As Climate Change Affects More Women than Men, States Must ‘Step Up’ Gender-Focused Efforts, Political Will, Delegates Tell Commission
Gender equality and women’s empowerment must be at the heart of efforts to address the world’s most critical emerging challenges, including climate change, delegates told the Commission on the Status of Women today.
Continuing the session’s general debate, delegates also stressed that “stepped up” political will, both at the national and global levels, would be needed to tackle such pressing issues.
“We can see clearly the grim reality of the disproportionate impact of climate change on women and girls,” said the representative of Tuvalu, a small Pacific island State. In her country, climate change had led to rising sea levels, internal flooding and the intrusion of seawater into freshwater reserves. Those threats compromised the human rights of the most vulnerable, especially women and children, she said.
Agreeing, the delegate from Maldives called climate change the single greatest threat to achieving sustainable development in his country and that women bore the brunt of its impact. It was time to “step up our commitment to address the root causes of gender inequality”, he said, adding that “we must empower women to gain resilience to global challenges”.
Indeed, the health of the planet required drastic measures, said the representative of the Solomon Islands, highlighting the connection between climate change consequences and the empowerment of women and girls. Development partners needed to help to curb the effects of climate change, including by taking drastic measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In that regard, she also called on States to draw up a strong agreement at the upcoming Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris later this year.
Also linking those twin objectives, the representative of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources said environmental issues must be at the forefront of the fight for gender equality. Explaining that the issue of women and the environment was the “forgotten chapter” when it came to empowerment, she pointed out that women made up to 40 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, yet continued to lack equal access to land and services. Women must be able to participate in decision-making when it came to those critical resources, she urged.
A number of delegates also said renewed political will on the part of States would be essential for progress for women in the environmental and other arenas. In that connection, the representative of Congo commended the Commission’s adoption of a Political Declaration, which he said could serve as a new “road map” to reinvigorate the spirit of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
Throughout the day, delegations described both successes and challenges with regard to gender and development. The debate covered a wide range of topics, from balancing work and family life to the rights of women living under foreign occupation.
In the afternoon, delegates participated in a panel discussion titled “Resources for gender equality: good practices and strategies for action/the way forward”.
Also speaking during the morning’s general debate were Ministers, high-level officials and representatives of Myanmar, Monaco, Sao Tome and Principe, Cyprus, Lesotho, Timor-Leste, Finland, Armenia, Marshall Islands, Slovenia, Qatar, Croatia, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Austria, Cabo Verde, Swaziland, Chad and Jordan, as well as the Holy See and the State of Palestine. Also participating were representatives of the International Olympic Committee, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were the representatives of Israel, Syria, as well as the State of Palestine.
The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 16 March.
KYAW TIN (Myanmar) said that, despite strides made, progress in implementing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action had been uneven and inequalities, discrimination and violence against women still persisted in many parts of the world. Welcoming the Commission’s adoption of the Political Declaration, he stressed that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls must find a rightful place in the new, transformative development agenda. Developing countries’ national efforts must also be provided with enhanced support for addressing related challenges, such as poverty, education and training, health and preventing violence against women. In Myanmar, men and women enjoyed equal pay for equal work and State Constitutions guaranteed equal rights for women, including the right to vote, run in elections, own property and receive inheritances. Noting that Myanmar had been the first country in the Mekong Region to enact an anti-human-trafficking law, he said. In closing, he said while women’s participation in politics remained low, it was increasing.
ISABELLE PICCO (Monaco) agreed that despite efforts made since 1995, progress on implementing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action remained slow and uneven. That was why a sustainable development goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment would be a “cornerstone” of the post-2015 development agenda. Since the Beijing Conference, only 50 per cent of women participated in the labour market. Gender equality and the empowerment of women must be reflected in legislation and the economic spheres. Access to education continued to be a challenge for the 65 million girls under age 12 who still did not have access to school. She commended the HeForShe campaign for the role it could play in changing the mind set in that respect. On health and violence against women and girls, she said progress eroded in periods of conflict. She also noted that rape and domestic violence were a higher risk to women than many other health risks combined.
