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JOHN RUGGIE: We certainly didn’t have this event as a mere celebration. We had it as a working meeting. It was rare for an occasion like this that there was no gala dinner, there were no concerts. This was a working summit.
KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, a wrap-up of this summer’s Millennium Summit. Plus, a new warning about gender discrimination.
STAN BERNSTEIN: The Millennium Summit also called for a reduction of the number of people living in poverty by half. And we know that the provision of reproductive health services and the elimination of gender inequality are key to being able to attain that goal. Without it we don’t stand terribly much of a chance.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.
PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. In early September the largest-ever gathering of world leaders was held at United Nations headquarters in New York City. This Millennium Summit was called by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, but much of the heavy lifting involved in making the summit a reality fell to Assistant Secretary-General John Ruggie. Ruggie, an American, spoke with Common Ground about the goals of the summit and the next steps called for by the summit participants.
JOHN RUGGIE: The United Nations was founded in 1945, as you know, in a very different world. Two-thirds of the countries of the world today were then under colonial rule. People crossed the Atlantic by big steamships. And there were 52 countries, or 53 countries in the United Nations. Since then we have never had the opportunity of taking a comprehensive look at who we are, what we do, how we can do it better, and where we want to be 15 years down the road. So the secretary-general saw an opportunity in an accident of the calendar. With the year 2000 and the turn of the millennium, could in a sense, be exploited as an opportunity to say, “Wait a minute. This is a big calendar change. Isn’t it time we sat back and took a serious look at how we want to proceed into the future. What our priorities should be. And how we should pursue them.” And I think, at that level, certainly, the summit was a huge success.
PORTER: Seeing all those zeros in a row, somehow inspirational.
RUGGIE: I guess, yeah. Or, remembering when, on New Year’s Day, how from one time zone or another, the year 2000 began over and over and over again. With kids gleaming in different parts of the world. And fireworks going off.
PORTER: You obviously work very closely with the secretary-general. Any personal reactions from him? How did he feel following the event?
RUGGIE: He was very pleased with the reaction of the presidents and prime ministers. He, himself, was mentioned in every speech that every leader gave and he was praised extensively. So that’s always good for someone to hear, I’m sure. I react well when someone praises me, and I suspect he does, too. But more importantly, what he wanted to get out of this was a political endorsement at the highest possible level for a set of priorities for the organization. Both substantive priorities and institutional priorities, in the sense of how we should do business. And we got that. We got a serious, a series of serious commitments to a poverty eradication agenda, including health issues and education issues; strengthening of peacekeeping, and institutional reforms, including building partnerships, effective partnerships with the private sector and with civil society organizations. All of those things were enthusiastically endorsed by the heads of state in a political declaration they adopted by acclamation, and in their individual statements at the summit itself.
PORTER: This is the Millennium Declaration?
RUGGIE: That’s right.
PORTER: Yes. For you, what are the most important parts of that? What do you think is different, or what did you hear come out of that declaration that reaffirmed your belief that this was an important institution?
RUGGIE: Well, it reflects sort of two types of consensuses, if you will, among the heads of state and government. One is some core values that the UN stands for. And that the UN should pursue, having to do with freedom, with dignity, with being prudent in our relations with nature, and to having people from North and South, East and West, and all points in between, agree that those are the core values that should energize what the United Nations does. Secondly, there is a, an outline of a program of action in the Declaration in terms of priorities with regard to poverty eradication, with regard to strengthening peacekeeping, a strong endorsement for a number of environmental initiatives, including the Kyoto Protocol, and for a new UN that works in partnership with other actors, both among and within countries, public as well as private.
PORTER: You mentioned the program of action. The biggest fear people have are that documents like this will just be words on paper and the speeches will just be hot air. But you think that the program of action will keep that from happening?
RUGGIE: Well, no one has that fear more than we do. I mean we certainly didn’t have this event as a mere celebration. We had it as a working meeting. In fact, it was rare for an occasion like this that there was no gala dinner, there were no concerts. This was a working summit. People came to work. And that’s how it was intended. Now we are seized with the follow-up process. The secretary-general literally the night the summit ended, we were having a little wine and cheese party at about 9 o’clock on Friday night when it ended. He came in, he made a little toast, thanked everybody, and then he said, “You know, all of the energy and all of the imagination that you all put into the preparations and to the running of this thing, you now have to dedicate to implementation.” And that’s where we’re at.
PORTER: Any time you have this many heads of state come together, and it is historic, the number that we had in one place, there are always going to be strange things that happen. I want to just get your reaction to a few of them. One was the fact that the North Korean delegation was stopped on their way here. What happened there and why, and what can we do to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again?
