|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Commission on the Status of Women
17th & 18th Meetings (AM & PM)
Secretary-General, in Women’s Commission, Calls for End to One of Most Brutal,
Entrenched Forms of Gender Discrimination ‑‑ Sexual Violence against Women
Says New Special Envoy on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström,
To Help Turn Promises into Action; She First Visits Democratic Republic of Congo
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon today called on the international community to urgently join forces to end one of the most brutal and entrenched forms of gender discrimination ‑‑ violence against women, in an address to the Commission on the Status of Women’s fifty-fourth session.
“We all need to unite to demand accountability for the violations of rights of women and girls,” he said at the opening of an interactive expert panel on the subject. “We must listen to and support the victims and, importantly, address the roots of violence by changing the mindsets that perpetuated it.”
Sexual abuse during conflict was just one of many ways women and girls were brutalized and denied their fundamental rights, he said. Whether domestic violence, sex trafficking or so-called “honour” crimes, violence against them was horrific and it devastated individuals and societies alike.
Freedom from fear and violence was a precondition for women’s empowerment, he said. His “UNiTE to End Violence against Women” campaign, launched two years ago, sought to raise public awareness and generate political will. Regional chapters for that purpose had been set up in Latin America and Africa. The campaign would extend until 2015, the target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, as women’s empowerment was central to them.
Since adoption of the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, international and regional human rights treaties, as well as United Nations resolutions, had obliged States to eliminate violence against women. The Security Council had adopted resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, while other texts had established that sexual violence in conflict could be prosecuted as war crimes, crimes against humanity or acts of genocide.
“I am strongly committed to this struggle,” he said. This morning, Margot Wallström, his newly appointed Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict had assumed office; she would be a powerful, constructive voice in helping countries translate commitments into action, he said.
Ms. Wallström said that in her new role she would request meetings with Government leaders to help them hammer out strategies to end the violence. Her first visit would be to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in April, and she would report back to the Security Council. “We can do something if we put our minds and hearts to it,” she said.
A village was nothing without women, she said. There could be no development if hundreds of thousands of women were raped and murdered. Stopping such atrocities was not just a women’s issue, but a human rights issue. She expressed hope that she could count on the support of all Member States and civil society.
Member States in Latin America were already heeding that call, said one of the panellists, Susanna Chiarotti, Director of the Institute for Gender, Law and Development in Argentina. In the last five years, several Governments had implemented comprehensive laws on violence, specifically against women, that recognized it as a human rights violation, as well as national strategies involving various Government and non-governmental stakeholders to end the scourge.
Ms. Chiarotti said much of that action had been inspired by the Secretary-General’s UNiTE campaign, the 2006 study on causes and consequences of violence against women, and the 1994 “Belem do Para” Inter-American Convention for Preventing, Penalizing and Eradicating Violence against Women.
During the afternoon, the Commission held a panel on the evolving status and role of national mechanisms for gender equality. One panellist, Rounaq Jahan, Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, Bangladesh, noted that the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women had conducted a study on those mechanisms worldwide in preparation for this year’s review of the 1995 Beijing conference. The study recommended, among other things, formally setting up and monitoring institutional arrangements for coordination, improving the gender equality expertise of staff and encouraging collaboration between regional and international institutions.
Mary Rusimbi, gender specialist, President of the Board of Directors for Partnerships Africa Canada, said gender equality could best be promoted through gender mainstreaming and gender-responsive budgeting. But she questioned how well that transformative potential was being used. She called for more efforts, such as setting a national gender equality agenda and ensuring that it was implemented by different sectors. Women’s ministries could also influence policies and review and monitor legislation.
Also during the meeting, the Commission heard the introduction of six draft resolutions by Namibia’s representative (women, girls and HIV/AIDS); Azerbaijan’s representative (hostage taking in armed conflicts); Yemen’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, (Palestinian women); Colombia’s representative (women’s economic empowerment); United States’ representative (maternal mortality); and Egypt’s representative (United Nations composite entity on gender).
The morning panel was opened by Commission Chairperson Garen Nazarian ( Armenia) and moderated by Commission Vice-Chairperson Roberto Storaci ( Italy).
