Report of the Consultation on the Role of
National Machineries in Beijing + 5 Follow-up &
National Agenda Setting

  1. Introduction

The issue of national machineries and their critical role in promoting gender equality and the advancement of women forms an important part of the mandate and work of the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW). National machineries constitute key counterparts at the country and international levels while much of the Division's programmes and activities are carried out through close collaboration with them. Reflecting the important partnerships between DAW and national machineries the Division has established a comprehensive database providing institutional profiles of these national mechanisms. The information is regularly updated and the most recent figures indicate that one hundred and sixty one (161) national machineries have been established to date.

One of the twelve critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action, is the issue of institutional mechanisms and their essential role for its effective implementation. The review and appraisal report undertaken to monitor progress in the five years since the Beijing Conference highlights important achievements by national machineries, particularly in the area of formulating national plans of action based on the principles and objectives of the Platform. However, with regard to operationalization of these plans of action, many national machineries in their responses to the questionnaire prepared by DAW as part of the review and appraisal process, underscored they have not yet been fully enabled to undertake their implementation role. While the mandate of national machineries is ever expanding as more and more support is mobilized for the twelve critical areas of concerns of the Platform, their institutional framework and human and financial resource base remains inadequate.

A. Rationale for the Consultation

The Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly for the five-year Review of the Fourth World Conference on Women, convened in New York June 2000 clearly highlighted the central and critical role of national machineries in moving forward the global gender agenda. In particular, the Outcome Document, a product of intense negotiations and hard-won commitments reaffirmed the validity of the Platform of Action as a comprehensive framework for change aimed at achieving gender equality and the advancement of women. Equally, it reaffirmed the role of national machineries as the main institutional frameworks with responsibility for leading this process of transformation.

Given the results of the Beijing +5 process there was a clear need to revisit the existing mandate of national machineries as well as the implications of new and emerging areas of action as reflected in the Outcome Document. The Gender Advisory Services Unit (DAW) took the opportunity of the presence of national machineries attending the Special Session to organize a one-day consultation on "the Role of National Machineries in Beijing + 5 Follow-up and National Agenda Setting." The purpose of the consultation was two fold:

    1. to provide a fora for a collective "post-mortem" reflection on the Beijing + 5 review with a particular focus on the concerns and perspectives of one of the key stakeholders of this process - national machineries; and
    2. to initiate a preliminary dialogue with potential partners with regard to a proposed joint project of the Department of Public Economics and Public Administration (DPEPA) and GASU on institutional capacity building of national machineries in the Africa region.
  1. Process and Objectives

The consultation brought together a diverse group of participants from a wide spectrum of experiences and perspectives. Most participants were from Africa since the meeting also represented an opportunity to discuss the GASU/DPEPA project on capacity building for national machineries. This regional focus is consistent with the Secretary General’s directive to give priority to Africa’s urgent development challenges. Moreover, interregional perspectives also represented an integral part of the consultation process. Delegates from the Arab, Caribbean, European, and Asia Pacific regions were thus invited to participate. Partnership with the regional commissions as well as UN system organizations is a critical component of GASU's technical cooperation work. Accordingly representatives from the Economic Commission of Africa (ECA) and the Economic Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), UNFPA, OSCAL, UNIFEM and UNDP were also invited to participate.

The consultation aimed to:

    1. have a better understanding of the modus operandi of national machineries
    2. in national planning processes and structures in order to ensure implementation of the Beijing Platform of Action;

    3. promote learning and exchange on gender mainstreaming in national and local level planning and budgeting through promoting regional as well as interregional perspectives and experiences; and
    4. develop a consensus on essential enabling factors for national machineries to effectively pursue their existing mandate as well as meet new and emerging challenges (Beijing + 5 Outcomes).

    II. Beijing + 5 Outcomes: Consensus, Commitments and Challenges

    The Consultation was opened by Ms. Yakin Ertürk, Director of DAW who highlighted the importance of national machineries to the mandate and work of the Division. She expressed her hope that, closely following the Special Session on Beijing + 5, this meeting would benefit from its momentum. She also hoped that the consultation process would be all the more enriched, creating a driving force to effectively move the gender agenda forward.