CARLOS FILOMENO AGOSTINHO DAS NEVES (Sao Tome and Principe) said the Commission’s current session was an opportunity to exchange ideas, design new strategies and adopt relevant policies that enhanced women’s legal and social status. Inclusive and democratic society needed strong policies and strategies that involved women, he said, noting that his country had, since 1995, undertaken the goal to eliminate discrimination against women and girls. Twenty years later, within the framework of implementing its actions, national progress included the adoption of a gender equality and equity strategy and measures to combat domestic and family violence. A national resolution had launched a 30 per cent quota for women in decision-making positions and an initiative that extended women’s retirement age to the same as men. However, several constraints, including the country’s almost total dependence on foreign aid, were obstacles to implementing national gender priority actions.
Nicholas Emiliou (Cyprus), aligning with the European Union, said that the transformation of the Cypriot economy since its independence, coupled with social advancement and activism, had led to significant progress for women. Twenty years after the Beijing Declaration and 15 years after the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, Cyprus had come a long way in the promotion of gender equality, empowerment and human rights for women and girls. Problems of violence against women and trafficking in women were high priorities for Cyprus, and relevant legislation and policies were being implemented. Aware of the increasing interconnectedness of the world, his Government was also promoting the human rights of migrant women and girls, guided by the Commission and by UN-Women. Deeply rooted stereotypes of women’s roles in society and within the family persisted, which affected women’s professional lives and careers. A gender pay gap remained, and female representation needed to be improved in politics, decision-making, media and other positions of power. During its recent progress, Cyprus had witnessed how much society and the economy had to gain from women being able to fully realize their potential.
KELEBONE MAOPE (Lesotho) said the recently adopted Political Declaration was a powerful tool for gender equality and the empowerment of women, and was key to ensuring sustainable development and human rights. Key legislative and pragmatic initiatives had resulted in significant progress that included removing women’s minority status and according them full rights to property. The Government was in the process of mainstreaming gender equality across all sectors. In addition, the country’s first female Chief Justice had been appointed — only the third in Africa. In the face of high unemployment rates, technical training must be improved to ensure equality among women and men. Women and girls still faced discrimination and a lack of opportunities to fulfil their potential, with gender-based violence being an obstacle. Women were also disproportionately affected by health services that were overloaded by HIV/AIDS cases, by environmental degradation and by the financial crises. Cautioning that men losing their traditional role as providers could trigger increased violence against women, he said addressing that issue called for involvement both men and women as agents of positive change.
SOFIA BORGES (Timor-Leste) said her country was committed to improving and enriching the lives of women. Following elections in 2012, women made up 38 per cent of parliamentarians, the highest in the Asia-Pacific region. The ongoing process of decentralization and local governance reform were also opening new windows of opportunity at the district level, including for gender-sensitive and responsive local-level planning and budgeting. An interministerial coordination commission now monitored the implementation of a national action plan on gender-based violence. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was increasingly being used as a framework for legislative reform, with UN-Women providing technical assistance in strengthening capacity, including in the Ministry of Justice and the Ombudsman’s Office. Welcoming a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the post-2015 development agenda, she underlined the importance of the Beijing+20 and HeForShe campaigns in raising awareness and bolstering political will towards reaching those aims.
RAYMOND SERGE BALÉ (Congo) said the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Conference demonstrated the importance of gender equality and the empowerment of women in the future development agenda, with the Political Declaration being a new “road map” in the continued will of the international community to make further progress. In 2014, African States had adopted a declaration on transformative changes on women and girls in Africa and Congo’s Government, for its part, was implementing proactive policies. A forum on female entrepreneurship, held on International Women’s Day, had targeted young women and girls, he said. Despite progress, many challenges remained. “We must implement stronger policies,” he urged, “especially through measures to break through deeply rooted cultural practices”. Critical actions included improving incomes, increasing access to social services, promoting equal participation in decision-making and ensuring the realization of women’s human rights, he said. More political will from States and the international community would ensure the creation of a more equitable society for women and girls.