Also participating were representatives from Jordan, Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Iran, Italy, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Namibia, Turkey, Serbia, Israel, Belgium, China, Belarus, Indonesia, India, Mali, Cameroon, Finland (on behalf of the Nordic countries), Senegal, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Canada, Armenia, Switzerland, Ghana, Philippines, Bhutan, Austria, Morocco, Niger, Cambodia, Congo and Qatar.
Several non-governmental organization representatives also spoke, including from Action Aid, Soroptimist International, Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches, and Human Rights Advocates.
The afternoon panel was moderated by Vice-Chairperson Takashi Ashiki ( Japan). Also participating were representatives from Canada, Turkey, Paraguay, Jordan, Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Sweden, Pakistan, Japan, Korea, Belgium, Dominican Republic, Italy, Armenia, Rwanda, Indonesia, Israel, Cambodia, Benin, Philippines, Australia, Tuvalu, Ghana, Switzerland, Serbia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mexico and South Africa.
Several non-governmental organization representatives also spoke, including from United Cities and Local Governments, Action Canada for Population and Development, and Church Women United.
The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again at 10 a.m. Friday, 12 March, to continue its session.
The Commission on the Status of Women met today to hold two interactive expert panel discussions. The morning’s panel was held under the theme of “Unite to End Violence against Women”; the afternoon’s panel, under the theme of “The evolving status and role of national mechanisms for gender equality”. (For more information, please see Press Release WOM/1789.)
Interactive Expert Panel: “Unite to End Violence against Women”
In the morning, the Commission held an interactive expert panel on the theme “Unite to End Violence against Women”. Moderated by Vice-Chairperson Roberto Storaci (Italy), it featured presentations by Dean Peacock, member of the Secretary-General’s Network of Men Leaders and co-founder of the Sonke Gender Justice Network; Susanna Chiarotti, Director of the Institute for Gender, Law and Development, Argentina; and Walter A. Füllemann, Permanent Observer for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Opening the discussion, Chairperson GAREN NAZARIAN ( Armenia) said violence against women persisted everywhere and it devastated women, their families and their communities. It impeded progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and hindered society from reaching its full potential. For too long, victims and survivors of violence had been silenced by social acceptance of the crimes. Fearing poor treatment by the criminal justice system or community stigmatization, women refrained from alerting their families, communities and law enforcement about their plight. “Worst of all, we, the individuals, communities and States that surround the victims have not spoken loudly enough to condemn the violence or to reassure women and girls that we will respond diligently, with concrete actions, as they seek justice, and ensure the punishment of those who have so severely violated their human rights,” he said.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as part of his strong leadership in fighting violence against women, had launched the “UNiTE to End Violence against Women” campaign in February 2008, Mr. Nazarian said. He had called upon leaders everywhere to join in that effort and he had highlighted the importance of mobilizing men and boys to change the cultures and behaviour that perpetuated violence against women. Last November, the Secretary-General had launched the Network of Men Leaders to support the long-standing efforts of women and civil society worldwide to end the violence. The Network would raise awareness and advocate for laws to end violence, among other activities.
Statement by Secretary-General
Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON, noting progress in the 15 years since adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action, said international and regional human rights treaties, as well as United Nations resolutions, had elaborated a wide-ranging list of obligations for States to fulfil in eliminating violence against women. The Security Council had adopted resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, while other texts had established that sexual violence in conflict could be prosecuted as war crimes, crimes against humanity or acts of genocide.
“I am strongly committed to this struggle,” he stressed.
With that, he announced that this morning, the newly appointed United Nations Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict had taken her oath of office, and he had no doubt that she would be a powerful, constructive voice in helping countries translate commitments into action on that most grave human rights issue.
Sexual abuse during conflict was just one of many ways women and girls were brutalized and denied their fundamental rights, he said. Whether domestic violence, sex trafficking or so-called “honour” crimes, violence against women and girls was horrific, and devastated individuals and societies alike, he said.
“We all need to unite to demand accountability for the violations of rights of women and girls”, he declared. “We must listen to and support the victims”, and importantly, address the roots of violence by changing the mindsets that perpetuated it.
