Seventh Meeting of Commonwealth Ministers Responsible
for Women’s / Gender Affairs
Director, Division for the Advancement of Women
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Deputy Secretary-General of the Commonwealth
Distinguished delegates and observers
I am deeply honoured to have this opportunity to represent the United
Nations at this important Seventh Meeting of Commonwealth Ministers Responsible
for Women’s / Gender Affairs. I would like to thank the Government of the Republic
I congratulate the Commonwealth on the excellent Plan of Action for Gender Equality which clearly builds on lessons from past experience and identifies critical areas for further concerted action. The Plan of Action is a forward-looking document, based on the principles enshrined in the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action. It is focused on a number of priority areas which are critical for moving towards full implementation of the Declaration and Platform.
Consistent with its fundamental principles and objectives, the Commonwealth has made significant contributions to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women over the past decade. Member countries of the Commonwealth have played active roles in the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women through the intergovernmental processes within the United Nations, particularly in the Commission on the Status of Women, but also in the context of the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly. Members of the Commonwealth, as States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), have also contributed to advancing the human rights of women and eliminating discrimination against women. Here I would like to particularly acknowledge the current efforts of a number of Commonwealth countries in the Pacific to meet the reporting requirements under CEDAW, following a workshop on reporting organized last year.
Over the past decade, innovative work undertaken by Member states of the Commonwealth has been brought to the fore in global fora, including on such critical areas as gender mainstreaming; utilizing budget processes to promote gender equality; and increasing the representation and influence of women in politics and in business. The Commonwealth Secretariat has also launched a number of outstanding publications, including on gender management systems and the Millennium Development Goals, which have contributed significantly to global discussions.
The context of the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals
Since the Fourth World
Conference on Women in
The overall global framework for gender equality and empowerment of women remains the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action from 1995 and the emerging issues identified in the review and appraisal in 2000. The framework of the Millennium Development Goals do not replace this global framework but should be seen as an instrument to support its full implementation. It needs to be kept in mind that, despite significant efforts, few measureable targets were established in the Platform for Action and the outcome of the review and appraisal in 2000. The Millennium Development Goals, with globally endorsed targets and indicators, does therefore represent an important opportunity for increasing the focus on national level implementation and measuring progress and outcomes.
The development framework provided in the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals increasingly guides the work of Member States of the United Nations, as well as the work of the United Nations system itself. It is therefore important to link the Commonwealth Plan of Action on Gender Equality to this framework, and contribute to the expansion and enhancement of the focus on gender equality in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.
The preparation of the MDG Country Reports provides an opening for bringing greater attention to gender perspectives and the situation of women and girls at national level. Local advocacy campaigns and consultation with stakeholders should involve women as well as men. Strategic links could be made between the commitments and recommendations in the Plan of Action and the MDG reports in Commonwealth countries.
The contribution of the Commonwealth Plan of Action for Gender Equality to the global review and appraisal
The Fifth and Sixth Meetings of Ministers Responsible for Women’s Affairs made important inputs to the five-year review and appraisal of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in the United Nations General Assembly in 2000. This meeting, in particular through the adoption of the Commonwealth Plan of Action for Gender Equality, will also make a major contribution to the ten-year review and appraisal scheduled to take place in 2005.
The Commonwealth Plan of Action for Gender Equality is important both substantively and in terms of process. I want to particularly congratulate the Commonwealth, and the Ministers responsible for Women’s / Gender Affairs, for the exceptionally positive approach to the involvement of CSOs in the process, as witnessed by the frank and forward-looking dialogue during the meeting. I believe this constitutes a significant good practice example which I am sure will influence the work of other international and regional bodies, including the United Nations.
The Plan of Action has evolved through an innovative process which builds on achievements made, lessons learned, and gaps and challenges identified, and outlines strategic actions for the future to ensure full implementation across all areas. The major findings on which the Plan of Action is based are also critical for the global review and appraisal of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Of particular importance is the recognition that gender mainstreaming remains a major strategy for gender equality, alongside activities targeted to specifically address gaps in gender equality, as well as the clear ambition, through the Plan of Action, to enhance capacity for gender analysis and implementation of gender mainstreaming.
