Commission on Status of Women
NEW YORK, 6 March (UN Headquarters) -- The Commission on the Status of Women this afternoon continued the first day of its forty-fifth session, as it resumed its general discussion on follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing 1995) and the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly entitled "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century".
As the Commission heard statements from 17 speakers, Hedy Fry, Secretary of State, Multiculturalism, Canada, said that while media and new technologies such as the Internet could be powerful tools to promote awareness of diversity and gender equality, they could also be misused by those intent on promoting stereotypes that propagated discrimination or advanced an agenda of hate. Addressing the role of divergent technologies must be a key facet of any strategy to eliminate all forms of discrimination.
Reiterating that point, Sophie Piquet, Director-General of Human Rights, Council of Europe, said the sex industry was one of major buyers of information equipment that was then used in domains such as the Internet, in much the same way as it was used by racist groups. The Council was studying those issues and trying to propose measures to fight them.
Denmark’s representative expressed concern that widespread economic, political, social and cultural practices, that favoured boys and men at the expense of girls and women, would reinforce the vulnerability of females to HIV infection. The issue of sexual and reproductive rights was, therefore, key in dealing with the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It was paramount to include men and male behaviour in the battle against the disease.
Nafsiah Mboi, Director for Women’s Health, World Health Organization (WHO), said that while considerable attention had been given to the plight of AIDS orphans, little had been given to the increasing number of AIDS widows. Anecdotal information and small studies made it clear that vast numbers of women were in that position. The problems they faced daily were incredibly complex and affected their very survival and that of their familiars. Furthermore, even problems of basic needs were often aggravated by discrimination and isolation.
The representative of the United States said that, while many people acknowledged the scourges of racism and HIV/AIDS in modern society, their additional unique and detrimental effects on the lives of women were less often recognized. The Commission’s discussion of these issues dramatically affirmed the fact that the rights of women did not exist in a vacuum. Women’s rights were human rights, and human rights were women’s rights.
The representative of the International Council of Women said violence against women ranked as high a killer as cancer. Genital mutilation was still a norm, while millions of girls were trafficked in the commercial sex market every year. Obviously, the international community had not succeeded well enough in trying to achieve its goals. Governments had to legislate effective laws to safeguard women’s rights and well-being.
Statements were also made by the Deputy Prime Minister of Croatia and the representatives of Peru, Japan, United Kingdom, Rwanda, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The Director of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); Chief, Women and Development, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA); and the Director of the Division of Women, Youth and Special Strategy, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also addressed the Commission this afternoon. Representatives of the International Federation of University Women and the International Project Assistance Service made statements, as well.
The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow to continue general discussion on follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and the twenty-third special session of the Assembly.
The Commission on the Status of Women met this met this afternoon to continue its forty-fifth session and resume its general discussion on follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly entitled "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century".
(For detailed background see Press Release WOM/1263 issued 2 March.)
MANUEL PICASSO (Peru) believed it was important for the general debate to appropriately reflect the regional approaches that would allow a constructive contribution towards the work of the Commission on a sensitive issue -– the status of women. That issue had been given the highest priority by countries, including his own, in the Rio Group. He therefore wished to be associated with the statement made by Chile on behalf of the Group.
Latin American and Caribbean countries, he stated, had organized themselves in an unprecedented manner to ensure that their collective political will and vision on the issue of gender equality was reflected in the final document of the General Assembly special session on women. In March last year, Peru had assumed the Presidency of the Regional Mechanism on Women of Latin America and the Caribbean at its Eighth Regional Conference. There, the "Lima Consensus", which constituted the basis of the regional position on revising the Beijing Platform, had been adopted. The regional mechanism was an important contribution because it was at that level of discussion that Member States exchanged experiences.
Turning to the issue of HIV/AIDS, he said that as the epidemic was global, it needed an integral approach. The Commission should therefore seek to emphasize the close link between gender equality, the inequality of power and the vulnerability of women and girls to HIV/AIDS.
On the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Forms of Intolerance, he suggested the inclusion of a sub-item on native populations, the descendants of Africans and migrants as well as a sub-item entitled "Victims of aggravated or multiple discrimination" which would include women, children, people living with HIV/AIDS and the poorest segments of population. These were items that needed to be introduced and involved important segments of civil society.
He concluded by repeating his country’s willingness to work constructively to further the commitments achieved in Beijing under the framework of the protection and promotion of the human rights of women.
