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ECOSOC Substantive Session 2013: Mainstreaming a gender perspective into the UN system

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Date: 24 July 2013

Speech by Lakshmi Puri, Acting Head of UN Women and Assistant Secretary-General, at the ECOSOC Substantive Session of 2013, 24 July 2013, Geneva.

Mr. President,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Sixteen years ago, this Council adopted its first resolution on gender mainstreaming to guide the United Nations in delivering on global commitments on gender equality and the empowerment of women. In doing so, Member States agreed that gender mainstreaming is required to integrate women’s specific concerns and experiences into all policies and programmes in all sectors so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated.

Over the years, we have seen real progress and rising awareness. From the food and agriculture sector, where women farmers are now viewed as critical to the achievement of food security, to peace and security, where the historic Security Council resolution 1325 and subsequent action highlighted the role of women as vital to lasting peace and justice, to the labour sector where the needs of both women and men are integrated into international conventions and policies on decent work, migration, domestic workers, and social protection, to public health in which the HIV/AIDS pandemic brought attention to the need to address gender inequality in order to be successful in achieving the three zeros. Gender mainstreaming in these and other areas has made a tangible and significant contribution to our collective efforts to advance social and economic progress and peace and security, not to mention human rights.

With the establishment of UN Women in July 2010 and with a strong new mandate from the UN General Assembly to lead, coordinate and promote the accountability and coherence of the UN system on gender equality and women’s empowerment, the UN system has been challenged to better support Member States in strengthening and implementing their normative frameworks and international commitments on gender equality and the empowerment of women. There exists a clear mandate to reinvigorate the substantive aspects of gender mainstreaming in development programming.

In its recommendations, the 2011 Busan outcome document of the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness noted that efforts to achieve gender equality should be amplified in all aspects of development programming and grounded in country priorities. Similarly, through its resolution 2012/24, the Economic and Social Council noted the need to align gender equality programming with national priorities, and to strengthen the use of sex-disaggregated data and indicators.

Last year the mandate to enhance the substantive aspects of gender mainstreaming was also reinforced by the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) resolution of the General Assembly. The QCPR emphasized the need to acquire sufficient technical expertise on gender mainstreaming within the United Nations development system to ensure that the needs and realities of both men and women were systematically taken into consideration throughout the programming cycle.

Today, 16 years after the adoption of this Council’s first resolution on gender mainstreaming, the reinforced mandate claims full relevance. As global discussions take place on the post-2015 development agenda, there is widespread recognition that greater efforts are needed to tackle the continuing inequality and exclusion that hold back human freedom and development.  There is increased understanding and evidence that women’s full and equal participation is essential to the achievement of sustainable development, poverty eradication, human rights and peace and security.

Today we find ourselves at a pivotal moment. Gender mainstreaming is no longer considered optional, driven by individual initiative. Today gender mainstreaming is being systematically institutionalized throughout the United Nations system. And this is a game-changer for UN support to Member States to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment, not just in theory, but in practice.

It is my pleasure to share with you the report of the Secretary-General (E/2013/71) on “Mainstreaming a gender perspective into all policies and programmes in the United Nations system.”

The report before you includes data from 55 United Nations entities reporting for the first time on progress made under the UN System-Wide Action Plan on gender equality and women’s empowerment, the UN-SWAP. It also includes data drawn for the first time from reports from Resident Coordinators and UN country teams in 123 countries.

In just a year, the UN-SWAP has resulted in several significant and immediate shifts in how the UN system approaches work related to gender equality and women’s empowerment. Standards have been established for mainstreaming gender perspectives into the work of the UN, which have increased coherence, coordination and knowledge management across the system. And reporting has been harmonized to allow the identification of strengths and weaknesses both within individual entities and across the UN system as a whole.

This report provides us with the first baseline for UN system performance on gender mainstreaming to measure progress in achieving agreed standards by 2017. While some entities are making strong and steady progress, others require further significant efforts to meet the targets. Those falling behind are now working on remedial plans that include timelines, financial resources, and responsibility for follow-up.

I would like to stress that the UN-SWAP constitutes an example of what the system is able to achieve when working as one in a coordinated and coherent fashion. In this achievement I would like to highlight the rich engagement of the Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality, which played a critical role in this process, reinforcing the organisational commitment to the goal of gender equality and women’s rights. The network that has been built around the UN-SWAP is working to drive significant improvements system-wide, made possible because of strong and active participation led by the focal points within the entities, departments and offices of the UN System.

To build on the momentum of UN-SWAP, UN Women will continue to provide strong technical assistance as entities continue to push forward. We will have a chance to discuss this in more detail after my presentation in the panel on making the UN system accountable for gender equality and women’s empowerment: progress, gaps and challenges.

Mr. President,
Distinguished Delegates,

As we all know, coordination plays a major role in placing gender equality at the centre of UN joint programming and strengthening effectiveness in the field. According to the reports of resident coordinators for 2012, 115 UN country teams had gender equality joint initiatives in 2012, up from 105 in 2010 and 43 in 2004; 99 UNCTs made gender equality a key element in their workplans, up from 49 in 2004. And the UNDG Advisory Group launched its Common Strategic Priorities for 2013‑2016, among which increased investment in, and focus on, gender equality-related results are promoted as prerequisites for reaching the internationally agreed development goals, including the MDGs.

I am pleased to inform the Council that in undertaking its system-wide coordination mandate, UN-Women is present in all “Delivering as one” countries, contributing to the promotion of accountability, strategic advocacy and communications “in one voice” on gender equality issues within the country teams. The “Delivering as one” initiative leads to greater awareness of how gender issues contribute to development in different sectors and improved planning to address gender inequality in a coordinated manner.

There are currently 113 gender theme groups around the world, 62 of which are led or co-led by UN Women. Gender theme groups promote increased inter-agency coordination and allowing greater visibility of gender equality issues within the overall United Nations development agenda at the country level. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, for example, the gender working group organized a series of workshops and meetings to identify ways to mainstream gender into the UN development assistance framework for 2012 through 2016.

The main areas of support provided by UN country teams to advance national gender equality priorities in 2012 included ending violence against women, improving reproductive health, combating HIV/AIDS, expanding women’s political participation, advancing education, incorporating gender equality into national development and poverty reduction strategies, and supporting national women’s machinery. In Colombia, for example, the UN country team supported the design of the nation’s first public policy on gender.

Accountability for gender equality is strengthened by the use of tools such as the UNDG gender scorecard, the gender audit and the gender marker to track resources applied towards gender equality results. Since 2008, 31 countries have applied the gender scorecard, stimulating a constructive dialogue to identify remedial action and share good practices. In Zambia, for instance, the UN country team supported gender audits in line ministries in 2012 and a national survey on gender attitudes and practices to inform policies and programmes.

Evidence-based policy making is a priority area of UN country teams’ support to UN Member States. In 2012, 46 UN country teams provided support in strengthening capacity for gender analysis and programming, for which access to quality information disaggregated by sex and age is critical. In response to the urgent need for better data, UN-Women, the United Nations Statistics Division, the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development launched the Evidence and Data for Gender Equality Initiative, known as EDGE. The goal is to generate comparable gender-specific data for important areas such as health, education, employment, entrepreneurship and assets to advance responsive policymaking and programming.

No doubt all of this work has contributed to gender equality receiving increased attention by the UN system at the country level, with greater emphasis on results and impact. Improvement in the implementation of the gender mainstreaming strategy is increasingly reflected in improved programmes and investments to advance women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Mr. President,
Distinguished delegates,

There is real progress in gender mainstreaming. The UN System-wide Action Plan for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment has provided us with a vision of what is achievable given dynamic planning, senior management accountability and adequate resources and capacity. United Nations staff members now have a clearer understanding of their responsibilities for gender equality and senior managers are increasingly accountable. However, more needs to be done to address the gaps and challenges.

Moving forward, we need to strengthen efforts to implement the system-wide strategy on gender mainstreaming with an emphasis on effective coordination, enhanced resource mobilization and funding, and UN staff capacity development.
We need to provide stronger support to the incorporation of gender perspectives into the UN’s development work at country level, particularly in the United Nations Development Assistance Frameworks.

All of us at UN Women look forward to the adoption of the resolution “Mainstreaming a gender perspective into all policies and programmes of the United Nations system”. The post-2015 development agenda, together with other global development debates, offers a unique collective opportunity to advance the status of women. I assure you that UN Women will continue to do our utmost to mobilize the UN System to fully take this opportunity and promote enhanced coordination, coherence and accountability of the system in its work on gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Strong and visible leadership and commitment at all levels is required to end violence and discrimination against women. We look forward to working with all development partners to ensure that all policies and programmes benefit men and women equally and advance gender equality. We look forward to the day when councils such as this one no longer have a need to take up items such as gender mainstreaming, to the day when all human beings are equal in worth, in dignity and in rights that are claimed and protected.

Thank you.