Archive for the ‘Secretary General’s diary’ Category

For three days, the UN Assembly Hall has been much like a parliament.  A plenary debate, rich in political content, mixed with lots of discussions and networking in the corridors and in separate meeting rooms.

Those who attended the panel discussions came back with the impression of having sat in parliamentary committees: no speeches, lots of debate.

Meetings have started on time (almost unheard of at the UN) and been well attended throughout.  The closing session has almost as many participants as the beginning.

The morning today is hectic, to say the least, and busy with last minute negotiations.  Really, it is only by the time that we sit down to hear the rapporteur that I am fairly certain that the Speakers will adopt an outcome document.

I am conscious of the fact that the declaration is not perfect, says the rapporteur.  We have a divergence of opinions and this is of course quite natural.  We are, after all, political leaders.  This is maybe the best compromise we can forge at this stage, he concludes.

Maybe.  President Gurirab makes the point that all delegates clearly do not agree with everything that is said in the declaration.  Several Speakers from the European Union do not agree with everything said about the IPU in the fourth part of the declaration.  That  must mean that we will have to continue our dialogue to resolve our differences.  On that understanding, he invites the Speakers to adopt the declaration.

It is 12.36 pm; the declaration is adopted.

Throughout these days, we have heard the most extraordinary plurality of opinions.  It is going to take us quite a while to distil it all.

That will also mean – for this Secretary General – to learn the lessons of his first blogging experience!

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Why are we limited to five minutes asks a Speaker in the morning’s session?  Why are we not given more time?  Part of the answer is in the sheer number of Speakers who take part in the summit.

We get a taste of that throughout the day.  It is simply impossible to keep within time limits.  At the end of the morning, the interpreters turn off the lights, close the booths and leave for lunch.  The last Speaker of the morning session is left to deliver his speech with no translation.

I think this is rude.  I am reminded that I am at the UN and this is standard practice.

The debate continues on the floor and in the corridors.  The themes remain the same; global crises, democratic accountability, parliament’s role in international relations.

Quite a few Speakers intervene in the debate on the IPU’s future direction.

It is doubtful that an international convention on the IPU will strengthen the IPU say some; others argue the time has now come to give the IPU the status of an international organization through a convention.  Similarly, the IPU’s role in relation to the UN receives many comments and suggestions.

Of course, the conference is not meant to take any decisions in relation to the IPU.  That does not (nor should it) stop Speakers from expressing their views; some of them diametrically opposed.

That debate spills over into the preparatory committee which meets late in the afternoon.  It tries to resolve outstanding issues in the declaration which relate, precisely, to the IPU and its future development.

While all of this goes on, panel discussions take place in separate rooms.  These are discussions I miss; why is it not possible to be everywhere?  There is simply too much going on.

Anders B. Johnsson

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If this is indeed a diary, then the day starts with breakfast with the UN Secretary-General and the heads of the UN agencies in Geneva.  Global challenges, avenues for solutions and the need for political will are all on the menu.

There follows a meeting with the IPU President to go over last minute arrangements and to start receiving what soon becomes the largest gathering ever of Speakers of Parliaments (along with several Deputy Speakers).  When the meeting starts, the United Nations Assembly Hall in Geneva is packed.  For the first time, this prestigious venue is receiving a global parliamentary summit – the 3rd World Conference of Speakers of Parliament.

The IPU President and the UN Secretary-General launch the debate.  Both underscore how essential parliaments are to democracy and to the United Nations.  Parliaments need to bring the business of the UN into their deliberations.  The United Nations needs the support of parliaments. The UN Secretary General calls for stronger cooperation and a more strategic relationship with the IPU.

We hear several reports; on the relationship between parliaments and the United Nations; on parliamentary action in support of the Millennium Development Goals; on the development of standards for democratic parliaments; and, on IPU’s own development and its relationship with the United Nations.

But more than anything we hear from the people. This is not a diplomatic conference.  It is a meeting of political leaders who speak with the confident knowledge that they can legitimately speak in the name of people everywhere.

There are several debates rolled into one.  Some of the Speakers address the multiple crises confronting the world; others the challenges facing their own country.  Some focus on the role of parliament in international affairs.  Several talk about the IPU and make suggestions for its future development.  Others caution about an ambition for the IPU which they do not share.

This is a diverse debate, but also a necessary debate.  As one of them says, we hold different opinions, often with deep conviction and even diametrically opposed.  But we must learn to listen to each other if we are to solve problems.  She also reminds us that cooperation is not an end in itself.  It is a means towards achieving progress that can benefit all.

Therein lies the challenge.  What will come out of this process?  The discussions surrounding the outcome document take place in the corridors.  Eventually they will be brought back into the hall.  For the moment they are continuing during a cultural evening organized by a Swiss Parliament that is eager to welcome the Speakers to international Geneva.

