unctad.org | High-level event: UNCTAD XIII must be new pillar of change, Qatar Museums Authority Chairperson says, hailing women as ‘cornerstone’ in quest for equitable development, human dignity
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High-level event: UNCTAD XIII must be new pillar of change, Qatar Museums Authority Chairperson says, hailing women as ‘cornerstone’ in quest for equitable development, human dignity

UNCTADXIII/DOHA/DPI/7
Doha, Qatar, (23 April 2012)

Change in favour of equitable and sustainable development in the Arab world and around the globe must be achieved by women working side by side with men at all levels, Qatar Museums Authority Chairperson Sheikha Al Mayyasa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani said today as the Thirteenth Ministerial Meeting of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XIII) held a high-level event on “Women in Development”.
 
“Women are the cornerstone in the process of development,” said Sheikha Al Mayyasa as she opened the one-day event.  “We are looking for a world where all human dignity is realized.”  Comprising four thematic sessions, the day featured policy leaders, economists and other prominent personalities who discussed the links between macroeconomic policy, gender relations and macroeconomic outcomes.
 
Sheikha Al Mayyasa said the changes now occurring in the Arab world were the result of efforts by both men and women, and Qatar would spare no effort to achieve the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals on gender by 2015, with the aim of ending high illiteracy among women and girls, discrimination against them and discrepancies in income and employment.  In that effort, UNCTAD XIII should be a new pillar of change, she emphasized.
 
Introducing Sheikha Al Mayyasa this morning was Abdulaziz bin Ali al-Kuwari, President of UNCTAD XIII and Qatar’s Minister for Culture, Arts and Heritage.  Also making an opening statement, UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi said women’s empowerment was a crucial element of the Conference’s vision of inclusive development.  Unfortunately, social inequality had increased in the past decades despite impressive economic growth, he noted, emphasizing that it not only posed a moral challenge, but was also a source of stability and a drag on economic growth.
 
Women still earned only 70 per cent of men’s pay and accounted for 70 per cent of the poor, Mr. Supachai said, stressing that economic policy must be shaped proactively to foster inclusiveness in terms of gender, ethnicity, class and geographical origin.  UNCTAD studies on trade policy, in particular, showed that gender considerations were often ignored, that country-specific contextual analysis was needed and that aid-for-trade and other programmes were often useful in redressing the situation.  Preferential access to markets, for example, could have a positive impact on women’s lives but leave them vulnerable if such arrangements ended and they remained untrained for other work, he said.
 
In meeting women’s legitimate aspiration to play a more important role in entrepreneurship and social change, Governments, international organizations and civil society around the world had a major role to play, he said, affirming that UNCTAD stood ready to cooperate with all stakeholders.  Linkages with other organizations on that issue were being established during the Meeting itself.
 
Following those opening remarks, sessions were held on gender considerations in relation to macroeconomic policy (Session I); trade policy and poverty (Session II); agriculture, environment, food security and intellectual property (Session III); and the translation of educational gains into equal access to full employment and equal work, particularly in export-oriented sectors (Session IV).  In all four sessions, discussions ranged from the household level to the macroeconomic level.
 
All participants agreed that for women to be able to seize the opportunities offered by economic growth for purpose of empowerment — and to best shape inclusive development — education was a primary factor that enabled them to rise beyond the informal sector and unskilled jobs that would keep them vulnerable to all economic ebbs and flows.  Education was also a key to enabling women to participate in decision-making.  Child care and greater participation by men in domestic responsibility, freedom from violence and an improved legal framework of property ownership and the family were other critical elements.  Several participants described successful policies in those and other areas.
 
In all the sessions, women had been hailed as the heart of the development agenda, with speakers calling for strengthening the gender dimension of macroeconomic policies, Mr. al-Kuwari noted in his closing remarks.  Calls were also made for Governments to adopt polices that would provide women with greater access to health and education.  “Political commitment is necessary,” he stressed.  To that end, he announced that the Government of Qatar and UNCTAD would establish a mechanism to ensure that the decisions and recommendations discussed, including on gender equality and women’s empowerment, would be effectively followed up.
 
