11 March 2005

Gender-Sensitive Macroeconomic Policies, Regional Gender-Equality Promotion Subjects of Women’s Commission Panel Discussions

NEW YORK, 10 March (UN Headquarters) -- Poverty was about more than low incomes and consumption; it was about exclusion and a lack of rights and choices, and it affected women and men differently because of their societal roles and practical and strategic needs, the Commission on the Status of Women was told today, as it considered integration of gender perspectives in macroeconomics, in one of two panel discussions.

The United Nations Millennium Project’s Senior Policy Adviser on Gender Equality, Yassine Fall, explained that macroeconomics studied the behaviour of “eco-agents” like households, enterprises and the State, and how changes in their behaviour influenced each other and the market.  It was not gender neutral, as each change affected households and men and women inside them differently.  And, within every unit, that of family and community, the weakest and most vulnerable were women and girl children, due to their lifelong deprivation in rights, access to and control over resources, skills, learning and overall development.

Panellist Jayati Ghosh of India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University said that addressing the issue of gender-sensitive macroeconomic policies was essential for reaching the Millennium Development Goals and the Beijing Platform for Action.  She offered a two-plank approach:  focus on employment-led growth, rather than on the belief that growth would generate employment; and on macroeconomic policies that ensured the provision of essential services.  Among her other suggestions was to address the crisis in agriculture, including the issue of trade protection and import regulation.  Better protection of women migrant workers was also high on her list, given the massive increase in women’s migration for work.

The other panellists this morning were:  Nenadi E. Usman, Minister of State for Finance of Nigeria; Danny Leipziger, Vice President for Poverty Reduction and Economic Management (PREM) and Head of the PREM Network, World Bank; and Marco Ferroni, of the Inter-American Development Bank.  Several delegations participated in the ensuing discussion, as well as representatives of two non-governmental organizations (NGOs):  “European Women’s Lobby on Gender Mainstreaming the MDGs”; and “Women’s Environment and Development Organization on Macroeconomic Issues in relation to the MDGs”.

A second panel discussion, convened this afternoon, considered the role of regional and intergovernmental organizations in promoting gender equality, for which the speakers were:  Rawwida Baksh, Commonwealth Secretariat; Wadouda Badran, Director General of the Arab Women Organization; Carmen Lomellin, Organization of American States; Beatrix Attinger Colijn, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Secretariat; Luisella Pavan-Woolfe, European Commission; and Winnie Byanyima, African Union Commission.

Ms. Byanyima of the African Union Commission said that the transformation of the Organization of African Unity into the African Union three years ago had brought with it several innovative changes regarding the way gender issues were handled.  At its first summit in 2002, heads of State and government had established a global precedent for gender equality by adopting the principle of gender parity in decision-making, and that had already borne fruit.  The recently adopted strategic plan for 2004-2007 prioritized translating member countries’ decisions on gender equality and women’s empowerment into concrete actions at the continental, regional and national levels.  The landmark decisions taken in the first two years of the Union’s existence reflected the collective determination of its members to own the gender equality agenda, to hold each other accountable and to open themselves up to monitoring by civil society.

Turning to the situation of women in armed conflict, the Arab League had made exhaustive efforts to offer moral and financial support to Arab citizens in Arab occupied territories, Ms. Badran of the Arab Women Organization told the Commission.  Thus, her organization had issued recommendations calling on all international and regional forces to work to end the violations of Palestinian women and families.  The Arab Women Organization also called for the immediate and unconditional release of female prisoners in Israeli jails.  Despite the obstacles, the Arab league had continued its governmental efforts by sponsoring women’s organizations activities, and its member countries continued to seek further ways and means to empower women.

Also participating in this afternoon’s discussion were representatives from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), as well as representatives of the following NGOs:  CIS Caucus; Femmes Africa Solidarité; and the Commission on the Status of Women Caucus on Violence against Women.

The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. Friday, 11 March, and, in two meetings, to conclude its work for the forty-ninth session and open the fiftieth session for the purpose of electing its Bureau.


The Commission on the Status of Women met today to convene two panel discussions on the integration of gender perspectives in macroeconomics and the role of regional and intergovernmental organizations promoting gender equality.


NENADI E. USMAN, Minister of State for Finance of Nigeria, said that though the Constitution provided for equality of rights for every citizen, a national policy for women had had to be fashioned to remove gender equalities as a result of patriarchy, colonialism and capitalism.  A number of policies to reduce gender equality had also been put in place.  The Government had enhanced women’s access to the country’s socio-economic activities.  Line ministries had been instructed to address gender issues, and that focus had resulted in a number of achievements, including special bank loans, the establishment of cottage industries for women, literacy and health programmes, microcredit schemes, and mass literacy and education programmes. 

She said some 70 per cent of Nigeria’s poor were women.  Nigerian women faced many challenges in benefiting from the Government’s macroeconomic incentives.  Nigerian women were becoming increasingly involved in monitoring the impact of those programmes.  For the first time in its history, Nigeria had a woman in charge of the Government’s finances.  Women had also been put in charge of the investment and securities tribunal and the bureau for public enterprises.  Deliberate efforts had been made to bring more women on board.

Regarding the way forward, she said Nigeria’s quest for macroeconomic stability and sustainable economic growth would continue to be gender sensitive.  The Government was directing more public resources to the sectors of the economy that directly impacted women, such as the provision of water and rural electrification.  The Government appreciated women’s efforts in the scheme of things and would continue to encourage their participation in projects designed for their betterment.

DANNY LEIPZIGER, Vice-President for Poverty Reduction and Economic Management (PREM) and Head of the PREM Network, World Bank, said that the Bank’s mission was poverty reduction, and addressing gender equality was an integral part of that mission.  Despite recent gains in many countries, significant gender disparities in basic legal rights, access to resources and economic opportunity, and decision-making remained pervasive around the world.  And, those disparities were inextricably linked to income and non-income measures of poverty.  The reduction of gender inequality was a development goal in its own right.  There was now growing recognition among economists of the adverse effects of gender inequality on economic growth and on the prospects for poverty reduction.

