Development Goals.  A society which denied a woman her right to her own body, not only took away her human rights, but was also risking her life.


STEFANIA PRESTIGIACOMO, Minister for Equal Opportunities of Italy, said that in her country, political elections would take place in a few weeks, without quotas for women, because, after a long parliamentary battle, a law to that end was approved by only one branch of Parliament.  The current session of the Commission could have a major impact, if delegations could come together on measures for equal opportunities in election campaigns, in which women were traditionally at a disadvantage.  She highlighted the need for specific training and information in that area.  Equal opportunities in access to decision-making required training that brought women closer to the institutional mechanisms.  Her Government, in cooperation with universities, had promoted professional training courses in politics for women.


She said that, in 2005, Italy approved a new law against female genital mutilation.  However, it was aware that such practices, rooted as they were in ancient customs, could not be eliminated simply by a law.  That was why the Italian Parliament had a broad based information programme to raise awareness and tackle the phenomenon, in conjunction with the legislation.  International cooperation was also playing a vital role in eradicating harmful customary or traditional practices.  To achieve that goal, Italy was working in many areas of Africa with national Governments, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and civil society.  It was also collaborating with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for the programme “Families First Africa” to combat HIV/AIDS in three African countries.


MARYAM INNA CIROMA, Minister of Women’s Affairs of Nigeria, said that, since the return to democratic governance in 1999, Nigeria had taken bold steps to create more equitable grounds for participation in different spheres and sectors of development.  As part of the legislative and administrative strategy to promote the visibility and participation of women in national affairs, priority had been given to enhancing available legal provisions and options for women.  To demonstrate the Government’s recognition of the value of women’s voices and contributions in decision-making, representation of women in the Federal Executive Council had increased from the traditional average of 8.2 per cent to the current 19.2 per cent.  Nigeria considered gender mainstreaming a critical tool for national development.


In appreciation of the central role of women in national development, Nigeria’s National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy targeted 30 per cent affirmative action in favour of women in its overall implementation.  Also, Nigeria recognized education as central in the promotion of women’s rights.  Building on past efforts to address women’s concerns in education, the national universal basic education scheme had a special focus on girl-child education to enhance enrolment and retention rates through increased access, especially for girls in rural communities.  Furthermore, in its national crusade against the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Nigeria acknowledged the gender dimension of the problem, and had developed a model for streamlining gender in its national HIV/AIDS programmes.  She added that Nigeria had always maintained a policy of equal pay for equal work, and there was relatively equal opportunity for career progression within the public sector.


JACQUI QUINN-LEANDRO, Minister of Labour, Public Administration and Empowerment of Antigua and Barbuda, said that poverty, lack of access to basic resources, lack of access to political party lists and low salaries were some of the causes of women’s underrepresentation in political decision-making.  The underrepresentation of women as key decision-makers in the political process continued to be an issue of critical concern for the Directorate of Gender Affairs in her country.  A number of positive changes, such as the appointment of a number of women in key positions, had been achieved within political parties and institutions, as a result of strategic action undertaken by the Directorate.  Highlighting some of the progress made, she said that, since March 2004, two females had been appointed to the Cabinet, one appointed to the Senate and one a Member of Parliament.  In addition, the Speaker of the House, President of the Senate and the Auditor General were all women.


She said that violence against women was one of the challenges her Government faced.  The multifaceted and complex nature of the problem, made it necessary to put in place a comprehensive programme of action.  A gender equality perspective, she noted, was both effective and efficient as a development approach and a fundamental tool necessary for the attainment of the Millennium Goals and other global summit goals and outcomes.  As a result, her Government had espoused a rights-based approach to health, particularly with respect to reproductive health.  In the fight against HIV/AIDS, Antigua and Barbuda had adopted an approach that included education and health information, services and treatment.  Last year, a national taskforce had been established in recognition of the importance of the Millennium Goals for the advancement of gender equality.  Her Government had recognized that considerable gender gaps still remained, and had decided to develop a national gender policy that would address those gaps.


MEUTIA HATTA SWASONO, State Minister for Women’s Empowerment of Indonesia, noted that 11 years had passed since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.  Many important initiatives had been undertaken nationally, regionally and globally, to promote and implement women’s rights.  While there had been persistent efforts to promote women’s empowerment, progress made so far, in relation to that Millennium Development Goal, had been uneven and too slow in many regions.  Various recommendations in the Secretary-General’s report deserved full support.  Further collective efforts and genuine partnerships were needed to translate the commitments of major international summits and conferences into practical action at the national, regional and international levels.


