Volume 14, No.3 - March 2010

Feature articles

Equal rights & equal opportunities for women


It has been 15 years since Governments from around the world adopted The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995. Among the 12 critical areas of concern specified in the Platform, much has been achieved. However, many issues such as gender stereotypes, unequal responsibilities and violence against women still stand in the way of full gender equality and global empowerment of women.

Beginning of this month, the Commission on the Status of Women will undertake a fifteen-year review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Countries both large and small will be able to share their experiences and good practices on the topic of women’s rights. The review is seen as an important step in overcoming the remaining obstacles and new challenges faced by women, including those related to the Millennium Development Goals.

The Platform for Action covered 12 critical areas of concern: poverty, education and training, health, violence against women, armed conflict, the economy, power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms, human rights, media, the environment, and the girl child. All area will be discussed at the review and a number of issues have been identified which are affecting the progress of the Beijing Platform for Action.

Gender stereotypes

Negative gender stereotypes continue to lie at the heart of many challenges and violations of rights faced by women, including violence against women and lack of access to education. In all countries gender stereotyping remains a major obstacle to gender equality. The prevalence of negative gender stereotypes based on societal beliefs and attitudes affects women and constrains their opportunities and choices.

Stereotypical assumptions about women in the labour market, for example, have lead to occupational segregation and a gender wage gap in many countries.

Combating such stereotypes requires States to adopt a range of strategies, from revising school curricula, to holding training programmes which dispel stereotypes on women’s leadership abilities, to instigating awareness-raising campaigns for the general public on women’s rights.

Unequal responsibilities

It has become increasingly apparent that women are far more likely than men to be living in poverty. Women’s unequal access to economic and financial resources has a negative impact on their well-being and a ripple effect on their families and the economic growth of their communities.

Women continue to be responsible for most domestic and caregiving work in many countries. This unequal sharing of responsibilities has a negative impact on educational and employment choices, and limits women’s involvement in public life.

The role of men and boys

Limited involvement by men and boys in the promotion of women’s rights has continued to restrain gender equality. Building support for social change can only be achieved when men and boys are actively engaged, for instance, in measures to eliminate violence against women and overcome stereotypes.

Furthermore, the provision of positive male role models serves to instill in both men and boys the respect for women’s and girls’ rights and the ability to challenge stereotypical behavior.

Violence against women

Over the last decade, violence against women has become a priority issue at global, national and regional levels. A growing number of States have strengthened and adopted comprehensive legal, policy, and institutional frameworks to end violence against women and girls. Despite these advances, violence against women is arguably a global pandemic. The problem remains universal, with women and girls affected by violence in every region and every country.

Implementation and challenges

Multiple global crises, including the economic and financial crisis, the food and energy crises and the challenge of climate change have had an adverse impact on the achievement of internationally-agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, and have raised doubts about current approaches to development. It is, therefore, an opportune time to rethink and modify policy approaches, strategies and actions to ensure a more equitable, gender-sensitive and sustainable pattern of growth and development.

Although the link between the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals is increasingly recognized at a policymaking level, further work is needed to translate this awareness into concrete action.

Recent evidence demonstrates that progress for women and girls under the Goals, as well as overall progress in implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, has been very uneven and has produced inadequate results, including in areas of poverty reduction, provision of full employment and decent work, education, including literacy, and maternal health.

More information on Equal rights & equal opportunities for women.

Sustainable development for small island states


Small Island Developing States (SIDS) share economic difficulties and development imperatives with other developing countries. However, as small island states, they also have their own unique vulnerabilities and characteristics, which make their pursuit of sustainable development particularly complex.

Forty-three SIDS and territories all through the world are monitored by DESA, in terms of their sustainable development. Such development should be seen in relation to both the needs and aspirations of human beings, and their responsibility towards present and future generations.

Status quo of Small Island Developing States

Small Island Developing States are low lying, remote and small in land area and population (usually less than 1.5 million). These countries are often categorized by three regions: the AIMS (Africa, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Sea), the Caribbean, and the Pacific.

SIDS are confronted with many challenges, like small population, limited resources, remoteness, susceptibility to natural disasters, vulnerability to external shocks, and excessive dependence on international trade, all of which have the potential to hinder the sustainable development of these States.

In addition, the growth and development of SIDS are also stymied by high transportation and communication costs, disproportionately expensive public administration and infrastructure due to their small size, and little to no opportunity to create economies of scale.