He said his “UNiTE to End Violence against Women” campaign, launched two years ago, sought to raise public awareness and generate political will. Regional chapters for that purpose had been launched in Latin America and Africa. The campaign would extend until 2015, the target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, as women’s empowerment was central to them.
Freedom from fear and violence was a precondition for empowerment, he said, and the United Nations had the resources to pursue that goal with urgency. He called for the creation of a strengthened gender entity and urged States to act on that without delay. “Let us end the violence and empower women and girls for the benefit of all,” he concluded.
Statement by Special Representative of the Secretary-General
MARGOT WALLSTRÖM, the new Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, expressed appreciation for the passion and determination expressed by the Secretary-General. There was also a lot of support and commitment from Member States throughout the world, as well as other organizations. What was a village without women? she asked. What kind of development could we have if hundreds of thousands of women were raped and their lives taken from them through rape and sexual violence? Such occurrences must be stopped now. That was not only a women’s issue, but a human rights issue.
In her new role, she said she would be asking to see the political leaders of Member States, but she would also be constructive in offering the United Nations help and support in making plans on how to tackle the very difficult problem. “We can do something if we put our minds and hearts to it,” she emphasized. She also expressed confidence that she would be able to count on Member States. Her first visit would be to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in April, and she would report back to the Security Council. In conclusion, she expressed hope that she could count on the support of all Member States, as well as on non-governmental organizations and civil society projects and activities.
Opening the panel, Mr. PEACOCK said the Beijing Platform was explicit in its call to involve men and boys in achieving gender equality. Throughout, it urged government and civil society to make concerted efforts to educate, mobilize and engage men and boys. Despite the inspiring language in the Platform, the world was a long way from achieving a more gender-just society. Men’s use of violence against their intimate partners varied in frequency across different societies. However, while that violence remained all too pervasive, the period since Beijing had seen progress towards the goals of engaging men and boys in addressing gender-based violence and in achieving greater gender equality. The language of the more recent international commitments was noteworthy for its recognition of the role men and boys could play in bringing about gender equality and health equity. Such global commitments both required policymakers in signatory countries to develop policies and programmes, and provide civil society with leverage to demand implementation.
He said that alongside policy commitments, there were, across the world, in almost every region and country, civil-society groups working with men and boys to end violence, promote sexual and reproductive health, encourage greater involvement in parenting, reduce the spread and impact of HIV and AIDS, and address the legacy of armed conflict and war. As new programmes engaging men and boys were implemented, a body of effective evidence-based programming had emerged and confirmed that men and boys were willing to change their attitudes and practices and, sometimes, to take a stand for greater gender equality. Recent studies confirmed that men could change their gender-related attitudes and relations in relatively short periods of time.
If work with men was to make a real difference, however, and slow and halt the domestic and sexual violence still devastating the lives of millions of women in communities across the world, far more needed to be done to engage men and boys as proponents of change, he said. Some ideas for how that might be done included using policy approaches to take gender work with men to scale; strengthening civil-society capacity to hold Governments to their commitments; forging closer working relationships with women’s rights organizations; and developing shared principles, parameters and priorities, he concluded.
Ms. CHIAROTTI said that in the last five years Latin America had experienced a qualitative leap forward in adopting and implementing national laws on violence against women. In the past, most laws in the region had neutral language that only addressed domestic violence and provided protection to family members. Today, six countries ‑‑ Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela ‑‑ had comprehensive laws on violence, specifically against women, that recognized that as a human rights violation. It addressed “obstetric” violence and “media” violence, as well as domestic, community and State violence. Enactment of those laws had been inspired by the Secretary-General’s UNiTE campaign, the 2006 study on causes and consequences of violence against women, and the 1994 “Belem do Para” Inter-American Convention for Preventing, Penalizing and Eradicating Violence against Women.
She recalled that, in 2004, the Organization of American States had adopted a mechanism to monitor and implement the Convention, comprising States parties and a committee of independent experts on violence against women. In July 2008, the Conference of State Parties to the Convention had published a hemispheric report, based on State parties’ responses. It gave general and specific recommendations to prevent, penalize and end violence against women in terms of legal frameworks, access to justice, statistics and budgeting.