YORIKO MEGURO (Japan) said the outcome document pointed to globalization as one of the new challenges the world faced. While the process had positive aspects, it had intensified problems such as the feminization of poverty, trafficking in women, poverty as a whole, infectious diseases, civil conflict and refugees. In addressing those issues his Government had introduced the concept of human security.
He said that on 19 March, on Japan’s initiative, the Trust Fund for Human Security was established at the United Nations. In January, as the result of an initiative taken by his Prime Minister at the Millennium Summit, the establishment of the Commission on Human Security was announced. The issue of HIV/AIDS was closely related to human security and was a central part of the development of developing countries. His Government intended to be actively involved in addressing that issue through its Okinawa Infectious Diseases Initiative.
He said commercial and sexual exploitation of children was another problem that needed attention from the perspective of human security. Such activity was a grave violation of human rights, and it was crucial to take measures to protect children from being victimized. His Government, together with United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), ECPAT (a non-governmental organization (NGO) campaigning to end child prostitution) and the NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, would be hosting the Second World Congress against Commercial and Sexual Exploitation of Children in December this year.
SUE LEWIS (United Kingdom) said that despite progress in her country, women were still not equal. Their incomes over their lifetimes –- whether earned or paid through the benefits system –- were drastically lower than men’s. Women also had more restricted opportunities: many were stuck in low-paid part-time jobs. The United Kingdom, nevertheless, was taking action to understand the barriers women faced at different stages of their lives and to remove those barriers. Removing them could have an immediate impact on the quality of women’s lives, help to remove their children from poverty and tackle women’s poverty in old age. There were also real benefits for the economy: reduced casual sickness absence, improved retention and productivity of staff and improved morale and commitment.
In a diverse society it was important that understanding of the barriers women faced was rooted in the experiences of the women themselves, she said. In the United Kingdom, the employment rate for minority women was about 20 per cent below the national average. The challenge to the Government and public agencies was therefore to understand and act to remove the barriers faced by those women and girls in ways that respected their culture and beliefs. In addition, recent research with young people had shown their dislike of being labelled into ethnic categories. The United Kingdom was exploring the interconnection between a variety of complex concepts, such as ethnicity, religion, national identity, background, language ancestry and so on, to assess their roles in determining new trends in inter-ethnic family formation and migratory patterns.
She said the United Kingdom was giving the highest priority to fighting HIV/AIDS. It was currently contributing more than 100 million sterling a year to help the global fight against the epidemic, including a major contribution of 14 million sterling to the search for a vaccine.
ZELJKA ANTUNOVIC, Vice-Prime Minister of Croatia, said that following her country’s parliamentary elections last year, the number of women members of the Croatian House of Representatives significantly increased to the current level of 21.5 per cent. That had acted as a catalyst for a number of important different developments, including the establishment of the Parliamentary Committee for Gender Equality. Furthermore, according to a recent modification to Croatia’s Constitution, gender equality had been established as one of the highest priorities. That had confirmed the principle that parity democracy was the only genuine form of democracy.
She said that in response to the Beijing +5 outcome document, the Governmental Commission for Gender Equality in Croatia had prepared a new National Policy for the Promotion of Gender Equality. Through its adoption in her country’s Parliament, it would become an all-embracing document for the advancement of women in Croatia in the period 2001-2005.
Turning to HIV/AIDS, she noted that it had spread to such a degree that it affected each and every one of "our countries". "Globally, we must reach a consensus that the best way of prevention of this disease is timely education at all levels, as well as the fundamental recognition that gender perspective has an important role to play in combating the epidemic", she said. Regarding gender, race and all forms of discrimination, she reminded delegations that even the most insignificant manifestation of discrimination must be eliminated. To that end, intersectional discrimination against women and racial discrimination should be given special attention.
BETTY KING (United States) observed that the Commission’s exploration of the issues of women and HIV/AIDS, as well as gender and race-based discrimination represented a powerful and dynamic continuation of the 25-plus year pursuit of the overall well-being and full equality of women.
She said while many people acknowledged the scourges of racism and HIV/AIDS on modern society, their additional unique and detrimental effects on the lives of women were less often recognized. The Commission’s discussion of these issues dramatically affirmed the fact that the rights of women did not exist in a vacuum. Women’s rights were human rights and human rights were women’s rights. Women’s rights remained enduringly linked to the human rights of all people.