RUGGIE: My only knowledge of it comes from the press. They were turned back when they, or went back, when they refused to be searched by American Airlines at the Frankfurt Airport. And so rather than violating their understanding of what diplomatic privileges mean, they turned around and went back home. I, the whole affair obviously was unfortunate because one of the really interesting developments in the last few months here have been a number of joint initiatives by North and South Korea. And there was planned a joint statement by them here on Korean unification, which was not possible because the Northern delegation was not here.
PORTER: At times the Middle East talks that were going on, around on the fringes of the Millennium Summit, seemed to overshadow in the press coverage what was happening at the summit. Was there any concern about that, that might, sort of take the front page headlines?
RUGGIE: No, we don’t care about front page headlines if it helps bring peace to the Middle East. That’s certainly one of the most enduring challenges this organization has faced, and the international community as a whole has faced, right since 1948.
PORTER: We all heard about President Clinton and President Castro, their brief encounter in the hallway. That certainly made headlines. Was it part of the plan that getting people together informally like that might lead to some different kinds of interactions?
RUGGIE: Well, actually that wasn’t in a hallway, it was in the, it was in the luncheon room where the opening lunch was held. And after the lunch was over, people had filed out of the room to go next door to have the group photograph taken. And it so happened that both President Clinton and President Castro were surrounded by well-wishers who wanted to have a little chat with them, and then at one point they were left standing there by themselves facing each other, which is very interesting.
PORTER: Any other encounters like that, that you knew of, that happened around the summit?
RUGGIE: Well, the other very interesting one was the sudden shift in the speaking order on the opening morning which allowed President Khatemi of Iran to speak while President Clinton was still in the chamber. And President Clinton was very attentive and applauded President Khatemi when he had finished his statement. I think that also was a good gesture.
PORTER: It is interesting, isn’t it? I mean, over the last ten years look at some of these events; I mean, the Berlin Wall coming down, Nelson Mandela walking out of jail-intractable situations that we thought could never change. And certainly the Korean relations fall into that; US-Cuban relations fall into that; US-Iranian relations-I mean, we certainly are at an interesting point in history, where things are happening that no one really dreamed would happen.
RUGGIE: I think that’s right. And what it goes to show you is that you must never give up. You just keep on trying. If you don’t win today or don’t succeed today, do it again tomorrow. And that’s certainly our philosophy, and the secretary-general’s personal commitment. In the long run we will prevail. It make take a day or a year or a decade longer than we would like. But the issues are important and we’re committed.
PORTER: John, a lot of people editorialized, I guess, about the fact that among this gathering of heads of state were a number of people who were not democratically elected, people who might be termed despots or somehow not the kind of leaders that we might choose for the peoples of the world. Is that sort of a, ultimately a failing of the United Nations? I mean, something that we, that is sort of built into the organization, that we just can’t get around the fact that these people may not necessarily be representative of their people?
RUGGIE: Well, the United Nations is an organization of states. It’s not an organization of individuals or of leaders. We have to deal with the states that exist out there. We don’t have the luxury of saying, “Well, you know, you’re a bad state; we’re not gonna talk to you,” or “We’re not gonna allow you into this committee room to have a vote on this issue.” We deal with the states that exist. The secretary-general on occasion has been accused of dealing with bad people-for example when he went to Iraq he was criticized by that. And his response, I thought was a very sensible response. He said, “You don’t make peace with angels. If everybody were an angel you wouldn’t need a United Nations.”
PORTER: Another enduring issue is Security Council reform. And this has been on the table for a very long time. But there never seems to be any action. Even at those times when we really think there might be some action we’re still left with the P-5 and the veto powers and all of that. Anything on the horizon you see that might change that?
RUGGIE: Well, I think first there was a really strong consensus coming out of the summit, that for the sake of the legitimacy of the United Nations and the Security Council, reform of the council is necessary. In its working methods, in making it more transparent, and also more reflective of the, of the membership that exists today in the year 2000. And I think that was, that was universally acknowledged. Obviously the difficulty lies in the detail and how best to do it. I think we’re moving to a point where there is now some flexibility on the number to which the council could be expanded. In other words, if you had insisted that it could only go from 15 to 18, or 21, that makes it arithmetically very difficult to accommodate the developing countries in particular, from the different regions whom one would want included. But if you’re talking about going up to 24 or 25, then it becomes arithmetically more doable. And it still isn’t so large that it becomes ineffective. So I think there’s been some movement in the last months. And the impetus from the summit I think will be helpful.
PORTER: John Ruggie is assistant secretary-general of the United Nations and the chief organizer of the Millennium Summit.
MCHUGH: How gender discrimination affects the global economy. Next, on Common Ground.