Mr. Supachai, in his own concluding remarks, announced the establishment of a Centre of Excellence in Women’s Social and Economic Studies, to be hosted by the Doha International Institute for Family Studies and Development.  That initiative would provide a forum and space “for translating gender theory into action and devising creative responses to some of the most challenges issues of our time”.  He emphasized:  “Gender equality is not just a Millennium Development Goal in its own right; it is critical to achieving broader agreed global development goals,” expressing hope that the new institute would help feed the results of today’s discussion into the creation of new international development goals for the post-2015 period.
 
The Meeting will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 24 April, to hold a round table on “Strengthening all forms of cooperation and partnerships for trade and development, including North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation”.
 
Session I
 
Moderating the opening session of the high-level event, on the theme “Macroeconomic policy: Does gender matter?”, was Abderrahim Foukara, Bureau Chief of the Al Jazeera Satellite Channel in Washington, D.C.  The panellists were Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh; Tarja Halonen, former President of Finland; Aisha Alfardan, Vice-Chairwoman, Qatari Businesswomen Association; and Stephanie Seguino, Professor, Department of Economics, University of Vermont, United States.
 
Setting the stage for the thematic sessions that would follow throughout the day, the panellists discussed what was required to design — and implement in a sustained manner — socially inclusive macroeconomic policies geared towards empowering women.  They also focused on the need to ensure that women decision-makers played a significant role in crafting those policies in addition to ensuring that their decisions integrated gender-sensitive aspects such as women’s household activities, work habits and spending patterns.  The panellists suggested methods for ensuring that women were able to take full advantage of the beneficial effects of macroeconomic adjustment and globalization, issues at the core of the UNCTAD mandate.
 
Prime Minister HASINA declared: “The world has finally realized that real and sustainable development of nations depends on equal participation of men and women,” adding that eliminating gender inequalities would clearly result in high economic growth and macroeconomic stability.  Women tended to save more and invest in a proactive manner.  Their activities inside and outside the home not only supported households, but also enhanced the situation of children and extended-family members, thus ensuring that they too contributed to local economies.
 
“It makes good economic sense to invest in women, not only for gender equality, but for sustainable economic growth,” she said by way of emphasizing that the world was falling short of the gender targets set in the Millennium Development Goals.  Women also continued to be the first group affected by natural disasters or economic shocks.  One way to overcome such obstacles was to boost education for women and girls, increase their political participation and ensure enhanced roles for them in decision-making bodies.
 
Highlighting her country’s strenuous efforts and initiatives to ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment, she said women and girls in Bangladesh were becoming increasingly visible in business, media, the judiciary and Government and non-government sectors.  Similar actions were needed at the international level, she said.  “Through globalization and the spread of [new media] the mindset of women and girls is changing, so the sooner we give them opportunity and space, the sooner we will all be able to address the looming challenges of the new millennium.”
 
Ms. HALONEN said economic polices affected different segments of societies in different ways, so it was absolutely necessary for Governments carefully to examine how policy decisions were made as well as their impacts.  Finland had long understood that “everything starts at home”, and had worked to bolster social policies while encouraging “education, education, education”.  She said that after holding Finland’s presidency for 12 years, she was proud to provide encouragement to women and girls around the world.  Agreeing that women were the first to suffer the impacts of natural hazards and climate change, she said they could, if empowered, play a vital role in crafting decisions to tackle such challenges.
 
Ms. ALFARDAN said women made up half the world’s population while nurturing and educating the other half.  Yet, with all they gave to the world, their contributions were, unfortunately, often overlooked or ignored.  Moreover, women in developing and least developed countries continued to face serious social and economic challenges.  “While women are often seen as a problem, they are indeed the solution,” she stressed, calling for new ways of thinking so as not to just tear down social barriers, but also to enhance their capacity to unleash their own potential.  The “Arab Spring” protests had heightened the position of women throughout North Africa and the Middle East, she noted.
 
As for Qatar, she said, the Government had taken “enormous steps” to put in place policies that promoted gender equality and ensured women’s participation in all facets of society.  The key principal of participation was based on three pillars — education, health and employment.  “We are very proud to say that we have overcome education gaps between men and women,” she said, providing statistics on the numbers of women and girls in the country’s schools and universities.
 
Ms. SEGUINO said most of the world’s women worked as farmers and domestic labourers, or in the informal sector.  As such, there was a need to increase their access to resources, education and employment at fair wages.  “Macroeconomic policies must be designed to deliver a ‘win win’ — simultaneously stimulating economic growth and advancing gender equality,” she said.  It was also necessary to raise women’s wages and improve labour standards in countries heavily dependent on exports.  “We very much need innovative thinking,” she emphasized, explaining that gender equality must be at the heart of macroeconomic policymaking.  “Macroeconomic policies must be at the service of well-being.”
 
