Presentation by Mr. Anwarul K. Chowdhury
Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS,
United Nations, New York
at the High-level Policy-Makers’ Symposium on South-to-South Collaboration:
Multi-Sectoral Approaches to Population and Development
Organized by NPO2050, UNDP & PPD, 11-13 September 2002, UN House, Tokyo

Session one, Part One: Poverty, the Environment and Empowerment –
Mainstreaming Women

It is timely that two years ahead of the tenth anniversary of the ICPD this High-level Policy-Makers’ Symposium is seized with the question of mainstreaming women in the context of population and development. The global conferences of the 1990s have recognized the linkages between poverty, environment and empowerment of women. Sustainable development and poverty eradication are constant themes throughout in all their outcomes, declarations and programmes of action. All those will remain unaccomplished without the full and effective participation of women – fifty percent of our strength worldwide. Empowerment of women is therefore critical to achieving the objectives that form the socio-economic agenda of our time.

ICPD goals

At the centre of the ICPD and its plus five goals lies the question of mainstreaming women in all spheres of life. The practitioners will attest that progress in realizing these goals has invariably been linked to positive advancement of women. The lack of progress, conversely, is explained mainly by the failure in mainstreaming women - empowering women, protecting their rights and ensuring their rightful role in society. One of the strongest statements setting international norms for the international community is the recognition in the Beijing Declaration that ‘women’s rights are human rights’. That sets the starting point.

Gender mainstreaming

Experience in developing societies over the past decades has shown that economic opportunity, education and reproductive health services are essential factors in empowering women. Progress in these areas has brought about revolutionary transformations in developing societies. Women, when empowered, have contributed to substantial improvement in the quality of life in the families, generated employment and created wealth. The economic and social impact have been tremendous slowing down population growth, spurring economic prosperity and making development sustainable by reducing pressure on environment.

The Beijing Platform for Action therefore set gender equality as a goal with mainstreaming as the strategy. This needs to be complemented with inputs that address specific gaps in gender equality. Empowerment would require opening of economic opportunities, right and access to factors of production, education and healthcare, training and employment and markets.

Mainstreaming within the UN

The intergovernmental mandates for gender mainstreaming draw their strength from the recognition that incorporating gender perspective contributes not only to the realization of human rights and social justice but also significantly to other social and economic goals. The Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General for Gender Issues and Advancement of Women has a broad responsibility to oversee UN system-wide implementation of these mandates and directives.

In concrete terms, what does it involve to mainstream women? As Special Adviser Angela King puts it, mainstreaming would involve changes in organizations, structures, procedures and cultures. This may require changes in goals, strategies and actions so that woman can also influence, participate and benefit from development.


While mainstreaming opens up the opportunity, empowerment is the key to women’s effective participation. In this context, emphasis has long been on economic empowerment through employment and ownership of micro-enterprise or other income generating activities. But that is only a basic step, transforming women from dependence to meaningful economic self-reliance. The social impact of this empowerment is tremendous as has been seen in many countries including my own, Bangladesh. Consolidation of the gains of economic empowerment needs to be complemented by ensuring women’s participation in decision-making. The protection and promotion of their rights are essential to the creation of conditions for mainstreaming women. Empowerment thus requires multi-sectoral approaches.


As the Secretary-General underlined in his Millennium Report, ‘education is the key to the new global economy, it is central to development, social progress and human freedom’. A study of the East Asian miracle reveals that the rapid reduction in poverty and the tremendous economic and social progress in these countries owe a great deal to their early investment in education. “Experience has shown over and over again,” the Secretary-General asserted, “ that investments in girl’s education translate directly and quickly into better nutrition for the whole family, better health care, declining fertility, poverty reduction, and better overall economic performance”. Education of girls is the single most effective tool in empowerment and in advancing development goals. This has been recognized throughout the global conferences of the 1990s. Education affords girls to make informed choices about their life and opens opportunities for realization of their potential.

Access to health care including reproductive health services

There are certain basic premises in achieving women’s empowerment. I shall not go into those except for underscoring the importance of support for reproductive health services. The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) agreed to ensure universal access to reproductive health services by 2015. ICPD+5 reiterated that objective. This forms the major global agenda for the United Nations. A cardinal point in the Beijing Platform for Action is that women have the right to control all aspects of their health, in particular their own fertility. This right is basic to human dignity and it is basic to women’s empowerment.

Participation in decision-making

There is need to bring back the emphasis on women’s participation in all spheres of social and public life. The Inter-Parliamentary Union has been calling for women’s representation in politics and public institutions. But in reality, women’s percentage in national parliaments has not significantly increased over the years. Promoting women’s participation in the decision-making process is a major international objective. This would ensure empowerment. Increased participation of women in public offices would contribute to social transformations, most importantly to cultural changes- changes in attitude toward women, stereotyping and inhibitions. Cultural fixes and often-misplaced attribution of religion and tradition remain major impediments to women’s empowerment. There is certainly scope for further work in this area.