He said that the link between economic growth and poverty, and gender inequality went both ways.  On one level, poverty and the lack of growth exacerbated gender disparities.  Inequalities between girls and boys in access to schooling or adequate health care were more acute among poor people than among those with higher incomes.  And while poor people had less access to such productive resources as land and credit, poor women generally had the least access of all.  Similarly, girls’ and women’s health and schooling were more vulnerable to economic downturns than those of boys and men.  On another level, gender inequalities undermined the prospects for poverty reduction in fundamental ways.  While disparities in basic rights, access to schooling, credit and jobs, and the ability to participate in public life took their most direct toll on women and girls, the evidence showed that gender inequality ultimately hindered economic growth.  So, ignoring gender disparities came at significant cost –- to well-being and to countries’ abilities to grow sustainably, and reduce poverty.

The World Bank’s commitment to assisting countries in addressing gender inequalities was translated into practice by incorporating a gender perspective in its analytical work, its country strategy and policy dialogue, and its operational work.  While much remained to be done, the Bank had made progress.  Like many organizations, the Bank began its efforts to promote gender equality from an awareness-raising perspective.  In the last decade, it had moved much more towards specific targeted activities to promote gender equality, particularly at the country level, in analytical work and in its policy activities.  The objective was to mainstream gender perspectives into all of its activities, including into its lending operations and its analytical work.  While the Bank had made headway in that regard, the challenge would be to deepen that mainstreaming process.  The good news, of course, was that with the recognition that gender inequalities constrained growth, there was now greater interest in analysing the links between gender equality and economic growth.  A number of challenges remained, however, including coping with competing development challenges, which often resulted in the “crowding out” of gender equality.

MARCO FERRONI, Sustainable Development Department, Inter-American Development Bank, addressing economic trends in his region, said perhaps the most important development had been a change in economic thought during the past decade from “paradigms” to pragmatism and the “political economy of the possible”.  Progress had been achieved in critical areas, most notably in the area of inflation, which had fallen to historically low levels as the notion of fiscal responsibility had gained ground.  The positive economic news was tempered, however, by several factors, he continued.  Growth had been insufficient for many years in the region.  While growth had picked up last year, it had not been sufficient for addressing the issue of poverty.  High levels of inequality had had significant repercussions on poor women’s efforts to overcome poverty.

Concerning other trends, he said women’s political participation was on the rise.  While the gender gap in education had narrowed, severe gaps in the quality of education remained, especially for indigenous populations.  On the issue of health, overall fertility rates were rapidly decreasing, although adolescent fertility remained comparatively high.  The female labour force was growing and the gender wage gap was narrowing.  However, unemployment was more pronounced among women.  Indigenous and Afro-descendent women had the lowest-paying jobs.  Women’s earnings varied more than men’s in the context of macroeconomic shocks.

A demographic window of opportunity existed for women in the region, he said.  As dependency ratios decreased, given declining fertility rates, women would have increased possibilities for more work, greater savings and education.  Education was key.  Yet, the relatively favourable panorama was tempered by the fact that poverty remained high.  Changes in the 1990s, include globalization had skewed the distribution of opportunities.  The challenge was to narrow the gap between women and men, to improve health indicators and to shape public policy in gender specific ways.  The Inter-American Development Bank was fully engaged in the vision of gender equality.

YASSINE FALL, Senior Policy Adviser on Gender Equality, United Nations Millennium Project, said that within every unit, that of family and community, the weakest and most vulnerable were women and girl children, due to their lifelong deprivation in rights, access to and control over resources, skills, learning and overall development.  Poverty should be defined beyond low income and consumption.  Poverty was about exclusion -- a lack of rights and choices -- and it affected women and men differently because of their societal roles and practical and strategic needs.  Poverty exacerbated gender inequality and vice versa, and fostered unbalanced rights and obligations.  Macroeconomics studied the behaviour of “eco-agents” like households, enterprises and the State, and how decisions or changes in their behaviour influenced each other or the market.  It was not gender neutral, as each change influenced households and men and women inside households differently.

So, she asked, what happened when direct taxes like the value added tax (VAT) was increased on cooking gas, and when user fees had to be paid for health and education, or when the tax on transport was increased?  And, what happened to women farmers, food producers and processors when cuts occurred in rural subsidies? What happened to gender-based violence, reproductive health, employment and the freedom to choose when governments had to keep public expenditure down and cut the provision of services? Turning to aid, she implored rich countries to respect their official development assistance (ODA) commitments. Aid must not be used to buy reforms or use conditionality to push reforms that were not agreed by the country’s leadership or citizens.  Aid conditions should not be unilaterally imposed by donors; aid conditions should be agreed by both partners -- donors and recipients -- within the framework of the recipient country’s own poverty strategy.

On trade liberalization, she explained that free trade was the policy of the powerful.  Every industrialized nation had pursued trade protection for its infant industries, but once they grew strong enough to withstand international competition, they lowered the trade barriers and asked others to do the same.  Today’s unjust trade regime should be revisited, and debt cancellation was a must.  Justice in global trade was a sine qua non for increased aid and debt cancellation to effectively fight poverty, lest the latter continue to be an instrument for buying reforms.  She also wondered about the lack of coherence in the debt issue and the Millennium Development Goals.  Interventions should be scaled up by addressing the following, among other aspects:  gender inequality; human rights; social investment; stronger public sector; domestic private sector; back to work; and addressing absorptive capacity.  Addressing corruption was also a must, as was establishing transparent and inclusive governance systems. 

