6 March 2002


Press Release

Commission on Status of Women

Forty-sixth Session

5th Meeting (AM)



The Commission on the Status of Women examined policy, financing and implementation challenges this morning, as it held a panel discussion on one of its two thematic issues for the session, the eradication of poverty through women’s empowerment.

One of the expert panellists, Jan Vandemoortele, the Principal Adviser and Group Leader for Socio-economic Development at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), advocated a human rights approach to poverty reduction and gender equality.  He said poverty was difficult to quantify because it had many faces and manifested diversely across countries and social groups.  For a more accurate picture of gender inequality, a more disaggregated analysis of poverty’s many facets must be carried out.  He advocated "gender sensitive" budgets over "gender blind" ones.

Another panellist, Gaudence Rwamaheke, Director of the Ministry of Social Action and the Advancement of Women in Burundi, called for measures that would ensure women’s empowerment and tackle the issue of globalization.  Priorities should be investment in the girl child, energetic combat against HIV/AIDS, greater appreciation of women’s work, and mobilizing resources to implement the Platform for Action adopted at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing.

Savitri Bisnath, the final expert, who has worked for, among others, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and UNDP on poverty, international trade and women’s empowerment, reported on an expert group meeting on the empowerment of women as a transforming strategy for eradicating poverty, which had taken place in New Delhi in November 2001.  Organized by the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women, the meeting’s outcome document had called for a review of poverty eradication policy frameworks and strategies.  The aim was to more accurately address the needs of impoverished women and girls in a global environment.

The panel moderator, the representative of Brazil, noted that the questions being asked of the panel would be incorporated into preparations for the International Conference on Financing for Development being held in Monterrey, Mexico, later this month.  The UNDP expert, Mr. Vandemoortele, drew attention to a briefing kit on gender that the Programme had developed for that meeting.

Questions were asked by the representatives of Turkey, Norway, Burkina Faso, Guatemala, Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Botswana, Romania, Israel, Republic of Korea, Kenya, Tunisia, Senegal, Finland, Argentina, Bangladesh, United States, Peru, Ghana, Netherlands, Mexico, Pakistan, Rwanda, Indonesia, Cuba and Morocco.

The non-governmental organizations asking questions were the African Women’s Caucus, International Federation of University Women and the Women’s International Coalition for Economic Justice.  

Also this morning, it was announced that Mostafa Alaei of Iran had been designated to serve on the Commission’s Working Group on Communications.     

The Commission will meet again at 3 p.m. this afternoon to hold a panel discussion on its second thematic issue for this session, the gender perspective in management of the environment, and in disaster management.


The Commission on the Status of Women met this morning to hold a panel discussion on the first of its two thematic issues for the session -- the eradication of poverty, including through the empowerment of women throughout the life cycle in a globalizing world.  For the discussion, the Commission has before it the Secretary-General’s report on the thematic issues before the Commission (document E/CN.6/2002/9).  It also has statements submitted by non-governmental organizations having consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (documents E/CN.6/2002/NGO1-13).

(For further background on this and other reports, as well as on the Commission, please see Press Release WOM/1321 of 1 March.)

The expert panel this morning will be composed of:  Savitri Bisnath, Trinidad and Tobago, doctoral candidate in Cornell University’s Department of City and Regional Planning.  Her current research focuses on global governance and trade.  She has worked extensively on issues of poverty and the empowerment of women, including for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Gaudence Rwamaheke, Director of the Ministry of Social Action and the Advancement of Women in Burundi.  She is a member of projects on development and HIV/AIDS, as well as an active participant in regional, subregional and international meetings on integrating women into development and implementing United Nations global platforms of action. 

Jan Vandemoortele, Belgium, an author and doctor in Development Economics.  He is Principal Adviser and Group Leader for Socio-economic Development at the UNDP, with extensive field experience in Africa on economic issues, including in the areas of labour market policies and poverty reduction.     


GAUDENCE RWAMAHEKE, Director of the Ministry of Social Action and the Advancement of Women in Burundi, said increased poverty throughout the world continued to hamper broader development efforts, as well as sustained efforts to ensure the advancement of women.  Further, the universal disparity inherent in national mechanisms and economic strategies was also exacerbated by globalization.  Some countries were highly developed and competitive, but poor countries, struggling to compete in the world’s rapidly expanding marketplace, had subsequently become highly indebted.  The Third World was still excluded from market access.  Women and, sadly, their children bore the brunt of all those trends, particularly as they tried to improve their educational opportunities and health status.