She said that, while Indonesia sought to improve conditions for its women, the challenges it faced in that regard were complex and closely interrelated, namely poverty, unemployment, low level of education, poor health, lack of social protection and violence, including trafficking and restricted social and political roles.  Prevailing traditional sociocultural norms, which negatively impacted the status of women, constituted serious stumbling blocks.  Indonesia had mainstreamed gender in the planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluation of respective Government agencies.  The Government had also developed gender analysis tools and conducted capacity-building for all Government agencies, at the national and provincial levels, to accelerate the implementation of gender mainstreaming.


Despite progress in implementing women’s empowerment and gender equality programmes in national plans, there was still a long way to go to ensure full gender equality, she said.  A series of major legislative actions were being undertaken to empower women, including a law on domestic violence and a draft law on witness protection.  To address violence against women, the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment had signed a memorandum of understanding with relevant line-ministries and the national police service, to develop integrated services for victims of violence.  In addition, a national action plan on the elimination of trafficking in women and children had been adopted, and parliament and the Government were deliberating on the draft law on the elimination of trafficking in persons.


Although there had been much progress on the legal and institutional fronts, there was need for more implementation, she added.  Particular attention should be paid to changing mindsets and practices concerning women’s roles in society, and gender equality.  Genuine gender equality would only be achieved through full partnership with male counterparts.  Women’s health status must be improved, poverty eradicated, illiteracy abolished and budget constraints for women’s empowerment programmes eliminated.  In the future, the Presidential Instruction on Gender Mainstreaming would be revised to expand the coverage of awareness-raising on gender mainstreaming, involving all concerned authorities.  The career development system in the Government and its relevant laws would be revised to make them more gender responsive.  She reaffirmed her country’s strong commitment to the Platform for Action, and its determination to ensure continuous progress at the national and local levels.


MARLENE MUNGUNDA, Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare of Namibia, said that creating an enabling environment for gender equality and empowerment of women required a comprehensive approach with an emphasis on education, health and employment, as well as increased participation and representation of women in decision-making at all levels.  Although the increased presence of women in decision-making bodies did not automatically ensure gender equality, women’s access to positions of power influenced policies and strategies to enhance women’s economic opportunities and status.  Hence, it was crucial that women be provided with equal access to education, training and employment opportunities, in order to provide them with the necessary tools to participate in decision-making processes at all levels.


Her Government recognized that women’s empowerment and gender equality were prerequisites for achieving sustainable political, social, cultural and economic security among all Namibians, she said.  The Government’s commitment to women’s full and equal participation in decision-making processes at all levels was first and foremost guided by the country’s Constitution.  In addition, Namibia had adopted gender-responsive policies -- the National Gender Policy and the National Plan of Action -- to strengthen Government efforts to upscale gender mainstreaming and address gender disparities.  To ensure effective implementation of the National Gender Policy, monitoring mechanisms were established to oversee integration of gender perspectives in all policies and programmes developed in ministries and Government institutions.


She added that the Commission on the Status of Women should enhance its catalytic role on gender mainstreaming at national levels by requesting an assessment of progress in that area, including key achievements, lessons learned and good practices, as well as further measures to enhance implementation within the parameter of the multi-year programme of work.


SOPHIA MATTAYO SIMBA, Minister for Community Development of the United Republic of Tanzania, noted that, while she was encouraged with the global increase of women in decision-making positions, she was still concerned by the slow pace of that increase.  The statistics on women in decision-making bodies made clear that more concerted efforts were needed, to reach the target of 30 per cent female representation, especially in top positions nationally and internationally.  It was necessary, therefore, to encourage women to contest for top leadership positions, including for the post of United Nations Secretary-General.


In her country, following the 14 December 2005 election, the number of women in parliament had reached 30 per cent, she said.  For the first time, a woman had been elected Deputy Speaker, and women had been appointed to other ministries, including the Ministries of Finance and Foreign Affairs.  She agreed, however, that getting the number did not necessarily mean that equality issues would be addressed.  Capacity-building efforts in gender issues were, thus, required, not only for women leaders, but also for the public at large.  Gender equality also needed to be promoted among young men and women, so as to ensure sustainability of the gains made in promoting gender equality.  Advocacy initiatives by concerned groups should continue to build gender-awareness, to network and to articulate the gender quality agenda.


