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Empowering Women for Sustainable Development in the UNECE region

30 March 2011


Background Note


On the occasion of the 64th Session of the Economic Commission for Europe, UNECE organised a Roundtable Discussion on women in sustainable development. The Roundtable discussion was dedicated to the question of how women can be empowered to fully participate in identifying solutions, developing strategies and policies to achieve sustainable development.

Ms Malinka Koparanova, Senior Social Affairs Officer and Gender Focal Point at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe opened the discussion. She reminded participants of Principle 20 of the Rio Declaration in 1992 which states women’s vital role in environmental management and development and the essential need for their full participation in achieving sustainable development. Almost 20 years after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro women continue to be under-represented in decision-making in all realms of sustainable development: in the social and cultural spheres, in political and economic life and in environmental management and protection.

Ambassador Jean-François Kammer, in his keynote address on behalf of the Council of Europe, highlighted the need to fully implement equality principles and standards to ensure positive and lasting changes in the lives of women and men and bridge the gap between de jure and de facto equality. Key challenges to be met are (1) the status of equality as an integral part of the fundamental rights and a basic criterion for democracy, (2) equality as a factor in economic growth and social justice, and (3) the need to redefine the social roles of women and men in the absence of gender stereotyping. The Council of Europe’s Action Plan adopted in 2010 addresses these challenges and aims to deepen reflection on the role of equality standards and mechanisms such as positive action, gender mainstreaming and combating gender stereotypes in education and the media in the region. [Statement]

Irene Dankelman, Director of IRDANA Advice on Gender and Sustainable Development and Lecturer at the University of Nijmegen drew attention to the importance of taking the different needs and capacities of women and men into account in environmental protection and climate change agendas. She spoke about the important role of civil society organizations in encouraging and effecting gender mainstreaming environmental and sustainable development policies and strategies and proposed a concrete list of actions to promote environmental justice, sustainable development and gender equality in the UNECE region and beyond. [Statement]

Saniye Gülser Corat, Director of the Division for Gender Equality at UNESCO emphasised that the present scale of environmental pollution and inequalities that mark our societies are not sustainable. Ms. Corat highlighted three complementary challenges: first, how can we ensure that all citizens, both women and men, have the knowledge, attitudes and skills to allow them to make informed choices and responsible decisions? Second, how can women are empowered to reach the highest echelons in all domains of life? And third, how can we take an abstract idea such as gender equality, or sustainable development, and turn it into reality? Quoting Albert Einstein, she said that the answer is that “you cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must see the world anew”. To UNESCO, education is the way to see the world anew. [Statement]

Maryna Saprykina, Director of the Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility Development in Ukraine provided the corporate sector perspective to the discussion. She pointed to the very low number of women involved in economic decision-making in the UNECE region and argued that increasing the number of women in senior positions is key to economic stability and growth. There are a number of potential drivers for change. They include legislation, stakeholder demand, public initiatives such as awareness-raising campaigns and education and incentives such as certification processes, awards, taxes and public procurement. Sharing the Ukrainian experience, Ms. Saprykina reported on a Work-Life Contest organised in 2008 which awarded good organisational practice in the areas of work-family and work-life balance and gender equality. [Presentation]