U.N. Meet Holds Governments to Account on Women´s Equality
UNITED NATIONS -- In 2008, delegates meeting for the annual U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) agreed that much greater investments in women and gender equality were a critical – and overlooked – aspect of sustainable development.
By Mathilde Bagneres, IPS
Photo: Indigenous women queuing up in a village in Peru's Puno region; they and others require budgets and aid with a gender focus. Credit:Milagros Salazar/IPS
For example, according to UN Women, while the
gave 7.5 billion dollars in official development assistance to rural
development and the agricultural sector in 2008–2009, a mere three
percent was spent on programmes in which gender equality was a
principal objective, and only 32 percent to those in which gender
equality was a secondary objective.
Four years later, there has been some forward movement in a number of
countries, but in many others, progress remains slow and uneven, a
situation that is exacerbated by the ongoing global financial crisis.
Rural women continue to face limited access to productive resources,
such as agricultural inputs and technology; only five percent of
agricultural extension services are provided for women farmers.
As theCSWmeets again here from Feb 27
to Mar. 9, panellists from
around the world sat down Thursday 2 March to evaluate the evolution of
financing for gender equality and women's empowerment in their home
countries, and chart a way forward.
"It's time to promote gender equality and for that purpose we need a
change of paradigm, we definitely need to change our way of
thinking," said Maria Almeida, vice finance minister of Ecuador.
Dr. Ing Phavi, minister of women's affairs in Cambodia, cited a
series of measures taken by the Cambodian government that have proved
successful in enhancing gender equality across different areas.
"In Cambodia, in the context of a public administration reform, the
prime minister has launched a major drive in 2008 to address the
gender imbalance in the public administration," she said.
As a result of extensive promotion across ministries and affirmative
action policies, the number of female civil servants increased by 34
percent. At the sub-national level, more women were appointed as
deputy governors or heads of government departments.
"In education, gender disparity has been eliminated in the primary
and lower secondary education," she noted. "Remarkably, with the
focus on training and deploying female teachers, the female ratio at
the primary level reached 46 percent in 2009/2010."
However, fewer girls than boys continue on to get a higher education.
Asked what more needs to be done, Phavi told IPS, "The most important
thing to understand is that gender equality is a government policy
and it has to mainstream the poverty reduction strategy.
"Poverty reduction means taking care of growth, trade, agriculture
development, well-being in terms of health, education and so on," she
said. "Gender is already inside all sectors so it should be part of
the poverty reduction strategy."
Mohammed Chafiki, director of studies and financial forecasts for the
ministry of economy and finance in Morocco, spoke about Morocco's
transition to equal rights and liberties for men and women.
In April 2011, the country ratified the Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), a key
instrument often described as an international bill of rights for
Morocco also adopted a new constitution in July that included many
articles which expressly enshrined gender equality. For example,
Article 19 affirms that men and women have equal civil, political,
economic, cultural and environmental rights and liberties.
"In Morocco, we now need to continue the institutional reform. We are
reforming our financial laws so it integrates gender considerations
irreversibly," Chafiki told IPS.
"But in order to move forward with gender equality, it is not all
about the government. Local communities will also have to take
concrete actions," he said.
"To finance gender equality and women empowerment, we also need
partnerships. We need partnerships with the private sector, with
NGOs, with governments, of course, and we need international
Chafiki cited significant progress in reducing educational
disparities as one of the country's primary achievements.
"In 2010/2011, 96.3 percent of the girls from six to 11 years old are
sent to school," he said.
Gerhard Steger, director general of budget for the ministry of
finance in Austria, explained how the government now integrates
gender considerations into budgets.
The concept of gender responsive budgeting (GRB) was included in a
comprehensive budget reform package that was unanimously adopted by
parliament. It features a medium-term expenditure framework, accrual
budgeting and accounting and performance budgeting.
"First of all, we transformed our budget from a traditional steering
instrument of resources, asking the question 'who gets what?', into a
comprehensive instrument for resources and results," Steger told IPS.
"So we ask two questions: who gets what, and who has to deliver what
for public management," he added.
"We ask each and every ministry to define no more than five top
objectives for the ministry, which are part of the budget decision in
parliament, and at least one of those objectives has to be a gender
"Gender is directly interpreted into the performance budgeting
process in Austria. Therefore every ministry has to contribute - with
Steger stressed crucial lessons that can be drawn from the Austrian
"To make GRB a success, the design needs to be simple and focused on
the most important aspects. If the design is too complex, GRB will
very likely be a failure," he said.
"We also have to make gender relevant and thus integrate it into the
budget and to create awareness for gender issues to convince decision
makers to support GRB."
