The UN General Assembly’s Second Committee has to address a wide range of important topics related to economic growth and development this fall. Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi, the Chair of the Committee, sat down with DESA News for an exclusive interview to share some of the major tasks before the Committee, including financing for sustainable development, sustainable development goals in the post-2015 development agenda and the global Ebola response.
Taking aim at the topic of inequality and featuring keynote speaker Professor Janet C. Gornick, Director of the Luxembourg Income Study Cross-National Data Center, the Second Committee kicked off its fall session on 7 October with the general debate including 94 statements, an increase compared to last year’s session.
“This is a testimony to the great interest of the General Assembly for the work of the Committee this year,” said Ambassador Cardi, as DESA News got an opportunity to speak with him following the Committee’s morning meeting, where it had just discussed the topic of sustainable development, one of its most extensive agenda items with a total of 24 reports under consideration.
“This year is a particular year, because we are going to face in 2015 some important processes related to the work of the Second Committee,” said Ambassador Cardi as he described some of the main issues before the Committee, highlighting financing for development and the post-2015 development agenda.
Taking aim at sustainable development, Ebola response and more
Ambassador Cardi also pointed to sustainable development as the one item being present throughout the work of the Committee. “I think we will be able to give substantial contribution by focusing on the sustainable development goals,” he said, also adding other important issues including climate change, disaster risk reduction and the importance of the least developed countries or landlocked developed countries.
“But there is one issue which is of particular worry for the general membership and it is of course the outbreak of Ebola,” Ambassador Cardi said, describing the swift action taken by the UN General Assembly in establishing the first-ever UN emergency health mission, the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER).
“The problem is the potential spread of the virus, the situation it creates in terms of backtracking progress we have witnessed in some of the countries involved,” he said. “This will have an impact of the proceedings of the Committee and we will have to give special attention to this very important issue,” he continued, emphasizing the urgent need for the international community to tackle this challenge.
“I hope as Chair, to be able to create a good atmosphere that will in turn help the next phase of deliberations of the post-2015 development agenda”
Chair of the Second Committee
Climate change and financing for development
Discussing the wide range of issues on the Committee’s agenda this fall, Ambassador Cardi highlighted some of the more pressing matters, in addition to the Ebola crisis. “There are at least three items in which the Committee will have to send strong messages,” he said, pointing to the first being climate change. Referring to a successful climate summit convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in September, Ambassador Cardi highlighted the upcoming Lima meeting at the end of the year and Paris COP21 at the end of 2015. “We hope to be able to send signals to the membership that can influence in some way the next processes that will take place in 2015,” he said.
“The second is financing for development,” Ambassador Cardi added, referring to next year’s Third International Conference on Financing for Development taking place in Addis Ababa on 13-16 July 2015. “It is important that the Committee helps and facilitates the deliberations of this very important conference because financing for development, the means for development, is one of the crucial issues,” he said.
Ambassador Cardi also highlighted the work of the Committee in setting the post-2015 development agenda and the sustainable development goals, praising the efforts of the Open Working Group and describing the Committee’s role. “I hope as Chair, to be able to create a good atmosphere that will in turn help the next phase of deliberations of the post-2015 development agenda,” he explained.
Side events provide further insights
E-government for sustainable development in Small Island Developing States (SIDS), social market economy and new instruments of social finance – these are some of the topics for the six side events and special meetings arranged by the Second Committee this fall.
“It is important to have side events because they help the general membership to understand better some of the issues we are examining and deciding upon,” explained Ambassador Cardi, describing how the Committee for these events brings in experts and external actors to address different topics.
“We started yesterday with the first side event […] on debt restructuring,” he said, pointing to the importance of this issue for a growing number of countries. “We had a very strong turn-out of Member States attending the session and listening very attentively to what our guests had to say,” he added.
“Monitoring is of course a big part of the post-2015 develop agenda,” Ambassador Cardi continued, referring to the side event on “Promoting accountability at all levels: monitoring the post-2015 development agenda,” which took place on 31 October.
“We will have to increase our capacity to be able to understand the progress of the development goals,” he explained, describing the importance of monitoring progress in various countries in order to change course, adapting strategies to the situation on the ground. Other events of the Committee this fall take aim at the investment promotion regime for foreign direct investment in Least Developed Countries and a renewed global partnership for development.
Building consensus the goal
“The main objective would be to give some contribution to the process of the post-2015 development agenda,” Ambassador Cardi said, as he discussed with DESA News some of the main achievements that he is hoping for as the Committee will wrap up the session in December.
“Promoting consensus on some contentious issues such as trade, finance, technology, the means of implementation and also on debt restructuring,” he added, explaining that these are some of the issues where there are sometimes different views from the various negotiating groups.
“Our goal is to build consensus, to bring about all the Member States to a shared objective,” Ambassador Cardi said encouragingly, also adding the hope to review working methods. “We hope to get a fresh look upon working methods, to make our work more effective for the benefit of the Member States and the international community,” he said.
“Financing is critical to achieving sustainable development. Financing needs are large. Raising the necessary resources will be challenging, but it is feasible,” said Mr. Wu Hongbo, UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General and the Secretary-General of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, as preparations for this major event to be held in Addis Ababa in July in 2015, kicked off in New York on 17 October.
“Arriving at a comprehensive financing framework will be central to any agreement on a sustainable development agenda,” Mr. Wu continued, pointing to the opportunity that the Conference in Addis Ababa will provide. “The success of the Conference will be a significant milestone for the Summit on post-2015 in September next year,” he said.
Scheduled to take place in the capital of Ethiopia on 13-16 July 2015, the Conference aims to assess the progress made in the implementation of the Monterrey Consensus and the Doha Declaration on Financing for Development and to address new and emerging issues in financing sustainable development across the economic, social and environmental dimensions. Its preparations kicked off in New York on 17 October when the first substantive informal session took place led by the Co-facilitators Ambassador George Wilfred Talbot (Guyana) and Ambassador Geir O. Pedersen (Norway).
“The year 2015 will make history for sustainable development,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as he addressed the meeting. He highlighted that there are three main priorities for the international community next year including accelerating efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to agree on a transformative post-2015 development agenda and to achieve a universal climate agreement in Paris.
“Arriving at a comprehensive financing framework will be central to any agreement on a sustainable development agenda”
UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General
and Conference Secretary-General
“Financing is one of the keys to succeed in all these endeavors,” Ban Ki-moon emphasized. “It will be at the heart of the political agreement that Governments have to reach for a successful sustainable development agenda. That is why the outcome of the Addis Ababa Conference is so important,” he added.
Road to Addis Ababa
Paving the way to the Conference, the General Assembly decided to host a series of substantive informal sessions and informal interactive hearings with representatives of civil society and the business sector, as well as drafting sessions of the outcome document of the Conference in January, April and June 2015.
Building on the Monterrey Consensus and the Doha Declaration on Financing for Development, the preparations for the Conference will focus on several major topics, such as the mobilization and effective use of resources for sustainable development, including domestic, international, public, private and blended finance, as well as the enabling environment and systemic issues. The reports of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing and the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the synthesis report of the Secretary-General, will provide important inputs to the Conference.
“The recent report of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing provides an analytical framework and offers policy options”, Ban Ki-moon highlighted. “And by identifying, not only sources of funds, but also uses, the report moves towards a convergence of the Monterrey and Rio processes, thereby setting the stage for Addis Ababa”.
Creating a new financing framework
A holistic financing framework for sustainable development will need to build on all six chapters of the Monterrey Consensus, focusing on mobilizing financing for development from all available sources, including domestic financial resources, international private flows and international financial and technical cooperation, as well as the importance of the enabling domestic and international environment. It also needs to address additional challenges and be mindful of changes and continuities in the financing landscape.
“We must show our capacity to deliver on a genuine and effective global partnership for the future of our planet and the wellbeing of future generations. I call on all Member States to rise to this challenge and make Addis Ababa the success it must be”
“The new financing framework must be broad in scope and, at the same time, concrete. It should integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development in a balanced manner, and seek coherence with other financing streams, including climate finance,” the Secretary-General said. He also underscored that expectations for the event are high and that partners are eager to support the preparatory process.
Also addressing the first preparatory event, the President of the General Assembly Sam Kahamba Kutesa, emphasized the need to enhance mobilization of the full range of resources on all fronts and to strengthen the global partnership for development. “Due attention should be given to measures that can boost foreign direct investment (FDI) and other private capital flows, international trade, increase international financial and technical cooperation for development, improve sustainable debt financing, and address systemic issues,” Mr. Kutesa stated.
Stepping stone for post-2015 development agenda
The upcoming Addis Ababa Conference is viewed by many as a crucial stepping stone for the post-2015 development agenda. “Together, we have the opportunity to make the Addis Ababa Conference a success and lay the foundation for the implementation of an ambitious and transformative post-2015 development agenda,” said Mr. Wu encouragingly. “I am committed to working towards this goal with all of you,” he added.
The Secretary-General also called on the international community to “agree on a strong, meaningful framework of concrete ways forward”, underscoring at the same time that the stakes are high and that “we cannot afford to fail”. “We must show our capacity to deliver on a genuine and effective global partnership for the future of our planet and the wellbeing of future generations. I call on all Member States to rise to this challenge and make Addis Ababa the success it must be,” Ban Ki-moon said.
As we approach the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which set out principles and goals for achieving gender equality and empowering women, how far has the world come in realizing this vision and in improving the status of women around the world? To assess progress made in improving the lives of women and men, the production and use of relevant, accurate and timely gender statistics is critical.
Recognizing the importance of appropriate data for designing policies and assessing progress towards the goal of gender equality, the Beijing Platform for Action requested national, regional and international statistical services to “ensure that statistics related to individuals are collected, compiled, analyzed and presented by sex and age and reflect problems, issues and questions related to women and men in society”. It is through the collection, production, analysis and use of gender statistics that policy makers and development practitioners can begin to properly address the specific issues of women and men.
