The theme of the 2010 Annual Ministerial Review (AMR) of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is "Gender equality and women’s empowerment". As part of the activities around the AMR, which will take place from 28 June – 2 July 2010 and in the context of the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures, a 45 minute Television debate on "Women’s empowerment, development cooperation and culture" will be organized by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the United Nations Television on 30 June at United Nations Headquarters in New York.
The recent 2009 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Report stressed that MDG 3 – promoting gender equality and empowerment of women – needed critical attention. According to UNFPA, of the world’s one billion poorest people, three-fifths are women and girls. Two-thirds of illiterate adults are women and, on average, females make up only 16 per cent of parliamentary-level politicians. The Report indicates that efforts to provide decent employment for women must be established and put in motion and that "paid employment of women outside the agricultural sector had increased only marginally over the years". It is also noted that up to half of all adult women have experienced violence perpetrated by their current or former intimate partners.
Culture, which determines social norms, plays a significant role in how societies perceive women’s roles and place in development, and lead to gender stereotypes that affect the pace at which countries will achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women. Firmly fixed traditions can sustain gender inequalities and gender-based violence is validated and sustained through social norms. However, it is far from simple to address gender inequality and, as illustrated in the 2008 State of the World Population Report, if "international development agencies ignore or marginalize culture, it is at their peril". Given the urgent need for international development cooperation, cultural literacy and the ultimate goal of empowering women and achieving gender equality, a discussion on the relationship between these themes is warranted.
The key positions of the debate can be elucidated in the following:
CONTENTION/POSITION 1 – Advancing human rights and gender equality cannot be achieved without linking women's empowerment and culture as a systematic and deliberate developmental approach.
CONTENTION/POSITION 2 – Culture is integral to inclusive, equitable communities and societies as it provides an environment conducive to gender equality and sustainable development.
CONTENTION/POSITION 3 – Engaging with ‘culture’ risks relativizing human rights abuses, particularly harmful practices and attitudes towards women, and can be a serious drawback to human development.
CONTENTION/POSITION 4 – Presenting an academic reading of the competing perspectives on culture and development.
Each speaker will represent one of the above perspective. In addition to the speakers, the specialized audience representing UN Member States Representatives, NGOs partners and UN agencies, will also be expected to contribute to the debate.
The aim is to ensure a constructive, realistic and evidence-based debate that can be useful food for thought for development practitioners and policy makers, particularly as the 2015 deadline for the MDG targets dawns nearer.