While acknowledging the general progress made in achieving equality for all, she said that there was still much to be done. The complex ways in which women experience discrimination, disadvantage, inequities and inequality have yet to be adequately explored.
She acknowledged that in the United States, women and racial minority communities continued to be disproportionately affected by poverty and that racial discrimination could affect women’s ability to escape violence in their families and communities. This was often compounded by gender-based discrimination which further limited opportunities available to them. In an attempt to tackle the issue of violence against women, she said that recent changes in United States law had removed legal barriers that prevented battered immigrant women and children from seeking lawful status independent of their abusive citizen or resident spouse.
Further, her country had dealt with the problem of trafficking in women by passing the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 which contained measures designed to prevent trafficking, prosecute traffickers and protect victims. The law also provided individuals certified as victims of a severe form of trafficking with access to many federal benefits and services.
On the issue of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, she said that her country was committed to achieving a gender-integrated approach in all its development work, including in its response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The United States was working towards increasing the availability of male and female family planning methods, as well as promoting abstinence to prevent HIV infection.
She expressed disappointment that the subject of women with disabilities, a theme which had been proposed in previous years, had been omitted from the current list. She urged that the issue be taken up, either independently or within the broader discussion of globalization and the life cycle.
MARIE-CLAIRE MUKASINE (Rwanda) said that, thanks to the courage and determination of women, a number of achievements had been realized, although much still remained to be done. In Rwanda, the end of the last century had been characterized by genocide in which women were the main victims. More than 65 per cent of the Rwandan population lived below the poverty line, and the majority were women.
She added that more than 50 per cent of households in Rwanda were headed by women who were also disproportionately represented among the very poor. The majority of HIV/AIDS sufferers were women. Despite these challenges, remarkable achievements had been realized. A national policy on gender mainstreaming had been adopted, and programmes to put in place long- and medium-term initiatives were being formulated. A study of the gender situation in Rwanda was also being conducted in order to adjust the Beijing Platform of Action to the Rwanda context.
The Platform Action and the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had been translated to reach as wide an audience as possible. Women and young girls now had the same rights to property and inheritance of property as men and boys, she said. A programme on the legal status of women had been prepared with help of the World Bank. It contained measures to combat violence against women. Due to evidence provided by women victims of sexual violence during the genocide, a plan for their rehabilitation had been prepared by the Government.
She further stated that Rwandan women had rejoiced at the recognition by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda of the acts of violence against them during the genocide as crimes against humanity. Special measures were being adopted in the struggle against HIV and a national secretariat to coordinate a multilateral-sectoral approach to combat the spread of the disease. An education campaign was also being conducted at all levels, and sufferers had formed an association.
She regretted, however, that access to treatment remained a challenge and that condoms were not readily available. She called on countries from the north and south to cooperate in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
She concluded that, although women were the first victims in the Rwanda tragedy, they were also at the forefront of rehabilitation. She appreciated the fact that a Rwandan woman would be the recipient of the Millennium Peace Prize for Women. She further emphasized the need for solidarity among women all over the world in order to achieve their common goal of equality.
ELLEN MARGRETHE LØJ (Denmark) said the issue of gender discrimination must be given proper attention at the forthcoming World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance to be held in Durban, South Africa, later this year. "We need to empower women belonging to the vulnerable groups to claim and secure respect for their rights in all spheres of public and private life", she said. Turning to HIV/AIDS, she said the upcoming special session on that issue must address not only the special needs of girls and women, but also incorporate the full gender dimension of the crisis.
She said the Danish strategy for development cooperation, "Partnership 2000", identified HIV/AIDS as a special concern to be given priority and additional funding. With that increased focus, her country wanted to do its part in preventing the spread of the disease and limiting its effects. "We are concerned that widespread economic, political, social and cultural practice that favours boys and men at the expense of girls and women will reinforce the vulnerability of females to HIV infection", she said. The issue of sexual and reproductive rights was, therefore, key in dealing with the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It was paramount to include men and male behaviour in the battle against the disease.
HEDY FRY, Secretary of State, Multiculturalism, Canada, stressed continuing to identify innovative ways for the Commission to fulfil its mandate while ensuring that its work outcomes remained credible, relevant and transparent. Institutional follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, including the key objective of mainstreaming gender perspectives throughout the United Nations system, was, therefore, vital to the overall objectives of the Organization. Yet, for gender to be fully integrated into the work of the United Nations, there was need for a systematic and strategic approach. The Commission’s role and importance in that respect was clear.
