UN World Summit

UNITED NATIONS (WOMENSENEWS)–Amid a sense of disappointment over the three-day U.N. World Summit held here last week, women’s rights advocates claimed a small victory.

When the dust settled after strained, last-minute negotiations over the “outcome” document of the summit, key strategies promoting gender equality remained in the text signed by 191 world leaders last Friday.

“For women’s rights activists, the most important outcome is that in a space that was not women-specific, we kept women as a political factor at the forefront of the U.N.,” said Charlotte Bunch, executive director for the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, the State University of New Jersey, Rutgers.

Language condemning violence against women, boosting their access to reproductive health and defending their property rights–fought for, but not obtained, at the U.N. Millennium Summit in 2000–is now in the outcome document.

Reflecting the general consensus of world leaders, this document is meant to provide a road map for how to proceed.

The document underlines the importance of involving women more at decision-making levels, especially in promoting peace and security. It advocates giving women a greater role and more access to the global labor market and promotes the increased representation of women in government and decision-making bodies.

The 60th session of the U.N. general assembly, which opened Saturday, will focus on follow-up to the summit.

Millennium Development Goals

Language changes about women in the outcome document were either retained or added to the so-called millennium development goals, a set of eight objectives to address global poverty, health, environment and gender inequities.

These goals, set five years ago at the 2000 summit in New York, were reviewed as part of broader summit negotiations over the outcome document.

Francoise Girard

“This is a real improvement in the framework of the millennium development goals on gender equality,” said Francoise Girard, U.N. liaison for Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era, a nongovernmental group with offices worldwide. “We’re pinching ourselves in a way. We have to give ourselves credit; it was very systematic work.”

Girard, along with Bunch and June Zeitlin, who heads the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, joined forces a month ago to form the Gender Monitoring Group to ensure women’s voices would be heard in the document.

Each organization had been lobbying for three years with other global women’s groups to ensure that delegations remained focused on gender issues. They cultivated relationships with U.N. delegates, held meetings with ambassadors and ministers and waited outside closed conference doors in the basement of the U.N. to engage diplomats emerging from debates on the document.

The signed document provides what rights activists say is a textual basis for women to push their agenda with their own political leaders.

“Women can use it to keep advancing whatever they’re working on locally and nationally,” said Bunch. “They can use the document to insist that substantial funding goes to gender equality, violence against women and reproductive health issues.”

But in general, women’s rights advocates–mindful that women represent a disproportionate number of the world’s impoverished–expressed dismay that leaders had not agreed to stronger and more specific poverty-ending goals.

“We were shocked by the lack of political will and the impotence of government,” said Girard. “They need political Viagra. Most of the world leaders coming to the summit were men and evidently in the 11th hour they didn’t get it.”

Last month, in the lead-up to the summit, negotiations over the document turned rancorous as government leaders from 191 countries seemed to battle over almost every paragraph, including proposals from Secretary-General Kofi Annan to reform the U.N.

The U.S. bickered over basic language and compromised grudgingly to settle on a 35-page document signed by world leaders on Friday that fell short of Annan’s more ambitious goals proposed last March.

Annan’s proposals–touching on everything from creating an ethical human rights body at the United Nations to redoubling efforts to halve world poverty by 2015 to changing some basic operations of the U.N. organization itself–were watered down in the final document.

The summit gave wealthier countries a chance to help the poor by pledging 0.7 percent of their national income towards foreign aid by 2015, a goal that was proposed five years ago.

The United States agreed to the 0.7 pledge three years ago at a development meeting in Monterrey, Mexico, but since then, women’s groups and others have expressed dismay that the Bush administration has failed to show renewed commitment.

“It’s all nice to have strategies for achieving gender equality, but what if we can’t pay for it?” asked Girard.

Much of the blame for final-stage turmoil has been aimed at the United States. Three weeks prior to Tuesday’s vote on the document, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, proposed 700 changes, which many diplomats said indicated a reversal in earlier U.S. commitments to Annan’s reform proposals.

In his initial changes, Bolton wanted to strike any reference to the millennium development goals and any references to developed countries contributing 0.7 percent of their gross national product to help halve poverty by 2015.

After much political wrangling, the goals were included, as well as the 0.7 percent target, albeit with vague wording.

Ben Chang, a spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the U.N., didn’t see the outcome in a negative light, however.

“We have an accomplishment here,” said Chang. “We have an important step in this process. We don’t proclaim victory and walk away.”

Isobel Coleman, a senior fellow on U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, expressed disappointment that the United States has not yet committed to contributing 0.7 percent to development assistance.

“Even with private development aid from the U.S., it could be and should be doing more,” Coleman said.

“The U.S. fought very hard against the target 0.7 percent GNP; it is mentioned (in the outcome document) but in a weak formulation,” said Coleman. “In some respects that’s of concern to women.”

So, while women scored a small victory in seeing gender references added to the summit document, Bunch also lamented what she saw as a larger disappointment.

“In terms of a breakthrough to end world poverty, we didn’t achieve it,” she said. “And that is disappointing to women everywhere.”

— Karen James contributed to this article.

Laura Angela Bagnetto is a writer in New York who covers the United Nations. Karen James is a Women’s eNews intern and a master’s candidate at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

For more information:

The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals:

Hungarian Woman Pushes Limits of U.N. Gender Pact:

Women’s Paid Labor Keeps Door Open to Poverty: