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Preparatory Meeting Holds Panel Debate on Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women


Setting of Targets and Time Limits Recommended; NGOs Call
for Fifth World Conference on Women in 2005

European Governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and agencies participating in a panel discussion this morning on "institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women" called for the setting of targets and time limits as a way of ensuring sufficient consideration of women's issues in Government and other decision-making institutions, and said more rhetoric than action had occurred on the issue so far.

The debate was part of a three-day Regional Preparatory Meeting on the 2000 Review of the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action which will conclude this afternoon. The gathering, organized by the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the UN Division for the Advancement of Women, the Council of Europe, and the European Commission, is intended to provide European input for a special session of the United Nations General Assembly entitled "Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-First Century" to be held in June in New York. The General Assembly will focus on progress made in the wake of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing five years ago.

Panellists on the topic of institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women were Vera Kosmik, Director of the Women's Policy Office of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia; Mieke Verloo, Professor of Women's Studies at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands; and Annette Lawson, Chairperson of the National Alliance of Women's Organizations, of the United Kingdom.

In her introductory remarks, Ms. Kosmik said, among other things, that national mechanisms for women's advancement should be established in all European nations and should be incorporated into the specific contexts of the countries concerned, but cautioned that institutional progress would take "years and years" and would require continuous pressure and monitoring by women's organizations.

Ms. Verloo told the meeting that policies for "gender mainstreaming" had been adopted by many European Governments, but not much action had followed, and it was time to move beyond rhetoric. She added that in a number of the region's newer democracies, Governments facing serious economic problems had claimed that gender issues would have to wait until later -- a worrisome attitude that had to be changed.

Ms. Lawson, speaking on behalf of NGOs attending the session, said that time-based targets should be set to measure institutional progress in achieving gender equality and that sufficient resources be provided to meet them. She said European NGOs were in favour of holding a Fifth World Conference on Women in the year 2005.

Also participating in the morning's debate were representatives of Finland; Ukraine; Assembly of First Nations; KARAT Coalition; Italy; France; Croatia; CHANGE; Sweden; Georgia; Israel; Kazakhstan; Women's World Foundation; Turkey; Belgium; Netherlands; Albania; Turkmenistan; Norway; Uzbekistan; Belarus; Azerbaijan; Spain; The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; and Action Canada for Population and Development.

The preparatory meeting will resume at 4 p.m. to adopt agreed conclusions for the European region to be forwarded to the General Assembly Special Session in June.

Introductory statements of panellists

VERA KOSMIK, Director of the Women's Policy Office of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia, said a great deal had been achieved in the five years since the Beijing Conference on women; the new democracies of eastern Europe had become more well-established and now were focusing on such matters as gender policy -- it was necessary that these democracies accept gender policy as an integral part of all their activities. Many obstacles and barriers blocked further progress, and these barriers varied from country to country. Clearly national mechanisms for women's advancement had to be incorporated into the specific contexts of the countries concerned; nonetheless, good practices from all regions and nations could and should be considered as the basis of a useful "common policy".

Some countries had, since Beijing, established ministries for the advancement of women. Other countries were less well-advanced. Slovenia had been the first former socialist country to set up a national mechanism for women's advancement; it had occurred as a result of pressure from women's groups. Since then, however, not much had happened to change the relative power of women in Government and society or to change traditional male-dominated attitudes. It was understood that thorough achievement of equality for women would take years and years and would require continuous pressure from women and women's groups -- at the moment, gender equality occupied a low position in the hierarchy of issues concerning the Slovenian Government.

MIEKE VERLOO, Professor of Women's Studies at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands, said it was time to move beyond rhetoric; Governments had to consider the impact on gender before they took decisions. Currently in the European region, that, unfortunately, did not happen. Gender mainstreaming had been adopted in all European Union countries and in several that were applying for EU membership, but few had carried out any real action to achieve gender mainstreaming. Other countries, however, amounting to half the nations of Europe, had not even adopted gender-mainstreaming strategies; these countries said that the focus now had to be on economic advancement, and that gender issues had to wait until later. That was a very worrisome attitude; gender mainstreaming had to be established now before political and institutional habits in these new democracies were set and women's points of view were left out.

NGOs could play a key role in working with Governments to establish support programmes and gender-mainstreaming strategies. Currently, even policies and Government programmes on such matters as transport, which might be considered gender-neutral, were, when studied, not gender-neutral; changing attitudes and Government policy-formation procedures was not easy and took time. For countries in transition, policies about restructuring of economies and for peace- and democracy-building were essential, it was also essential that they be subjected to a gender perspective. When critical areas had been identified, it was important to assign sufficient resources, and such resources should come from regular budgets. The next step was to set specific measures for progress: benchmarks and targets. It also had to be emphasized that gender-mainstreaming improved the overall quality of policies.

ANNETTE LAWSON, Chairperson of the National Alliance of Women's Organizations, of the United Kingdom, said recent years had seen enormous changes in political and economic organization in the ECE region, especially in the so-called countries in transition, and that such changes had not necessarily been positive for women; however, there also had been positive and exciting developments. For further progress towards achieving gender equality, it was necessary to muster sufficient political will, to focus more attention on gender-mainstreaming issues, and to allocate sufficient resources. Good practices also deserved to be studied and replicated; in several countries of central and eastern Europe, for example, consultations with NGOs had helped in the devising of effective national action plans.

Useful recommendations for progress included the setting of time-based goals and benchmarks -- gender-equality targets should be set to be met at all levels by specific dates. Civil-society dialogue also was helpful, especially when NGOs were given effective access to Governments and decision-makers. Institutional mechanisms and decision-making systems should be transparent to ensure public accountability, and gender-analysis of Government budgets was necessary. It also seemed necessary to the NGOs of the European region that there be a Fifth World Conference on Women in the year 2005. Only with such a conference could women's NGOs, Governments, and international institutions be brought together to continue progress towards gender equality.

YVES BERTHELOT, Executive Secretary of the ECE, adding to the debate, said the ECE would respond to the comments made at the meeting by emphasizing gender mainstreaming within its areas of competence, including such fields as statistics. The ECE's Conference of European Statisticians, for example, was where policies and practices were set on statistical compilation for the region, and this body would continue to concentrate on gender-based data.


A repeated theme in comments from the floor was that Governments in the new democracies of central and eastern Europe -- the "transition countries" -- needed advice, help, and even pressure to advance the institutional empowerment of women; these countries lacked experience in such concepts, speakers said, and traditional attitudes, especially in times of economic difficulty, were hard to change.

As with panel discussions earlier in the week, numerous national representatives described steps taken by their own Governments to set up institutional mechanisms for gender advancement and to spur and measure progress. It was noted repeatedly that continuous monitoring was required and that benchmarks and time-bound targets were necessary, or policies for gender advancement would languish. It also was stated that institutional change occurred slowly and that women and women's groups had to gird themselves for long, persistent campaigns to win lasting progress. Sufficient official funding had to be provided for Government gender-advancement programmes and policies, it was emphasized -- without money, little progress was achieved. Mentioned among national methods for achieving institutional progress were educational programmes on gender issues given to civil servants; employment of other countries' "best practices"; "partnerships" between Governments and NGOs; financial support for NGOs focusing on gender issues; and creation of NGO councils to work with Governments on policy setting.

Several NGO representatives said Governments had to stick to the commitments they had made in adopting the Beijing Platform for Action; they complained that to date Governments had broken their promises to implement the Platform and said the credibility of these Governments would be eroded if they did not put the Platform into effect.


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