Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality, IANWGE
Women's Empowerment
in the Context of Human Security
( 7-8 December, 1999, ESCAP, Bangkok, Thailand )

Executive Summary of the proceedings

The workshop on women's empowerment in the context of human security convened by the United Nations Inter-Agency Committee on Women and Gender Equality (IACWGE) of the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) and the Working Party on Gender Equality of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development/Development Assistance Committee (OECD/DAC), took place at the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) from 7 to 8 December 1999.

The third in the series of joint workshops, the workshop brought together seventeen participants from the IACWGE, representing a total of twelve entities; ten representatives from the Working Party on Gender Equality representing X Member States, one representative from the OECD Secretariat, one representative of the International Organization for Migration and one expert/resource person. Earlier workshops on gender mainstreaming and on the rights-based approach to women's empowerment and gender equality had been held at the International Labour Organization in Geneva in 1997 and the Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome in 1998 respectively.

The workshop was opened by Mr. Adrianus Mooy, Executive Director of ESCAP, who drew attention to the prospect of increased conflicts and fragmentation of States and national groups in the new millennium and the importance of considering the notion of human security in a broad way, so as to include some of the critical areas of concern addressed in the Beijing Platform for Action.

In her opening statement, Ms. Angela King noted that issue of human security had received growing attention since the Secretary-General's "Agenda for Peace" and its supplement in 1992 and 1995 respectively. The 1994 Human Development Report had advocated greater emphasis on people's security as opposed to territorial security in the formulation of the concept of human security, as well as a shift from the provision of security through armaments, to security through human development. The Human Development Report had identified seven dimensions required for human security: economic security; food security; environmental security; personal security; community security; and political security. Ms. King pointed out that while all people were faced with threats to their enjoyment of all these dimensions, women faced particular threats in this regard. Although the Platform for Action had identified many of the constituent requirements of women's human security, there had been no comprehensive analysis of these requirements. The workshop would provide a forum in which an understanding of the differences between the requirements of women and men with respect to human security would be examined. It would also provide multilaterals and bilaterals with an opportunity to address the potential of the human security agenda to advance women's empowerment, especially in their day-to-day work.

Ms. Diana Rivington reminded participants that it was well-known that women are active agents in solving their own problems and can turn adverse situations into sources of empowerment. Using the experience of post-conflict reconstruction Rwanda as a case study, she stressed that the critical challenge for multi-lateral and bi-lateral agencies was to identify the support women needed and the best way to provide that support. Another important goal was to determine how these agencies could help to build connections between people, rather than contribute to divisions.

A background paper prepared by Ms. Beth Woronuik for the workshop entitled "Women's Empowerment in the Context of Human Security: A Discussion Paper", and commentary on that paper by Ms. Shanti Dairiam, provided the conceptual framework for the workshop. Both drew attention to the fact that discussions and priorities relating to human security have failed to reflect an understanding that women's security interests are often different from men's and have not highlighted women's empowerment as a priority.

The background paper proposed that "the challenge in looking at women's empowerment in the context of human security is to move beyond identifying 'women's issues' at the margins of the primary discussion. The goal is not to develop an annex to the primary discussion that highlights where and how women are the exception to general security issues. Rather the commitment to gender equality raised questions that influence the centre of the definition of human security". Two vital questions were posited: -"Whose security is being considered (which men's? which women's?) - How do gender inequalities and differences affect people's ability (both women and men ---individually and collectively) to articulate their security needs and mobilize resources to meet those security needs?"

The background paper and the commentary concluded that although there was potential to raise women's empowerment issues in the context of human security, this would require concerted effort. The concept of human security must be reinterpreted to include a gender perspective and the notion of autonomy or empowerment factored into its definition. A framework of "Survival, Security and Autonomy" was suggested by Ms. Dairiam as providing relevant indicators, at least in respect of poverty alleviation, and she emphasized that programmes must go beyond those directed at survival, and include empowerment elements for results to be sustainable on a long-term basis.

