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Economics of Gender Architecture

54 Commission on Status of Women ~ Beijing +15

 United Nations New York 2010

 

Shaila Rao Mistry  

 

Being a delegate to Beijing +15 and 54 Commission on Status of Women was an extraordinary privilege, particularly if you had participated in the 1995 Women’s World Conference in Beijing, as I was able to do. The CSW provides a window of experience to the intensity of our movement through the highly charged lens of a global perspective of current efforts; and initiatives across the 191 member states. This year was particularly special as it commemorates the 15 years of passion and fervor of almost 4000 woman who attended the CSW in a crescendo call to action. Everyone seeking only to bring their experiences to the table, proud to showcase the advances in their country, but at the same time impatient to speed up the pace of progress.  Wanting to share and learn and exchange ideas in order to speed up the process of change.  Lending support where it was needed, offering resources and mentoring to each other without the barriers of culture or language, age race or religion. We were all united in our determination to make the world a better place.

Women in Parliament ECOSOC meeting

About the UN CSW           

The Commission on the Status of Women CSW, established in 1946, is a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), dedicated exclusively to gender equality and the advancement of women's rights in political, economic, civil, social and educational fields. Every year, representatives of 45 Member States gather at United Nations Headquarters in New York to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify the challenges that face us all and, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and the advancement of women worldwide.  It is the principal global policy-making body in the World.

Following the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, the General Assembly mandated the Commission to integrate into its program the following  

1.       A follow-up process to the Conference,

2.       Make recommendations to the Council on urgent problems requiring immediate attention in the    field of women's rights.

3.       Regularly review the critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action

4.       Develop a catalytic role in mainstreaming a gender perspective in United Nations activities.

5.       Identify emerging issues, trends and new approaches to issues affecting equality between women and men.

The CSW is a crash course in understanding the big picture of how nations to come together to discuss and plan policy that ultimately will become a moral and ethical standard for all countries to ratify ad adopt.  It is a glimpse of the legislative state of affairs in your home country and abroad. It is an exhibition of policy development and the tally of the blood sweat and tears of grass root work and perspectives of women all over the world.  It is a patient and resplendent honoring of all women from a myriad the cultures. It is above all the recognition of the work that has been put in by our foremothers who paved the road for us the old fashioned way, one brick at a time, and those who today continue to do so. Thank you to you all!

NGO’s at the CSW

The NGO/CSW/NY was founded in 1975, with the primary objective of advocate to Member States and the UN for the adoption of programs and policies that will advance the economic, political, legal, health and educational status of women worldwide and to promote women’s rights and gender equality on a global basis and across all cultures.

Representing 80 organizations NGO/CSW provides information on programs, policies and advocacy that are making a difference in the lives of the world’s women and to facilitate the efforts of women and men, girls and boys, to develop more effective strategies and broad partnerships to empower women and promote the human rights and gender equality of every woman, everywhere.

Each year NGO organizes the NGO Forum Consultation Days in preparation for the two week UN CSW sessions that take place in February and March.  This way it manages to bring together activists from around the world and provides a venue for effective networking, allowing for the sharing of unique strategies and best practices in lobbying governments and encouraging them to implement resolutions; honor treaties they have signed and to allocate necessary resources. It also enables a caucus to come together to issue joint statements and provide wording for the Agreed Conclusions of the annual UN CSW.  This year the work was particularly effective and shall no doubt be commended in the report on parallel events and impressions to be presented in an upcoming paper.

CSW UN Assembly sittings

This year’s CSW went directly into the Assembly meetings with detailed country reports, each presented by high level national representatives. Opening remarks were made by senior members such as Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues, who gave a well researched and brief overview of the current state of gender parity around the globe.

Unlike previous years, the Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon gave his inaugural speech at the celebration of the International Women’s day. He was very encouraging in his support of women's issues and made mention that as a father of daughters he agreed that women must have the same possibilities open to them as men.

With 181 countries represented, these sittings heard the country reports, each in turn  recounting  the achievements made in their homelands and but also lamenting the distance yet to be covered. Some countries like Finland have achieved a great deal , whilst  smaller Island states  are still struggling to recognize the dignity and rights of women to have the choice of what occurs in their bodies and to have political standing.

Over all, the economically stronger and better educated countries have seen better progress, while the developing countries are still struggling to make inroads with the problems. Keep in mind, a gain may seem small by citizens of the developed countries  where in fact they can represent a huge milestone of progress in another. Whilst some perceived large gains in the north may have no congruence to the southern hemispheres.  Hence perspectives of progress involve both a cultural macro and micro understanding of the impact of each achievement. Following the protocol of due respect to all cultures and countries, and with so many proud nations presenting updates, this report will not name them individually. Over all the following themes of success and challenges were presented.