Prime Minister HASINA, speaking as the floor was opened for comments and questions, said that as economic freedom allowed women to become more conscious and to take up stronger decision-making roles in their families and their communities, Bangladesh had put in place a number of initiatives for that purpose, noting for example that her Government was working to increase the number of women entrepreneurs through the disbursement of small loans.
 
Joining the ensuing discussion were a number of high-ranking officials and public figures.  The First Lady of Niger sought additional information about the prospects for rural women in Bangladesh.
 
SHARMIN CHAUDHURY, State Minster for Women and Children’s Affairs, speaking in place of the Prime Minister, replied that there was an intense focus on social safety net protection, including a pregnancy allowance and cash incentives for lactating working mothers.
 
The panellists also responded to questions about the role of women in political uprisings, their historical position in the Arab region and national policies specifically targeted at benefiting women.
 
Ms. ALFARDAN said Qatar had adopted a national strategy on women, and expressed hope that the Arab world as a whole could adopt a more united policy on that matter.
 
The representative of Iraq agreed with the panellists that women’s empowerment must hinge on education, health and developing their skills, while other speakers focused on the importance of helping female retirees maintain active lives.  The representative of Azerbaijan asked whether too much emphasis on working outside the home could estrange women from their families, stressing the need to establish a work-life balance.
 
Ms. SEGUINO responded by saying that a policy shift was needed to help strike that balance.  Employers must make it possible for both women and men to take care of their families while still being able to work.
 
For his part, the representative of Libya said women had played an active part in his country’s Arab Spring uprising.  Many countries had constitutions that allowed such participation, but that right was not often exercised due to tradition and social expectations.  That issue should be urgently dealt with, he said.
 
Ms. ALFARDAN agreed, noting that men and women were “miles apart” when it came to implementing rights.  Leadership and strong political will were necessary to drive change, she stressed.
 
Ms. CHAUDHURY added that men and boys must also be galvanized to help women exercise their rights.
 
Session II
 
The second session, on “Trade, poverty and gender: New insights from a contextual, country-specific approach”, was also moderated by Mr. Foukara.  It featured panellists Anabel Gonzalez, Minister for Foreign Trade of Costa Rica; Aloysia Inyumba, Minister for Gender Affairs of Rwanda; Heidemarie Wieczorek‑Zeul, Member of Parliament and former Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany; Patricia Francis, Executive Director, International Trade Centre; Buthaina Al Ansari, Board Member, Qatari Businesswomen Association; and Massoud Karshenas, Professor, School of Oriental and African Studies, Department of Economics, University of London, United Kingdom.
 
Ms. GONZALEZ described her country’s achievements in development, noting, however, that more than 20 per cent of its people still lived in poverty.  Women still needed to be better included in many areas, although Costa Rica was moving up the country standings in terms of their participation in the workplace.  They still earned lower salaries and bore greater obligations for child care, particularly in one-parent families, she noted.  While trade had opened up opportunities, such responsibilities kept them from taking them up.
 
Ms. INYUMBA said that after the 1994 genocide in her country, there had been a determination to include women in building a new Rwanda.  Their representation the national legislature exceeded 60 per cent, the highest in the world, she said, adding that land ownership, education and other areas had undergone equally great change due to legal changes and gender mainstreaming in formulating policy.
 
Ms. WIECZOREK-ZEUL, paying tribute to the three women who had recently won the Nobel Prize as well those working for change in the Arab world, said there was no real democracy if women’s rights were neglected.  In Germany, education, access to family planning and quotas had been major elements of women’s advancement, she said, noting that many women participating together in decision-making could change policy.  They must participate strongly in trade negotiations and other areas of international economic policy, as well as in climate change talks.
 
Ms. FRANCIS agreed that there was a need for women’s participation in developing trade policy.  Training programmes aimed at adding value to agricultural products often did not include women, although they made up the majority of farmers.  Ongoing training for low-income workers was also critical to enabling them to “move up the ladder” with men and adapt to changing environments, and enhanced control of assets was critical for their empowerment.
 
Ms. AL ANSARI, discussing Qatar’s programmes for women’s advancement, said it was important to enhance the consequent progress through legislation, even though traditional views created obstacles.  However, it was now possible to change traditional attitudes, she noted.
 