She said that, while her Government had made progress in mainstreaming gender in policies, strategies, programmes and plans, it was faced with the challenge of translating policy into practice.  Capacity building on gender analysis and changing the mindset of the people was a continuous challenge and should be a continuous process.  Despite human and financial resource constraints, the foundation had been laid and the Government was determined to advance the cause of women.  Further to achieving the 50/50 gender parity in primary education, the Government was implementing the Secondary Education Development Programme.  In the area of health, the revised National Health Policy had provided for the development of a reproductive and child health strategy that intensified interventions in maternal and child care.


EVELYN JACIR DE LOVO, Minister without portfolio of El Salvador, said that the 2005 World Summit had been a valuable opportunity for Heads of State and Government to reaffirm a series of principles and purposes to strengthen multilateralism, as an effective tool to achieve a renewed framework for security.  It was crucial to incorporate a gender perspective throughout the United Nations system, as well as in national development strategies.  The Commission on the Status of Women played an important role in monitoring and evaluating the commitments assumed in Beijing and during the Assembly’s twenty-third special session on women.


Her Government attached great important to the advancement of women and gender equality in all aspects of life, she said.  A high priority for the Government had been to implement a strategy of equity, and to strengthen the national machinery responsible for implementing the national women’s policy.  In addition, it had created spaces for dialogue and devoted resources to attain the Millennium Goals.  She also mentioned the inter-agency efforts to strengthen the national policy on women, particularly the 2005-2009 plan of action.  The Government had doubled the budget for the national mechanism responsible for the national women’s policy, in order to empower its logistical capacity.  It was extremely important to incorporate a gender perspective in national development strategies, particularly in countries such as El Salvador, where women were in the majority.  It was also necessary to improve access to education and access to equal opportunities in the area of employment.


ZHAO SHAOHUA, Vice Chairperson of the National Working Committee on Women and Children of the State Council of China, said the Commission had played a major role in policymaking for the advancement of women and promoting global gender equality.  Through innovations and intensive exchanges, the Commission would energize even greater vitalities.  In the past 60 years, the international community had exerted tremendous efforts to promote gender equality and much progress had been made.  States and various stakeholders increasingly recognized that equality between men and women was indivisible from global and local equality, development and peace.  It had also been recognized that equality was a social issue, rather than a women’s issue, and it must be achieved through comprehensive and mainstreaming strategies.


It was not, however, a time to celebrate, she added.  The international community still confronted severe challenges, such as persistent poverty, discrimination, violence, armed conflicts, HIV/AIDS and environmental degradation that jeopardized the achievement of gender equality.  In that respect, it had to commit to promoting world peace and common development.  The year 2005 had witnessed China’s efforts in accelerating the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, the outcome document of the 23rd special session and the Women’s Convention through gender mainstreaming and comprehensive measures.  In terms of legislation, China had amended the 1992 Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests to address new and changing situations.  This year, provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, directly under the central Government, would formulate implementation measures and corresponding legal measures to ensure enforceability and effectiveness of the amended law.


In recent years, she said, China had made rapid progress in economic development, as well as in developing legal and democratic processes, which provided good conditions and environment for achieving gender equality.  Economic development, however, did not naturally lead to women’s advancement.  Like many other countries, China faced regional imbalance, as well as imbalance between economic development and progress in gender equality.  As a populous developing country, China had a long way to go to achieve gender equality.


Afternoon Round Tables


In the afternoon, the Commission held parallel high-level round tables on the theme “Incorporating gender perspectives into national development strategies, as requested at the 2005 World Summit, for achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including Millennium Development Goals”.


The senior officials of United Nations entities and representatives from non-governmental organizations invited to share their experiences, were Aminata Toure, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); Arthur Erken, United Nations Development Group; Tone Bleie, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); Monique Essed, Women’s Environment and Development Organization; and Anastasia Posadskaya-Vanderbeck, Open Society Institute.


Welcoming participants to the discussion in Conference Room 3, the Commission’s Vice-Chairperson, SZILVIA SZABO ( Hungary), noted that there was increasing recognition that national development strategies for implementing agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, had not given sufficient attention to gender perspectives.  The round table provided Member States with an important opportunity to discuss strategies and approaches, as well as challenges and constraints, in mainstreaming gender perspectives into national development strategies.


During the first part of the discussion, delegates elaborated on their national experiences and priorities, and described measures taken by their respective Governments, including the establishment of mechanisms at the highest levels; the drawing up of national action plans for achieving gender equality and the Millennium Development Goals; and the removal of discriminatory legislation.


