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High Commissioner: Adopt gender-sensitive policies when addressing the economic crisis

The world risks facing a serious setback in women’s rights unless gender-sensitive policies are adopted in the face of the current global economic crisis, warns High Commissioner for Human Right Navi Pillay in her statement issued ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March.

Deputy High Commissioner Kyung-wha Kang (right) takes part in a roundtable discussion on “The Economics of the Financial Crisis: Gender Equality and the Role of Women” in Geneva to mark International Women’s Day. On her left are Conchita Poncini of the International Federation of university Women and Corrine from the UN Office at Geneva - OHCHR Photo“Deeply rooted discrimination against women in all spheres of society – political, economic, social and cultural – weakens society as a whole.

“The negative effects of discrimination and flawed social structures are inevitably magnified – often dramatically – by conflict, and natural or man-made disasters,” the High Commissioner says.

She points out that the current global economic crisis “is likely to have a disproportionate impact on millions of women who already formed the majority of the poor and the disenfranchised before the crisis developed.

“Unless gender-sensitive policies are adopted, I fear we may well witness a serious setback in areas where progress has taken decades to achieve,” she warns.

Progress in micro-credit schemes that provided small loans to the poorest women in various countries is a case in point. Pillay says that these small unsecured loans are likely to be under threat, which could have “a devastating impact on women who do not have any other source of financing to enable them to establish a sustainable livelihood.”

She also underscores that it is important for women to exercise their right to participate in the decision-making processes as governments are drawing up plans to grapple with the financial crisis.

“If anything, the financial crisis should be seen as an urgent reason to speed up the advancement of women’s rights, and not as a reason to postpone fundamental legislative and policy improvements and implementation until financially calmer times.

“The drive towards equal rights and equal opportunities is not a luxury, it is an economic must and the cornerstone of universal human rights,” the High Commissioner says, adding that full cooperation between men and women is vital for this to happen.

Deputy High Commissioner Kyung-wha Kang echoed Pillay’s message.

"Women who form the vast majority of the poor will be hardest hit by the crisis....but the crisis must and can be turned into an opportunity to integrate gender and human rights into the mainstream of social policy-making,” Kang told a roundtable discussion on “The Economics of the Financial Crisis: Gender Equality and the Role of Women” on 6 March, organized by the Geneva NGO Committee on the Status of Women to mark International Women’s Day.

Field presences of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights around the world, together with local partners, also are marking International Women’s Day with a wide range of activities such as workshops, seminars, exhibitions, film screenings and music events.

March 2009