    The consultation discussions focused on three key dimensions of the outcomes of the Beijing + 5 Review particularly as they related to the role of national machineries. These included:

      1. the critical areas of consensus in terms of the operational aspects of the Beijing Agenda;
      2. a review of commitments made as a result of the Beijing + 5 process; and c) emerging significant challenges to the implementation of the Platform for Action.

    It was clear that each one of these dimensions could warrant at least a one-day meeting. Nevertheless, despite the limited timeframe it was viewed as strategic to take a multi-dimensional approach to reviewing the role of national machineries in the follow-up to Beijing + 5 and in setting national agendas. This is particularly imperative given new realities and challenges such as globalization, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the increase in gender-based violence.

      1. Consensus

    From the outset, participants held the common view that the Beijing + 5 process had reaffirmed the critical and essential role of national machineries in the implementation of the Platform. Moreover, they agreed that the concept of "national machinery" should include other stakeholders that are not necessarily part of the government structure. Experience from other regions, such as the Philippines, demonstrated that the expansion of the national machinery to include NGOs and civil society organizations added great value to the process. This proved particularly useful for public advocacy on sensitive issues such as violence against women, that narrowly defined national machineries are unable to do as effectively.

    The South African participant strongly expressed the need to clarify the national machineries’ mandate. This was unanimously agreed upon as a key issue. While national machineries generally have a mandate to promote gender equality and the advancement of women, this is still largely a mandate emanating from an external process of negotiation and validation. With few exceptions, most national machineries have yet to evolve from an internal process of negotiation and demand driven by national constituencies. A strong indicator of the national machineries’ inadequate level of institutionalization is that direct government funding for national remains at best symbolic and at worst entirely funded by the donor community despite four major world conferences to promote gender equality and women's advancement.

    Related to this issue was the lack of political commitment to ensure that national machineries carryout their mandate. Speaking from her distinguished experience as a former senator and former Secretary General for the Nairobi Conference Ms. Leticia Ramos Shahani gave valuable insight into the reality of government budget allocation processes. She underscored the equally important "political" nature and not just technical basis on which resources are apportioned to the different governmental agencies. She pointed out that a certain level of political activism and a "good fight" was needed to have access to resources. The capacity to create strategic political alliances with key stakeholders, such as parliamentarians and to negotiate "budget deals" to mutual advantage was cited as an important yet unappreciated dimension of engendering national budgeting processes

    In more technical areas, national machineries agreed their terms of reference should include these three essential functions:

      1. capacity for monitoring and evaluation in all sectors as a means of quality control and building a knowledge base that can, in turn, serve as a benchmark for measuring effectiveness and impact, inform about policy change and facilitate replication of good practices;
      2. a clear mandate to coordinate policy and programmes in the area of gender equality
      3. and the advancement of women. Lack of clarity on this issue has indeed undermined the effectiveness of some national machineries; and

      4. dissemination of information combined with a strong advocacy role.

    The representative from OSCAL made an innovative proposal that, in view of national machineries’ overloaded mandate, they should perhaps consider a minimalist agenda. This means limiting themselves to working on one or two issues with a potential a multiplier effect. This proposal struck a responsive chord, since clearly many of the participants identified with the fact that they had overextended portfolios with very limited support systems.

    B. Commitments

        An issue consistently raised by participants was that donors, including the UN agencies, were not fully committed to the coordination role of national machineries. While this was not seen as a new issue, there was nevertheless an urgent sense of the need to re-commit to the strategic coordinating role of these national mechanisms. The Yemen participant in particular, clearly articulated this concern in pointing out that too often their work programme was donor rather than internally driven. It was underscored that despite the existence of national plans of actions reflecting national priorities, these were at times sidelined in favor of issues which are important but not in line with national development priorities. Coming from the Arab region, this perspective found resonance with the majority of participants who indeed expressed the view that this was a common and equally frustrating experience in their respective countries. Many felt that there was a diffusion of effort and resources due to donors' support of what could be termed as "ad hoc" activities. Clear commitment to national gender agendas, particularly after the Beijing +5 Review will a have to become a key yardsticks for measuring national governments and the donor community’s political will to achieve gender equality.

