HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL CONCLUDES PANEL DISCUSSION ON INTEGRATION
OF A GENDER PERSPECTIVE IN ITS WORK PROGRAMME
|Human Rights Council |
MORNING 21 September 2007
The Human Rights Council this morning concluded its panel discussion on the integration of a gender perspective in its work programme.
The panellists, Kyung–wha Kang, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict and Miloon Kothari, Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, and the Moderator, Maria Nzomo, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations Office at Geneva, heard from speakers before making concluding remarks about mainstreaming the gender perspective in the work of the Human Rights Council, a debate that started yesterday with the aim of building a platform for the long-term process of integration of the issue in the Council’s work programme.
In the general discussion, delegates raised numerous points including that the gender perspective could be important for the work of the Council, in particular with regards to the rights of women and children. As over half the world’s population was female, human rights would never be protected if the human rights of over 50 per cent were ignored. The Special Rapporteur on violence against women should not be the only Special Procedure focusing on women’s rights - all of them should include the gender perspective in their work. When electing the Council’s Advisory Committee, due consideration should be given to the gender balance. As there was as yet no reference to structures and systems for dealing with the gender perspective it would be advisable to wait for the High-Level Panel in New York to reach its conclusions.
Ms. Nzomo, in summing up, said that integrating gender into human rights work could have a significant impact on the life and death of women and girls across the world. It was only through having a gender-specific analysis that there could be an accurate picture of the gender situation in many countries. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action made the gender perspective into a priority for the United Nations system as a whole. Mandate-holders should give great importance to integrating the gender perspective into the work of the Council as a whole. The Council should be guided by the work already being done by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and various other United Nations agencies, including the United Nations Development Fund for Women.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Kang said at the moment there was more talk about integration of mainstreaming the gender perspective rather than implementation, as there was a limited amount of effectiveness, and there was therefore a need to integrate the concept further into the United Nations system. The Office was giving higher importance to gender mainstreaming, but there was a need for increased human and financial resources to really do the work properly.
Ms. Coomaraswamy said with regard to mainstreaming a gender perspective within mandates of Special Procedures, issues must be conceptualised differently. For example, in the case of torture, where there were extreme cases of domestic violence, could it be said there was complicity in torture?
Mr. Kothari said in terms of closer cooperation with other bodies, it was important that the Council urged Special Rapporteurs to do this. The cooperation with treaty bodies should also become more systematic. Special Procedures may be requested to show how the gender perspective was included into their work.
Speaking in the interactive debate were the representatives of Colombia, Republic of Korea, South Africa, Netherlands, Panama, Brazil on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, Sri Lanka on behalf of the Asian Group, Thailand, Brazil, Australia, Russian Federation, Venezuela, Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, Nicaragua, Finland, the United Nations Population Fund, Ethiopia, Malaysia, India, Senegal, Switzerland, Egypt on behalf of the African Group and Bangladesh.
Also speaking were representatives of Organisation internationale de la francophonie, Action Canada for Population and Development, speaking on behalf of Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era; Canadian HIV/Aids Legal Network; and International Alliance of Women, Femmes Africa Solidarite, speaking on behalf of Association tunisienne des mères and Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies, Baha'i International Community, Commission to Study the Organization of Peace, International Service for Human Rights, World Organization against Torture and Association tunisienne des mères.
When the Human Rights Council reconvenes this afternoon at 3 p.m. it will hear Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, present her report.
General Discussion on Integration of a Gender Perspective in the Work of the Human
CLEMENCIA FORERO UCROS (Colombia) said this was an issue to which Colombia attached great importance. The inclusion of a gender perspective could be important for the work of the Council, in particular with regards to the rights of women and children. Balanced attention to gender equity should also be strengthened. Education in human rights was of particular help in this regard. Involvement of women and their participation in decision-making fostered a great inclusive dynamic, although it did not solve the problem. Further efforts should be made to include the gender perspective in the work of the Council.
