|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Commission on the Status of Women
9th & 10th Meetings (AM & PM)
Realization of Beijing Platform Underpins Success of Millennium Development Goals,
but Push to Attain Goals Must Not Narrow Aims of Women’s Agenda, Commission Told
Regional Commissions Discuss Gaps in Meeting Beijing Targets, New Mechanisms
to Advance Women’s Rights, Proposed Changes to United Nations Gender Architecture
Implementing the Beijing Platform for Action was essential for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, but the well-known conceptual shift in approaching poverty as a multidimensional phenomenon had not been matched by a similarly comprehensiveapproach to women’s empowerment, the Commission on the Status of Women heard today, as it held two high-level panels that zeroed in on filling both strategy and implementation gaps.
“We are so distracted by the push for the achievement of the Goals that we are going to narrow down the objectives and the agenda that we adopted 15 years ago,” said panellist Zo Randriamaro, Training Coordinator with Development Alternatives for Women in a New Era (DAWN), one of three morning panellists to discuss the linkages between implementing the Beijing Platform and achieving the Goals. In a spirited exchange with Government and civil society delegates, she stressed that although the Goals could strengthen implementation of the Platform, they included only some of the Platform’s objectives, which was a concern.
In opening remarks, she said women’s empowerment urgently required a coherent and multisectoral approach. Moreover, women’s empowerment and gender equality required a development framework that recognized that the objectives of the Platform and the Goals could not be reached when essential social services were being eroded by privatization. A rights-based approach to the Goals and gender equality was a moral obligation and development imperative.
Striking a similar tone, panellist Eva Rathgeber, who held the Joint Chair of Women’s Studies at the University of Ottawa/Carleton University in Canada, said implementation of the Beijing Platform had been slow, in part, because national plans had had limited success in changing policy in a way that would speed gender equality. Often, Governments had taken poor or no action on that front, and civil society had not adequately pushed for compliance with commitments.
She said indicators were poor or non-existent and, since they were commonly national aggregates, often masked inequities. And there had been few international forums for dialogue on the issues. There were many ways to change those trends, especially by ensuring that Governments complied with human rights obligations in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Shedding light on one success, Gülden Türkoz-Cosslett, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative and Resident Coordinator in Albania, said women there had improved their participation in decision-making. The number of female Parliament members elected in last June’s national elections had more than doubled from that of the previous election, from 7 per cent in 2005 to 16.4 per cent in 2009. Albania, a pilot country of the “Delivering as One” programme had, through improved accountability tools such as the Gender Score Card, seen first-hand the impacts of a strong gender agency.
The afternoon panel, which focused on “Regional Perspectives in progress and remaining gaps and challenges in the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action”, heard findings from the reports of the fiveUnited Nations regional commissions, which had been undertaken in preparation for the 15-year review at the fifty-fourth session. Four of the five commissions also had organized intergovernmental regional meetings.
In their presentations, speakers generally emphasized the significant gains made in recent years. In Asia, for example, most Governments now had a single mechanism to advance women’s rights. Some 400 representatives had participated in the region’s review of the Platform for Action and adopted the Bangkok Declaration on Beijing + 15, which welcomed, among other things, proposed changes to the United Nations architecture. In Europe, trends showed that countries across the region had made substantial progress since the last review in criminalizing violence against women and in providing assistance to victims. Women’s empowerment had also been bolstered in Western Asia by the creation of family laws and family courts. Further, 19 of the 22 Arab States had ratified the women’s Convention.
Speaking during the morning interactive dialogue, which was moderated by Takashi Ashiki (Japan), were representatives of: Jordan, Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Indonesia, Iran, Belgium, China, Malaysia, Niger, Republic of Korea, United States, Albania, Morocco, Italy, Israel, Benin, Ireland, Norway, the Solomon islands, Canada, Paraguay, Philippines, Pakistan, Ecuador, Côte d’Ivoire, Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, Switzerland and Japan.
Participants also included representatives from Public Services International, World Youth Alliance, the Salvation Army, Action Canada for Population and Development and the European Youth Forum.
