Eighth session of the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean (Print this page)

Your Excellency, President Alberto Fujimori

The Honourable Luisa Maria Cuculiza, Minister for Women's Affairs and Human Development of Peru,

The Honourable Josefina Bilbao, Minister-Director of the National Women's Service of Chile,

The Honourable Fernando de Trazegnies, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Peru,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like, Mr. President, to begin by thanking you for attending this eighth session of the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean and, through you, the people of Peru, who have shown us the hospitality they are so well known for. I would also like to express my gratitude for the valuable assistance we have received in organizing this session from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Peru and the Minister for Women's Affairs and Human Development of Peru, Luisa Maria Cuculiza. I am also grateful to Minister-Director Josefina Bilbao of Chile, who has displayed such skill and dedication in the performance of her duties as Chairperson of the Regional Conference over the past three years.

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We are living in a time of great change. Fast-paced changes that call for new proposals and new types of public and social action. Today we have before us a task of the utmost importance: the identification, evaluation and analysis of the region's progress and challenges in putting a stop, once and for all, to discrimination against women. We have come here to reaffirm commitments and to review and recommend policies within the framework of the Regional Programme of Action for the Women of Latin America and the Caribbean, 1995-2001, adopted at the sixth session of the Regional Conference, and the Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. As we perform these tasks, we must bear in mind this changing world of ours, both from the standpoint of how it affects women as a group and in terms of women's contribution to the common good.

This session forms part of a process whose landmark events at both the world and regional levels have shaped an agenda that constitutes one of the most important areas of international consensus, one which we want to ratify and consolidate. Our point of departure can be no other than this agenda. The challenge is to find ways of overcoming inequity in all its forms, including, very especially, gender inequity.

It is our job to determine what types of reforms are necessary in order to enable Governments, international organizations and civil society to assume the full weight of their commitments. Accordingly, in addition to expressing my satisfaction with the role that ECLAC is to perform, as we begin this session I would like to ask you to place priority, as has been done in the documents prepared for this occasion, on an analysis of the opportunities and constraints confronting us at the global level. It is our expectation that the agreements reached at this eighth session of the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean will contribute to the work of the special session of the United Nations General Assembly entitled "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century", which is to be held in New York in June of this year, to the twenty-eighth session of ECLAC, to be held in Mexico City in April 2000, and to the work of other international summit meetings and forums.

It has been decided that this session of the Regional Conference will examine the issues of gender equity and human rights. This choice is a significant one because it provides us with an opportunity to explore the interrelationships between economic, social and cultural rights and civic and political rights. What is more, it also reminds us of the fundamental importance of sexual and reproductive rights as a constituent part of the concept of human rights as defined at the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna in 1993. Even more importantly, this focus reaffirms the need to link economic and social policies based on a modern, participatory concept of citizenship that is in keeping with the challenges of our times. It is also consistent with the perspective adopted in the document entitled "Equity, development and citizenship", which ECLAC will submit to the Governments for their consideration at its forthcoming session.

The legacy of the 1990s

All the current studies, some of which you hold in your hands right now, demonstrate that one of the most significant developments of the century that has just ended was the way in which gender relationships have changed. One of the legacies of the past few decades has clearly been women's success in winning their rights along with greater visibility and recognition, although they remain subject to various forms of exclusion and discrimination. We have inherited an enormous debt to women, who have helped to combat poverty and build democracy in many different ways, and we have been alerted to the danger posed by any intensification of the inequalities that now exist.

Although today women enjoy greater recognition of their rights, although they study more and work more, they still earn less than men and continue to play a limited role in public decision-making. Women continue to shoulder most of the responsibility for performing unpaid work within the home, and in far too many instances public policies relating to women are still founded upon a short-term welfare-based approach, place priority on their roles as mothers and wives, and sideline them from the debate surrounding major national policies. If we consider the insufficient attention devoted to these issues within the realm of public policy in conjunction with the cultural resistance existing in this respect, then we will have some idea of the kinds of challenges facing us.

The opportunities offered by the globalization process have not been distributed equitably either among countries or within their borders, but we know very little about the differentiated effects that these new ways of organizing markets and labour have on men and women. We do, however, know enough to support the statement that women's systematically disadvantageous position in relation to men in almost all societies is a problem that reflects the links existing between social and gender inequity.