KIM PIL-WOO (Republic of Korea) said there was a need to reflect on the kinds of tools available for the integration of a gender perspective. Under the Universal Periodic Review, the Working Group’s report could include a separate item under the heading “gender”. Review and rationalization of mandates could either cluster thematic Special Procedures or create new Special Procedures to provide fresh impetus to a holistic treatment of the gender issue. The question was whether, and how the Human Rights Council should play a leading role in the existing group that included the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, the United Nations Development Programme and others, or whether it should be content to be one of the constituents of this group. What type of division of labour was desirable?
GLAUDINE J. MTSHALI (South Africa) said that it was important that the Human Rights Council and the treaty bodies took into account the gender perspective when implementing their mandates. The Universal Periodic Review should also assess progress made by States in terms of advancing issues of gender and ensuring gender integration in their national policies. The Council should situate gender equality issues at the centre of all its work, including respect of the 50/50 gender balance principle. The Council should guard against ghettoising gender integration.
ROBERT JAN SIEBEN (Netherlands) said over half the world’s population was female, and human rights would never be protected if the human rights of over 50 per cent were ignored. It was therefore extremely important for a gender perspective to be included in the work of the Council. Women and girls had a more vulnerable position in all societies than men and boys, and it was important to use all possible instruments to enhance women’s rights. There was still a lot of work to be done in this regard. The Special Rapporteur on violence against women should not be the only Special Procedure focusing on women’s rights - all of them should include the gender perspective in their work. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights could also play a crucial role in achieving full enjoyment of human rights for all women, by ensuring that all its offices integrated the gender perspective in their work in the field.
LUZ LESCURE (Panama) said Panama had made numerous steps towards application of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to improve legislation and to mainstream gender equality, including obligatory quotas for female participation in political parties and government executive posts and institutions. Statistics had shown that greater numbers of women than men in Panama were enrolled in university, but stereotypes persisted and in employment and access to jobs inequalities remained. Panama supported all efforts to promote the rights and equality of women.
MARCIA ADORMO RAMOS (Brazil), speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, said that as the rights of women were included in a number of human rights treaties, the inclusion of specific work on this subject in the Council was fully supported. Checking that all States were including a gender perspective could help protect women’s rights. The previous work carried out by the Special Procedures related to gender should be continued. Equality among the sexes was fundamental. Women’s rights should be protected. Ongoing access to information should be ensured to women. Gender-based violence was an attack on women’s well being, and it should be definitely eradicated. The efforts of the Council to incorporate gender in its work were important.
AMEER AJWAD OMER LEBBE (Sri Lanka), speaking on behalf of the Asian Group, said Council resolution 5/1 on institution building had recognized the gender perspective as an important principle in the work of the Human Rights Council, and had provided an adequate space in the work of the Council by addressing this issue under every first main section of the package. Integration of a gender perspective had been identified as one of the principles under the Universal Periodic Review, and it had also been recognized under the Special Procedures. When electing the Council’s Advisory Committee, due consideration should be given to a gender balance, as it should be when appointing the Working Groups on communications and situations. This was a major achievement for all who had been advocating and working actively for this important question of mainstreaming a gender perspective into the work of the human rights mechanisms.
LADA PHUMAS (Thailand) concurred that gender mainstreaming was a long-term process. It was timely to consider the issue seriously in all its different dimensions. Concrete action was needed now. Interventions from delegates over the past two days had showed how the issue was being taken seriously. The Council should develop sustained systematic ways to ensure that a gender perspective was implemented in the Universal Periodic Review. Thailand wondered whether there were systematic measures in place to gather information or statistics on how the gender perspective had been established in current mandates. Such information would be useful for identifying existing gaps.
MARCIA ADORMO RAMOS (Brazil) said that it was essential to include the gender perspective not only in the Council's review process, but also in its own functioning. Considering its own national experience, Brazil believed that it was possible to include gender balance in the United Nations system. The participation of civil society to reinforce the gender perspective in the institution-building process was welcomed. In this context, Brazil asked how the Council would benefit from good practices already in place in some countries.