The afternoon panel was moderated by Julio Peralta (Paraguay), and featured presentations by Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); Bader al-Dafa, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA); Ján Kubiš, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE); Lalla Ben Barka, Deputy Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Africa (ECA); and Sonia Montaño, Director of the Division for Gender Affairs, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
Speaking during the interactive dialogue were delegates from Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Jordan, Indonesia, Cape Verde, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Denmark, Brazil, Iran, Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Canada, Mauritania, Niger, Israel, Philippines, Burundi, Ecuador, Guatemala and South Africa.
Representatives of the African Women Development and Communications Network, European Women’s Lobby, NGO Centre for Democracy and Development, and the Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance also spoke.
The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 5 March to continue its high-level plenary debate.
Morning Interactive Expert Panel
The Commission met this morning to hold an interactive panel discussion, on the theme of “Linkages between implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Development Goals”. Moderated by TAKASHI ASHIKI (Japan), it featured presentations by Eva Rathgeber, who held the Joint Chair of Women’s Studies at the University of Ottawa/Carleton University in Canada; Gülden Türkoz-Cosslett, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative and Resident Coordinator in Albania; and Zo Randriamaro, Training Coordinator with Development Alternatives for Women in a New Era (DAWN).
Welcoming delegates, Mr. ASHIKI said this morning’s panel would examine how the full and effective implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action could contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Discussion would focus on national efforts to facilitate gender mainstreaming in policies as well as the roles and contributions of various stakeholders.
Speaking first, Ms. RATHGEBER said the 1995 Beijing Platform recognized that empowerment of women and girls was required for the advancement of all humanity. Implementing its elements was essential for achieving the Millennium Development Goals -- a woman in a developing country had a 300 times greater chance of dying from childbirth complications than her developed country counterpart. Implementation of the Goals had been slow, due in part to a lack of participation of women in their formulation and lack of local accountability, though efforts were being made to change that. Further, economic growth was associated with pollution and environmental damage. There had been a lack of prioritization of public expenditure for meeting the Goals, especially as the post-2001 security agenda had moved financing into other areas. Women’s rights had also been inadequately implemented.
While there was a high level of convergence between the Platform and the Goals, the Platform went further in addressing gender, she said, and included issues like violence in armed conflict. Implementation of the Platform had been slow due, in part, to the fact that not all Governments had taken part in it and there had been little advocacy from civil society on that front. Indicators were poor or non-existent and often masked inequities. There had also been few international forums for dialogue on the issues.
Areas for intervention included ensuring that Governments complied with the human rights obligations in the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, she said. Employment should be made the primary goal of macroeconomic policies; women’s full participation should be ensured in decision-making at all levels; gender-responsive budgeting should be developed; fundamental rights for workers, including those in the informal sector, should be guaranteed; universal access to sexual and reproductive health services should be provided; investment should be made in water infrastructure with a special focus on women’s needs; and collection of sex-disaggregated data must be emphasized.
Ms. TÜRKOZ-COSSLETT discussed how the “Delivering as One” principles had impacted the implementation of the Beijing Platform and the Goals in Albania, saying that more coherent United Nations programming delivered better support to national development priorities. In 2007, Albania had become one of eight pilot countries for the Delivering as One programme. Gender was one of two areas for which the Government had requested strengthened programming and coordination. The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) had been asked to take the lead in the country. Increased national ownership was a building block of the programme, and the Government and the United Nations country team jointly identified which national priorities the United Nations could best address. The mechanisms established under the programme allowed for a transparent and open dialogue on instances in which the Government priority did not agree with that of the country team. A key challenge to integrating gender equality into policy processes was often the lack of proper resources for the gender mechanism. The joint programme had worked with the Ministry of Labour to address that issue.
She said women had achieved some success in the area of decision-making, with improved coordination among the four United Nations agencies contributing to the first quota in the electoral code being instituted in Albania. The number of women Parliament members elected in last June’s national elections had more than doubled from that of the previous Parliament, from 7 per cent in 2005 to 16.4 per cent in 2009. In terms of coordination for countering violence against women, she said that the United Nations supported civil society organizations in adding a specific target to ensure a 50 per cent increase in financial resources allocated to fight the problem.