Globalization affected men and women differently, she continued.  As economic and business frameworks generally favoured men, women often suffered a double blow, since their employment opportunities could be curtailed when they had to care for their children and take on family responsibilities.  That was particularly true in developing countries.  During the last 10 years, however, various world conferences and meetings had highlighted the grave situation of the world’s women.  The Beijing Platform for Action had become the framework for all national and international initiatives in that regard.  Still, reinforcing the edifice growing out of Beijing had been hindered by the steadily weakening global economy, even in the face of rampant globalization.

To her mind, measures to ensure women’s empowerment required protection and promotion of their rights throughout the life cycle.  Education was the key.  Most importantly, women must be involved in education programmes, so that their positive suggestions and inputs could influence young girls.  Combating poverty was also fundamental to ensuring equality for women.  As with education, the focus should be on young girls -- the women of tomorrow.  Indeed, it would be useless to protect women without focusing on youth.

To tackle the issue of globalization, she said the international community must take up the cause of rural women and ensure that their special needs were met.  The contribution of rural women could never be underestimated and every effort should be made to enhance their lives.  Globalization must be managed from both economic and human development standpoints.  Indeed, the benefits of globalization could be a way to eradicate poverty, and women should be able to take advantage of its opportunities, to ensure the survival of the global village.  For success, she concluded, the international community must immediately focus its efforts on, among other things, investment in the girl child, energetic combat against HIV/AIDS, greater appreciation of women’s work, and mobilizing resources to implement the Beijing Platform for Action.

JAN VANDEMOORTELE, Principal Adviser and Group Leader, Socio-economic Development Group, Bureau for Development Policy, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), presented a human rights approach to poverty reduction and gender equality.  In that context, she described discrimination and defined "feminized poverty" and the "feminization" of poverty.  Poverty overall had many faces and manifested itself in a diverse way across countries and social groups and was, therefore, difficult to quantify.  In order to reach a more accurate picture of the gender inequality, a more disaggregated analysis of the many facets of poverty was indispensable. 

She also discussed what she called "misplaced concreteness", which occurred the moment one ceased to realize that the average was an abstract concept leading to unwarranted conclusions about concrete realities.  Similarly, generalizations based on averages were not always helpful or convincing and, with respect to gender gaps, overlooked certain realities, such as education as a potent "vaccine" against HIV infection.  Under coping mechanisms, she said that poverty was the product of institutional, structural and social inequalities.  It related to practices, norms and traditions that curtailed women's rights to inheritance, ownership of assets, such as land, and barred their participation in decision-making.  Despite the positive affects of micro-credit on women's everyday lives, that was not a panacea.

On gender sensitive budgets, she said that the claim of their gender neutrality made them "gender blind".  One way to address that was through gender sensitive national budgeting and fiscal policies.  The Women's Budget Initiative in South Africa, which was now applied in a number of countries in the region, had involved government and civil society alike.  Its sectoral approach had implied analysis of the status of men and women, disaggregation in relation to identified gender gaps, assessment of allocation of resources, and their effectiveness in reducing gender disparities.  The lessons learned from that Initiative was that political will was crucial and civil society had a critical role to play in that regard.  The Initiative had also strengthened advocacy around gender equality.

With respect to gender, poverty and trade, she highlighted a

2001 publication of UNDP entitled "Trade, Gender and Poverty".  It argued that the success of trade policies needed to be evaluated in terms of whether they promoted the desired social outcomes, such as equity, social inclusion, freedom from poverty, development of human capabilities, realization of internationally accepted human rights and democratic forms of governance in an environmentally sustainable manner.  In short, that implied a people-centred approach to trade policies and the current world trade regime.  The paper also argued, among other things, that trade liberalization and export-oriented policies in developing countries increased women's share of paid employment without a corresponding decrease in their household and care responsibilities.

The paper concluded that, in order to generate sustainable enhancements in human development, gender-based inequalities must be considered an integral part of the "social content" of trade policies at both national and global levels from the very inception of policy formulation, she explained.  That would require a deeper and contextualized understanding of the interactions between gender inequalities and poverty, on the one hand, and trade policies and performance, on the other.  Country-specific studies on the way in which gender relations and inequalities affected trade performance would be equally necessary.

SAVITRI BISNATH reported on the expert group meeting on the empowerment of women as a transforming strategy for poverty eradication, which was held in New Delhi, India from 26 to 29 November 2001.  It had been organized by the Division for the Advancement of Women.  Participants had focused on issues of economic globalization, including trade and financial liberalization, social policy, global governance and women's empowerment.  The main emphasis of the discussions had been on issues, policies and actions related to reducing poverty as experienced by women and girls, as well as the facilitation of their empowerment.