ROBYN MUDIE (Australia) said the meeting today represented an important first concrete step towards integrating a gender perspective into the work of the Council. Australia supported United Nations efforts to give priority to gender equality and the empowerment of women, and encouraged ongoing work to ensure that the renewed emphasis on these issues was translated into effective action. The High-Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence had recommended creating a consolidated, independent body focused on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Such a body would provide revitalized leadership on these issues. The Council should work closely with States, specialized agencies and other stakeholders to ensure that gender equality was an integral and enduring part of its own work, and the work of its subsidiary bodies, and was built into its institutional process, including the Universal Periodic Review, the review of mandates, and the ongoing work of the Special Procedures.
GALINA KHVAN (Russian Federation) said the idea of integrating a gender perspective in the Human Rights Council was timely. The Council should draw up a clear line of conduct and decide when and who should implement the gender perspective. It was also important for Special Procedures to clearly understand and apply the gender perspective. An idea for system-wide coordination under the Secretary General’s initiative for improving the gender architecture was under discussion by the High-Level Group in New York. Currently the gender perspective issue was fragmentary, characterized by a lack of coordination of activities, duplication of functions, dispersal of resources, and confusion of priorities. There was as yet no reference to structures and systems for dealing with the gender perspective. It would be advisable to wait for the High-Level Panel in New York to reach its conclusions; that would ensure real agreement and coordination within the United Nations and its Member States.
ENZO BITETTO GAVILANES (Venezuela) said that equality of rights for women and men were ensured in Venezuela. The efforts being made in mainstreaming the gender perspective in the work of the Council was appreciated. The Working Groups which the Council inherited from the old Human Rights Commission would help in that task.
LIBERE BARARUNYERETSE, of Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, said that a conference on women in French-speaking communities had been held in 2000 in Luxembourg, on the theme of women, power, and development. That conference had adopted a declaration in which the heads of delegation from 55 States and Governments had solemnly declared that they were aware of the importance of the relationship between men and women for the evolution of societies. The Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie had, ever since, continued to implement programmes aimed to fight against discrimination based on gender, as well as a global strategy aiming for a transversal integration of the goal of equality through all its programmes.
IONA CHAGAS, of Action Canada for Population and Development, speaking on behalf of Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era; Canadian HIV/Aids Legal Network; and International Alliance of Women, said the participation of civil society representatives in the discussion was a valuable contribution. Incorporating a gender perspective meant analysing the intersection between discrimination and a range of individual situations in terms of health, migratory status, economic situation and many others. Those specificities had to be taken into account. Women encountered different forms of discrimination at different times of their lives. The violations of human rights involved an intersectional set of factors and it was important to recognize that in order to cover gaps. Action Canada asked if an intersectional approach could be incorporated into the mandates of Special Procedures.
ROBERTA MEAN, of Femmes Africa Solidarite, speaking on behalf of Association tunisienne des mères and Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, said that the full integration of gender equality in the work of the Council was important. It was important to think globally and act locally. The adoption of gender parity was now being reflected throughout the United Nations. How could consultation with non-governmental organizations on the regional level be assured in helping on this topic?
ARBINDER SINGH KOHLI, of International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies, said the Council was in the process of concluding its institution-building package, and deciding the future of the Working Groups that had been set up by the Commission. This was an appropriate time to decide on the perspective and approach of various substantive issues, including the human rights focus of the Council. Women’s rights were human rights. This was also an appropriate time for all countries to harmonize and make compatible national laws to enforce and ensure the implementation of international human rights law. Education was one area in particular that had traditionally ignored gender-related issues, and disregarded gender equality. There was a need for gender mainstreaming and gender perspective in all programmes and laws.
SARAH VADER, of Baha’i International Community, said the achievement of full equality between the sexes was a prerequisite for peace. When women participated fully in law and government wars would cease. Advancement for civilization meant full participation for everyone, and women should be given the tools and assistance needed to bring their participation about. That would stimulate the vigour, cooperation, harmony and compassion needed for world cooperation and peace. Such a compelling vision for peace and prosperity for all would have the power to motivate individual changes in organizational structure and dynamics that were needed to accomplish that.