JAYATI GHOSH, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India, said that despite the many governmental measures of the past decade, there had been at best a mixed outcome since Beijing.  She identified five current issues that needed to be addressed in order to confront the problems of women’s economic empowerment.  The first was the volatility of employment, particularly export-oriented employment.  In less then one generation, there had been massive shifts of women’s labour into the paid workforce and then the subsequent ejection of older women and even younger counterparts into more fragile and insecure forms of employment.  Women’s livelihoods in rural areas had been affected by the agrarian crisis in most developing countries.  There had also been changes in the nature of women’s work, including an increase in informal work, characterized by greater reliance on casual contracts and an increase in service work.  There had been a substantial increase in self-employed low-end service work, especially in domestic and retail trade.

She said another challenge was an increase in unpaid work.  The impact of the decline in the public provision of many basic goods and services had meant a substantial increase in unpaid work.  There had also been a crisis of livelihoods in agriculture.  The effect of trade liberalization had been accompanied by a decline in world agriculture prices.  Agriculture constituted the main employer of women in the developing world and the basic source of income for most of the worlds’ poor.  Finally, there had been a massive increase in women’s migration for work.  What was new historically was the fact that women were moving alone.  Cross-border migration had become a huge issue.  While it had become a source of macroeconomic stability, it was also a source of exploitation.  Internal migration had also increased.  Migrant workers had few rights, and governments rarely thought about ensuring their protection.

Addressing the issue of gender-sensitive macroeconomic policies was essential for reaching the Millennium Development Goals and the Beijing Platform, she said. The focus should be on employment-led growth, rather than belief that growth would generate employment. The other was macroeconomic policies that ensured the provision of essential services. Those had to be the two planks of macroeconomic policies. In terms of fiscal policies, she said it was necessary to bring back the era of non-deflationary monetary policies. There was no question that the mobility of finance had impeded governments’ ability to ensure progressive macroeconomic policies.  Banking policies had to include targeted credit.  Microcredit was not a panacea.  It was necessary to reinstate the role of public institutional credit.  Measures were also needed to reduce employment volatility and to increase public provision of basic services and goods, especially nutrition.  It was crucial that the crisis in agriculture be addressed, including the issue of trade protection and import regulation.  Policies for the better protection of migrant workers also needed to be developed, with special attention to women migrant workers.

Questions and Comments

Speakers praised the panel for being well integrated and diverse -- as diverse as the debate itself on women’s integration in macroeconomics.  One participant said she had hoped, however, that a member of the wide-ranging social movement of women against globalization, against neo-liberal globalization, would have been included in today’s discussion.  The approach to women’s situation in Africa, as outlined by one of the panellists, had reflected the approach adopted by Latin American women, as their realities were similar.  Women were indeed marginalized and excluded in Latin America.  That issue had been most heatedly and protractedly debated at a recent meeting of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).  There was no doubt that women were still in a precarious situation with regard to low-paid work, lack of access to microcredit, poor working conditions, especially in the garment industry, and a lack of cultural and economic power and education, impeding their full participation in the economy.

She said that poor countries, in view of their growing debt and increased privatization, were unable to resolve those problems without fairer international cooperation and resource distribution.  In terms of mainstreaming the gender perspective in macroeconomic issues, it should be ensured that women were included in the debate from the outset, because it was women who suffered the most at the hands of those policies.  In order to integrate the gender perspective, however, enhanced investment must be made in human resources and trained and skilled human capital.

Today’s dialogue would help women realize the important role they placed in macroeconomic policies, as well as in the process of gender mainstreaming in the policies’ formulation, another speaker said.  Economic development was the foundation of women’s development.  At the same time, she was also aware that economic development would not necessarily guarantee women’s development. Only when gender mainstreaming was integrated in macroeconomic development would it be possible to ensure that the two “developments” went hand in hand.

Women, therefore, must have access to economic resources and all kinds of related services, she stressed.  Women’s “full play” in her country’s economic development was a precondition for poverty alleviation nationally.  It was important to integrate gender mainstreaming in macroeconomic policies; and in developing a programme for women in China, the Government had made it clear that priority should be given to women’s development in the planning stages.

A representative of the European Women’s Lobby, a non-governmental organization (NGO), said the Lobby was concerned that internationally agreed far-reaching obligations, such as those entered into under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, would lose their influence if gender equality was not fully reflected throughout all of the Millennium Development Goals.  It was not possible to achieve the Goals by 2015 or even by 2050, unless they were thoroughly “engendered”.

She said that women played a key role in eradicating poverty and promoting development.  Reducing family size and women’s work burdens, as well as shortening the distance she must travel in search of water, benefited everyone.  The exclusion of many women from education, health benefits and market participation seriously limited their ability to develop the skills so desperately needed by their national economies.  On the other hand, the consequences of including women, and not only as a cross-cutting component of all targets and indicators, were already becoming evident.  The Millennium Development Goals could be fulfilled only by enforcing women’s equality; if they were not fully integrated in each of the Goals, the targets would go unmet.

Responding to comments, Ms. FALL said she had been working towards supporting women’s organizations in gender-responsive budgeting.  An evaluation of gender-responsive budgeting showed that such work had been limiting.  It was also necessary to look at increases in public sector expenditure, subsidies and taxation.  In many cases, women paid more taxes than men.  On the issue of trade liberalization, it was unfortunate that the situation of women in Latin America was being represented in terms of inequality between black and indigenous women.  The issue of safe working conditions also needed to be addressed. On the question of participation, the United Nations Millennium Project had tried hard to ensure that gender and women’s empowerment was included in the report of the task force.  The problem was at the country level.  Women’s organizations needed to challenge their countries, both in the developed and developing countries. The problem of conditionalities imposed on poor countries was unacceptable and should be an agenda of women in the North.

