Ms. Angela E.V. King, Special Adviser on Gender Issues
and Advancement of Women
Regional Symposium on Mainstreaming Gender into Economic Policies
28-30 January, 2004
It is my great pleasure to send you this message on this special occasion of the Regional Symposium on Mainstreaming Gender into Economic Policies, the first to be held in this region.
I wish to congratulate ECE, in particular the Executive Secretary, Ms. Brigita Schmögnerová, for her support to this process and to her team, Mr. Patrice Robineau and Ms. Ewa Ruminska-Zimny for the excellent organization of this meeting. I am delighted that you have chosen this topic. It is a topic that is of great importance to women and development. It is also of relevance to women’s lives. Economic policies have an enormous impact on women because it is through them that decisions about investing in women and men are made and implemented. But since policies in general are never gender-neutral, economic policies can inadvertently reflect prevailing gender systems thus reinforcing the status quo, and perpetuating, rather than reducing gender disparities.
This symposium is the third of a series which the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women is organizing in full partnership with regional commissions: with ESCAP in 2001 and with ESCWA in 2003. The purpose is not only to continue to highlight the essential nature of integrating gender perspectives in all aspects of our programmes but to bring together senior high-level practitioners from capitals across the region to exchange views with each other, and with gender specialists from within the United Nations system, on approaches, methodologies, good practices and remaining obstacles.
The symposium will serve as a preamble to the discussion on the implementation of ECOSOC’s agreed conclusions 1997/2 on gender mainstreaming. This topic was chosen by ECOSOC for its coordination segment this summer. It will also be a prelude to your own Preparatory Forum later this year. It serves as a very timely consideration to the 2005 review and appraisal of the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals and of the Beijing Platform for Action and the Outcome Document of the Twenty-third Special Session of the General Assembly.
Many of the countries that are represented here have been affected by the restructuring of their economies and the impact on women has been substantial. Although about half of the population in the ten countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) are women, the transition to a market-based economy in these countries has resulted in women being the largest proportion of the registered unemployed. Traditionally, women were employed primarily in the public sector – welfare, education, and government, culture – and in state-owned industries. During the initial years of economic restructuring and transformation, employment of women declined fastest because of the closure of state-owned enterprises and deficits in social fields.
The market reforms implemented across the region have been diverse, but have typically included wage and price liberalization, trade liberalization and privatization of state-owned properties. According to the World Bank, although women have not been negatively affected in all cases, the average woman is likely to have been affected negatively in more instances, than the average man, in the labour market restructuring. For example, emerging gender differentials in wages may be linked to the extent to which women’s formal employment has been replaced by increased participation in precarious informal economic activity in countries such as the Russian Federation and the Ukraine.
But there are other implications for women of the shift to a market economy. Studies by the World Bank and other national institutions indicate that the reform of the family benefit and pension systems that provided much needed support to families has shifted all childcare and related household tasks to women. Coupled with continuing high economic activity rates, this has increased the “dual burden” on women and increased demands on their time.
An additional cause for concern is the increasingly informal and polarized labour market. Gender differences in factors of production such as land and capital, and differential access to credit. Together, these put women at a serious disadvantage.
Clearly the impact of the transition to a market economy is quite complex. Large variations exist within the region and it is difficult to derive precise geographical typologies. The economic, social and legal contexts in which these gender disparities have evolved also differ widely. Nonetheless, two of the most documented general trends have been the increase in human trafficking, notably among women and girls, and domestic violence. Both of these are indications of the rising vulnerability of women in the region. Although many non-governmental organizations are addressing this problem, the need for a stronger cross-border response by governments, is evident.
This symposium will be discussing these and other trends in much greater detail. It is my hope that you will arrive at recommendations that can be tailored to fit specific circumstances. Ensuring a strong gender perspective in economic policies is essential to ameliorate the observed negative consequences. Gender responsive economic policies should also promote the strengthening of capacities to monitor and evaluate gender differentials during implementation and address existing inequalities in access to economic opportunities. For this to happen however, policy makers need reliable information and baseline data. At present many countries in the region lack adequate data, especially data that is disaggregated by sex.
Finally, it is important to recognize that economic policies and structural reforms that are gender neutral in principal may in practice have different effects on men and women. In the context of a process of far-reaching economic transition, this recognition underscores the importance of mainstreaming gender sensitive policy making in the region’s overall strategy for development and poverty reduction.
My Office and the members of the Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality, which I have the privilege to chair, look forward with great anticipation to the report of this symposium and in particular to your recommendations. Based on the wealth of knowledge and experience among the participants at this symposium, I anticipate that this meeting will have a very positive outcome.