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International Women’s Day: 8 March 2009

arton795“Women and Men United to End Violence against Women and Girls” was this year’s theme of International Women’s Day – observed each year on 8 March. This year’s theme was chosen to support United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s multi-year campaign to “UNite to End Violence against Women,” which he launched in February 2008.

International Women’s Day, adopted by a UN General Assembly resolution in 1977 as a day for Women’s Rights and International Peace, acknowledges that women play an important role in securing peace and social progress and that they deserve equal rights in terms of development, equity and active participation.

Worldwide various activities were organized to commemorate the Day. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in his statement warned that violence against women is an abomination and called for unification and change as “violence against women cannot be tolerated, in any form, in any context, in any circumstance, by any political leader or by any government.” Other keynote speakers were Aja Isatou Njie Saidy, Vice President and Secretary of State for Women’s Affairs of the Republicof the Gambia, Maria del Rocio Garcia Gaytan, President of the National Women’s Institute of Mexico, and Tanya Plibersek, Minister for the Status of Women of Australia. The opening was followed by panel discussions, a theatre performance and several side events.

UN-NGLS: Financial Crisis Workshop: Policy Issues and Priorities

The current debates on reforming the international financial architecture are prominent in the international agenda. Women’s rights organizations and networks are generating proposals for a range of policies and governance mechanisms that respond to the crisis and at the same time advance women’s empowerment and promote gender equality. To celebrate International Women’s Day and in cooperation with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the Women’s Working Group on Financing for Development, NGLS hosted a workshop on 5 March on the sidelines of the current session of the CSW that gave space to these very issues and featured presentations from representatives of women’s organizations. To access the presentations, click here. A full summary will be made available soon.

ILO: Work and family: The way to care is to share!

On 6 March, the International Labour Organization (ILO) celebrated International Women’s Day with a panel discussion that focussed on “Work and family: The way to care is to share!” – based on overwhelming evidence that a level playing field at work, for women and men, can only be achieved by an equitable sharing of unpaid work in the home and family.

The panel brought together speakers from diverse backgrounds, including Bibata Niandou Barry, the Minister of Women’s Promotion and Child Protection (Niger); David Loughman, Managing Director of A/S Norske Shell (Norway); and Francisca Jimenez, Managing Director of AMUSSOL CASC and Vice-chair of the Womens Committee, Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (Dominican Republic).

Maraa Angelica Ducci (Executive Director of the ILO Director Generals Office) opened the panel by noting that both men and women stand to gain by sharing the burden of the invisible work performed in the home and for the family. This could translate into deeper relationships within the immediate family. Minister Barry noted that 1 out of 3 women in Niger are poor and working hours per day often range from 16 to 17 hours. She noted a number of difficulties that she had encountered throughout her career as a woman, suggesting also that her husband had always assumed an active role in sharing domestic tasks and childcare, which had helped her in her career path.

Mr. Loughmann highlighted the deep need for equal opportunities for men and women in order to prosper, and noted the importance of sharing all household and care tasks and doing them together. On women in the workplace, he stressed the need to promote the role of women as leaders, noting also their capacity to create a different dynamic in the workplace setting. In addition, he called for leadership for diversity, for a minimum of two women in a team and for senior men to become role models in “caring is sharing.”

Ms. Jimenez noted that both of her parents worked in the informal sector and when she was 14 she began working in a sugar cane factory. Early on she joined the Catholic Youth Workers and became a trade unionist in order to claim workers’ rights. She briefly described the political history of her country and the struggle women had in ensuring their rights were respected. She stressed the importance of trade unions reaching out to women who are working in the informal economy. She pointed to a number of other problems her country faces, including migration (which breaks up families), domestic violence and child labour.

During the question and answer session that followed, various questions were raised on the ratification of Convention 156, on the role of communal leaders in gender promotion and on the interrelation between religion and State in promoting gender equality and equity. With regard to the latter, Ms. Ducci noted that religion and State can be mutually supportive. One participant asked for clarification on the difference between the concepts of “equality” and “equity,” which the panellists responded to, suggesting that all are equal in this world, but that there is no equity in terms of rights and access to resources. Further information is available online.

