Asia-Pacific Region has Much to be Proud of in Advancing Gender Equality

Nearly 15 years after the landmark United Nations conference on women in Beijing established an agenda to empower women, the Asia Pacific region has made tangible progress in advancing gender equality.

This was the main theme of the first session to review the follow-up to the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held today in Bangkok at the headquarters of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). The session opened a three-day meeting to assess the progress and barriers on the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.

“As we rejoice in the Platform’s coming of age, the achievements and the progress, we must continue with its implementation and ask for accountability for gender equality and women’s empowerment,” Noeleen Heyzer, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, told the High-Level Intergovernmental Meeting to Review Regional Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and its Regional and Global Outcomes.

Among the signs of progress since the creation of the agenda, Dr. Heyzer cited the existence of women’s national machineries in nearly all countries in the region, the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) by almost all governments, the growing number of national action plans to combat violence against women, and the wide acceptance that gender sensitive policymaking is not only crucial to development but is “smart economics.”

Despite this progress, however, persistent obstacles and challenges remained: more than one in three women experience violence in their lifetime, and although the number of women in politics has increased, women continue to have low representation in decision-making positions, Dr. Heyzer noted.

“There is still so little accountability to women. Women must be included in systems of oversight at every level,” Dr Heyzer said. “Women must be legitimate participants in all spheres of public life – as leaders in government, businesses and the broader community.”

Joanne Sander, Deputy Executive Director of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), said, “Accountability is particularly crucial at this time. Who will answer for the painfully slow progress on reducing maternal mortality when it is entirely preventable? Who will answer for the inadequate progress in increasing women’s meaningful political participation in most countries in the region?”

In emphasizing the importance of government action to advance gender equality, Chompoonute Nakornthap, Advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, said, “We recognize the role and positive impact that the Beijing Platform for Action, CEDAW and Millennium Development Goals have in helping countries to achieve and maintain their gender equality goals. And we consider it crucial to translate those commitments into solid action.”

Carolyn Hannan, Director of the UN Division for the Advancement of Women, emphasized accountability on the issue of violence against women. She highlighted the importance of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women, and drew attention to the adoption by the Security Council of two new resolutions on sexual violence in armed conflict.

“With these new resolutions, the Security Council signalled its resolve to intensify actions to ensure that violence against women during armed conflict is eliminated,” Ms. Hannan said. “Concerted efforts are now needed to ensure full implementation of these resolutions to bring about real change on the ground.”

The opening session of the High-Level Meeting drew about 250 delegates, including a number of ministers, and was opened by a trio of ESCAP musicians who performed the song, “Keep on Moving Forward,” sung at the NGO Forum held at the time of the Beijing Conference in 1995.

The next two days of the meeting will focus on topics such as gender and the MDGs, CEDAW and a regional campaign to end violence against women.

For more information about the meeting please visit the website: http://unescap.org/ESID/GAD/Events/HLM-2009/index.asp