Advancing Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls - part 2

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06-Mar-2015 03:04:40
Time to End Wrongs Hampering Women, Secretary-General Says at High-level Debate, Describing Injurious Attitudes ‘Still Stacked against Them’
Sixty-ninth Session, High-level Thematic Debate AM and PM Meetings

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Interactive Panel 1

Following the opening remarks this morning, the Assembly held an interactive panel discussion on the theme, “women’s economic and political empowerment, including access to and control over economic and productive resources, and active participation in governance and decision-making”. Chaired by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia, it featured: Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, Speaker of Parliament of Uganda; Helen Clark, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Jane Stewart, Special Representative to the United Nations and Director, International Labour Organization; Naila Kabeer, Professor of Gender and Development at the Gender Institute, London School of Economic and Political Science; Aizhamal Bakashova, PA Shazet (civil society organization); and Patrick Ho, Deputy Chairman and Secretary-General, China Energy Fund.

Opening the dialogue, Ms. JOHNSON-SIRLEAF asked Ms. Kadaga to describe specific strategies that could be adopted to overcome the diverse barriers to women’s participation in the economic and political spheres.

Ms. KADAGA responded that the international community needed to ensure that the necessary environment had been created for women’s participation. Around the world, women carried “huge burdens” of work, she said, adding, “I do not know if we have levelled the ground sufficiently” to allow for women’s full political participation. The time had come to put in place energy-saving strategies to reduce the drudgery of women’s work. On the economic front, women still faced challenges in accessing funds and credit. She called for, among others, country reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to include a “certificate of compliance” ensuring that all actors were moving forward together.

Ms. JOHNSON-SIRLEAF then asked Ms. Clark whether women who owned land and other assets were better placed to improve their lives and those of their families, and how Governments could promote and harness the property rights of women as a critical factor for development.

Ms. CLARK replied that Governments, parliaments and courts could all act to ensure that women’s property rights were upheld. The post-2015 development agenda also offered opportunities in that respect. Studies showed that providing women the same access to land as men could greatly reduce global food insecurity, she said, adding, however, that “the challenges go beyond legal status”. Women’s property rights were limited by social norms, customs and a lack of access to justice; such barriers needed to be urgently addressed. The task was two-fold: all partners needed to ensure a legal framework that guaranteed the right to property and inheritance. They also must deal with non-legal constraints that impeded women’s empowerment and participation.

Next, Ms. JOHNSON-SIRLEAF asked Ms. Stewart about the critical issue of ensuring that women entered the labour market on an “equal footing” with men, and that they could rise to the highest levels.

Ms. STEWART replied that efforts should be redoubled in that regard. Women had a right to equal pay for equal work, as well as to choose their own employment, to be free from harassment, to collectively bargain, and to be safe at work. Economies with high female labour participation often worked best and were less likely to suffer economic downturns. However, globally, women’s participation in labour was stuck at about 50 per cent. “We have to invest in childcare, childcare, childcare,” as well as in maternity and paternity leave, she stressed. While there was some progress had been made in breaking the glass ceiling, challenges remained, and in that connection, more women should study subjects such as math and science.

Turning to Ms. Kabeer, Ms. JOHNSON-SIRLEAF asked what measures could be taken to help women who worked at the household and the small- and medium-sized enterprise levels.

Ms. KABEER said that women were more likely to be involved in “vulnerable” forms of labour, such as unpaid family labour. Stakeholders should tackle the constraints that kept women from fully connecting with other labour opportunities, including in such areas as transport and mobile phone technologies. Women needed life-long learning opportunities to provide them with the skills to face contemporary challenges. Also crucial was to think beyond microfinance to more mainstream forms of credit for women. Even small cash transfers could help women promote their own enterprises, she said, adding that simplifying bureaucratic procedures was one way to help. Creating groups and unions of working women was important, as was the provision of child care and social security.

