The United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) are jointly organizing an Expert Group Meeting on National Machineries for Gender Equality, which is tentatively scheduled to take place at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean in Santiago, Chile, in late August 1998.
The expert group meeting will provide substantive input into a report on the subject that will be submitted to the Commission on the Status of Women at its forty-third session in 1999. It will also contribute to the Commission's panel discussion and debate on "national machineries" that will lead to the elaboration of agreed conclusions aimed at accelerating the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action in this critical area of concern.
The purpose of the meeting is to further the discussion of and create more awareness and a better understanding of the institutional and other factors related to national machineries that will stimulate actions, policies and the allocation of resources to strengthen their role, efficiency and effectiveness in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action. Other goals are to increase accountability on gender issues while simultaneously accelerating the process of gender mainstreaming and the advancement of women. The meeting will also serve as a forum for assessing the progress made to date in implementing relevant provisions of the Beijing Platform for Action and in elaborating action-oriented measures to accelerate its implementation.
In this context and with a view to determine what constitute "best practices" and optimal conditions for national machineries in mainstreaming gender issues and advancing the status of women, the meeting will examine case studies of national machineries from different regions with a comparative regional and/or global perspective. In terms of practical outcomes, recommendations from the meeting will facilitate the identification of a set of principles and/or guidelines for national machineries to be used by DAW to assist the Member States in strengthening their institutional capacity to mainstream gender issues and advance the status of women nationally.
Institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women is one of the 12 critical areas of concern addressed in the Beijing Platform for Action (Chapter IV.H). The Platform states that "National machineries are diverse in form and uneven in their effectiveness, and in some cases have declined. Often marginalized in national government structures, these mechanisms are frequently hampered by unclear mandates, lack of adequate staff, training, data and sufficient resources, and insufficient support from national political leadership" (paragraph 196).
The Platform also specifies some of the necessary conditions for an effective functioning of national machineries which include: (a) location at the highest possible level in the government, falling under the responsibility of a Cabinet minister; (b) institutional mechanisms or processes that facilitate decentralized planning, implementation and monitoring by involving NGOs and community-based organizations; 8 sufficient resources in terms of budget and professional capacity; and (d) opportunity to influence the development of all government policies (paragraph 201).
Most national machineries were only recently established within the past decade and, until the 1990's, they were not the focus of extensive research, discussion and debate by public policy-makers and practioners, academics and researchers, feminists, women's organizations and NGOs. Two prior Expert Group Meetings were held on the topic by DAW in 1987 and 1974 as well as a Subregional Conference on Senior Governmental Experts on the "Implementation of the Platform for Action adopted by the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, in Central and Eastern Europe" held in Romania in 1996. Therefore, this meeting presents a timely opportunity to examine and evaluate the conditions and contexts in which national machineries operate, in particular to determine what constitute "best practices"; whether and under what conditions these might be replicated; and how rapid progress in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action can best be achieved.
Drawing upon the previous meetings and reports in 1987 and 1996, information and data analysed by DAW from the results of a survey questionnaire and National Actions Plans submitted by Member States, as well as on state-of-the-art knowledge and research based on current literature, and the theory and practice of relevant academic disciplines and interdisciplinary fields, the meeting will examine the institutional factors which improve the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of national machineries in mainstreaming gender issues and in advancing the status of women.
The meeting will also identify a set of principles and/or guidelines relevant for public policy-makers to strengthen the institutional capacity of national machineries in addressing a range of diverse constraints that undermine the national machinery's ability to effectively pursue its national agenda on gender mainstreaming and the advancement of women. Some of the obstacles include:
- the marginalization of institutional capacity of national machineries through a lack of necessary financial and human resources, including personnel, skill capacities, training, and funding;
- the assignment of roles and institutional location which inhibit the capacity of the national machinery to effectively address gender mainstreaming and other issues related to the advancement of women that require transformational processes and organization change within government bureaucracies;
- the lack of follow up and follow through from gender-sensitive policy proposals through the implementation phase to address the actual budgetary implications and resource allocation, including gender-based budgeting, and a failure to directly and positively impact the public expenditure planning process;
- the lack of and/or the nature of linkages between national machineries, including systems of WID/GAD focal points within the public sector, and local women's organizations and NGOs in civil society in order to strongly advocate for and advance gender issues in the government.
III. Background documentation and profile of the participants
Basic documentation for the meeting will comprise background studies prepared by the organizers and case studies prepared by invited experts. Observers may also prepare case studies, if they so choose, based upon their own knowledge and experience. The organizers' papers will reflect the current state of knowledge and practice on national machineries in mainstreaming gender and in advancing the status of women. The experts' case studies will address various aspects of national machineries, including on their role, efficiency and effectiveness, based upon the expert's knowledge and professional expertise and experiences with a comparative regional and/or global perspective. All papers should conclude with recommendations for strengthening the role, efficiency and effectiveness of the national machineries in policy formulation and implementation and for positively impacting the public expenditure planning process using gender-based budgeting, with specific reference to the conditions, contexts and institutional factors; as well as to the role of women's organizations, NGOs and civil society in building a strong constituency base for lobbying and leveraging support for the gender agenda and issues related to the advancement of women within government bureaucracies as a whole.
Experts will be selected on the basis of their professional knowledge and experience from among the national machineries, academic researchers, practioners and NGOs in relevant areas. In selecting the participants, the criteria of balance between experts from national machineries, academia and civil society as well as geographical and gender balance will be respected.
The meeting will be jointly organized by the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Participants will include invited experts, as well as observers from Governments, particularly from the national machineries, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, academic and research institutes and members of the United Nations system.
V. Administrative Arrangements
The meeting will be conducted in English and Spanish. The costs of participation by the experts invited by the Secretariat will be covered by the United Nations (ie. travel costs in economy class and daily subsistence allowance (DSA) in Santiago) in accordance with United Nations standards. Details of these and other arrangements will be provided at a later date.
All relevant correspondence should be addressed to:
Ms. Dorota Gierycz
Gender Analysis Section
Division for the Advancement of Women
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
United Nations, DC2-1230
New York, New York 10017 U.S.A.
fax: (212) 963-3463