Opening remarks of Roberta Clarke at the Asia-Pacific Civil Society Consultation

Date: Monday, February 10, 2014

Roberta Clarke, Regional Director of UN Women Asia and the Pacific and Representative in Thailand
Co-Chair of Thematic Working Group for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women
At the Asia-Pacific Civil Society Consultation for the 20-year Review of Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and for the 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women
10-11 February 2014
Bangkok, Thailand

CSAG Consultation Meeting
Credit: UN Women/Montira Narkvichien

On behalf of UN Women, I welcome you to this meeting.

As you know, UN Women has both normative and operational functions and uniquely, a universal mandate. The Commission on the Status of Women is part of the intergovernmental governance structure for the normative support functions of UN Women and provides normative policy guidance to the Entity and we are obligated to report annually to the Commission on the normative aspects of UN Women’s work and on its implementation of the policy guidance provided by the Commission.

As a result, engagement with CSW is mandatory and a core component of UN Women's work. That for us means engaging with member states on their preparation for CSW at national and regional levels as well as ensuring that civil society organisations have spaces to engage and influence the inter-governmental process.

We made the decision in 2012 that annually we would facilitate CSO engagement at the regional level and in 2013, this was done through a partnership with APWLD which convened a meeting at regional level, and facilitated NGO participation at the regional inter-governmental meeting as well as in New York.

This year we are happy that ESCAP has joined us in convening this meeting which, because of the timing, has a dual purpose, firstly as an initial space to discuss the process and substance of CSO engagement at national and regional levels in the BPFA review processes and secondly and connectedly, the CSO engagement in the upcoming CSW session in March and more immediately the CSO guidance to the AP regional preparatory meeting of member states.

This weekend at the CORTAID/IWRAW/APWLD meeting, the alignment of the agenda setting stars in 2015 was discussed. Yes, we have a happy confluence of decision-making of the assessment of the MDGs, the assessment of the SCR 1325 and the assessment of the BPFA in 2015. These assessments will take us towards defining the national and international development agenda in the Post 2015 period, defining  the world that we want.

In Asia Pacific as everywhere around the world, women have really taken on the task with seriousness and consistency. And there is a great deal of consensus that the MDGs, whatever their merit of specificity and measurability, represent a failure of ambition, indeed, even an acceptance of status quo of inequality. How else will future generations understand a threshold of $1 a day in a commoditized world dominated by markets?

I have gone back to look at the BPFA and it is a remarkable document in its insights and recommendations, challenging the status quo of intersecting inequalities and the macro-institutional structures  and processes that perpetuate, indeed thrive on those inequalities. The document is both highly practical and pointedly strategic. It took on both gender-specific issues as well as whole of society issues, recognizing that there is no business that is not women’s business.

This we see for example in the calls for reduction in military expenditure as well as the call for the conclusion of a universal and multilaterally and effectively verifiable comprehensive nuclear-test-ban treaty.

The framers of the BPFA expressed their conviction that economic development, social development and environmental protection were interdependent and mutually reinforcing components of sustainable development, which is the framework for efforts to achieve a higher quality of life for all people. How much clearer can it get?

We need to recall that right at the outset of   the Beijing Declaration, it acknowledges so poetically, the voices of all women everywhere, their diversity of their roles and circumstances. It honours the women who paved the way and is inspired by the hope present in the world’s youth.

The perniciousness of inequalities is the thread that runs through the BPFA, inequalities between women and men and between and within states.  And it is for these reasons that the MDGs felt like a step downward, if not backward.

  • The MDGs did not address the transformation of harmful gender stereotypes
  • They did not speak to the global scourge of violence against women
  • They did not reflect that some macroeconomic frameworks maintain and exacerbate inequalities
  • The discussions and discourse surrounding the MDGs did not address how inequalities are linked to the exploitation of labour
  • They did not address the extreme depletion of natural resources for the purposes of consumption-led capital accumulation

And so here we are once again, 19 years after this thoughtful document, in a period characterized by such an explosion of economic growth in some countries based on extreme extraction of natural resources, by recession in others, deepening environmental crises that threaten the planet’s very existence (the merciless march of climate change) and the yawning gap of income inequalities.

Just this weekend, the head of the IMF spoke to this issue in London. Reflecting on Oxfam statistics that the richest 85 people in the world own the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population, Lagarde acknowledged that “severely skewed income distribution harms the pace and sustainability of growth over the longer term. It leads to an economy of exclusion, and a wasteland of discarded potential.”