Ms. BAKASHOV was asked how discrimination against women and girls could be avoided in the family, school, workplace and community. She said she agreed with other speakers that access to land was critical for women’s empowerment and that the question of unpaid work needed to be addressed. The rights of domestic workers must be protected. She recommended a “living wage indicator” in the post-2015 development agenda. The single biggest factor in advancing women’s rights was the existence of feminist movements, such as one in Kyrgyzstan, which had combated early marriage and kidnapping. Targets were needed for women in decision-making, especially at the local level. The first step was to ensure that women saw themselves as rights-holders. Governments must dismantle the systems that resulted in inequalities and commit to “development justice” for both men and women.

Mr. HO discussed lessons that could be drawn from partnerships to chart a way forward for women’s political empowerment, and how access to sustainable energy could lead to women’s empowerment. He said that 1.6 billion people still had no access to basic energy services, and 70 per cent of those were women. In rural areas, women often spent much time collecting firewood, leaving little time for economic activities. They suffered from negative health impacts of indoor cooking. China had reduced rural poverty by producing biogas, which had improved women’s living conditions and allowed them more time for economic activities. However, women were severely underrepresented in today’s oil and gas sector and in political decision-making overall. New technologies and innovation could bring opportunities, he said, calling for a “leap-frog paradigm” that empowered women to learn about, and work in, emerging technologies. “Energy belongs to the entire human race, both women and men,” he said, stressing the need for energy policies that incorporated a gender perspective.

Asked how to mainstream the welfare of women and girls into national planning and budgeting processes, Ms. KADAGA said it was necessary to “be specific” in that respect. Disaggregated data was needed and gender budgeting must be standardized. She also recommended standardizing the use of “certificates of gender equity”, as Uganda had done for every bill that came before its parliament.

Ms. CLARK, asked what the United Nations development system could do to accelerate gender equity and women’s empowerment as the post-2015 development agenda was formulated, said that setting up UN-Women had been an important step. “Each one of us needs to ensure that we are incorporating women’s empowerment” across every aspect of the United Nations work, she said. At UNDP, that meant focusing on women’s participation in elections and other legal processes. When helping States achieve sustainable development, the Organization needed to bring to light “invisible” factors, such as the burden of unpaid work. Security Council resolutions provided the basis for ensuring that women were central in ending conflict and building peace in post-conflict situations. In addition, recovery from Ebola needed to include a clear gender perspective, as women had suffered disproportionately from the epidemic.

When Ms. KABEER was asked how the international community could respect the value of unpaid care and domestic work, while at the same time ensuring a decent standard of living, she said stereotypes prevented men from assuming a greater role as caretakers. A target on unpaid care work should be included in the post-2015 development agenda. “We are not talking about reducing the quality of care,” she said, but about reducing the drudgery and burden associated with it. There should be a redistribution of work across families, communities and societies. There was also a need for infrastructure such as efficient energy, public services such as education, affordable care services, flexible employment practices and social protection measures that allowed both men and women to participate in unpaid care work.

In the ensuing dialogue, several delegates described progress made towards women’s empowerment and gender equality in their own countries. Many agreed that women’s full potential to engage in development had not yet been fully realized. Broad support also emerged for a stand-alone sustainable development goal on women’s equality and empowerment. A number of delegates called for the mainstreaming those objectives into all of the post-2015 targets, including for example, Finland’s representative, who underscored the importance of instituting gender indicators across all of the upcoming sustainable development goals.

Others, including the representative of Latvia speaking on behalf of European Union, stressed that ensuring women’s full empowerment and participation made good economic sense for societies as a whole. Some, including the representative of Zimbabwe, speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said that achieving those goals would have a “multiplying” effect in many countries.

The representative of Ecuador, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), stressed that the post-2015 development agenda must address gender stereotypes and the persistent impact of factors such as conflict and climate change. The agenda should aim to build stronger institutions and more participatory Governments.

Other speakers addressed the persistent “feminization” of poverty, citing it as one of the most critical issues to address in the post-2015 development agenda.

