Commission on Status of Women
1st & 2nd Meetings (AM & PM)
GENDER EQUALITY CENTRAL TO ACHIEVING MILLENNIUM SUMMIT DEVELOPMENT GOALS,
WOMEN’S COMMISSION TOLD, AS FORTY-SEVENTH SESSION OPENS
Nitin Desai Stresses Commission’s Special Role, Responsibility;
Panel Discusses Women’s Access to Media, Information Technologies
Gender equality was central to achieving the development goals of the Millennium Summit, and the Commission on the Status of Women was carrying out vital follow-up work towards those goals, Nitin Desai, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, told the Commission this morning.
Addressing the Commission as it began its forty-seventh session, Mr. Desai stressed that the Commission had a special role to play in reaching gender equality, and a responsibility to development issues as a whole. He emphasized the link between the Commission’s work and work covered by such major conferences as the Second World Assembly on Ageing in Madrid, the Monterrey World Conference on Financing for Development and the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development.
Echoing Mr. Desai’s sentiments, Angela King, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said the Goals were mutually reinforcing, with progress towards one affecting any headway towards the others. The theme for International Women’s Day –- Gender Equality and the Millennium Development Goals -– aimed to create an awareness of gender equality with respect to all the Goals, stress the importance of gender dimensions in poverty and hunger eradication, and show how gender related to health and education.
Turning to the upcoming 10-year review of the Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Summit on Women (Beijing, 1995) and the outcome document of Beijing + 5, she said the international community must focus on implementing those documents. After the Beijing Conference, some 120 countries had prepared national action plans, many had prepared progress reports on implementation, and civil society had set up follow-up and monitoring structures. Those plans were essential benchmarks against which progress in implementation could, and must, be assessed.
Carolyn Hannan, Director, Division for the Advancement of Women, stressed the importance of the Commission’s two current themes: participation and access of women to the media, as well as information and communication technologies; and women’s human rights and the elimination of all forms of violence against women and
girls. Considering those themes was critical to systematic follow-up of the Beijing
Platform for Action and thecore of the Commission’s annual work. They also presented an opportunity to reinforce links between the implementation of gender-specific instruments and other global policy instruments.
During the ensuring discussion, several speakers described their national gender initiatives for the advancement of women, underlining the importance of an efficient and holistic approach to the follow-up and implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. Others agreed with Ms. Hannan in highlighting the importance of the two thematic themes of the current session.
Other speakers stressed that information and communication technologies were vital for women’s empowerment and the promotion of gender equality. However, they pointed out, empowering women would also mean eliminating all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls. The international community should adopt a concerted approach in eliminating violence and its impact on development.
During the afternoon’s session, the Commission held a panel discussion on the theme “Participation and access of women to the media, and information and communication technologies and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women”. Panel experts from Cuba, India, United Kingdom, Philippines and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs stressed the need to give women more presence, voice and visibility in the media and deploring the use of degrading images of women. The media provided a distorted view of violence against women, they said, often condemning the victim instead of the attacker.
Panellists also expressed concern about women’s access to and participation in the media, which should particularly be promoted among women of colour, as well as those belonging to religious or ethnic minorities. Obstacles to such access included the lack of necessary infrastructure, such as electricity and telephone lines, insufficient training, illiteracy, and the domination of English. Others reminded the Commission of the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva in 2003, which would focus global attention on building an information society based on social, political and economic justice.
During the following question-and-answer period, many speakers emphasized the effort needed to ensure a gender-perspective in the upcoming World Summit. Women’s access to information and communication technologies was not just an end in itself, but part of the path leading to fulfilment of the Millennium Goals, they said.
Speakers also warned that the fashionable term “digital divide” could distract from the reality of the poverty divide. Several representatives highlighted the obstacles of developing countries in accessing information. Much attention was also focused on the media’s role in allowing continued discrimination, exploitation and stereotyping of women, with a few suggesting voluntary codes of conduct, awards systems and incentive programmes to force the media to work for, rather than against, the advancement of women.
In other business today, the Commission adopted its agenda and approved its organization of work for the current session. Based on nominations from regional
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groups, it also assigned members from Burundi, Argentina, Netherlands and Malaysia to serve on the working group on communications.
Speaking during the morning’s debate were Joanne Sandler, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), and Ayse Feride Acar, Chairperson of the Committee against All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Other speakers included the Minister of the Interior of Greece (speaking on behalf of the European Union), the Special Secretary for Women’s Policies of Brazil, and the Minister of Women’s Affairs of Namibia, as well as representatives from Morocco (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), China, and the Republic of Korea.
The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 4 March, to hold a panel discussion on women’s human rights and the elimination of violence against women.
The Commission on the Status of Women met today to begin its forty-seventh session, which will focus two thematic issues -- women and the media, and violence against women (for background information see press release WOM/1386, issued on 28 February, 2003).
NITIN DESAI, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women were always a high point at the United Nations during the first half of the year. There was a buzz of excitement, which testified to the importance of the work undertaken by the Commission. Gender-equality was a concern to all of humankind. In this connection, he hoped that there would be greater gender-equality within the Commission itself. Mr. Desai continued by highlighting the connection between the work of the Commission and the work of the United Nations in fields covered by such major processes, as the Second World Assembly on Ageing, the World Conference on Financing for Development and the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development.
