2 March 2006
Despite Major Gains, Women Bear Disproportionate Share of Poverty Burden, Remain Politically Underrepresented, UN Commission Told
More than 50 Speakers Take Floor to Describe National Efforts Aimed at Achieving Targets Set at 1995 Beijing Conference
NEW YORK, 1 February (UN Headquarters) -- While women had posted major gains in terms of educational achievement, political representation and economic viability, the goal of gender equality was elusive, as women continued to bear a disproportionate share of the burden of poverty and underrepresentation in political life, the Commission on the Status of Women was told today, as it continued its general discussion.
Focusing on the priority themes of the Commission's fiftieth session -- enhanced participation of women in development and the equal participation of women in decision-making -- some 55 participants, including numerous ministers, took the floor in two meetings today to share their national experiences in meeting the targets set out in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action.
Reporting on the results of trend-setting legislation, Iceland's Minister of Social Affairs noted that, following the enactment of paternity leave legislation in 2003, some 90 per cent of Icelandic fathers had utilized that right and taken paternity leave. Men must shoulder their responsibility and take an active part in the promotion of gender equality in all areas.
Describing the introduction of groundbreaking legislation in Norway, that country's Minister of Children and Equality said her country had introduced a 40 per cent requirement for the underrepresented sex on company boards in the private sector. As of 1 January, Norway's 500 privately-owned public limited companies would have two years to comply with the new amendment or face sanctions. Parity had already been achieved in Norway's Government, which consisted of 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men. The Labour Party had decided that the time had come to nominate an equal number of women and men to all politically appointed or elected bodies and electoral lists. Concrete and binding measures were necessary to change the power imbalance between women and men as voluntary agreements did not work, she said.
Australia's representative, however, noted that women had achieved a high level of representation in Australia's Government without the use of quotas. Indeed, the number of women in Australia's national, state and territory parliaments was the highest it had ever been, ranging between 27 and 43 per cent, and included six indigenous women. In recent years, four of the state and territory governments had been led by women and three had women opposition leaders. The Government did not operate a system of quotas to achieve equal participation of women in decision-making roles, but rather, was committed to the merit principle and to providing targeted support to create an environment that enabled women to compete equitably on merit.
France's Minister for Social Cohesion and Gender Equality noted that, while the vast majority of French women completed advanced studies, worked and had enjoyed the right to vote since 1946, they were still underrepresented in political office and all positions of responsibility. To remedy that anomaly, public authorities had taken various legislative measures, including enacting electoral laws. The results had been immediate, with the proportion of women among municipal councillors in 2001 increasing from barely a quarter to nearly half.
Guyana's representative, on behalf of the Rio Group, agreed that while most women had been accorded equal status before the law, more needed to be done to achieve true gender equality. Formidable challenges remained in the form of feminized poverty, gender-based violence, underrepresentation of women in all levels of Government and decision-making positions, and trafficking in persons. The situation was even more severe for rural, indigenous women and women of ethnic minorities.
Botswana's Assistant Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), noted that its members had also made significant progress in women's representation in decision-making positions. Three member countries had already surpassed the 30 per cent target of female representation in Parliament. However, the high rate of loss of professional staff in the public sector, partly due to the high incidence of HIV/AIDS, the increased number of orphans and the burden of care that women shouldered, posed a problem to the socio-economic sectors of SADC members.
A Special Adviser to the Prime Minister of Barbados said that, despite achievements in the area of education and health, unprecedented legislative reform and the presence of women in key Government ministries, areas of concern remained. Educational attainment had not translated into the expected levels of employment among women. Although significant numbers of women were working outside the home, most found themselves having to settle for the lower paying jobs. It was not surprising that more women were numbered among the country's poor, with 60 per cent of them heading poor households. The feminization of poverty remained a reality.
Highlighting the role of women in peace and reconstruction, Iraq's Minster for Municipalities and Public Works said that for more than 30 years Iraqi women had suffered from a dictatorial, fascist system, which had no compunction about humiliating its citizens. Helping to eliminate the despots, Iraqi women had been part of the historic change in the country. Iraqi women faced dangerous challenges, including daily acts of terrorism, and they needed the international community's support to build a new society based on the principles of democracy and human rights.
Congolese women had played a significant role in the building of peace and democracy in the Great Lakes region, said Congo's Minister of the Promotion of Women and the Integration of Women in Development. Her country's resolve to follow best practices and democracy had been given tangible form, with women holding many positions of responsibility. Specific key ministries were held by women and women were present in the National Assembly, the Senate and local councils. The future held a great deal of promise, which would only be realized by increased political will, strengthened cooperation between the North and South and mainstreaming of gender-specific elements in all development polices.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Lesotho, Malawi, Ghana, Finland, Burkina Faso, Azerbaijan, Mexico, Ethiopia, Malaysia, Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal, Niger, Nepal, Greece, Angola, Kenya, Peru, Dominican Republic, Ukraine, Japan, Russian Federation, United States, Republic of Korea, Syria, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Chile, Canada, Sudan, Philippines, Cuba, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Zambia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Viet Nam, India, Tuvalu, Yemen and Papua New Guinea.