Also participating in the discussion was the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Montenegro, as well as representatives of Ukraine, Brazil and Namibia. A representative of civil society also spoke.

Interactive Panel 2

This afternoon’s interactive panel discussion was on “access to quality education and skills development as tools for empowerment of women and girls”. Chaired by Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, President of Croatia, it featured: Irina Bokova, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive-Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); Yoko Hayashi, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); Geeta Rao Gupta, Deputy Executive Director for Programmes, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); and Mariana Mancilla, Balance Promoción para Desarrollo y Juventud A.C. (youth development organization, Mexico).

Taking the floor, Ms. GRABAR-KITAROVIĆ asked Ms. Bokova how Governments could develop education and training systems that were more responsive to demand in today’s labour market, and what measures had been taken to increase women’s skills and entrepreneurship.

Ms. BOKOVA said that, unfortunately, there were today 31 million girls of school age who were not in school. At the current pace, it would take until 2084 for the goal of universal primary education to be met. In that connection, policies and programmes needed to target the most vulnerable populations, such as teens and those threatened with violence or early marriage. Conditions often were not conducive to the inclusion and empowerment of adolescent girls; in that regard, UNESCO had recently launched, along with UN-Women and UNFPA, a programme on the education of women, especially poor teens. The international community also needed to bring education beyond the formal classroom, and into places such as community centres and vocational training centres. New technologies should be tapped for the training of women and girls, she added.

Ms. GRABAR-KITAROVIĆ then asked Mr. Osotimehin what changes were needed to enhance the quality, relevance and accessibility of education, especially for adolescent girls.

In response, Mr. OSOTIMEHIN said that education was central to the fulfilment of the aspirations and dreams of young people. It could also help to uphold the values of peace, tolerance, connectedness and global citizenship, among others. Asking what was the best “bang for our buck” in terms of educational investment, he answered that the target should be adolescent girls. Education accelerated their participation in civic life, gave them skills to join the work force and helped them to stay healthy. Motivated, well-trained teachers and high educational standards were critical, and investments were also needed in the health, security and employment sectors in order for education to succeed. With the right policies and investments, today’s young people would drive economic and social development, and boost capital incomes. Innovative learning platforms also presented new opportunities for education, he said.

Ms. GRABAR-KITAROVIĆ asked Ms. Hayashi whether targeted interventions, including affirmative action, were a good solution to addressing the inequalities faced by young women in accessing education, training and the labour market.

To that, Ms. HAYASHI said that targeted interventions were, in fact, a critical component of activities aimed at achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment. In that regard, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women recommended that all States incorporate “temporary special measures” into their policies. Gender-neutral policies could perpetuate past inequalities, she warned. “It was the CEDAW convention that brought change,” she said, recalling inequalities that had existed in Japanese society in the 1970s, when she was in school. States should also take additional special measures to address multiple forms of discrimination that were suffered by some women.

To Ms. Gupta, the Chair wanted to know the key elements of quality education and what specific skills were most important in that regard.

Ms. GUPTA replied that quality education and skills development went hand in hand and both were essential. The emphasis should be as much on quality as on access to schools. Literacy and numeracy would allow women to take care of themselves and their families as adults, but more was needed. Girls must be free from fear at school, including in conflict zones. They must receive quality teaching and be taught to analyse, think critically and negotiate. Girls also needed technical and vocational skills, she said, adding that therein lay a major gap around the world.

Ms. GRABAR-KITAROVIĆ then asked Ms. Mancilla and Mr. OSETIMEHIN about “compelling evidence” that existed on the linkage between girls’ secondary education and health, and what types of policies and curricula were needed to enhance positive synergies in that regard.

In response, Ms. MANCILLA said that sexual and reproductive health education was critical, as it helped women make crucial decisions about their lives. In Latin America, the best way to reduce teen pregnancies was through quality education that was focused on strong family planning. States should empower women, including through mechanisms for participation in the design and monitoring of such educational policies. Education could give women the necessary tools to provide for their futures, she said.