Critical development:  GEAR

Begun in 2006 the Gender Architecture Reform gathered steam at the 50th CSW when there was a growing recognition that women need to be in high decision making places. See authors report on “ Women in High Decision  Making Places “ Commensurate with this is the need for a women’s entity at that UN level with full authority and privileges on all matters pertaining to women’s issues. NGOs across the globe worked tirelessly to formulate and advance this campaign and in subsequent years may well have paved the way for it to culminate in the soon to be formed “Entity”.

At the inaugural opening ceremony on International Woman’s Day the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, called on governments to take action to create the entity without further delay. On March 4 the UN was filled with a sea of enthusiastic women wearing the signs  “GEAR UP NOW!” and a similar sign was hung in the balcony on the day of his speech as part of the UN official observance this day .

This CSW focused on advancing the GEAR campaign through both civil society and governmental support and bring full pressure for the formation of the new Entity, so referred to as it does not as yet have assigned name. The goal is to have all the steps of the informal discussion on the System Wide Coherence SWC resolution written and presented in the GA session ending June 2010 and have the final approval by September which is the end of this GA session. Already over 60 countries from all regions are in support of the new gender architecture. China and the G 77 countries are also in support.  The resolution is anticipated to pass the end of this GA session in time for the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Summit review in September, but there are still a number of important details to be resolved. 

Now, the GEAR Campaign’s greatest concern is not whether the entity will be created but WHAT will be created.  NGO’ have been very vocal on this matter and in packed parallel events at this 54 session and since 2006 have formulated and outlined proposals for the entity. Whilst continued discussion has been taking place at all levels NGO’ have made the following absolutes made known with resounding clarity.

1.       Timing: The entity is created now and not be delayed until all other matters at the UN are solved.

2.      Effective and operational: The entity expected to have some teeth which translate into real authority with sanctions and privileges. The entity should be the driver in the UN System for women’s empowerment and gender equality with strong country level operational capacity to hold the system accountable for gender mainstreaming as well as able to engage in its own programmatic work and to support governmental and NGO work at all level

3.       Entity is well funded with  $500 million to $ 1 billion US dollars

4.       Recruitment for the head is clear and accessible and transparent and should be drawn from global applicants through open global search. And that it be a woman. Over all, the economically stronger countries have seen a better progress while the developing countries are still struggling to make some inroads.

5.       Civil Society Participation: Civil society is recognized for its role and continues to provide the expertise on the needs of women on governing body and as well CS advisory body at global and regional and national level.

Overall gains across the globe

When addressing us at the CSW Secretary of State Hilary Clinton described the 19 century as the time of the struggle for freedom from slavery. The 20 century as a surge for freedom from totalitarianism, she is optimistic the 21 century will be the one where we gain major success on women’s rights. Within this perspective we can say that a lot of gains have been made in every field of education, economics, politics, health and community.  Women’s rights and human dignity has been advanced in many respects.

On an optimistic note, the presentation of the country reports clearly showed many advances for women in education, economics and general conditions. Yet as feminists we realize that our gains are still miniscule when we considering against the goals that are yet to be reached and further MDGs and BPFA yet not touched.

Without going into the actual statics and details country by country and region by region, the following is a brief over view of the progress and the challenges yet to come. The most impressive factor from all these Nation State reports is to note the cumulative effort that is being exercised across the globe at all levels by so many in the march towards gender parity and the amelioration of women’s condition and environment. Indeed the efforts of improving women’s issues have never been greater. The following is a balance sheet in summary.

CEDAW

The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) the international human rights treaty that is exclusively devoted to gender equality.  Adopted on 18 December 1979 by the UN General Assembly, and described as an international bill of rights for women. Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, defines discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.

Thirty years after its creation CEDAW has reached almost universal ratification with 186 countries signing the declaration. Exceptions still include the US.  Secretary of State Hilary Clinton clearly stated that CEDAW was a priority for President Obama and his administration. NGO’s and the women’s movement in the US have worked long and hard and are gratified to know that we are getting closer to US ratification. This support was later confirmed by Ambassador Rice at US Mission briefings. So we look forward to CEDAW becoming a reality in the US

Economic independence

Economic independence for women lies at the root of female dignity. Legislation and monetary support has gone a long way to diminish discrimination and the gender inequality we witnessed 20 years ago. Changes at governmental level through legislation has improved accessibility and opportunity for women at all levels across the across globe. Government, mega corporations and small employers are in general required by law to put policies in place that recognize gender equality in their employment and advancement to higher ranks. Models of micro finance have extended options of economic independence to new aspirants of micro entrepreneur’s models of economy. Once again there is change in mind set recognizing the role of women’s economic contribution to the family, community and economy. Perhaps this could be the result of the increasing need for two income families. Perhaps it is the result of the better education that we spoke of earlier that is enabling women to enter the formal economy. Again is this enough? More of this in upcoming reports .

