Harnessing the private sector, tearing down silos, recruiting men as allies and incorporating gender into social protection policies are among many ways in which Governments can advance gains for women in a manner that brings benefits to all, the Commission on the Status of Women heard today.
During a high-level interactive ministerial dialogue on the second day of the Commission’s sixty-third session, Ministers, parliamentarians and other high-level officials from more than 30 countries joined civil society representatives in exchanging best practices and raising national and global concerns during the afternoon dialogue, titled “Building alliances for social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls”.
Sharing their perspectives, panellists Michelle Bachelet Jeria, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Chile; Mary Robinson, Chair of the Elders and the first female President of Ireland; and Anne‑Birgitte Albrectsen, Chief Executive Officer of Plan International and former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, opened the dialogue, chaired by David Stanton, Ireland’s Minister for Equality, Immigration and Integration.
Ms. Robinson raised concerns that social protection systems overlook, among other groups, the 740 million women working in the informal sector. Emphasizing the critical role of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in addressing a range of issues, she said the problem now is to get Governments to think about the longer term, rather than just the two years before their next elections. The United Nations must be an active partner, as the course must be changed, requiring every bit of energy and ability to involve all stakeholders. The climate change agenda must lead to action, with efforts to build new infrastructure tapping into private and philanthropic sectors.
Similarly, Ms. Bachelet underlined the importance of financing social protection that favours women. Investing in women is tantamount to investing in universal social protection for all, she emphasized.
Meanwhile, Ms. Albrectsen highlighted the importance of considering gender in all areas. Regretting to note that the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) is often forgotten by Governments, she said creating a coherent framework for a global plan for young women is essential. In the same vein, she suggested investing in school materials that value women.
Ministers and other high-level Government officials offered their own examples, from partnering to provide much-needed services to victims of sexual violence to shaping new measures that better served vulnerable groups of women. Summing up a common thread, Yolanda Yembise, Indonesia’s Minister for Women Empowerment and Child Protection, declared that it takes leadership and a mindset change to break down barriers. For its part, Indonesia is taking steps to ensure gender equality, among them encouraging men to take action against the negative elements women face. In addition, gender responsive development is implemented through programmes and policies and by taking concrete steps.
Offering another example, Yolanda del Rosario Sian Ramírez, Guatemala’s Minister for Women, described her Government’s integrated approach, noting, however, that gender inequalities persist, affecting employment, jobs and other areas of the economy, with indigenous women suffering also from rural poverty. Examining innovative ways to approach a lack of access to health care and to set standards, an ongoing initiative aims at improving the situation, working with partners in the region, international organizations and donors.
Marie-Thérèse Abena Ondoa, Cameroon’s Minister for Women’s Empowerment and the Family, said the Government has already implemented a range of programmes for vulnerable groups, including indigenous women and girls. Outreach efforts, from basic health services to childcare at a community level, are making gains in areas such as banning child marriage, eliminating female genital mutilation and serving the needs of refugees.
Mereseini Vuniwaqa, Fiji’s Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, stressed that progress can be made when efforts are not hampered by working in silos. Demonstrating the effectiveness of embracing this notion, she outlined a national inter-agency service delivery protocol that calls all stakeholders to collaborate on drafting the best practices for dealing with victims of domestic violence.
Similarly, Riina Sikkut, Estonia’s Health and Labour Minister, described a successful programme that operates women’s shelters for those fleeing violence. Initially depending on private support and operated by non-governmental organizations, the shelters soon became supported by a Government-funded project. This partnership developed and expanded the service, with more State involvement, which, in turn, led to the Government allocating a special budget to support this critical service for women suffering from violence. While work remains to be done to boost collaboration, she said this model demonstrated that forming alliances produce results.
Some participants offered suggestions for improvements. Bathabile Olive Dlamini, South Africa’s Minister for Small Business Development, said more efforts are needed because of inadequate coordination activities, including between the Government and civil society. Coordinated multilateral efforts must see stakeholders work together to support social protection systems and sustainable infrastructure. Meanwhile, an ongoing consultative process incorporating all stakeholders is essential.
Juliane Bogner-Strauss, Austria’s Federal Minister for Women, Families and Youth, said her country has taken steps to mainstream gender into its general budgeting. In addition, Austria traditionally includes civil society in its delegation, giving it a voice in forums such as the Commission on the Status of Women.
Delegates speaking on behalf of civil society groups shared their concerns, with a representative of IPASS-Nigeria calling for action to provide safe, accessible and quality reproductive health care.
Also participating in the discussion were ministers, Members of Parliament, other high-level officials and representatives of Switzerland, Australia, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Brazil, Bahamas, Zimbabwe, Canada, Republic of Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, Lithuania, Georgia, Portugal, Qatar, Ecuador, Namibia, Iraq, Uruguay, Italy, Bolivia, Spain, Cuba, Iran, Finland, Ukraine, New Zealand, Denmark, Kenya and Peru.
Representatives of the following civil society organizations also spoke: International Disability Alliance, OXFAM and the European Women’s Lobby.
The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 13 March, to continue its work.