She said that, while media and new technologies such as the Internet could be powerful tools to promote awareness of diversity and gender equality, they could also be misused by those intent on promoting the stereotypes that propagated discrimination or to advance an agenda of hate. Addressing the role of divergent technologies must be a key facet of any strategy to eliminate all forms of discrimination. Canada believed that no form of discrimination could be adequately addressed without explicit recognition of gender considerations. Historical patterns, regional specificities and global universalities of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance should be reflected in the outcome of the Commission.
She said HIV/AIDS was a symptom of inequity, poverty, illiteracy and a lack of access to social services. Governments must ensure that the human rights of women and girls living with and affected by the epidemic were promoted and protected. Improvement of their social and economic conditions was key to prevention. Importantly, political institutions must commit themselves to developing strategies that supported the involvement of women and girls in programme design, implementation and evaluation. Equality could not be achieved in isolation, and women’s and other equality-seeking organizations were key in achieving goals.
LI HYONG CHOL (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) said that to hammer out a final solution to women’s problems, it was important to thoroughly implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcome document of the twenty-third special session of the Assembly. In so doing, national governments should, in the first place, define the correct viewpoint on the problem of women and enforce social policies to ensure the active participation of women in socio-political activities. Since the adoption of the Law of Equality between Man and Woman, which stipulated the legal rights of the latter, his Government had continued to effect special policies for women.
He also stressed further enhancement of the role of international organizations within the United Nations system in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action. To solve the problems of women in the new century, it was also important to liquidate past crimes committed against them. The preparatory meeting of the Asia-Pacific Region for the World Conference against Racism recently adopted a declaration whose provisions urged identification of State responsibility and compensation for colonial domination. In that regard, his delegation called for Japan to join the international community in its efforts to solve the problems of women by recognizing its State responsibility for the crime of "comfort women". It should also make a sincere apology and provide compensation.
The representative of the International Federation of University Women said that her organization was heartened and encouraged by the growing worldwide consensus that all human rights were women’s rights; however, it was concerned that there was no mention of this in the annotation to the provisional agenda items of the Human Rights Commission.
She asked for the resolution to be mentioned on all items in order to underline the double discrimination often suffered by women where racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and all forms of discrimination were concerned.
She believed that the Commission had a fundamental role to play in giving effect to the resolution in order to continue the synergy that was created in 1998 in a special dialogue between the Human Rights Commission and the Commission on the Status of Women. It was through perseverance in addressing the gender perspective in all the bodies of the United Nations and elsewhere, in a holistic and comprehensive manner, that women would make significant progress towards full gender equality.
In highlighting the some his organization's key activities for promoting gender equality for this year, NICOLAS BWAKIRA, speaking on behalf of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that new High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers was committed to the advancement of the rights of refugee women and the promotion of gender equality.
The UNHCR recognized that engaging in dialogue with beneficiaries of its programmes was pivotal to its work and had, therefore, organized in May 2001, in partnership with the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, a dialogue with 50 refugees, displaced and returnee women from around the world. This meeting would inform the High Commissioner of the issues which directly concerned them. The organization was also planning a conference on prevention of and responses to sexual and gender-based violence in situations affecting displaced persons at the end of March, among other activities.
He concluded that there were many challenges facing his organization and that diminishing resources underscored the need for international agency partnerships to strengthen collective efforts. It would be most unfortunate if the UNHCR could not take action on recommendations by refugee women due to lack of funds.
NAFSIAH MBOI, Director for Women’s Health, World Health Organization (WHO), said it was regrettable that the health of women and girls continued to be a cause for deep concern. In some countries, females were regularly deprived of access to even the most basic health information, care, services and treatment due to systematic deprivation of their personal rights and mobility. The WHO had undertaken gender mainstreaming because it was a uniquely effective tool to accelerate the process of identifying and overcoming inequity and injustice in the field. Her organization was also working with partner institutions in six countries around the globe to create a more systematic picture of the dimensions, health consequences and risk factors of violence against women.
She said that while considerable attention had been given in recent years to the grim plight of AIDS orphans, little systematic attention had been given to the increasing number of women widowed by AIDS. Anecdotal information and small studies made it clear that vast numbers of women were in that position. The problems those widows faced in daily life were incredibly complex and affected their very survival and that of their familiars. Furthermore, even problems of basic needs were often aggravated by discrimination and isolation. She called upon all those present to reflect on how they could contribute to alleviating that problem.