Mr. KARSHENAS said there was a problem in the way economists looked at gender issues in development because there was not enough effort to understand gender roles in society and in family structures.  While the Arab region had enjoyed great achievements in the education of girls and women, with more women than men now attending university in most countries, there was still an imbalance of men over women in the labour force.  While fundamental family law still discriminated against women, those who were employed bore heavy family responsibilities.  The situation of migrant women in particular must be addressed, he stressed.  Clearly, education must include new views of socialization and family life if women were to advance further in the region.
 
In the discussion that followed those presentations, speakers agreed that education was crucial in overcoming obstacles to women’s advancement.
 
Ms. GONZALEZ responded to questions by stating that a strong child-care network was a priority in encouraging women’s participation in the workforce and other areas outside the home.
 
Ms. WIECZOREK-ZEUL, replying to a question about Libyan women’s lack of interest in leaving the domestic environment, emphasized the importance of women creating examples for the generations to come and erasing their vulnerability to abandonment.
 
Ms. AL ANSARI added that while women had a choice of lifestyles, they should participate in shaping national life for the future.
 
Mr. KARSHENAS said family law often did not encourage women to venture beyond the domestic setting.
 
Ms. FRANCIS stressed that it was critical that women not be required to both work and shoulder family duties, adding that men should be willing to share the burden.
 
Session III
 
The day’s third session, on “Agriculture, environment, food security, intellectual property and gender considerations”, was moderated by Ghada Oueiss of the Al Jazeera news agency.  It featured Mary Robinson, Founder, Mary Robinson Foundation on Climate Justice, former President of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Christian Friis Bach, Minister for Development of Denmark; Mannete Ramaili, Minister for Tourism, Environment and Culture of Lesotho; Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response; Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN-Women); and Marcel Mazoyer, Emeritus Professor, Institut national agronomique, France.
 
Ms. ROBINSON said women were suffering disproportionately from the impacts of climate change.  Additionally, more than 80 per cent of farming in Africa was done by women, but they in turn owned only about 2 per cent of the land.  Agriculture must become “climate-smart” and women could be agents of that change, she said.  There was a chance to increase to 40 per cent women’s representation of on all bodies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the next meeting of which would take place in Doha later in the year.  That would mean women were “really at the table”, she stressed.
 
Mr. FRIIS BACH agreed, noting that the implementation of women’s rights in agriculture was a “very complex” topic, and that technology, electricity, credit and land rights were part of that conversation.  Social safety nets were also absolutely essential in supporting rural women and allowing them to avoid resorting to early marriage in times of crisis.
 
Ms. RAMAILI said women understood that food was the first need for survival — both for nutrition and for sale, allowing for a better life for children.  Lesotho had drafted sexual health and domestic violence legislation, she said, adding that the Government had also invested in technical and vocational education.  According to the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index, the country was listed ninth out of 135 countries, ahead of the United Kingdom, the United States and France.  Lesotho was also making new investments in mining, water management and renewable energy to generate national revenue and boost its exports, she said, emphasizing that women and young people must be part of those changes.
 
Ms. GEORGIEVA said only a “very small” number of Europe’s agricultural exports benefitted from some sort of subsidy, and the continent was also moving towards local purchasing.  However, unless the gender gap was closed, the world would never rid itself of food insecurity.  The European Union was engaged in many international aid programmes related to that issue, including one that provided women in Niger with $40 in cash each month so they could decide for themselves how to weather the current food crisis.
 
Ms. PURI echoed the belief that rural women were at the heart of global food security, and that it was critical to empower them.  International norms on how to accomplish that goal existed in the form of the Beijing Platform for Action, a comprehensive 2011 General Assembly resolution and other landmark agreements, but they required implementation.  Sectoral policies must take the needs of women into account in a sustained manner, she said, adding that investment in rural women — which would yield “exponential returns” — was critical.  To date, UN‑Women had worked with countries to implement gender-responsive budgeting and planning, she said, urging more States to do the same.
 
Mr. MAZOYER said 3 billion people around the world were suffering from poverty and 2 billion from diseases caused by a lack of trace nutrients, while 9 million died each year, affected either directly or indirectly by under-nourishment.  An estimated 75 per cent of those were rural peasants, most of them women who were also subject to the double burden of housework and agricultural labour.  It was necessary to re-examine a global trading system in which the majority of poor and hungry people lived in rural areas, and in which land acquisitions in countries characterized by great inequalities must be restricted, he said.
 