Concerning the Financing for Development Conference, he said that even if one could view it as a technical meeting, it had been political in its very nature. Issues of gender-equality and the building of a gender-sensitive approach to the handling of financial flows had been an important concern in Monterrey. The importance of gender-equality had been touched upon, particularly in the field of micro-finance. It was clear that a gender-sensitive approach was required in the mobilization of domestic resources for development. Similarly, a gender-sensitive approach had also been adopted during the Johannesburg Summit and in the adoption of its Declaration. The Assembly on Ageing had demonstrated the importance of the issues as the proportions of ageing people continued to rise in several regions.
Many of the outcomes of those conferences had been reflected in the Millennium Development Goals, he said, and stressed that issues of gender equality played a central role in those goals. The challenge for the international community was to change its focus from policy development to implementation. In order to achieve the implementation of those many goals, the important follow-up work undertaken by the Commission could not be underestimated. The Commission had a particular role to play in the implementation of gender equality, as well as a responsibility to development issues as a whole. In that connection, he drew the attention of the Commission to the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society, to be held in Geneva, focused on the impact of the information society, positive and negative, manners, on developing countries. He hoped the Commission’s work could contribute to the work being done for that Summit.
In conclusion, he stressed the connection between the Commission and the Commission on Human Rights and emphasized the need for a good synergy between the two bodies. In many different ways, the Commission was ensuring that gender concerns were reflected in a broader way in the international community. More attention was, therefore, needed on getting results on the ground, at the national level, through the participation of civil society in policy-making processes. He encouraged the Commission to continue its important work. Gender-equality was one of the areas of greatest progress, when considering the achievements of the United Nations over the last decades. That progress owed much to the important and dynamic work of the Commission.
ANGELA KING, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, stressed that gender aspects were essential in achieving all of the Millennium Development Goals. The Goals were mutually reinforcing, and progress towards one would affect progress towards the others. The theme for International Women’s Day –- Gender Equality and the Millennium Development Goals -– was chosen to create an awareness of gender equality in all goals, stress that poverty and hunger could not be eradicated without attention to gender dimensions, and demonstrate gender dimensions as they related to the goals of health and education.
Recent weeks had put a harsh spotlight on the devastating impact on women and children of the convergence of famine and the HIV/AIDS crisis in southern Africa, she said. As HIV/AIDS infection rates for women climbed to 58 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa, the disease was eroding the health of Africa’s women, as well as the skills, experience and networks keeping their families and communities going. The combination of HIV/AIDS and economic deprivation was causing serious human resource and capital depletion in the most affected areas. In some areas, the situation required a new multidisciplinary approach, including capacity replenishment, to address the exacerbating crises.
As the ten-year review of the Platform for Action, adopted at the Fourth World Summit on Women (Beijing, 1995), and the outcome document of Beijing + 5 drew near, the international community must focus on implementation, she continued. After the Beijing Conference, some 120 countries had prepared national action plans, many countries had subsequently prepared progress reports on implementation, and civil society had put in place their own follow-up and monitoring structures. Those plans continued to be essential benchmarks against which progress in implementation could, and must, be assessed. She encouraged all governments to revisit those plans, critically assess how much progress had been made towards reaching commitments and goals, and identify gaps and challenges that lay ahead.
She acknowledged with appreciation the extraordinary scope and volume of work accomplished over the past year by the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which had considered a total of 49 reports from 26 States parties. She was also gratified that Member States had continued to focus on gender perspectives and the situation of women in peace and security. A study mandated by Security Council resolution 1325 on the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, and the gender dimensions of peace processes and conflict resolutions, had been completed. All Member States should use the momentum generated by the Council to increase attention to gender perspectives in peace and security. Gender advisers or gender focal points must become a standard feature of multi-dimensional peacekeeping operations.
Ms. King then referred to the goal of 50/50 gender balance at all grade levels in the United Nations. Steady progress had been made over the period from 30 June 2001 to July 2002, but the rate of increase had since slowed significantly. If the international community was to meet its goals in the year ahead, it would need to make a concerted effort to retain women staff currently employed, recruit external women candidates as necessary, and ensure that the appointment and promotion of suitably qualified women would not be less than 50 per cent, as requested by the General Assembly in resolution 54/139.
CAROLYN HANNAN, Director, Division for the Advancement of Women, said that in accordance with its multi-year programme of work, the Commission would consider two thematic issues at its present session, in addition to a number of recurrent matters. Consideration of the thematic issues was the core of the Commission’s annual work, and a critical contribution to the systematic follow up to the Beijing Platform for Action, she said. Focusing on selected topics allowed the Commission to strengthen and accelerate implementation of the recommendations in those documents, to further refine the global policy framework for gender equality as it pertained to the themes, and to ensure practical action at all levels. It was also an opportunity to reinforce links between the implementation of gender-specific instruments and other global policy instruments.