Ms. USMAN also addressed the issue of gender-responsive budgeting.  When she had assumed her job, most had assumed that there would have been an increase in budget for the women’s ministry.  That had not been the case.  Rather, the approach had been to benefit women by adding money to the health, energy and education sectors.  Investing more money in agriculture was also helpful for women, as most agricultural workers were women.  More women also needed to be in positions of authority, as the problems of women could best be understood by other women.  It was not only a case of changing the laws, but of implementing them.  On the issue of revenue, expenditure and debt relief, Nigeria did not get most of its revenue from taxes.  Oil contributed to 90 per cent of the country’s total earnings.  The Government was trying to reduce that percentage.  As the biggest black nation in Africa, Nigeria did want debt relief.

Mr. LEIPZIGER noted that, on the issue of rationalizing the public sector, the Bank had a programme to understand the different impacts of government downsizing.  Similar tools existed in the area of pension reforms.

Mr. FERRONI said the general agreement on the issue of integrating gender perspectives into macroeconomics was good, as it could move the debate from the “what” to the “how”.

Ms. GHOSH said the problem with gender budgeting was the obsession of how much was directed towards women.  That did not say much about how fiscal policies were affecting women.  The focus needed to be made broader.  On aid flows, it was true that more aid was needed.  Debt relief could achieve that.  It was also necessary to look at the context in which aid was provided.  Sub-Saharan Africa had lost in the trade shift what it had gained through aid flows.

In the resumed discussion, one speaker said that, in terms of poverty-reduction strategies, it was important to take into account persistent gender discrimination.  Such efforts should focus not only on ensuring women’s participation in the labour market, but on ensuring the quality of work they were permitted to carry out.  It should be ensured, above all, that women were not working in precarious working conditions.  A number of issues should be addressed:  the quality of women’s education; elimination of gender-based violence; women’s access to reproductive health services; the conduct and analysis of gender-disaggregated statistics; providing support for domestic labour; and ensuring that the gender perspective was mainstreamed in public policies overall.

Another speaker stressed the paramount importance of building national capacity.  Indonesia, for example, had had national machineries in place for the past 27 years, and it had ratified the Women’s Convention and all of the core International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions. Five years ago, it managed to include gender mainstreaming in all aspects of development, under presidential instruction. Just two years ago, the country managed to incorporate gender mainstreaming in macroeconomics, which had been facilitated by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). The Fund had started at the bottom, came to know the grass roots, and was able to convince the government at the national level.

Asking why, despite the ILO conventions, gender discrimination persisted in the workplace, she urged the United Nations system to get involved in that problem.  The Indonesian Government needed sex-disaggregated statistics, for which it was important to build national capacity by empowering the Government and civil society organizations, particularly those working in the human rights field.  Also critical was the human rights-based approach.  Without national capacity, civil society’s capacity in the area of human rights would fall short.  The UNIFEM and the ILO should be given the capability to enable women’s economic participation through a rights-based approach that empowered women.

Another speaker said that in her country, India, a guarantee had been put in place for all to do wage-earning work, and 40 per cent of jobs at the statutory wage rate had been reserved for women.   A State-funded programme on child-care centres had been universalized, and free meals were being provided to elementary school children.  A right of information act had been passed, and during the last budget session, 18 ministers had presented gender budgets to Parliament; the remaining six would do so next year.  The voices of women were being heard.

In order for women to participate in the development processes, governments had to invest in women, another speaker asserted.  Gender mainstreaming in all policies and development programmes made no sense without appropriate budget allocations.  Such budgeting in Cambodia had started at the women’s ministry, but was not part of the work of all other ministries, since gender mainstreaming was a cross-cutting issue.  She urged the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and all other international development banks to promote gender budgeting in all of their programmes.  After 30 years of civil war, Cambodia, though stable and at peace, still needed some support from the donor community, she said.

The ultimate goal of the welfare and social services sector plan in Samoa was to improve the quality of life for all, another speaker said.  Delegates attending the Commission’s session sought to take back to their governments recommendations on maintaining and sustaining the integration of the gender perspective in macroeconomic policy in policy-planning frameworks and to ensure the linkages of national development strategies at the sectoral, policy-planning level, the corporate-planning level and, ultimately, the grass-roots level.

Mr. LEIPZIGER said he had taken the advice to publicize its information more effectively.  He agreed that the migration issue was a bombshell sleeping below the surface.  He disagreed, however, that the public sector was too small in developing countries.

Ms. USMAN said that, when talking about mainstreaming gender issues, it was necessary to emphasize good macroeconomic policies, measured by realistic exchange rates and best practices in terms of finance and trade.  Most banks had discovered that women paid back loans more than their male counterparts.  Debt relief would offer a fresh start for the people of developing countries.

Mr. FERRONI said the Inter-American Development Bank had assumed the debt relief bill of the heavily indebted poor countries that were part of borrowing member countries.  The issue of education did vary by country.  On average, things seemed to be moving in the right direction.

Ms. GHOSH said it would not be possible to achieve sustained macroeconomic policy without active public pressure.  She agreed that Cambodia, with its history, required substantial aid, but it needed aid of the right sort.

Afternoon Panel

The first speaker on the panel on “The role of regional and intergovernmental organizations in promoting gender equality” was RAWWIDA BAKSH, Deputy Director/Head of Gender Section in the Social Transformation Programmes Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat.  She explained that the Commonwealth Secretariat was a voluntary organization of 53 independent States, 32 of which were small States.  The Secretariat, which had been established in 1965, had as its primary goals the promotion of international cooperation, peace, democracy and good governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law, gender equality, and poverty eradication through economic and social development.  The Secretariat’s role was to assist, support and promote initiatives by and within member countries to achieve sustainable development beneficial to all.

