Opening Statement

by the Moderator, Carolyn Hannan

Director, Division for the Advancement of Women


Panel on



Organized by

The Division for the Advancement of Women


WEDO – The Women’s Environment and Development Organization

3 April 2002



It give me great pleasure to welcome our distinguished presenters and all participants to this important panel, on behalf of the organizers – the Division for the Advancement of Women and WEDO (The Women’s Environment and Development Organization). I think that everyone gathered in this room today has at least one thing in common – a commitment to ensuring that gender perspectives are fully integrated into the preparations and outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg later this year.


We probably also share two other major concerns. Firstly, a concern that it has not been easy to get attention to gender perspectives into the discussions and documents in the preparatory process so far. There is no automatic recognition of the important gender perspectives on sustainable development. Over the past ten days concerns have been expressed that not only are gender perspectives neglected in the more technical parts of the draft Chairperson’s Paper, but that gender perspectives are also largely absent from sections dealing with poverty, the sustainability of consumption patterns and health. This is in stark contradiction to the commitments made to gender equality concerns in these policy areas in the Beijing Platform for Action and in many agreed conclusions and resolutions in the Commission on the Status of Women, ECOSOC and the General Assembly since 1995.


Linked to this concern is the second one, that despite all the knowledge gained and the efforts made at research, data collection, policy development and programme levels, gender perspectives are still not seen as an integral part of work on sustainable development. Just to take one area that is very familiar to me personally – gender and water resources management - much of what we know today, and particularly related to domestic water supplies and sanitation, we knew already in the early 1970s. An unresolved question thus remains: why – when we have the knowledge about the contributions, needs and priorities of women as well as men – are gender perspectives not taken into account in research, data analysis, policy and programme development? Why is the incorporation of relevant and important gender perspectives not seen as essential for achievement of sustainable development?


Looking back over the past ten years, it is clear that some of the problems have probably emerged as a result of the way women and gender perspectives were taken up in Agenda 21. In principle 20, Agenda 21 clearly stated that “Women have a vital role in environmental management and development.  Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development” and proposals for action included increasing the representation of women as decision-makers, planners, technical advisers, and managers in environment and development fields. Despite these important statements, women were largely seen in Agenda 21 as a separate major group, alongside other groups such as farmers, indigenous peoples, trade unions, etc. The identification of women a major group has been increasingly challenged in recent years, particularly by women’s groups. Women make up 50% of the population and their priorities and needs should be addressed, alongside men’s, in all areas covered in Agenda 21. Women cannot be relegated to a “major groups’ category. They are part of all the major groups – youth, farmers, trade unions, local authorities, etc – and have specific priorities and needs within these groups. Dealing with women’s concerns as a major designated group marginalizes these concerns.


Since 1992 there have been some important advances in relation to understanding the gender on sustainable development. Besides moving beyond the major groups category, there is also recognition that integration of gender perspectives requires more than a focus on women’s participation. It is essential to understand the linkages between gender perspectives and all areas of sustainable development. It is also well established that there is need to move beyond the community level, to household level and to the individuals – the women and men and girls and boys who make up these households.


The Beijing Platform for Action, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women  (1995), the ECOSOC agreed conclusions (1997/2), and the outcome of the Twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, call on Member States, the United Nations system, international organizations and non-governmental organizations to systematically incorporate gender perspectives into all policy areas, including in environmental management and natural disasters. This is the important strategy of gender mainstreaming which aims to ensure that all policies, strategies and implementation of projects and programmes are based on a full understanding of the contributions, potentials, priorities and needs of women and men and girls and boys. Through gender mainstreaming the promotion of gender equality – a development goal in and of itself – is also seen as a means to achieve effective, people-centred sustainable development.


The World Summit on Sustainable Development provides an opportunity to adopt concrete actions and identify quantifiable targets for improving the implementation of the goals established in Agenda 21.  It is increasingly recognized that effective implementation of Agenda 21 requires stronger and more systematic links among the three pillars on which the concept of sustainable development is built – social development, economic development and environmental development.  The role of social sciences in the development of effective, people-centred and sustainable development strategies has recently received greater emphasis.  Nevertheless, while this recognition of social dimensions has resulted in increased attention to the importance of community involvement and ownership issues, gender perspectives have not yet been given adequate attention in policies and strategies. The development of a more holistic framework for sustainable development, with a strong focus on poverty eradication and empowerment, should be conducive to the integration of gender perspectives.


Gender mainstreaming in the preparations for the WSSD can be supported in many different ways. At its most recent session, the CSW considered the topic of “Environmental management and mitigation of natural disasters from a gender perspective” in order to provide an input to the Summit preparations.  The agreed conclusions from the Commission on the Status of Women were forwarded by the Chairperson of the Commission to the Chairperson of the PrepCom.  (Copies of the agreed conclusions are available at the back of the room). The Commission was exercising its catalytic role in relation to gender mainstreaming, by trying to influence the WSSD preparatory process. This in no way reduces the overall responsibility of the PrepCom for WSSD, and WSSD itself, for identifying the gender dimensions of sustainable development, and developing appropriate actions.  


As the pace of preparations for the WSSD intensifies, all stakeholders -  Governments, the United Nations and other international organizations, the representatives of civil society, and the private sector - have the responsibility to build on the insights gained since 1992 and ensure that gender perspectives are mainstreamed in a very practical manner into all discussions and documents in preparation for the Summit. 


An important goal of this panel discussion is to provide an opportunity for discussion of the relevance and importance of gender perspectives in all parts of the agenda for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, and to challenge the assumption of gender neutrality in any area.  It is our hope that the panellists will illustrate why and how gender dimensions are both relevant and important, and provide some concrete suggestions for translating this knowledge into relevant policies and programmes. 


The panel presentations will move from generic cross cutting issues to more specific topics.


Ms. Irene Dankelman, will discuss how far have we come on the road from Rio to Johannesburg;

Ms. Minu Hemmati, will refer to the new challenges for stakeholders in pursuing gender-sensitive sustainable development;

Ms. Njeri Wamukonya will talk about energy from a gender perspective; and

Ms. Jennifer Francis will provide information on water resources management from a gender perspective.