Pilot countries of “Delivering as One” had, through improved accountability tools such as the Gender Score Card, 180 peer review and working principles of the United Nations country teams, strengthened the leadership of heads of agencies on gender equality, she said. As a pilot country, Albania had seen first-hand the important impacts of a strengthened lead agency working on gender equality. From a Government perspective, having one agency to ensure the technical and financial support had been essential. She envisaged that, with the establishment of a new United Nations composite gender entity, the “Delivering as One” model would be extended to many more countries in the future.
Ms. RANDRIAMARO recalled that the Millennium Development Goals had been expected to increase the focus on the national-level implementation of the Beijing Platform, while the Platform was expected to ensure achievement of the Goals. Today, five years before the target date for achieving the Goals, lessons learned from implementation of the Platform could help address gaps and adjust policy.
First, she said, women’s empowerment required a coherent and multisectoral approach. She emphasized that the conceptual shift in approaching poverty as a multidimensional phenomenon had not been matched by a similar approach to women’s empowerment. Poverty reduction strategies had not specifically addressed poverty’s gender dimension. Second, women’s empowerment and gender equality required an alternative development framework and a “developmental State”. Indeed, it should recognize that the objectives of the Platform and the Goals could not be achieved when essential social services were being eroded by privatization and regulation, or when the State’s role was reduced to promoting free-market policies. Finally, an effective accountability framework was clearly necessary. Although the Goals were not legally binding, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women provided such a framework. However, Governments lacked the political will to apply the normative standards of equality and non-discrimination.
Turning to her recommendations for action, she said a rights-based approach to the Goals and gender equality was a moral obligation as well as a development imperative. The accountability mechanism of the women’s Convention provided a model for assessing the Goals’ implementation. The gaps and challenges in the Platform’s 12 areas of concern must be addressed through a coherent and multisectoral approach that took into account the impacts of the multiple global crises. She also recommended focusing on development and financing universal and gender-sensitive social protection and insurance systems. Employment opportunities for women and the public provision of adequate support mechanisms should be expanded. Also, gender budgeting in both developing and donor countries should ensure that expenditures gave priority to the needs of women and girls in relation to decent employment creation, social spending and agriculture and infrastructure investment, among other things.
Responding, Ms. RATHGEBER said various international agreements were in place and if they were adhered to, many issues raised today would not be as serious. There was no single approach for all countries -- each had to develop its approach based on its own culture and identity. Generally, it would be useful to develop targets -- and stick to them. She had been struck by the situation in Rwanda, which had the highest number of women in Parliament, but was not in the most advantageous economic position, so there was room to make inroads.
On advancing the Millennium Development Goals, she said that, while United Nations agency progress reports had been written, not all featured gender, or that topic was sometimes found in the back pages. On violence against women, she called it a clear and important oversight of the Millennium Development Goals, saying that without addressing it, advancing any of the Goals would be difficult.
Next, Ms. TÜRKOZ-COSSLETT discussed the importance of Government financial and human resource commitments on gender, saying that any Government that included youth, parliament and civil society in its decision-making allowed the United Nations to more efficiently do its work. On other issues, she said all countries were preparing Millennium Development Goal reviews and examining the reasons why bottlenecks persisted just five years ahead of the deadline.
Ms. RANDRIAMARO said that, although the Goals could strengthen implementation of the Platform, they included only some of the Platform’s objectives, which was a concern. “We are so distracted by the push for the achievement of the Goals that we are going to narrow down the objectives and the agenda that we adopted 15 years ago,” she said. “That would be unacceptable.”
To the idea that the Platform for Action should be revised, she said there was no way it would be revised. “No way”.
Addressing a query on the rights-based approach, she said the Convention, at least in the African region, had been central to advancing the agenda and rights of women. Her only recommendation would be that the United States should ratify the Convention. The rights-based approached identified clearly who the rights-holders were -- women -- and the duty bearers, primarily States. It was a State’s responsibility to ensure women’s ownership of their rights. If those rights were not what women wanted, they would not own them.