She said that the Commonwealth’s vision of equality between women and men was based on the association’s fundamental values, within which it shared experiences, developed consultative and collaborative processes geared towards the achievement of people-centred sustainable development.  In 1995, the Commonwealth Plan of Action, which was presented to the global conference in Beijing and later endorsed by the Commonwealth’s heads of government that year, reaffirmed women’s rights as human rights and urged member governments to develop and implement legislation and strategies to promote women’s advancement in accordance with the strategic objectives, actions and priorities adopted at Beijing.  On the eve of the current Commission, on 27 February in New York, the Commonwealth developed a new plan of action for the 2005–2015 decade.  It built on past individual, country and collective initiatives and strategies taken among the members, and took into account emerging global issues.

The action plan focused on four main areas to advance gender equality, she explained:  gender, democracy, peace and conflict; gender, human rights and law; gender, poverty eradication and economic empowerment; and gender and HIV/AIDS.  The Commonwealth aimed to build on the gender mainstreaming approach, particularly when addressing persistent challenges, such as poverty eradication and economic empowerment, gender-based violence, and women’s participation in leadership and decision-making positions.  The plan also sought to promote dynamic partnerships, aimed at accelerating gender equality through advocacy, brokering, and information sharing on lessons learned and good practices.  Its partners included Commonwealth governments, a network of Commonwealth institutions, the United Nations and its agencies, multilateral and bilateral agencies, regional bodies and civil society organizations.  The uneven progress recorded by member countries was an indication that urgent action was needed to ensure collective benefits and sustainable development.  “As we move into the second post-Beijing decade, let us strengthen our partnerships and commitments to achieve gender equality”, she said. 

WADOUDA BADRAN, Director-General of the Arab Women Organization, said the Arab League had established a department on women’s affairs, which had helped to strengthen cooperation in the field.  It had also encouraged the formation of national bodies to promote women’s issues.  The Arab Women’s Organization, established following the first Arab women’s summit, was the most recent fruit of Arab integration within the Arab League.  Strengthening education and training had been a priority for most Arab countries.  Efforts had been focused on gender equality by organizing literacy forums and by providing training courses.  Alleviating poverty was a second area of concern for the League.  The League’s economic council had studied the negative impact of economic restructuring programmes.

She said gender mainstreaming in planning and development programmes was another priority issue.  Regarding women’s rights, the secretariat had prepared a guide on the situation of Arab women in legislation in 2004, which was used by Arab countries.  The Arab Women’s Organization had formed the Arab legal group to examine legal regimes with a view to amending any discriminatory legislation.  On decision-making, the League had developed mechanisms to create greater awareness of women’s rights in that regard.

Regarding the status of women in armed conflict, especially under occupation, the Arab League had made exhaustive efforts to offer moral and financial support to Arab citizens in Arab occupied territories, she said.  The Arab women’s commission had issued recommendations, calling on all international and regional forces to work to end the violations of Palestinian women and families.  It had called on the immediate and unconditional release of female prisoners in Israeli jails.  The Arab league had continued its governmental efforts through sponsoring women’s organizations activities.  Arab countries continued to seek ways to empower women.

CARMEN LOMELLIN, Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission of Women, Organization of American States (OAS), said that the 2000 Inter-American Programme on the Promotion of Women’s Human Rights and Gender Equity and Equality, the Commission’s primary tool for advancing gender equity and equality in all spheres of public policy, had reoriented the Commission’s work and changed its modus operandi.  It had also taken effect within the OAS.  The second facet of its implementation had entailed mainstreaming gender within the OAS ministerial processes, and another area in which work had begun was in integrating a gender perspective in the area of women, peace and security.  In fact, that had only become a priority issue for the Commission with the adoption of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), which mandated women’s full participation in all peace processes.

She said that addressing women’s human rights had been an ongoing priority for the Commission, especially in the area of violence against women.  A key achievement in its 76-year history had been the drafting and adoption of the landmark convention, the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women.  To date, the treaty had been ratified by 31 of the OAS member States and was the only instrument of its kind focusing specifically on violence against women.  Adoption of the text had sent a strong message to the region -- that there was a strong commitment to fighting gender-based violence.  In 2000, the Commission coordinated a follow-up study on violence in the Americas, a regional analysis.  The study pointed out that there had been positive trends in the fight to eliminate violence against women.  In addition to greater public awareness about the problem, many countries had made progress in criminalizing gender-based violence and, in some cases, family courts had been established to handle such cases.  It concluded, however, that despite a greater understanding of the phenomenon as a human rights violation, the OAS member States had yet to make significant inroads in eliminating the problem.

The Commission had also been actively working to combat another egregious human rights violation against women, namely the trafficking of women and children for the purposes of exploitation, she said.  In confronting the issue, one of the first obstacles had been to address the lack of awareness of the problem.  Many government officials had sincerely believed that the trafficking of human beings was “not a problem in our hemisphere”.  Research had proven, however, that that was indeed a serious problem globally, and that it had had a devastating impact on many impoverished women, adolescents and children in the Americas.  Because of the Commission’s efforts, the ministers of justice of the Americas had taken on the issue in their deliberations and the OAS would convene later this year a conference of national authorities to begin to place that issue squarely on the national agencies of all of its member States.  In addition, an anti-trafficking coordinator had been appointed to begin coordinating anti-trafficking activities, not only at the OAS, but throughout the region.

She said that, today more than ever, it was accepted that the best way to build, maintain and sustain democracy, reduce conflict and attain full and equitable development was to ensure the full and equal participation of all of a nation’s citizens, both men and women.  It must be acknowledged that women still faced barriers in societies.  Yet, the opportunities for their empowerment were there, and it was up to organizations such as hers to create the climate, programmes and policies that would help women to help themselves and their families.  Her work with the Commission was aimed not only at promoting women’s human rights and gender as a cross-cutting issue, but also at ensuring that women succeeded as individuals.  There would soon be a historic election in Chile, where, for the first time, two of the front-running candidates were women.  Levelling the playing field required that women take up leadership positions.