Gender statistics are not just relevant for monitoring the status of women. They can also be used to shed light on specific issues relating to men, such as men’s risk of accidents, harmful use of tobacco and alcohol, and access to paid paternity leave. Ideally, gender statistics should be used to inform all policies and programmes, so that gender issues are mainstreamed and policies are designed to enable the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by women and men. The inclusion of a stand-alone goal on “achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls” in the Outcome document of the Open Working Group (OWG) for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in New York in July 2014, reinforces the importance of this issue and will likely increase the demand for gender statistics that reflect the differences between men and women in society.
Gender statistics – challenges at every stage
Critical as they are to designing effective policies and programmes, the production of gender statistics presents significant challenges to National Statistical Systems (NSSs) in many countries and many data gaps exist, particularly in areas such as poverty, time use, violence against women, and the environment. “There is an urgent need to improve statistical systems to ensure the full mainstreaming of gender into data production, analysis and dissemination and increase the availability of gender statistics for national and international monitoring,” said Stefan Schweinfest, Director of UN DESA’s Statistics Division, as he addressed a Gender Statistics Workshop in Fiji in August this year.
“There is an urgent need to improve statistical systems to ensure the full mainstreaming of gender into data production, analysis and dissemination and increase the availability of gender statistics for national and international monitoring”
Director of UN DESA’s Statistics Division
Gender statistics means more than just sex-disaggregated data, although in some cases this can be a challenge in itself. Producing gender statistics also means collecting and analysing data that address specific issues that may affect women more than men (or vice versa), as well as incorporating a gender dimension into data collection processes so that the experiences of all women and men are properly captured and gender biases are avoided.
It is important to note that while sex refers to the biological differences between women and men, gender refers to the social constructs of being ‘male’ or ‘female’, which can vary over time and across cultures.
One of the major challenges in producing gender statistics is that they are often seen as addressing a ‘women’s issue’ and become marginalized instead of mainstreamed, with no clear institutional arrangements in place to coordinate their production and limited resources dedicated to data collection and dissemination.
For instance, from a global review of national gender statistics programmes, undertaken by the UN DESA’s Statistics Division in collaboration with the UN regional commissions in 2012, out of 126 responding countries only 13 percent had a specific budget allocated to gender statistics within the overall national budget for statistics, 47 percent relied on ad-hoc/project funds and the remaining 39 percent had no funds at all.
In some cases data are available but they are not used to produce gender statistics, or gender statistics are produced but they are not presented in a way that facilitates clear understanding of gender issues and differences. Another significant challenge relates to the need to address gender equality and women’s empowerment for different demographic and social groups.
Life-cycle analyzes of gender equality suggest that women and girls face different constraints that can be age-specific or may be specific to different socio-economic groups. Disaggregated statistics along these lines should be promoted as well as a renewed effort to fully analyze existing survey data, and to invest in other data sources, including administrative records.
Guidelines on how to collect data on violence against women
In many cases, gender issues are emerging issues for which there are few international standards for countries to follow. In the case of violence against women, a relatively new area of research, guidelines on how best to collect data are only recently being established.
This sensitive issue requires unique approaches to data collection, which take into account key issues of safety and ethics. Specialized training is required for interviewers to enable them to build rapport with respondents and gain their trust, so that respondents feel able to open up on this personal and often traumatic topic.
UN DESA’s Statistics Division recently published Guidelines on Producing Statistics on Violence Against Women – Statistical Surveys, which provides information for countries looking to collect data on this underreported area according to internationally agreed standards facilitating cross-country comparisons.
Working to improve gender statistics
To work towards meeting these challenges, the UN Statistical Commission established the Global Gender Statistics Programme, coordinated by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Gender Statistics (IAEG-GS) and implemented by UN DESA’s Statistics Division and key partner agencies.
The overall goal is to enhance the capacity of countries to collect, disseminate and use reliable statistics and indicators to assess the relative situation of women and men in gender-sensitive, policy-relevant areas. It focuses on: strengthening national capacity for the production, dissemination and use of gender relevant statistics; developing and promoting methodological guidelines and addressing emerging issues of gender concern; facilitating access to data; and improving coherence among existing initiatives on gender statistics through international coordination.
One recent achievement is the establishment of a Minimum Set of Gender Indicators comprised of 52 quantitative and 11 qualitative indicators. These indicators address the key policy concerns identified in the Beijing Platform for Action and represent a significant step forward in identifying priorities in the production of harmonized gender statistics and facilitating national, regional and international assessment of progress towards gender equality.
Taking stock and moving forward
As part of the Global Gender Statistics Programme, a series of Global Forums have taken place around the world to bring together both users and producers of gender statistics. The upcoming 5th Global Forum on Gender Statistics, to be held in Aguascalientes, Mexico, from 3-5 November, in collaboration with Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Geografia (INEGI), will bring together over 100 experts to evaluate current international standards, share best practice at the national and international levels and discuss on-going initiatives to strengthen gender statistics.
The Forum will focus on issues related to measuring and monitoring gender equality in the following ‘thematic pillars’: women and the economy; violence against women; time use; political participation; the environment; and women in armed conflicts. It will provide an opportunity to assess the current status of gender statistics and how they can be further strengthened so as to best inform policies aiming at improving the lives of women and men around the world.