She discussed the theme by classifying the various aspects in the following way:  definition of poverty; definition of empowerment; poverty reduction and empowerment linkages; and poverty reduction in a globalizing world –- opportunities and challenges.  She also referred to the 1999 Human Development Report, which focused on economic liberalization; privatization; and the integration of macroeconomic and social policies.  The expert group meeting directed its recommendations to governments, the United Nations system, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, the private sector, and various civil society actors. 

The participants underlined that a successful agenda for eradicating poverty and its gendered effects required the dismantling of values, structures, and processes that maintained women's subordination and justified inequality with respect to access to political, social and economic resources, she said.  It had also been noted that the incidence of both poverty and vulnerability among women over their life cycle was also influenced by issues of class, race, ethnicity, and location, as well as religious practices.  Successful strategies for reducing poverty and enhancing empowerment would have to be attentive to such differences. 

She highlighted the key recommendations on poverty:  reviewing existing poverty eradication policy frameworks and strategies to ensure that they reflected the opportunities and challenges of the current global environment and adequately addressed the needs of women and girls living in poverty; compiling and disseminating timely and reliable data, disaggregated by sex and age, to assess and monitor poverty among women and men; and encouraging and supporting the development of quantitative and qualitative indicators to measure poverty and the impact of related policies and programmes on both women and men.  On empowerment, the group recommended identifying and addressing factors inhibiting women's empowerment, including violence, lack of productive resources, credit and financial services, lack of access to information, traditional norms, and discriminatory laws and practices.

Also on empowerment, she said that the group sought ways to facilitate the creation of an enabling environment for the effective allocation of resources, including through national budgetary processes.  On poverty reduction and empowerment linkages, it recommended the development of methods and indicators to measure progress in terms of women's empowerment and the determination of the correlation between that and poverty eradication.  On economic liberalization, it recommended, among other measures, encouraging, through appropriate economic and social policies, the balanced distribution of the gains from trade liberalization, including through taxes, employment, and retraining programmes.

On privatization, she went on, the group recommended, among other measures, strengthening the role of national and local government as actors in the production and delivery of adequate and affordable social services for women and girls, especially in such areas as health, education, child and elderly care, and access to water and sanitation.  On integrating macroeconomic and social policies, it recommended the substantive integration of social development goals and objectives into those policies and the promotion of increased and institutionalized coordination between economic, financial and social ministries and units at both the national and international levels. 


Questions were asked by the representatives of Turkey, Norway, Burkina Faso, Guatemala, Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Botswana and the African Women’s Caucus, a non-governmental organization.  They centred on poverty reduction and eradication, financing, the development of indicators and implementation of goals, including by integrating concerns into upcoming summits.   The representative of the African Women’s Caucus asked whether the time had come to look into how natural resources were exploited without considering the local population.

Responding, Ms. RWAMAHEKE said that implementing strategies for empowering women must begin with girls.  Also, micro-credit schemes as part of development strategies had not always been effective, and a study should be done on how effective they had been within African areas that were rather backward.  Globalization experience showed that countries must open up to trade in order to progress and that cross-border exchanges were more extensive and successful than was the present perception.  Networks were important because they allowed for building on successes.  Concerning implementation, the commitment of governments was the first requirement, then the provision of resources, recruitment of non-governmental organizations and then the involvement of women at the local level.

Regarding implementation, Mr. VANDEMOORTELE summed up the actors involved, from the field on up through the United Nations system.  He said less progress had been made in the 1990s than in each previous decade going back to the 1960s, based on indicators, with education the only bright spot.  It should be borne in mind that gender equality was not a by-product of development, but a basic human right.  Micro-credit was part of the solution for advancing that right, but it was not the solution.

He said UNDP was presently urging countries to develop their millennium reports, so that a wide public could see their key development goals through the media.  Development news must reach beyond the experts.  The goal was to have a report for each country by the end of 2003.  Gender monitoring had not been made enough of a priority and aggregated data had not been collected.  In response to the question by the African Women’s Caucus, he said the dramatic decline in the prices of commodity goods was stifling the impact of efforts to achieve gender equality.  People were starting to ask, “what good is a world trade organization when it didn’t look at commodity prices?”  Trade organizations needed to be given teeth, so as to implement and monitor their recommendations.

Ms. BISNATH added that it was important to strengthen those women’s organizations that had links with trade bodies.  Also, official development assistance needed to be increased in such key areas as health.  With regard to use of the term poverty reduction, versus eradication, she said the problem with the term “eradication” was that no one solution could be identified as leading to it.      

Further questions here posed by the representatives of Romania, Israel, Republic of Korea, Kenya, Tunisia, Finland, Senegal, the Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, as well as the International Federation of University Women.