Speakers also highlighted the need for gender-disaggregated data for incorporating a gender perspective in national development strategies, as well as for gender-sensitive national budgets.  Citing the need for fewer words and more action, Norway’s representative noted that, while gender mainstreaming should be the main focus, it often remained “little more than an add-on” in national plans.


Barbados had begun incorporating gender perspectives in its national development strategies in 1975, stated that country’s representative.  Since that time, the country had elaborated unprecedented legislation, including concerning equal pay for equal work and universal education.  The year 1995 saw the process taken further, with greater attention given to such issues as poverty eradication and HIV/AIDS.


Malaysia, stated its representative, had developed a three-pronged strategy to achieve gender equality, which included amending the Constitution so that there was no discrimination based on gender; doing advocacy work, particularly in conjunction with civil society; and developing mechanisms for implementation, including the establishment of the Cabinet Committee for Gender, which was chaired by the Prime Minister himself.  Malaysia had, since the 1990s, integrated gender mainstreaming into its national development plans, she added.


The representative of the Netherlands was convinced that gender equality should be part and parcel of national development plans.  He could not overemphasize the importance of decent work for women in achieving gender equality and the Millennium Development Goals, taking into account core labour standards.  Investing in gender equality benefited not only women, but their families, communities and countries.  The view that the best way to combat poverty was to provide decent employment was one that was shared by several delegates.


Egypt, Mexico, Hungary, Republic of Korea, Viet Nam, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Malawi, Ethiopia, Botswana, Fiji and Turkey also spoke.


During the second part of the meeting, when the invited guests shared their experiences, Ms. TOURE (UNFPA) reminded those gathered that gender equality was not only critical to achieve the Millennium Goals, but was a goal in itself.  Unless gender was mainstreamed in critical areas beyond just women’s ministries, it would be difficult to make progress.  Among the challenges at the national level were tracking progress, the need to have good indicators, data collection and tracking budget allocations.  There was a need to look at national accounting systems, to align them with gender budgeting, as well as to align national legislation with international conventions.


The call for mainstreaming gender perspectives into national development strategies was not new, recalled Mr. ERKEN (UNDG).  The United Nations Development Group had a long-term commitment to mainstreaming gender perspectives into its programmes.  Progress had been made in those countries where United Nations teams had set up gender-themed groups.  Also, gender-based advocacy had proven effective, as had gender-responsive budgeting.  But progress was way too slow and too dependent on a few enlightened individuals.  Policies alone would not do the trick; implementation was the key.  To ensure that United Nations agencies were capable of incorporating gender perspectives in national development strategies, they needed to build capacity and be held accountable by senior management and the international community. 


Ms. BLEIE (ESCAP) said that the regional commissions had facilitated targeted capacity-building, which strengthened leadership on gender mainstreaming.  The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) had developed a regional strategy to spearhead regional implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.  In the near future, the ECA would conduct subregional workshops aimed at defining national strategies based on the regional strategy.  The Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) had provided support to strengthen national policies in Central Asian countries, especially with regard to achieving the Millennium Goals.


Providing views from the non-governmental community, Ms. ESSED (WEDO) said that national strategies and plans offered new opportunities to achieve the goals of gender equality and the empowerment of women.  Among the problems were the lack of clarity on how to measure gender equality and the empowerment of women, and the separation of responsibilities between Government and civil society.  Many countries were ready to say they would share responsibilities with civil society, but then allocated social issues to civil society and kept economic issues for the Government.


None of the issues being discussed today were new, Ms. POSADSKAYA-VANDERBECK noted, including the lack of data and lack of accountability.  What was needed was real political will and commitment.  It was important, she added, not to forget about the poor, the displaced and the minorities within countries in pursuing gender equality and the achievement of the Millennium Goals.


The panel discussion held in Conference Room 2 included the participation of Bharati Silawal of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Caroline Osreo-Ageng’o of Equality Now, Shanti Dairiam of the International Women’s Rights Action Watch and Meagen Baldwin of the Network Women in Development Europe.


Opening the discussion, Commission Chairperson CARMEN MARIA GALLARDO ( El Salvador) said there was increasing recognition that national development strategies for implementing international agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, had not given sufficient attention to gender perspectives.  The high-level round table provided an opportunity for Member States to discuss strategies and approaches, as well as challenges and constraints, in mainstreaming gender perspectives into those national development strategies.


