Press Releases

                                                                            7 July 2004

    Concluding High-Level Segment, ECOSOC Adopts Ministerial Declaration, Urging Poorest Countries to Develop Specific Measures to Counter Poverty

    Also Continues Coordination Segment Focusing on Mainstreaming Gender Perspective into Work of UN System

    NEW YORK, 6 July (UN Headquarters) -- As the Economic and Social Council concluded the high-level segment of its substantive session this morning, its participants reaffirmed the commitments contained in the 2001 Brussels Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries, urging each of the world’s 50 poorest nations to translate its goals -- with support of its partners and continued involvement of civil society and the private sector -- into specific measures within their national development frameworks and poverty eradication strategies.

    By consensus adoption of a Ministerial Declaration following extensive consultations last week, the Council recognized that, given current trends, most least developed countries are unlikely to achieve the internationally agreed goals and objectives set out in the Programme of Action and the Millennium Declaration and emphasized that the realization of those goals entails developing human, financial and institutional resources and creating an enabling domestic and global environment.

    The three-day high-level segment, which opened the Council’s substantive session last Monday, was devoted to the overall theme of resource mobilization and creation of an enabling environment for poverty eradication in the least developed countries.  Almost 100 ministers, high-level government officials, representatives of international organizations and civil society took the floor during an intensive general debate, which culminated in the adoption of the Declaration this morning.

    The final document recalls that the primary responsibility for development in the world’s poorest countries rests with those nations themselves, but also recognizes that their efforts requires “concrete and substantial” international support from governments and international organizations “in a spirit of shared responsibility through genuine partnerships”, including those with civil society and the private sector.  Towards that end, the text outlines specific areas for action, including official development assistance, development of the agricultural sector, trade, debt alleviation, foreign direct investment and development of the private sector in the LDCs.

    Reaffirming that good governance at both national and international levels is essential for the implementation of commitments embodied in the Brussels Programme of Action, the Declaration emphasizes the need for solid democratic institutions, transparency and accountability of domestic administration and public spending, the rule of law, and full respect for human rights, including the right to development, as well as the importance of the efforts to eradicate corruption and build sound economic and social institutions and frameworks for generating resources in the least developed countries.

    Following the adoption of the text, statements were made by representatives of the Netherlands (on behalf of the European Union); Benin (on behalf of the Least Developed Countries); the President of the Council, Marjatta Rasi (Finland); and a representative of the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.

    Also today, as the Council continued its coordination segment, which is scheduled to end tomorrow, it held a panel discussion and two round tables on the means of achieving greater coherence in the mainstreaming of a gender perspective into the work of the United Nations system.  The objective of the four-day segment is to provide the ECOSOC with an opportunity to review achievements in promoting an integrated approach to the advancement of women and to show the way forward, placing special emphasis on the needs of least developed countries.

    Taking part in the panel discussion, which was moderated by Kang Kyung-wha (Republic of Korea), Chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women, were representatives of various United Nations departments, agencies and programmes, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); Department of Political Affairs (DPA); Office of the High Representative of Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States; United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT); and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

    The participants of two round tables in the afternoon elaborated on the ways of improving accountability, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms in order to bridge the gap between policy and practice and on the means of mainstreaming gender perspectives into sectoral policies and strategies of the Organization.

    The Council will continue its coordination segment at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 7 July.


    The Economic and Social Council met today to conclude its high-level segment on “Resources mobilization and enabling environment for poverty eradication in the context of the implementation of the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010” and to take action on its ministerial declaration.

    The Council is also scheduled to continue its coordination segment with a panel discussion on mainstreaming a gender perspective into the work of the United Nations system.  During the afternoon, it will hold round-table discussions on “Accountability, monitoring, evaluation mechanisms and implementation plans for bridging the gap between policy and practice in gender mainstreaming” and “Mainstreaming gender perspectives into sectoral policies and strategies”.

    Adoption of Ministerial Declaration

    The text was introduced by the President of the Council, MARJATTA RASI (Finland), who informed delegations that it had been adopted ad referendum in informal consultations last Friday, 2 July.

    The Council then adopted the draft without a vote.

    Speaking on behalf of the European Union, KOEN MATTHIEU DAVIDSE (Netherlands) welcomed the adoption of the Declaration, saying that the European Union had hosted the Third Least Developed Countries Conference in Brussels in 2001 and remained committed to its goals.  As the biggest development partner of LDCs, the Union considered their development closely linked to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and the success of the process of Monterrey, Doha and Johannesburg.  The Union valued the strong political message sent by the Economic and Social Council ministerial statement.  He also wanted to highlight that the process of simultaneous debate and negotiations made adequate reflection of good ideas floated during the debate difficult.  He hoped the Council would reflect on how the process could be improved.