        Participants focused on south-south cooperation as an area requiring renewed efforts. The value added of south-south cooperation was forcefully presented by the Jamaican participant. She referred to the experience of the CARICOM regional grouping in networking, using information technologies and their enhanced ability to carry clout in their negotiation with donors. The participant from the Philippines also underscored her country's strong support for south-south exchange as an enabling process. A proposal had, in fact, been prepared for presentation but, instead was distributed to participants but due to time constraints. As a point of information, the need for south-south cooperation was tabled officially by the Philippine delegation to the 44th session of the CSW and during the Beijing +5 Review. In the consultation process itself, the south-south dimension of the meeting contributed to a vibrant and rich discussion of ideas and experiences.

        Participants also highlighted new commitments to sustainability. One such aspect is the need to build a critical mass of gender expertise. Many participants pointed out that their resources were stretched to the limit, particularly with regard to their gender mainstreaming mandate and the need for a cross-sectoral work approach. Therefore, the issue of sustainability needs to be urgently addressed within the context of ongoing structural reform processes. The Ugandan participant underscored the reality that, in some countries, ministries of gender run the risk of being dismantled as part of an overall civil service reform process. No constituency seems ready to resist this onslaught. Ironically, this is happening at a time when higher expectations are being placed on the performance of national machineries, particularly given the provisions of the Outcome Document.

        Sustainability of national machineries is also being thwarted by the mistaken notion that, with the shift to gender mainstreaming, there is diminished need for an agency responsible for women-specific projects. Resource allocations for such projects are on the decline and adversely affecting financial resource bases that are already very limited.

        A very interesting and insightful aspect of national governments' commitment to gender equality and the advancement of women was raised by the Namibian participant. This issue came up in discussions, which referred to the excessively prolonged and, sometimes, torturous negotiating process connected with the Outcome Document. She highlighted that, in many cases, the diplomatic staff in the Permanent Missions entrusted with the responsibility of negotiating their country's position, were not fully versed in national level gender equality concerns and priorities and therefore did not adequately reflect these in the negotiating process. Again, this seems to have struck a responsive chord, as it was a common view among the majority of the participants.

        They identified this as a serious gap and one to which efforts must be directed to rectify this discrepancy and ultimately ensure a better facilitation of the negotiation process.

        C. Emerging Challenges

    Given that the consultation was held the day after the end of the Special Session on the Beijing + 5 Review, it was only appropriate to reflect on new and emerging challenges, particularly for those with a direct mandate to take the message home and act on it. Participants highlighted the challenges they faced at a number of different levels:

      1. ownership - one of the daunting challenges of the Beijing + 5 Review is translating the results i.e. the Outcome Document into national and local realities to ensure ownership of the commitments made and the consensus reached; An effective communications strategy should be developed in collaboration with NGOs.
      2. institutionalization - one practical aspect of ownership is to be able to create linkages, going beyond focal points, across all sectors and to connect with decentralized structures at local levels. The transformation of policies and institutions for gender equality can truly take place if the message is widely diffused and internalized within systems and structures at all levels;
      3. engendering national budgets - participants see this as the most challenging of their responsibilities given the rigidity and convoluted nature of most national budgeting processes. Some countries have made headway (e.g. South Africa) and clearly there are important lessons to be learnt and shared from their experience. For the most part however, this remains a brave new frontier in which investments have to be made to develop effective and viable methodologies that will show results within existing limitations.
      4. partnership/networking - establishing linkages regionally and interregionally through using information communication technologies is becoming paramount - if only to avoid another gender divide. As globalization proceeds with new forms of governance, its essential that national machineries keep updated and take proactive rather than reactive positions on a wide range of issues;
      5. private sector involvement - the increasing importance of the private sector due to the implementation of privatization and liberalization policies was noted by the participants. From a gender equality perspective this is particularly of concern as the push for more market integrated economies is also urging a much bigger involvement of the private sector in social development i.e. health, education.
      6. knowledge-based entities - as globalization proceeds the most important asset will be access to information, the capacity to use information to create knowledge and become or at a minimum keep up with the leading edge. Participants unequivocally expressed the need for an improved flow of information to enhance their negotiating skills at policy, planning and budgeting levels.
    1. Conclusions and Recommendations