Finally, she said she was happy to hear support for a new gender entity, but there would be no use in creating it if it was not sufficiently resourced -- there was an historic opportunity here, but the entity needed no less than $1 billion to launch its work.
In the ensuing interactive discussion, many speakers underlined the disappointing results achieved to date on Goal 5 on maternal health. One speaker from the World Youth Alliance had raised the idea that the lack of progress was due to a misplaced focus on reproductive health. She asked what Governments were doing to ensure that their spending on maternal mortality was sufficient and that it focused on what worked -– namely, the presence of skilled attendants.
Several speakers also referred to the future gender entity of the United Nations, with many asking how it would help attain the Platform for Action and others calling for the entity to be formed quickly and with sufficient funding. One speaker, noting that several presentations had identified a rights-based approach as a key tool in achieving the Goals and advancing the Platform, sought more details on the role that approach had played in that respect in the last several years.
Another speaker, expressing concern that women at the grass roots level often did not benefit from large-scale development initiatives, asked what instruments were most effective in the field in allowing women’s voices to be heard and which were used to tailor development programmes at the local level. Still another asked why the treaty bodies had not been considered in bridging differences in perspectives between the Goals and the Platform.
In a second round of questions, speakers asked what the key blockages to mainstreaming gender equality and women’s empowerment vis-à-vis reducing hunger. What other options existed to increase women’s representation beyond such special measures as quotas were there for regions where voting followed tribal lines, and what policies were most effective in preventing any regression in areas where the Goals had been achieved? speakers asked.
One speaker also asked how developing countries could achieve the Goals and implement the Platform in a world where international and donor support was insufficient. Another speaker wondered if the failure to achieve the Goals was due to a lack of resources or insufficient strategies. Still another asked if other parties were as serious as the Commission about linking implementation of the Platform and achieving the Goals.
Consolidating her responses into a few main points, Ms. RATHGEBER, discussing tools, first said gender analysis was one that would help solve some of today’s problems. Discussion on the need for gender-disaggregated data had been heard since 1970s, but we’re not at level where we have it.
Next, the impacts of climate change impacted men and women differently, she said, pointing out, by way of example, that more women than men died in floods because they did not know how to swim. That was the kind of information needed to design gender-sensitive policies. Similarly, information gleaned from gender analyses had to be worked into budgets, which was especially important in the area of maternal health. On gender mainstreaming, she said that while gender did not have to be part of all policies, a very clear rationale should be provided in cases where it was left out.
Taking up violence against women, she underscored the need to train young boys that such abuse was not acceptable under any circumstances. To engage youth, she suggested using social media like Facebook and Twitter to reinforce gender messages.
Finally, on accountability, she said that it had to originate in countries -- an international organization like the United Nations could not hold countries accountable. As such, there was a big role for non-governmental organizations, women’s movements and the media, and social networking technologies could be better used to inform populations that commitments were not being fully pursued.
In her closing remarks, Ms. TÜRKOZ-COSSLETT reiterated that a coherent United Nations supported the Millennium Development Goals and Beijing Platform in a cohesive way. Youth, parliaments and local authorities were all important in advocating women’s participation in decision-making.
Ms. RANDRIAMARO said the diverse comments boiled down to one issue: there had been little progress in implementing the Beijing Platform. Crises in food, finance, fuel and the global economy were all symptomatic of the global development model, one that African countries did not wish to apply. If efforts to advance women’s rights took place in a policy environment that undermined their objectives, there would be no progress. The objectives of the Beijing Platform in the area of women’s sexual and reproductive rights were most in jeopardy.
She said that States and the international community shared the duty of ensuring implementation of the Beijing Platform. Many small countries depended on assistance for gender equality work, and she urged not using the global economic crisis as a reason to renege on pledges to achieve the Platform.
