Item 93 (a) of the agenda of 58th session of the General Assembly “Sustainable development and international economic cooperation: women in development”
New York, 14 October 2003
The report of the Secretary-General under agenda item 93(a) that has just been introduced articulates very forcefully that “Inequalities that impede women’s empowerment and their full participation in development, including in economic development, persist worldwide. In no region of the world are women equal to men in legal, social and economic rights”. This situation is even more depressing in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
The 49 LDCs -- with nearly 720 million people constituting 10 per cent of the world population – are the most vulnerable segment of the international community. Extreme poverty, weak economies, lack of human and institutional capacities for growth and development coupled with geographic handicaps of these countries severely hamper their efforts to break out of the poverty trap. Women and girls in the LDCs suffer a grossly unequal burden of this deprivation and destitution. In addition, lack of women’s access and ownership of land and productive resources in the rural areas in particular further exacerbate gender inequality and, as a result, hinder also the overall development of these countries.
The Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010 provides a global framework for eradication of poverty, sustained economic growth and sustainable development. It articulates policies and measures by the LDCs and their development partners in seven critical areas and identifies gender as one of the most important cross-cutting issues. The Programme emphasizes that, “There are important linkages between development, poverty eradication and gender equality. Gender equality and gender mainstreaming are therefore essential strategic components for poverty reduction.” Its effective implementation would therefore go a long way in promoting the mainstreaming and empowerment of women in the development efforts of the LDCs.
Empowerment of women and gender mainstreaming at the country level is crucial for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Many of the LDCs have made worthwhile strides in advancing the objectives of gender equality. Legal changes protecting and upholding the rights of women, changes paving the ways for leadership and entrepreneurial opportunities and, above all, changes in societal attitude are seen throughout many of the LDCs. But at the same time, although almost all countries have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, national reports of the LDCs on its implementation indicate that women in the LDCs continue also to suffer discrimination due to their gender. They are excluded to various extents from full participation, on equal terms with men, in the political, social, economic life of their societies. Women are also disproportionately affected by the negative impact of external debt, the implementation of structural adjustment programmes, the decrease in prices for local produce, the decline of levels of development assistance and growing disparities in the distribution of wealth. They are often disadvantaged in terms of the benefits of social and economic development, in particular education and employment, and suffer from malnutrition and inadequacy of healthcare.
Gender focus in development co-operation and in the provision of assistance does contribute significantly in setting the right priorities. Appreciation is due to the European Commission as the gender equality is a fundamental requirement of its development co-operation with the LDCs. In these countries, gender-oriented programmes funded by many donors are aimed at empowering women in productive activities, improving their access to assets, providing them with equal opportunities and increasing their role in decision-making.
The various entities of the UN system have been very focussed and creative in gender mainstreaming in the LDCs. Employment of rural women in viable income generating projects by UNIDO has improved their management experience and raised their social status in a number of the LDCs. Similarly, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) support to the Network of African Women Economists based in Senegal and to the Digital Diaspora Network for Africa has increased women’s access to information and communication technology and provided them with new social and economic opportunities. Various workshops sponsored by the UN Division for the Advancement of Women in the LDCs have been very useful in building and strengthening the capacity of women for leadership responsibilities.
But, at the same time, the Secretary-General’s comments are worth noting when he says in the report that it is regrettable that the national Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) have minimal integration of gender persective. The report also finds that the Common Country Assessment s (CCAs) and the UN Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAFs) also do not focus on gender mainstreaming in a comprehensive manner.
One of the areas where the LDCs need assistance is the collection and analysis of gender segregated statistical data. The Secretary-General’s report indicates that lack of gender-segregated data is a serious constraint in reporting and monitoring the progress in the national-level implementation of the outcomes of the global summits and conferences of the 1990s. In case of the Least Developed Countries, especially for the sub-Saharan Africa, this situation is even worse -- many statistical data are simply not available at all.
Elaboration of gender-sensitive targets and indicators is another area where the LDCs and their development partners need to work together to ensure integrated and co-ordinated approach to the follow-up and implementation of the outcomes of the major global conferences from the gender perspective.
No development strategy could be effective without the involvement of women. Meeting the Millennium Development Goals that very appropriately incorporate the needs of the LDCs as well as those of the landlocked and small island countries and targets in gender equality and women’s empowerment is equally important for achieving economic growth and sustainable development. In this regard, the Secretary-General’s comments are pertinent when he says that, “There is no time to lose if we are to reach the Millennium Development Goals by the target date of 2015. Only by investing in the world’s women we can expect to get there. When women thrive, all of the society benefits, and succeeding generations are given a better start in life”.
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