Mr. OSETIMEHIN said that UNFPA supported partners around the world in providing for comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education, as well as resources such as HIV testing facilities. It was also leveraging technology such as mobile health platforms, so that health information was delivered directly and confidentially to young people. The Fund was also training community health workers in countries such as Guinea to use mobile platforms in treating Ebola, as well as handling other health issues. He highlighted a number of other UNFPA programmes, including partnerships with Planned Parenthood Global, youth organizations and other groups.

Asked about promising alternatives to formal education and training in reaching disadvantaged girls and women, and about UNESCO and UN-Women’s recent Mobile Learning Week 2015, Ms. BOKOVA said that the gap between formal and non-formal education should be bridged. Technological innovation should be tapped to help teach in new ways, and such alternative forms of education should not be considered as “second class”. States needed certification mechanisms to ensure that girls who had learned through informal channels could find good jobs. She stressed that mobile technologies alone did not empower, they only provided access. What empowered was the content of education, which must be of high quality and linked to the local context. Also critical was working with the most impoverished communities.

In response to a question about how the international community could ensure that the gains made in girls’ education were not jeopardized by intolerance and violent extremism, Ms. HAYASHI said that the increasing number of attacks on girls attempting to go to school was indeed an “alarming phenomenon”. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had recently launched a paper on the subject, which had revealed that such attacks were directly connected to stereotypical social norms and efforts to maintain existing hierarchy, among other factors. “They are representative of patriarchal systems of oppression,” she said in that connection. Member States should reinforce the implementation of legal obligations linked to girls’ rights to education, and enforce minimum age limits for leaving school and for entering into marriage. Countries also should investigate and punish incidents of violations of those laws.

To a question about the roles and responsibilities of her organization in addressing gender gaps in education, Ms. GUPTA said that education was one of UNICEF’s seven strategic priorities and a pillar of its Gender Action Plan. The Plan was focused on the second decade of girls’ lives, as it was then that the trajectory of girls’ lives often shifted due to family and social pressures. UNICEF worked with Governments and other partners to translate the right to quality education to reality. That required multisectoral programmes, child protection and curriculum development, among other elements. The principle of equity underpinned all of that work, she said, adding, “education is the best investment we can make”.

During the discussion that followed, delegates highlighted national and global achievements alongside outstanding challenges in addressing pressing issues, including that millions of school-age girls were not getting an education.

Describing the situation in her country, Svitlana Zalishchuk, a Member of Parliament in Ukraine, said that the last three years had seen progress in gender equality, including increases in women’s power and presence in the Government. However, the current humanitarian crisis was hampering further advances. Unfortunately, the focus was now not on equality, but on survival. As such, education must be addressed in a broader context, she said, regretting that many boys and girls in the eastern part of Ukraine remained out of school due to the crisis there.

Speakers also pointed to other obstacles that continued to impede gains in education. The representative of Ecuador, speaking for CELAC, said members were deeply concerned about femicide or violent gender-related killings of women and girls. Another concern was voiced by the representative of Canada, who pointed out that, while more girls were attending school, the quality of education was an issue.

Indeed, many speakers called education a critical key to progress. Expressing a widely held position, Indonesia’s representative said that investing in women and girls, including by providing quality education, had multiplier effects in society that spurred economic growth and progress on broader development goals.

Summing up a view heard throughout the day, Australia’s representative emphasized that, given the challenges facing women and girls around the world, the Beijing Platform for Action was as relevant today as it was two decades ago.

Also participating in the discussion were representatives of Qatar (speaking for the Gulf Cooperation Council), Costa Rica, Kazakhstan, Belgium, China, Maldives, Sweden, Panama, Morocco, Argentina, India, Cuba, Kuwait, Cyprus, Denmark, Philippines, Netherlands, Thailand, Republic of Korea, Japan, Norway, Singapore, Mexico, United Kingdom and Uruguay.

Also speaking were representatives of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
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