BEATRIX ATTINGER COLIJN, Senior Adviser on Gender Issues, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe(OSCE), said the OSCE participating countries, which included the States commonly known as Europe, Balkan States, Central Asian States, Russian Federation, United States and Canada, had agreed on common standards in its founding document.  The organization had a comprehensive view on security.  At its 1999 summit, heads of State and government had declared that women’s full and equal exercise of their human rights was essential for a more peaceful OSCE area.  Gender equality contributed to comprehensive security, which was a goal of OSCE activities in its human, economic and environmental and the politico-military dimensions.  In 2004, the OSCE’s Ministerial Council had endorsed the 2004 Action Plan for the Promotion of Gender Equality.

Outlining the nexus between security and gender, she said the OSCE had 18 field missions and five different institutions.  To embrace a strategy of gender mainstreaming, staff carried to the outside world the organization’s standards and values.  Police assistance programmes included a minimum percentage of the number of women police officers.  The OSCE, however, did not apply quotas to their own structures.  That remained a challenge.  To be consistent in operations, support from participating States was needed.  Unfortunately, gender issues were seldom made a priority, being considered a “soft” issue.  Regarding the issue of action over words, she did not think her organization had been inactive.  It was not action that was missing, but recognition given to those activities.

The OSCE could guide attention to issues that were not so visible on a global level, she said.  The continuous discrimination of minority women was such an area.  The OSCE highlighted the plight of Roma women, promoting policies on education and advocating for their political participation.  Another area was that of domestic violence.   If the organization found that certain countries did not comply with the organization’s common standards, areas for improvement were identified.

LUISELLA PAVAN WOOLFE, Director of International Affairs, Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, European Commission, said that the European Commission had just launched its new Social Agenda for modernizing Europe’s social model under the revamped strategy for growth and jobs.  The new agenda focused on providing jobs and equal opportunities for all and ensuring that the benefits of the European Union’s growth and jobs drive reached everyone in society.  Equality between women and men would be a fundamental component of the Agenda.  Gender equality had been a fundamental principle of the European Union from the beginning, and it was enshrined in the treaty.  Over the last few decades, equal treatment legislation had grown to form a coherent legal framework.  It was now a firmly established integral part of the so-called “acquis communautaire” with which member States must comply.  It was for that reason that implementation of the Union legislation into national laws was one of the prerequisites for the accession of the 10 member States to the Union last May.  It would be the same for the next round of accession.

She said, however, that rights needed to be enforced.  The challenge was to ensure that that enforcement was effective, for which the Commission had proposed to recast existing directives, in order to enhance their awareness by citizens.  The Union was also fully committed to ensuring that its member States had an adequate administrative capacity in place to fulfil the new responsibilities arising from the legislation.  That process involved civil society, citizens, non-governmental organizations, social partners, research institutes, the judiciary and administration.  Legislation was fundamental, but that was not enough.  Following up on Beijing, a specific article had been included in the European Union Treaty, which allowed for gender mainstreaming.  In addition, the European employment strategy had contributed bringing gender equality to the policy agenda and provided a tool for tackling the gender gaps in the labour market.  Employment was also the best weapon against poverty and was at the basis of the Union’s social inclusion process, where a gender mainstreaming approach was also being implemented.

The use of structural funds, particularly the European Social Fund, had had a catalysing effect on national policies of gender equality by providing financial support for the implementation of the employment strategy and the social inclusion process.  Among the financial instruments, the programme on equality between women and men (2001-2005) had provided €50 million to fund projects for non-governmental organizations, research centres, awareness-raising, and development of statistics and indicators.  The Commission had now proposed a new programme called “PROGRESS’, which would continue to address the promotion of gender equality.  In the past decade, positive developments in that regard had been evident in the Union, made possible by economic growth and general progress in society.  The changes had not happened automatically, but as a result of strategic policy initiatives to promote equality between women and men at the Union and national level.  Those had also been the result of the integrated approach towards gender equality, namely, the combination of legislation, gender mainstreaming, and financial instruments. 

WINNIE BYANYIMA, Director, Women, Gender and Development of the African Union Commission, said the transformation of the Organization of African Unity into the African Union three years ago had brought with it several innovative changes regarding the way gender issues were handled in the Union.  At its first summit in 2002, heads of States and governments had established a global precedent for gender equality by adopting the principle of gender parity in decision-making.  Five female and five male commissioners had been elected to lead the Union.  Out of 16 directors recently recruited, seven were women.  History had been made last year when the Pan African Parliament had elected a woman as its first president, Ambassador Gertrude Mongella, Secretary-General of the Fourth World Conference.  At the third assembly in 2004, the Union had adopted the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa.  The Gender Directorate had been established to spearhead the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment within the Commission.  The Commission had recently adopted a strategic plan for 2004-2007, which included translating Member States decisions on gender equality and women’s empowerment into concrete actions at the continental, regional and national levels.

She said the landmark decisions and steps taken in the first two years of the Union’s existence reflected the collective determination of its members to own the gender-equality agenda, to hold each other accountable and to open themselves up to monitoring by civil society.  The African Union had seriously embarked on the task of generating an African consensus around a shared vision of gender equality and common concerns, especially through the Protocol on the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa. The challenge was to link those home-grown instruments to international instruments, in particular, the Beijing Platform and the Women’s Convention, to achieve synergies at the national level and register improvements in the lives of African children, women and men.  A combined strategy of fostering continental ownership of the gender-equality agenda and promoting the Beijing Platform and the Convention was the best way forward.

There was no doubt that a new momentum towards realizing the principle of gender equality in African had been generated by the newly established Union, she said.  It was a new opportunity that the United Nations and its partners should seize.  An opportunity existed to support -- in truly empowering ways -- efforts at the continental and regional levels to mobilize Member States to genuinely own and drive the gender-equality agenda.

In the ensuing discussion, a speaker sought effective examples of partnerships.