We therefore need to take a closer look at the many factors (class, ethnic group, gender) that combine to produce this situation of inequity and then, on this basis, to devise an integrated public policy response. In this connection I would like to remind you of the risk of treating women as passive rather than active agents, as dependants rather than persons capable of acting on their own behalf, as beneficiaries rather than as leaders, or as mothers, producers or voters on a unilateral basis while ignoring the importance of recognizing their many different identities and situations. Indeed, although an analysis of the situation reveals a systematic tendency towards overall gender inequity, it is no less important to differentiate among women and to be aware of the special forms of exclusion to which specific groups, such as young women and indigenous women, are subject.

In a variety of areas, determined efforts ?efforts that ECLAC wishes to reinforce-- are being made to address theoretical, methodological and political issues as a means of furthering the development of a frame of reference for the concept of equity that will help to guide policy-making in the decade that is now beginning. We also want to backstop government action aimed at narrowing existing gaps in the areas of employment, social security, citizen action and the exercise of sexual and reproductive rights, as defined at the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994. And we especially want to provide support for all measures aimed at providing women with a genuine decision-making role so that they may overcome their current under-representation and contribute to the efficient formulation of public policy. We also want to support efforts to measure the economic contribution of the unpaid work performed by women as a means of providing the missing link between public and private affairs, between production and reproduction.

Focusing on equity

Our legacy to the coming generations must be an assurance that they will fully enjoy their rights ?in the twofold dimension of civil and political rights, on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights, on the other. The integrality of these two bodies of law must be recognized and must be reflected in public policy. If our legacy is to bear fruit, we must begin by strengthening the progress that has already been made in the region as regards the adoption of policies, mechanisms and allocation of resources, which, although limited, provide evidence of a growing political will to address the problems caused by gender inequity. We must also deal decisively with the constraints and challenges that arise in our present-day world and promote changes in public policy, especially economic policy.

We can do all this if we can manage to distribute the benefits of globalization and trade liberalization in an equitable manner by overcoming structural poverty and inequality and strengthening the role of women in democratic societies. This calls for commitment on the part of governments, civil society and international agencies. The problem that brings us here today is not just a women's problem. Nor is it just a problem of the women's organizations represented here. It is first and foremost a problem of governments and decision makers at all levels. It falls within the regional agenda for addressing the issues arising from social inequity, and it should be understood as such.

The experience of the last few years has shown that policies that focus excessively on achieving macroeconomic equilibria and engaging our economies in the globalization process have not done enough to improve equity. Without neglecting the progress that has been made so far, we must now more than ever adopt integrated approaches aimed at combining good macroeconomies and suitable levels of participation in the world market with increased monitoring and implementation of human rights.

Public policy must once again be guided by the principles of universality, solidarity and efficiency. In order for these principles to lead to true equality, as conceived in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which has been ratified by all the countries represented here, we must adopt policies that are specifically designed to integrate women into all phases of development. This means taking positive steps to ensure equal opportunity and results, especially in the areas of labour and decision-making. We must also promote gender solidarity, with men sharing in family responsibilities and in the whole range of care-giving tasks that are currently performed almost exclusively by women. Unless society, and men in particular, share in family responsibilities, we will be depriving half of humankind of many opportunities.

Finally, it is clear that if States do not give priority to including women in decision making and in policy design, they will be delaying the attainment of the objectives I have just mentioned. The equitable inclusion of women in the benefits of development is an issue of justice and efficiency. Given the complexity of contemporary society, the participation of all citizens, without exclusions, is essential.

For all the above reasons, this conference should make recommendations that will change the context in which mechanisms for the advancement of women operate. Above all, changes are needed in all policies that affect the human rights of women, including policies on poverty, job discrimination, low levels of political and civic participation, and social policies in the areas of health and education. These issues should play a central role in government agendas, so that future generations can live in societies that are democratic from every standpoint, including that of gender.

We are all faced with a complex, challenging and unfamiliar situation. Hence, issues relating to policy design and the availability of resources, as well as to the need for institutional organization, must be included on the political agenda so as to make consensus possible.

I do not want to end without noting out that here, as in other fora, we have made a conscious effort to include non-governmental organizations in our work. Over the last few years, women's NGOs have strengthened their coordination at the regional, subregional and national levels. We have invited them to participate in expert meetings and to contribute to a number of studies. The Non-Governmental Organizations Forum organized by the regional coordination team for Beijing+5 ended just yesterday, and we trust that the conclusions reached at that meeting will contribute to the debate at this conference.

It is my sincere hope that our meeting here will be a milestone on the course I have outlined, and that we will continue advancing towards the mainstreaming of gender equality in the development agenda of Latin America and the Caribbean and towards the consolidation of ECLAC's role in bringing the countries of the region together.