COMMISSION ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN
4 – 15 MARCH 2002
Advancement of Women
Representatives of Agencies, NGOs,
Colleagues and Friends,
It is a great pleasure for me to address the Commission on the Status of Women at its 46th session. I extend a very warm welcome to the distinguished members of the Commission and the many observers and representatives of the NGO community who have come to New York from all parts of the globe. Your presence here today is a reaffirmation of the importance which Governments and civil society place on the work of this Commission for the promotion of equality between women and men. I look forward to your active and constructive contribution to this session of the Commission.
I warmly congratulate you, Chairperson, and the other members of the Bureau, on your election. I believe it is noteworthy that this Commission, for the first time in its 55-year history, is now chaired by a man, a recognition of the need for reverse gender balance. You succeed a long line of most distinguished women leaders. We look forward to your able stewardship over the next two years of this UN body that has primary responsibility for the advancement and empowerment of women.
I extend a special welcome to those who have newly joined the Commission as members, and my appreciation to the outgoing members for their contribution to this body. I also wish to express my particular appreciation to Ms. Dubravka Simonovic, the outgoing Chairperson and the members of her Bureau, for their contribution and two years of hard work. I should mention that it is probably a unique period where the President of ECOSOC and Chair of a functional committee are spouses, a living example of the impact of women and men working together. The past bureau’s efforts took place at a critical time: in the immediate follow-up to the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly to review and appraise progress in implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. During your watch, the Commission designed its work programme for the next five years, extended gender mainstreaming by interacting more intensely with ECOSOC and other functional commissions and began to tackle the challenge of strengthening its working methods in light of the outcome of the Special Session, and guidance provided by the Economic and Social Council. This work will shape the Commission in the years ahead.
Attention to gender equality issues is now unprecedented. At the community level, women – sometimes together with men, sometimes separately - have mobilized for access to clean water and energy, more secure land tenure, and better education and health services. They have worked at local and national levels for the formulation of legislation and policies to protect and promote their human rights. Through the creative use of new information and communication technologies, they have networked across regions and globally, and campaigned for women’s empowerment and full and equal participation in all decision-making processes.
Women’s groups have worked to make the needs of their local communities visible and especially for their Governments and the international community. All United Nations conferences of the 1990s have had to give attention to gender perspectives, as it became obvious that poverty eradication, environmental protection, peace and development are inextricably linked to the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The achievement of gender equality is not solely the responsibility of women – it is the responsibility of all of us, women and men, Governments, international organizations and civil society – and that women’s own initiatives must go hand in hand with a societal commitment to gender equality. Women’s activities must be matched by government actions and initiatives to eliminate discrimination against women, and create an environment where progress towards gender equality is not a daily struggle, but an explicit and automatic part of all our actions in all areas.
As communities are experiencing the benefits that derive from greater equality, it is imperative that Governments, and all their institutions, intensify their own efforts in support of local and community initiatives, thus making the promotion of gender equality an integral part of all government policies. The Millennium Declaration requires nothing less than gender equality, as Heads of State and Government resolved “to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women as effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease and to stimulate development that is truly sustainable”.
The spotlight on gender equality has been accompanied by important milestones in recent months. Gender perspectives were integrated in the outcome of the special session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS, and also in the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. The contribution of this Commission to both processes was instrumental in ensuring these outcomes. The number of States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is now 168 whilst its Optional Protocol has been ratified by 31 States. 29 States have accepted the amendment relating to the Committee’s meeting time. The General Assembly has approved the convening of an exceptional session for the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2002 to reduce the backlog of reports awaiting consideration, thus clearly signalling that regular monitoring of compliance by States parties is an essential part of the commitment to women’s human rights.
The preparations for the International Conference on Financing for Development constitutes a case study of how sustained efforts over many months have led to dialogue, and increased awareness of the gender dimensions of a subject that many may have considered to be “technical” and devoid of gender implications. Background papers and panel discussions enabled a broad-based learning process and flagged the gender dimensions in fiscal policies, budgeting and resource allocation processes, credit and financial services, and in ODA, among others. The Monterrey Consensus to be adopted at the International Conference on Financing for Development, recognizes the links between gender equality and the challenges of financing for development. I wish to commend Governments for their recognition of the gender perspectives and thank the task force of the UN Inter-agency Network on Women and Gender Equality, and the NGO caucus, for their work in support of intergovernmental negotiations. I encourage all Governments, international financial institutions, civil society and other stakeholders to “stay engaged” as the Monterrey Consensus puts it, and ensure that gender-sensitive action will result from these commitments. While we took important steps, we still have some way to go.