Role of women in peace, security and post-conflict peace building

Let me also bring in one crucial area in women’s participation and empowerment. Peace and security are inextricably linked to development. The rights of women are subject to the worst forms of violation in areas of armed conflict. Women had long been only the victims. Their role and potential for contribution to peace making and peace building had been neglected or denied. In March 2000, Bangladesh took the initiative for the issue of the first ever Security Council statement on the role of women in peace and security. The statement issued on the occasion of the International Day of Women created an unprecedented momentum resulting in adoption of resolution 1325 of the Security Council that formally recognizes the role of women in peace and security and includes decisions to mainstream a gender perspective in all UN peace operations. Despite serious obstacles, today women are fighting their way to the peace table all over the world within political parties and through civil society. From East Timor and Sri Lanka to Burundi, Congo and Somalia, women are establishing a new dimension in the quest for peace and development.

Eradicating Poverty

Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger figures at the top of the Millennium Development Goals. At the Millennium Summit, the world’s leadership made solemn commitment to reduce by half the number of people living on less than a dollar a day. That would mean taking half a billion people out of extreme poverty by 2015. An absolutely relevant question in this context would be – will women constitute half of that half expected to come out poverty? That is a concern that worries me, and my concern, I am sure, is shared by all of you.

Achieving the goal would require more than economic growth. Projections by the UNDP and the World Bank are not very encouraging. Had the economic growth of the 1990s continued (we know it has not), according to the UNDP, only 11 countries, including India and China would meet the 2015 target while 70 countries would lag behind. The World Bank predicts a more discouraging scenario – that only a marginal number of people emerging out of the one dollar-a-day trap by 2015. The trend must be reversed. Opportunities of reaching the poverty reduction goal certainly exist. A pro-poor economic growth, the UNDP says, would allow 29 countries to be on track in meeting the goal, though 50 will still lag far behind. Evidently, it will require a multi-sectoral approach, focussing at the national level on improving income and wealth distribution and accelerated social development.

Achieving progress in these areas and sustaining them will depend on some key external factors - making globalization work for the developing countries, especially the least developed, mobilizing resources for development , equitable inflow of foreign direct investment , increasing official development assistance , and faster, deeper and broader debt relief. Last year the General Assembly endorsed these measures recommended in the Report of the Secretary-General on the First United Nations Decade on Eradication of Poverty (1997-2006).

Brussels Programme of Action

These are also among the priorities defined in the Brussels Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010. The over-arching objective of the Brussels Programme is poverty eradication. The Office of the High Representative – my office -, envisaged as ‘an effective and highly visible follow up mechanism’, has been mandated by the UN General Assembly to oversee the implementation, coordination, review and monitoring of this Programme of Action that enjoins both the LDCs and their development partners in seven sets of commitments requiring specific action for - people-centred policy framework, good governance at national and international levels, making globalization work for the LDCs, enhancing the role of trade in development, reducing vulnerability and protecting environment, and mobilizing financial resources. Progress in implementing the Brussels Programme will mean realization of the major goal of the Millennium Summit in reducing extreme poverty.

Feminization of poverty

Closely connected to empowerment is feminization of poverty. Poverty has a pronounced feminine face. A disproportionate number of the world’s poor is women. Women account for 70 percent of the world’s poor. Gender gap in education persists with 60 percent of children out of school being girls. One woman dies every minute during pregnancy and childbirth due to lack of medical care. Advancement, empowerment and mainstreaming as concepts and programmes lose their meaning and relevance when a woman faced with extreme poverty is reduced to a subhuman existence.

Population, poverty and environment

Their linkages and the rationale for action have been stated and re-stated at every possible forum. The latest assertion came from our colleague Kunio Waki who stressed at the WSSD at Johannesburg that global population, environmental issues and women's reproductive health and rights are interrelated. Population is growing by 77 million people every year - 200, 000 per day- most of them in the world's developing and least developed countries, where hunger, water scarcity, HIV/AIDS and environmental degradation are already serious problems. Yet, as the UNFPA asserted, spending on population assistance is declining and has dropped by 25 per cent since 1995. The current figure is now less than one half the assistance targets agreed at Cairo .

