Opening remarks at the panel:

Change/Status Quo: Multigenerational Stakeholders


Organized by the NGO Committee on the Status of Women

Subcommittee on Older Women (SCOW)

CSW Youth Caucus

8 March 2002


Carolyn Hannan

Director, Division for the Advancement of Women

United Nations



I am delighted to make some brief introductory remarks at this important event. I believe the topic you are discussing today is critical and congratulate the organizers on taking the initiative to organize this event. The joint organization of the workshop is a strong signal of the commitment to intergenerational collaboration. I look forward to the results of the exchange.


There are many issues which should be addressed in  a discussion of multigenerational stakeholders – issues of fostering greater intergenerational dialogue; promoting change within organizations and movements which is sensitive to multigenerational stakeholders; integrating multigenerational stakeholders into development initiatives, etc. I will not address the issue of development initiatives as other inputs to the panel will focus on this. I will refer briefly to a number of other issues which are important to consider in any discussion of multigenerational stakeholder.


            Creating environments for open dialogue between different generations is important in all areas of development. It is particularly critical in relation to gender equality. Real dialogue requires openness, creativity, respect and empathy. It is not always easy to cross generational divides, even with the best of intentions. Young people may have difficulties understanding the specific contexts of older women and men, because the attitudes, norms, values, goals and priorities of different generations are the product of specific overall history and the concrete experiences at the individual level. It is not easy to experience and understand the life situations of older generations second-hand. Similarly it can be difficult for older women and men to understand the goals, priorities and concrete situations of youth, even though they have themselves once been young, simply because the contexts in which they were young were so very different from today. On a very personal level I have often been humbled by the small insights I have had into the challenges facing young people today – both young women and young men – particularly in the area of norms, values and attitudes.


At the basis of intergenerational contact and collaboration must be acceptance that each generation has unique contributions to make to development in all areas. It is very clear that young women and men can provide fresh insights on some of the critical gender equality issues we have been struggling with for decades. It also needs to be recognized that older women and men have important contributions to make in all areas of development. However, in many contexts the potentials and contributions of older women are persistently marginalized, often because of long-term overall discrimination and subordination as well as negative stereotypes. As a recent statement on aging by the CEDAW Committee points out: Special recognition should be provided to the contribution of women to their families, the national economy and civil society throughout their life span: stereotypes and taboos that restrict or limit older women from continuing to contribute should be eliminated.  (E/CN.6/2002/CRP.1, para 7). Bringing together the perceptions, priorities and particular capabilities of different generations in our work of promoting gender equality can only enrich our efforts.


            In discussing change within organizations, the issue of balance is key. Organizations should reflect the diversity of demographic profiles of the communities in which they operate, particularly in relation to sex, race/ethnic affiliation and age. Organizations have to both actively involve, and reflect the interests and needs of, different groups in society. Multigenerational stakeholders should have the opportunity to influence, participate in and benefit from the work of all organizations in society.


            One particular challenge I would like to emphasize is keeping the younger generations of women engaged in promotion of gender equality, even in societies where the more blatant signs of inequalities have been removed. Developing awareness of the more subtle, insidious inequalities, for example those embedded in institutional cultures in workplaces, is not an easy process. The term “the glass ceiling” symbolizes this well, since it refers to the fact that you may not notice the inequalities until you actually  “hit your head” on them. In my personal work experience I have seen many younger women in their 20s and early 30s not wanting to admit to persistent inequalities between women and men, and insisting that as long as you are capable as an individual, gender makes no difference to career opportunities.  Many of these young women do eventually become aware and engaged in gender equality work, but only when they themselves have experienced at first-hand some form of discrimination and have had to admit that inequality between women and men does still exist and affects their lives negatively in a very direct way.


            In situations where younger women are not engaging and playing active roles in the women’s movements, we also need to be honest in assessing why. I believe it often has to do with issues of power and leadership. In the women’s movement we have talked for decades about alternative forms of exercising power and leadership but it may be time to question very directly whether we have come up with serious alternatives, even in our own movements. It is important to separate exercise of power, as in management or decision-making positions, from exercise of leadership. Managers or decision-makers in organizations are not the only ones with capacity and responsibility to provide leadership. Ways and means of allowing for leadership roles, apart from the management functions, need to be developed to provide a broader framework for all members of groups and networks to influence goals and strategic directions. It would be useful to reflect further on the intergenerational aspects of this. How can younger members be given more active, responsible roles and opportunities for developing both their management and leadership capabilities; and how can the particular capabilities of older women continue to be utilized effectively?


            Another critical point I would like to raise is related to the role of men in promoting gender equality. Gender equality will probably only be achieved when men as well as women really understand what it means and are aware of the implications for men as a group and for individual men throughout the lifecycle. There are clear variations in awareness of gender equality issues among different generations of men. A growing number of strong allies for gender equality can be found among young men and we need to find ways to engage them more effectively. Some questions we might benefit from asking include: What continuing differences in the relations between women and men in different generations need to be taken into consideration; What kinds of strategies could be put in place to ensure more active support for gender equality by men of all generations?


            Two important intergovernmental events will focus on different generations this year. The Second World Assembly on Aging (Madrid, 8-12 April) will provide an opportunity to look more deeply at gender equality among older people. The Special Session on Children (New York, 8-10 May) will similarly provide a forum for discussing gender equality in the context of children and youth. I am certain that you will, in the presentations and discussions here today, investigate ways of working across generations to keep gender equality issues at the centre of attention in all these fora. Intergenerational aspects are also taken up by the Commission this year through the focus on the empowerment of women across the lifecycle in the discussions on poverty.


 I would also like to recommend to your attention two editions of Women 2002 produced by the Division for the Advancement of Women: Women 2000 on Widows which is already available, and a forthcoming edition on Ageing which will be available for the Second World Assembly on Ageing in April.


            Women’s groups and networks, and the individuals within them, have always been appreciative of the positive gains of working together to achieve the goal of gender equality – i.e the value-added of exchanging, sharing and networking. It is often an enriching experience at a personal level for individuals in all groups, youth groups as well as groups of older women. This value-added can only be enhanced by ensuring close contacts and collaboration between generations so that the perceptions, experiences, priorities of all generations of women are fully shared. And hopefully in the future we will be able to include all generations of men, and the different positive aspects they might bring, in the continuing struggle for gender equality.


I wish you successful discussions here today and hope that this is only the first such gathering bringing together multigenerational stakeholders .


Thank you.