ANNE SIPILÄINEN (Finland) said that, while women’s unemployment was higher than that of men, its effects were often more hidden, with decreased psychosocial well-being just one sign of women’s marginalization. Efforts for better education and equal work opportunities must continue, as should those aimed at tackling all forms of discrimination and increasing women’s access to technology. Further, she said, more women were needed in meaningful roles in the security sector, notably as high-level mediators and on negotiation teams of parties to a conflict. If implemented globally, gender equality and women’s empowerment would be the most transformative elements of the post-2015 agenda, she said. That could be achieved only by acting in a comprehensive manner and maximizing synergies between that framework, the Beijing Platform and the Convention.
ZOHRAB MNATSAKANYAN (Armenia) discussed the wide gap between legislation its implementation in priority areas of the Beijing Platform for Action, saying discrimination against women was widespread and had negatively affected their access to education and health care, as well as participation in the economy and public life. Among the first countries to submit its national review of the Beijing Platform’s implementation, Armenia continued to increase women’s representation through its action plans on gender policy and gender-based violence. Those strategies aimed to introduce the gender component to policy development and decision-making in the socioeconomic, political, education, health, cultural and public information fields. Other efforts included the 2011 electoral code, which outlined gender quotas, and an equal rights law adopted in 2013. Also, the Council on Women had been reorganized into a national mechanism for streamlining the implementation of gender quality policies.
DEBORAH BARKER-MANASE (Marshall Islands) said since the historic Beijing Conference, the international community had made important strides, but it was clear that “we have fallen short” because the advancement of women was not about achieving “paper equality” alone. Her country’s experience resembled others in the room, as policy improvements needed to continue. Her Government had adopted gender strategies, she said, noting that adequate progress towards national development would not happen without addressing the social and economic contributions of women. Unequal access to employment and the gender wage gap, as well as unpaid household care work, continued to plague her country. Underemployment and salary disparities remained a challenge, with women making up only 35 per cent of the labour force and earning 70 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. The Marshall Islands had among the world’s lowest political participation rates and 51 per cent of women had experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner. To address the latter concern, she asked for urgent international assistance, adding that support was also needed from key partners and the United Nations system to tackled human rights and gender equality issues.
MARTINA VUK (Slovenia) said that despite progress achieved since the Beijing Conference, many challenges concerning gender equality remained, with new ones emerging over the past 20 years. Among them were political, economic and social issues, she said. While Slovenian women were better educated than men and were relatively well represented in the political, labour and public spheres, they remained underrepresented in economic decision-making positions. The Government had prioritized the issue of violence against women and girls and significant progress was being made in preventing and combating the scourge. Gender equality could be enhanced only through systematic and continuous action, she said, adding that the post-2015 agenda presented a special opportunity to implement commitments made in Beijing.
ALYA AHMED SAIF AL-THANI (Qatar) said women faced numerous challenges, particularly under the yoke of foreign occupancy, as was the grave situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. For its part, Qatar attached importance to the ability of women to exercise their social, economic and political rights and was committed to equality among its citizens. Party to relevant international instruments, Qatar had pursued a pre-emptive policy for human rights in general and human rights of women in particular. The promotion of the human rights of women was linked to the rights and duties of the family, she said, highlighting that this year there was an opportunity to accelerate women’s empowerment. To do so, all actors must undertake vigorous efforts to protect women and the rights of children, including persons with disabilities and refugees.
VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia) said that tackling barriers that prevented women and girls from exercising their rights must be at the heart of efforts to create sustainable and resilient societies. Croatia strongly supported a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s rights and empowerment in the post-2015 framework, together with the integration of gender-specific targets and indicators across all the other goals. His country had also introduced a number of targeted measures to eliminate gender discrimination and to ensure women’s adequate political and economic participation. While making considerable gains in that regard, challenges persisted in key areas such as employment, entrepreneurship and economic leadership. While addressing those priorities domestically, Croatia had also streamlined gender perspective in its development assistance abroad.
