Accountability for Gender Equality Commitments Vital

Posted on 01 March 2010 by admin

Since 2000, gender equality and women’s rights advocates have been saying that progress on normative frameworks and agreements has been steady, but that implementation has lagged far behind.

By Inés Alberdi, Executive Director, UNIFEM

Inés Alberdi, Executive Director, UNIFEM

Since 2000, gender equality and women’s rights advocates have been saying that progress on normative frameworks and agreements has been steady, but that implementation has lagged far behind. Today, 15 years after Beijing, women are still outnumbered 4 to 1 in legislatures around the world; the proportion of women’s work in vulnerable employment is increasing in almost all parts of the developing world, reaching 85 percent in some regions; women’s wages still lag behind those of men; and millions of women endure some form of gender-based violence, often on a daily basis.

During nearly three decades of struggle, women’s rights activists have succeeded in making violence against women a national and global human rights issue. Through CEDAW and other human rights instruments governments are responsible for preventing, responding to and punishing all forms of violence against women and girls, a responsibility endorsed by the UN Secretary-General’s UNITE to End Violence Against Women campaign in 2008 and supported by UNIFEM’s Say NO-Unite global action and advocacy platform. Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820 recognize the impact of war on women and call for an end to impunity for sexual violence as a tactic of conflict. Yet marital rape is still not considered a crime in many cases, particularly where control over women’s sexuality is basic to widely held beliefs in male entitlement. And sexual violence in conflict has reached historic proportions.

The `frontline’ institutions responsible for protection and support are in many cases weak lines of defence. According to a 2008 multi-country survey, only a third of women experiencing male violence report their case to the police. Among those reported, less than 5 percent lead to charges and even fewer result in convictions. And women are still on the margins of peace processes, comprising less than 10 percent of negotiating delegations on average and fewer than 2 percent of peace agreement signatories.

Gender gaps on this scale indicate a serious accountability crisis.

Governments and multilateral organizations, including the UN, have a responsibility to do a better job in terms of delivering on commitments to women. UNIFEM’s experience has shown that accountability mechanisms work for women when they can ask for explanations and information from decision makers, initiate investigations or get compensation. Women must be included in oversight processes, and advancing women’s rights must be a key standard against which the performance of public officials is assessed.

As efforts to accelerate progress intensify in the five years remaining for achieving the MDGs, attention is focusing on examples of what has worked. These include the stories of millions of women who expose discrimination, demand redress and have challenged the meaning of accountability. Good governance needs women’s engagement – just as gender equality requires states that are accountable and capable of delivering on promises of women’s rights.

But, while improving accountability to women begins with more women in decisionmaking, it cannot end there. It needs clearer performance indicators, better incentives and stronger mandates. Can the proposed gender entity make these happen?

The goal of a strengthened gender equality architecture is to provide coherent, timely support to Member States to advance gender equality, in line with national priorities and international norms and policies. Headed by an Under-Secretary-General, it would deal with problems of inadequate authority and positioning within the UN system as well as lack of resources to scale up promising initiatives; and be able to provide more systematic support to country-driven demands for assistance. By merging the existing gender-specific entities (OSAGI, DAW, UNIFEM and INSTRAW), it will be able to bring together analysis, standard setting and programmatic work to advance gender equality and become the driver for advancing women’s rights and gender mainstreaming in the UN system.

It is also designed to ensure accountability of the UN system, including through oversight, monitoring and reporting of system-wide performance, and towards this, will be charged with developing an accountability framework with goals and indicators. In order to meet this challenge it will draw on the advice, experience and expertise of the gender equality organizations and networks that have been the driving constituency for women’s rights and gender equality since the First World Conference on Women in 1975, including through an advisory board to the USG.

This is a strong mandate, which will go a long way towards the accountability that is so necessary. But it can only do so if it is fully resourced. The Beijing Platform for Action called for resources to be mobilized from all sources and across all sectors for its implementation, yet the four gender-specific entities together have been consistently under-resourced, representing together only a small fraction of other UN agencies. Women’s groups have been clear from the beginning that if it is to live up to its potential, the entity will need a budget of US$1 billion, perhaps to be achieved in phases over the first few years. This is a formidable challenge – but one which I am convinced that people and governments everywhere will rise to, making it possible to realize the commitments in the Beijing Platform for Action.

(This UNIFEM opinion piece also appears in NGLS Roundup138).

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