It is striking to note the vast inroads that women have made in all sorts of remote places and against all adversity to gain economic independence. This may seem small by western standards, when in fact the gains made by them are massive. At the other spectrum, we have many examples of women leading nation states as the countries first women prime minister or parliamentarian. The growth of Women CEO s is also another growing trend.

Only since 2006 are we hearing and seeing an invitation to participate for women from the private sector. For many years I personally was a closet woman entrepreneur at the UN. Slowly bit by bit I have seen an increasing recognition of the contribution and worth of women in the private sector recognized for their valor and contribution in the private sector. This year there were several venues where this was discussed and applauded. Finally, there is growing respect at the UN and CSW and at NGO level for Women in Private sector particularly entrepreneurs for their direct contribution in creating jobs and raising the dignity of women.

Education

Taken as a general trend, more girls and women are entering into and receiving education. Statistics across the nations and across the levels of primary and secondary levels show that. The gains are particularly significant in many African states and in India and China. These gains are particularly significant when considered against the back ground of culture socio economic and political conditions that prevail. The bias is in favor of the western nations that have better representation of girls at all levels including the higher levels. At university level in fact we are seeing that in The Americas and Europe women have in some case surpassed men in the several fields including Science and technology. In countries such as India and China we are seeing that more and more women are, are entering non traditional fields such as engineering. This is also reflected in the increasing numbers of women entering the workforce particularly at professional level

Aside from the trends there is an impressive effort at all levels to enable the education of girl. There is a growing shift to a perspective that recognizes the value of education of girls and women. More time and resources are being invested in understanding the needs of girls and providing appropriate education. More girls are reaching higher education and there is in some countries better participation in higher education by girls. Particularly as result of the improved availability of disaggregated date. Is this enough?

Violence against Women. 

Never has there been more effort by governments, educational and world organizations and individuals to increase and prevent violence against women. This fact was brought our by all the country reports as well as the high level and NGO level discussions. Despite all these efforts across the board since B+15 this CSW has demonstrated that Violence against women continues to be pan endemic.

Trafficking continues to grow, particularly in the light of global economic recession where women are sold as commodities more than ever before. The use of the internet has enabled such practices to flourish with more vigor. In the chilling words of one such perpetrator it is said that

“Drugs and bullets can be used only once but a women can be use over and over “. Trafficking is still a third largest income producing for illegal trade.  

Rape as instrument of war continues in such horrific proportions and in forms that the use of bayonets and rifles to rape is commonplace. 

FGM in certain countries and cultures continues to prevail causing serious health issues for young girls, often resulting in permanent health damage and even death.

Widows, displaced women were identified to be a growing population as we witness war stricken parts of the globe needing special attention .This is a hidden population that is in a sense lost in the blur of socio cultural mores and the tragedy of conflict and war. This year we saw greater attention from NGOs and the CSW to this growing group.

Women in labor takes on a new meaning when viewed within the context women labor both in the formal and informal markets in the developing nations. On a visit to one such nation Secretary Clinton was informed that “women’s labor does not count”. Why? Simply because they are not visible on the balance sheet’ of the companies or the economy.

Climate change

Gender implication of climate change was a recurring theme in this year CSW. It is an eye opener for understanding that women plant the seed , they water the crops, the harvest the produce, they package the food, they earn for the family, the cook the food and they raise the population that will maintain and lead the land yet they are considered to be ‘non contributory. All of these contributions are increasingly harder as the ravages of climate take their toll. Members’ with climate change we are learning how much more women are affected in the daily lives.

UN Assembly Member State Reports 

High level panels require a higher level clearing and attendance is possible only with special tickets. These panels are held at the ECOSOC level and are a unique opportunity to witness presentations at senior government and elected officials. Presentations are generally more open and discursive sharing of current and emerging issues in each county. They are generally theme related. This year a very relevant theme which is cousin to the issue of women in high decision making places?  Efforts on this commenced in 2006 when the Agreed conclusions were discussed and supported in full participation by the theme caucuses, also named Women in High Decision Making. The following is the report on the Women in Parliament.

It was reported that there are more women at high legislative and decision making positions than ever before particularly as parliamentarians: enabling a voice in policy making. But what does this look like within the context of gender equality.