ABDALLAH Y. AL-MOUALLIMI (Saudi Arabia) said women and girls had been victims of violence in Gaza, and in Syria and Iraq, many displaced families had lost their homes through no fault of their own. Saudi Arabia called on the international community to act, to take all necessary and urgent humanitarian measures and assistance to rescue women and children who were exposed to violence and who lived under occupation in conflict areas. Saudi Arabia had implemented the Islamic Sharia as its Constitution, which guaranteed the legal rights of all to live a dignified life without discrimination. The country believed in equality between women and men, especially in economic opportunities, eliminating poverty and achieving sustainable development. “Investing in women and girls had a double effect in productivity, efficiency and comprehensive and continuous economic development,” he said, noting that Saudi women had achieved international recognition as great businesswomen and 30 women had been appointed to the Shura Council with the same rights that were accorded to men.
AHMED SAREER (Maldives) said as a small island nation and a young Muslim country, rapid transformations over the last 20 years had been seen. “We are proud that a central chapter in our national story is the remarkable progress we have made in upholding women’s rights,” he said. Recently, the Government had drafted a gender equality bill and had strengthened its legislative framework to protect women with acts addressing sexual offenses and preventing sexual abuse and harassment. In Maldives, all boys and girls were enrolled in primary education, he said. However, as in all small island developing States, the single greatest challenge to achieving sustainable development was climate change, with women tending to bear a disproportionate share of the effects, including natural disasters. It was time “to step up our commitment to address the root causes of gender equality”, he said, adding that “we must empower women to gain resilience to global challenges, such as climate change which threaten our sustainable development”.
HELEN BECK (Solomon Islands) said her country had made progress with policies and laws that, among other things, protected families. However, violence against women remained too prevalent and more work remained to be done. As a small island developing State and a post-conflict country, the Solomon Islands sought to reduce burdens placed on women, such as limited access to business opportunities and disproportionate effects from climate change. The international community bore responsibility to absorb economic stress to protect more vulnerable States. As climate change continued to inhibit countries like hers, she encouraged development partners to help to curb the effects, noting that a strong agreement was needed in the upcoming meeting in Paris. The health of the planet required drastic measures by all to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as issues of climate change were linked to the empowerment of women and girls.
NAFSIKA NANCY EVA VRAILA (Greece) said the empowerment of women was an essential element for the development and social cohesion of every country. Greece had faced grave financial and social challenges and was fully aware that women were particularly vulnerable. In times of severe unemployment, the priority was to empower women to keep their jobs and to implement action plans focused on those whose working status was at risk. Keeping women active in the job market was vital for Greek society to maintain its balance and would greatly contribute to the recovery of its economy. The primary aim was to implement specific actions in areas including violence against women, reproductive and sexual health, promotion in decision-making and removing stereotypes in the media.
ANDREAS RIECKEN (Austria) said that, since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, his country had made major achievements in the areas of protection against domestic violence, employment and gender mainstreaming. However, numerous challenges remained, he said, adding that Austria’s gender pay gap remained one of the largest in the European Union. Women also were under-represented in decision-making positions and were prevented from using their full potential because of gender stereotypes. Austria was also actively promoting human rights and the empowerment of women at the international level in the conviction that it would benefit humanity as a whole.
EDNA FILOMENA ALVES BARRETO (Cabo Verde) said during the 40 years since her country’s independence, a people-centred development agenda had been adopted and gender equality and respect for women’s human rights were priorities. Highlighting progress, she said that the country had removed all forms of discrimination in law and the Constitution created the conditions to allow women to reconcile maternity and professional life. Strides had been made in granting universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, including voluntary family planning and safe motherhood programmes, which had continued to reduce child mortality and maternal mortality, as well as unintended pregnancies. “We still have a long way to go in order to achieve gender equality,” she said, reiterating her country’s commitment to the full implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
PEIFEN HSIEH (Tuvalu) said negative climate change effects continued to constitute a major threat, resulting in rising sea levels, internal flooding and seawater infiltrating freshwater reserves, and were seriously compromising citizens’ human rights, especially the most vulnerable — women and children. Just yesterday, the Government declared a state of emergency as Tuvalu was struck by Tropical Cyclone Pam, completely flooding some areas and requiring emergency evacuation and relocation. “We can see clearly the grim reality of the disproportionate impact of climate change on women and girls,” she said, calling on the international community to take concrete actions. Describing progress made in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment in her country, she said measures had included gender parity in primary education and the increasing involvement of women in the full-time employment sector.