Afternoon Interactive Expert Panel
In the afternoon, the Commission held an interactive panel discussion, on the theme of “Regional Perspectives in progress and remaining gaps and challenges in the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action”. Moderated by Julio Peralta (Paraguay), it featured presentations by Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); Bader al-Dafa, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA); Ján Kubiš, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE); Lalla Ben Barka, Deputy Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Africa (ECA); and Sonia Montaño, Director of the Division for Gender Affairs, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
Opening the meeting, Mr. PERALTA said that in preparation for the current 15-year review, the regional commissions had taken a lead in reviewing and assessing progress within their respective regional contexts. Four regions had already held regional intergovernmental meetings, with the Latin American region planning their regional review for July. Today’s discussion would focus on the main findings of those regional reviews.
Speaking first, Ms. HEYZER said the Asian-Pacific region had made significant progress in improving the lives of millions of women and girls in the past 15 years. More than 350 million people had been freed from extreme poverty. All but four countries in the region had ratified the women’s Convention. As a result, countries were adopting laws and policies to promote women’s rights, and most Governments now had a single mechanism to advance women’s rights. The region was also an early achiever in reducing gender disparities in primary and tertiary education, and many Governments recognized gender as an important pillar in poverty reduction strategies.
Nevertheless, the Asia-Pacific region accounted for nearly half of the world’s maternal deaths, and violations of women’s rights continued, she said. The rise of extremism in the name of religion and culture had led to “the closing of spaces” for women. Women and girls remained victims of conflict and violence in disproportionate numbers. Only Nepal and New Zealand had national parliaments in which more than 30 per cent of representatives were women. The establishment of national women’s machineries had not always translated into authority status and adequate resources to influence policy. Those challenges were magnified in the region’s small island developing States.
Turning to the region’s review of the Platform for Action, she reported that 400 representatives had participated in the meeting, which had culminated in the adoption of the Bangkok Declaration on Beijing + 15. In it, member States renewed their commitment to the Platform, requested ESCAP to strengthen support to gender-equality initiatives and welcomed proposed changes to the United Nations gender architecture. Clearly, the economic crisis and climate change threatened to reverse gains already made. Responses must include expanded access to credit, support for women’s businesses and increased investment in agriculture. Ensuring that women had full and equal access to decision-making at all levels was critical to making real and sustained progress. They must become legitimate participants in all spheres of public life.
BADER AL-DAFA, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), noted significant advances in the past five years in women’s health, literacy and education in most Arab States, thanks to school curriculum reform, free public education, and better access to quality public health services. Women’s life expectancy had increased; fertility and maternal mortality rates had dropped sharply. The gender parity index had risen in all educational levels. Several laws discriminating against women had been reformed to better protect women and increase their participation in public life. Jordan, Tunisia, Sudan, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, Morocco and Mauritania had adopted quota systems to increase women’s presence in politics. Amendments to Kuwait’s electoral law had resulted in the election of four women to the Kuwaiti Parliament for the first time.
He said that women’s empowerment had also been bolstered by the creation of family laws and family courts, and reform of penal codes as well as labour and personal status laws. Several countries had amended their citizenship laws to enable women to pass on their nationality to their children. Moreover, 19 of the 22 Arab States had ratified the women’s Convention. Morocco had withdrawn all of its reservations to the Convention, while other States had withdrawn their reservations to specific articles. Still, women’s participation in public life was limited. Just one-third of Arab women were active in the labour force, and Arab women comprised only 10 per cent of parliamentary membership.
Violence against women, particularly in strife-torn Iraq and Palestine, challenged women’s advancement, as did structural barriers and the lack of sex-disaggregated data for evidence-based planning and policymaking, he said. The dearth of data on the impact of the financial, food and climate change crises on women made it difficult to identify problems and suitable solutions. The regional Arab review of progress towards implementing the Beijing Declaration and Platform had led to adoption of a resolution on follow-up. That text, among other things, called for stronger national machinery and financing for gender equality, and it urged Member States to set up observatories and early warning systems to track women’s socio-economic progress as well as integrate women into conflict resolution and peacebuilding processes.
