Regional Meeting to Discuss the Needs Assessment for the Project on Capacity Building of National Machineries for Gender Equality in African Countries
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
16-18 April 2001

Opening Statement


Ms. Yakin Ertürk


Division for the Advancement of Women
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
United Nations

Distinguished guests,

It is an honour for me to open this regional meeting on the assessment of needs for the project on national machineries for gender equality in African countries. I bring warm greetings to you from Ms. Angela King, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General for Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, who wishes you all the best in your deliberations during the next three days.

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Mr. Amoako, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, for hosting this important meeting in Addis Ababa. I would also like to thank Ms. Josephine Ouedraogo and her team for their support during the preparations for this meeting. Finally, it gives me great pleasure to see so many distinguished participants in attendance. I would like to extend my warmest welcome to you all.

We are gathered here today to lay the foundation of a project which aims to strengthen national machineries in countries of the African region. National machinery is not only one of the critical areas of concern of the Beijing Platform for Action but it is the primary institutional mechanism entrusted with the implementation of the strategic objectives contained in the Platform at the national level. The Outcome Documents adopted at the 23rd special session of the General Assembly states, "National machineries have been instituted or strengthened and recognized as the institutional base acting as "catalysts" for promoting gender equality, gender mainstreaming and monitoring of the implementation of the Platform for Action and in many instances of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women." The ability of Member States to achieve the global agenda for gender equality has been significantly enhanced by the creation and successful functioning of these national level institutions.

The role of national machineries was conceived in a recommendation emerging from the First World Conference on Women, which took place in 1975 in Mexico City. Since then the subject of national machineries has been taken up systematically by various sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). In the process, their mandate has evolved from promoting women-specific projects to ensuring that gender equality concerns are integrated into all government legislation, policies, programmes and budgetary processes. The INSTRAW study of selected cases of national machineries in 1980, identified six structural types which include: full-fledged ministries; bureaus; departments or divisions; commissions, committees or councils; political organs and others such as non-governmental organizations. These categories are still valid today in depicting the types of machineries for the advancement of women. Review of the case studies in the INSTRAW study would provide a good basis for identifying the change in focus, problems encountered by national machineries in the course of 20 years and lessons learned. In this regard two other sources would provide invaluable insight into our understanding, these are: "National Machineries: A Look to the Future – a United Nations Women's Handbook" of January 1987 and the 1979 "ECA National, Subregional and Regional Machineries for Women in Development" Report and Directory.

The issue of national machineries and their critical role in promoting gender equality has been an important part of the mandate and work of the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) as well. In the preparation for the 43rd session of the CSW, DAW held an Expert Group Meeting on national machineries in collaboration with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in September 1998. The CSW in March 1999, in reviewing the report of the expert group meeting, recognized that the effectiveness and sustainability of national machineries were highly dependent on their imbeddedness in the national context, the political and socio-economic system and the acknowledgement of the needs of and accountability to women, particularly those with the least access to resources. It was also acknowledged that, for national machineries to be effective, clear mandates, location at the highest possible level, accountability mechanisms, partnerships with civil society, a transparent political process, adequate financial and human resources and continued strong political will and commitment are crucial.

Today, according to the DAW database, there are over 161 national machineries of some type worldwide. Over 60 percent of these were created or strengthened after the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995. Despite much progress in this area, the review and appraisal conducted by DAW (E/CN.6/2000/PC/2), within the context of Beijing+5, indicates that national machineries face serious constraints in their ability to fulfil their mandate. The recognition of these obstacles has motivated the DAW to undertake the current project to support the creation of national machineries where there are none and to strengthen existing ones in selected countries in Africa. We anticipate that this project will serve as a model to guide further work in other countries and other regions.

During the course of the next three days you will be assessing needs and identifying areas of further action for improving the effectiveness of national machineries. You will be addressing a multitude of problems facing these institutions. While you will focus on specific constraints experienced in the African context, some of these will, no doubt, have universal dimensions, such as:

Despite these constraints, however, experience has also shown that some national machinaries have achieved much progress by employing innovative approaches to turn disadvantages to an advantage.

Following the 23rd special session of the General Assembly on Beijing+5, DAW organized a consultation meeting, which many of you attended. This meeting provided an opportunity for exchange of views on the mandate and role of national machineries, in particular in the light of emerging challenges and future actions contained in the Outcome Document which reaffirmed the critical and essential role of national machineries in the implementation of the Platform for Action. The Outcome Document also acknowledged that despite their limited resources, national machineries made significant contributions to the development of human capacity in the field of the growing efforts for the generation and dissemination of data disaggregated by sex and age and gender sensitive research. However, it was also emphasized that there is need to enhance their capacity particularly in line with their expanded and challenging mandate.

Therefore, in determining guidelines for new modalities and approaches to national machineries for gender equality, while we are guided by good practices and lessons learned from around the world, we also need to respond to trends and challenges of global change. Most pertinent in this regard is perhaps the growing importance of effective partnerships of state and non-state actors. While, the Platform for Action and the Outcome Document place the primary responsibility of achieving gender equality with governments, it has become well recognized by the international community that new alliances and partnerships between state and non-state actors provide the foundation for a more democratic, transparent, and accountable public administration. The knowledge, skills, enthusiasm, motivation and grassroots perspectives of civil society are necessary to complement the resources and wisdom of official agencies. Increasingly, non-governmental actors have been working in partnership with governments towards women’s advancement and achievement of gender equality.

This meeting, provides an excellent opportunity to re-examine these issues and further exchange views on lessons learned as well as on innovations for the future. I am confident that the results - both in terms of concrete recommendations and follow-up initiatives for the project - will be well worth your efforts. My colleagues and I from DESA stand ready to assist you in your deliberations. I wish you every success.

Thank you.