The year 2005 marks a milestone in our collective efforts towards women’s advancement, empowerment and gender equality. It coincides with the thirtieth anniversary of the First World Conference on Women (Mexico 1975) and the tenth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing 1995). In 1995, all countries unanimously adopted the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action, committing themselves to the empowerment of women and gender equality, both nationally and internationally.
In 2005, the Beijing Platform for Action as well as the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will be the focus of major review processes. The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will undertake in March 2005 a ten-year review and appraisal of the Beijing Platform of Action as well as the “outcome document” adopted by the UN General Assembly in June 2000 (also called “Beijing +5”). Meanwhile, the high-level summit in September 2005 during the 60th session of the UN General Assembly will review the implementation of the Millennium Declaration and the integrated follow-up to the major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic, social and related fields.
What preliminary conclusions can we draw from the progress towards women’s empowerment and gender equality from the perspective of UNESCO?
As the EFA Global Monitoring Report has shown, there have been significant advances in girls’ and women’s access to education in the past decade in many parts of the world. Above all, 2005 is the year that the international community chose as the target date for achieving parity between girls and boys in primary and secondary education. Efforts directed towards this target and that of EFA goal 2/MDG 2 (universal primary education for boys and girls) have helped advance gender parity in primary and secondary education in many parts of the world, although there is still much room for improvement in sub-Saharan Africa and southern and western Asia. The Education sector, including the education Institutes, Regional Education Bureaux and field offices, is actively promoting gender parity and equality within formal education systems at all levels and through literacy and non-formal education programmes.
UNESCO, in fact, is assisting Member States through intensified efforts to integrate women’s empowerment and gender equality perspectives into all of its programmes. The Natural Sciences sector seeks to promote more gender responsive environmental management and to enhance the equitable participation of women and men in science, engineering and technology, especially in decision-making and training opportunities. The Social and Human Sciences sector makes its contribution through programmes to promote human rights and combat discrimination as well as initiatives to enhance human security and peace-building.
Access to information and knowledge increasingly determines patterns of learning, cultural expressions and social participation. UNESCO is promoting women’s and men’s equal access to information, knowledge and participation in the media through the programmes of its Communication and Information sector. Meanwhile, gender equality issues are central to ongoing debates about the relationship between culture and development and also figure in the follow-up to the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001). Regarding intangible cultural heritage, special attention is being paid to the importance of women-bearers in the renewal of transmission systems and women are central to our activities relating to crafts production in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) with a view to increasing their productivity and personal income.
Serious gender inequalities still persist worldwide: poverty and HIV/AIDS have increasingly a female face, while the persistence of discriminatory laws and mounting violence against women constitute serious cases of human rights violations. Regarding HIV/AIDS, it is estimated that almost fifty percent of those living with HIV and AIDS are women. Yet, more alarmingly, rates of infection among young women aged 18-25 years are growing. A new epidemic also appears to be emerging in some countries among people aged 50 and over, particularly among women. This provides a new challenge for the new Global Initiative on HIV/AIDS and Education. With regard to gender-based violence in conflict situations, women’s work in conflict resolution and peace-building processes is still rarely reflected in formal processes aimed at strengthening human security overall.
How shall we move forward? Undoubtedly, achieving the goal of women’s empowerment and gender equality is possible. What is needed are political leadership and commitment, systematic and concerted action, and accountable policies. Moreover, we all need to continue our efforts to tackle ignorance, stereotypes and attitudes that work against the rights of women and girls and their rightful aspirations for equality.
UNESCO is fully committed, in all domains, to efforts promoting women’s empowerment and invites all its partners to join in the endeavour to build a future with gender equality.