In closing, she said data collection and gender analyses had to be done in a better manner. Gender bias had to be eliminated in the design of health programmes. Gender discrimination in the delivery of services also had to be halted. There was also a need to listen better to women needing health-care services in order to understand the obstacles they encountered and their reluctance to seek services.
FATIMA SBAITY KASSEM, speaking on behalf of the five regional commissions of the United Nations, said that all the regions had shown increased participation of women in the labour market, increased access to education, the development of legislation against gender-based discrimination and violence, and a strong dynamism of civil society through the emergence and diversification of NGO activities for gender equality.
However, she acknowledged that some areas continued to be of concern for all regions though in varying degrees. Those included the spread of structural, as opposed to functional, poverty affecting women disproportionately; the persistence of gender discrimination in the labour market; and unequal and sometimes non-existent access to social services.
She said there were region-specific concerns which included the status of women in the Arab region, which was largely governed by cultural and traditional values which limited economic and social participation. A regionwide gender awareness campaign had been launched to tackle that issue. In Africa, the lack of public awareness and government commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS had decimated entire communities. To alleviate the situation, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) had organized, in December 2000, the African Development Forum on HIV/AIDS.
In the region of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the persistence of economic policies which ignored the social impact on women was a problem, while in Europe, women were particularly affected by limited participation in political decision-making, among other things. The region of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) had been identified as the next frontier after Africa for the fight against HIV/AIDS due to the commercial sex industry and the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation.
She appealed to all countries which had not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol to do so, noting that ECLAC countries had ratified it and were strongly committed to it. All five regional commissions were willing to support member States in their efforts to implement the Beijing Platform of Action.
BREDA PAVLIC, speaking on behalf of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said its entire secretariat was committed to apply vigorously gender mainstreaming, and accountability had been placed at the highest level.
Concerted action was being taken to integrate a gender approach into statistics in all fields of UNESCO’s competence, and a major effort was being addressed to define appropriate gender sensitive indicators, including gender empowerment indicators, she added. Collaboration with other United Nations bodies was important in that regard.
SOPHIE PIQUET, Director-General of Human Rights, Council of Europe, said a very important innovation had been developed in Europe as a mechanism of control. Through a system of collective complaints, it was now possible for trade unions and NGOs to submit allegations about actions that went against the European Charter of Social and Human Rights. So far, 25 States had signed the European Convention on Human Rights. There was also an additional protocol to that instrument containing a general provision that prohibited all forms of discrimination. That made it possible to present complaints to the European Court of Human Rights on gender, race or any other kind of discrimination.
She said trafficking in human beings for profit through sexual exploitation was a major crime. A seminar had just been conducted, and a related protocol had been opened for signature alongside the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime.
She said there was now an integrated strategy for gender mainstreaming. That was an important phase in giving concrete expression to the concept of equality of women. That strategy incorporated education, employment, health, refugee policy, sport and local politics. Yet, nothing would be achieved all at once, and the strategy would require continuous efforts. The sex industry was one of major buyers of information equipment that was then used in domains such as the Internet, in much the same way as it was used by racist groups. The Council was studying those issues and trying to propose measures to fight them.
The representative of the International Council of Women said the United Nations should be praised for looking at and trying to establish equality from a gender perspective, since the equality of men and women would not be achieved by just promoting equality.
She said violence against women ranked as high a killer as cancer. Genital mutilation was still a norm, while millions of girls were trafficked in the commercial sex market every year. Obviously, the international community had not succeeded well enough in trying to achieve its goals. International well-being was no good in countries where there were no measures to enforce international norms. Governments had to legislate effective laws to safeguard women’s rights and well-being.
The representative of the International Project Assistance Service said that, although the most widely respected United Nations documents explicitly state that men and women should have equal rights, that was rarely a fact of life in many societies where male-dominated traditions and roles continued.
Laws and policies, she added, must, therefore, be developed to ensure the rights of women and girls were protected and supported by their communities. Governments and supranational bodies should acknowledge and address gender, race and ethnically motivated human rights violations, and girls and women should be involved in the decision making related to development, implementation and monitoring of policies and programmes on HIV/AIDS.
She also called for the economic empowerment of women and girls through policies and strategies to combat the disproportionate poverty they suffered. Easy access to relevant information and education about HIV/AIDS through a broad sexual and reproductive health framework was also important.
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