JANE MKHONTA-SIMELANE (Swaziland) said her Government was fully committed to the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action. As such, it had placed sexual reproductive health issues prominently within its development agenda. Swaziland had also developed and launched a strategy and an action plan to encourage men to be catalysts for change. However, there was still a need to exert more efforts regarding sexual and reproductive health of women and girls. With 52 per cent of the population being under age 20, the Government was committed to putting youth at the forefront of development to harness the benefits of investing in younger generations.
BERNARDITO CLEOPAS AUZA, Permanent Observer for the Holy See, said despite considerable progress made, too many women continued to face discrimination and violence. All actors must continue to devote their utmost efforts to remedying those violations. The promotion of inclusive and equitable economies had a profound impact in advancing the status of women. Women constituted the majority of the poor and were affected by the burden of poverty in specific ways, but they were nevertheless courageously at the forefront in the fight to eradicate extreme poverty. From that perspective, the fight for the advancement of women must also mean assuring them full access to resources, capital and technology. Fragile family structures and the decline of marriage among the poor were very closely linked to poverty among women, he said. Women’s contributions to a better world included their generosity to serve and to welcome, rather than exclude, he concluded.
SOMAIA BARGHOUTI, Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine, expressed deep appreciation to the Secretary-General for his report addressing the tragic situation of Palestinian women. However, she expressed concern that the document portrayed the tragedy as the result of a conflict between two equal parties, rather than taking into consideration that the Palestinian people had been suffering under Israel’s illegal occupation and oppressive and racist practices. Despite those conditions, Palestine had achieved concrete accomplishments towards the empowerment of women and elimination of discrimination through various legal and policy measures. Israel’s occupation continued to be in itself a huge source of violence against women and girls, she said, urging the international community to work towards the emergence of an independent Palestinian State, which would ensure social justice and full equality between women and men.
LORENA AGUILAR of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources said she spoke on behalf of the more than 60 per cent of women who did not or could not participate in decision-making across environmental forums and on behalf of the more than 80 per cent of women who did not or could not achieve leadership positions in environmental ministries. The issue of women and the environment was the “forgotten chapter” when it came to women and empowerment. While women’s unique perspective informed sound policy-making that was integral to development, poverty eradication and improving outcomes for sustainability, they were under-represented on a global scale. Recent data showed that in 7 of 10 variables, women’s representation was less than 30 per cent on environmental issues. Even though women made up to 40 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, they lacked equal access to land and services. Women were also routinely excluded from forest governance despite their knowledge in that area. Environmental issues needed to be at the forefront of the fight for gender equality and outcomes could be transformative. Since 1995, the issues had remained the same and were exacerbated by a changing climate, making them ever more urgent. The environment was an asset and an ally, she said, and it was important to remember that the Union was there to help to turn words into action.
LYDIA NSEKERA of the Permanent Observer Office for the International Olympic Committee said that the Beijing Conference had been a milestone in the recognition of the role of sports in promoting positive change in general, and gender empowerment in particular. Physical education was a tool to develop non-discriminatory education and training, strengthen programmes that promoted women’s health and eliminate discrimination against girls in education, skills development and training. Sport should be available to all, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. “Sport challenges gender norms and defies negative stereotypes,” she said. “It gives women a chance to show themselves and others what they can achieve if given a chance.”