On the issue of women and peacemaking, Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security continues to inspire Member States, the UN and women around the world to take forceful action to reduce the victimization of women in armed conflict, and strengthen their role in peace building and reconstruction. The study called for in that resolution to assess the impact of armed conflict on women and girls as well as on the role that women can play in peace processes, draws on the successful experiences in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, East Timor, Guinea, Kosovo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and elsewhere and is well advanced with the inputs of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Women, Peace and Security, and coordinated by my Office. It will be submitted to the Security Council later in 2002.
This pathbreaking resolution of the Security Council, together with the Millennium Declaration and its road map, constitute a framework to address the many challenges in conflict-ridden areas, as well as in what is now probably one of the greatest challenges, with the Great Lakes area and the Middle East: Afghanistan.
Since 1998, this Commission has dealt with the situation of women in Afghanistan, and a report (E/CN.6/2002/5) is before you again to support your discussions. The report suggests that special attention be directed to the promotion and protection of the human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. Afghan women should enjoy the right to work, education, security of person, freedom of movement and association, freedom of opinion and expression. Their access to health care is essential. It is crucial that strategies to rebuild the country ensure Afghan women’s full participation in the civil, cultural, economic, political and social life of the country. Afghan women’s voices must be heard when priorities are set and resources allocated. In a series of recent meetings, Afghan women have expressed their fear about possible marginalization and insisted on being actively included in the reconstruction and development process of their country.
This year, the Commission has an historical opportunity to contribute to the capacity of the women of Afghanistan to reclaim their rightful place in the reconstruction of their country to participate fully in decision-making in transitional and elected bodies and to be present at the peace table. Afghanistan is at a unique moment in its history, and your practical and targeted action recommendations addressed to the UN system as a whole, the donor community, NGOs, as well as the Afghan Interim and Transitional Authorities, should ensure that women’s concerns are an integral part of all actions to rebuild the country and put it on a path of sustainable peace and development. Violations of the rights of women are frequently an indicator of festering conflict in societies. We realize that “Afghanistan is everywhere”: conflict prevention depends on an early and careful reading of the signs of tension and the unravelling of this social cohesion. The situation and treatment of women can be symptomatic of breakdown in this cohesion.
While we should take pride in the successes of these past 12 months, we must ensure that these efforts are sustained. None of these accomplishments have come easily. They have required hard work from dedicated women and men. Had they not consistently emphasized the importance of gender equality, proposed specific language, highlighted case studies, good practices and lessons learned, the benefits for society as a whole, those gains would not have been made. We must intensify our efforts so that the commitment to equality becomes entrenched across the board. We must ensure that gender equality is pursued as a goal in itself and as a means for achieving all the goals of the Millennium Declaration, including those of poverty eradication and sustainable development.
Women constitute the majority of the 1.22 billion poor in today’s world, and the gender dimensions of poverty - its causes and its consequences - as well as capacity to escape poverty, are now well known. The Beijing Platform for Action recognized that women and men experience poverty differently, and agreed that these differences need to be taken into account if the causes of poverty are to be adequately understood and dealt with. It stressed the critical importance of applying gender analysis to policies and programmes aimed at poverty eradication, and women’s and men’s full and equal participation in the formulation of macroeconomic and social policies and strategies for the eradication of poverty. It also focused on the considerable differences in women’s and men’s access to, and opportunities in the economic realm. Because of insufficient attention to gender analysis, many policies and programmes in areas such as financial markets and institutions, labour markets, taxation and social security systems, continue to contribute to inequalities between women and men. Gender-specific factors brought to light by gender analysis need to be addressed much more forcefully if the Millennium goal of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015 is to be achieved.
At this session, you will have the opportunity to contribute once again to this work, by assessing and proposing action on how women’s empowerment strategies can be effective tools in poverty eradication. The Commission may wish to ask Member States to update national poverty eradication policies and strategies in pursuit of Millennium Goals so as to clearly reflect gender perspectives and the empowerment of women approach.
The forthcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development, to be held in Johannesburg in August 2002, offers us the occasion to flag, within the global sustainable development debate, the issues, concerns and expectations that women have, and that require more attention. Since Agenda 21 was adopted at Rio in 1992, we have gained a clearer understanding of the gender dimensions of various aspects of environment and sustainable development, particularly in the context of poverty. Over the next days, you will consider some of the key issues of the Sustainable Development Summit from a gender perspective, as you focus on environmental management and mitigation of natural disasters. You are in the lead of the emerging view that natural disasters have gender dimensions that need to be addressed at policy, as well as operational level, and where implementation needs to be strengthened. While women are key actors in environmental management through their proactive behaviour in the protection of their households’ well being, their involvement in community activities, and disaster-preparedness programmes, women are still not fully involved in planning and decision-making processes in this area. This omission is glaring and must be addressed.
