Posted by: tnowotny | October 1, 2010

Statement to the “Geneva Component of the Civil Society Development Forum”



My name is Thomas Nowotny.  I am president of the Vienna Chapter of the Society for International Development ,  professor of political science , and  a retired Austrian diplomat.  I speak here on behalf of the Vienna CONGO Vicepresident and beg you to excuse this my only virtual presence among you. But the Vienna committee thought it important to add its voice to yours and, in particular, to declare its support for thoughts and proposals documented in the “Draft Action Points “that had been circulated.

Like you, we applaud the establishment of the entity UN – Women.  It augurs well, indeed, for the future of this entity that it is headed by Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile. A person held in world – wide respect and esteem.

Under the leadership of Michelle Bachelet, the merging of several existing UN bodies in the new UN – Women  entity is likely to bring progress, in particular,  in the way of a stronger,  more coherent and uniform implementation of political and legal obligations  UN member countries had assumed  in the field of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

The document on the “Draft Action Points” highlights exactly these difficulties of translating political and legal commitments into actual, measurable progress on the ground.  This is reflected too, in data on the implementation of the gender related millennium developments goals.

There has been some progress – it is true: an uneven and incomplete one – in the realm of the education of girls and women.  In the realm of secondary and tertiary education   in particular, this progress has been rather rapid on the average. But a glaring gap exists between these achievements and the very, very slow progress – or near standstill, in the economic and political empowerment of women. The political, world – wide consensus on such goals is important: It even is essential.  But that consensus has to find its correspondence in actual political, social and economic developments that lead up to these goals.

Worldwide consensus on these goals and the activities of local elites can somewhat influence these movements towards meeting gender related goals. But nonetheless, such movements would atrophy were they not grounded in the realty of a given society and promoted by the actually existing forces that drive societal change. Societal groups have to be hauled on board. The involvement of Non – Governmental Organizations is thus essential.

The success in meeting the MDGs is uneven between the regions of the world, and it is uneven between the various set of indicators. Take for example the case of maternal health.  This is a field where results are very disappointing.  Whereas in other fields,   such as the average reduction of poverty,   one is about  to meet  the targets.  Looking closer at the figures, we note the huge disparity in maternal health that exists even in very poor countries between those who are wealthy and those who are not. Inequality in income and wealth is a major obstacle in meeting not just this specific Millennium Development Goal; but many others too, such as those in the field of education or health.

With its heavy impact not just on such tangibles, but, furthermore,  on the whole well being and working of societies, inequality as such should be measured and such indicators should become included  as part of all those indicators that measure the progress towards  a world without misery.

The burden of stark inequality affects women foremost; and it is via women that this burden is being passed from one generation to the next one. We therefore should take note of recent success in tackling that core issue via programs such as the – now widely copied – Brazilian “Bolsa familia”. Pointing to positive examples is just as necessary as pointing to existing deficits.

But with that let me return to the “Draft Action Points”. The Vienna CONGO very much appreciates and supports the emphasis given in it to the issue of–migrant female workers employed as domestic workers and in other low paid jobs. The injustices, exploitation, the suffering and the gross violation of simple human dignity call for renewed efforts to drag this issue into the full lime – light of global attention and action.

Thank you very much for your attention!


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