MARGARET MENSAH-WILLIAMS, President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union‘s Coordinating Committee of Women Parliamentarians, said that participation in politics was crucial to ensure national follow-up to the decisions taken at the Commission on the Status of Women. In that regard, she regretted that the recently adopted Political Declaration did not include a mention of parliamentarians in that critical role. At a side event on parliaments for gender equality, co-hosted by the Union and UN-Women, almost 200 members of parliament from 44 countries had focused on strategies. Some emerging priorities had been that the full respect for women’s rights was critical, as was women’s participation in parliamentary activities. Parliaments also needed to use their power to adopt laws and mobilize resources in support of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Decision-making processes must be transformed to include a greater representation of women, she stressed, adding that the pace of progress remained too slow on that front. More political commitment, including support for quotas with ambitious targets, was also needed, she concluded.
ESTHER ISSA SOKO, Minister for Women, Social Action and National Solidarity of Chad, said progress seen over the last 20 years had been due to the President’s decision to prioritize women’s issues. Revitalized health centres now operated 24 hours a day to reduce maternal and child mortality rates and laws were adopted to prevent harmful practices to women’s health, including criminalizing female genital mutilation and child marriage. The Government had also ended child recruitment in the armed forces. In terms of child marriage, 65.4 per cent of urban women and 73.9 per cent of rural women had wedded before age 18, there was a higher chance of delaying marriage for girls who had reached higher education levels. To address that issue, Chad would soon launch a “zero-child-marriage” policy to mobilize stakeholders and lead to the adoption of a specific law. Turning to terrorism, Chad was combating the scourge and sought to find sub-regional and global stability. Chad was also fighting forces that were negatively affecting the lives of women, who saw their fundamental rights denied such as their right to autonomy, education and their right to choose their own spouse.
SALMA NIMS (Jordan) said that a number of events were casting a shadow over the region, especially with the recent influx of 1.5 million Syrian refugees. That affected the survival and coping mechanisms of host communities, especially women. On the positive end, participation had increased in Jordan’s House of Representatives, as well as in local councils, with women now holding approximately 18 per cent of ministerial positions. Jordan had succeeded in meeting the second Millennium Development Goal in the area of education, with increasing female enrolment and the percentage of women holding university degrees tripling in recent years. Poverty emerged as a cross-cutting phenomenon that prevented women and girls from fully realizing their potential. Continuing to face higher levels of unemployment and lower wages, women also lacked access to decent job opportunities. The consequences were particularly acute in rural areas and in refugee host communities, with a tendency to rely on negative coping mechanisms, such as early marriages.
RUMBIDZAI KANDAWASVIKA-NHUNDU of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance said measures must be taken to encourage men to “relinquish their grip” on decision-making in order for women to have an equal opportunity to participate on all levels. In some countries, inequalities were blatant in their legal frameworks and the continued marginalization of women in positions of power and decision-making was part of a broader discrimination pattern. Countries needed to address the deep-rooted causes of this inequity, she stressed, noting that about 41 countries only had 15 per cent or fewer female members of parliament. As of December 2014, five countries had all-male parliaments. Around the world, attitudes about the superiority of men, starting at the household level, were extremely common. Due to patriarchal notions of power, men were still considered to be the head of the household, with superior status as decision makers and more freedoms than women. Efforts to advance women’s rights must not be an “add-on” to other efforts by the international community, she stressed, including in democracy building and human rights.
Right of Reply
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Israel said that, today, a number of delegates had used the Commission to launch a range of “baseless” allegations against her country. It was ironic to hear such allegations from the representatives of countries where women were marginalized and abused, she said, adding that “this is part of the world where women are forbidden from driving cars, getting an education and suffer from honour killings”. Palestinians were quick to point fingers at Israel, but they would never take responsibility for their own actions. Just this week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had praised a female terrorist, who had been responsible for the death of Israeli civilians, and a number of schools had been named after her. In a time of universal deceit, she said, “telling the truth is a revolutionary act”. Israel had led by example, she continued, saying that gender equality was enshrined in its laws and women had reached the highest levels of its society. She urged countries in the Arab region to start “charting a course” towards the empowerment of their own people.