Another, noting that regional and interregional organizations had intervened in the process in a number of ways -- democracy and peace, conflict, human rights, poverty eradication, and so forth -- asked if their actions had consisted mainly of carrying out studies or whether they had also undertaken practical actions.

Besides in the African Union, what proportion of women was represented at the highest levels in other regional organizations? another speaker asked.  She added that those organizations played a leading role, particularly in countries in crisis, such as her own, Côte d’Ivoire.  What could those organizations do in a crisis situation or when a peace process had stalled?  In terms of their efforts towards post-conflict recovery, what resources were available to support the State and the population in maintaining those recovery efforts?  Given that decision makers tended to profit most from their decisions, what could women do to ensure that their interests were also well represented and how could they be promoted for higher positions? she asked.

The past two weeks had confirmed that gender equality was a complex issue requiring both short- and long-term strategies and both human and financial resources, another participant stated.  As an Armenian, she was concerned that not much had been done for countries in the post-Soviet territory.  When Armenia had had “outbursts of patriarchy” in recent years, efforts had been made to change the situation, but there remained a need to enhance awareness at all levels and in all governmental structures.  With the support of the OSCE, combined with the support of law enforcement and other agencies, some seminars had been organized to generate gender-related policies.  With the OSCE’s assistance, a system for women’s advancement and women’s involvement in decision-making was being promoted.

She said that democratic transformations had also illuminated the problem of insufficient legislation directed at protecting human and women’s rights.  The Parliament, together with civil society groups, was helping to fill those gaps in the governmental structures.  A pilot project was also under way to enhance gender awareness in eight regions of the country, aimed at producing an in-depth analysis of school curriculums, eventually leading to mainstreaming the gender perspective.  That was a first step on a long road, but changes were under way.  The earlier the deeply entrenched patriarchal philosophy was changed, the earlier attitudes would change towards women in Armenia, she said.

Another speaker asked how the Commonwealth Secretariat was seeking to link its action plan to everyday life.  Non-governmental organizations and civil society could play an essential role.  How did the Commonwealth work with them to promote gender equality?

Ms. BADRAN said the Arab League had formed a civil society commission and department.  It cooperated with non-governmental organizations of national and regional scope.  Regarding women’s participation in decision-making level positions, she noted that last year the first female assistant secretary-general had been appointed.  Women constituted some 40 per cent of the League’s staff.  On support to women under occupation, financial support was through the Al-Quds or Al-Aqsa funds.  Regarding moral assistance for Palestinian women, the League had sent an urgent letter to the Commission on the situation of Arab women prisoners.  On incorporating gender into curricula, the Arab women’s organization would hold a workshop for the heads of Arab universities in which the issue of incorporating a gender perspective would be addressed.

Ms. LOMMELLIN said the establishment of strong partnerships was vital at the OAS.  The organization had worked well in partnership with other international organizations on the issue of trafficking.  It also worked with civil society, academia and labour unions.  Partnership was simply a matter of survival.  The organization did both studies and practical work and worked with political parties in encouraging women’s participation in elections.

Ms. COLIJN said the OSCE had close links with the different government ministries and civil society organizations.   OSCE projects were implemented in partnership with the relevant government structures and civil society organizations.  Regarding the number of women in management, the OSCE was not a good example.  None of its 18 missions were headed by women, and it had only one woman director.  At the professional level, the representation of women was below 30 per cent.

Ms. PAVAN-WOOLFE said the European Commission worked with national administrations, as well as regional and local bodies.  It also worked with non-governmental organizations, research institutes and academia through the European Union.  It also had a number of advisory bodies.  On the question of women’s representation in the Union’s institutions, one third of the European Commission’s members were women.  Thirty per cent of the Parliament was women.  The Commission had never had a female president.

Ms. BAKSH said the Commonwealth Secretariat worked with parliamentarians, judges and lawyers, academic institutions and youth networks.  There was a vast umbrella body of commonwealth associations.  Part of what it did was assist countries in policy formulation.  The mobilization of knowledge across the Commonwealth, which included both developing and developed countries, enabled countries to benefit from one another’s’ experiences.  Regarding how the organization intervened in crisis situations, the secretariat acted as a trusted partner of member countries.  In any conflict situation, the Secretary-General’s good offices were called upon to intervene in diplomacy.  They were now working to include a gender analysis of what was happening on the ground.  In terms of linking up with civil society, the secretariat worked strongly with judges associations and human rights organizations on issues such as gender-based violence.

Ms. BYANYIMA said it was important for the African Union to support the work of governments in policy formulation.  It also had the role of harmonizing policies at the continental level.  The Union had a monitoring role, as well.  The first commitment in the solemn declaration on gender had to do with addressing the gender dimensions of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  Regarding conflict, Côte d’Ivoire and the Sudan were two of the countries where the Union was focusing in terms of peace-building and conflict resolution.  The challenge was to ensure the full participation of women from those countries in the peace processes.  It was a question of resources, however.  Africa was taking ownership of the political issues on the continent -- peacekeeping included -- but was asking the United Nations to revise its rules, so that resources could be channelled to the Union as it took up its responsibility.

Next, a series of interventions were made by non-governmental organizations from the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) region.  One speaker called on intergovernmental organizations and governments to raise the level of accountability for enforcing women’s rights, including for minorities and girls, and appoint a special rapporteur to monitor enforcement.  She also asked that gender equality and human rights be among the key issues at the five-year review of the Millennium Declaration in September.  Peace, sustainable development and human rights were most pressing issues to communities worldwide and should become an integral part of other agendas and security and other reforms.

Another NGO representative said that the tenth anniversary of the Beijing Conference had highlighted the precarious position of Roma, gypsy and immigrant women in Europe, who were victims of harmful community practices, marginalization, social exclusion and poverty.  They were subjected to discrimination and social exclusion and they faced discrimination from majority populations and their own communities.  States and NGOs should implement policies regarding the lack of such girls’ education and formulate policies aimed at incorporating the gender-related obstacles facing Roma women and girls.  Those impediments included a lack of education; coerced sterilization of Roma women; their lack of political participation, both as voters and candidates; trafficking and prostitution; and the vulnerable and insecure situation of Roma women, child refugees and the internally displaced, especially those from Kosovo.

