President Joanna Manganara evaluates the UN ECE NGO Forum

The ECE NGO/CSW Forum, Beijing+20, took place in Geneva from 3-5 November 2014.cropped-NGO-Forum-B+20-Banner-website-revised22mai-2
It gave rise to a Declaration and Recommendations based on contributions by panelists in roundtables covering the 12 critical areas of the Beijing Platform for Action.

A number of crosscutting issues were covered, including human rights, migrant women, science, technology and innovation for the advancement of women.  Also, men and boys participating in solidarity with others for gender equality. Women and ageing was an additional topic.

The IAW had three panelists: Torild Scard joined the roundtable on women in power and decision making. Marion Bjornholt, who was on the roundtable on women and the economy, spoke on gender responsive budgeting.  Joanna Manganara discussed the effects of austerity measures on women in Europe.

The IAW had 12 delegates who participated in the Forum. The meeting was successful and well organized, with many speakers and valuable ideas were put forward.

The 700 participants in the Forum, representing 56 countries, agreed that they want  a world free of violence, a world of peace, where democracy thrives and women can enjoy and exercise their full rights as citizens. A world of accountability for all and by all.

This last sentence is of particular importance to IAW as we  adopted a Political Declaration after our Board meeting in Sion, Switzerland, which focused on the issues of participatory monitoring and accountability by all stake holders. We think that women in particular, are realizing  gradually that deeds are more important than words and that those in authority should take responsibility for their actions and be accountable to those who are affected by them.

It is important to clarify, within the wording of the Declaration, concerns which we have been professing for a long time. This would recognize that the response to the economic and financial crises within the ECE region, through austerity measures has resulted in  unprecedented unemployment and drastic cuts to public expenditure, leading to social and economic insecurity which has had a disproportionate impact upon women and girls. Unfortunately, this has caused a crisis of democracy and progressive values, which is pushing women back into traditional roles.

Also, we argue that measures dealing with the financial crisis have been gender insensitive,while the global gap between rich and poor grows daily.

Finally,it accepts that  the women’s agenda has remained at the traditional  social and  micro level. Yet, any  transformation of society requires that we address the structural and macro issues that perpetuate inequalities, discrimination and exclusion.

In my statement in the roundtable on women and the economy, I asked that the women’s movement should become more vocal on the need for a shift in the development paradigm that would fully integrate human rights, including gender equality. This development would put an end to the constant search for unlimited growth and maximization  of profit which works to the detriment of the survival of humanity in a human way.

I have submitted amendments to the  recommendations concerning women and the economy and, in particular, I have asked for the addition of  equal sharing of unpaid care between women and men, and the inclusion of the gender pension and pay gap.

Within the Declaration, in the paragraph mentioning the threats on the Beijing  commitments, where attacks on sexual rights are mentioned, I proposed that there should be a stronger emphasis on the persistence and scale of all forms,and new forms, of violence against women, as follows:  In the 21st century women and girls continue to fear and face male violence and see new forms of violence and abuse being used against them and legitimized by the system.  This includes violence in the name of tradition, religion or culture, the trivialization of the sex and pornography industry, and cyber harassment and bullying.

It is also interesting to note that a number of participants in the Forum put emphasis  on the involvement of men and boys as well as young women in promoting gender equality and women’s human rights in the Beijing+20 process in the ECE region. Other issues were mentioned that had not been covered by Beijing+20, such as aboriginal women and retired women living in poverty.  Reference was made to capacity building in gender.

A number of representatives mentioned that many agreed policies have not been implemented. We should, therefore, focus on accountability, monitoring and implementation. And move from rhetoric to reality! We should think about the kind of society we want to live in and the future we want. Therefore gender equality should be part of a universal development framework.

For some delegates the priority areas in Beijing are combating violence against women, women in the economy, women in the power and decision making, and gender mainstreaming. Others held the view that significant gaps remain in sex-disaggregated data and gender sensitive indicators. Also, that there is a conservative attack on gender equality and that some governments try to marginalize civil society.

Other members put an emphasis on educational materials, which they argued should be gender sensitive. Stress was also put on ending early and forced marriages and the need for universal birth registration. Some delegates asked that political processes should respond to the needs of all.

The executive Director of UN Women,Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said that women are now digging deep into their problems and called for renewed efforts and energy for the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. She highlighted  unpaid care, harmful practices and national mechanisms which are no longer relevant, as they have decreased in importance. Trafficking was an additional issue.

She summed up by stressing that in no way will we give up the Beijing Platform for Action as we do not know what will happen with the Post 2015 Development Agenda.