Gender Mainstreaming in the Functional Commissions of ECOSOC


Statement by Johan Schölvinck


Division for Social Policy and Development



            In May 1996 the CsocD held a special session, or more than a year before ECOSOC adopted its Agreed Conclusions on Gender Mainstreaming, at which the CsocD adopted a draft resolution, subsequently adopted by ECOSOC, in which it decided on a multi-year programme of work, bearing in mind that the Commission should apply a gender perspective when discussing the different topics under the multi-year programme of work.


            Without being too smug about it, it should nonetheless be pointed out that the CsocD was a step ahead of the landmark ECOSOC Agreed Conclusions 1997/2.


            The fact that gender plays an important role in the work of the Division for Social Policy and Development is in no small measure because the Division’s social development objectives and its focus on social integration and poverty eradication require attention to gender inequality and the situation of women.


            It is interesting to note that in the Booklet “Gender Mainstreaming:  An Overview”, published by Ms. Angela King’s office, economists, demographers and statisticians are specifically singled out to take a gender perspective into account in their work, but that those dealing with social policy and development are not.  Does that make us in the Division for Social Policy and Development exempt or are we seen as the natural allies in the pursuit of gender mainstreaming?  I believe the answers are “No” and “Yes”.


Starting with the “Yes”, i.e. being a natural ally, is borne from the fact that concern for gender equality is still too much seen as an “add-on”.  Similarly, concern for social policy is often also treated as an after-thought, something to be considered once macro-economic stability is achieved.


            Overcoming this situation was very much the topic of the last session of the CsocD namely “Integration of social and economic policy”.  Just the title alone shows how this integration still leaves much to be desired.  Reconciling short-term macro-economic exigencies with largely long-term social development objectives remains a challenge with the latter often getting short shrift compared to the former.


            As much as gender perspectives should be included in the policy issue to be addressed, so too should the social dimension.  Here, both have much in common and should thus be natural allies in achieving this inclusion or integration from the start rather than at the end of policy formulation.


            The topic “Integration of social and economic policy” lent itself especially well for including a gender perspective and the Report of the Secretary-General bears this out.  I believe a couple quotes from the report are worth repeating:


            “Macroeconomic policies have traditionally disregarded the gender perspectives.  Gender is a category of social and economic differentiation that affects the distribution of work, income, wealth, productivity of inputs and economic behaviours as agents.  A gender perspective is also necessary to reproduce and maintain the labour force in a society.  The link between a market economy (monetized) and reproductive work (non-monetized) was traditionally neglected by economics and the functioning of reproductive work was taken for granted regardless of the way in which its relationship to the market economy was defined.  Clearly this approach has to change and the relationship between the market and reproductive work has to be properly defined.”


            My second quote goes back to being allies:


            “There is a need to promote gender analysis, primarily because gender concerns are fundamental in defining social concerns, but also because the experience of mainstreaming gender in development policies may provide an example of ways to mainstream social concerns.”


            There are other instances in the report that deal with gender mainstreaming but I believe these two quotes are the most salient in terms of showing good practice of making a gender perspective an integral part of the analysis undertaken in the Report of the Secretary-General.


            The extent to which the content of the Report of the Secretary-General found its way in the Agreed Conclusions of the CsocD will be addressed by Ambassador Chowdhury, Chairman of the Commission.  But let it suffice to say that these Agreed Conclusions identified gender equality as one of the essential elements for the realization of social and people-centred sustainable development.


            But let me return to my question, especially its first part:  Is the Division for Social Policy and Development exempt from being admonished to take a gender perspective into account in its work?  My answer was “No” but from what I just related to you, it would seem that the answer could or should be “Yes”.


            However, “one swallow does not make a summer” but there are few other “swallows” in the work of the Division that strengthen the case for summer.  Thus, the report prepared for the CsocD in 2001 on “social protection” points out the way in which gender roles and biases result in differences in the economic position of women and men and differences in needs.  In 1999 a discussion paper on “Unpaid Work and Policy-Making” explored the gender dimension.


            Notwithstanding these examples of good practices, challenges remain.  Thus, there is a tendency to consider women as a social group rather than gender as a cross-cutting issue.  Also, there is a tendency toward targeting women, and relative neglect of gender at the level of policy directions and choices.  Although there is in the Division a general awareness of the relevance of gender to social analysis, the approach still leans toward targeting women or identifying special measures for women rather than considering gender as an element or a variable in problem analyses and the assessment of policy options.  In short, and as is stated in Booklet on Gender Mainstreaming:  “There is a need to move away from “women” as a target group, to gender equality as a development goal.” 