The first topic addressed the participation and access of women to the media, and information and communication technologies, and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women. In that connection, the Division for the Advancement of Women had convened two expert group meetings to support preparations on the topic. Both meetings had provided essential input for the Secretary-General’s report, which noted that women’s participation and access to the media, after many years on national and international agendas, remained an issue that required continuing attention. The role of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the promotion of gender equality was, on the other hand, a much newer concern. The prominent role of new information and communications technologies in the media raised a series of questions of access and participation that needed to be addressed from a gender perspective.
The second theme before the Commission addressed women’s human rights and elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls, which were inextricably linked. An expert meeting, organized by the Division in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, had examined one form of violence which had reached world wide proportions and required a strengthened focus by the international community in recent years -- namely trafficking in women and girls. The consideration of the two thematic issues would be further enriched by the panel discussions that were scheduled to take place this afternoon and tomorrow morning.
Last year, the Commission had decided to introduce the option of convening high-level round tables as part of its annual session to enhance the implementation of the Platform for Action and the outcome document. That round table, which would follow the two panel discussions, would provide an opportunity for senior representatives of national machineries for the advancement of women who attended the Commission to have a dialogue on national experiences in institutional capacity–building. Through such a round table, the Commission had taken yet another step forward in ensuring that its working methods were conducive to interactive dialogue, exchange of national experiences and lessons learned.
In conclusion, highlighting some of the reports before the Commission, Ms. Hannan elaborated on the Division’s small technical cooperation programme, which was an important part of its work and was directly linked to its responsibility for normative, analytical and policy development on gender equality. As part of that effort, the Division worked with national machineries for the advancement of women to enhance their capacity to implement the commitments of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and to act as catalysts for gender mainstreaming within their governments. The Division had been heartened by the very positive response received and hoped, in the future, to enhance the direct contact with national machineries.
JOANNE SANDLER, Deputy Director the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), said UNIFEM had the opportunity to support, track and learn from a growing number of innovative initiatives worldwide that had generated hope that meaningful solutions to gender-base violence would be found. Creative strategies that UNIFEM’s Trust Fund grantees were using in various communities were achieving concrete results. In Yemen, for example, women’s organizations had used a Fund grant to support advocacy with parliamentarians to endorse and support a new draft domestic violence bill and policy. In Nigeria, a Trust Fund grant had helped an organization to reduce violence against young female hawkers at bus and truck stops, and support drivers to organize defence committees.
Increasingly, requests to the Trust Fund were demonstrating that non-governmental and governmental organizations alike were strengthening their initiatives by making necessary links between the violence that women faced in their daily lives and a wide range of complex and intersecting issues. Trust Fund projects were exploring the connections between violence against women and HIV/AIDS, racism, poverty, migration, and conflict. In Cambodia, for example, a Trust Fund grantee was broadcasting a series of dramas over national radio, and inviting audience members to discuss domestic violence, trafficking and HIV and receive referrals for legal and psychological counselling.
She noted, however, that the potential of the Trust Fund to generate and disseminate a greater number of promising models was limited by the paucity of resources available to it. With contributions averaging slightly over $1 million per year, the Trust Fund was hard pressed to support or even solicit the full range of initiatives needed to make a meaningful dent in the pandemic of violence against women. Last year alone, the Fund had received $15 million in requests. From both a development and financial perspective, a contribution to the Fund was an investment in a better future.
AYSE FERIDE ACAR of Turkey, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that the Committee was responsible for reviewing the reports of the States parties to the Convention –- at present 170 –- on the implementation of the Convention at the national level. It also formulated general recommendations, and made suggestions through the Economic and Social Council to the General Assembly. The Committee also had the competence to consider communications submitted by or on behalf of individuals or groups of individuals who claimed to be victims of a violation of rights set forth in the Convention, and to inquire into grave or systematic violations of the Convention’s terms.
The twenty-eighth session of the Committee ended a little over a month ago, she said. During that session, the Committee had considered the reports of eight States parties to the Convention. It also took a number of decisions and met with representatives of 13 of the 21 States not yet parties to the Convention for an informal exchange on issues relating to future adherence. Over the past year, the Committee had continued to re-examine its working methods. Last April, most members of the Committee had met informally and discussed such issues as formulating a strategy to encourage States parties to report, and new modalities for the constructive dialogue with States parties. The Committee’s activities were in keeping with the spirit of the Secretary-General’s call for treaty body reforms, she added.
There was a steady evolution in the relationship between the Committee and the intergovernmental process in the promotion of gender equality, especially since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, she said. Both of the thematic issues of the current session of the Commission had been subjects of central importance to the Committee. The clear link between the legal framework and the policy process, and the interaction between Committee and Commissions, was demonstrated time and again and would help to ensure that gender equality remained a high priority. She concluded by stressing the Committee’s readiness to continue its cooperation with the Commission in any appropriate way and the willingness of Committee members to continue to serve in expert group meetings convened in preparation of the Commission.
