United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women


19 to 22 January 2004
Glen Cove, New York

Aide Memoire

I. Introduction

The Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI) in collaboration with UN agencies and departments providing electoral assistance in post-conflict countries, plans to host a 2-3 day working meeting with UN, NGO and other key actors to review what has been done to support women in all aspects of the electoral process and to develop an agenda for action on how to strengthen support for the full participation of women in electoral processes in post-conflict countries. The emphasis is placed on post-conflict countries, as it is there that the UN usually has a pivotal role in assisting states to undertake elections in a defined time frame. The results of the meeting will form part of the preparation for the forty-eighth session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Since its inception, the United Nations has been involved in the field of electoral assistance and has kept the political rights of women on the international agenda. The United Nations has numerous international instruments that address women's rights and in particular their political rights including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), Convention on the Political Rights of Women (1948, 1952), The International Covenant on Civil Political Rights (1960) and The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979).

The United Nations has increasingly been called upon by Member States to assist them in holding credible and legitimate democratic elections in accordance with internationally recognized criteria established in universal and regional human rights instruments. The Department of Political Affairs, Electoral Assistance Division (DPA-EAD) is currently supporting electoral processes in 55 countries. A number of these are in countries post conflict where the UN plays a critical role in supporting free and fair elections. The Democratic Governance Group of the Bureau for Development Policy in United Nations Development Programme also supports governments in electoral systems and processes primarily in countries not in conflict, but has worked in post-conflict countries such as Timor L'este and Rwanda. UNIFEM also supports women's leadership in governance both in times of peace and in post-conflict countries by strengthening constitutional, legal, electoral and administration systems. The Division for Public Economics and Public Administration of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs also provides support to elections by producing a CD-rom on Administration and Costing of Elections - ACE.

II. Background

The United Nations has, through the International Conferences on Women in Mexico (1975), in Copenhagen (1980), in Nairobi (1985), in Beijing (1995) and the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly - Beijing +5 (2000) called for greater support for participation of women in all aspects of the electoral process and in power and decision-making positions. The Beijing Platform for Action affirms that "women have the equal right to participate in governance and that the empowerment, autonomy and full citizenship of women are essential for their advancement in other spheres of life and for the more transparent and accountable governance" (para 181).

Regional organizations, such as the Organization of Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe and the African Union, for example, also support governments and civil society groups in electoral processes including the monitoring of elections.

Inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations also play an important role in supporting sustainable democracies in areas such as political participation, election administration and post-conflict democracy building. Some of the institutions promoting women's participation in electoral processes are: The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), and the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) and other regional groups, Carter Centre, the Centre for Development and Populations Activities (CEDPA), International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) and Vital Voices.

The UN and NGOs have supported the participation of women in electoral processes from voter registration to running for office in post conflict and stable countries. What have been the lessons learned in supporting women and other under-represented groups in elections processes? How has this support enabled women to play active roles in elections? What concrete actions can be taken to more consistently assist, support and advocate for women's full participation not only as voters but also in increasing the number of women in elected positions? Is there a difference in the way various UN and NGO actors contribute to women's participation in electoral processes in post-conflict countries versus stable countries?

III. Objectives

The objectives of the meeting are to review what has been done to support women in all aspects of the electoral process in post-conflict countries and to develop an agenda for action on how to strengthen support to the full participation of women in electoral processes in post-conflict countries.

Specifically the meeting will:

  • Analyse what has been the support provided to post-conflict countries by interlocutors in support of women's participation in all aspects of electoral assistance - what has worked and what has not worked.
  • Identify what lessons have been learned from countries not in conflict regarding promotion on women's participation in election processes and determine if these lessons can be used in post-conflict countries.
  • Determine the gaps in our knowledge concerning women's participation in electoral processes in post-conflict countries and suggest practical research topics to improve our knowledge base.
Possible themes to discuss regarding women's participation are:
  • Gender-sensitive legislation governing electoral assistance
  • Voter registration
  • Voter education
  • Special measures
  • Working with political parties
  • Identifying and training women candidates
  • Observing elections
  • Role of the media in elections
The aim would be to describe what we know works, what are the gaps and how the various actors - UN, governmental, intergovernmental, non-governmental - can spell out what they can do to further support women in all aspects of electoral assistance programmes in post-conflict countries.

IV. Expected outcome

The outcome of the meeting will be a report containing a summary of the discussion and recommendations addressed to different actors and different levels on how to further promote the full participation of women in electoral processes. An agenda for action on how to better support women's full participation in elections in post-conflict countries will be detailed. The report on the meeting will provide inputs to the consideration of "women's equal participation in conflict prevention, management and conflict resolution and in post-conflict peace-building" be the Commission on the Status of Women at its forty-eighth session. The meeting would also contribute to the finalization of the Information Notes on Women in Electoral Processes currently under development by DPA-EAD.

V. Methods of work

The meeting will work in plenary sessions and in smaller working groups based on the case studies and themes identified.

VI. Profile of participants

The meeting would bring together 8-10 experts on electoral assistance, including those specifically with experience in enhancing the role of women in electoral processes. Participants would be drawn from the United Nations, government electoral commissions and non-governmental organizations along with field-based actors involved in supporting women's participation in elections in post-conflict countries supported by the UN.

VII. Documentation

The documentation for the meeting will be a background paper outlining the major issues to be discussed and papers prepared by experts either on country-specific or thematic issues. Observers will be invited to contribute inputs from their own perspectives. The meeting will be held in English only and the documentation will be available English only.

VIII. Time and Place

The meeting will take place in Glen Cove, New York from 20-22 January 2004.

Contact person

Kate Burns
Senior Social Affairs Officer
Women, Peace and Security
DC2 - 1206
United Nations
New York, New York 10017
E:mail: burns2@un.org
Tel: 917 367 5221

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Angela E.V. King
Carina Perelli

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