Kyung–wha Kang, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, answering some of the questions, said that Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) field offices had active programmes, including in Colombia, Nepal and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On the analysis of how much the gender perspective was included in the Special Procedures, that was still in the planning phase. Meetings were also being held with the Special Procedures mandate holders on how to integrate gender issues into their work.
RADHIKA COOMERASWAMY, Secretary-General’s Special Representative on children in armed conflict, said with regards to the need to see gender and its intersection with other issues, such as race, this should be an important area, in particular with regards to the planning of the follow-up to the Durban Conference. With regards to the gender architecture discussion taking place in New York, and the importance of the Council being aware of some of the issues coming up there, it should take note of this with regards to the formulation of its resolutions. The Gender Unit within the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had a very important role to play in the monitoring aspect, and one of the first things it could do was to monitor its own Special Procedures and see how they were integrating this issue into their mandates.
MILOON KOTHARI, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, said regional and national consultations with grass roots bodies, on standard-setting and other issues, were under way through the Special Procedures. But research, expert meetings, and closing of the implementation gaps were needed. In the Universal Periodic Review, countries should reflect on the obstacles they faced in closing the gaps between recognizing women’s rights and implementing them.
ALICIA MARTIN GALLEGOS (Nicaragua) said that the current work was very important in order to implement a proper gender perspective in the system and the Council. The Government of Nicaragua had instituted a national gender policy about gender equality. It made a balanced representation possible and ensured equal payment between men and women. Around the world, women continued to figure among the poorest and most marginalized, and were scarcely enjoying their rights. There was a need to continue monitoring the situation. Under the Universal Periodic Review a special section should be included for the attainment of gender equality. An annual discussion on the human rights of women and on mainstreaming gender perspective in the bodies of the system should take place within the Council. The diversity of women should show us what could be found in race and colour differences.
SIRPA NYBERG (Finland) said Finland strongly supported the comprehensive integration of the gender perspective into the work of the Council. The equal status of women and their human rights should be systematically addressed in United Nations programmes and practices. Gender perspectives and human rights should be taken into account in the whole of the work of the Council, both automatically and meaningfully. Finland asked what were the biggest challenges for systematic gender integration into the work of the Council and the Special Procedures; and how could the Council make better use of the views of civil society to better integrate the gender perspectives into its work?
SIRL TELLIER, of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said UNFPA had pursued a three-core inter-related programme to look at the collection and analysis of population data, reproductive health and rights, including HIV/AIDS prevention, and the promotion of gender equality. Maternal health was an area that showed the degree of disparity in gender equality. In many countries there had been real progress. But globally, maternal mortality rates were stagnating or even rising. A second example was gender-based violence. Strategies in this area were still evolving. UNFPA worked on areas such as law reform, and support to non-governmental organizations to provide medical, psycho-social and other assistance to women.
ALLEHONE MULUGETA ABEBE (Ethiopia) said that there was a need to take into account the relationship that used to exist between the bureau of the former Commission on Human Rights and that of the Commission on the Status of Women. The possibility of the use of Universal Periodic Review to take into account the issues of women was an important element. This should be done in a way which would not duplicate existing human rights mechanisms and bodies. Such process should also take into account the needs of African women.
MOKTAR IDHAM MUSA (Malaysia) said Malaysia attached great importance to the issue of gender mainstreaming in its national development and social policies, and a number of initiatives had been undertaken to this end. In the context of preparing a resolution for consideration at the Council, what elements would form a comprehensive checklist to ensure that gender mainstreaming was adhered to; and what would be the best arrangement for the Council to ensure its work was consistent with the wider gender reform at the regional and international level, Malaysia asked.