Mr. KUBIŠ noted, at the outset, that the economic and financial crisis put at risk further progress towards gender equality and women’s progress even though such progress was essential for economic growth and sustainable development. That made it all the more important to mainstream gender in all responses to the crisis. While the economic and social situation within the ECE region was diverse, fundamental trends and developments showed that countries across the region had made substantial progress, since the last review, in criminalizing violence against women and in providing assistance to victims of violence. All countries considered the promotion of women’s access to employment, reconciling work and family responsibilities and adopting specific measures to combat women’s poverty to be priorities. Yet, progress in creating national mechanisms for women’s advancement had been less uniform, with some countries in the region’s Eastern part suffering from a lack of political and institutional support.
He said two major challenges remained in empowering women and improving gender equality. First, there was insufficient design of policies for gender equality. That was illustrated by persistent gaps in wages and decency of the types of work; a lack in the systematic application of gender-responsive budgeting initiatives; insufficient social protection schemes for women; and no significant improvement in the situation of migrant women and women from minority groups.
The second major challenge, he said, was the ineffective implementation and enforcement of existing legislation, including laws related to violence against women. While there was no readily available remedy for that implementation gap, the review meeting indicated that the collection of systematic and reliable sex-disaggregated data would help reveal and quantify those gender-based gaps, thus allowing formulation of appropriate policies. Further, policy measures that encouraged men to meet their family responsibilities were needed. Indeed, while the gender divisions at work had evolved over the decades, the gender division of domestic labour had not. In closing, he observed that most of those challenges were identified in the region’s 2004 review, and that the most recent review indicated that progress since 2004 had been largely insufficient.
LALLA BEN BARKA, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, said Africa had made impressive gains in closing the gender gap in primary education, thanks to free universal, compulsory education. Several countries were poised to achieve parity at the secondary level. Sixty-five per cent of the region’s countries were conducting research on the situation of girls, and some countries had revised school curricula to present positive images of women. Still, gaps remained in girls’ inheritance rights, higher education and eliminating cultural practices and barriers to their advancement. Thanks to affirmative action, women had gained ground in decision-making. Rwanda had the highest number of women parliamentarians and Liberia had elected its first female President.
She said that although maternal mortality had dropped in some countries, its occurrence in Africa was still higher than in any other region of the world, and overall progress towards achieving the millennium targets was limited due to women’s unequal access to health services and income disparity. Several countries had launched action plans to end violence against women and had bolstered law enforcement to crack down on abusers. Forty-seven per cent of countries had enacted laws to combat female genital mutilation, and many offered comprehensive services for victims. African countries were now more informed about Security Council resolutions related to women and armed conflict. Ten had implemented resolution 1325 (2000). Several had introduced human rights and conflict prevention and resolution into university curricula, and were training law enforcement, medical and legal personnel on the matter.
Women’s economic participation had increased, but women were still disproportionately relegated to informal sector jobs and unpaid work, she said. They lacked equal access to land, credit and technology. Female poverty was a major challenge, despite greater public spending on women’s empowerment programmes. The November 2009 African review of progress towards implementing the Beijing goals led to adoption of the Banjul Declaration. That text underscored the need to enhance capacity and knowledge of gender equality, strengthen inter-agency and multisectoral collaboration, use a rights-based approach to inform policy development, and institute gender-responsive budgeting and transparency monitoring. African member States should strive to implement the Declaration.
Finally, Ms. MONTAÑO, noting several significant successes in the Latin American region, said that in the past five years, four women had been elected Heads of State and, for the first time, three women concurrently held the State’s highest authority. Assuring the Government of Haiti and Chile the support of the United Nations, she stressed that gender mainstreaming should be a fundamental principle in their humanitarian and reconstruction processes.
In terms of implementing the Platform, she said progress had been uneven and similar challenges remained across the region. Important gains had been made in education, in the adoption of family and labour laws, in increasing awareness and engagement at the highest level in combating gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS, and in creating national mechanisms for women’s advancement. Women’s political participation had improved, although slowly; at the current rate of change, it would take 35 more years for 40 per cent of parliamentary seats to be held by women. Women micro-entrepreneurs had more access to credit today, and the rights of women workers were increasingly recognized in pension schemes.