The Plan of Action will also make a significant substantive contribution through, among other things, the recognition of the importance of ensuring women’s full representation, participation and leadership roles, and of documenting the impacts of women’s participation and contributions; highlighting violence against women as a human rights issue and a significant development constraint; developing a rights-based approach, a strengthened legislative framework and ensuring the ratification and full implementation of CEDAW; increasing attention to sexual and reproductive rights and health, particularly in the context of HIV/AIDS; establishing dialogue with a broad range of stakeholders and developing alliances with new “non-traditional” partners; and engaging men and boys to take more active responsibility for promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women.
The identification of four priority areas and clearly defined strategies for moving forward in these areas also makes a valuable contribution. The Plan of Action links to all Critical Areas of Concern in the Platform for Action and the priority areas identified in the outcome of the review and appraisal in 2000, and provides important recommendations for gender equality in all areas covered by the Millennium Development Goals.
The Plan of Action identifies critical actions in relation to institutional arrangements in support of gender equality and empowerment of women. The need for improved monitoring and accountability mechanisms is recognized. Important recommendations are made on enhancing the roles of national machineries, particularly in terms of developing strong partnerships with line ministries, private sector, parliaments and local government. The important catalytic roles of the Secretariat to support full implementation of the Plan of Action are also clearly identified - to provide advice and support; develop methodologies and tools; focus on capacity-building; develop strategic alliances with new partners; document and disseminate lessons learned and good practice; promote dialogue and networking; and give priority to monitoring and accountability. This can provide guidance on the role of national mechanisms for gender equality, as well as for gender equality mechanisms within international and regional organizations.
Opportunities for linking the implementation of the Plan of Action to important global processes
I would like to point out some important opportunities for bringing the core messages of the Commonwealth Plan of Action for Gender Equality to the fore in global discussions over the coming 18 months.
In the area of peace and security, a review of implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 will be undertaken in October 2004. Member States have been requested to provide information on efforts made at national level as inputs for the report of the Secretary-General. Commonwealth Member States may wish to disseminate the commitments on peace and security in the Plan of Action in this context. Contributions could also be made in follow-up to the agreed conclusions, adopted by the Commission on the Status of Women at its most recent session in 2004, on women’s participation in peace processes, and the incorporation of gender perspectives into peace accords.
In relation to human rights and law, 25 years of CEDAW will be celebrated this year. Efforts are being made to have a formal commemoration in the General Assembly. This will provide an opportunity to highlight the importance of the convention and its optional protocol for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. In the Commonwealth context, it provides an opportunity to advocate for ratification by all Member countries; full compliance with reporting requirements; and increased attention to implementation of the concluding comments of the CEDAW committee. In addition, a Secretary-General’s study on all forms of violence against women has been called for by the General Assembly. The findings will be presented to the General Assembly in 2005. This provides a critical opportunity to disseminate the commitments in the Plan of Action; to highlight innovative efforts at national level; and to work for enhanced global commitment to end violence against women through the adoption of a strong resolution in the General Assembly.
In terms of economic empowerment, further efforts are required at national as well as global level to include attention to gender perspectives in the follow-up to the International Conference on Financing for Development, which covers macro-economic policies, domestic resource allocations (including social security, credit, savings), trade, debt, foreign investment, and ODA. An important opportunity was provided in the recognition in the conference outcome of the need to bring attention to gender perspectives in national and local budget processes. The Commonwealth has been at the forefront of developments in this area and it will hopefully continue to play a critical role in the follow-up on financing for development, in the context of this Plan of Action.
The Plan of Action recognizes that effective prevention of HIV/AIDS requires a multi-disciplinary approach with a strong focus on the empowerment of women, giving significant attention to poverty eradication, human rights, access to education, health – in particular sexual and reproductive rights and health, and employment, and all other areas critical for the promotion of gender equality. UNAIDS recently established a Global Coalition on Women and AIDS to strengthen attention to women and girls, highlighting the fact that more women than men are now infected with HIV/AIDS, that women are especially vulnerable as a result of persistent gender inequalities, that women carry the major responsibility for caregiving; and drawing attention to the negative socio-economic impacts of the epidemic on all aspects of the lives of women and girls. An important element in the work of the coalition is also highlighted in the Commonwealth Plan of Action – that is, the need to develop stronger partnerships with men and boys and to secure their engagement and action in preventing HIV/AIDS. Commonwealth countries could establish strategic links with this Global Coalition in implementation of the Plan of Action.