In most cases in the region, civil society actors were called upon to give input into the creation of legal frameworks, she said. For example, the National Council for Women in Argentina had helped to create a definition of media violence and to implement the April 2009 Integral Law of Violence against Women. Journalists, executives and other stakeholders had been asked to help draft the law. In Costa Rica, the April 2007 law on violence against women penalized all forms of physical, psychological, sexual and family violence. It authorized prison sentences of up to two years for insulting, ridiculing or humiliating women; up to 18 years for forcing a partner to have sex; and up to 30 years for killing a woman. Venezuela’s December 2006 law listed 19 forms of violence. It had also launched a national plan to fight that violence and it had set up specific courts in July 2008 to hear cases of violence.
Many countries, among them Brazil, Mexico and Colombia, had launched comprehensive action plans and strategies involving various Government and non-governmental stakeholders to end all forms of violence against women, she said. But many did not have comprehensive plans, and relied on traditional concepts of domestic and family violence. She stressed the need for proper budgets, as well as gender-specific data gathering and analysis to end the scourge.
Mr. FÜLLEMANN said that, in the absence of clear front lines, distinct uniforms and recognizable military structures, it was increasingly difficult to distinguish between combatants and civilians in today’s warfare. As such, civilians were frequently placed at the epicentre of conflict, endangered not only because of their proximity to the fighting, but also because they were deliberately targeted as a method of warfare. That evolution of warfare had led to women’s increased risk of injury, displacement and sexual violence.
He said that women’s experience of war was multifaceted ‑‑ it could mean separation from, or the death of, loved ones; the loss of livelihood; an increased risk of forced displacement; deprivation; sexual violence; physical harm; or death. International humanitarian law, human rights and refugee law were clear about the protection that women had a right to expect, yet all too often, that was not implemented or respected. Constant efforts must be made to promote knowledge of, and compliance with, the obligations of international humanitarian law by as wide an audience as possible and using all available means. States and humanitarian actors alike must be made responsible for improving the plight of women in times of war, and women themselves must be more closely involved in all the measures taken on their behalf.
Highlighting the importance of incorporating the needs, perspectives and capacities of women in all operational decision-making, he said that the International Committee of the Red Cross recognized the importance of creating separate programmes to respond to specific requirements ‑‑ whether those were social, psychosocial, medical or economic. Regarding the urgency to end sexual violence committed in connection with armed conflict, ICRC stood ready to work with all State parties to the Geneva Conventions that were committed to suppressing that war crime and punishing its perpetrators, he concluded.
During the ensuing question-and-answer period, delegates asked the panellists why, when discussing the issue of violence against women, adults and boys were lumped together in the same bracket. They wondered how the panellists viewed the issue of prostitution, and asked them to identify programmes and strategies at the world level that had been successful in combating violence against women, as well as their views on where the battle regarding violence against women should be started and on guidelines for Governments to ensure that affected women were involved in the planning and programmes that impacted them. They also asked how the tools of the United Nations system could be used to address the problem, and how the United Nations could get States to invest greater economic resources in response. One delegate asked if there were any initiatives that targeted networks of men, while others asked what strategies should be in place to ensure men’s proper involvement. One delegate asked about the priorities for Ms. Wallström’s mandate. What would be done to ensure that existing law was enforced, in view of the growing incidences of violence against women?
In response, Mr. FÜLLEMANN said he agreed with all the delegates who insisted on the importance of looking at the issue in a multifaceted way. It should not be looked at just from a perspective of humanitarian law and armed conflict. There were already laws on the issue, and it was really important that they were respected and implemented. It was also important for measures to be undertaken, first and foremost, at the national level. It was also necessary to incorporate women from the start ‑‑ their perspectives, needs, capacities and skills, as well as their proposed solutions to the issues they confronted ‑‑ in a more systemic way at local, national and regional levels. In addition, it was necessary to increase the probability that the perpetrators were caught. An environment should be created that was conducive to discussing the issue openly, so that women did not fear expressing themselves and so that their own families and communities did not ostracize them.