But while the region had been able to reduce poverty in significant ways, the poverty rates of women remained higher than those of men, she said. Similarly, income gaps and women’s overrepresentation in precarious jobs persisted. Women assumed most unpaid domestic work. The main obstacles to equal participation in the labour market still needed to be removed, including women’s unequal share of family responsibilities, gaps in education, unequal pay and de facto discrimination. Further, protection efforts aimed at at-risk groups during and after the economic downturn had varied and were generally dependent on a country’s development.
She went on to say that a new consensus was under consideration for adoption at the upcoming regional review. Among the challenges that would be considered were climate change and natural disaster; the uneven impact of the crisis on women’s paid and unpaid work; strengthening the role of the State in protecting women’s human rights; and the need to change discriminatory values and tradition. A renewed social and fiscal covenant would be necessary to build a culture of peace and to contribute to a society where opportunities of work, time and power were distributed on an equal footing.
During the ensuing interactive discussion, speakers asked the panellists to elaborate on the obstacles that impeded progress in cross-cutting gender strategies, as well as how women could help design a new global financial and economic model and better participate in management and political life. One speaker asked Mr. al-Dafa to elaborate on his call for the creation of national observatories and early warning systems. Some asked for examples of successful monitoring of gender gains and gaps. One asked each panellist to identify the challenges specific to his respective regional group and those challenges causes.
Speakers wondered how to strengthen national gender machineries and ensure that the new United Nations gender entity be adequately financed. One asked about best practices to ensure strong regional cooperation, including outside the United Nations. Civil society speakers questioned how non-governmental organizations could better help the United Nations address those challenges, particularly the issue of gender budgeting. Another speaker asked about ways to involve men more in domestic work and care.
In response, Ms. MONTAÑO said the Beijing Platform had created a diversity of strategies and policies in various regions to implement the Beijing goals. But the common thread to achieving success, regardless of a country’s monetary wealth, was a strong commitment to gender equality, as well as strong institutions and social movements. On coordinating best practices, the Latin American and Caribbean region relied on sex-disaggregated data and gender experts. Latin American countries with women Presidents and strong gender equality and social protection policies had achieved greater success. For example, Chile, under President Michelle Bachelet’s leadership, successfully reformed its labour policies, leading to reduced poverty among women.
Ms. BARKA said the regional commissions were working closely together to ensure complementarity of their efforts. She lauded and called for replicating the successful efforts of African countries like Cape Verde with limited natural resources that had made gains in women’s empowerment. Serious analysis of culture was needed to understand why challenges varied between regions. African Ministries of Gender were often marginalized. Better coordination among them and other Government ministries was critical. The role of the media was important and it could put more pressure on Governments to step up funding for gender equality.
Mr. KUBIŠ said education and school curriculum reform was essential to women’s empowerment. It was also necessary to better engage men in gender equality. In some transition countries in Europe, education was suffering. Financing, planning and strategies were needed. Social protection floors were common in the region. But the financial crisis would particularly hurt economies in transition. In developed countries, more blue-collar men than women were losing jobs. Governments should be more attentive to that trend’s impact on women. Business must be engaged more, he said, stressing that in 15 years there would be a major shift towards greater numbers of women in management posts.
Mr. AL-DAFA said better coordination among the regional commissions was important. Education reform in many Arab countries had created opportunities for women and girls. Regarding observatories and early warning systems, he said that during the October meeting of Arab States to review progress towards achieving the Beijing goals, the concept of such observatories was discussed. They would serve to gather statistics and warn countries in advance about natural disasters and their impact on women. The Organization of Arab Women, chaired by Tunisia’s First Lady and comprising First Ladies of Arab countries, played an important role in women’s empowerment.
Ms. HEYZER said Asia was a continent of disparities and home to the largest number of the world’s poor. But it was able to very quickly turn crises into opportunities. In the context of the current financial crisis, it was re-investing in social policy and protection systems, as well as rural health, education, energy and water security systems. That created a tremendous opportunity to ensure that the new resources went to women. Investment in disaster preparedness systems was also crucial and such new systems should be gender sensitive. Women’s voices must be very strong in the development of financial stimulus packages. Corporate social responsibility must be seen as integral to business practices and to women’s rights in the labour market.
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