MOHAMED BENNOUNA (Morocco), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, noted that governments had said in the 1995 Beijing Declaration that they were “determined to advance the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere in the interest of all humanity”. Eight years later, one could rightly ask whether such goals, particularly those relating to women’s access to and participation in the media, as well as information and communication technologies, had been attained. Any objective analysis in that field had suffered from a lack of reliable lack of statistics and data, and available studies were rarely disaggregated by sex.
He stressed that information and communications technologies were vital for women’s empowerment and the promotion of gender equality. Such technologies contributed to the emergence of new societies, based on know-how and information dissemination. However, a considerable proportion of the world’s population, who were living in poverty, could not benefit from the advantages offered by modern technology, which further widened the digital divide between high-tech societies and those lagging behind. Moreover, disparities linked to illiteracy, low educational levels and the high cost of information technology meant that women had less chance of gaining the basic skills they needed to take advantage of new technologies.
The digital divide could widen, he added, unless a determined effort was made to facilitate the access of developing countries to such technology. Without such unified international cooperation, new technologies would only perpetuate existing inequalities. The international community should make an increased effort to encourage and promote the real transfer of technologies to developing countries.
The development of such technologies had unfortunately suffered some abuse in recent years, he noted, which had harmed the image and dignity of women. In that respect, the specific interests of women must be duly considered, particularly those relating to violence against women and trafficking in women and girls. Violence against women was inadmissible wherever it might occur. To eliminate violence and its impact on development, the international community must adopt a concerted approach. Concrete action must be taken, including national legislation to better protect women and girls from violence and trafficking, and penal sanctions against the perpetrators of such crimes.
COSTAS SKANDALIDES (Greece), speaking on behalf of the European Union and Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania, said gender equality was an important element in the Union’s policies, along with solidarity, social justice, human rights, non-discrimination and good governance. Its dedication to gender equality was in harmony with efforts by the United Nations. The Union was fully committed to the implementation of the Millennium Declaration, which paced gender equality at the centre of development efforts.
He said the Union was committed to: raising women’s employment percentage in the Union from 53 to 60; finding ways of reconciling work and family life for both men and women; eliminating the persisting pay gap; and strengthening women’s employment in all professions, particularly in management positions. The year 2003 had been designated as the European Year of Disabled People, and the Union considered it important in that regard to respond to the challenges of multiple discrimination faced by women with disabilities. The gender mainstreaming strategy had proved to be an effective tool in the promotion of equality between men and women. The European Council’s Gender Equality Action Programme provided significant financial support for both gender mainstreaming and specific actions. Governments and the international community must continue to increase representation of women in the decision-making posts.
Violence against women and girls, including domestic violence, was a crime and a human rights issue, he said. All States had an obligation to prevent and prosecute any such act. In no case could social, cultural or religious factors be invoked as a justification for such violence, as it constituted a human rights violation. Harmful traditional or customary practices, including female genital mutilation, honour crimes, early and forced marriage, could violate and impair or nullify the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. While trafficking in human beings was a form of organized crime and violence against women, it was important to examine it broadly from a human rights perspective. The elimination of the root causes of trafficking, such as poverty, gender inequality, and sexual exploitation was also a critical element in the fight against that crime.
He said women were badly under-represented in the information technology and communications industries. The European Council in its “Europe 2002 -– An Information Society for All” action plan had stressed the importance of attracting women into information technology professions. Traditional inequality patterns should not lead to an increased gender-based digital divide. At the same time, the negative aspects of new communication technologies, such as increased possibilities for disseminating pornography, in particular child pornography, must be fought. The Union was guided by those considerations in its participation in the Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) Task Force of the United Nations and in its contributions to preparations for the World Summit on the Information Society. The Union would be organizing an Athens conference on gender equality and the information society in May.
EMILIA FERNANDES, Special Secretary for Women’s Policies of Brazil, said the women’s movement in her country had achieved important victories over the last decades. Brazilian women had conquered the right to vote 70 years ago. During Brazil’s National Constitutional Assembly in the 1980s, women participated in the process of restoring democracy and ensured the inclusion of women’s rights in the Constitution. On 1 January 2003, accepting a historic claim of the Brazilian women’s movement and civil society, the President of Brazil created, on his first day in office, the Special Secretariat for Women’s Policies. That body represented a landmark in the fight for women’s rights and reflected the commitment of the new Government to social justice and promotion of equality in Brazil.
Other important progress was reflected in the ratification by Brazil, in June 2002, of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. That Protocol offered the possibility of submitting individual communications to the Committee that monitored implementation of that important international instrument. Nevertheless, the road ahead was a rough one and much remained to be done in the fight against discrimination, for equality and against violence. Brazil considered the two thematic themes of the current session of the Commission a very appropriate selection. It was fundamental to move forward in the international debate on the inseparable links between the promotion and protection of women’s rights and the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls.
Violence was a violation of human rights, she said. Therefore, the elimination of all forms of violence against women went side by side with the fight against discrimination and with the pursuit of gender balance. In Brazil, the Government continued to implement actions to eliminate all forms of violence against women. The National Programme to Prevent and Combat Violence against Women was founded on: the coordination of interministerial actions; reformulation of legislation with discriminatory content; and strengthening of the law enforcement apparatus. Also, it was necessary to ensure that the accelerated development of networks and information and communication technologies did not disregard the gender differences and the specificities of women and girls. She stressed that the media must be used to promote gender equality and to change practices and social habits that limited the full enjoyment of women’s rights.
