An Unfinished Mission: Gender equality in Eastern Europe and Central Asia
On November 30th 2012, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon once again declared that engaging women and promoting gender equality is a daily responsibility for all of us.
The crucial role that the UN has been playing for years in the fight against gender discrimination is very much relevant in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where women continue to face challenges even in post-crisis times. The international body endeavours to fulfil its tasks through the UN Women Sub-Regional Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA).
Despite a decade of economic growth, the status of gender equality in the EECA sub-region is much influenced by the paradoxical, diversified, stratified social, political and economic landscape. How the UN plans to continue this fight can be seen in the recently released 2012-2013 UN Women EECA Strategic Plan, which outlines the strategic areas it wishes to broach: increasing women’s economic empowerment; ending violence against women and girls and expanding access to survivor services; increasing women’s leadership in peace, security and humanitarian response; and making gender equality central to national development planning and budgeting.
Women’s economic empowerment in EECA countries remains a major issue as the global economic crisis has aggravated their limited access to economic resources. Many women are denied access to the labour market, and the destruction of welfare systems is forcing them to take on the main responsibility for care duties.
In order to promote and facilitate mainstreaming gender in laws and policies which regulate women’s access to economic resources in EECA countries, UN Women mostly focuses its efforts in enhancing employability for rural women and in giving social protection to the most vulnerable. For instance, a crucial step has been done in Moldova with the implementation of Joint Information and Service Bureaus (JISBs), that are informative entities which provide the local population with access to information and services in order to enhance Moldovan women’s legal literacy and knowledge.
In the EECA, knowledge is one of the core conditions of economic power. UN Women is also very active in protecting the rights of women labour migrants who stand as one of the most vulnerable groups. Dealing with labour migration is necessary since it represents the survival strategy for women and men in Central Asia to support their families. In March 2010, UN Women thus launched the Regional Migration Programme for Central Asia, whose aims are to assist states to be in compliance with international labour migration treaties and to provide labour migrants and their families with a wide range of gender-specific services.
Naturally, an even more urgent issue would be putting an end to violence against women and girls. In the absence of a proper legal and political framework, women in the EECA suffer from domestic violence, trafficking or other forms of physical or sexual abuse.
UN Women remains very active in fighting this issue through the proliferation of survivor services. For instance, since 2001, with the assistance of the UN system, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova have adopted domestic violence laws which support the implementation of public awareness campaigns and improve service delivery to survivors.
It should also be argued that discrimination and violence strikes HIV-positive women in Central Asia. In Tajikistan, UN Women cooperates with UNAIDS to mainstream gender in the national HIV prevention programme and the counteraction of negative social implications of the pandemic for women and girls.
Over the last decade, the populations of EECA countries went through unprecedented changes in their lives due to political tensions and armed conflicts. The obvious response to post-conflict times lies in the fact that 80 per cent of the refugees are women and children, which makes it critical to utilise gender-based approaches in addressing their needs. However, progress is extremely slow in fulfilling the commitments made by EECA governments under international treaties, including the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
UN Women is thus promoting active participation of women in politics, at the decision-making level. In the Southern Caucasus and in Central Asia, under the initiative Open Days on Women, Peace and Security in 2010, participants from Central Asia, Russia and the Southern Caucasus adopted an Appeal to the UN Secretary-General and the Security Council. It argues for the increase of women´s participation in peace-building and to include women activists in rapid conflict response teams to disseminate best practices for gender-responsive conflict resolution.
Women peace activists in Central Asia and the Caucasus must be seen as agents and advocates for change. In this way, the UN Women cross-regional programme which covers eight countries from Pakistan to the Fergana Valley (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan) plays a key role. It calls for concerted actions, as well as the close cooperation of women activists and duty bearers for setting up national mechanisms to successfully implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325 commitments for the impact of war on women.
Finally, the three strategic areas in EECA countries mentioned above can be successfully dealt with by UN Women, provided it keeps arguing for making gender equality central to national development planning and budgeting.
UN Women supports partners in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Georgia in the process of their national development strategic planning through the incorporation of gender equality commitments in the sectors of agriculture, labour migration and social security. The main aim of these ongoing programmes is to increase “gender-related literacy” of policy-makers.
Thus, after having read the 2012-2013 UN Women EECA Strategic Plan, one cannot but acknowledge the great activism/involvement of the international body towards women whose social and economical independence remain vital. Although UN Women's battle for gender equality has for now only entailed local results, we can still argue for the effective emergence of a general phenomenon in EECA countries – namely, the increasing role of women in EECA civil societies through UN Women programmes.
Lana Ravel is an intern at New Eastern Europe. She received her bachelor degree from a preparatory school at Dijon (France). She is currently studying her MA in European Studies within the Sciences Po Strasbourg-Centre for European Studies (Krakow) Double Degree.