28 February 2006

No Tool for Development more Effective than Empowerment of Women, Says Deputy Secretary-General, as Women's Commission Opens 50th Session

Speakers Highlight Commission's Critical Role in Shaping Women's Progress Since 1946 Inception

NEW YORK, 27 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following six decades of United Nations efforts to promote the advancement of women, the international community was starting to grasp that there was no tool for development more effective, than the empowerment of women, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette told the Commission on the Status of Women, as it opened its fiftieth session this morning.

During its two-week session, which is due to conclude on 10 March, the 45-member Commission of the Economic and Social Council will focus on two substantive themes, namely the enhanced participation of women in development and equal participation of women in decision-making processes.

Marking a milestone for the United Nations, Ms. Fréchette said this year's historic session of the Commission demonstrated the critical role the Commission had played since 1946 in shaping women's progress at the global and national levels, including by helping to develop legal measures and raising awareness of the challenges confronting women worldwide.  From Mexico to Copenhagen and from Nairobi to Beijing, the Commission had generated momentum for change and had sustained that momentum.  It had also been the catalyst for bringing a women's prospective into the work of the United Nations.

The Commission had not only moved with the times, but was ahead of the times, she added.  Ten years after Beijing, the world community still had a far way to go regarding women's actual representation at the highest levels of national and international leadership, including at the United Nations itself. Yet, the world was beginning to understand that women were every bit as affected as any man by the challenges of the twenty-first century, and so, therefore, should be equally engaged in all decision-making.

Economic and Social Council President Ali Hachani (Tunisia) noted that the Commission had played a catalyzing role in integrating gender equality in the economic and social sectors, helping to emphasize the synergies among the Council's technical commissions.  A prime objective of the Economic and Social Council reform effort was to strengthen it as the central mechanism for follow-up of the outcomes of major United Nations conferences and summits.  The Commission on the Status of Women was vital in that regard.  Implementation of the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action was essential for attaining development objectives, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration.  If 2005 was the year of commitments made, 2006 should be the year of application, he added.

Rachel N. Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, recalled that, when the Commission had been created in 1946, the world, after the Second World War, had been in the throes of radical change.  At its first session in February 1947, the new world had called on the Commission, not only to raise the status of women, but also to ensure that women played an equal role in building a free, prosperous and moral society.  The Commission had come a long way since then.  Women had made remarkable achievements in the last 60 years.  The fiftieth session heralded the start of a new awakening and should, as such, mark the dawn of a new era in making the next decade of women's empowerment one of implementation and determined action.

Gender inequality and pervasive gender discrimination could not be reversed by a handful of promising practices and successes, Noeleen Heyzer, the Executive Director of United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), said.  If gender equality was central to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, it must also be central to the institutional arrangements for United Nations reform and the commitments to convert aid effectiveness into development effectiveness.  That did not mean merging women's entities into greater bureaucracy and invisibility at a time when they were most needed.  Powerhouses were needed to provide the energy and direction for gender equality and women's empowerment within the United Nations, Governments, civil society and the private sector.  The houses that women built could become those powerhouses, she said.

Carolyn Hannan, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women and Rosario Manalo, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women also made statements in the morning session.

The representatives of Austria (on behalf of the European Union), South Africa (on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China), Sweden, Italy, Nigeria, Antigua and Barbuda, Indonesia, Namibia, the United Republic of Tanzania, El Salvador and China also spoke.

Two parallel roundtables were held in the afternoon on the theme "Incorporating gender perspectives into national development strategies, as requested at the 2005 World Summit, for achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including Millennium Development Goals".  In the two discussions, speakers representing both Governments and non-governmental organizations described the huge gap remaining between policy and practice.  While many gender mainstreaming policies existed, implementation lagged.  Describing a kind of "policy evaporation", many speakers emphasized the need for Governments to be held accountable for their development commitments, including the goal of women's empowerment.

At the outset of today's meeting, Commission Chairperson, Carmen Maria Gallardo (El Salvador) recalled that at the first meeting of the fiftieth session, held in March 2005, the Commission had elected a new Bureau for a two-year term.  At that meeting, the appointment of the Vice-Chairperson-cum-Rapporteur had been deferred.  To fill that position, the Commission elected Dicky Komar (Indonesia) to serve for the Commission's fifty-first and fifty-second sessions.

In other business, the Commission approved the nominations of Nadjeh Baaziz (Algeria), Westmorland Palon (Malaysia) and Hedda Samson (Netherlands) to serve on its Working Group on Communications for the fiftieth session.  It also adopted its agenda and draft work programme for the current session and reviewed other organizational matters.

The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again Tuesday, 28 February at 10 a.m. to hold two panel discussions on the themes of the session.

* *** *