“By almost any conceivable measure, Small Island Developing States are among the world’s hotspots in terms of sustainable development. SIDS’ vulnerability was most recently demonstrated by the impacts of the global financial, food and fuel crises, as well as devastating earthquakes, a tsunami, floods and tropical storms. Unfortunately, greater resilience due to improved economic and governance capacities has in many cases been more than offset by greater exposure to natural and man-made shocks, including those related to climate change,” said Alexander Roehrl, Sustainable Development Officer.

However, small islands also have many valuable resources, including high levels of endemism and biodiversity. The wealth of local eco-systems acts as a magnet for tourists, and it is no surprise that tourism is the main source of income for many SIDS. Unfortunately, the relatively small number of the various species that populate these islands puts them at risk of extinction, and increases their need for protection.

“Tourism is the main source of national income for many SIDS, which makes them highly reliant on international tourism trends and on the global economic situation. However, if not closely regulated, expanding tourism infrastructures can negatively affect local eco systems, which are among the main tourist attractions in the first place.

Undoubtedly, one of the question for SIDS is to maintain tourism revenues without depleting local eco-systems, while at the same time diversifying their sources of national income in order to reduce their vulnerability to exogenous factors, such as tourism trends,” said Alexander Voccia, Associate Expert in Sustainable Development.

Sustainable development for SIDS

Due to their small size, development and environment are closely interrelated and interdependent for SIDS. Recent human history contains examples of entire islands rendered uninhabitable through environmental destruction owing to external causes. Thus, it is generally agreed that environmental consequences of ill-conceived development can have catastrophic effects. The efforts currently underway in Haiti are a clear example of the importance of taking into account long-term development perspectives – even in the face of sudden catastrophes.

“While the immediate disaster relief and humanitarian assistance continue by well-placed UN agencies after the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti a month ago, and where over two-hundred thousand people are estimated to have lost their lives, it is important to plan to meet the medium- to long-term sustainable development challenges that Haiti will be facing.

This is where DESA could make the most significant contributions. The DESA Haiti Task Force is preparing coordinated responses in this regard and DESA’s Division for Sustainable Development is also working with UNCRD’s Disaster Management Office in Kobe (Japan) to see how their preventive and post-earthquake information and capacity building advisory and activities could be applied,” said Hiroko Morita-Lou, Chief of the SIDS Unit.

Unsustainable development threatens not only the livelihood of people but also the islands themselves and the cultures they nurture. Climate change, climate variability and sea level rise are issues of grave concern. Similarly, the biological resources on which SIDS depend are threatened by the large-scale exploitation of marine and terrestrial living resources.

While the wealth of natural resources available to SIDS is well recognized, the short and long-term challenge for SIDS is to ensure that these resources are used in a sustainable way for the well-being of present and future generations. Development initiatives for SIDS should be seen in relation to both the needs and aspirations of human beings, and their responsibility towards present and future generations.

Sharing a common aspiration for economic development and improved living standards, SIDS are determined that the pursuit of material benefits should not undermine social, religious and cultural values or cause any permanent harm to either their people or their land and marine resources, which have sustained island life for many centuries.

These unique development challenges, as well as a framework for overcoming them, are reflected in the internationally agreed development goals for SIDS.

The Barbados Programme of Action (BPoA) and Mauritius Strategy of Implementation (MSI) and further actions

Adopted during the first Global Conference on Sustainable Development of SIDS in Barbados in 1994, the BPoA represents a basis for action in 14 agreed priority areas and defines a number of issues related to environmental, social and economic development planning that should be focused upon by SIDS with the cooperation and assistance of the international community.

In 2005, The International Meeting to Review the Implementation of BPoA for the Sustainable Development of SIDS was convened in Mauritius. The meeting was concluded with the adoption of a pro-active Strategy to further implement this programme of action, called Mauritius Strategy of Implementation (MSI), and of a political declaration, i.e., ‘The Mauritius Declaration’. The MSI sets forth actions and strategies in 19 priority areas.

This year, member States will undertake a five-year review of the MSI. In February, the Pacific Regional MSI+5 Meeting was convened in Vanuatu. This month, the AIMS Regional Meeting in Maldives and Caribbean Regional Meeting in Grenada will take place.

More information on Sustainable development for small island states

Top executives and philanthropy leaders to promote gender equality


The United Nations launched a new effort today to expand its partnership with the private sector and philanthropies in the battle for complete gender equality and the empowerment of women.

“To the private sector, we look to you to exercise even more leadership for gender equality starting from the top,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a special event at UN Headquarters, attended by some 300 representatives of foundations, private companies, academia and civil society organizations.