The fifty-fifth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will take place from 22 February to 4 March. The priority theme for this year’s session is "Access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work". In advance of CSW, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released his report (E/CN.6/2011/3) that assesses the content of science and technology from a gender perspective.
The report highlights the importance of science, technology and innovation in relation to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. It particularly draws attention to the challenges faced by women regarding their (1) participation in science and technology education; (2) participation in science and technology employment and production; and (3) access to gender responsive science and technology. Each challenge is followed by a good practice example from a specific country. For instance, in relation to the second challenge (participation in science and technology employment and production), the report finds that in rural areas women’s vast repertory of knowledge and expertise in the use of medicinal plants and seed development are generally overlooked, and suggests that local governments and NGOs can encourage communities to revitalize and manage such knowledge. In Bolivia a project was carried out that supported female and male farmers to refine their knowledge of best practices, which in turn tapped into women’s expertise regarding seed variety. This led to a gradual change in overcoming male farmers’ resistance to being assisted by female farmers.
The Secretary–General calls on NGOs as well as governments, academia and other institutions to consider several recommendations, including promoting women’s traditional knowledge and innovation, engaging and consulting women as partners in technology development, and promoting a positive image of science and technology careers for women. In particular, civil society organizations at the grassroots level are called upon to promote women’s traditional knowledge and innovation since they have better contact with local and indigenous communities.
A second report (E/CN.6/2011/5), also recently released by the UN Secretary-General, builds on the above mentioned report, but focuses mainly on women’s equal access to full employment and decent work. This report finds that progress has been made in terms of women’s and girls’ access to education and training at national and community levels. However, it cautions that this increased access to education has not necessarily led to decent employment opportunities for women. Women are still lagging behind men in their access to the labour market. South Asia, for example, has a striking gap where female labour force participation is only 27%, compared to 82% for men. It is recommended that "school -to-work transition initiatives" could be useful to close this gap. For instance, Germany used gender-sensitive counseling and placement services and training courses in its development assistance programmes. Among the many recommendations in the report, it is suggested that civil society organizations could contribute to closing this gap by expanding social support for girls’ schooling, including by targeting community leaders and conducting awareness raising activities. The report also emphasizes the need to adopt and enforce the principles of decent work. In this regard, the promotion of paid maternity and paternity leave and the provision of care facilities – which would ease women’s participation in the labour market – is recommended. The report suggests that media and civil society have an important role to play in this field. For instance, Poland carried out a media campaign on reconciliation of women’s social and professional roles, while in Cyprus a network of structures and services was developed to provide quality care services to facilitate balancing work and family life for women and men.
Both reports as well as other documents for the upcoming Commission on the Status of Women are available online.