Report of the International Forum for the Operational Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Programme of Action of the ICPD - Enhancing Gender Equality, Equity and Empowerment of Women



Election of Forum Office-bearers and other Matters

Functioning of the Forum

Findings and Proposed Actions

Creating an Enabling Environment

Enhancing Gender Equality, Equity and Empowerment of Women

Promoting Reproductive Health, Including Family Planning and Sexual Health, and Reproductive Rights

Strengthening Partnerships

Mobilizing and Monitoring Resources


54. Principle four of the ICPD Programme of Action establishes the essential linkage between the advancement of gender equality, equity and empowerment of women and the elimination of all forms of violence against women, and women's ability to control their own fertility as cornerstones of population and development programmes. In this respect, the Programme of Action provides strong linkages to many human rights instruments, such as CEDAW and the Vienna Conference on Human Rights, and also creates a practical basis for operational integration of the critical concerns stated in the Beijing Platform for Action. The continued validity, relevance and increasing importance of these premises reaffirm the fundamental role that the ICPD Programme of Action plays in transforming population and development programmes and particularly in changing the quality of women's lives. While much progress has been made, the five-year review of the implementation of the Programme of Action has identified several areas that need strengthening.

Progress made

55. The five-year review has found that progress has been made in the following areas:

  1. The momentum created by the Cairo Conference has been used to establish or reinforce initiatives that promote the integration of a gender perspective into policies, programmes and activities.
  2. Many countries have reviewed their legal systems and instituted reforms in accordance with international mandates to remove laws that discriminate against women and girls and enact those that protect them.
  3. Initiatives have been taken to promote the participation of women at policy- and decision-making levels.
  4. Institutions, both governmental and non-governmental, have taken measures for institution-building and strengthening, including capacity-building for staff, that are compatible with gender equality.
  5. Much work has been undertaken to eradicate violence against women, including the enactment of laws, legal awareness creation, and advocacy.
  6. Progress has been made in advocating for the protection of the girl child and the promotion of her well-being.
  7. Efforts have been made to encourage men to take responsibility for their reproductive and sexual behaviour and health and to support women's health and promote gender equality and equity in general.

Constraints and issues

56. Some of the constraints and issues are:

1. Incorporation of a gender perspective. The adoption and institutionalization of a gender perspective in population and development programmes is a long-term process. It requires the application of gender analysis in the formulation of policies and in the development and implementation of programmes as well as in international cooperation. The adoption of this approach has been hampered by the absence of a proper understanding of how to interpret concepts related to gender issues in different social and cultural contexts. Globalization of the economy has contributed to deepening the feminization of poverty, while privatization of social and health sectors has increased the proportion of women without access to adequate social services and health care. In many countries, gender inequity is compounded by race and ethnic discrimination.

2. Legal context. In many countries women are still unable to exercise their rights because of legal provisions, such as those that deny them access to land and credit. Even where legal reform has been undertaken, women often continue to suffer from the lack of legal protection for exercising their human rights. Legal mechanisms to monitor gender equality and equity are still weak.

3. Violence against women. Women continue to face intolerable levels of violence at all stages of their life cycle, and in both their private and public lives. Feminization of poverty has increased new forms of violence, such as trafficking and forced prostitution. Women are also the major victims of wars and civil conflict.

4. Women in leadership, and policy and decision-making levels. Women continue to be grossly under-represented in positions of power and decision-making, because of obstacles such as poverty, illiteracy, limited access to education, inadequate financial resources, patriarchal mentality and the dual burden of domestic tasks and occupational obligations. Women are also deterred from decision-making positions such as electoral politics by a non-supportive and discriminatory environment.

5. Women's participation in the labour market. Regardless of their occupations, women with the same qualifications normally earn less than men for work of equal value. Their disproportionately higher share of social and family responsibilities impacts negatively on their opportunities for training and promotion.

6. Vulnerable groups. The continued economic, social and health vulnerability of certain groups of women, such as those who are older, widowed, displaced, indigenous, rural poor, migrant, adolescent, refugee, or slum-dweller makes them susceptible to marginalization in policy and programme efforts. Often such groups are not consulted or engaged in dialogue to develop strategies that meet their needs.

7. Protection of the girl child. The prevalence of cultural attitudes that promote the low value of girls, harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM), use of sex-selection technologies and sexual servitude endanger the sexual and reproductive health of girls and women.

8. Gender-disaggregated data. Many national information and data systems do not yet collect gender-disaggregated data or include such data for a limited number of variables.

9. Institutional strengthening and capacity building. Staff in many institutions lack the requisite technical capacity to undertake gender analysis and to design, implement and monitor programmes from a gender perspective.

