12 March 1996

Press Briefing



At a Headquarters press briefing on Friday, 8 March -- International Women's Day -- the Special Political Adviser to the Secretary-General, Rosario Green, told correspondents that women would have achieved their goal when the question of women was no longer considered an "issue". When true equality for women had been "mainstreamed" and had become part of daily life, that would be the sign that the women's revolution had achieved success.

Ms. Green said much of "what was thought of as revolutionary in the first international conference on women in 1975 had now, in many cases, been incorporated as part of women's daily lives or is, at least in theory, widely accepted."

Following the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing last year and in response to a recommendation of the Conference, the Secretary-General had designated her as his Special Adviser on gender issues, Ms. Green said. In that capacity, she assisted him in ensuring that the gender perspective was integrated in all areas of work and that adequate coordination existed throughout the United Nations system. This role of overview and coordination was now part of her responsibilities as Special Political Adviser to the Secretary-General. She had started working with the Secretariat's various departments and offices and those funds and programmes that were more directly placed under the Secretary-General's purview.

Ms. Green then outlined a two-stage strategy to fulfil her mandate. In the first stage, she had established three working groups by drawing on the existing -- limited -- resources as well as the existing structures and expertise within the United Nations system. The idea was to set up a mechanism that was simple and flexible and which would maximize the capacity of existing structures. It was felt that enhanced coordination would maximize capacity as well impact.

The second stage would encompass the specialized agencies, she continued. The Secretary-General had proposed the establishment of an inter- agency committee for the follow-up to the Beijing Conference. A decision on that proposal was expected to be made during the next meeting of the Administrative Committee on Coordination scheduled for the end of April in Nairobi.

Ms. Green went on to say that the Beijing Conference had identified 12 main areas of concern. For the past years, the United Nations has been gradually incorporating in its social, economic and humanitarian programmes most of the issues addressed by the Conference. Particular attention was now

being paid to the question of the feminization of poverty, which was closely related to the Year for the Eradication of Poverty (1996). Other examples of action by the United Nations relate to violence against women as well as women in decision-making, which showed that the Organization was also interested in action on behalf of women in the political sphere.

The Organization's ultimate goal was to achieve effective mainstreaming, she continued, which entailed not just meeting women's immediate needs, but also fully empowering them to be decision-makers and to define their own long- term goals. A lot had been accomplished in that sphere, but much remained to be done.

Ms. Green went on to say that in addition to United Nations programmes, more women -- and "men of conscience" -- must be incorporated into the programmes implemented by the Organization. That would ensure better gender impact of United Nations programmes.

Turning to the issue of the overall level of representation of women at the professional level in posts subject to geographical distribution within the global Secretariat, she said that it had reached 34.6 per cent at the end of 1995. That figure fell 0.4 per cent short of the 35 per cent target set five years ago by the General Assembly (resolution 45/125). However, the Departments of Administration and Management and Public Information had achieved the goal, ensuring that more than 50 per cent of professional posts were occupied by women in those Departments.

Statistics also showed that, as of 31 December 1995, only 16.9 per cent of posts at the D-1 level and above were encumbered by women, while resolution 45/239 had called for a rate of representation of 25 per cent at these higher levels, Ms. Green said. Although much remained to be achieved, positive trends could still be reversed -- "so we have to be very watchful". For example, there was some genuine concern that the increase in vacancy rates and cost reductions, mandated by General Assembly resolution 50/215 on the 1996- 1997 programme budget, would have a direct impact on opportunities to improve the representation of women in the Secretariat, and could even penalize women disproportionately.

Ms. Green then drew attention to two documents issued recently by the Secretary-General on policies to achieve gender equality in the United Nations and on special measures for the achievement of gender equality. They demonstrated that the Secretary-General was fully aware of the dangers and the fact that targets had not been achieved. He wanted to ensure that managers were made accountable for not achieving the targets.

Turning to the developments in the wider United Nations system, Ms. Green said the figures were more optimistic. Six of the most visible and effective United Nations agencies and funds, covering an array of global issues, were headed by women. They were the United Nations High Commissioner

Rosario Green Briefing - 3 - 12 March 1996

for Refugees (UNHCR) (Sadako Ogata); United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) (Carol Bellamy); World Food Programme (WFP) (Catherine Bertini), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (Elizabeth Dowdeswell); United Nations Development Fund for Women (Noeleen Heyzer); and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) (Nafis Sadik). Justice Louise Arbour of Canada was recently appointed to replace Justice Goldstone as Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Also, the first woman was appointed last year to the International Court of Justice. Those appointments were not merely tokenism but were creating a trend, which had to be reinforced. The appointment of women in top positions led to the tendency to bring more women into those organizations as well as to increase promotional opportunities for them.

