United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women

"Empowerment of Women through the life cycle as a transformative strategy for poverty eradication"

Expert Group Meeting
New Delhi, India
26-29 November 2001


I. Introduction

At its forty-fifth session in March 2001, the Commission on the Status of Women adopted a new multi-year programme of work identifying the priority themes for the period 2002-2006. Accordingly, in 2002, the Commission, at its forty-sixth session, will consider the theme "Eradicating poverty, including through the empowerment of women throughout their life cycle in a globalizing world." In order to assist the Commission in its work, the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) will convene an expert group meeting on the theme of "Empowerment of women throughout the life cycle as a transformative strategy for poverty eradication", which will be hosted by the Government of India in New Delhi, from 26-29 November 2001.

The findings and conclusions of the meeting will provide basis for the preparation of the Secretary-General's Report on "Eradicating poverty, including through the empowerment of women throughout their life cycle in a globalizing world" to be submitted to the session of the Commission on the Status of Women in March 2002.

The full report of the expert group meeting will also be made available to the Commission to assist in its deliberations on this theme.

II. Background

Though the issue of poverty has always been a major concern in the work of the United Nations, the challenge of its eradication remains on top of both the international and national agendas. Through global United Nations conferences and summits, a set of inter-connected and mutually reinforcing goals and targets have been agreed to by governments in order to combat poverty. With a growing recognition that poverty has a significant gender dimension, the recommended strategies also emphasize the importance of achieving the goals of gender equality and advancement of women in poverty eradication efforts.

During the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing the international community expressly recognized that women and men experience poverty differently, and agreed that if these differences are not taken into account, the causes of poverty cannot be understood or dealt with by public action. The Platform for Action adopted in Beijing included the issue of women and poverty in its 12 critical areas of concern, and identified strategic objectives that should be taken into account in addressing the issue of poverty among women. It emphasized that the "empowerment of women is a critical factor in the eradication of poverty" and recommended that poverty eradication strategies address the multidimensional nature of poverty.

At its fortieth session, in 1996, the Commission on the Status of Women considered the critical area of concern women and poverty within the context of reviewing the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. The deliberations resulted in the adoption of resolution 40/9 which emphasized that the empowerment and autonomy of women along with the improvement of women's social, economic and political status are essential for the eradication of poverty. In 1997, the General Assembly, in its resolution 52/193, reaffirmed that all governments and the United Nations system should promote an active and visible policy of mainstreaming a gender perspective into the planning and implementation of policies, strategies and programmes on poverty eradication.

The issue of women in poverty became an important dimension of National Action Plans (NAPs) for the implementation of the Beijing Platform that governments were to develop in the following years. The 118 national action plans (NAPs) received as of April 2000 by the Division for the Advancement of Women revealed that more than half reported on their efforts to mainstream a gender perspective into poverty eradication policies and programmes. In the review and appraisal of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, in 2000, it was reaffirmed that "the success of anti-poverty policies and programmes depend on the extent to which these policies and programmes empower people living in poverty in general and women in particular."

As the situation of women in poverty acquired new urgency with the accelerating pace and impact of globalization, the Economic and Social Council, by its decision 1998/298, decided to consider at its high-level segment of its substantive session in 1999 the theme "The role of empowerment and work in poverty eradication: the empowerment and advancement of women". In its follow-up resolution 2000/26 the Economic and Social Council reiterated the call for the relevant organizations within the United Nations system and the international community to take consistent, coherent, coordinated and joint actions in support of national efforts to eradicate poverty, with particular attention to employment creation and work and the empowerment and advancement of women.

The impact of globalization on the world of work from a gender perspective became the major theme of the 1999 World Survey on the Role of Women in Development. The Survey also examined whether and how the processes of globalization contribute to women's empowerment and poverty eradication.

The issue of women's empowerment and poverty eradication was addressed during the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly entitled "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace in the twenty-first century". In the outcome document (A/RES/S-23/3) adopted at the session, governments were called on to strive to reduce the disproportionate presence of women living in poverty by implementing national poverty eradication programmes with a focus on a gender perspective and the empowerment of women, including short- and long-term goals.

This appeal was reinforced in the United Nations Millennium Declaration (A/RES/55/2) where Governments resolved "to halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of the world's people whose income is less than a dollar a day" and "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."

In 2001 the UN Inter Agency Meeting on Women, together with the OECD/DAC/Working Party on Gender Equality, organized the workshop on Governance, Poverty Reduction and Gender Equality. In the Joint Communiqué of the meeting, the participants agreed that good governance, gender equality and women's empowerment are necessary conditions for the reduction of poverty and are inextricably linked to human rights and social justice.

III. Objectives

The main objective of the current meeting is to examine the empowerment of women throughout their live cycle as a transformative strategy for poverty eradication. Key policy recommendations will then be proposed in that respect. The main emphasis will be on policies and programmes for women that promote their empowerment within the context of globalization.