Ms. CHIAROTTI focused on questions relating to what effective measures should be taken, underscoring that there was no “one-size-fits all” model. In countries where there were adequate statistics to track occurrences of violence against women, legal frameworks and national plans could be adopted to deal with the issue. If such measures were adequately funded for their implementation and enforcement, and if the respective Governments committed to enforcing them and had the support of civil society, they would be successful. In that regard, it did not matter how rich or poor a country was, she stressed.
Highlighting the issue of impunity in connection with resources, Mr. PEACOCK stressed that “pretty much anywhere” there was not nearly enough money available for basic services or prevention campaigns. It was necessary to ask how greater resources could be mobilized, and a critical task ahead for all was that of ensuring that sufficient resources were available. There were now billions of dollars available for HIV prevention and treatment, which people had said would never be available, and it was necessary to think along those same lines regarding the issue of violence against women. In addition, he stressed the importance of strengthening the capacity of civil society to hold Governments to account. In conclusion, he said that, when thinking about working with men and boys on the issue, it was necessary to think beyond simply running workshops, and to use community mobilization and engage the media to fundamentally shift the way society viewed men’s and women’s roles.
Introduction of drafts
The Commission began its afternoon session with the introduction of six draft resolutions to be adopted by the end of the fifty-fourth session.
The representative of Namibia introduced a draft text on Women, the girl child and HIV/AIDS (document E/CN.6/2010/L.2/Rev.1).
Azerbaijan’s representative introduced a draft resolution entitled Release of women and children taken hostage, including those subsequently imprisoned in armed conflicts (document E/CN.6/2010/L.3), a biennial text that included elements of General Assembly resolution 63/183 (2009) on missing persons.
Yemen’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, introduced a draft text entitled, Situation of and assistance to Palestinian women (document E/CN.6/2010/L.4), saying that assistance to Palestinian women was central to the text.
Colombia’s delegate introduced a draft resolution on Women’s economic empowerment (document E/CN.6/2010/L.5), adding that women’s empowerment was essential for women to participate in strategic decisions affecting their lives.
Introducing a draft text on Eliminating maternal morality and morbidity through the empowerment of women (document E/CN.6/2010/L.6), the representative of the United States said a decade after the Millennium Development Goal on maternal mortality was elaborated, that statistic remained alarmingly high. A woman died from pregnancy-related conditions once every minute. One third of the more than half million deaths in childbirth annually stemmed from unintended pregnancies. “We must take action now,” she said, noting that the text urged Governments, the United Nations and civil society to do just that.
Egypt’s delegate introduced a draft resolution entitled, Strengthening the institutional arrangements of the United Nations for support of gender equality and the empowerment of women by consolidating the four existing offices into a composite entity (document E/CN.6/2010/L.7), saying that adoption of the text would testify to the implementation of Assembly resolution 63/311 (2009), on system-wide coherence, notably the creation of a composite gender entity. The text did not impede any process; it reaffirmed commitments.
On behalf of the African Group, Equatorial Guinea’s delegate was to introduce a draft resolution on Ending Female Genital Mutilation (document E/CN.6/2010/L.8), however the representative was absent.
Interactive Panel: Role of National Mechanisms for Gender Equality
Also this afternoon, the Commission held an interactive expert panel on the theme of “The evolving status and role of national mechanisms for gender equality”. Moderated by Vice-Chairperson Takashi Ashiki (Japan), it featured presentations by Rounaq Jahan, Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, Bangladesh; Margaret Mensah-Williams, Senator, Vice-Chairperson of the National Council of Namibia, Vice-President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union; and Mary Rusimbi, gender specialist, President of the Board of Directors for Partnerships Africa Canada.
Opening the panel, Mr. ASHIKI (Japan) said that, since the Fourth World Conference on Women, there had been a steady expansion of national mechanisms for gender equality. Today’s panel aimed to give insight into the diversity of those bodies, and factors that contributed to their effectiveness in advancing the gender equality agenda. Among the issues to be raised were the challenges of coordination within national mechanisms and strategies that resulted in improved links between parliamentary committees for gender equality and national mechanisms. In that context, he drew attention to an issues paper prepared by the Division for the Advancement of Women, available on the Division’s website.