    This was a participatory consultation process and therefore participants were invited to formulate conclusions and recommendations based on the day's discussions.

         a) Process

    The participants found the consultation process both useful and strategic in providing them with an opportunity to collectively reflect on their roles as national machineries vis a vis the Beijing + 5 Process and the three dimensions covered: consensus, commitments and challenges.

    Recommendation: The consultation process should be followed-up at sub-regional levels to pursue in depth the critical issues raised during this first meeting.

                   b) National Gender Agenda

        The consultation discussions clearly highlighted that national gender agendas were overloaded and there was a need to move     to a "minimalist agenda" as a strategic approach to achieving objectives. Coordinated donor support for this agenda would be essential to enable machineries to track commitments made by their governments and to ensure delivery of the expected outcomes.

                   Recommendation: Undertake a study to determine the key elements of this approach and how this could be                  operationalized.

                    c ) Coordination

                The issue of the coordination role of national machineries remains an urgent and outstanding problem which                    governments and the donor community have to give serious consideration to.

            Recommendation: An in-depth review should be undertaken to determine the scope of the problem and propose              measures to rectify the situation.

                        d) Capacity - Building: Entry Points

        i) One of the priority areas of capacity building for national machineries is in developing monitoring and evaluation systems and skills for them.

    Recommendation: The Division for the Advancement of Women, through GASU should provide technical assistance to national machineries at all levels to develop their capacity for gender sensitive monitoring and evaluation.

    ii) The issue of political commitment to a national gender agenda remains a serious challenge for the majority of national machineries.

    Recommendation: Through the joint project , GASU in collaboration with DPEPA, should have specific components on strategies and skills to generate political mobilization for the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the national action plans.

    iii) Adequate preparation of staff of permanent missions based in New York as well as those on the Third Committee emerged as a serious concern and needs to be addressed.

    Recommendation: Undertake a review of how permanent missions follow up on gender issues and the extent of linkages with the ministries in the Capital. Also look into secondement of staff of ministries responsible for gender/women issues

    e) Engendering National Budgets

    Mainstreaming gender into national budgets processes is a critical enabling factor with out which national machineries cannot be expected to pursue their mandates as defined by the Beijing Platform for Action and the Beijing + 5 Review results.

    Recommendation: Initiate specific technical assistance support that aims to establish a knowledge base on methodologies and experiences to better understand the modalities for achieving gender budgets with a view to widespread replication.

    1. Women Specific Programmes

    The need for women specific programmes was fully endorsed by all participants. While gender mainstreaming was the overall strategy, these programmes are still valid and form building blocks for achieving gender mainstreaming.

    Recommendation: Women-specific programmes should be seen as an integral part of the support for gender mainstreaming and should be developed using gender analysis which identifies vulnerable situations of one or the gender - most often women, but sometimes also men. Specific resources should be earmarked for such activities. Related to this is the need to provide more consistent support to women's machineries since they are accountable to donors for gender mainstreaming both at the national and international levels.

    g) South-South Cooperation

    This has emerged as a strategic dimension for national machineries seeking to strengthen their capacity for implementing the Platform for Action. The consensus emerging from the consultation is that such exchanges would be highly beneficial and enabling.

    Recommendation: Initiate a programme of support that would promote south-south cooperation particularly aimed at accelerating the institutionalization of national machineries as effective mechanisms for service and output delivery.