VIJAY KUMAR TRIVEDI (India), said the dialogue was a welcome opportunity as the Universal Periodic Review mechanism was in the course of operationalisation. The Human Rights Council had an important role to play in this issue and the most effective instrument was a comprehensive approach to the empowerment of women. In India the planning process was fully committed to integration, with parliamentary quotas, gender responsive legislation, and other empowerment strategies. The general guidelines for Universal Periodic Review do not specifically seek information on women’s empowerment measures, but States should be encouraged to provide such information. Mandate holders should also incorporate strategies during country visits. There should be enough time allocated to discuss issues relating to gender mainstreaming in the Council’s future programme.
ABDUL WAHAB HAIDARA (Senegal) said Senegal had ratified principal instruments relating to the promotion and protection of women’s rights and established structural plans for gender integration in government programmes and policies. Elements of the regional Protocol of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, which came into force in 2005, showed the will of African nations in this regard. The introduction of equality had also become a reality in the African Union Commission and the African Commission of Human and Peoples Rights. These were historic steps in Africa’s mobilization on behalf of women, and the Human Rights Council could be inspired by their example.
ANH THU DUONG (Switzerland) said the integration of a gender perspective in the Council was welcomed. It could be implemented if useful instruments to measure the effect of policies were used. In the context of the Universal Periodic Review, States should be encouraged to show the lessons learned. How could States be encouraged by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to include gender equality in their reports? Check lists on gender perspective did already exist, how could they be used? The Special Procedures should also include gender topics in their reporting. What would be needed in order to ensure that a Special Rapporteur took these questions into account?
OMAR SHALABY (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said this was an important issue, which had been the subject of discussion and initiatives in the Commission. It was particularly important, at this early stage in the life of the Council, to bear in mind that gender mainstreaming was a long-term process, as well as part of efforts in the whole United Nations system, and should be pursued in a coherent and coordinated manner with all relevant United Nations bodies. It was necessary to have a clear understanding of gender mainstreaming in the Council, in order to implement it effectively. In doing so, the principles for mainstreaming the gender perspective into the United Nations system remained applicable. Gender mainstreaming should be institutionalised through concrete steps, and did not replace the need for women-specific programmes. Clear political will and the allocation of adequate human and financial resources were important for the successful translation of this concept into the process.
MUSTAFIZUR RAHMAN (Bangladesh) said Bangladesh understood gender mainstreaming to mean an approach involving bringing contributions, perspectives and needs of both women and men to centre-stage, in all areas of development. Some people equated gender mainstreaming with gender balance. These were related issues, but separate things in practice. There was a continued need to complement a gender mainstreaming strategy with targeted interventions to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. The quota system could serve as a catalyst and Bangladesh was a case that had benefited from it. There were a number of UN-wide arrangements to support gender mainstreaming, such as the Inter-agency Network on Women and Gender, the Institute for Research and Training on Advancement of Women, not to mention the Committee on the Status of Women, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and others. But there was no sign of real impact on the ground yet. A more streamlined approach in the UN system might be necessary.
PAWAN KUMAR, of Commission to Study the Organization of Peace, said that the Vienna Declaration proudly proclaimed the commitment of the membership of the United Nations to save no efforts to promote democracy and to strengthen the rule of law as well as respect for all internationally recognized human rights. There had been an increasing resort to Special Rapporteurs and other Independent Experts. The protection of children was still to be desired in many parts of the world.
IMMACULADA BARCIA, of International Service for Human Rights, said the initiative to integrate a gender perspective into the work of the Human Rights Council was appreciated. Several mandate holders had taken concrete steps to do so, in particular the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders. On concrete measures the Council could take in its efforts to mainstream gender, was to renew and strengthen the mandates of the Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders and on violence against women. Unless gender discrimination was addressed fully, women human rights defenders would continue to face danger as they worked to protect human rights, and therefore it was vital for all Council institutions to address the gender perspective in their work, and protect women human rights defenders.