ILO also launched its report Global Employment Trends for Women, which looks at the impact of the financial crisis and slowdown in world economic growth on jobs and how the situation might evolve, particularly in terms of impact on women in labour markets around the world. Click here to access the report.

UNOG & CONGO: Financial Crisis, Gender Equality and the Role of Women

The Non-Governmental Liaison Office of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) and the Committee on the Status of Women of the Conference of NGOs in consultative relationship with the United Nations (CONGO) organized an afternoon event and roundtable discussion on The Economics of the Financial Crisis: Gender Equality and the Role of Women. Sergei A. Ordyhonikidze, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, stressed that achieving gender equality is a collective task, a task that will only be successful through building constructive partnerships. He also referred to the global economic crisis and stressed that the “inclusion of women has to be part of the solution,” and “the crises should be turned into an opportunity for gender equality.” The latter was confirmed by several other speakers, such as Kyung-Wha Kang, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Jane Hodges, Director of the Bureau for Gender Equality at the International Labour Office (ILO), thereby addressing discriminating socio-economic policies and projected increases in women’s unemployment.

Other issues addressed by keynote speakers such as Patrice Robineau, Senior Adviser to the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and Luis Alfonso De Alba, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations Office at Geneva, were related to violence against women; migrant issues; trade; and gender equality by law, and the importance of women for economic growth and development following their informal and unpaid work.

UNCTAD: Expert Meeting on Mainstreaming Gender in Trade Policy

On 10-11 March, an Expert Meeting on Mainstreaming Gender in Trade Policies —organized by UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and attended by a wide range of participants, including representatives of Member States, UN specialized agencies, intergovernmental organizations, academia and civil society – took place in Geneva. The meeting addressed the interrelation between gender and trade, and looked at various effects of trade policies on women, their labour participation and their households. One of the targets of the meeting was to move beyond narrative discussions on gender mainstreaming and to build commitments to make gender mainstreaming a reality and more concrete.

Following the opening statement of Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, who referred to the importance UNCTAD places on gender and trade policies, Ambassador Rosalyn Hazelle, Permanent Secretary for International Trade, Industry, Commerce and Consumer Affairs of St. Kitts and Nevis, gave a keynote address in which she made clear that trade policies have different gender impacts. Ms. Hazelle noted “With many women shouldering the primary responsibility for household and community management through their paid and unpaid work, and with the existence of gender-based occupational segregation, the impacts of trade policies on men and women are often very different,” and emphasized that women are “more vulnerable to turmoil in the global trading environment.” Using examples from St. Kitts and Nevis, she also underlined that “There is indeed a social dimension to every single trade policy that is formulated. This must not be forgotten!” Therefore, trade policies must include a coordinated multi-stakeholder approach and aim at building capacity and ownership “at national and sub-regional levels to enable stakeholders to appreciate the need to mainstream gender into trade policy formulation activities.”

The opening session was followed by a session that looked at concrete examples of trade policies and their potential opportunities or, conversely, burdens for women, and at policy instruments that can better match women’s competences, education and skills to international market and trade requirements. According to Nicola Jones, Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in London, women’s access to resources should be improved, their capacities should be strengthened and social and labour policies, like child care services, should be developed to balance women’s unpaid and paid work.

The second session focussed more on how trade liberalization contributes to women’s empowerment and gender equality, including labour opportunities, geographical diversity, internal migration, and poverty reduction. Additional presentations were given on the effects of trade policies on small and medium-sized enterprises, on subsistence agriculture, and on international migration. From these presentations it became clear that various policies – that have the ability to strengthen women’s participation in trade – are still non-existing in many countries, and that this leads to a waste of human resources.

The final two sessions identified future research areas, mainly on the inter-linkages between trade policy and gender, and drew attention to gender-sensitive questions that should be addressed while developing new trade agreements. Again, emphasis was put on the need for political commitment on the ground and to make gender mainstreaming more concrete.

For an overview of the Expert Meeting, click here.

All of the papers/presentations are available online.

The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to develop constructive relations between the UN and civil society organizations.


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