DEVELOPMENT: Women’s Rights Crucial for UN Summit Agend(er)
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 3 2005 (IPS) — Three international rights organisations have joined forces to ensure that women’s voices will be heard at the United Nations 2005 World Summit, scheduled to take place later this month (Sep. 14 to 16).
The ‘Gender Monitoring Group of the World Summit’ is the brainchild of the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership, located in the American state of New Jersey, the Fiji-based Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era – and the Women’s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO), which is headquartered in New York.
The summit will review efforts to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and attempt to reach consensus on proposals for U.N. reform.
Eight MDGs were agreed on at the U.N. in 2000. They include halving extreme hunger and poverty, achieving universal primary education and promoting gender equality. In addition, child and maternal mortality are to be reduced, efforts made to fight AIDS, malaria and other major diseases – and environmental sustainability ensured.
The goals also aim to develop a global partnership for tackling unfair trade rules, amongst other issues. The deadline for the MDGs is 2015. IPS spoke to WEDO Executive Director June Zeitlin about her hopes for the summit:
IPS: What specific issues will your organisation take to the World Summit?
June Zeitlin: We have commented on each succeeding draft (of the U.N. reform document). It’s our view that the last draft represented real progress in terms of gender equality and women’s rights: these were integrated throughout the document, not just in the development section.
So we are very concerned to hear the informal talk about discarding the document and starting all over again (as)…has been suggested by (U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.) John Bolton.
Already the content of the document represents just the minimum necessary to achieve the MDGs, along with peace and security and human rights. Whatever the final document says, it is important to reaffirm the commitments made at all the world conferences and summits during the 1990s. We know the U.S. is trying to delete this section.
We also want to make sure that a commitment to gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment is explicitly stated in the document. We think that the section relating to women’s education, political representation, violence against women, reproductive health rights and women’s situations in armed conflicts is absolutely essential. In fact, we would like to see that paragraph strengthened.
IPS: Do you think that world leaders – who are almost all men – will take women’s concerns around the MDGs seriously?
JZ: We are visiting as many governments’ missions as possible to remind our supporters that this is not something to take for granted. If they don’t make an explicit recommitment to gender equality, not only will those MDGs specific to gender equality not be met, but neither will all the goals related to poverty, access to water, and health and so on.
We are asking that the centrality of gender equality be reaffirmed in the heads of states’ statements and in other documents and speeches at the summit.
IPS: Do you believe that governments will be able to fulfil their commitments?
JZ: That’s the 64,000 dollar question. Are they capable of it? The answer is yes. Will they? That’s a question of political will and resources. We have resources for war. The question is how we are going to apply resources for peace and human development, and human security.
IPS: Looking back at the promises made at various summits in the past, why do you think government leaders fail to demonstrate political will?
JZ: I think getting commitments on paper is the easy part, but getting them implemented and raising the resources is the biggest challenge.
There is a disconnect between what government leaders say, what the research shows about successful strategies for poverty alleviation and development, and what’s in the interest of many rich and powerful countries.
IPS: Recently, your organisation initiated a global project to monitor governments’ progress on gender equality with regard to the MDGs. Could you tell us more about it?
JZ: In March, we issued a global monitoring report called ‘Beijing Betrayed’ which looked at governments’ implementation of the Beijing Platform of Action (drawn up at the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing) and also the MDGs.
We found that governments have basically failed in their leadership to implement these commitments and that a vast majority of women at the lower economic level are becoming poorer. Although there have been some successes, progress has been very uneven. Again it’s a question of political will. We are talking about changing patterns of behaviour and age-old discrimination: it doesn’t disappear without really concerted action.
What is discouraging is that the rhetoric is grand but the gap is so great when it comes to action.
It’s not just about helping women because women are half the population. Women are key agents of change, and yet this fact is not translated into public policy. This is what the monitoring report shows.
IPS: Some civil society groups and diplomats from developing countries are saying the United States is trying to sabotage the summit. What is your view on this?
JZ: There is no question that Ambassador Bolton was sent here to be a bully and disrupt the process. This is the policy of the current (U.S.) administration.
I also think we have to put this into perspective, since we have a long history of working at the U.N. The U.S. tends to stand by during the preparatory process – they are present and make some contribution, but they don’t roll up their sleeves and really get into the game. Instead, they let everybody play their hands and then come at the last minute, usually from a fairly high level, and announce that whatever has been negotiated is unacceptable.
IPS: What role should civil society play if the process does become disrupted?
JZ: The process has already been disrupted and there is a lot of confusion about how to proceed with the summit only two weeks away. Things are happening behind closed doors and civil society is not able to participate or even observe what is happening. We are very, very concerned. I don’t think anybody who cares about the U.N. and multilateralism would like to see this process fail.