Ms. JAHAN said that a major development since the Fourth World Conference had been the establishment of new mechanisms, along with national machineries, to promote the goal of gender equality and the empowerment of women. There had been little documented research on the roles, relationships, achievements and challenges of those multiple and diversified mechanisms. Therefore, in preparation for the 15-year review, the Division for the Advancement of Women had decided to undertake a comprehensive study of those national mechanisms, based on the review of experiences in all five regions of the United Nations: the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE). The global synthesis study, which presented key findings from six studies commissioned by the five regional commissions, analysed the trends in the evolution of the national mechanisms in terms of their structure, mandate, role and function, and main areas of work. It explored how the various mechanisms coordinated and collaborated with each other, as well as with other stakeholders, and it elaborated both their achievements and challenges.
She said that the study recommended, among other things, that institutional arrangements for coordination should be formalized and that their application should be monitored to improve coordination. Among its other recommendations was to build partnerships between civil society, women’s organizations and other social partners, particularly alliances with new stakeholders such as youth; improve staff capacity, especially its gender equality expertise; expand work in the area of law reforms to combat discrimination against women in all sectors, as well as to promote gender equality legislation; clarify strategies, strengthen policies and design practical tools for gender mainstreaming; and encourage collaboration and exchange with regional and international institutions, as that had been proven to be effective in strengthening national mechanisms.
Ms. MENSAH-WILLIAMS said that Namibia’s quest for democratic governance in the past 20 years had borne witness to significant progress in the area of gender equality through Government policies and programmes, which had included the domestication of international conventions and national policies, as well as gender-related law reform. The Government of Namibia had assented to several international agreements for the promotion of gender equality, which contributed to the development of the National Gender Policy and Plan of Action for gender equality that served as a guiding tool for all national gender programmes. Moreover, the country’s Constitution made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender, and it recognized, among other things, the previously disadvantaged position of women. In addition, the Government had established various national mechanisms to address gender issues, and it was working in cooperation with many gender-related non-governmental organizations and academic institutions.
She said that, while Namibia had made progress in the social and legal arenas towards gender equality, and there had been significant progress towards reform of discriminatory laws, that had been met by resistance from male counterparts in Parliament. Despite political support from the Government and best efforts by gender advocates, there were still negative attitudes towards gender equality, both at the community and national levels, which seriously challenged implementation of gender policies and programmes, not to mention women’s greater participation in power-sharing and decision-making. Many men, used to their privileged positions, wished to maintain the status quo. Furthermore, civil society had not been very effective in utilizing regional and local councils to access Parliament or advance gender equality issues in the general public. Advocacy programmes targeting Members of Parliament were carried out, but they were not always well thought through, and their action strategies were not always clearly linked to gender equality. And, measuring their success was not clear-cut. Nevertheless, campaigns such as the “50/50 Campaign” organized by the Women’s Manifesto Network had enjoyed successful influence, although not necessarily through legislative results.
In recent years, there had been campaigns, policies and programmes aimed at increasing women’s position in political power-sharing, she said. The number of women in political positions had increased, although women were far from having 50 per cent representation in higher-level decision-making positions. Moreover, while political parties had been active in advocating women’s rights, there was no political party headed by a woman, and women were underrepresented in political parties at national, regional and local levels. If gender issues were to be more aggressively addressed, the Government of Namibia needed enough women in positions of power to form a “critical mass” so that women could overcome patriarchy and become the voices for those still at the periphery. In conclusion, she said that despite progress made by Namibia, women could not obtain gender equality in the social, economic and legal spheres of Namibian society without greater participation in power-sharing and decision-making structures.
Finally, Ms. RUSIMBI said gender mainstreaming and gender-responsive budgeting held the most potential for promoting gender equality, but she questioned how well that transformative potential was being used. Highlighting successes, she said that national mechanisms had facilitated capacity enhancement of different actors and, specifically, had undertaken activities ‑‑ like supporting legislative reviews ‑‑ to ensure women’s well-being. They had also played a catalytic role in promoting gender mainstreaming, but that role could be enhanced by setting a national gender equality agenda and ensuring that it was implemented by different sectors. Women’s ministries could also influence policies and review and monitor legislation. If overseen well, a gender agenda could be mainstreamed into policies. Also, advocacy often had been done in partnership with agencies, like the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), and other donors that resourced gender-focused activities, which changed the role of women’s ministries into fund-raisers.