NETUMBO NANDI-NDAITWAH, Minister of Women Affairs and Child Welfare of Namibia, said while the primary responsibility for implementing gender policies lay with governments, the importance of the United Nations as the appropriate body for setting commitments, goals and targets could not be overemphasized. It was, therefore, important to strengthen agencies specifically devoted to gender, women and children’s issues, such as UNIFEM and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Additional resources must be made available to the UNIFEM Trust Fund that supported programmes to eliminate violence against women.
After describing measures her country had taken at the national level regarding issues of women and children, she said participation in and access to media and information by women was a crucial aspect in their empowerment. As a vast country with a small population, the most effective way through which women’s empowerment and capacity building could be communicated was radio, as almost every rural family owned a radio set. A gender unit had been established within Namibia’s national broadcaster, resulting in gender responsive programmes.
She said all forms of violence against women and girls, including domestic violence, trafficking, rape, killing and those traditional practices that were harmful to women, must be addressed as a matter of urgency. Traditions or religions must not be allowed to become justifications for violating women’s human rights. National and local efforts to implement gender responsive policies were being hampered by the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the effects of the drought. With a population of 1.8 million, her country had to provide care and protection to over
82,000 orphans and other vulnerable children. Assistance from international partners was of paramount importance in supplementing national efforts.
ZHANG YISHAN (China) said his country attached great importance to the protection of the rights and interests of women and children, and had acceded to many international human rights instruments in that regard. It had also amended and formulated laws and regulations on the protection of the rights and interests of women and children, and had strengthened the training of law enforcement personnel to sensitize them to women’s rights and interests and gender issues, and improve multi-sectoral coordination and cooperation.
He said the elimination of discrimination and violence against women and girls depended on raising people’s legal and gender awareness. His country’s fourth five-year campaign to disseminate legal knowledge, launched in 2001, made heavy use of the media to promote China’s basic national policy of gender equality and gender awareness. At the ministerial, community and family level, an educational campaign on the laws against trafficking in women and children was now underway, especially among the target groups of youth, migrant labour and parents, to prevent and combat trafficking.
Information and communication technologies should be used fully to promote and increase women’s access to education, health care and a productive economic life, and to facilitate their participation in public life, he said. The ratio of female Internet users in China had risen from 12 per cent in 1997 to 41 per cent in 2002. However, women in many countries, especially poor women, faced obstacles in their access to new technology. When formulating and implementing related policies and strategies, governments must take the gender perspective into account.
LEE HO-JIN (Republic of Korea) stressed that information and communication technologies and the media could be used to increase women’s economic empowerment and political participation, liberating them from discrimination, under-representation, and poverty. However, such technologies and the media could also be used to exploit women and girls, as could be seen in the alarming spread of pornography on the Internet, which perpetuated the perception of women as objects, rather than human beings with rights and dignity.
Trafficking in women and girls, he continued, was a grave violation of women’s rights, and his Government had tried to introduce a gender-based, human rights approach in its efforts to fight that crime. In addition to criminal proceedings to bring the perpetrators to justice, it had institutionalised a comprehensive system of protection and rehabilitation for the victims of both domestic and international trafficking. A one-stop hotline service linking medical, education, legal and welfare assistance provided interpretation services and shelters to victims who were foreign nationals.
Over the past year, he said, his country’s Ministry of Gender Equality had formulated the Second Five-Year National Plan in Women’s Policies, the National Plan for Women’s Human Resources Development, and measures against domestic and sexual violence. It had also overseen the revision of relevant laws concerning maternity protection and set up the inter-ministerial policy coordination committee. The country’s new Government, inaugurated last week, would build on those achievements to further consolidate policies aimed at gender equality.
Experts on the panel discussion on the theme “Participation and access of women to the media, and information and communication technologies and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women” consisted of: Carolina Aguilar Ayerra of Cuba, Director of Editorial Women of Cuba; Ammu Joseph of India, freelance journalist, author and media analyst; Rosalind Gill of the United Kingdom, a lecturer at the Gender Institute, London School of Economics; Chat Gracia Ramilo of the Philippines, Project Manager for the Association for Progressive Communication Women’s Networking Support Programme; and Sarbuland Khan, Director, Division for Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Support and Coordination, Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
Opening the discussion, Ms. Aguilar Ayerra said that Latin American and Caribbean women had attempted to find places for themselves in the mass media, which had continued to be a difficult undertaking. It was vital to give women presence, voice and visibility, and to counter the discrimination of women as professionals. Women must not only participate more in the mass media, but their disadvantaged situations must be exposed. Men and women had the same cultural norms, but social practices and thinking had legitimized inequality and enshrined discrimination.
