Comments by Ambassador Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury
Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations and
Chairman of the Commission for Social Development
at the

Panel on Gender Mainstreaming in the Functional
Commissions of the Economic and Social Council
ECOSOC Chamber, 11 June 2002

Madam Vice-President, (Ambassador Marjatta Rasi, Finland)
Madam Moderator, (Carolyn Hannan, Director, DAW)
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

          May I begin by saying what an immense pleasure it is to be part of a panel on a subject that I believe has critical importance to our lives.

          The Director, Johan Scholtinck, speaking just now has provided an account of gender mainstreaming in the Division for Social Policy and Development which contributes to the work of the Commission for Social Development.

          In my presentation, I will focus on how gender mainstreaming can be fully achieved in the work of the Commission itself as well as the ECOSOC in the coming years.

          But before I do that, could I also express my appreciation to the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Division for ECOSOC Support and Coordination for organizing this discussion. The introduction of the new sub-item at its forthcoming session will provide ECOSOC a much needed opportunity to take practical steps for advancing gender mainstreaming within the entire Council, in particular in the work of its Functional Commissions.

          I should like to commend Ambassador Ivan Simonovic, the President, and his colleagues in the Bureau of ECOSOC for their keenness to strengthen the coordinating role of the Council. Gender mainstreaming is most definitely one area where such coordination can result in considerable benefits to all concerned.

          The Functional Commissions are mandated to deal with specific areas: social development, crime prevention, and the like. They are the technical bodies that transmit their specific and consensus recommendations to their parent body, the ECOSOC. The work is dictated by their respective multi-year programme of work. Except for the Commission on the Status of Women, which has a primary focus on gender issues, the focus of the other Commissions remains on the topic at hand at a given session.

          Therefore, undertaking an overall coordination at the “ECOSOC-level” will prove to be of crucial significance. The purpose of such coordination should be to provide specific guidance to the Commissions to increase their effectiveness in this regard. Apart from formal guidance, it may also be useful to put gender more systematically into the agenda of the meetings of the Bureau of ECOSOC with the Bureaux of the Functional Commissions.

          At the “Commission-level” – and now I speak of the Commission for Social Development more specifically – the outcome documents of previous sessions contain language on gender issues. The reports by the Secretary-General increasingly accorded this issue higher prominence. I believe more can be done. I discern an emerging trend that makes me confident to mention that we are emerging from the notion that by including a paragraph on gender in an outcome document, or in a section in a report, and we would conclude that enough has been done. That is not what gender mainstreaming is about. Gender has to be made a truly cross-cutting issue. It must be mainstreamed on the basis of its wide ranging relevance throughout a text or a report. 

          For example, one cannot talk of poverty eradication without really taking a gender specific look at issues like community-based actions, impact of macro-economic policy, design and operation of social protection systems, or vulnerability to natural and other disasters. Similarly, how can social impact assessments be meaningful unless it is reflective of the differentiated impact of various social trends on gender, among others.

          The Secretariat will have to be more pro-active in order to help ensure that gender is fully mainstreamed in the work of the Commissions. From our experience, let me suggest two ways that will help the Secretariat.

          One, the reports that Members request are often of such technical nature that a high level of specialization is needed for their preparation. The person or persons preparing it are highly qualified no doubt, but may not have adequate background to fully mainstream gender issues in the reports. I believe the best way to address this deficiency is by building some specialization on this issue within each Commission and strengthening structural cooperation with the Division for the Advancement of Women and the CSW.

          Two, in their input to the Secretariat, the Member States should provide more details on mainstreaming of gender in national policies and social development programmes. Availability of gender-disaggregated data will be of great benefit in preparing the reports, especially for making specific recommendations.

          Once the report is issued and the preparatory work is completed, it is up to the States to shape the outcome documents of each session in a manner that gender is mainstreamed adequately. Experts from capitals and those based in New York should have a clear picture of what is happening at the national level, relevant expertise and the necessary instructions. These days, with no night meetings, no extensions, and not much enthusiasm for parallel meetings, time is always of the essence. Preparation, well in advance, will be necessary for effectively mainstreaming gender in the work of the Functional Commissions. Additionally, while adopting future multi-year programmes of work, the Members of the Commissions will have to be more aware of the need to give continuous attention to this matter. Could I suggest that the ECOSOC explore the possibility of asking the Commissions to report to it every two or three years on gender mainstreaming in their respective areas of work.

          Having received the inputs, it should then be up to the ECOSOC to undertake a comprehensive review under this newly introduced sub-item. Beginning from this year, it may be useful to think in terms of a concrete and meaningful outcome with a practical application. A resolution will be ideal, as that provides specific guidance to the Functional Commissions. A Chair’s summary of the debate could also be made available to the Functional Commissions to consider in their respective work.

          It will be also be useful if the Bureau of ECOSOC could give some early indication to delegations how the sub-item will be considered and what will be the format of the outcome document. This will be useful to delegations in preparing their national statements in a more relevant manner.

          Finally, let me just say that to my mind the intellectual acceptance of gender-mainstreaming as a desirable imperative in every walk of life is what marks this age positively distinct from others that have gone before.

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