But, Ms. Green continued, the effective participation of women in international relations would depend not only on the United Nations system, but also on policies implemented by Member States. Of the 50 Presidents of the General Assembly, only two had been women (India, 1953, and Liberia, 1969). Up to 1995, only seven permanent missions out of 187 were headed by women. Among the 240 delegates holding ambassadorial rank, only 11 were women. Women represented only 22 per cent of the total diplomatic staff of missions, which was not a very impressive increase from 1949 when they represented 16 per cent of the total. The figures only reflected the fact that, worldwide, women were still very much underrepresented in decision- making circles. On average, in 1994, only 10.5 per cent of legislators and 6.1 per cent of government ministers were women. There were also some female presidents and ministers of foreign affairs but they remained in the minority. However, it must be noted that governments were also not responding to the need for change. So the fight for change must extend beyond the United Nations to the governments.

Asked what she thought about the issue of sexual harassment, Ms. Green said the monitoring and coordination role that she had was different from that of the Task Force on Harassment, of which she was also a member. Harassment must be seen in its widest sense -- not only as sexual harassment against women. It was a way to use power to humiliate staff members. The Task Force was trying to develop preventive mechanisms and to create consciousness about what harassment was and the sensitivities existing in a multicultural organization such as the United Nations. There was an attempt to look for the highest standards of behaviour. The Task Force was putting together an information kit on the signs of harassment that would include the names of contact persons and telephone numbers of focal points who could handle such issues in a preventive manner.

Responding to the comment that many Member States in the United Nations did not believe in the equality of women, Ms. Green said all Member States had been represented in the Beijing Conference and they were being held responsible for the commitments made. However, the United Nations was also working with non-governmental organizations to sensitize Governments and

Rosario Green Briefing - 4 - 12 March 1996

private citizens about women's rights. Without the assistance of the non- governmental organizations not much would be achieved.

Ms. Green went on to say that "women's issues are too important to be left in the hands of governments alone". Non-governmental organizations could assist because of their national and international networks. It was through those partners and other actors that governments represented at Beijing "would be pushed into a twenty-first century that stops acts such as violence against women, domestic violence, rape and other awful practices of our times".

Ms. Green was then asked to elaborate on the three working groups set up to implement the recommendations of the Beijiing Conference and on the future of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW). Responding, she said INSTRAW had a very important role to play. Its main responsibility was to provide up-to-date research on women's issues which would be the basis for the development of policy.

On the three working groups, she said that one dealt with policy issues and research; the second was a working group on operational activities -- to provide assistance to governments to fulfil the commitments made at Beijing; and the third was a working group on gender balance -- to gather information on such developments throughout the system. The working groups would be convened after the conclusion of the fortieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women. They would provide inputs to the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) meeting in Nairobi at the end of April.

Referring to the Million Man March organized in Washington D.C. last November, a correspondent asked whether the Commission on the Status of Women and other United Nations bodies would address the question of whether gender sensitivity would not exclude the gender needs of men. Ms. Green said, "It would be a mistake to reproduce what we are criticizing now. What we are really striving for was having a more balanced society, a more balanced organization, a more balanced way of dealing with the world's problems. Women do not want to be the last chapter of a book. We want to be treated as what we are -- half of the population -- half of the book." Issues such as health care, habitat and population could not be dealt with by ignoring women. The idea was not for women to be just an issue but a main item in the agenda of the twenty-first century. "The best thing would be for us to build a society in which male or female are not considered issues but part of the whole."

Asked about the role of the Catholic Church, Ms. Green said the United Nations could not deal with such issues and organizations directly. They would have to be dealt with at the national level. The governments and citizens of Member States must make the changes; the Organization's role was to assist them in the best way possible.

Citing the low figures for the participation of women in the United Nations and the diplomatic community, a correspondent asked Ms. Green whether

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she believed that change would take place. Ms. Green said "Of course I believe. Why wouldn't I believe? We are entitled to have that possibility. If we don't believe, things would not change. We are making progress little by little."

She went on to say that "women are getting more and more organized and are putting our demands in clearer language". From 1975 to the present women had not given up. She cited the experience of the suffragists and the obstacles and perceptions that they had faced. "Now we believe. We are patient, persevering, modern and believe in change. We are more and more a force." She added that "we are counting on the guys". Men had to think of their daughters and granddaughters who were going to ask what their fathers had done to advance the causes of women.

Ms. Green then said, "This is not a zero-sum game. It is a sum-sum game. Development would not be accomplished if it only incorporates half of the population. Then you would have half of the development. We must all come together to ensure that change occurs."

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For information media. Not an official record.