Engaging philanthropy to promote women empowerment and gender equality

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) will host a special event on 22 February in New York

This event, organized by DESA and the United Nations Office for Partnerships (UNOPs) in collaboration with the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) and the United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM), is part of the preparatory process for the 2010 ECOSOC Annual Ministerial Review (AMR) on the theme, “Implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to gender equality and empowerment of women”. The programme will also take place on International Corporate Philanthropy Day in the United States.

Chaired by the President of ECOSOC, with the participation of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the special event will gather a roster of foundations (corporate and non-corporate), private sector companies and civil society representatives that have a particular interest in the areas of gender empowerment and women’s equality.

The event will start with an opening plenary on “Strengthening partnerships in support of achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women”, to be followed by break-out sessions on the themes, “Ending violence against women and girls” and “Promoting women’s economic empowerment”.

The audience will be comprised of Member States, representatives of the United Nations system, senior giving officers from philanthropic organizations and the private sector, as well as other civil society organizations.

The key objectives of the special event are to promote concrete initiatives by the philanthropic community and to initiate new partnerships that would accelerate progress in reaching the targets in MDG 3. The event will also expand multistakeholder engagement in the United Nations Secretary-General’s UNiTE To End Violence Against Women Campaign and provide a platform for all actors involved in the work of ECOSOC to increase awareness among the philanthropic community on the progress made and the challenges faced in the achievement of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 3 – to promote gender equality and empower women.

Pathways to Partnerships

Gender inequality deprives countries of a critical resource in the struggle to end poverty and attain stability. Women and girls continuously lack the same access as men to education, health care, food, jobs, property and decision making powers in the political, social, and business sectors.

Economists confirm that women’s empowerment is a central engine for development – if they cannot participate, the targets governments and the United Nations set will continue to go unmet. The Nobel Prize winning economist, Professor Amartya Sen, speaks of more than 100 million “missing women” in developing countries who die of cumulative neglect because they are continually treated differently than men, especially in health care, medical attention and access to food and social services. Other studies speak of 60 – 101 million missing women on the basis of ratios of women to men.

Every year, at least another 2 million girls die worldwide because of inequality and neglect. Moreover, women and girls become victims of gender-based violence, which entails severe physical and mental health implications and, consequently, enormous social and economic costs. The current economic and financial crises deepen gender inequality as economic recession affects women and men, girls and boys differently.

There are mechanisms in place to support women’s economic and social empowerment and innovative programmes are producing remarkable results. The last 20 years have also seen unprecedented progress in the political attention paid to violence against women and girls, as well as in the number and scope of laws and policies to prevent and respond to gender-based violence. First results are encouraging but still apply only to a small number of places. The effort is woefully under-resourced, much more needs to be done to implement laws and commitments, and all actors have to work closely together.

Public-private sector partnerships

Over the past decade, public-private sector partnerships have become a creative and sophisticated mechanism for addressing priority challenges and to leverage the skills and resources of the private sector and civil society toward the goals of the United Nations. Through the work of UNOP that provides strategic advice on partnerships between the private sector and the United Nations system, the Organization has increasingly engaged the private sector and civil society as a partner in helping to achieve its goals, in particular, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Specialized agencies, funds and programmes of the United Nations system, such as UNIFEM, have established partnerships to integrate the private sector’s perspective, its networks and expertise in their work, in order to effectively implement the international development policies and make change happen, where it is most needed.

As the complexity of economic and social issues affecting local and global communities continues to escalate, it has become increasingly clear that no single actor in the philanthropic realm can hope to match the impact of funders and humanitarian organizations working together. Each change agent has unique skills and resources to bring to bear on today’s most difficult challenges. Non-profit organizations and other independent players have the on-the-ground knowledge, theories of change and the local manpower to ensure that the right services are delivered with integrity.

Private foundations bring subject matter expertise and funding. Community members add a nuanced understanding of the cultural strengths that can be harnessed to turn challenges into opportunities. In addition to funding, corporations bring expertise in marketing, logistics, research and development and project management. The United Nations provides unparalleled access to leaders and policy makers and, most importantly, the ability to unite and coordinate those seeking to make a difference. By fitting these pieces together, the result is much more than the sum of the individual parts.

There are two areas where the philanthropic community and the private sector can make a difference, namely on ending violence against women and girls and promoting women’s economic empowerment. They can support existing programmes (UN or country-led as well as other independent stakeholders) and help to scale up best practices both in-country or to other countries and regions that that would help achieve progress on MDG 3.

Ending Violence Against Women

On average, at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of her lifetime. Violence against women is the most common but least punished crime in the world and it poses an enormous obstacle to achieve gender equality worldwide.

Forms of violence against women include sexual, physical, or emotional abuse by an intimate partner; physical or sexual abuse by family members or others; sexual harassment and abuse by authority figures (such as teachers, police officers or employers); trafficking for forced labour or sex; and such traditional practices as forced or child marriages, dowry-related violence; and honour killings.

Violence against women not only constitutes a gross violation of human rights but also has enormous social and economic costs, and poses a serious threat to the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including the MDGs.

Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment

Women in developing countries are greatly disadvantaged in almost all parts of society and the global outlook continues to be alarming. It is estimated that approximately 2-2.4 billion women around the world are living in relative poverty.

This is further compounded by the fact that 60% of the world’s 135 million children who are not receiving education are girls and that 60% of the working poor earning less than US$1 per day are women. Women can provide a huge spurt to economic growth and development if measures are to ensure appropriate access of women to education and employment opportunities.

These issues will be discussed further in the context of the preparations for the 2010 ECOSOC Annual Ministerial Review on “Implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to gender equality and empowerment of women” and in preparation for the MDG Summit in September 2010.

Second Committee adopted 43 resolutions

Conference on Sustainable Development at the highest level in 2012, a review of the Mauritius Strategy in 2010 and a follow-up conference on financing for development by 2013 were decided by the Committee

The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) of the General Assembly concluded its session on 11 December 2009. Forty-three resolutions were adopted (six resolutions were voted upon – the oil slick on Lebanese shores, Permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people, agricultural technology for development, towards a New International Economic Order, unilateral economic measures, and international trade and development).

The resolution on the implementation of Agenda 21 decided to hold the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development at the highest level in 2012 in Brazil and detailed the preparation process. The Committee also decided to convene the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries in the first half of 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey.

In addition, the Committee reaffirmed the Assembly’s decision to convene a two-day high-level review of the Mauritius Strategy in September 2010 as part of the Assembly’s sixty-fifth session as well as the one-day high-level meeting on biological diversity close to the opening of the general debate as a contribution to the International Year of Biodiversity.

With regard to Financing for Development, the Committee adopted a consensus resolution, which reaffirmed the need for a strengthened and more effective inclusive intergovernmental process to follow-up on financing for development. The resolution recalled the decision to consider holding a follow-up conference on financing for development by 2013. The Committee could not reach a consensus on the Trade and Development resolution for the fifth consecutive year.

This year, with the initiative of the Chairperson of the Committee, ten special events were organized on key issues relevant to the Committee’s work. The Committee benefited from a series of stimulating discussions during these special events on issues pertaining to the Committee’s programme of work.

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