            An example of this targeting can be found in the Report of the Special Rapporteur on Disability to the Commission this year.  Perhaps the nature of the topic makes it difficult to avoid targeting but the following quote exemplifies what I mean:


            “In gender-sensitive development programmes, women and girls with disabilities should be identified as target beneficiaries.”


            In sum, our Division is not exempt from admonishment by our colleagues in DAW.


            Next year the CsocD will, in accordance with its multi-year programme of work, take up the topic of “National and international cooperation for social development”.  This highly general and, to some extent, opaque subject has a number of subthemes such as (1) sharing of experiences and practices in social development’  (2)  forging partnerships for social development;  (3)  social responsibility of the private sector;  (4)  impact of employment strategies on social development, and (5)  policies and role of IFIs and their effect on national social development strategies.  Needless to say this is a highly charged agenda but each subtheme lends itself to include a gender perspective in its analysis.  All I can say at this stage, is that we in the Division will try to bring this about.


            Now what can ECOSOC do?  In a sense the Council has at its disposal Agreed Conclusions 1997/2 in which there is a section dealing with “The intergovernmental process of the United Nations.”  There are a lot of potential teeth in these Agreed Conclusions but it would seem that little has ever been done to give them bite.  For example, ECOSOC entrusted its Bureau with establishing or strengthening a dialogue with the chairpersons and bureaux of its subsidiary bodies, as well as a dialogue between them, with the active support of the chairperson and bureau of the CSW.  I don’t think this ever happened.


            Another example:  ECOSOC calls upon its functional commissions to adopt, as a first step, an explicit decision on mainstreaming a gender perspective in their work.  I don’t know about the other commissions, but as noted at the outset, the CsocD did so one year before these agreed conclusions.


            Then there are two requests by the Council to the functional commissions:  one is to make maximum use of the agreed conclusions of the Commission on the Status of Women and the other is to take into account the work of the Commission on the Status of Women and the Commission on Human Rights in the area of enjoyment of human rights by women. 


            Leaving aside the fact that the CsocD meets before the CSW and CHR and therefore would be hard pressed to take their outcomes into account, the CsocD has a multi-year work programme, approved by ECOSOC, that leaves little time to seriously consider the requests made by ECOSOC.


            Furthermore, the Agreed Conclusions urge the CSW to provide suggestions to other functional commissions and the Council on Gender Mainstreaming.  As far as suggestions to other functional commissions are concerned, I have seen no evidence.  As far as the Council is concerned, the Agreed Conclusions and more recently ECOSOC resolution 2001/41 do give such evidence but they in fact leave it to the Council to achieve gender mainstreaming among its subsidiary bodies, a task it thus far has been unable to carry out.


            Perhaps the most useful paragraph in the Agreed Conclusions is the request to the Secretariat to present issues and approaches in a gender-sensitive manner when preparing reports to intergovernmental bodies.  My account of the work of the Division for Social Policy and Development in this regard is relevant.


            Finally the Agreed Conclusions state that “under an item entitled ‘Integrated follow-up of major UN conferences, the Council will monitor annually the way in which its functional commissions and subsidiary bodies mainstream a gender perspective.”  To the best of my knowledge this has never happened.


            And this leads me to the Council’s first consideration of its new subitem 7(e) entitled “Mainstreaming a gender perspective into all policies and programmes of the UN system.”  Clearly, this subitem is born from the dissatisfaction with the Agreed Conclusions 1997/2 especially with regard to the annual monitoring of the Council.  What to expect from this new subitem 7(e)?  It is part of item 7 that deals with “Coordination, programme and other questions” and is taken up during the Council’s general segment.  This segment, for years, has suffered from overload, disparate items and severe time constraints.  Whether item 7(e) can provide a “watch-dog” function remains to be seen.  If it is to vet the reports of the Council’s subsidiary bodies on the extent to which they have taken gender-mainstreaming into account, it is doubtful whether it has either the time or the expertise to do so.  If it is to rely on a report provided by DAW, as seems to be the case, then the question arises why DAW cannot directly deal with the Secretariats of the subsidiary bodies concerned.


            As matters stand now, I’m afraid that item 7(e) will get lost in the forest and its operational usefulness will be marginal at best.  Sensitizing the Secretariats serving the subsidiary bodies would be a more promising road.