10. Promoting male responsibility and partnership between men and women. The persistence of social and cultural attitudes constrains men from sharing in family responsibilities. Men are also not well engaged in the discourse on gender equality and empowerment of women, both at the community and at the policy levels. Various initiatives have already been taken to address the sexual and reproductive health needs of men, and promote greater responsibility for their sexual and reproductive behaviour. These should continue without sacrificing the reproductive health services for women.

Proposed actions

57. Over the last five years many countries have successfully implemented various elements of the ICPD Programme of Action to promote the advancement of women. Important lessons have been learnt and good practices have been documented. Gender equality is increasingly being used as a fundamental guiding principle in population and development programmes, not withstanding different social, cultural, economic and political contexts. Nonetheless, there is need to reinforce action in the areas listed in the section that follows.

Incorporating a gender perspective into policy, programmes and activities

58. Some of the actions proposed to incorporate a gender perspective into policy, programmes and activities are:

  1. The ICPD reproductive rights approach to population and development policies and programmes needs to be further developed and strengthened, and it should include mechanisms for consultations with women's organizations and other equity seeking groups. Human rights education should be incorporated into both formal and informal education processes.
  2. It is essential to make operational linkages between the various elements of the ICPD Programme of Action, the Beijing Platform for Action and other international instruments in order to promote gender equality systematically and comprehensively.
  3. Action should be taken to eliminate existing negative traditional, religious and cultural attitudes and practices that subjugate women and reinforce gender inequalities.
  4. A gender perspective must be adopted in all policy formulation and implementation processes and in the delivery of services. Specifically, the gender-differentiated impact of globalization of the economy and of the privatization of social and health sectors must be closely monitored and specific mitigating measures adopted, especially for the poor.
  5. All data and information systems should ensure availability of gender-disaggregated data, which is crucial to translate policy into strategies that address gender concerns and to develop appropriate gender impact indicators for monitoring progress.
  6. Changes in the age structure have increased the proportion of ageing women. It is therefore essential to address their needs through the development of special programmes, services and institutional mechanisms to safeguard their health and well-being. The needs of other vulnerable groups should also be carefully monitored and addressed, including their full participation and the articulation of their special needs.
  7. Every action should be taken to remove all gender gaps and inequalities pertaining to women's participation in the labour market both by Governments and the private sector. Policies or legislation for equal pay for work of equal value must be instituted and enforced.

Promoting gender equality

59. Some of the actions proposed to promote gender equality are:

  1. The institutional capacity and technical expertise of staff in Government, and civil society, especially NGOs, should be strengthened in order to promote gender mainstreaming.
  2. Education of children in gender awareness should be promoted as a crucial step in eliminating discrimination against women. Enrollment in school for girls must be enforced to ensure empowerment of women in future generations.
  3. The participation of women at political and at all policy and decision-making levels, including those for financial reforms and conflict prevention and resolution, should be accelerated.
  4. The family is a powerful force in shaping women's lives. Strategies must be developed to promote gender equality at family level. It is also important to focus on the family as a unit of analysis to monitor progress.
  5. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) should be ratified by all countries and reservations should be removed where they exist. Legal frameworks need to be established to protect the human rights of women. Implementation of laws should be enforced and widespread advocacy needs to be undertaken to enable women to claim their rights.
  6. The media, parliamentarians and other similar groups have an important role to play in promoting gender equality. These groups should adopt and strengthen their strategies to tackle negative attitudes about women and assist in enhancing the value that society places on women.

Addressing violence against women

60. Actions proposed to address violence against women include:

  1. Zero-tolerance for all forms of violence, including rape, incest, sexual violence, sex trafficking, against women and children should be promoted. This entails developing an integrated holistic and multi-disciplinary approach from a life-cycle perspective, which includes social, cultural and economic change in addition to legal reforms. The Stockholm Inter-governmental agreement against trafficking should be implemented.
  2. The girl-child should be protected, particularly from harmful traditional practices, and her access to health, education and life opportunities should be promoted. The role of the family, and especially of fathers, in safeguarding the well-being of girls should be enhanced and supported.
  3. Action should be taken to promote a positive self-image and self-esteem among girls and women through information, education and communication strategies. Curricula reform should be undertaken to ensure that gender stereotypes are removed from all educational and training materials.

Promoting male responsibility and partnership with women

61. Actions proposed to promote male responsibility and partnership with women include:

  1. Men should become involved in defining positive male role models that enable them to play a more pro-active role in supporting and safeguarding women's reproductive health and rights, and to facilitate the socialization of boys to become gender-sensitive adults.
  2. Men's own needs for reproductive and sexual health should be addressed, and they should be supported in taking responsibility for their own sexual behaviour.
  3. Capacity-building strategies that enable men and other stakeholders to understand all concepts related to gender in their work and in their homes should be developed and implemented.
  4. All leaders, especially men at the highest levels of policy and decision-making, should speak out in support of gender equality, the empowerment of women and the protection of the girl child.

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