    Speaking on behalf of the LDC Group, OUSSOU EDOUARD AHO-GLELE (Benin) expressed gratitude to all his colleagues who had contributed to the negotiations on the document, stressing the spirit of cooperation and consensus shown by all the delegations involved in the work on the text.

    HARRIET SCHMIDT of the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States welcomed the adoption of the Ministerial Declaration, which represented an important achievement for the LDCs.  The Declaration reaffirmed the international community’s commitment to the least developed countries and gave a new impetus to the implementation of the Brussels Programme of Action.  Stressing the importance of follow-up to that Programme, she added that she was looking forward to enhanced cooperation, coordination and collaboration in that regard with all the partners in the United Nations system.

    In her concluding remarks, Ms. RASI said she was convinced the Declaration would give a new impetus to the implementation of the Brussels Programme.  It was a very important political message the Ministers had intended to send when participating in the high-level debate.  In that connection, she noted “good participation” in the event, in which the President of Benin had taken part along with numerous ministers of finance and high-officials in charge of development.

    She welcomed the conclusion of the important part of the Council’s substantive session this year.  The ECOSOC could be proud of the text adopted minutes ago.

    Panel Discussion

    KANG KYUNG-WHA (Republic of Korea), Chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women, served as the moderator of the panel discussion with the agencies and bodies of the United Nations system on mainstreaming a gender perspective into the work of the United Nations.  Opening the discussion, she introduced the panellists and said they would discuss their agencies’ achievements of the past few years and the challenges that remained.

    SISSEL EKAAS, Director, Gender and Population Division, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that one of the challenges was how to evaluate progress in gender mainstreaming.  In 1998, when she began her work, the priority had been to undertake a corporate review to get a baseline reading on that situation.  That had been followed by the development of a medium-term plan of action, adopted in November 2001.  There was a lot of confusion at that point about what gender mainstreaming actually meant, particularly its differentiation from gender balance in staffing.

    Much progress had been made since then, she said.  Gender mainstreaming was now an item in biannual conferences, and was recognized as a priority area.  Guidance to programme managers had been developed and disseminated.  New guidelines required that all new programmes be assessed for gender concerns, and a targeted budget existed within the regular programme budget.  Staff training incorporated gender mainstreaming; new staff were briefed on the issue; and handbooks and guides had been developed for specific subsectors, such as irrigation analysis.  Demand for training had arisen from within countries of operation and within distinct units at the initiative of their directors.

    Remaining challenges, she said, included the fact that only 20 per cent of programme areas had been targeted for specific work in gender mainstreaming.  There also remained many managers that were not comfortable with their gender mainstreaming skills.  In addition, budgetary constraints remained a factor, as did assessment limitations.  Mid- and upper-level management still needed to become more proactive on the issue and incentives and even sanctions needed to be developed to ensure that that happened.  Partnership with other agencies had to be strengthened at the country level.

    From her experience, she concluded that it was critical that the gender focal point be installed at the management level and be provided with funds to leverage the issue.  In her case, a critical alliance was made with the programme budget and evaluation office.  Finally, she said that advocacy could not consist of mere slogans; programmes had to be built on solid evidence.  It was also essential that gender focal points not be seen as a kind of gender police, and instead form partnerships with their colleagues.

    YOUSSEF MAHMOUD, Director, Africa I Division, United Nations Department of Political Affairs (DPA), said early warning, conflict prevention, electoral assistance and peace-building were the main areas of the Department in which implementation of the gender perspective was sought.  The Under-Secretary-General had clearly articulated his commitment of gender mainstreaming and expected that same commitment from the staff.  Senior management at Headquarters had participated in several workshops with staff, non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies.  As a co-sponsor with the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Division for the Advancement of Women, the Department had participated in expert group meetings on women’s participation in peace processes and enhancing women participation in electoral processes in post-conflict countries.  A gender checklist had been prepared to guide staff in preparing for and carrying out field assessment missions.

    The Department also promoted women’s participation in peacemaking processes, and had, for instance, facilitated the participation of 21 Congolese women at the Inter-Congolese Dialogue in South Africa.  The DPA’s Electoral Assistance Division had made a conscious effort to increase the number of registered female voters.  There were also efforts to target voter registration messages for women in Afghanistan and Nigeria.  Although half of all Afghan registration and training officers were women, a challenge was to identify literate women who were also able to travel without a male escort.

