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Women’s empowerment key to achieving development targets, UN forum told

Women’s empowerment key to achieving development targets, UN forum told

Women’s empowerment is critical for countries in Asia and the Pacific to advance towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, all by 2015, according to participants at a United Nations forum held in the Thai capital.

“Where’s the Power in Women’s Empowerment?” – organized by the Bangkok-based UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) – examined issues related to women’s empowerment and the achievement of the gender-related MDGs, as well as power relations and violence against women.

The forum heard that while advances in policies and legislation were needed to enable women to take up their roles in society, real change and progress will only occur when obstacles to empowerment are removed. These include entrenched structures, values and power relations which shape local policies, communities and cultural beliefs and women’s daily lives.

Development goals in Asia and the Pacific will be endangered if unequal power relations are not challenged and transformed, ESCAP Executive Secretary Noeleen Heyzer told the forum.

A group of experts that addressed the forum, including Yakin Ertürk, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, cautioned that laws supportive of women, improvements to women’s access to resources, and political participation do not, by themselves, change relations of power. Culture and religion continue to be used by a privileged few to legitimize gendered power structures, they added.

Ms. Ertürk noted that violence, which was often used as “a tool to keep women in their place,” impairs women’s abilities, influences their daily decisions, and has long flourished in the protected private sphere.

“Silence and secrecy are a shelter for power and its abuses,” she said, noting that the fact that the issue of violence against women is now on the global agenda is a sign that the silence has been broken.

The forum was part of a regular seminar series organized by Ms. Heyzer to provide a platform for debating and discussing issues relevant to the Asia-Pacific region.