Background, meeting objectives and structure
Addressing the question of gender in public management is critical for the empowerment of women and for the promotion of good governance. The public sector remains the main employer for both men and women in the Arab region. It’s therefore crucial to analyse how and to what extent public administrations in Arab countries allow for the participation of women in decision making, foster a gender balanced environment within public management structures and consider the specific needs of women as beneficiaries of public services and policies.
A high proportion of women among the total active female population of Arab countries work in the public sector. The very high concentration of women in the subsectors of health and education across Arab countries reflects the role traditionally assigned to women in the areas of care and education. Statistical data reveal an underrepresentation of women in senior management positions in the public sector across Arab countries. Despite these persisting disparities in terms of access to decision making positions and sector of activity in the public sector, decision making is no longer a male monopoly. Arab countries have made considerable progress in the past decades in improving the role of women in the public sector.
Governments in Arab and OECD countries increasingly develop and introduce strategies, policies, and initiatives which pay attention to equality and equal opportunity objectives in the public sector. Public policies can promote gender equality and by this means have an impact on social and economic development.
The OECD-MENA Governance Programme seeks to take stock of the ongoing policy efforts in Arab countries, to identify current gender initiatives, and to address gender questions within its thematic Working Groups, in accordance with the strategic directions and programme of work for 2008-10 as approved by Arab and OECD governments at the ministerial meeting in November 2007. To this end, representatives from Arab and OECD countries suggested establishing a Gender Focus Group with the task to reflect on the concrete measures required to introduce the gender dimension in activities undertaken within the OECD-MENA Governance Programme.
The constitution and kick of meeting of the Gender Focus Group took place on 18 May 2009 in Cairo. The meeting was organised by the Egyptian Ministry of State for Administrative Development, the Arab Administrative Development Organization (ARADO), and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
It was structured in two sessions. During the morning session, an interactive discussion took place during which experts from Arab and OECD countries addressed the issues at stake when introducing gender strategies, closely involving an audience of public officials, media and representatives of civil society. During the afternoon session, a restricted number of participants came together to identify, based on position papers, thematic priorities for the regional policy dialogue between Arab and OECD countries on addressing gender in public management during the next two years.
During the morning session, experts from Arab and OECD countries addressed the issues at stake when introducing gender strategies in public management, closely involving an audience of public officials, media and representatives of civil society. Keynote presentations gave a comparative overview on gender approaches to public management in Arab and OECD countries. The keynote speakers drew on their experiences with national or regional strategies, action programmes and pilot projects for the promotion of gender equality in the public sector and presented recent trends, key developments, lessons and challenges. Participants addressed budgetary and regulatory instruments as well as organisational policies and procedures that can contribute to counteracting inequalities in the public sector. They identified key factors which aid in overcoming obstacles to introducing gender initiatives in the public sector along with main institutional barriers encountered. The audience interacted with the speakers in a subsequent round of questions and answers.
As government is expected to be a role model in society, this implies that public policies pay adequate attention to gender objectives. The speakers from Arab and OECD countries noted that their governments increasingly seek to develop comprehensive gender policies and action programmes. Most countries adopt at the same time complementary gender mainstreaming strategies and equal opportunities policies. Gender mainstreaming strategies seek to incorporate gender perspectives in all public policies at all levels and at all stages of policy making in order to prevent potential gender discrimination, while gender equal opportunity policies focus on eliminating existing inequalities or discrimination. A key component of most gender strategies in the public sector is the introduction of gender objectives in personnel policies as well as budget and legal frameworks. The objective of most personnel policies consists of ensuring the adequate representation of women in decision-making functions within the public sector, providing equal employment opportunities in terms of statutes and remuneration and offering specific capacity development and training courses. The speakers also highlighted that Arab and OECD countries increasingly recognise that a budget is not a gender-neutral policy instrument and therefore endeavour to integrate gender perspectives in the overall budgetary strategy as well as in the appraisal systems for the delivery of public services. Arab and OECD countries also increasingly take legal measures and seek to introduce gender analysis into regulatory frameworks to ensure the enforcement of gender objectives.
Participants underlined that a comprehensive gender approach to public management implies bringing gender concerns to the attention of the public sector, raising awareness about existing gender inequalities and adequately communicating policy objectives to public sector staff, political leaders, citizens and the media. In order to build support for gender policies and action programmes within and outside the administration, governments also need to develop strategies and tools for raising awareness on persistent gender inequalities in the public sector and for communicating the expected benefits of the action programmes. Speakers also pointed out that successfully implementing gender objectives in public policies requires that administrations develop specific training programmes and/or guidelines for staff across levels of hierarchy in order to ensure the integration and respect of gender objectives in public actions, communications and relations in the work place.
During the afternoon session, a restricted number of participants came together in a focus group. Participants presented position papers on issues related to addressing gender in public management in order to introduce different aspects of the topic.
Based on the position papers and the following brainstorming exercise, the focus group identified the below thematic priorities for the regional policy dialogue between Arab and OECD countries on addressing gender in public management during the next two years:
• Institutional approaches to gender policies
• Personnel policies: Addressing gender objectives in the management of human resources
• Integrating the gender dimension in public budgets, public procurement contracts and subsidies
• Introducing gender analysis into regulatory frameworks
The focus group further agreed that the OECD Secretariat will submit a questionnaire to several Arab countries and undertake fact-finding missions. The questionnaire seeks to compile information on gender equality policies in the public sector that are being developed or were recently implemented or evaluated by Arab countries. It will provide information for preparing a chapter on the gender approach in public management in the OECD Report “Modernising Public Management in Arab Countries”.
The focus group also agreed to reinforce regional policy dialogue on gender issues in 2009-10. The OECD-MENA Governance Programme will provide Arab and OECD countries with the opportunity to share experiences and innovative approaches to promoting gender equality in the public sector. The OECD and Arab partners will organise regional meetings where representatives from governmental, non-governmental and international organisations can exchange on strategies, action programmes and pilot projects for the promotion of gender equality in the public sector and instruments for implementing and financing gender equality policies. The focus group explicitly requested to streamline the gender activities in the existing four thematic Working Groups and not to create a new Working Group in order to build on synergies and avoid overlap. The next gender related meeting has been scheduled to take place on 1-2 October 2009 in Paris within the framework of the meeting of the OECD’s Working Party on Public Employment and Management.
Agenda (English, Arabic)
Recent trends in Arab countries towards addressing gender in public management: Comparative overview on lessons and challenges. Mr. Yusef Hatira, Project Coordinator, Centre of Arab Women for Training and Research (CAWTAR), Tunisia.
Gender mainstreaming: A new challenge for the federal government and the administrations. Mrs. Carine Joly, Attachée, Institute for the Equality of Women and Men, Belgium.
Experience of the Ministry of Public Sectors Modernisation with the institutionalisation of gender equality in the public sector. Mrs. Kaoutar Alaoui Mdaghri, Head of Division, Observatory of Public Employment, Ministry of Public Sectors Modernisation, Morocco.
• Personnel policies: Addressing gender objectives in the management of human resources. Mrs. Kaoutar Alaoui Mdaghri, Head of Division, Observatory of Public Employment, Ministry of Public Sectors Modernisation, Morocco. (Arabic, English)
• Integrating the gender dimension in public budgets, public procurement contracts and subsidies. Mr. Jeroen Decuyper, Attaché, Division on Gender Mainstreaming, Institute for the Equality of Women and Men, Belgium.
• Introducing gender analysis into regulatory frameworks. Dr. Jennifer Bremer, Professor for Public Policy and Management, American University of Cairo, Egypt. (powerpoint and position paper)