Mr. FRIIS BACH, responding to questions, spoke of the need to assist rural development in favour of women’s empowerment, while Ms. PURI affirmed the importance of land ownership in that context.
 
Ms. GEORGIEVA, in response to questions about population growth, said there was a tendency to shy away from discussing that issue, although an exploding population could make the poor much poorer.  She asked how her native country, Bulgaria, would be able to exist if its population had multiplied by five like that of some African countries.  Reproductive rights must be discussed, she stressed.
 
Ms. RAMAILI recalled that at one time, that issue had been widely discussed and women’s organizations had actively worked on it.
 
Ms. ROBINSON said there was an unmet need for family planning, and millions wanted to space their children better but lacked access to family planning services.  It was a central issue for development, she stressed.
 
Session IV
 
The final panel, on “Equality of opportunity versus equality of outcome: How to translate women’s educational gains into equal access to full employment and decent work”, was also moderated by Ms. Oueiss.  It featured Sihem Badi, Minister for Women and Family Affairs of Tunisia; Akua Sena Dansua, Minister for Tourism of Ghana; Paul Mashatile, Minister for Arts and Culture of South Africa; Anne Ruth Herkes, State Secretary, Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology of Germany; Noor al-Malki al-Jehani, Executive Director, Doha International Institute for Family Studies and Development; and Jayati Ghosh, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, School for Social Sciences, Jawarharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.
 
Ms. BADI said there was a great deal of foot-dragging over women’s empowerment in an era in which the general rhythm of progress was swift, and for that reason, new answers that would break with past trends were required.
 
Ms. DANSUA said young women need encouragement to empower themselves, and that was where education came in.  Determined to do that herself during her youth, in tandem with continuous education, her family had encouraged her.  To get a good job, one should equip oneself with the necessary education and skills training, she advised.  “The commitment must be there because nobody will do it for you,” she said.  “It will never be equal,” she added, affirming the slow progress of the women’s empowerment project.
 
Mr. MASHATILE said there was a saying in South Africa that “if you empower a woman you empower a nation”, going on to describe Government programmes aimed at accomplishing that goal, in view of the “triple oppression” that women had gone through as Africans, as women and as workers.
 
Ms. HERKES said that a strong women’s movement had helped to close the gender gap in Germany over several decades.  However, there had been a number of disappointments, including the low number of women in high-ranking positions.  Many women still wondered how to balance work and family life, though that was not a problem that politics or Government was always equipped to answer.  “Be fearless; grasp the opportunity if it comes,” she advised women, adding that it took individual choices to make achievements.
 
Ms. AL-JEHANI said women did not live in a vacuum, but in their families.  Both women and families, therefore, needed autonomy.  Women were pulled in all directions, and not only in the Arab world.  It was high time to ask politicians to support families, she emphasized, noting that, without stronger supporting policies, women in the workplace might as well be told to “go back home”.  Governments, and not just employers, must ensure there was no discrimination against women at work, she stressed.
 
Ms. GHOSH said women were contributing to the economy in a variety of important ways, including through paid, unpaid and underpaid jobs.  Greater gender equality in education had been achieved in the last 10 years, but in the case of both men and women, educational success had not translated into employment.  Social spending on women must be dramatically increased as an economic growth strategy, she said.
 
During the ensuing dialogue, speakers discussed the gender sensitivity of fiscal policies, with some noting that taxation “is not gender-neutral” and that markets were not open enough to women.
 
The representative of Jordan said that, following the financial crisis, the role of the State had “gone backward” with regard to the market economy, which now functioned without any social guarantees for women or vulnerable people.
 
Ms. BADI agreed, while pointing out, however, that women often had rights of which they were not aware.  The Arab Spring had been a change in political ideas, and it was to be hoped that the women’s empowerment movement in Tunisia would continue to amount to more rights.
 
Still other participants discussed concrete ideas for involving women in economic markets, including a “project bank” of work that could be carried out by women in a particular country.
 
An official of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) asked how Governments could be convinced to see social spending on women as a true economic investment.
 
Ms. HERKES, noting that women who took a “family break” were vulnerable to being kept out of employment permanently, said that was one area where the State could intervene through supportive policies.

 


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