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Mid-term Report of the Online Working Group on National Machineries for Gender Equality

"Examples" and "Lessons Learned"
Voices from Activists, Researchers and Government Officials

Prepared for the 43rd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women
1-19 March 1999


I. A Virtual Community: What is going on?

II. Three Weeks of Online Discussion -a Summary:

  • A. New Strategies to Mainstream Gender in all Government Policies
  • B. Cooperation with NGOs - Some Examples

II. Make YOUR Voices Heard: Issues for Future Discussion

I. A Virtual Community: What is going on?

This is a unique opportunity for the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) to gain from the experience of NGO activists, researchers and government officials.

On 8 February 1999, Women Watch launched the Online Working Group on National Machineries for Gender Equality, as part of a series of online dialogues . Approx. 350 individuals from all parts of the world are exchanging experiences via e-mail and learning from each other. The number of participants is steadily growing. People from all regions are making their voices heard.

The goal of this working group is to compile "best practices" and "good examples" for strengthening national machineries for gender equality. This summary is being provided as input to the 43rd session of the CSW. Further information on the goals and structure of the working group is attached.

The working group is running for six weeks, from 8 February to 19 March 1999. The summary below highlights the outcome of the discussion during the first three weeks.

II. Three Weeks of Online Discussion - a Summary:

A. New Strategies to Mainstream Gender in all Government Policies

The Beijing Platform defines mainstreaming of a gender perspective as a core responsibility of national machineries. According to the Platform, a national machinery is the "central coordinating unit inside the government. Its main task is to support government-wide mainstreaming of a gender perspective in all policy areas" (paragraph 202).

Many participants reported on the activities of their country or organization to implement this mandate. The contributions fall into three categories: 1. Institutional structures; 2. Capacity building and 3. Framework for gender and organizational change.

1. Institutional Structures

As the contributions showed, it is very important for a national machinery to build strong links with other parts of the government, both formally and informally, and to initiate cooperation on gender issues among all ministries and departments. Participants from, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Canada, Spain (Basque Country) and the USA reported on their country's efforts to institutionalize cooperation between different parts of the government. Some countries have established an interdepartmental group.

In Spain (Basque Country), for example, according to one participant, the interdepartmental group is headed by the President of the Basque Countries. It comprises one person from each department at the Deputy Minister level. The goal of the group is to coordinate the government's gender policy. Each department develops an action plan for gender equality in its respective area; at the beginning of each year, the Interdepartmental Commission discusses and approves this plan. Parallel, an ongoing working group of staff members complements the work of the interdepartmental group. Technical personnel from each department collaborate to implement the government's gender policy on a daily basis.

The above mentioned institutional structure at the central government is complemented by a similar structure at the territorial level. The Interterritorial Commission comprises representatives from all parts of the Basque Country. It is responsible for coordinating and implementing the government's gender policy on the territorial level.

Participants reported that in Zimbabwe, the national machinery built strong links with the Ministries of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Agriculture, Home Affairs, Education, Health and Child Welfare. The latter is currently working on a strategy to engender its next five-year programme. An activist from Uganda reported that in her country, the Gender Directorate in the Ministry of Gender mainly acts as a catalyst and facilitator. Its task is to lobby other sectors of government to mainstream gender in their work. This function is carried out in partnership with sectoral ministries, including the ministry of agriculture, natural resources and others.

2. Capacity Building

Many participants stressed that it is important to equip government staff with knowledge and skills to carry out gender analysis. They reported on their government's efforts to build capacity for gender mainstreaming.

A participant reported that in Trinidad and Tobago, the national machinery launched a gender training programme for Permanent Secretaries, Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament, and members of the Judiciary. In Spain (Basque Country), professionals from all government departments meet regularly to exchange experiences on gender issues and to learn from each other.

3. Framework for Gender and Organizational Change

One participant from the USA presented an interesting framework to achieve organizational change to integrate gender in all aspects of an organization's work. The concept is based on experiences of NGOs. It is considered equally valuable for governments or other institutions.

According to this framework, all organizational change has to be based on a strong political will: a clear commitment by the leadership for gender integration, and the allocation of staff and financial resources. This commitment by the leadership should then lead to three vital changes:

a) positive organizational culture, which involves a more gender diverse staff at all levels and equal valuing of women's and men's perspectives and working styles

b) technical capacity to mainstream gender, including staff skill in gender analysis, availability of gender disaggregated data, and development of gender sensitive tools and procedures.

c) system of accountability, incentives and requirements that enforce and encourage new behaviors

B. Cooperation with NGOs - Some Examples

Contributions from many countries stated that support from NGOs is crucial for the functioning of the national machinery. Especially participants from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) stressed the important role of NGOs in their region. "Without the pressure of NGOs, there would not be any National machinery or National Action Plan in most of the countries." (from a network of women's NGOs in CEE). Some governments in the region have established a permanent forum for consultations with NGOs.

It was stated that in Poland, for example, this forum met monthly to develop a National Action Plan. In Hungary, the national machinery initiated a "Civil Forum". The Forum comments on government policies and can initiate programmes to promote equal opportunities. In Slovakia, representatives of NGOs are members of the national machinery. The national machinery in Romania cooperates closely with Human Rights NGOs. In 1997, NGOs and the government jointly established a pilot center for women victims of violence. One participant reported on a joint project of the government and NGOs to establish a national machinery in Georgia.

A member from Ghana reported on an interesting project to promote cooperation between the government and NGOs. The goal is to mobilize NGOs so that they support the work of national machineries. The project team conducted research on the work of national machineries in six African countries (Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Morocco, Zimbabwe and Zambia). The research finding will be discussed with NGOs. Based on the findings, NGOs will then define their potential role in strengthening the national machinery.

III. Make YOUR Voices Heard: Issues for Future Discussion

The stimulating exchange of experiences across the globe will go on until 19 March 1999. In the following weeks, the discussion will focus on:

- strategies for organizational change
- accountability mechanisms: how can governments be held responsible for gender mainstreaming?

Join in! Learn from colleagues from all over the world!

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