While national governments must take the lead, key agencies like UN
Women are also working hard to steer funds into gender-oriented
On Thursday, UN Women announced it will give out 10.5 million dollars
in grants to organisations working to advance economic and political
empowerment of women in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America
and the Caribbean, and Europe and Central Asia.
The grants will start at 200,000 dollars for initiatives that "make
tangible improvements in the lives of women and girls, from enabling
women candidates to run for office, to managing resources to support
themselves and their families."
"At this moment of historic change, we cannot afford to leave women
out. These grants will advance women’s efforts to achieve greater
economic and political equality during this time of transition," said
Michelle Bachelet, executive director for UN Women.
Since its creation in 2009, the Fund has invested a total of 43
million dollars in 40 countries around the world for projects working
for gender equality.
Women Still Trapped Below Glass Ceiling of Party Politics
UNITED NATIONS -- The right of women to participate in political life is
guaranteed by several international conventions, but
transforming an abstract right into a reality requires hard
work on the ground, says a new study released here.
By Thalif Deen, IPS
Published jointly by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) and the
National Democratic Institute (NDI) for
International Affairs, the
118-page report points out that although 40 to 50 percent
of political parties globally are women, only about 10 percent hold
positions of leadership.
And "with less than 20 percent of the world's parliamentary seats
occupied by women," says UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, "it is clear
that political parties need to do more - and should be assisted in
those efforts - to support women's political empowerment."
Photo: For a long time, Zambian women's participation in politics has ended at voting. Credit:Richard Mulonga/IPS
Titled "Empowering Women for Stronger Political Parties", the study
aims to provide a good practices guide to promote women's political
participation, and includes 20 case studies covering countries such
as Burkina Faso, El Salvador, Indonesia, Morocco, Spain, Timor-Leste,
UK and the United States.
"If we want to promote democracy and empower women politically, we
must engage, not bypass, political parties," UNDP Gender Team
Director Winnie Byanyima told IPS.
Unless women lead political parties, they will not lead governments,
said Byanyima, a former Ugandan parliamentarian and diplomat.
Globally, the proportion of women ministers in governments is lower,
averaging about 16 percent. And the proportion of women heads of
state and government is lower still, and has declined in recent
years, standing at less than five percent in 2011.
"The low numbers continue in the face of three decades of lobbying
and efforts by the international community to eliminate
discrimination and empower women," the study notes.
And this despite the fact the United Nations recognised the central
role of women in development by including the empowerment of women as
one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) back in 2000.
"Yet no region in the world is on track to achieve the target of 30
percent women in decision-making positions," the study says.
Although some notable exceptions and good practices in this area are
discernible, several bottlenecks remain to women's full and equal
participation as contestants, the study asserts.
According to the latest statistics released by the Inter-
Parliamentary Union (IPU) and U.N. Women Thursday, the number
women as heads of state or government stands at 18 out of 193
The UNDP/NDI guidebook singles out some of the strategies to be
followed during elections, such as training and mentoring women
candidates and ensuring women's visibility in campaigns.
The NDI says it has worked with more than 720 political parties and
organisations in over 80 countries to create more open political
environments in which men and women can actively participate in the
"We hope this guide will contribute to this effort," says NDI
President Ken Wollack.
In the pre-election phase, recruiting and nominating candidates is
probably the most crucial process for ensuring that women participate
in politics. But the gender gap widens significantly as candidates
for political office move from being eligible to becoming aspirants,
to finally being nominated by the party, the study points out.
"It is important for parties to incorporate rules that guarantee
women's representation," it says.
When this commitment is unwritten and informal, "it is much more
difficult to devise strategies for women to break into the inner
circle of power, and harder to hold the party accountable when the
commitment is not realized."
And if a party's internal organisation is weak and the rules for
recruitment are not clear, "decisions tend to be made by a limited
number of elites, usually men."
As examples of affirmative action, the study cites several examples.
One political party in Canada has a candidate recruitment committee
to ensure diversity in candidate selection. In Costa Rica, one of the
political parties alternates men and women candidates on electoral
In El Salvador, a multi-sectoral association offers training in
communications and organising skills that help women become more
effective in their political work both inside and outside of
In South Africa, women party members pushed for changes to the
parliamentary calendar to accommodate parliamentarians with families,
and also pushed for debates to finish earlier in the evening to
accommodate parliamentarians with families, and for childcare
facilities to be put in place.
In India, the national executive committee of the Bhatariya Janata
Party (BJP) amended its constitution in 2008 to reserve 33 percent of
the party's leadership positions for women and make the chief of the
national women's branch a member of the party's central election
In Germany, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) adopted a 33 percent
quota for party officials in 1996. And if the quota is not met, the
internal elections must be repeated.
Published by: Magne Ove Varsi