MARIANA DUARTE, of World Organization against Torture, said there were complementarities between treaty bodies and Special Procedures. Mainstreaming a gender perspective in the Universal Periodic Review and its further integration in the UN system should reinforce existing mechanisms. Gender played a role in torture and ill treatment. Women still occupied a subordinate position in society and female genital mutilation was an example of discrimination against them involving practices that could be defined as torture. Under recent mechanisms it was mandatory for States to report on domestic violence and gender based violence. It was hoped the Council would make full use of these instruments in formalizing its consideration of the gender mainstreaming issue.
SAIDA AGREBI, of Association tunisienne des mères, considered that the dynamic of poverty must be considered as a priority in the work of the Human Rights Council. The promotion and protection of the human rights of women was linked to the promotion of gender equality. Tunisia was known for upholding the rights of women. A process of reflection through all the international community should accompany the promotion of gender equality inside the United Nations.
KYUNG-WHA KANG, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that concerning how States could be encouraged to include a gender perspective in their reporting in the Universal Periodic Review, at the beginning of the preparations for the Review process, Member States would be encouraged to closely consult and work with the gender machineries and women’s groups in their countries. This was a peer review process, however, and therefore it all boiled down to the political willingness of the Member States to integrate gender into this important new mechanism of the Council. Given the clear new voices in support of this that had been registered during the meeting, it was hoped that this would be included in the process.
On the effectiveness of the gender-mainstreaming strategy, at the moment there was more talk about integration rather than implementation, as there was a limited amount of effectiveness, and there was therefore a need to integrate the concept further into the United Nations system. The Office was giving higher importance to gender mainstreaming, but there was a need for increased human and financial resources to really do the work properly.
RADHIKA COOMARASWARAMY, Secretary-General’s Special Representative on children in armed conflict, said it was encouraging to hear delegations express support and make suggestions. On multiple forms of discrimination and diversity amongst groups, she said an inter-sectional approach – considering gender, race, class and all forms of discrimination and their interlinkage – should be looked at. She added that rights to health were key ones, and that economic and social rights were the ones usually cited by women as most important. On mainstreaming within mandates of Special Procedures, she said issues must be conceptualised differently. For example, in the case of torture, where there were extreme cases of domestic violence, could it be said there was complicity in torture?
Miloon Kothari, Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, answering some of the questions that were raised during the discussion, said, in terms of closer cooperation with other bodies, it was important that the Council urged Special Rapporteurs to do this. The cooperation with treaty bodies should also become more systematic. Special Procedures may be asked about how a gender perspective was included into their work. In the coordinating Committee, this topic had not yet been raised. The Council should encourage the work on human rights of women in the gender unit.
MARIA NZOMO, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations Office at Geneva and Moderator of the panel discussion, said the starting point of the discussion had been to give a conceptual understanding of what it meant to integrate a gender perspective. Gender was really about men and women, girls and boys, and gender mainstreaming referred to the process of assessing the impact on both genders of a programme, at all levels. The Human Rights Council, having the mandate to integrate gender into its work, really had to endeavour to do this, as gender integration into human rights work could have a significant impact on the life and death of women and girls across the world. It was only through having a gender-specific analysis could there be an accurate picture of the gender situation in many countries.
The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action made the gender perspective a priority for the United Nations system as a whole. Mandate-holders should give great importance to integrating the gender perspective into the work of the Council as a whole. Some work had already been done by the various groups, the Special Rapporteur on torture, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders, and other Special Rapporteurs, including on violence against women, housing, minorities, freedom of expression, and others. Suggestions had been made as to how the Human Rights Council could integrate the gender perspective into its work, mainly through a two-track approach, integrating it into the system as a whole in a focussed way.
The Council should be guided by the work already being done by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and various other United Nations agencies, including the United Nations Development Fund for Women. Various United Nations organizations could use the methodology devised by these agencies. On follow-up measures, including that the Universal Periodic Review process mainstreamed gender, the Council should monitor implementation at the national levels of the recommendations contained in the reports of the Special Procedures and the country reports. The commitment of States to gender equality should be translated into real improvements. The Council should take up this issue in a crosscutting manner, and take up strategies and mechanisms to ensure that it was integrated into all Special Procedures.
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