Tremendous inequalities in justice and wealth and tremendous gaps between developed and developing countries still remained, she said. Colonialism in the twentieth century had undermined cultural values and preached unreachable consumption patterns through the media. The global world had denied women many of their basic rights, ignored diversity and undermined their strategic requirements. The constant projection of degrading images, commercially and through pornography, had affected women in numerous ways, imposing upon them an aesthetic tyranny and continued domination. The digital gap had widened the already tremendous differences between women and access to communication. Women must study the impact of the media, and design new communication strategies. Tremendous injustices in the media could be countered, and should not be ignored.
Ms. Joseph reported on the Beirut expert group meeting of November 2002, its outcomes and recommendations. It had become clear that the status of women and the status of the media were both key indices of the development and democratization of society, she said. Media, in all its forms, was central to women’s advancement and empowerment. During the meeting, discussions had focused on four aspects of the subject, including policies as enabling frameworks; access to employment and decision making; representation, portrayal and other issues of content; and the impact of new media technologies, professions and content.
Some of the recommendations of the meeting had stressed the urgent need to incorporate a gender perspective into the analysis and development of policy and legislation, and into efforts to monitor their implementation. In that connection, she added that incentives were a practical means to achieve desirable ends -- to encourage media organizations to institute and implement gender-sensitive policies linked to measurable targets. She also stressed the importance of regulation, as well as financial support for public service and community media, in the present, increasingly market-driven media environment.
Although more women were entering and using the media, concerns about their access to employment and decision-making remained, she continued. Concerted efforts were still required to counter persistent trends that limited women’s access to and participation in the media. Access and participation must also be promoted among women of colour and those who belonged to religious or ethnic minorities or other socially excluded groups, who were currently under-represented in the media. She added that the factors that continued to limit women’s capacity to influence media content must be addressed. The need for practical and practicable measures within media organizations to progressively eliminate the remaining obstacles to women’s access to and advancement in media professions was also discussed.
She added that research was needed to generate reliable and comparative gender-based data on employment patterns in different categories of media professions at the nat ional, regional and international levels, and to identify the stumbling blocks that continued to hamper women’s advancement in the media. One approach situated the promotion of gender equality and gender consciousness in the media within the broader framework of human rights and democratic values, on the one hand, and professionalism on the other.
She concluded by explaining the three premises that such an approach was based upon: gender equality was intrinsic to the freedom of expression and the right to information; rights came with responsibilities and the media, therefore, had an obligation to ensure equal voice to women and men, and to serve the information needs of both; and gender awareness resulted in better media practice.
Ms. Gill said the media provided a distorted view of violence against women, often condemning the victim instead of the attacker. Rape was presented as titillating, newspapers included pictures of naked or partly clothed women, and language used was designed to be sexually arousing. There was an increasing normalization of pornography, which was no longer a distinct genre, but affected all media. Often, women’s organizations and activist groups had been forced to rely on regulatory mechanisms, forcing them into alliance with ultra-conservative groups.
The access of women to technology was characterized by multiple divisions, such as those between rich and poor, men and women, urban and rural population, the old and young, and different ethic groups within countries, she said. The obstacles to access to communications technology included the lack of necessary infrastructure, such as electricity and telephone lines, insufficient training, illiteracy, the domination of English, and women’s lack of time. All of those issues must be addressed to promote greater access to information and communication technologies for women. In addition, content, much of which focused on Euro-American concerns and is in English, must be transformed. Research was also urgently needed to discover women’s information needs.
Ms. Ramilo informed the Commission about information and communication technologies centres in southern Africa and the important gender advancement progress that had been seen due to the considerable work of women from the region. Experiences and stories from the women at the centres showed that women were at the deepest end of the digital divide. The plain and simple reality of such technologies was that its benefits had not reached the developing world. The reality of women in developing countries was even starker. The information society needed to be based on communication rights, on the sharing of knowledge, organization of political action and the celebration of linguistic and cultural differences and similarities.
Ms. Ramilo reminded the Commission of the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva in 2003. That would be a unique opportunity to focus global attention on the building of an information society that was based on goals of social, political and economic justice, sustainable human development, support for democracy, participation, and empowerment and gender equality. Gender advocates had lobbied consistently throughout the Summit process, at regional and international levels, to ensure that gender equality and women’s rights were integrated into the Summit and its follow-up programs.
It was necessary to create an enabling environment for gender equality within information and communication technologies since it offered new opportunities for women, particularly in employment and ownership. However, there were many obstacles to overcome, such as illiteracy and access. Women were under-represented in all decision-making structures and she appealed to governments to use their expertise in eliminating gender-discrimination in information and communication technologies plans. Gender accountability in information and communication technologies must be a priority, she stressed. Also, government commitment was needed in national delegations to the Summit process. There was a need to include representation from the national machinery. Since the first preparatory committee for the Summit, it had become clear that there was a connection between the Beijing Platform for Action and a gender-sensitive information and communication technologies industry.
Mr. Khan said it was useful to start on a modest note when speaking of a major technological revolution, and attempt to understand what was happening on the ground. Five years ago, the situation was quite different than what it is today. For example, the highest concentration of Internet users was now in South Korea, rather than the United States. Similarly, the highest number of cellphone users was now in Africa. Those examples suggested that the information and communication technologies revolution was a complex phenomena, in constant flux. One thing could be understood -- it was going to fundamentally change the way people lived, thought and related to one another.