Similarly important is the integration of gender perspectives in the International Plan of Action on Ageing. Demographic changes worldwide call for urgent action at policy and programme level to address the needs of older women and men in a gender-differentiated manner. We need to ensure that the skills of both older women and men are fully utilized for the benefit of entire communities. And since women’s well-being in old age is largely the result of a lifetime of opportunities or deprivations, careful attention also needs to be devoted to the rights of girls in the framework of the special session of the General Assembly on Children, which will be held in May.
In a number of these events, line ministries, and sector-specific intergovernmental bodies have the lead responsibility. It is thus important that the line ministries – such as on sustainable development, environment, finance, international trade, social development – assess the implications of their specific policies and programmes on women and men respectively, so as to create environments that are conducive to gender equality. Women’s ministries and national machineries for the advancement of women will act as catalysts, advocates, and expert advisers. Effective and productive attention to gender equality concerns depends on capacity and mechanisms for interaction at both levels.
At the international level, the decision of the Economic and Social Council to consider, annually, progress on gender mainstreaming is most welcome. This new item provides an opportunity for the Council to assess the degree of attention to gender perspectives in its own work, as well as to monitor progress in gender mainstreaming in its subsidiary machinery and in the UN system development activities. Considerable strides have been made by the UN system. I can only mention a few. The launching, for example, of the Gender Mainstreaming Strategy by the World Bank, the new Plan of Action on Gender and Development of FAO and the recent decision of the Trade and Development Board’s Commission on Enterprise, Business Facilitation and Development of 21 February 2002 on Mainstreaming Gender in order to promote development opportunities.
Over the course of the last year, my Office, together with the Office of Human Resources Development, has worked with a number of Departments in the Secretariat, and in particular DESA, to strengthen capacity for gender mainstreaming. We have also continued to work with the regional commissions and organizations of the UN system in this area, and have organized a number of seminars and workshops. Following a practice established some years ago, one day of the annual meeting of the Inter-agency Network on Women and Gender Equality, held last week, was devoted to training and capacity building for gender mainstreaming.
This leads me to another part of my responsibilities as Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, that of Chairperson of the Inter-agency Network on Women and Gender Equality. Notwithstanding some uncertainties in the earlier part of last year resulting from the continuing reform of the ACC machinery, the gender experts of the UN system, now called the Inter-agency Network, have continued to collaborate very actively, in many instances electronically, since the last session of the Commission. I have already referred to our work in regard to women, peace and security, and financing for development. Progress has also occurred since last year on gender mainstreaming in programme budgets; on gender and ICTs; and on tools and indicators for gender impact analysis.
We have also continued to work towards the goal of achieving 50/50 gender balance and the creation of a gender-sensitive work environment supportive of the needs of all staff, where women and men can thrive and perform to the best of their abilities. As of 30 November 2001, 40.4 per cent of professional and higher-level staff on geographical appointments in the Secretariat were women. Women constituted 34.6 per cent of professional and higher-level staff in the larger population of staff in the Secretariat with appointments of one year or more. But while women account for only 10 per cent of the staff at the ASG and USG levels, we must but acknowledge that there are once more two women heading regional commissions: the most recent appointment in ECE being Ms. Brigita Schmognerova. Another women, Joke Waller-Hunter (formerly of DESA and OECD) now heads the Secretariat for Climate Change in Bonn. In Peace-keeping there are still no women special representatives of the Secretary-General or Special Envoys and there are only 25 per cent overall and 6.6 per cent women at the D-1 level and above in peace-keeping missions, the area which has seen the greatest expansion in posts and numbers of staff within the Secretariat in recent years. We need to identify and attract sufficient numbers of suitable women for peace-keeping operations, and we need to make progress in improving women’s representation at higher levels throughout the United Nations system.
Before concluding, I would like to take the opportunity to introduce to you and the members of this Commission, the new Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, Ms. Carolyn Hannan. Many of you know Ms. Hannan from her previous position as Principal Adviser on Gender Mainstreaming in my Office, or as Policy Adviser on Gender Equality in Sida, Sweden. I am delighted that Ms. Hannan has taken over the leadership of the Division, and I know that she and her colleagues will provide you with excellent support at this session and in the future. As I welcome Ms. Hannan, I would also like to extend my appreciation to Ms. Yakin Ertürk, the previous Director of the Division, for her service to the UN.
Chairperson, I assure you and this Commission that my Office, together with the Division, the UNIFEM and INSTRAW, will support you in any way we can. As Chairperson of the Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality, I also assure you that you have the support of the entire United Nations system of organizations.
We look forward to the outcome of this session of the Commission, and wish you success in your deliberations.