Also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, an observer from the State of Palestine said that everything her statement contained was taken not from Palestinian reports, but mainly from United Nations information. Just because the Israeli representative was very ignorant or “did not read”, she said the Secretary-General’s report offered but a glimpse of the situation in the occupied territory. It was ironic for a country that had committed war crimes to start accusing women who were struggling for freedom of being terrorists.
Taking the floor in exercise of the right of reply, Syria’s representative said allegations made by the representative of the Saudi regime were “truly ironic” in expressing regret for the situation of women’s rights in Syria and other regions of the world. Saudi women in the twenty-first century were still forbidden from driving cars, exercising their minimum rights in their own society and were not even allowed to attend sports events. “How shameful,” she said, noting that there were hundreds if not thousands of documented incidents of the Wahhabi discrimination against women. It was no longer a secret that there was a “sexual jihad” going on with rape, trafficking and forced marriages, wherein Syrian female orphans were sold, she said. All those crimes were committed by the “petrol dollar sheiks” that Hollywood mocked in its movies. According to recent American press reports, the Saudi regime was fuelling sectarian hatred all over the region and had created feelings of hatred that had prompted the emergence of extremist Islamic groups waging a sectarian war.
In the afternoon, a panel discussion titled “Resources for gender equality: good practices and strategies for action/the way forward” was chaired by Commission Vice-Chair Mohamed Elbahi (Sudan) and moderated by Aruna Rao, executive director of the non-governmental organization Gender at Work. Presentations were made by: Diane Elson, gender and development social scientist, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Essex; Mohamed Chafiki, director of studies and financial forecasts at the Ministry of Economy and Finance of Morocco; Lydia Alpízar Durán, executive director of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development of Costa Rica; and Patti O’Neill, acting head of global partnerships and policies division at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Opening the discussion, Ms. RAO said it was timely to gather and discuss the centrality of investing in gender equality in order to achieve an equitable outcome in the post-2015 international agenda. Additional resources must be channelled to priority areas where they were needed. Increasing financing and investing in women and girls was vital for eliminating inequality, she said, noting the gender gap index showed that, despite the efforts of Governments, there was not one single country in the world that had completely eliminated that gap. In addition, for millions of women and girls, access to health care was still limited. To address such challenges, a collective response was more critical than ever before.
Ms. ELSON, as keynote speaker, said to achieve gender equality priorities, it would be necessary to fund programmes that were not specifically targeted to women — for instance, investments in water and sanitation and in sectors related to other Millennium Development Goals. Only in that way could the cross-cutting elements of gender equality be recognized. Improved water supply, for example, had emerged as a key contributor to improving women’s employment opportunities as it would reduce the time that women spent collecting water and help to attract more tourists to the farms.
Despite plenty of financing in the world, it was not being mobilized to achieve gender equality goals, she said, urging Governments to join together to establish an effective international system of tax cooperation, paying due attention to the most crucial elements for developing countries. Also, corporations must contribute to financing for gender equality by making much bigger contributions to tax revenues. It was important to engage finance ministers in gender equality programmes as they were uniquely positioned in relation to Government budgets, she emphasized. Poorly designed fiscal consolidation undermined progress towards gender equality. Noting that women were challenging Governments, corporations and international agencies to ensure that there were no more “paper promises”, she said the world had the capacity to achieve gender equality objectives. The question was whether there was the will to do so.
Mr. CHAFIKI said an integrated approach involving all stakeholders was needed to achieve clearly defined goals for reducing inequalities and achieving sustainable development. In that regard, it was urgent to lay the groundwork for a new cooperation between the United Nations system and bilateral and multilateral institutions for a common strategy that considered the post-2015 agenda. From a human rights perspective, gender-responsive budgeting was an effective way to meet the requirements of the new road map. On the eve of adopting the new development goals, he said citizen participation was essential in the development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of public policies. In that regard, he said the operationalization of that new vision of development had huge financing needs that required the design and support of all stakeholders.