Questioning what the international community should aim at in trying to build an information society accessible to all, he said it should strive to ensure the full participation of all segments of society. That was the angle from which the United Nations had viewed the issue when it was first addressed in 2000. A universal, inclusive and participatory information society could be built with participation from all segments of society. A multi-stakeholder approach, which included governments, civil society, non-governmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations and other groups, should be used.
The declaration of the United Nations ICT Task Force was built on that concept, he continued. Over the past year, it had adopted a decentralized approach, in which various sectors in the world could participate, and had launched two or three major initiatives. It was now developing a framework to launch global e-schools, which aimed to fully reflect the gender dimension.
In a subsequent question-and-answer session, the representative of Norway said that it was time to arrive at agreed conclusions that would make a difference to the work of the World Summit for the Information Society. Information and communications technologies could play a role in empowerment, the advancement of women and as a tool to democratization, she said. It was about time that women were involved in the process.
The representative of Indonesia agreed with Ms. Gill that both access to such technology and its content were important, and asked if Ms. Gill could elaborate further on capacity-building to enable the development of local content.
What recommendations did the panellists have on the role of the media on the issue of violence against women and the exploitation of children? asked the representative of Brazil.
The representative of Gabon noted that the texts circulated by the panellists were in English only -– yet another testimony to the lack of access and linguistic barriers of women across the world to information and communication technologies.
Speaking on behalf of the European Union, the representative of Greece asked Mr. Khan to expand more on gender issues within the context of the Summit. What were the priorities necessary in order to ensure that gender equality was addressed at the Summit and how could the lobbyists’ efforts be supported?
A representative of the International Federation of University Women, a non-governmental organization, shared her concerns that the Preparatory Committee for the Summit had not highlighted gender equality enough. Contributions received at the Committee had come from non-governmental organizations, and not governments.
Ms. Gill responded to the representative of Indonesia and said resources were absolutely essential. The globalization of media and information and communication technologies was often linked to the privatisation of media, she explained. That made it essential to protect local content, perhaps through protective legislation. She also suggested that when donor agencies set up projects on such technologies, they not only focus on computers and phonelines, but also on developing local content.
Mr. Khan said in response to the representative of Greece, that the second session of the Preparatory Committee had recently concluded and was now in the midst of drafting an outcome paper. There was a real struggle for the soul and heart of the Summit -- would it be a technical conference or a development-oriented conference? Gender mainstreaming, however, needed to be a key component of the outcome of the Summit, and he highlighted the importance of the participation of women at the designing stage.
Ms. Ramilo said, with regard to the increasing participation of women in the Summit, that percentage wise -- there were not enough women participating. She also responded to the representative of Brazil on the role of the media in the exploitation of women and children and suggested a voluntary code of conduct.
Ms. Ayerra responding to the issue of access and training, said one could not address the issue of information and communication technologies without recognizing the tremendous national resources required to train and provide access to women in developing countries, such as Cuba.
Ms. Joseph said that incentives were needed and awards, or a code of conduct, could be used with regard to the role of the media and the exploitation of women. She suggested the publication of best and worst practices, as well as the use of role models. She also stressed that poverty was a real issue –- an issue that could not be ignored when discussing the advancement of women and information and communication technologies.
The representative of Denmark said it was vital for colleagues at the session to go back home and motivate their national delegates to attend preparatory meetings for the World Summit, so they could fight for the inclusion of the gender perspective in the conference’s outcome documents.
The representative of Mexico said the media should be sensitized to avoid stereotypes. There had been progress in women having access to the Internet, but not in terms of its quality. Her country had helped women to have access to the Internet, and had also promoted Internet pages for adolescents.
The representative of Malaysia said the draft declaration and draft action plan for the Summit had been completed by the end of the second preparatory meeting. She stressed that it was vital to work together to ensure that the gender perspective was included in the action plan.
The representative of Cuba stressed that financial resources must be made available to implement the outcome of the Summit. Training was also needed for gender sensitization, so that new technologies were not imbued with old stereotypes.
The representative of Thailand noted that the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) had only one gender-sensitive information and communication technologies indicator. Even though representatives in the international arena had repeatedly requested gender-sensitive indicators, there appeared to have been no response. She asked whether the ITU planned to include any other gender-sensitive indicators.
A representative of Five-O Coalition, of non-governmental organizations, stressed the need for training in new technologies, regardless of gender. Moreover, education should implant values and ethics that respected human rights. The media must be engaged as a participant in such education.
Ms. Joseph agreed with the need for information and communication technologies training for women.
Ms. Ramilo agreed that a main problem in gender analysis of such technology was the lack of sex-disaggregated data on access to communications. Regarding gender-sensitive indicators, she mentioned that the Philippines was developing indicators in various areas, which would assist in policy development.
Ms. Ayerra stressed that women must have access to technological tools, and that the international community could help in implementing new projects. The women’s movement and those working with them in the media should also study stress and its impact on women. Civil society and governments must work together in promoting projects in that field.