Three concurrent working groups provided the opportunity for more focused discussions on particular topics raised during the plenary discussion, while aspects of human security in the ESCAP region were considered at a working dinner.

Based on presentations by Japan and the United States of America, working group 1 discussed promoting women's empowerment and security through good governance, and considered how Member States of the United Nations, the international community, non-governmental organizations and individuals can enhance the empowerment of women and human security. Taking account of Gita Sen's definition of empowerment as the process by which the powerless gain greater control over the circumstances of their lives, the working group considered empowerment to focus on individual women, as well as women collectively. Good governance predicated respect for human rights, transparency, access to knowledge, resources and decision-making, as well as participation, all of which were essential for empowerment. Several actions were determined to be critical for good governance, and the working group identified actors responsible for the implementation of those actions. For example, the reduction or combating of violence in the household was regarded as a good governance activity, with responsible actors including Member States, NGOs and individuals.

Working group 2 addressed the subject of women at the peace-table: making a difference to human security at the national, regional and global level. Against the background of good practice examples provided by Australia and UNIFEM, in Bougainville and South Asia, respectively, the working group considered initiatives adopted in several contexts to increase women's involvement in conflict prevention and peace-building. The working group recommended regular reporting on the gender composition of peacekeeping missions, as well as the introduction of actions to ensure the mainstream of a gender perspective in this context. It also emphasized that information on successful initiatives, especially at country level, should also be collected and shared among and between multilateral and bilateral agencies.

Working group 3, which discussed a presentation by FAO, considered women's empowerment in the context of freedom from want. Taking the view that poverty is a violation of human rights and a denial of human development, the working group noted that the realization of freedom from want was affected by the changing role of the State in the provision of social and economic services, as well as the reduction of public expenditure. Globalization had also created new challenges, but had also provided new opportunities for women. Investment in the health and education of women and girls was agreed to be the best means of redistributing the benefits of economic growth and ensuring freedom from want. The importance of new technology in improving productivity, especially in the informal sector, and reducing drudgery was emphasized. The working group also drew attention to the connection between sharing of family responsibilities and freedom from domestic violence and the achievement of freedom from want.

From the presentations in plenary and in the working groups, a number of common ideas emerged. Participants agreed that categorizing freedom from want as primarily related to peace-time situations and freedom from fear to conflict situations was an oversimplification, as freedom from want and fear applied both in conflict and peace. Key requirements for both freedoms were transparent governance, a competitive political process, a politically active civil society and respect for the rule of law and human rights.

Where human security in conflict was concerned, the importance of moving beyond provision of assistance to an approach which emphasized equal and equitable represention was underlined. The linkage between women's empowerment and successful peace-keeping and reconstruction was highlighted. Thus, peace-keeping and reconstruction were situations in which new opportunities for women's empowerment could be found, while at the same time, women's empowerment supports peace-keeping and reconstruction. Participants agreed that the work of the Security Council and the Special Committee on Peace-keeping should incorporate a gender equality perspective, and that Governments in their peace-keeping and reconstruction efforts should focus on gender equality issues.

The impact of globalization and the recent economic crisis in Asia featured in discussions of freedom from want. Participants also emphasized the changing role of the State, especially with respect to the provision of services, as well as the growing importance of non-State actors in this regard.

The multifaceted nature of the concept of human security is reflected in the communique adopted by the workshop, as is the importance of viewing the concept through a gender perspective. Actions to promote women's empowerment in the context of human security, both with regard to the policy level and at the level of practice are included in the communique. These reflect and build on actions at the earlier joint workshops. Accordingly, the workshop recommended that the series of meetings between members of the two groups would continue with a workshop in 2000.

UN ACC Inter-Agency Committee
on Women and Gender Equality
OECD/DAC Working Party
on Gender Equality

Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women
Department of Economic and Social Affairs

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