STAN BERNSTEIN: We know that about one in three women globally will at some point in their lives be coerced into sex, beaten, or in other ways abused. It wasn’t until recently that we had any idea of the dimensions of this phenomenon. It wasn’t something that was discussed as part of public policy.
MCHUGH: Inequity between women and men limits the potential of individuals, families, communities, and nations. That’s the conclusion of a new report issued by the United Nations Population Fund. The State of World Population 2000 report says women across the globe are victims of discrimination, violence, and sexual exploitation at rates so alarming that ending gender discrimination is an urgent human rights priority. Stan Bernstein is a Senior Research Advisor for the UN Population Fund, and the Chief Author of the report.
STAN BERNSTEIN: This year’s report is “Lives Together, Worlds Apart: Men and Women in a Time of Change.” The major message of this report is that the cost of gender inequality is just simply too high. It’s a cost that’s paid by individual women, by individual men, by couples, by their communities, and in fact by whole countries. And this year’s report, we think, is one of the more important of the series, because it addresses what is a key concern that retards development at local levels, at national levels, and at the international level. And that’s the persistence and pervasiveness of gender inequality.
MCHUGH: And why is now the time to elevate that to a level where people need to understand that that’s a problem in the world?
BERNSTEIN: Well, I think for a whole lot of reasons. One, there’s more action and activity taking place. It fits in with the other initiatives that are going on within the UN system. This year was the fifth-year review of the Beijing conference. It was the year after the fifth-year review of the Cairo conference. It was also the year of the Millennium Summit. And here an unprecedented event, to have so many heads of state get together and identify some of the very concerns that we point to in this report as major development issues for the coming century: the progress of the HIV/AIDS pandemic; the persistence of gender inequality which is entirely related to the progress that the epidemic has made so far. The Millennium Summit also called for a reduction of the number of people living in poverty by half. And we know that the provision of reproductive health services and the elimination of gender inequality are key to being able to attain that goal. Without it we don’t stand terribly much of a chance.
MCHUGH: How does this report define gender discrimination?
BERNSTEIN: It defines it in a number of ways. It’s a broad topic. And what it tries to do is point to what we know in a variety of different areas. There’s a good deal of attention that’s given to gender violence. We know that about one in three women globally will at some point in their lives be coerced into sex, beaten, or in other ways abused. It wasn’t until recently that we had any idea of the dimensions of this phenomenon. It wasn’t something that was discussed as part of public policy. It was a private matter. It was something that happened in households. It was even considered to be normal and expected. We now know the health toll that this takes; the psychological burden that people suffer from; we know how it impedes discussion within families and prevents men and women from together discussing other areas of life concern: deepening their relationships, improving their care for their children, and their communities.
MCHUGH: In some ways the report sums up in the terminology of “Real Man Syndrome.” Tell me what you really mean by that?
BERNSTEIN: When you look across the world it has a variety of different names and different settings, machismo in the Latin American context, other local settings in others. There’s the expectation and understanding that men are supposed to be the powerful ones. They are supposed to be all-knowing, eternally competent, providers for their families, successes in their endeavors. We would all like this to be true, but we know that the ideal expectation is one that not everybody can live up to, particularly people living in poverty, people living in economies that are in difficulty. And this creates tensions and burdens on the men that gets acted out in sexual violence, in trying to keep to a position of control within their families, rather than discussion about life issues as a way to displace their failures elsewhere. This is part of why we see this as a built-in but changeable, with good role models, with increased education, with heightened discussion and better counseling, there’s the opportunity to change these ingrained patterns and to really forge better partnerships between men and women, so that they can deal with issues as they are, honestly and openly.
MCHUGH: Is it easier now to get that message across, in this day and age of the Internet, where people in all parts of the world are now seeing other parts of the world for the first time?
BERNSTEIN: Well, clearly, clearly the expansion of access to media, including the Internet, but you know, in much of the world, a telephone, a radio, a television, is only beginning to become available. The new information technologies do increase the pace at which information about alternate styles of life, about better ways to do things, and reflection on your own values and your own activities, it can be, in fact, the great boon to that. And we know that a lot of civil society organizations are using the Internet to exchange information about what works, how they have had successes in their local efforts. There are also challenges, because there are a lot of gender-biased images, pornography being just one clear example; it can also be widely disseminated by new information technologies. So it’s not, it’s a tool. And like all tools, it can have good, some good effects and some very dynamic good effects, but there are also dangers.
MCHUGH: Where would you say are some of the worst examples of gender discrimination in the world right now?
BERNSTEIN: We try not to point specific fingers. ‘Cause we consider it to be really a global problem. Of course, in countries where women can’t get access to healthcare, where they can’t be teachers, where they are totally segregated from contact with males who are not family members-and at that, frequently not treated well by family members-in countries of that type, where women lack the rights to resources, where they can’t inherit property, where they can’t get access to school beyond a certain age because they’re felt, it’s felt that they have to be protected-these are countries in which the situation is really quite severe and where an awful lot of progress has to be made.