Several speakers stressed the importance of including gender mainstreaming into development programmes and policies to meet gender equality goals.  The issue of gender equality should be at the centre of the dialogue on social development, Iceland’s representative said.  Gender equality was not an end in itself, but a means to address such issues as peace and security.  A huge gap remained between policy and practice.  Strengthening governance could help achieve concrete results.  It was up to leaders to “push the envelope”.  Development agencies also needed to review their own performances regarding gender equality policies.


Many good gender policies had been lost in programme implementation, in a kind of “policy evaporation”, Finland’s speaker said.  Angola’s representative added that it was necessary to rethink exactly where the gap between practice and policy lay.  Many overlooked the role of the family, which was largely responsible for instilling the attitudes and behaviours that carried over to society.  On the role of civil society, Slovakia’s representative said it was increasingly playing an important role in promoting gender equality in society, and must be seen as a real partner.


Speakers also stressed the need for greater cooperation, both nationally and internationally, to meet gender equality goals.  That cooperation, Cuba’s representative said, should take place among equals, without conditions.  Austria’s speaker said national development strategies and poverty reduction strategy papers provided an appropriate framework for government polices that promoted gender equality.  Political dialogue should be used to encourage the promotion of gender equality in the context of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers.  Sharing Ghana’s experience in that regard, that country’s representative said her country had successfully engendered its poverty reduction strategy, largely due to the presence of women in positions of leadership.


Donor countries had been emphasizing the need for gender mainstreaming in national development strategies, Canada’s representative said.  New modalities, such as direct budget support, posed new challenges for gender equality.  An opportunity had emerged to further promote gender equality, namely the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness.  The 2005 Declaration sought to improve the impact of donor aid on reducing poverty and the achievement of internationally agreed upon goals.  She encouraged participants to develop concrete ways to ensure that the Paris Declaration became one of the most effective ways to achieve gender equality.  Sweden’s representative said gender was a priority area in development cooperation.  The challenge was how to ensure that gender equality could be incorporated into new aid modalities.


Clear, visible and effective linkages should be established between the Millennium Development Goals and national priorities in implementing the Beijing Platform, the representative of Bangladesh said.  Many developing countries, however, were resource strapped.  The global community should honour the series of commitments it had made.   Bangladesh had two best practices to share with the international community, namely microcredit and informal education.  Over 15 million had benefited from microcredit in Bangladesh.  Economic empowerment resulted in political empowerment.


Also participating in the discussion were the representatives of China, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, El Salvador, Namibia, Tanzania, Israel, Senegal, Japan, Côte d’Ivoire, Zambia, Yemen, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Spain, Pakistan, South Africa, Colombia, Philippines, India, the Sudan, Swaziland, Ireland, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Nepal and Germany.


In the second half of the meeting, invited panellists agreed that the need to move gender mainstreaming from policy to practice had been a major theme of the discussion.  The need to hold Governments accountable for their commitments had also been stressed.


Ms. SILAWAI said there was increasing global consensus that women’s empowerment was central to the Millennium Development Goals.  As the United Nations global development agency, UNDP had developed a two-pronged approach, namely gender mainstreaming and a stand alone approach.  Gender mainstreaming was paramount.  Conceptual clarity on what constituted gender equality was equally important.  While globalization had opened up new opportunities for women, it had also lead to further stereotypes, with women at the lowest rung of the market.  Partnerships were also important.  The role of women as peacebuilders and peacemakers was important, as they brought to the table a practical understanding of what was needed to sustain a community when its very fabric was torn asunder.


Ms. OSERO-AGENG’O noted that national development strategies were influenced by culture, history and economic development.  Full implementation was not possible, due to high levels of gender discrimination in laws and policies.  In that regard, she stressed the need for representation at all levels of decision making, as well as the need to address cultural barriers to gender equality.


Ms. DAIRIAM stressed that the success of mainstreaming gender into national development policies depended on the will of national leaders.  National political will was crucial to the goal of incorporating gender equality.  A change in mindset was also needed.  If that was not done, policies to include gender would not be seen as critical, or would be misunderstood.


Ms. BALDWIN noted that gender mainstreaming was a strategy, not an objective in and of itself.  It was not about being able to tick off boxes on a list.  She also stressed the need to have the same discussion in other fora, including in discussions on macroeconomic policy.


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*     The 1st Meeting was covered in Press Release WOM/1505 issued on 22 March 2005.


For information media • not an official record