    He mentioned three challenges.  One was to ensure that the gender perspective was not just a women’s issue in the Department.  A second challenge was financial -- while peacemaking activities tended to be funded from budgetary assessments, peace-building activities targeting women were often financed from extrabudgetary contributions.  It was, therefore, difficult to integrate regular predictable funding for peace-building activities targeting women.  Another challenge was the need for Member States to provide the Secretariat with suitable female candidates for senior-level positions.

    ZAHRA NURU, Senior Adviser, Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, said that progress achieved in promoting gender equality had been uneven, and women’s rights still needed to be mainstreamed at both national and international levels.  Women represented the majority of the poor in most developing countries and were particularly vulnerable in conflict situations, where they were not only the victims of warfare, but were also directly targeted with rape, forced pregnancies and assault.

    The United Nations was “getting its act together” in gender mainstreaming and taking action in that respect, she continued.  The experience of the Office that she represented could be used as an example, as 60 per cent of its staff was composed of women.  Gender mainstreaming was intended to make gender issues an integral part of designing and implementing policies and actions at all levels.

    Out of the 50 LDCs, 16 were landlocked and 12 were small island States, she said.  The Brussels Programme of Action had articulated the need to build human capacity in LDCs, emphasizing that the full potential of men, women and children needed to be realized.  Gender equality and mainstreaming were an integral part of efforts aimed at poverty reduction.  It was important to facilitate women’s access to education and health services, provide them with adequate nutrition and address the issues of maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS.  Other fundamental gender-related issues included promoting good governance and facilitating women’s access to decision-making positions, knowledge, and economic power.  Also, women should have equal opportunities in the areas of economic and social development.

    Internationally agreed goals included the provision of access for all children, by 2015, to primary education.  By that year, it was also important to eliminate illiteracy, especially among women.  She hoped that the 2005 review would address lessons to be learned and elaborate on action for the future.  In reviewing the coordination efforts during its current segment, the ECOSOC was undertaking important action, paving the way for a better future for the majority of women.  The Office she represented was looking forward towards working with all partners towards women’s empowerment and advancement of gender equality.

    AXUMITE GEBRE-EGZIABHER, Director, New York Office, United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), said that the 1996 UN-Habitat agenda contained much material on gender, including equal access to land, housing and services.  A specific gender policy, revised in 2001 in Istanbul, strengthened the effort, and women’s progress had become a main indicator of success of UN-HABITAT programmes as a whole.  In 2003, new rules of procedure, adopted by the General Assembly, further coordinated such efforts with the agency’s partners.

    Progress made, she said, included integration of gender perspectives into water, sanitation and disaster management, and all disaster mitigation activities.  Many relevant studies had been carried out, and staff had been provided with guidelines.  In addition, gender-impact assessment had become a priority in all programmes in 2004, from conceptualization through evaluation, and must be clearly laid out in all project planning.  In municipal planning and development, women’s participation in local governance had been targeted in Latin America and the Pacific.  The programme had attracted the participation of over 100 cities.  Such participation was essential, and it provided the possibility for women’s participation at the national level.

    The UN-HABITAT, she said, had benefit from cooperation with other agencies of the United Nations system, but there was still room for improvement.  Capacity-building was another area that needed improvement, especially in the areas of gender analysis and budgeting skills.  More targeted training materials would be produced, but monitoring and evaluation also needed strengthening -- women were still often invisible in development data.  At the country level, impact would be greater with more ministerial support.  Finally, urban and rural development needed to be linked; women’s roles in urbanization had to be looked at more closely; and women’s networks needed to be mobilized for greater impact.

    AYESHA IMAM, Chief, Culture, Gender and Human Rights Branch, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said gender equality and the empowerment of women, as well as the critical areas of reproductive rights and health and prevention of HIV/AIDS had been the main focus of UNFPA activities.  The issue of gender mainstreaming was directly tied to the agency’s goals and was essential to the human rights approach in country assessments.  The UNFPA continued to be involved in several inter-agency network taskforces including on the issue of women’s participation in peace processes.  The UNFPA also provided resources for gender specific issues such as gender-based violence.  One of the results had been an increasing use of gender analysis, such as in analysis of HIV/AIDS infections.

