Beijing+5: 23rd special session of the General Assembly

Fact Sheet No. 8

Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women

The creation and strengthening of national institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women have substantially enhanced the ability of states to implement the objectives of the Platform for Action, adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.  Since then, nearly three-quarters of all states have established some form of national machinery for the advancement of women.

The main task of these national machineries is to support government-wide mainstreaming of a gender-equality perspective into all policy areas, including legislation, programmes and projects.  Gender mainstreaming, in this sense, is a strategy for making women's and men's concerns equally integral to the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all policies and programmes.

The Beijing Platform for Action identified the creation and strengthening of national machineries as one of 12 critical areas of concern, requiring action by governments.

During its forty-third session in 1999, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women recommended further action to be taken to create new or strengthened national machineries for the advancement of women and gender equality. Among the agreed conclusions of the session were measures to ensure a continued strong political commitment to the strengthening of national machineries and to placing them at the highest possible level of government, with the authority needed to fulfil their mandated roles and responsibilities.

Strengthening National Machineries

Reaching the goal of equality between women and men ultimately depends upon profound transformation in attitudes and behaviours at every level of society, starting at the grassroots and continuing through the highest levels of government. National machineries can play an instrumental role in stimulating and nurturing these transformations at every level. In this effort, governments have sought to strengthen existing machineries in various ways, since the Beijing Conference.

  • In Ghana, the government has enhanced the status of the national machinery by placing it at the highest possible level within the government, under the Office of the President, with direct linkages to ministries, departments and agencies.
  • Italy, Namibia, Panama, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, among others, have either created new ministries to house the national machinery, upgraded the national machinery to the status of commission under the leadership of a cabinet minister, or designated a new minister to head the national machinery.
  • Albania has elevated the national machinery to the Council of Ministers level, with the chairperson reporting directly to the Vice Prime Minister.
  • Ethiopia, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Senegal and Zambia are among the countries that have established agencies or units for women's issues at various governmental levels.
  • In Viet Nam, the government assigned the Ministry of Planning to prepare the national action plan for the advancement of women, the Ministry of Finance to balance the plan's budget, and the national machinery to monitor the plan's implementation.
  • In Mongolia, after the national machinery developed a national action plan for the advancement of women, each province designed its own sub-programme to ensure the active involvement of a broad cross-section of women.

Gender Concerns in Planning and Budget

In many states, national machineries have been instrumental in shaping national development policies. Of particular note are advances that have been made in integrating a gender perspective into budgeting, accountability and auditing functions. Tying gender concerns to budgeting and auditing can prove to be an effective tool for holding governments accountable and to raising awareness of the different impact that seemingly neutral budgetary decisions can have on women and men.

  • In Kenya, the Maldives and Tunisia, among others, the national machineries helped to ensure that the government's commitment to gender mainstreaming was incorporated into its national development plans.
  • In Swaziland, a Gender Sector Committee was one of eight sector-based committees established to prepare input for the National Development Strategy.
  • The Philippines and South Africa are among the states that have drawn from Australia's model of a "gender budget", which entails that all government agencies and departments prepare a budget document disaggregating outlays in terms of impact on both women and men.
  • In Iran, the head of the national machinery is a member of the Cabinet, facilitating the inclusion of women's issues in budgetary matters.  In addition, the national machinery reviews national budget items.

Gender Perspectives in Legislation, Policy and Programmes

National machineries have undertaken a variety of activities to support the revision of, and compliance with, legislation to ensure gender equality as well the mainstreaming of a gender perspective into all government policies and programmes.

  • India has drafted a National Policy on Empowerment of Women, which outlines legal, institutional and programmatic responses to gender discrimination.  It has also designated the National Commission for Women as Ombudsperson for Women.
  • In the Russian Federation, the State Duma and the Federal Assembly have adopted a strategy and guidelines for the development of legislation to prevent gender discrimination.
  • In Portugal, a parliamentary commission has been created to review all legislation from an equality perspective.
  • In Belize, an Equity and Equality Strategic Plan has been developed with a goal of integrating a gender-sensitive approach into government and civil policies and programmes.
  • In Colombia, a Standing Advisory Team in the field of gender equality was created within the National Planning Department, with a broad mandate to ensure gender mainstreaming within national policies.

Mechanisms for Monitoring
and Accountability

National machineries have a crucial role to play in monitoring the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and in instituting mechanisms for accountability. They have the difficult task of analyzing how government actions result in tangible changes in women's lives.

  • In Belarus, progress reports on the implementation of the national action plan for gender equality are submitted to the Ministry of Social Welfare and the Council of Ministers. A biannual report is also submitted to the President of the Republic.
  • In Finland, the national machinery has coordinated an internal follow-up system that operates within each Ministry.
  • In the United States, through the national machinery, government agencies produce annual progress reports on the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.
  • In Rwanda, a committee composed of members of the national machinery, United Nations agencies, bilateral agencies and non-governmental organizations monitors implementation of the Platform for Action.
  • In Jordan, where the national machinery is composed of high-level government officials and representatives of civil society, each participating government and civil society body is required to submit regular progress reports.

Collaboration with
Non-governmental Organizations

Partnerships with civil society are critical to the sustainability and legitimacy of national machineries, and can lead to social transformations in the status of women. The Beijing Conference itself led to a proliferation of new non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with women's issues central to their mission.

  • The Women's Council of Brunei Darussalam, an umbrella organization of women's organizations with over 2,000 members, has collaborated with the national machinery and other government bodies in the establishment of an HIV/AIDS foundation and a committee on social issues.
  • In Turkey, the national machinery established NGO commissions on health, education, employment and law to assist in the follow-up to the Platform for Action.
  • In Niger, an umbrella association of women's NGOs with over 3,000 members has recently been formed, and has begun to collaborate with the national machinery.
  • In Eritrea, the national machinery is an NGO with a network of over 200,000 members.  The members of its central committee are also members of Parliament or in high-ranking government posts, helping to consolidate the role of the national machinery within the government.

This fact sheet is based on "Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action: Report of the Secretary-General" (E/CN.6/2000/PC/2).

Published by the United Nations Department of Public Information
DPI/2035/HCMay 2000