MCHUGH: Would you say that gender discrimination is viewed differently here in the US and other highly developed countries?
BERNSTEIN: Some of the more blatant and obvious political and social restrictions on women’s participation have been falling gradually over the decades in the more developed countries. A lot of battles have been fought. Now, I mean most countries of the world women can vote, for example, though in a lot of countries this is only a development of the last quarter to half a century. But still, participation in the political arena, you take a look at the representation of women in legislatures, their participation in ministries, their low number of them who are heads of state-the full political participation and economic participation of women has not been achieved even in the more developed societies. We know that gender violence still exists in more developed settings. In some of the more developed countries I’m afraid it probably has led to some complacency, a lowering of activity, and unfortunately, a lack of concern for the efforts that could be helpful to have all of the world’s women respected as equal partners in development.
MCHUGH: Is that happening today in the US?
BERNSTEIN: I would say that when you look at the surveys, people are interested in seeing that women get reproductive health services. Consistently more than 70% of the US public says that they consider that important. And they also, when they name the issues that they’re concerned about, reduction of poverty; these are issues that would also be well addressed by the provision of safe and effective methods of family planning, by the improvement of safe delivery, by the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. So, they recognize that this is an important investment that should be made of US funds as part of international assistance. But it’s not very high on their radar screens and the donor countries have not fulfilled the pledges that they made in Cairo for the devotion of international assistance for population and reproductive health programs. I think that an aroused public, the concerned,can let their representatives know and can see that appropriate and adequate funding is made available.
MCHUGH: How does providing those very basic services equate into a better world economy?
BERNSTEIN: We point to the improvement of the economy, and let me say the ways in which it happens. But it’s not just an issue of improvement of economy. We stress that, in fact, macroeconomic situations are improved and we do think that that is an important part of it. But that’s as much a pitch to the policy makers, who like to know that they’re getting something for their buck. But it’s also a basic and fundamental human rights issue, and one that should not be ignored. How does it help economic development? Well, we know that where, for each percentage increase in secondary enrollment of women, there’s about a .3 percent increase in gross national product. We know that countries that have managed to reduce their mortality rates and reduce their fertility rates get a one-time only benefit. We call it the demographic bonus; an opportunity to take funds that would be needed to invest in basic services for larger and larger populations of young people and to use those to improve the quality of the health and education services that the young get, and that the population as a whole gets. We know that countries that put policies and programs in place to invest to get advantage of that demographic bonus, like the East Asian Tigers, can have very rapid increases in their economic development.
MCHUGH: In some countries, cultural and religious beliefs are used to justify gender discrimination. How do we move beyond that?
BERNSTEIN: Cultures are dynamic and adaptive. The report is entitled, subtitled, “Men and Women in a Time of Change.” And we have to recognize that there are a lot of things that are changing in the world. You’ve alluded to globalization and increased information access. We know that urbanization is continuing. We know that more and more countries are becoming more industrialized and less dependent just on subsistence agriculture as parts of their economies. There are so many areas where people are contending with and dealing with change. Clearly this is going to affect the kinds of attitudes and values that people have about these most basic parts of their lives. When you look at the campaign against female genital mutilation, for example, there have been efforts in a number of countries where people have adapted their local cultural practice and belief to eliminate the harmful practice. In many places they have adopted a symbolic change. There’s now no cutting. Instead, there’s a slightly changed rite. There’s a recognition that this is an important way to transmit cultural values, but that it doesn’t have to put the girls and women at risk of ill health and death.
MCHUGH: The summary of the report says, “Ending gender discrimination is an urgent human rights and development priority.”
MCHUGH: That’s really strong language.
BERNSTEIN: Well, sometimes you have to say the truth as bluntly as possible in order to get action to happen. For many decades, as I said earlier, these matters weren’t talked about. They were not on the public agenda. We know that aroused and concerned citizens-people dealing with each other face to face, dealing with their communities and their civil organizations and religious groups, dealing with their governments, that action on all of these levels and new partnerships are going to be required. We also know that, as the report tabulates, that the costs of inaction are really much higher than we ever knew. We now have over 6 billion people on the planet. We expect to go to about 9 billion by the middle of the next century. We can’t provide a better life for all of these people if we have brakes on, if we’re carrying unnecessary ballast.
MCHUGH: Stan Bernstein is a Senior Research Advisor for the UN Population Fund, and the Chief Author of the State of the World Population 2000 report. For Common Ground, I’m Kristin McHugh.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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