FIRST MINISTERIAL MEETING                                       OEA/Ser.L/II.7.8

ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN                                         CIM/MINIS/doc.12/00

27 - 28 April,  2000                                                             27 April 2000

Remarks by the Hon. Indranie Chandarpal, Vice President of the Inter-American Commission of Women, to the Meeting of Ministers or of the Highest Authorities Responsible for the Advancement of Women in the Member States

April 27, 2000

Ministers of Women's and Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Marcelo Ostria Trigo, President of the Permanent Council, Permanent Representative of Bolivia to the OAS, Dr. César Gaviria, Secretary General of the OAS, Mrs. María Isabel Chavez, First Lady of Venezuela,Distinguished Ambassadors, Permanent Representative to the OAS,Permanent Observers to the OAS, Representatives of Inter-American and International Organizations, Representatives of Non Governmental Organizations, Delegates to CIM, Emeritus Advisors to CIM, Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission of Women, Carmen Lomellin, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am honored to welcome you to this Ministerial Meeting convoked by the General Assembly of the OAS and coordinated by the Inter-American Commission of Women. I am extremely pleased to be a part of this auspicious occasion, when for the first time in the history of our region, the highest governmental authorities responsible for the advancement of women have come together to discuss strategies for achieving equality in the relations between women and men and for the advancement of women in all spheres of life. I truly believe that this unprecedented meeting will mark a new era of consensus and progress in the advancement of women’s issues in our hemisphere and will stimulate new mechanisms for dialogue and consultation in the formulation of gender based policies.

This meeting is being convened at a very historical juncture in the women’s movement. Very shortly many of us present will be involved in the Beijing + 5 Meeting of the Special Assembly of the United Nations. This occasion will be used to evaluate the progress with respect to the commitments we have made in Beijing in the context of the improvement of the status of women. Over the years, women have fought for the preservation of peace and democracy and against the shackles of colonialism and authoritarian rule. In this regard, CIM’s rich and diverse history has been an impetus for women in this hemisphere in creating a new paradigm for development which is people centered and gender sensitive.

Women's issues are now part of international and national agendas, yet we still confront many challenges in attaining full and equal participation in all sectors of society. In spite of the many positive legacies of the twentieth century, which include profound transformations in gender relations and tremendous progress in women’s education and participation in economic, social and political arenas, a great percentage of women are still not receiving equal pay for equal work, still play a limited role in decision-making and in some countries are still subject to discriminatory laws. In other cases, formal equality does not assure the elimination of discrimination, which results in gender biased judicial decisions. Existing laws which don’t take women’s specific needs into account are playing a significant role in maintaining inequitable norms and policies.

In the economic sphere, globalization has produced different impacts and opportunities for women. Although women’s participation in the labor market has grown overall, most women’s economic activity in developing countries continues to be confined to the informal sector and many women and their children are more than ever trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty.

We have to make sure that the future generations do not face the same problems as we do today. It is therefore incumbent upon us to provide dynamic leadership which is moral, just and principled. This can only be achieved if we seek to ensure that policies, mechanisms and institutions are in place to advance the cause of women and their families. In short, we must be the agents of change in our countries, that to my mind is our historical responsibility. The question is can we do it ? My response is, yes we can. This meeting is a step in that direction.

We have come together to decide on two important topics: the adoption of the Draft Inter-American Program on Women’s Rights and Gender Equity and our recommendations for the Third Summit of the Americas, to be held in Canada next year.

The Draft Inter-American Program on Women’s Rights and Gender Equity was prepared in response to a mandate of the OAS General Assembly. It is designed to support the efforts of the member States of the OAS to systematically integrate a gender perspective in their policies and within the OAS and contains strategies and recommendations for the member States, the General Secretariat and the CIM.

Through clear and precise objectives, the Program presents a comprehensive approach to gender mainstreaming, both within the inter-American system and in each country. It describes specific actions to promote gender equality in different spheres, such as legal, labor, political, health and so forth, which will provide reliable and measurable indicators of the development reached by women. It also provides for the inclusion of civil society in these actions, in view of the meaningful role played by non-governmental organizations in promoting women’s rights and building networks to improve their political participation, raise awareness about the legal status of women, and the problem of gender-related violence, among others. I am convinced that the Inter-American Program on Women’s Rights and Gender Equity can become an invaluable instrument for overcoming gender inequity and achieving a more democratic society.

The other important issue we will be considering at this meeting is our recommendations to the Third Summit of the Americas and the contribution that we as the highest authorities responsible for the advancement of women in each of our countries can make to the Summit process. At the two previous Summits, our governments emphasized the need to broaden the participation of women in social, economic, and political life as a means to contribute to key hemispheric objectives such as sustainable development and eradication of poverty and inequality. They became committed to include a gender focus in development planning and cooperation projects and promote the fulfillment of women’s potential. They also expressed their commitment to strengthen the CIM.

The mandates of the Summits have been only partially fulfilled, as we all know. The follow-up report to the Second Summit of the Americas presented by the government of Nicaragua as coordinating country on the topic of women identified several problems in complying with these mandates, mainly, insufficient inclusion of a gender perspective in public policies, the absence of women in decision-making positions, the lack of statistics broken down by gender and inadequate resources.

Our recommendations to the next Summit will address the need to mainstream gender in national policies and plans of action as a way of advancing women’s rights and gender equity. Since, as stated in the Program, gender relations are linked to other social relation systems, a key issue for our countries in applying the gender mainstreaming approach will be to be responsive to local realities while maintaining a concerted regional thrust to advance women’s equal rights and their equal access to opportunities and resources. Undoubtedly, the last century presented some unique challenges with respect to the equality of women. This new millenium is no different except that women are now better poised to overcome these challenges. The CIM, as the principal Hemispheric policy generating forum on gender equality will provide technical support and actively work to achieve this objective.

We have come here as representatives of our governments to reaffirm our commitment to the advancement of women. I am convinced of the transcendental importance of this Ministerial meeting, which I hope will be only the first of many such encounters where we can review our progress and coordinate strategies for action. I am sure that by acting with concerted effort we will be able to make a difference in the future of the women of the Americas and of our society as a whole.

I thank you and God bless us all.