The third speaker called for mainstreaming a gender approach into all initiatives, in a way that benefited Roma women and girls during the current decade of Roma inclusion.  She called on governments, regional and intergovernmental agencies to cooperate to create a race-conscious approach to address domestic violence, improve access to reproductive health services, and combat early marriages, among other things.  They should initiate and support  community-based programmes to assist Roma girls in the competition for education, create support for income-generating opportunities for particularly vulnerable women, support the leadership training of Roma and other minority women, and collect statistical data disaggregated by sex and race.

A representative of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said that ECOWAS had a gender and development centre based in Dakar, Senegal, which was a platform and watershed for women and men to work together.  The centre was a multi-purpose institution aimed at building capacity to mainstream gender through training, skills transfers and technical support to member countries, civil society and the private sector.  Programme components included gender policy reinforcement in member countries, mobilizing civil society, promoting regional cooperation and collaboration to influence programmes, policies and systems, and ensure an impact on reducing poverty.

She said that the centre’s activities had included capacity-building, interactive meetings among special interest groups, the development of subregional frameworks, the training of West African women leaders in peace-building and post-conflict restoration, maternal education, suppression of human and child trafficking, defeating HIV/AIDS, and providing women access to credit and markets.  The ECOWAS had decided to put gender equality on the agenda in the subregion, and they were implementing a strategic plan, which made the Economic Community a leader in gender mainstreaming.

A representative of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) asked the European Union and the Inter-American Commission on Women to share their experiences, if any, with respect to promoting gender equality at the local government level, given the role of local authorities and municipalities in the provision of basic services.  Her agency was concerned with the urban poor, particularly those living in slums and unsafe settlements.

Another representative asked about the level of collaboration among the panellists, given that some Caribbean States, like Jamaica, felt that they were putting more energy into writing to some of the organizations represented on the podium than the “bang we get for the buck at home”.  It was almost as if the agencies did not understand the weakness of the national machineries, and then when countries did not write reports on time, they did not get reflected in the programmes and were left behind.  National machineries were still very much marginalized, still very weak, she said.

In what ways could regional, NGOs and intergovernmental organizations coordinate better so as to complement each other’s work without duplicating it? another speaker asked.

Turning to another topic, she said that peace was inextricably linked to gender equality and sustainable development.  She commended the African Union for the efforts it made to put together a peace operation in Darfur, Sudan.  At the same time, she urged efforts to ensure that women’s issues were taken on board before peace agreements came together.  She asked whether the African Union was doing anything to ensure that Sudanese women’s concerns were taken on board  Had any of them been represented at the talks in Abuja, Nigeria, to ensure that their needs were taken into consideration before agreements were concluded? she asked. There were very disturbing reports from the Sudan that the Sudanese women’s recourse in cases of sexual violence and rape were severely constricted.

Ms. BYANYIMA said the African Union Gender Directorate was aware of the difficulties States had in reporting to many organizations on the same issues.  The challenge was how to link home-grown instruments with the Women’s Convention to gain synergy at the regional level.  The Union was seeing how best to frame single reports when a government reported on the Beijing Platform and the Solemn Declaration, for example, as both were political commitments.  On the question of civil society, while African civil society had a strong advocacy role, it had not built sufficient capacity in the area of monitoring progress.  She said she was very concerned about the situation in Darfur.  Different agencies were discussing the issue in an attempt to raise support for a delegation of women to study the situation there.

Ms. BAKSH said that as the Commonwealth Secretariat was a post-colonialism institution, it had been important to ensure that diversity was included in the way it thought about gender equality. Diversity was intrinsic to the Commonwealth.  Regarding reporting requirements, it planned to harmonize reporting mechanisms with those of the United Nations.  She agreed that agencies should do more to ensure that they were maximizing resources and not duplicating efforts.

Ms. PAVAN-WOOLFE said that, as the European Union had gone from 15 to 25 member States, the Roma issue had become a burning political issue.  It was, first and foremost, an issue of respect for fundamental human rights.  The Union had been a driving force in implementing the principle of equal treatment and had done so in the area of equality between women and men.  In 2004, it had published a green paper on equality and discrimination in the Union.  It also planned to put forward a communication on the Union’s approach to discrimination this year.  The Union was also planning to make 2007 a European year on equal opportunities.  As the Union had enlarged, it had tried to extend its social and gender equality approach to its new neighbours.  Guaranteeing women’s rights was fundamental for the fight against poverty.

Responding to the issue of reporting, Ms. COLIJN said it was important not only to avoid duplicate reporting, but also duplicate activities.  She thanked the non-governmental organizations for their views on the Roma issue and could only second their position.  Much more attention needed to be paid to their needs.

Ms. BADRAN said that, while many of the Arab League’s programmes had been in cooperation with United Nations affiliated organizations, the session provided an important opportunity for it to exchange information with other organizations.

A representative of the Commission the Status of Women Caucus on Violence against Women said the demand for prostituted sex was the engine that drove trafficking of women and girls.  Prostitution was, in itself, a form of violence against women.  Women in prostitution faced daily threats of serious bodily harm.  Prostitution should not be recognized as a form of labour, but as a source of violence.  She urged Member States to recognize prostitution as a form of violence and exploitation in which the consent of the victim was irrelevant.  She urged the Commission to reconfirm the Convention on Trafficking in Persons, as well as the Convention on Transitional Organized Crime.  She called on all States parties to the Women’s Convention to reject the legalization of prostitution and called on them to adopt immigration remedies and to extend legal and psychological help to victims.  She also called on States to address the early sexualization of girls.

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