• English

Geneva, 14 December 2004
Statement by Mrs. Brigita Schmögnerová,
Executive Secretary

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to welcome all of you to the UNECE Regional Preparatory Meeting on the 10-year Review of the Beijing Platform for Action. The number of delegations, both from member States and international organizations, as well as the large presence of NGOs is a clear demonstration of a region-wide concern for a thorough review of the implementation of the commitments taken in Beijing, with a focus on those which are of particularly high relevance to the UNECE region. It also expresses the willingness, both at the policy level and within civil society, to identify key challenges and further action needed for promoting gender equality in the region.

This review is important in itself as the assessment made and the forward-looking conclusions drawn will be of direct use by member countries. But it is also important as a way to bring the regional perspective into the global review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. In this context I would like to thank the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Division for the Advancement of Women for their support and excellent cooperation with the UNECE secretariat. I take this opportunity to congratulate Mrs. Rachel N. Mayanja for her recent appointment by the Secretary-General as Special Advisor for Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women.

This Meeting is the third milestone related to the Beijing process in the UNECE region, coming after the UNECE Preparatory Meeting in Vienna, November 1994, and the Beijing +5 Meeting in Geneva, January 2000. We are now building upon these meetings as they provided an excellent model of cooperation between civil society, governments, UNECE and other international organizations active on gender issues in our region. In particular, the Beijing + 5 event provided a useful framework to undertake specific actions in priority areas of concern in the region, as defined in the agreed conclusions of the Meeting.

Looking back to this history, I would like to remember Ms. Pastizzi-Ferencic, former Deputy Executive Secretary, who passed away a year ago and who opened the door to this series of events as well as to the process of gender mainstreaming within UNECE.

As you know a basic feature of the region is its diversity. Most countries of the UNECE region have made progress in the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. However, the speed and areas of progress are significantly uneven among countries and sub-regions. Some countries are well advanced in promoting gender mainstreaming and gender equality while in others, gender equality is only emerging as a concern and policy concept. For these countries in particular, the Beijing Platform and the agreed conclusions of the Beijing +5 Meeting provided a useful road map for increasing awareness on key gender issues and for initiating measures in order to address them. Speeding up the effective implementation of these measures and complementing them by new action emerging from the changing context of the region constitute a major challenge for the coming years.

Beyond uneven progress, all countries share similar areas of concern and similar problems in promoting gender equality. These concerns are reflected in the main themes of our conference, that is: women and economy; institutional mechanisms for gender equality; and trafficking in the context of migration.

I would like to highlight a number of key concerns and challenges related to these themes. Firstly, most countries remain concerned about poverty - especially among single mothers and older women - unemployment and inadequate social protection. Secondly, violence is another key concern for all countries in the UNECE region as they face widespread domestic violence and increased trafficking in women, which has economic roots. Thirdly, there is still much to be done to improve national mechanisms for gender equality, which suffer from limited resources, isolation from line ministries in many countries, and instability related to political changes.

These challenges have to be seen in a broader context, both at the economic and the political levels. In the economic sphere, globalisation and regional integration create an obligation to make UNECE economies more competitive. The most comprehensive programme in this respect is defined by the Lisbon Strategy for EU members. This goal is, however, also very relevant to the countries with transition economies, which are going through an extensive process of transformation. To reach this goal of improved competitiveness while maintaining social cohesion and reducing poverty, countries and groups of countries have to take new approaches in economic thinking and policies but also in reforms of welfare systems. Concerning the latter, it has to be underlined that gender equality has only been a marginal concern in such reform processes. This constitutes therefore a major challenge for the future: without aligning economic and social issues with a gender perspective, a number of commitments taken at Beijing will be seriously at risk. Similarly, without rethinking institutional frameworks and policies which are still based on the man as breadwinner and do not take into consideration the relationship between paid and unpaid work, the objective of women’s economic and social empowerment can be hampered.

In the political and institutional sphere, the 10-year review takes place in a situation of continued instability in a number of new democracies within the UNECE region, affected by conflicts and post-conflict situations, massive migratory movements between and within countries, hundreds of thousands of displaced people, and the growing threat of terrorism. It also takes place in a new geopolitical situation reflecting the EU expansion to include 10 new member countries. This creates new opportunities, but also raises threats of new dividing lines between EU and non-EU members.

Against this overall background UNECE has a special function to assume as it provides a region-wide platform for exchanging experiences and good practices among all groupings of countries, and for initiating various forms of cooperation and solidarity in this wide geographical perspective.

In addition to this catalytic role, UNECE has developed a number of gender-related activities which correspond to its mandated areas of work. This includes forums and meetings on women’s entrepreneurship, the development of gender statistics and the creation of a website in this area, as well as policy analysis work. Concerning the latter, the Economic Survey of Europe regularly reviews trends on women in the labour market and a Regional Symposium on mainstreaming gender into economic policies was organized in January 2004. I have to emphasize that this is in line with a major global UN mandate, asking all UN organizations, including the regional commissions, to introduce the gender perspective into their areas of work. The reform of the UNECE in 1997 confirmed this direction by considering gender mainstreaming as a concern which should cut across all its activities. UNECE has a strong will to comply with this requirement of its member States, although resources are very limited.

I would like to thank UNDP, UNIFEM, the Council of Europe, OSCE and the European Commission, which provided support to this meeting, in terms of substance or in financing the participation of governmental representatives and of NGOs from countries with transition economies. I thank the governments of Switzerland and Germany which have financially supported the Meeting, and the participation of representatives from economies in transition.

Finally, I would like to congratulate the organizers of the NGO Forum, as well as all the NGOs which have prepared their presence at this meeting. The establishment of thematic caucuses leading to common statements on behalf of the NGO community on each agenda item is a particularly efficient way of making the voice of civil society heard. We are also pleased to give visibility to the conclusions of the NGO Forum as they will constitute an Annex to the official report of the Meeting, together with the Chairperson’s conclusions.

I am convinced that during these two days we shall have a very rich debate. This dialogue will eventually feed the Chairperson’s conclusions which will constitute the UNECE contribution to the Special Session of the Commission on the Status of Women for the global review in March next year.

I wish you every success in this meeting