Parliaments have a very significant role in Enforcing Gender Equality and Women rights particularly as a model platform for women in high decision making places. The Inter Parliamentary Union met in Europe earlier this year to discuss the progress and set backs of women in the arena. Despite the progress made by some Nordic countries over all the critical mass of women in parliaments is no where near accomplished. Of the 189 parliaments only 18.8 % are Women a very small growth from the 11.8 %. Sweden has 42 % representation in the Houses with Asia and Middle East having the fewest. Of the 71 countries polled most countries have less than 10 %  women so overall  We have very few women heads of State or of Governments  or heads of Parliament .So after 15 year after Beijing  and the goals and target of the Special ECOSOC meeting held at the time , progress has been slow 

A major stumbling block to increased participation is the mindset that currently prevail the participation women in Parliament. This is the underwriting belief that other goals of achievement have to be reached before the gender equality issue I can be addressed i.e. economic development has to be accom0lisde first before women claim gender parity. In this respect The High Level Panel on women in Parliaments brought many key points to the forefront including the resounding statement that women cannot wait to reach a reach critical mass in parliament before we make difference.

Different methodologies were adopted by different nation states in achieving gender parity in their own parliaments. These included

1.       Adoption of Quota Systems

2.       Increased Political accessibility:

3.       Availability of Women Candidates.

4.       Change in belief that Male is the natural leader.

5.       Shift in norms having women on the team at high levels is seen as added stature. in expectation

Where have we not reached the goals?

Despite all these advances we have a very long way to go .Over all The Millennium Development Goals have not been reached. Over all the Beijing Platform for Action have not been reached. Further we are not even close to many of the goals including maternal health education and violence and poverty. Women in the western nation states have and are already at higher levels of gender parity yet they too are impatient for a full participation at all decision making places. Women in the developing nations have made some major inroads and should be applauded for their advances but they still have the majority of the work ahead of them. Quite succinctly the following are the long list that enumerates the goals that have not been met.

·         Women are under represented in higher levels of decision making in corporate structure and governments and education

·         Violence against women remains pan endemic

·         Women are not included in peace building discussions

·         Education of women at all levels needs to exponential improvement

·         MDG 5 has seen the least progress on improving maternal health

·         Climate change has caused havoc on women:

·         Economically women work is still hidden in the :informal economy

·         Informal economy expanding faster than the formal: in some countries

·         .There is still discriminating against women.

·         Economic crisis has created many disproportionate effects on girls

Conclusion: Where do we go from here? 

There are many questions that remain unanswered in the evaluation of the progress made on the Beijing +15 evaluations.  It was universally agreed by all participating member states that we have not reached the goals either on the BPFA or on the MDG’s. Yet all member states have recognized the considerable efforts and attention that the women’s issues are receiving.

Many questions need to be restated and addressed, the primary one is - what are the factors that have hindered progress of women issues .In response the following are some of the factors

Factors that hinder progress

·         Insufficient role of parliamentarians play a key role in implementing and action for B+15

·         Woman continue to be under represented in decision making process

·         Women continue to bear a large burden on unpaid work in the informal economy

·         Pursuit of the Beijing agenda has progressed with little involvement of men

·         Lack of substantive legal frameworks

·         Gender stereotyping: leading to occupation segregation

·         Lack of Gender equality and strategies to help redress the balance

·         Lack of changes in recruitment systems

·         Women underrepresented in peace building

·         Violence against women a growing problem

What can you do?

Much progress has been made over the years through the determined efforts of non-governmental organizations in partnership with Member States and the United Nations. Yet, the implementation of the commitments made to women at world conferences, through treaty obligations, and at international gatherings is far from being fully achieved, particularly when these promises are laid out in national and local settings.

No report is complete without finally asking ourselves what we can do. As members, as an ECOSOC organization, as members of other NGO’s and as community and civil advocates we can do a great deal.  Each one of us makes a difference at many levels and we have seen that at the CSW. Some of the reports below really high light the efforts in other member states. Over all we can and need to work with a multi prong approach.

We can work at grass root level to touch people lives.

We can and must work at the Decision making level.

We can join efforts and work at thematic level and also at the Issue level.

I urge all of you to join us in our joint mission to raise awareness on women’s issues locally and globally. We also invite and look forward to your efforts in a passionate goal of making the world a better place for all our sisters

If you would like further information, please contact me at:   [email protected]


Shaila Rao Mistry is a Fellow of The Business Forum Institute and is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Jayco Interface Technology, Inc.  She holds a B.S. in Social Sciences from London University; a Masters in Social Policy & Administration from the London School of Economics; a Law & Social Sciences double Masters from Brunel University, London and a Masters in Clinical Psychology from London University. She is also a Fellow of the Public Policy Women's Foundation of California Policy Institute.  She has spoken on a variety of issues at United Nations Summits in Geneva, London, Ottawa, Perth, Tunisia and New York.  She has also addressed the House of Commons (Parliament) in London, United Kingdom. Recognitions include the prestigious Marco Polo Award as Entrepreneur of the Year Award by the Asian Business Association of Orange County. Top 20 Women to Watch recognition Orange County Metro; South Asian Business woman of the year award from the South Asian Business Association Network. She has also been featured in several prominent journals in America and Europe.  Shaila speaks eleven languages; she was born in India, educated in England and now resides in California in the United States.


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