The next questions and comments concerned the consequences of globalization –- for women in Central and Eastern Europe, ensuring empowerment of women and vulnerable groups through increasing access to employment, misleading statistical averages, promoting national and international solidarity -- particularly regarding human rights and good governance -– as an acceptable way to combat globalization, the 2005 review of the Beijing Platform for Action, adherence to the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and development of training and follow-up measures to ensure the advancement of women.

Responding to questions and comments, Ms. RWAMAHEKE agreed globalization should be channeled, so that it not only led to economic profits, but also ensured international solidarity.  She added that it was true that political will was not enough to ensure equality for women.  While many stressed the importance of setting goals and timetables for action, it was equally necessary to develop outcome and performance indicators to show exactly what progress had been made for both men and women at national and international levels.  While that might be difficult for some of the least developed nations, it was important for all to work to lay the groundwork, so that poor as well as rich countries could identify what had been achieved.

Mr. VANDEMOORTELE thanked those representatives that had applauded his paper on poverty eradication and the empowerment of women.  On the issue of data and statistics, he said that the admission that such figures could often be misleading was an important first step.  On the issue of solidarity, he noted that it was important to understand that globalization had forced global actors to deal with two realities –- the logic of human rights and the logic of markets -– which were often at odds.  He reiterated calls for increased investment in the education of girls.  Unfortunately, while the case for the benefits of such investment had been repeatedly made, sadly very little progress had been made.  He was frankly at a loss as to why, and posed a question to the Commission:  What more could be done to raise international awareness of that issue?

On the issue of training initiatives and their relation to empowerment,

Ms. BISNATH said the opportunity and ability to engage with the multilateral trading system before agreements could be made would be an important way of achieving the goal of poverty eradication.

Questions were asked by Argentina, Bangladesh, Peru, Ghana, United States, Netherlands and the Women’s International Coalition for Economic Justice.  They focused on finding innovative solutions to external debt from the gender perspective, micro-credit, the role of policy in both poverty and wealth, women-specific policies as distinguished from generic development policies, providing social protection for women and steps that national governments could take to advance the rights of rural women.

Ms. RWAMAHEKE expressed appreciation for the question on policy, saying it stressed a point that must be remembered -- that “we often build, but then forget”.  Indeed, development, particularly sustainable development, must begin with good policy based on the rule of law and good governance.  Good governance however, must be established within a specific time frame, which required the development of good indicators.  To advance the rights of rural women, governments should provide them with communication, technology and education.

Mr. VANDEMOORTELE said that poverty and gender equality must be seen in terms that were beyond present perceptions about them.  There was no one common good in regard to them.  One problem with micro-credit was that it could mask the link to larger macroeconomic considerations.  With regard to policy, sustainability should not be taken for granted, because prosperity was not sustainable as long as the benefits of progress went to those who already “had”.  Macroeconomic instability was not good for people, but macroeconomic stability was not necessarily good if it was based on exclusion of people from prosperity, for example.  What could governments do for rural women?  The simple answer was “more”.  The UNDP had developed a briefing kit on gender for the Monterrey meeting later this month.

Ms. BISNATH said economic and social policy must be better integrated, so that the idea of sound policy was not automatically associated with fiscal management, but also with social considerations, including safety nets.  A better integration of the two would also help rural women.  

Questions and comments were then made by representatives of Mexico, Pakistan, Rwanda, Indonesia, China, Cuba and Morocco on such issues as the global checks and balances to ensure equitable distribution during times of rampant globalization, the possible creation of an expert Secretariat group to provide support and advice to countries on initiatives integrating poverty issues into their efforts to ensure the advancement of women, the role of regional commissions

in follow-up activities on poverty eradication and women’s issues, and creation of an international solidarity fund.

Ms. RWAMAHEKE agreed that the elimination of poverty was an imperative which required more than temporary measures.  That was particularly true in light of the upcoming 10-year review of the Beijing Platform for Action in 2005.

Mr. VANDEMOORTELE said poverty was a denial of human rights.  “Poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere,” he added.  It would be unfortunate if global actors were ultimately unable to care for those that were vulnerable and who bore a disproportionate share of the world’s economic and social burdens.  If that became the case –- and signs were pointing to an apparent inability to tackle abject poverty and deepening humanitarian crises in certain parts of the world -- the Millennium Summit goals would remain elusive, particularly that of achieving gender equality by 2005.

Ms. BISNATH said the realities of poor women could not be compartmentalized. At the international level, it had been found that policies often did not benefit women and girls.  The challenge, therefore, was to better integrate social goals with economic objectives, so that they supported, rather than sabotaged, each other.

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For information media. Not an official record.