Anders B. Johnsson

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The Women Speakers have continued the debate on maternal, child and newborn health for the second day.  The debate has shifted to focus on the societal context in which care must be provided.

How do we achieve “women-friendly” societies?  Where do we start?  At school, say some.  We must have a gender-sensitive school curriculum.

Don’t underestimate the importance of political leaders and political parties, say others.  They are powerful opinion makers; we have to work on them. And with them.

In fact, much of the debate refers to partnership.  Women have put the issues on the agenda, demanded respect for their rights; but they cannot guarantee them on their own.  Men have to join in.  Society has to be supportive.

Nowhere is this more obvious than when seeking to eliminate violence against women.  Getting rid of gender based violence in all its manifestations – and particularly the insidious violence that takes place in the home, behind closed doors – needs support from everyone in society.

Women’s participation in politics and public life is of fundamental importance.  But women do not want to be forced to participate in politics on terms set by men.  Male-dominated politics don’t appeal to women.  We face a double challenge: not only must we attain political office, we must also change the political process.

One of the Speakers concludes with passion.  In the last sixty years we have adopted so many good laws.  Why do we still have these problems? Because those who should implement the laws are locked into old mindsets, larded with prejudices from the past.  What we have to do is change their mindset, change people’s attitudes, change the society in which we live.

It is early Saturday afternoon.  The sun is beating down outside.  People are in the streets.  But the National Council Chamber remains full.  We are taking part in a wonderfully rich discussion and the women Speakers have much to tell each other.

They conclude by adopting the Bern Initiative for Global Parliamentarian Action on Maternal and Child Health, an eight-point plan for action they can promote in and through parliament to achieve MDGs 4 and 5 by 2015.

On Monday they will join their male colleagues at the opening of the 3rd World Speakers Conference in Geneva.  Then begins the task of enlisting them as partners.

Anders B. Johnsson

Secretary General

Inter-Parliamentary Union

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It is a very unusual sight.  The lower Chamber of the Swiss Parliament – the National Council – is filled with women Speakers of Parliament and their colleagues who have travelled to Bern from near and far.  Every continent, geographical region, culture and political system is represented in the Hall by outspoken and powerful women political leaders.  On the podium, two women Speakers from the host country alternate in directing the debates.

The women Speakers are meeting for the sixth time in as many years.  They have turned out in record numbers.  There are only forty women Speakers in the world; twenty five of them are here.

The debate focuses on two of the Millennium Development Goals: MDG 4 on child mortality and MDG 5 relating to maternal health.  Of the eight MDGs, these two are making the least progress.

Not surprising, say several of the Speakers.  We are living in societies that are not friendly to women where saving a woman’s life is not perceived as a priority.  There is little gender equality, little support in society, and it does not translate well into much needed political will.

They underscore the need to exercise political leadership and to be ready to break taboos.

Family planning is a sensitive subject in all countries, they point out.  Nonetheless, it needs to be discussed.  For as long as we avoid addressing the issue, tens of thousands of women will continue to die every year from complications arising from unwanted pregnancies.  Many times more will continue dying from unsafe abortions.

The women Speakers are sharing experiences of what has proven to work.  Political arguments, legislative strategies, how to transform a budget request for a health programme for women into a bailout of women and winning the vote!

As the debate draws to an end, the Speakers are already drafting recommendations they want the 3rd World Speakers Conference to endorse.  Success in achieving MDG 4 and 5, they are convinced, will require not only dogged determination by the women but also commitment and participation by men.

Anders B. Johnsson

Secretary General

Inter-Parliamentary Union

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The third World Conference of Speakers of Parliament will bring together Speakers – the presiding officer of parliament who takes a leadership role in the chamber and who represents the parliament in its dealings with other bodies – of more than 150 countries. Together, they will seek ways to enhance democratic accountability with particular reference to the United Nations and other international organizations. The Conference promises to be one of the major political gatherings of 2010.

Women in politics

The conference will be preceded by the sixth annual meeting of Women Speakers, who will focus their attention on achieving gender equality and achieving Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 on child survival and maternal health. Only 41 of the Speakers of the world’s 261 parliamentary chambers are women. With the world average of women parliamentarians at 19%, the target of gender balance in politics is far off in too many countries. Things have certainly improved, but not nearly as much as we would want them to.

Conference blog

For the first time, the IPU is providing (near) real-time reporting from the conference via this conference blog. There will be summaries of each session, selected quotes from speakers, a daily note from the Secretary General, photos and video interviews with participants. I welcome this effort to bring the conference to a wider audience and await with interest your feedback.

High expectations

As the opening of the conference approaches, may I express my hopes and expectations that the debates among Speakers of parliament will set forth a bold roadmap for future action by parliaments and their international organization, the IPU. The conference should chart a course towards greater accountability at the international level, leading us towards stronger democracies and concrete progress towards the internationally agreed development goals.

Anders B. Johnsson

Secretary General

Inter-Parliamentary Union

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