    The UNFPA was also providing gender-sensitive information and services for young people, she continued.  The agency focused on women’s empowerment and gender health issues in conflict situations.  It had expanded partnerships with NGO and civil society organizations and had provided policy statements and gender-guidelines and checklists.  The UNFPA had long been at the forefront of ensuring gender equality in staffing.  At its own agency, there was fifty-fifty gender equality at all levels.  It employed gender advisers and focal points at the country level and had worked on monitoring and reporting mechanisms at headquarters and in the field.

    One of the many remaining challenges was the need to close the gap between promulgating policies and implementing them, she said.  One of the ways to improve the framework for gender mainstreaming was to bring gender to the table where resource allocation and economic planning was an issue.  That required women’s participation at all levels.  She also emphasized the need to institutionalize mechanisms to monitor and follow up on gender issues and to work on including gender indicators for all programmes and sectors.  Another issue was the one of staff commitment and expertise at all levels.  There was an urgent need for sex-disaggregated data and to link gender mainstreaming to the Millennium Development Goals.

    Interactive Discussion

    In the discussion that followed, participants welcomed the initiatives described and asked about ways that they could be strengthened.  Answering a question from the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania about assessment at the country level, Ms. NURU said there were mechanisms to monitor implementation of international agreements through the resident coordinator system.  Gender was, after all, a cross-cutting issue that related to many others such as HIV-AIDS, income and government.

    To a question about accountability posed by the representative of the Netherlands, Ms. EKAAS reiterated that the most effective measure was simply to hold managers within an agency accountable.  To increase men’s participation, she said it was important to enlist regular staff members in gender efforts and not just experts, which tended to be women who had dedicated much of their careers to the issue.  Ms. GEBRE-EGZIABHER said that in order to enlist all staff in gender mainstreaming, it was essential that it was considered in all projects, and became integral to all levels of their implementation.  Every message at the country level had to include gender considerations as well.

    Other panellists agreed that the subject must be made integral to all levels of operation and training to build both staff and partner commitment, and accountability had be strengthened both internally and externally.  In addition, Security Council resolution 1325 was pointed to as an aid in increasing accountability.  Mr. MAHMOUD emphasized that much work still had to be done in determining the most effective configuration of gender focal points.  To a question about budgeting for gender mainstreaming asked by Canada’s representative, he said it was essential to train budgeting experts in the issue and to incorporate results-based budgeting with gender mainstreaming in mind.

    Summarizing the discussion, the moderator, Ms. KANG, said all agencies present had shared their achievements and challenges.  There were some current challenges common to all agencies.  One was the issue in many agencies of resource-allocation to gender mainstreaming.  Measuring of progress was also a challenge, directly tied to the lack of gender indicators and gender-disaggregated data.  Monitoring and evaluation also needed strengthening, as did training and capacity-building.  The problem of strengthening accountability needed to be addressed as well.  Further, there was a need to tie gender mainstreaming to the Millennium Development Goals.  All Millennium Goals needed to be “gendered”, she quoted one of the panellists.

    Round Table A: Accountability, Monitoring, Evaluation Mechanisms and Implementation Plans for Bridging Gap between Policy and Practice in Gender

    The round table was chaired by Johan L. Løvald (Norway), and its main discussants included Sissel Ekaas, Director, Gender and Population Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); Charlotte Bunch, Center for Women’s Global Leadership; Ayesha Imam, Chief of Culture, Gender and Human Rights Branch, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); Ramina Johal, Women’s Commission on Refugee Women and Children; and Christa Lex, Programme Management Officer, United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).

    The discussion was initiated by two keynote speakers:  Mary Braithwaite, Consultant of the European Commission; and Kalyani Menon-Sen, Jagori (a women’s resource centre in New Delhi, India).

    Introducing the theme of the round table, Mr. Lovald recalled that the Beijing Platform for Action had endorsed gender mainstreaming as a major strategy for the promotion of gender equality.  Two years later, the ECOSOC had adopted agreed conclusions on that matter.  While the United Nations organizations had made significant progress in incorporating gender perspectives into their work since then, the gap between policy and practice persisted, and implementation remained a challenge.

    Among positive developments in recent years, speakers in the ensuing debate noted the establishment of gender mainstreaming policies, plans and budgets by United Nations entities, as well as the creation of focal points and introduction of relevant legislation and institutions by national governments.  Most agreed, however, that monitoring, reporting, evaluation and accountability mechanisms had to be in place in order to successfully implement those policies and strategies.

