United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women

As delivered
Second Committee
56th session of the General Assembly

Ms. Angela E.V. King
Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women

Tuesday, 6 November 2001

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates
Colleagues and Friends
It is an honour and privilege to address the Second Committee of the 56th session of the United Nations General Assembly. The issue, women in development, item 97(a), remains a very important one on the international agenda and has been under discussion in this Committee since 1987. Reports have been submitted on a biennial basis by the Division for the Advancement of Women of the Department for Economic and Social Affairs and have included themes such as gender issues in macro-economic policy-making and development planning (A/50/399), and mainstreaming a gender perspective into economic policies (A/52/345). This year’s report addresses the critical issue of access to financial resources: a gender perspective (A/56/321).

Mr. Chairperson,
Despite considerable advances in the achievement of gender equality in recent decades, discrimination on the basis of sex still exists in many aspects of life, including economic life. Whilst the World Bank’s publication, Engendering Development, of 2001 has recognized that gender inequality hinders economic development, and conversely, that including gender dimensions in development strategies is just good business sense, not enough has been done in many parts of the world to address the access of women to economic resources on equal terms with men.

The debate in this Committee over the past fourteen years on the effective mobilization of women in development and their equal access with men to economic and financial resources has, however, greatly assisted in raising awareness about the importance of gender perspectives in economic development. I am sure that the Committee’s discussion on this year’s equally important item, would also make a positive contribution.

The current economic downturn in industrialized countries, further intensified by the tragedy of 11 September, has resulted in economic impacts that will have adverse consequences for many. The Secretary-General recently stated at the opening of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) conference on global employment prospects, that “falling commodity prices, political tension, lower oil prices, lower investment, loss of tourism revenues, escalating trade costs and movement of refugees, will take their toll on many of those who can least afford it”. He also emphasized that “nobody can forecast with precision the economic and social consequences. But we already know that poor economies will pay the highest price. We know that millions of people will become more vulnerable to poverty than before”. And we in this Committee know that the majority of those who are vulnerable to poverty, are women.

Focus was also specifically placed on the issue of vulnerability in the context of globalization in Part Two of this year’s World Economic and Social Survey, as pointed out by Mr. Nitin Desai in his opening statement to this Committee. I would urge that you take the macro-economic dimension of globalization and its impact on women into consideration as part of your routine approach to integrating the gender perspective into your discussions and decisions. Pursuing this approach whenever you discuss economic or financial issues will make a difference.

In recent years, accelerating changes in the global economy have brought increased attention to women’s economic development. The 1999 World Survey on the Role of Women in Development: Globalization, Gender and Work, prepared for discussion in this Committee recognized that current trade liberalization policies affect women more adversely than men. On the plus side, we can now boast that women have benefited from increased employment opportunities. On the minus side, however, they have also been negatively affected by an increased workload, poor and unregulated working conditions, and lack of job security. In order to address the negative consequences of the globalization process, greater attention should be given to the economic and social impact of globalization on vulnerable groups of countries, on vulnerable groups within those countries, and especially on women.

As discussed in this year’s report before you, while we can assert that over the last decade, women’s share of employment, and the number of women-owned businesses and enterprises, has increased world wide, women continue to face constraints in accessing credit, technology, support services, land, property and information.

In many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, women still do not enjoy equal property rights, including the right to inheritance. This affects their access to credit and ownership of assets, critical resources required by women to ensure the livelihoods and well-being of their families.

Surveys by international organizations including the United Nations and the World Bank for instance, have highlighted that women in rural areas are the principal food producers in many parts of the world. Women are responsible for 60 to 80 per cent basic foodstuffs in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. In Zimbabwe, women are the main breadwinners in at least a third of the country’s households. Yet, these rural women frequently lack the power to secure land rights or access vital services such as credit, extension and training and education, which are essential for their economic empowerment and the securing of sustainable livelihoods for their families and communities.

The importance of promoting “gender equality and empowerment of women as effective ways to combat hunger and disease and to stimulate development that is truly sustainable” was also recognized in the Millennium Declaration. As stated in the report before you, micro-finance institutions supported by national and international organizations often represent the most viable source of access to financial resources for women in developing countries. They are essential for poverty eradication. These programmes have helped to remove obstacles faced by women in accessing loans. They have also worked well to generate income for poor women.

Vital to these micro-credit programmes are services that complement credit and savings facilities, such as training to develop entrepreneurial skills among women. This year’s report therefore calls on Governments to facilitate access to education and training of women and girls on an equal basis with men and boys, and access to information communication technologies to ensure their full integration into economic development (para. 55).

While the report before the Committee focuses mainly on women’s access to micro-credit as critical for women and development, micro-finance programmes should not be considered a panacea for the economic empowerment of women. Women should not be marginalized in the area of micro-finance while important gender perspectives are neglected in all other areas of macro-economics.

The importance of bringing gender perspectives to the centre of attention in macro-economic policies was one of the new elements highlighted in the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly. The outcome document states:

"Recognizing the persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women in many countries, particularly in developing countries, it is essential to continue from a gender perspective to review, modify and implement integrated macro-economic and social policies and programmes, including those related to structural adjustment and external debt problems …" (A/S-23/10/Rev.1, para 54)

The outcome document also calls on Governments to:

"Mainstream a gender perspective into key macro-economic and social policies and national development programmes" (A/S-23/10/Rev.1, para 73a). As a call to action, Mr. Chairman, nothing could be clearer.

The preparations for the International Conference on Financing for Development to be held in Monterrey, Mexico in 2002, offers a unique opportunity to focus on the critical gender perspectives in relation to macro-economic development. Apart from the more apparent gender dimensions of domestic resource mobilization – micro-credit and bringing gender perspectives into resource allocations: in national budgets, and in public expenditure reviews - there are also important gender issues to be identified in relation to international resource mobilization, including on foreign direct investment, ODA, debt and trade.

I am certain that this Committee has noted that gender issues are already a part of the Facilitator’s document presented to the third Preparatory Committee and will support and encourage further efforts made in the remaining months of the preparatory process to deepen our knowledge and strengthen our capacity to ensure that gender perspectives are an integral part of the financing for development agenda through the important draft that will become the final outcome document of that Conference.

Mr. Chairperson,
In closing, may I wish for you and this Committee a productive outcome of you deliberations. May I also assure you that this Committee will have the full cooperation of my Office and the Division for the Advancement of Women in carrying out its work. I thank you.

Division for the Advancement of Women -- DAW

Website: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
United Nations