The Bureau of the Commission on the Status of Women held a round table, in the context of the sixty-first session of the General Assembly, to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the Commission on the Status of Women, on Friday, 10 November 2006, from 3 to 6 p.m. in the Economic and Social Council Chamber at UN HQ in New York.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan told participants that the world was starting to grasp that “there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women and girls.” He noted that study after study had shown that no other policy was as likely to raise economic productivity, reduce infant and maternal mortality, improve nutrition and promote health.
Over the past 60 years, the Commission had played a critical role in shaping the progress of women at both the global and national levels, Mr. Annan said. “You have demonstrated time and again, that the Commission not only moves with the times; it is ahead of its time,” he told participants. Largely thanks to its work, the international community as a whole was beginning to understand that women were every bit as affected as men by the challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. For that reason, women should be engaged in decision-making processes in all areas, with equal strength and equal numbers.
Carmen Maria Gallardo Hernandez, Chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women, who also moderated the discussion, said that, 60 years after the Commission’s establishment, its work remained critical to promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women as an essential element of the three pillars of the United Nations work: sustainable development, human rights and peace and security. While recognition of the importance of gender mainstreaming, as a tool for achieving gender equality, had increased, the Commission would continue to play a catalytic role in promoting the mainstreaming of gender perspectives in intergovernmental processes and the work of the human rights system, as well as policies and programmes of entities within the United Nations system and at the national level.
The General Assembly President, Sheika Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, said that, during the 2005 World Summit, world leaders affirmed gender equality as essential to development, peace and security, that everyone was responsible for mainstreaming gender policy and that the Beijing Platform of Action must be implemented in full. The Commission had played a critical role in those areas. The current General Assembly session would continue to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women. To highlight the relevance of those issues, she said she intended to hold an informal thematic debate on gender in the coming months.
The President of the Economic and Social Council, Ali Hachani ( Tunisia), noted that the Commission’s functions had expanded over the years. One of its key responsibilities had been policy development on a wide range of critical issues for gender equality and the empowerment of women, as well as review of the implementation of goals and recommendations at the national level. The Economic and Social Council stood ready to assist the Commission in its future endeavours. He encouraged the Commission to continue monitoring the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action at the national level, in order to assess progress and recommend priorities for accelerating implementation.
In the ensuing round table, speakers highlighted the need for further progress, while recognizing that there was certainly cause for commemorating the Commission’s work over the past 60 years. Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund, said that “it is imperative to close the gap between rhetoric and reality.” While there had been an increase in the participation of women in the workforce, stronger political will -- at the country level -- was crucial. Rounag Jahan, Bangladesh Health Watch, echoed that sentiment, saying that, though conditions had improved for many women around the world, things had remained static, or worsened, for others. “There is a gap between policy and implementation,” she said. “Instead of producing more mandates, the Commission should move on already existing ones.”
Heightened progress could also result from increased partnerships, added Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations. Since the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, there had been a gradual increase in the understanding within his Department and its missions that efforts to lay the foundation for a just and sustainable peace in post-conflict transitions required the application of a gender perspective to all areas of peacekeeping work. While calling for a stronger partnership between his Department and the Commission, he remarked that “there are many synergies between the work of the two organizations.”
Also referring to the power of partnerships, Kathy Bushkin, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, United Nations Foundation, said that the United Nations could be more effective by harnessing both the power of non-governmental organizations and the private sector. “The partnership approach has already been embraced by many, and with much success,” she said.
Several speakers took a more national and regional approach when speaking about how the Commissions’ work had affected them. Solveiga Silkalna, Latvia’s Permanent Representative, said that on the issue of women’s rights, her country had gained much from its membership in the European Union. Kirsti Lintonen, Finland’s Permanent Representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that indeed, that organization had embraced the equality of men and women since almost the beginning. Highlighting issues particularly relevant to the Pacific Island region, Robert Guba Aisi, Papua New Guinea’s Permanent Representative, noted that, among the most serious challenges faced by the small island countries, their poor record in recognizing women’s contributions to nation building stood out. He was, therefore, grateful that the Commission had provided the focus, guidance and impetus to achieve progress in that arena.
Other speakers of the round table included Laura Albernoz Pollman, Minister of Chile’s National Service of Women; Desiree Bernard, Caribbean Court of Justice, Trinidad and Tobago; Dumisani Shadrack Kumalo, Permanent Representative of South Africa; Margreth Mensah-Williams, Parliamentarian from Namibia and Vice President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Executive Committee; Rima Salah, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund; Jackie Shapiro, Chair of the Non-Governmental Organization Committee on the Status of Women; and Mona Khalaf, Professor of Economics, Lebanese American University.