    Participants in the dialogue agreed that significant political will was needed to sustain systematic efforts to promote gender equality.  A speaker also said that more evidence was needed as to how much progress had been made in integrating gender issues into policies.  The challenge was to involve top officials at decision-making levels in developing clear and precise benchmarks for evaluating progress.  Such evaluation could not take place in a vacuum -- it had to be driven by a need by any particular country or institution to evaluate its own progress in order to make changes.  Among the requirements for success, speakers mentioned the need to promote organizations’ “ownership” of such evaluation, which should be rooted within each institution.

    To do away with gender inequality, some fundamental transformation in the approach to development was needed, a speaker said.  To close the gap between policy and practice, it was necessary to reconsider the approach to the very notion of “gender”, which currently implied that women were homogenous in their interests and desires.  That might explain the limited success most programmes had had so far.  Instead, it was necessary to address the interests of real women.  In fact, the issue of gender was influenced by such factors as cultural background, race and religion.

    For that reason, organizations should not treat mainstreaming as an “out there” issue, addressing the problems of real people.  Their own structure needed to reflect the goal of gender equality.  In a sense, it was an issue of practicing what one preached, a speaker said.  Also highlighted was the need for resources, methodologies and tools to promote empowerment of women, as well as training for the personnel involved.

    Speakers also stressed that it was important to realize the depth of gender bias “built into” political institutions and the amount of time needed to address the situation.  Change could not happen overnight.  In some cases, gender mainstreaming encountered open resistance, and real commitment was needed for gender equality to be achieved.  It was important to “work at multiple layers”, promoting “women-specific action”.

    It was also noted that following inclusion of gender goals in plans and programmes, “a sort of cynicism” and discouragement could set in, unless monitoring and accountability were introduced.  Accountability, for its part, was impossible without transparency, a speaker said.  Among the challenges in that regard, she noted the need to clearly determine whom the officials involved in policy implementation were accountable to.  Clear incentives, rewards and praise should be in place, as well as sanctions for non-compliance with stated goals.

    Roundtable B: Mainstreaming Gender Perspectives into Sectoral Policies and Strategies

    Jointly hosted by ECOSOC coordination and the Division for the Advancement of Women, the round table was chaired by A. Gopinthan (India).  Keynote speakers included Maria Florio, expert on gender and trade, and Irene Dankelmen, Women’s Environment and Development Organization.  Designated discussants included Stanlake Samkange, World Food Programme (WFP); Mariama Williams, Gender and Trade Network; Isha Dyfan, International Women’s Tribune Centre; Anna Shotton, Senior Gender Adviser of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO); and June Zeitlin, Executive Director of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO).

    According to Mr. GOPINATHAN, the mainstreaming of a gender perspective had been, thus far, more successful in some sectors that others.  Achievements in education, health and microeconomic issues had been built on a solid base of existing research, data and gender awareness.  In other areas, such as peace and security, humanitarian and reconstruction programmes, governance, information and communication technologies and HIV/AIDS, gender perspectives had not been systematically incorporated before 1997, and progress since then had been promising but uneven.  Moreover, despite the identification of gender as a cross-cutting issue, gender gaps and challenges remained in poverty eradication, macroeconomic issues, energy, sanitation, infrastructure, social protection and rural development.

    Ms. FLORIO said that many of those problems arose from the fact that gender concerns had not been taken into account in much recent macroeconomic policy.  That included economic liberalization, globalization and private capital flow, all of which might destabilize the household structure and adversely affect women.

    Microcredit schemes, in turn, needed to be tailored to the macroeconomic environment to have a positive impact on women.  Governments and international institutions must overcome the automatic endorsement of economic liberalization policies and concretely address gender-based inequities and the empowerment of poor women.

    Ms. DANKELMEN focused on gender mainstreaming and environmental sustainability.  She said that a 1999 assessment of seven agencies working on environment and development, by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), showed that none of them had made clear the links between gender equality and environmental issues.  In many other contexts, gender issues had been left out of environmental discussions.  In all sectors, including the environmental, she stressed that sectoral policies must include gender mainstreaming and simple yardsticks must be developed to measure progress across the board.  In addition, information, capacity-building and equality in the assigning of staff positions were essential in every sector, as was cooperation with women’s organizations and strategic networks.

    Participants in the discussion that followed contributed perspectives from hunger eradication, economic justice and many other fields.  In all sectors, discussants said, policies had to be reviewed to weed out unintended negative consequences from a gender perspective.  In order to do that, gender policy needed to be translated into specific programmatic commitments, to have impact on field operations.  Monitoring of the results, from a gender perspective, must be continuous and thorough.  Gender analysis needed, in addition, to be further developed to more effectively span sectors, and to be incorporated at the “macro” level of all areas.

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