Ms. ALPÍZAR DURÁN said work aimed at gender equality must not only look at gender equality as a goal, but also at the integration of women’s issues within other goals. On financing for gender equality, she said sexism and gender inequality could be seen in the way in which budgets were allocated, citing that the UN-Women budget was lower than other agencies. Investing in gender equality and women’s rights was good in its own right because it was the duty of society to protect everyone’s rights. Proper indicators and tools must be in place to track investments in official development assistance (ODA) and gender equality. Accountability was also critical, she said, suggesting that existing accountability mechanisms were used.
Ms. O’NEILL said that achieving gender equality would require the effective use of all sources of finance — public, private, international and domestic — because “the money was there”. Aid was a crucial part of what was needed to deliver the sustainable development goals and it was necessary to stay sharply focused on closing gaps and on donor spending. Yet, gender equality would never be achieved through aid alone. What would really make a lasting difference were Government budgets that were responsive to women’s specific needs and interests and aid that was aligned to advance gender equality. Of the 35 countries that reported in 2013, 12 already had systems in place to track and make public their allocations for gender equality. Many countries without such a system had reported on dedicated efforts to develop one. Civil society, especially women’s organizations, were critical partners to increase accountability and domestic resourcing for gender equality to ensure that money was spent on the right things at the right time. It was necessary to become more courageous in holding Governments and private actors to account for gender equality results, she said.
Delegates participating in the ensuing discussion stressed the importance of gender mainstreaming within country budgets to address systemic sources of women’s inequality. China’s representative said that women’s causes had become paramount for social development and served as a yardstick in that regard. To foster that progress, countries could implement legislation in the areas of preventing and punishing sexual harassment, instituting family-friendly policies, increasing women’s maternity leave and providing men with paid parental leave. Finland’s representative said that civil society and the private sector needed to work together with Governments to tackle global problems like inequality and discrimination against women, particularly against vulnerable groups.
Other speakers highlighted the importance of integrating gender equality, not only in donor countries’ international assistance, but also in their domestic policies and programmes. Canada’s representative said her country had funded projects that addressed violence against women and enhanced women’s economic status, leadership and democratic participation. Similarly, a representative of the European Union Delegation said the Union had invested internally in childcare facilities, women’s entrepreneurship and supported work-life balance for both men and women.
Responding to a round of questions, panellists noted that political will had manifested in different ways and had achieved significant outcomes in some places. At the same time, national Governments required an increased capacity to raise resources and to allocate those resources efficiently to gender priorities.
Budgets should also take into account the unpaid work economy, which so often set up barriers to women being able to realize their social and economic rights, said Ms. ELSON. The gap between policy commitments and actions was notable, Ms. O’NEILL said, adding that amounts of aid targeting gender equality remained low, with only 2 per cent of aid to fragile States having gender equality as a principle objective. An ambitious agenda for achieving gender equality must be met with ambitious resources, she said, adding that all countries, including developed countries, should establish robust systems to ensure gender equality. Underinvestment in those areas must be turned around, as it was essential for building prosperous societies.
Ms. ALPÍZAR DURÁN said that many initiatives promoted by the corporate sector took a very individualized course of action, such as through scholarships for individual women, rather than a more integrative, systemic approach. While that benefited individual women, it ignored the more rights-based methods. Civil society participation was also very important, she added. To build global partnerships, in terms of financing, Mr. CHAFIKI said a participative democracy was required. That meant financing for equality needed to have a normative framework within the ideas of human rights.
In closing, Ms. RAO said that the international community was now financing inequality, rather than simply not financing equality. There were so many new tools and pathways that really pushed the envelope and broke the structure of existent models, she said, encouraging countries to take those courageous steps.
Also participating in the discussion were representatives of Sudan, Mexico, Italy, Switzerland, Mali, Ethiopia, Iran, Uganda, Chad, South Sudan, Ireland, Sri Lanka and Gambia. Representatives of the following non-governmental organizations also spoke: Christian Aid; Zonta International; FEDEPE; and Zenab for Women’s Development.