Ms. Gill agreed on the need for sex-disaggregated data in analyzing gender and information and communication technologies use.
Mr. Kahn questioned how information and communication technologies for development could be measured in relation to development. He then commented on several projects underway in his department.
The representative of Switzerland supported the points made by delegations on the need for the Commission to incorporate the gender discussion within the Summit. The representation of women in traditional media was still unsatisfactory and had a direct effect on the number of women in politics. In Switzerland, the electorate often did not associate, or remember, people who were not covered in the media. It was, therefore, necessary to gender-sensitize the media. She questioned what happened to the freedom of the press and media in situations where women were under-represented or not represented at all.
In the United Republic of Tanzania, new technologies were warmly welcomed and sorely needed, said the representative of that country, as she appealed to donor governments to support projects for electrification. She also accounted for the work undertaken by women’s media groups in her country and stressed that they needed support in order to continue their important work on violence against women.
The representative of the Republic of Korea said access to information must be seen as a right in today’s society. A gender-sensitive approach was needed within information and communication technologies, she said. The digital divide needed to be addressed between countries and between men and women. Civil society and international organization must cooperate to ensure women’s access to information.
Picking up on a point made by the representative of Brazil on the role of the media, the representative of Chile described the “image awards” given in Chile as an incentive in the creation of a gender-sensitive media. She also highlighted the interaction between access to information and local content, and stressed the need to protect and promote local content.
The representative of South Africa said that the access to information and communication technologies was a tool for development. She said the issue that had arisen around training was important, and she described targeted training programmes undertaken in South Africa. Concerning the use of the old and newer technologies, she asked how that could be sustained in rural areas. Furthermore, with regard to relevant content, she asked how one could ensure that women could develop not only relevant content, but also relevant content in their native languages.
The representative of Japan asked Mr. Khan how the ICT Task Force had been working together with the Commission towards the Summit in specific terms. She asked Ms. Gill about sexual stereotyping and her suggestion of legislation. She explained that governments always faced the problem of wanting to eradicate stereotyping and discrimination, without limiting the freedom of expression. She also asked for elaboration on methods of the information and communication technologies that could be used for the prevention and protection of victims of trafficking.
A representative of the Women’s National Commission of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland stressed the need to focus on sexual exploitation of women through information and communication technologies in forms such as pornography. There was a constant demand for a new supply, leading to further exploitation of women and the girl child. Pornography eventually led to other crimes, such as trafficking.
Mr. KHAN said that he had worked very closely with the Commission on the gender question in relation to the Summit. How could that be brought to the fore at the Summit? he asked. The Task Force needed to reflect the issues discussed today and to develop the necessary tools to ensure their implementation.
Ms. GILL, in responding to the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania, said there was a danger that the “digital divide” could become a more fashionable way of talking about poverty divides. To Japan, she said that the balance between legislation and freedom of speech was a difficult path to tread, but needed to be taken. She added that the information and communication technologies could be used in innovative ways, particularly areas like domestic abuse.
Ms. JOSEPH said that language and content needed to be addressed and told the Commission about a multilingual device invented in India, which could be a viable way to putting information and communication technologies into the hands of women and weaker groups. She also said that governments had a say in public and community media; however, it seemed governments were not exercising that option as much as they should.
Ms. AYERRA stressed the importance of old media, particularly radio, and warned against new technologies replacing old media. Old media and technology could contribute to sensitizing women and society in general, sometimes better than new technologies.
Ms. RAMILO said that strategies for sustainability must look at open-source solutions. Open-source solutions must be proposed and promoted, they were low-cost and their benefits could be shared.
The representative of Guatemala stressed that changing the status of women implied changing the dynamics of power. The use of media to end the oppression of women must be supported.
Asking about statistical data on access to information, the representative of Argentina shared statistics about computer access in South America and other regions of the world. She noted that not much had been said on the simple fact that men controlled most media. The participation of women in decision-making processes was very low indeed.
The representative of Burkina Faso asked what means of access could be provided to women in poor countries, both in terms of old and new technologies. Could the panel provide some sort of road map that would allow poor women to have access to information?
The representative of China said that information and communication technologies had developed very fast; however, women were marginalized in their access to it. Poor women, especially, faced countless obstacles to such access. She emphasized that the development of information and communication technologies
was not an end in itself, but a means to an end -- development and gender equality across the world.
The representative of Namibia stressed the difficulties faced by developing countries and poor people to gain a fair access to information. She stressed that the majority of the poor in many developing countries were rural women. She also brought up the destructive nature of pornography and the need to take actions against such ills.
Ms. JOSEPH concluded by saying that the afternoon had shown the preoccupation with information and communication technologies. However, it was important not to throw out the baby with the bathwater, since information and communication technologies could have both positive and negative impacts. She also highlighted that the market -- and not government -- was perhaps the most influential actor in media, and warned that it could lead to the regression of progress achieved.
Ms. RAMILO said that she had been encouraged by the sentiments expressed. It was an encouraging sign -- it would have an impact on the Summit.
Ms. AYERRO thanked participants and panellists and stressed that the concerns mentioned must be included in the preparation for the Summit and in the Summit itself.
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