An important review of the implementation of the ECOSOC agreed conclusions on gender mainstreaming from 1997 will take place in the United Nations Economic and Social Council at the end of June 2004. The review has highlighted major achievements but also identified a number of critical constraints. These include the lack of systematic use of gender analysis; failure to incorporate gender perspectives into sector policies and strategies; lack of explicit management support; failure to follow-up and fully utilize the potential of training; the marginalization of gender specialists; and lack of accountability mechanisms to ensure compliance. The review process provides an opportunity to renew commitment to gender mainstreaming as an important strategy for gender equality; to highlight the gaps and challenges remaining; and to clarify strategic actions required for its full implementation. The commitments made in the Commonwealth Plan of Action for Gender Equality on gender mainstreaming could make an important contribution to this process.
Preparation for the ten-year review and appraisal of
Finally, I would like to provide some information on
the process of preparation for the ten-year review and appraisal of the Beijing
Declaration and Platform for Action. In the Political Declaration adopted in
2000, Member States agreed to “assess regularly further implementation of the
Beijing Platform for Action with a view to bringing together all parties
involved in 2005 to assess progress and consider new initiatives, as
appropriate, ten years after the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action”. As
well as being the 10th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on
The review and appraisal will take place in the
context of the 49th session of the Commission on the Status of Women
A questionnaire to Member States on implementation
at national level provides an important basis for the Secretary-General’s
report to be presented to the Commission. The questionnaire is focused on a
review of major achievements, gaps and challenges, as well as priority areas
for further action to ensure full implementation. The deadline for responses to
the questionnaire was
The Division for the Advancement of Women, as secretariat for the Commission on the Status of Women, will hold two Expert Group Meetings prior to the Commission, on the role of national mechanisms for gender equality (including national machineries, parliamentary caucuses and gender equality commissions), as well as on the linkages between the Platform for Action and the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals.
On-line discussions will be organized on the Critical Areas of Concern from the Platform for Action and other emerging issues. This will allow the United Nations to reach out to individuals, groups and networks who would not be able to attend the session of the Commission next year and have no other way to participate and contribute. One important goal is to provide young women and men with a forum for raising their goals and priorities on the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women.
Regional review and appraisal processes are also being organized by the United Nations regional commissions. Regional reports will be prepared on the basis of the responses to the questionnaires submitted by Member States. Regional, and in some cases sub-regional, meetings are being organized. The Division for the Advancement of Women is setting up a webpage which will provide information on both the global and regional processes.
A five-year review of implementation of the Millennium Declaration will be undertaken in the General Assembly in 2005. Details of the process have not yet been finalized, but it will be important to ensure that gender perspectives are fully incorporated into this process. The Commission on the Status of Women agreed in 2004 to ensure that the review and appraisal process will feed into the review of the Millennium Declaration.
It is hoped that there will be high-level participation during the review and appraisal in the Commission on the Status of Women. This would bring a strong message of renewed and enhanced commitment to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. I therefore take this opportunity to encourage the participation of Ministers, Deputy-Ministers, Principal Secretaries and other high level officials. The first week of the Commission will offer interesting opportunities for high-level participation – at the high-level opening; the high-level roundtable on innovations in national mechanisms for gender equality; the General Debate where Member States will make national statements on achievements, gaps and challenges and renewed commitments (which may be held in the General Assembly); the interactive events mentioned earlier; and in the celebration of International Women’s Day with a commemoration of 30 years of United Nations efforts for gender equality. (This will be held in the first week of the Commission, and not on 8 March, in order to allow for Ministers and other senior officials to return to their countries for the national-level commemoration of International Women’s Day).
In conclusion, I want to again commend the Commonwealth on the adoption of the Plan of Action on Gender Equality. The renewed and expanded commitment to the goals of the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action that the Commonwealth Plan of Action for Gender Equality involves brings an important positive message on reaffirmed commitment at a critical stage of the preparations for the review and appraisal.
The Plan of Action highlights the importance of partnerships. The United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, and the Division for the Advancement of Women, look forward to continuing collaboration with the Commonwealth and its Secretariat in the coming decade, and supporting in any way possible the full implementation of this important Plan of Action.