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Institutional mechanisms for the Advancement of Women
12 January-4 February 2005
Moderated by
The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)


In 2005, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will review and appraise the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995), and the outcome of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly (2000). As part of the preparations for this process, the United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality is organizing a series of online discussions on various critical areas of concern laid out in the Beijing Platform for Action. The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) will facilitate the online discussion concerning critical area of concern H, Institutional Mechanisms. To participate in this online discussion, please register here.


The first World Conference on Women, in 1975 called for the establishment of national machineries for the advancement of women. In 1987 a national machinery was defined as a body �recognized by the Government as the institution dealing with the promotion of the status of women�. Its functions were described as inter alia: supporting the effective participation of women in development; promoting women�s education and participation in political decision-making and the economy; ensuring the highest level of Government�s support; combating negative cultural attitudes and stereotyping of women in the media; and facilitating research on the status of women and collecting sex-disaggregated data.

Section H of the Beijing Platform for Action (PFA), on institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, describes what a national machinery for the advancement of women is, what its role should be and where in the government structure it should be placed. That section also contains three strategic objectives:

  1. Create or strengthen national machineries and other governmental bodies
  2. Integrate gender perspectives in legislation, public policies, programmes and projects
  3. Generate and disseminate gender-disaggregated data and information for planning and evaluation

By 2004, 165 Member States of the United Nations reported having established some form of national machinery. At its 1991 and 1999 sessions, the CSW considered the role and structure of national machineries as a priority theme. In addition, various expert group meetings have been organized around the topic of national mechanisms. In various meetings on national machineries held over the years, national machineries have often been described as uneven in their effectiveness, often marginalized in national government structures, frequently hampered by unclear mandates, lack of adequate staff, training, data and sufficient resources, and insufficient support from national political leadership. However, positive changes have been brought about through such bodies. It is important to asses what has worked, what has not worked and why.

Discussions will focus on the following weekly sub-themes:

Week 1 - Accomplishments and progress made

Week 2 - Partnership with civil society and other stakeholders

Week 3 - Legal and policy framework

Week 4 - Moving forward

Week & Theme Details
Week 1
Accomplishments and progress made
(12-17 January 2005)

We would like to start the discussion off on a positive note by asking participants to consider what has been achieved through national mechanisms for the advancement of women.

  • What factors have made progress possible? Are there lessons that we can learn from positive experiences? How important was political will? Resources? Women�s advocacy work?
  • What are some examples of national machineries playing a strong role in formulating policies and laws?
  • What roles have information systems and the acquisition, analysis and dissemination of information on the advancement of women played in the success of national machineries?
  • What role has access to modern communication technologies and networking played in successful work of national machineries?

In some countries parliamentary caucuses � of women parliamentarians or of male and female parliamentarians � which focus on gender equality in the work or parliaments, have also been established. Other countries have established separate Gender Equality or Women�s Commissions. In a few countries ombudspersons for gender equality have been appointed.

  • Are such bodies such as commissions or ombudspersons for gender equality proving more effective or accountable than traditional mechanisms? What are advantages and disadvantages of being a ministry versus a commission or other type of body?
  • Which institutional structures have impacted most positively on gender mainstreaming initiatives?
  • In countries which have national human rights institutions, do they help support the efforts of national machineries? There has been little documented research on the roles of these institutions, their achievements as well as their relation to the existing national machineries.
  • To what extent have institutional mechanisms been able to deal with culture or traditions which hinder progress in protection of women�s rights?
Partnership with civil society and other stakeholders
(17-21 January 2005)

The importance of civil society is increasingly being recognized. Also, the importance of strengthening alliances with men and boys has come to be recognized as an important strategy for achieving gender equality. How have and how can national mechanisms work effectively in partnership with other stakeholders?

  • If governments lack the means, political will or capacity for promoting gender equality, how can civil society play a bigger role to fill in these gaps? What are some good examples of involvement of civil society in formulating a gender policy, mainstreaming gender or monitoring impact? Has information and communication technology (ICT) or mass media been important in improving the flow of communication between civil society and government? To what extent is civil society involved in the reporting under CEDAW or publicizing recommendations of the CEDAW Committee? What effect does such involvement have on the national machinery?
  • How can national machineries form stronger alliances with various line ministries and Parliament? What are pros and cons of giving all responsibility and authority on matters concerning women and gender equality to national machineries?
  • How can academia and civil society organizations or professional associations help to generate and disseminate gender-disaggregated data and information?
  • How can women�s lobbies be developed, strengthened and get men and boys on board?
  • How can stakeholders assess the extent to which gender perspectives have been integrated in legislation, public policies and programmes? Has gender analysis of budgets been used? Is sufficient information made public?
Week 3
Legal and policy framework
(24-28 January 2005)

Non-discrimination is a fundamental principle of human rights; however, many laws, regulations, practices and customs as well as policies are discriminatory against women. How can discriminatory aspects of domestic laws and policies be effectively identified and removed?

  • How have national machineries helped promote the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)?
  • Has more change been brought about because of States� legal obligations under CEDAW as compared to pressure from national machineries?
  • How can national machineries effectively advocate for ratification of CEDAW or the removal of reservations to CEDAW? In cases where an article of CEDAW is deemed to conflict with Shari� a how can the national machinery help to end discriminatory practices relevant to those specific articles?
  • How effective are national machineries in advocating for change in attitudes and traditional practices which are harmful to women and girls compared to laws?
Week 4
Moving forward
(31 January-4 February 2005)

We would like to end the discussion by asking participants to suggest ways in which we can move forward on addressing remaining challenges. You may wish to respond to the following questions:

  • What are the remaining challenges?
  • How can national machineries address issues such as increased globalization, trafficking in persons and terrorism? How can they more effectively advocate for strengthening the capacity of women to use information and communication technologies (ITC)?
  • How can they play a role in conflict resolution and post conflict situations?
  • How can various stakeholders draw on the strengths, and improve the impact of various types of national mechanisms?
  • How can we address the weaknesses?
  • How can we ensure accountability of those who can create an enabling environment in which national mechanisms operate?
  • How can we ensure that line ministries have available and make use of gender-disaggregated data and information for planning and evaluation?

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