Gender mainstreaming and Millennium Development Goals

The Millennium Declaration includes strong commitments to the right to development, to gender equality, to the eradication of the many dimensions of poverty and to sustainable human development. The largest population increases and most fragile environmental conditions are occurring in the least developed countries . Unless the 49 LDCs are able to meet their sustainable development targets, the Millennium Development Goals will remain largely unachieved globally. The challenges of achieving Millennium Development Goals need to be confronted with a particular focus on countering feminization of poverty, ensuring women’s empowerment and overcoming negative impact of population on sustainable development.

I shall conclude by echoing what our colleague Thoraya Obaid has recently said, “ To promote sustainable development that meets the needs of present and past generations, she noted, “ we need strong partnerships, strong political will and practical steps. As a first step, we must empower women and place them at the centre of development efforts. And we must direct resources, policies and programmes to benefit the poor.”


1. ICPD+5 goals:
a.) Reducing to half the 1990 illiteracy rate for women and girls by 2005; and by 2010, the net primary school enrolment ratio for children of both sexes should be at least 90 per cent;
b.) By 2005, 60 per cent of primary health care and family planning facilities should offer the widest achievable range of safe and effective family planning methods, essential obstetric care, prevention and management of reproductive tract infections, including sexually transmitted diseases, and barrier methods to prevent infection; 80 per cent of facilities should offer such services by 2010, and all should do so by 2015;
c.) At least 40 per cent of all births should be assisted by skilled attendants where the maternal mortality rate is very high, and 80 per cent globally, by 2005; these figures should be 50 and 85 per cent, respectively, by 2010; and 60 and 90 per cent by 2015;
d.) The gap between the proportion of individuals using contraceptives and the proportion expressing a desire to space or limit their families should be reduced by half by 2005, by 75 per cent by 2010, and by 100 per cent by 2015. Recruitment targets or quotas should not be used in attempting to reach this goal;
e. To reduce vulnerability to HIV/AIDS infection, at least 90 per cent of young men and women, aged 15-24, should have access by 2005 to preventive methods—such as female and male condoms, voluntary testing, counseling, and follow up, and at least 95 per cent by 2010. HIV infection rates in persons 15-24 years of age should be reduced by 25 per cent in the most affected countries by 2005 and by 25 per cent globally by 2010.

2. The strategy of mainstreaming is defined in the ECOSOC agreed conclusions, 1997/2 as: “The process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies and programmes, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres..”

3. Beijing Platform for Action, ECOSOC Agreed Conclusions (1997/2) establishing important overall principles for gender mainstreaming (followed up by the Secretary-General in letter dated 13 October 1997 giving directives to heads of all UN entities), ECOSOC resolution 2001/41(July 2001) calling of ECOSOC to ensure that gender perspectives are taken into account in all its work, including the work of its functional commissions.

4. Gender Mainstreaming- An Overview, United Nations, 2002; Foreword by Angela E.V. King, page vi.

5. World Bank, Global Economic Prospects and the Developing Countries 2001 (Table 1.8 shows 961.4 million people in 1998 having an income of less than a dollar day). Data excludes China. The estimate is based on $1 per day in 1993 purchasing power parity terms.

6. The General Assembly at its 56th session welcomed favourably the Secretary-General's proposal for a world solidarity fund for poverty eradication. The 57th session is expected to consider the proposal on the basis of a further report that would detail the modalities, functioning and relationship with other relevant organizations and institutions.

7. In 1993-98, only 20 countries accounted for all FDI flows to developing and transition economy countries, the LDCs as a group received only 0.5 percent of FDI inflows in 1999. Report of the Secretary-General on the First United Nations Decade on Eradication of Poverty (1997-2006)- A/56/229. A further report as requested under resolution A/RES/56/207 would be submitted to the 57 UNGA.

8. As a percentage of gross national product (GNP), ODA continued to decline over the past two decades reaching its lowest level ever - 0.22 per cent in 1997 and again in 2001. Only five countries met the 0.7 per cent target in 2001- with one (Denmark) giving as much as 1 per cent of its GNP- while others gave as little as 0.1 per cent. The announcements made at Monterrey would lead to an increase of at least US$ 12 billion per year by 2006. This is an important step but it still falls far short of the additional US$ 50 billion needed to give developing countries a fair chance of meeting the Millennium development goals. Report of the Secretary-General on Millennium Goals, A/57/270

9. At the ICPD in 1994, participating nations made commitments to meet the cost of reproductive health and related programmes amounting to $18 billion in 2005, $20.5 billion in 2010 and $ 21.7 billion in 2015. To date only about $10.5 billion is being mobilized annually. As of 2000, developing countries are contributing 75 percent ($8.6 billion) of while the developed countries are contributing only 40 percent (2.6 billion).

10. In the next 50 years, the combined population of the LDCs is projected by the UNFPA to be tripled from 658 million to 1.8 billion people.

11. Commemorative publication for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) at Johannesburg, August 2002.