Twenty Years of Action for Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality

Delivered at the opening of the ministerial segment of the Asian and Pacific Conference on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment: Beijing+20 Review in Bangkok, Thailand.

It is my pleasure to welcome you all to ESCAP, for the Asian and Pacific Conference on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Beijing +20 Review.

We are greatly honoured that the Conference is being graced today by the participation of Her Majesty, Queen Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck of Bhutan. Her Majesty is a leading champion of the rights of women and girls, both in Bhutan and around the world.

Your Excellency, Mr. Enele Sosene Sopoaga, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, your presence demonstrates the political commitment of your Government to gender equality.

Your Excellency, Professor Yongyuth Yuthavong, Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, we thank you again for Thailand’s commitment to gender equality and the women’s empowerment agenda.

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates

Introduction

We have had two decades of action for empowerment and equality. In 1995, representatives from 189 Governments and more than 2,000 non-governmental organizations came together in Beijing to formulate an agenda for the empowerment of women and girls.

The outcome, namely the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action were watersheds, advancing a comprehensive and integrated approach to gender equality, development and peace.

With the adoption of this agenda by the General Assembly in 1996, the United Nations system and Member States committed to strategic objectives and actions designed to ensure that all women and girls would be able to fully exercise their rights, and gain equal access to opportunities for lives of dignity, choice and freedom.

This Conference focuses on accelerating implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, which placed gender equality and women’s empowerment at the centre of development deliberations. It is very encouraging that these priorities have now been incorporated and mainstreamed in the goals and targets proposed by the Open Working Group of the United Nations General Assembly, to be negotiated next year as the basis of the post-2015 development agenda.

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates

Asia-Pacific Gains & Challenges

Since 1995, significant strides have been made across the Asia-Pacific region. All ESCAP member States, with the exception of three, have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

By 2010, East Asia and the Pacific had achieved the highest ratio among all developing regions of school girls enrolled in primary education. Health outcomes have also improved, with maternal mortality rates across the Asia-Pacific region having fallen by more than 60 per cent between 1990 and 2010. There has also been a slow and incremental opening of political and decision-making leadership space for women, in both the public and private sectors.

These successes have often been incomplete, however, leaving phenomenal scope for further advancement of women.

While gender parity has generally been attained for primary school children in Asia-Pacific, it declines from secondary to tertiary levels. Moreover, the gender parity that is increasingly evident in education is not reflected in the economy. For instance, women are less likely to be employed than men, more likely to be in engaged in vulnerable employment, and more likely to be contributing family workers. Women also receive lower wages and still encounter both horizontal and vertical occupational segregation.

The Asia-Pacific region still accounts for close to 40 per cent of the world’s maternal deaths, with more than 105,000 women dying each year from pregnancy-related complications. Only three countries in our region – Nepal, New Zealand, and Timor-Leste - have reached the accepted “critical mass” of 30 per cent of seats held by women in national parliaments.

Of great concern is violence against women and girls, which remains a regional and global pandemic. In some Asia-Pacific countries, more than 60 per cent of women report experiencing sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes.

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates

Key Remaining Obstacles

Results achieved thus far lend us confidence that much progress is possible, but it is evident that the outstanding gaps and quality deficits call for intensified focus, investment, improved governance and action to overcome the remaining obstacles. There are five such areas:

  1. Policy and legislative gaps;
  2. Inadequate coordination, cooperation and capacity across government sectors;
  3. Insufficient technical and financial resources;
  4. Lack of sex disaggregated data and gender statistics; and
  5. Discriminatory social and cultural norms and practices that value men and boys more than women and girls.

Addressing these gaps requires us to better strategize and prioritize gender dimensions within our emerging global vision for a development agenda beyond 2015.

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates

Anticipated Outcomes

Over the last two days, under the able leadership of Ambassador Rosario Manolo of the Philippines, our Senior Officials have worked extremely hard to define the critical requirements for accelerating the full implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action in Asia and the Pacific: strengthening institutions, increasing financing, enhancing accountability, forging stronger partnerships and strengthening regional cooperation.

Your contribution, as regional leaders, will be to consider and adopt tomorrow a forward-looking outcome for this Conference. This outcome will, in turn, feed into the global review of the Platform for Action.

There are three key policy recommendations which, along with the many other important considerations, may be valuable to consider in our work going forward:

  1. A “Whole of Government” approach to gender equality, mainstreaming gender considerations across all sectors, consistent application of gender analysis, and equitable representation of women and men in all processes;
  2. Gender-responsive budgeting; and
  3. Implementation of international instruments – such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women – in national contexts.

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates

Conclusion

Twenty years after the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, it is clearer than ever that gender equality and women’s empowerment are both fundamental human rights issues and necessary conditions for development for all people.

Occurring at the 20th anniversary of the Platform for Action, and the nexus between the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals and the formulation of Sustainable Development Goals, this Conference provides a unique opportunity to recommit Asia and the Pacific to the goal of gender equality and the means of accelerating the realization of human rights and opportunities for all women and men, girls and boys.

In conclusion, I would like to thank UN Women for the support extended to ESCAP in the organization of this Conference. I would also like to recognise and pay tribute to the substantive and very supportive contributions that have been made by our civil society partners in development.

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, through your leadership and commitment to action, we can together succeed in achieving equality for the future we want.

I thank you.