Poverty has many faces and dimensions, and manifests in diverse ways, therefore, a universally accepted definition has not been feasible. It is proposed that this meeting use the concept of "human poverty" that was introduced in the 1997 Human Development Report. According to this perspective the poor are those who are deprived of basic human needs and entitlements, in terms of command over resources and opportunities. It includes not only the condition of economic insufficiency, but also social and political exclusion. It takes into account more than the basic needs for material well being, and view poverty as multidimensional, acknowledging its gender dimension. It also provides a link to a rights-based approach to poverty alleviation through emphasis on good governance, good leadership and empowerment of people.

The concept of human poverty has been helpful in explaining the relationship between gender inequalities and poverty. Women are more vulnerable to poverty because of gender inequalities in the distribution of income, access to productive inputs such as credit, command over property or control over earned income, as well as gender-biases in labour markets and social exclusion that women experience in a variety of economic and political institutions. In addition, women do not always have full control or command over their basic asset, i.e., their own labour.

The concept of human poverty also makes it possible to disaggregate data by sex and age thus allowing for an analysis of the relative poverty or well-being of individual members of a household. Such an approach focuses on gender differences in education, training, health services and life -expectancy and the socially constructed constraints on the choices of women gender inequalities perpetuate and reproduce the poverty of individuals, families, communities from one generation to the next. They also have an impact on economic growth performance and therefore have direct and indirect consequences for poverty reduction.

The policy implications of this approach have emphasized empowerment of the poor, particularly of poor women, as essential to the success of poverty elimination efforts. Policies should be evaluated by posing the question as to whether they help or hinder economic social and political empowerment of women.

However, the term "women's empowerment" also has multiple meanings and interpretations and is associated with a diversity of strategies. It is important to clarify the notion of women's empowerment focusing on its transformative nature, and identify the key elements and principles of empowerment strategy that would ensure that women of all ages have equal access to entitlements and capabilities that would allow them to break the cycle of poverty and maintain it in the long run.

Although the empowerment of women has been acknowledged as a critical factor in breaking the cycle of poverty, it has not yet been sufficiently taken into account and translated into polices and programmes at the national and international levels. Therefore, it is important to develop policy and programme recommendations on how to empower women.

Employment is at the core of economic development and social stability and it is an essential step out of poverty. The central role of remunerative employment in poverty reduction is fully recognized in Commitment Three of 1995 Copenhagen Social Summit.

Since 1980s the growth of the female labour force has been substantially higher than that of men throughout the world, except Africa. While this trend might suggest a closing of gender gap in employment, the entry of women into the labour market has not always been an entirely positive development for them. Indeed, they tend to be concentrated in the lower status and lower-paid jobs. Evidence has shown that persistent discrimination against women in the labour market, the existing income gap, unequal access to productive resources, capital, education, training and decision-making processes, as well as socio-cultural factors that define women within narrow reproductive roles continue to contribute to the high incidence of poverty among them.

During the meeting, the experts would consider poverty from a gender perspective within the context of globalization and identify transformative empowerment strategies for women to enable them to deal effectively with poverty and break through its vicious circle. Therefore, the expert group meeting will have a dual focus:

1. Poverty in a globalizing world at different stages of women's life cycle.
2. Transformative strategies of empowerment through institutional and policy change at micro, meso and macro levels.

The experts, in the light of their deliberations, will also formulate recommendations directed toward governments, the United Nations system, intergovernmental and regional bodies and civil society. They will aim to refine and expand an agenda for "action to be taken" at both the international and national levels to eradicate poverty as outlined in the Beijing Platform for Action and in the outcome document of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly.

IV. The background documentation and profile of the participants

The documentation for the meeting will consist of:

· A background paper prepared by a consultant;
· Short papers prepared by each expert on a specific topic from her/his area of expertise;
· Papers prepared by observers.

The expert group meeting will be attended by 8-10 experts appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations as well as observers from Governments, entities of the United Nations system, intergovernmental organizations, the private sector, academia, and non-governmental organizations. In selecting the experts, the criteria of geographical and gender balance will be respected. They will be drawn from a variety of fields and expertise.

V. Organization

The meeting will be organized by the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

The meeting will meet in plenary, and in working groups. In an opening plenary meeting, background presentations will create a conceptual framework for the discussion. The plenary will be followed by an in-depth discussion on specific issues in working groups where the participants will also make short presentations. On the last day of the meeting the participants will adopt a final report that would contain the main conclusions and recommendations of the meeting.

VI. Administrative arrangements

The United Nations will provide travel and daily subsistence allowance for experts and a consultant. The meeting will be conducted in English and the documentation will be in English. The costs of participation of experts invited by the Secretariat will be covered by the United Nations (travel cost in economy class and daily subsistence allowance). Observers are responsible for their own travel arrangements and expenses. The Government of India will host the meeting and provide logistical support.

All correspondence should be addressed to:

Ms. Dorota Gierycz
Chief, Gender Analysis Section
Division for the Advancement of Women
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Two UN Plaza, Room DC2-1244
New York, NY 10017
Fax: (212) 963 3463
E-mail: gierycz@un.org

Ms. Natalia Zakharova
Social Affairs Officer
Two UN Plaza, Room DC2-1246
New York, NY 10017
E-mail: zakharova@un.org

Ms. Sharon Taylor, DAW/DESA
Associate Social Affairs Officer
Two UN Plaza, Room DC2-1242
New York, NY 10017
Fax: (212) 963 3463
E-mail: taylors@un.org


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