Media Center



May 22, 2002 - Washington, DC

It is with great pleasure that I welcome our guests to this, the house of the Americas, for the inaugural conference of the Project on Gender Mainstreaming in the OAS; Incorporating a Gender Perspective in all program and policies throughout the Organization of American States. This program is a concrete result of shared commitment of the OAS General Secretariat, the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM), and the Government of Canada to achieving gender equity and equality throughout the hemisphere. This program is also a reflection of the sustained commitment of the Member States to ensuring appropriate and equitable benefits and opportunities to all Americans: woman, man, girl, or boy.

This project is a direct result of the Inter-American Program on the Promotion of Women’s Human Rights and Gender Equity and Equality, approved by the General Assembly of the OAS in 2000. In addition, it was endorsed by our Heads of State in the 2001 Quebec Summit of the Americas, as an effective tool for mainstreaming gender in all hemispheric Program and policies. The governments also agreed to address the integration of a gender perspective into policies and programs at the national and international level and to support the Inter-American Commission on Women’s efforts to make these objectives a reality. The Project that we launch today is only one component–but an important one–of the actions being undertaken under that hemispheric resolve.

Let me share with you why I consider that this work is so critical. We are not pursuing a gender equity agenda because it sounds like a nice thing to do. We are doing so because it is imperative for building stronger, more prosperous democracies in the Americas: Strong democracies rest on the principle that all citizens have the opportunity to participate in political, economic, and civil society. If the women of the Americas don’t have the same access to opportunities as men, then we are failing in the responsibilities of democracy, that to fully develop–and benefit of–the potential of half of our citizenry.

Not only must we address gender inequities as a matter of social justice or because our democracies require it; we must also do so because the connection between inequity or exclusion and continuing poverty has been amply demonstrated by the research of many international and academic institutions. In fact, research shows quite clearly that gender inequities slow overall economic growth and development, and hinder efforts to reduce poverty. This alone is reason enough to place a priority on reducing gender disparities.

The same research–and the experience of national and international programs–has shown that policies that are gender-blind may, by not recognizing the differences between men and women in legislation, policies, and nature itself, contribute to perpetuate gender inequalities. The Inter-American system, mostly through the OAS Secretariat, CIM, the Inter American Children Institute, PAHO, the IDB, and IICA, have recognized this fact, and seek to promote progress in their respective fields through policies and programs that are gender-sensitive, not gender-blind.

Today at the OAS, we are advancing efforts in this area by working to embed a gender perspective in our programs, our policies, and within the General Secretariat itself. My administration is working to ensure greater participation of qualified women within the General Secretariat. While progress is slower than we might have wished, last week we reported to the Permanent Council that we have steadily increased the percentage of women in professional positions at all levels in the OAS.

But the concern of gender issues is nothing new for this Organization and our community of nations. The Inter-American Commission of Women, CIM, whose Secretariat is so ably directed by Carmen Lomellin, was founded in 1928, which makes it the first intergovernmental agency in the world created for the specific purpose of ensuring recognition of the civil and political right of women. The history of PAHO goes back to a resolution approved a century ago in the Second International Conference of American States, establishing the Pan American Sanitary Bureau. Eighty years ago, the Third American Congress on Children's Issues called for the creation of an International American Office for the Protection of Children, which became a reality in 1927. Like their names (and that of the Union of American Republics, later the Pan American Union) our mandates have evolved over time, our goals have become more specific, but we never ceased to learn, to improve, to build on our past experiences. One of the lessons learned is that gender mainstreaming requires gender-specific approaches and requires us to focus–through the design, execution, and evaluation of our projects–on how they impact persons of different gender.

As Carmen explained, with the financial and technical support of the Canadian International Development Agency, the OAS is launching today a program to train OAS professional personnel, both at headquarters and in other member states, on the best practices for integrating a gender perspective in all projects executed by this Organization. To maximize the effectiveness of this training, we are focusing it on those individuals who are in a position to input in the design, execution and evaluation of OAS projects. That is what this Project for the Incorporation of the Gender Perspective in projects throughout the OAS is all about. This conference is one element of the process of educating ourselves about the challenges we face in gender issues in the Americas and about exploring ways to approach them.

With the indulgence of the distinguished guests that today accompany us, I would like to address my closing remarks to the staff members who are present. I understand that, due to the proximity of the General Assembly and the concomitant last-minute rush, several of the staff members that were invited to attend could not come, and have expressed their regrets. The fact that the Permanent Council has scheduled a marathon all-day session today has not helped to bolster attendance either. I personally want to thank those staff members that did come, especially those in senior positions, and urge you to listen carefully to the valuable advise that we will receive, no doubt, from our three main speakers. I do not know if this conference–and indeed the whole Program for the Incorporation of the Gender Perspective in all OAS projects–will pass into our institutional history as a small footnote, or if it will mark an epic reinforcement of our institutional commitment to ensure that gender-related issues are specifically addressed, from now on, in every project that the OAS carries out. But I do know that the answer depends on how well you assimilate the lessons of this conference and of the planned training sessions, apply them in your day-to-day work, and instill them on the staff that you supervise. The impact on our institutional culture could be far-reaching indeed. I hope that, with your help, it will be.

Thank you.