Speaking in very political terms, Lagarde makes some policy prescriptions – more progressive taxation, improving access to health and education, and putting in place effective and targeted social programs. She recognizes that such policies are hard to design and—because they create winners and losers—they create resistance and require courage.

Courage is the word which defines the work of NGOs. Courage and persistence. And the clarity which comes from that is shaping the discourse.

In AP region because of the multiple levels of engagement and advocacy, there is now a consensus on the need to hold states accountable for redressing inequalities. In consultations in 2012 and 2013, the centrality of ending gender inequality has been repeatedly reaffirmed because gender inequality is: i) universal; ii) crosscutting, that is to say it coexists with and compounds other inequalities; and iii) experienced in both the public and the private spheres.

This clarity has already influenced the Post 2015 agenda and we can say that a consensus has crystallized on the need for a stand-alone goal and also for gender mainstreaming across all goals.

Just recently at the 8th Session of the OWG meeting, Argentina speaking on behalf of 40 states stated that  Achieving gender equality and advancing the human rights of women, girls and all young people, especially those living in poverty or otherwise excluded and marginalized must be prioritized and the systematic inequities they and other groups face worldwide addressed.

Indonesia: equality, we are of the view that international community needs a renewed commitment to promote gender equality and empower women to achieve sustainable people-centered development. We are of the view that there is an urgent need for genuine partnerships and strengthened international cooperation aimed at expanding opportunities for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment and advancement of women.

Bangladesh: Progress on gender equality is fundamental for creating and sustaining peaceful nations, and building inclusive and resilient society. Transformative changes in social norms and public policies are required to overcome deeply entrenched structural issues of gender biases and discrimination that women and girls confront.

Pakistan: Women in many countries continue to bear the brunt of poverty, disease, violence, and disasters. They face discrimination, exclusion and marginalization. Women also often do enormous amounts of work in running and managing households, which is not recognized. The best way to rectify this situation is to make gender equality a transformative, stand-alone goal, mainstream it across all other goals and assign measurable targets and indicators for it.

This meeting of CSOs and the inter-governmental meeting to follow is one on several being supported by UN Women globally. And it is of such importance to UN Women also as the secretariat to CSW that tomorrow we will hear from John Hendra fresh from the CSO and governmental meeting convened by UN Women in Mexico of LAC states and NGOs.  

We will hear how that meeting also re-looked at the BPFA insisting of its implementation. And he will also share  that at the meeting in Africa, one key  achievement was a strong  and unequivocal endorsement of a transformative standalone goal to achieve Gender equality, women's  human rights  and women's empowerment  to be included in the post 2015 development agenda.

And so whilst we know that the MDGs specificity will be maintained and strengthened, what is less clear at this moment, what is still to be decided is the content of that goal. In the HLPR, the Panel speaks to ending violence against women and girls, ending child marriage, Ensure equal right of women to own and inherit property, sign a contract, register a business and open a bank account; and eliminating discrimination against women in political, economic, and public life.

In our consultations with women globally, they tell us that women need voice, choice and safety. We need international and national commitment to ensure that women participate in decision-making in the public sphere but also in the private sector and in the context of the household, to influence allocations of resources, power and authority.  Women need more choice through enhanced capabilities through education, decent work, and access to productive resources, land, credit, reproductive health services, and social protection.  Finally, violence against women is a constraining factor against the lives of all women and girls and we need to eliminate this to ensure their safety. 

We know what’s required. The post-2015 agenda needs to speak directly to the imperative of structural change.  It needs to be designed in a way that leverages political will, and new resources, to drive deeper transformation of societies.  It needs to make accountabilities clear, so that the promise it makes to women and girls can be tracked with reliable evidence and data. It needs to speak to the lives of real women and girls who may experience multiple forms of discrimination on grounds such as disability or minority status. And it needs to be informed by the voices of women and girls themselves.

Over the next two days, you will have opportunities to discuss how the why, what, how and the with whom questions of the Beijing Plus 20 review process and how that dovetails with Post 2015/SDG agenda setting. We are asking you also to reflect on the achievements of the MDGs and for guidance on the substantive priorities for this region and the kinds of institutional frameworks we need to secure implementation and accountability.

We have a roadmap of processes taking us to 2015 which also includes the AP Regional meeting on the  BPFA in November 2014.

We are relying on your guidance on how we use our resources to support national agenda setting which will contribute to a global consensus. We look forward to your guidance on the processes leading up the Beijing Review that is inclusive of women across their diversities. That also engages with the regional inter-governmental processes that we have in this region whether through ASEAN, SAARC or PIF.

On behalf of UN Women I thank you for your time and this guidance and reaffirm that for us there can be no sustainable progress without women’s movements.