She said that institutional factors that facilitated mainstreaming strategies included a progressive legal and policy context for gender equality, and the signing of international and regional instruments that bound Governments ‑‑ morally and legally ‑‑ to adhere to non-discrimination policies in development processes. Also, the creation of national development visions must be used more effectively for making gender equality an objective. Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers should be used to institute gender equality principles that allocated more financing for poverty-related gender concerns. In countries where a large part of the budget depended on development aid, new aid modalities presented an opportunity for gender mainstreaming with transformative impacts. However, the gender equality agenda had been treated separately from the main national initiatives, despite that the Paris Declaration outlined that donor financing should be in line with the recipient’s national goals.
Gender mainstreaming, including gender-responsive budgeting, was a principal strategy with great potential for promoting gender equality at different levels, she explained. However, its potential had yet to be implemented in many countries because gender equality was an “ambitious” goal, which required innovative approaches to allow for change. Efforts to achieve equality through mainstreaming were often taken to be technical processes, a view that often missed the point of such mainstreaming and led to under-use of its “potentials”, including the adoption of gender-budgeting responsive tools.
During the ensuing question-and-answer period, delegates asked the panellists how databases and statistics could be used to obtain a better sense of gender equality. Panellists were asked for their views on the role of gender research in promoting gender equality and that of the agencies for gender equality when regulations and approaches were implemented. One delegate asked for advice on reducing existing gaps, while another inquired about the strategies necessary to strengthen the leadership, budgetary and programming capacities of national gender equality mechanisms. Another participant asked how, at the national level, local implementation of gender equality measures could be strengthened, while another asked about good practices in developing channels for dialogue between Governments and civil society, particularly women’s grass-roots organizations. Delegates also asked for guidance on best sustainable practices in terms of national budgetary applications. In particular, one delegate asked what would happen if, at either the international or local level, pressure was put on Governments to allocate a certain percentage to gender mainstreaming as an indicator of importance.
Responding to questions and comments on gender-responsive budgeting, Ms. RUSIMBI said a holistic approach was needed to hold people accountable for creating responsible budgets. That was lacking at the moment. National, regional and international efforts were needed to hold Governments accountable for redistributing national resources and responding to the needs of national machineries. As for what could be done, she said it was important to have a law in place to support gender-budgeting activities. But laws alone were not enough. Also needed were efforts to institutionalize capacities. Parliaments had a role in holding Governments accountable when they were approving budgets and implementing their oversight role. Accountability, starting with civil society, was vital.
On the role of gender focal points, she said many Governments were in support of them; however, their “location” was marginalized. Sometimes, just one individual was expected to mainstream gender. That was not working; they were not in decision-making positions. Countries, including the United Republic of Tanzania, were looking at moving focal points into planning departments.
Ms. MENSAH-WILLIAMS focused on standing committees and their oversight functions. Public accounts committees, for example, were strict with Governments because they were chaired by opposition parties. Gender audit committees should be established, which should start holding ministries to account. Regional development committees could look at how well hospitals, for example, provided women access and how much was spent on that. Civil society, the private sector, media, and parliament had to be involved in such issues. Women should celebrate their positions. “We should not be scared to speak out, even to our own political parties”, if they were not adhering to their international commitments, she said.
Rounding out the day, Ms. JAHAN said that, although gender mechanisms were diversifying, little was known about how they functioned and what kind of the obstacles they faced. “Just because there is a focal point sitting somewhere in a lonely place, that doesn’t mean something is happening,” she said. What would it take to make those mechanisms more effective? That kind of data was missing.
Secondly, she said the trend towards having decentralized mechanisms was a good idea, as those were closer to people on the ground.
Finally, she said more research and statistics were needed, particularly on the gender issues in macropolicies. Certain statistics were easy to find ‑‑ like those measuring gender equality in education and health. But it was still difficult to create indicators for measuring changes in mindset or cultural attitudes, about which more data was needed.
Regarding indicators for outcomes, she said no causal link had been established between national machinery and what was happening on the ground. If women were progressing, it was because many were taking action. Women leaders had to build women’s constituencies. Only then would progress be sustained.
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