A representative of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) made also made a statement.
Representatives of the Coalition of Islamic Organizations, Asia Pacific Women's Watch, Socialist International Women, and Women in Law and Development in Africa also spoke.
The Commission will meet again 10 a.m. Thursday, 2 March, at to continue its general discussion.
The Commission on the Status of Women met today to continue its general discussion, focusing on the two themes of its fiftieth session: enhanced participation of women in development; and equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes at all levels.
(For background on the current session, see Press Release WOM/1538 issued on 24 February.)
CARMEN MORENO, Director, International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), said that within the context of overall United Nations reform, the Commission had a crucial responsibility to ensure that the gender architecture of the Organization was strengthened in accordance with the need to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women. The approach of the United Nations to gender issues needed to be strong, certain and commensurate with the needs and priorities of the world's women.
Women's role in decision-making and placing women's issues and gender into political agendas had been a concern for INSTRAW, she said. The Institute had carried out three case studies in the Dominican Republic, Romania and South Africa to examine why some countries had more successfully "engendered" their politics than others. In addition, INSTRAW had just launched a three-year project on governance, political participation and gender at the local level with funding from the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and INMUJERES of Mexico. That project promoted women's rights, gender equality and the political participation and leadership of women in planning and management at the local level. It would be implemented initially in Central America, Mexico and the Andean region. Among its objectives was raising awareness of, and sensitivity to, the issue of women in government and women's political participation among key stakeholders and the general population.
OLIFANT MFA, Assistant Minister of Labour and Home Affairs of Botswana, speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said the priority theme for the session deserved full attention. Eleven years after the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action, progress towards the attainment of its goals was slow. The SADC had a long-standing commitment to ensuring the equal participation of men and women in decision-making, and its members had made significant progress in the area of women in power and decision-making. Three countries had already surpassed the 30 per cent target of women representation in parliament. The high rate of loss of professional staff in the public sector, partly due to the high incidence of HIV/AIDS, the increased number of orphans and the burden of care that women shouldered, posed a problem to the socio-economic sectors of SADC members. As women constituted the majority of the rural poor, he stressed the need for education and vocational training. He also stressed the critical need to establish sustainable partnerships between all stakeholders.
NTHLOI MOTSAMAI, Speaker of the National Assembly of Lesotho, said Lesotho was a deeply patriarchal society. While women in Lesotho represented over 50 per cent of the population and were more literate than men, their participation in decision-making and politics remained very low. Therefore, a paradigm shift in gender relations had become imperative. The Government had taken actions to place women in significant places of decision-making. Among other things, the Mayor of the capital city was a woman, as was the Commissioner of Police. There were four women ambassadors, representing 25 per cent of the total. In addition, Parliament had enacted legislation paving the way for women to stand alone in some constituencies. Above all, the Speaker of the National Assembly was a woman. She also noted that women bore the greatest brunt of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Among the measures taken by her Government was the launching of a skills training programme and the establishment of a microcredit scheme to allow access to capital for women in order to enhance their participation in economic life.
JOYCE BANDA, Minister of Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services of Malawi, said she was pleased to note that the proposed substantive themes for 2007-2009 included financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women. Malawi's focus on the eradication of women's poverty and on women's economic empowerment remained firm. The participation of women in politics and decision-making positions had improved slightly since 2000, with the proportion of women in Parliament increasing from 8.7 per cent in 1999 to 14 per cent in 2004. Education remained the key for increased participation of women in decision-making and the change of societal attitudes regarding women. Women's primary health services had improved over time, and Malawi continued to make progress in combating violence against women. Another recent development was the establishment of shelters for victims of violence. A favourable constitutional environment had seen a proliferation of human rights organizations, and women's non-governmental organizations were creating a vibrant civil society.
OLIFANT MFA, Assistant Minister of Labour and Home Affairs of Botswana, said his country's commitment to gender equality could be seen in several actions. In 1996, a year after the Beijing Conference, Botswana had adopted the National Policy on Women in Development. Also, the Government had amended nine pieces of legislation that had a negative impact on the human rights of women. In addition, the country's national development strategy -- National Vision of Botswana, Vision 2016 -- called for gender equality and urgent measures to ensure the full participation of women and men in positions of power, leadership and decision-making at all levels of society. To that end, there had been significant improvement in the number of women occupying decision-making positions within the Public Service. At the same time, despite intensive education campaigns, there was a marked disparity of representation between men and women in Parliament. While women's representation in Parliament was 17 per cent in 1999, it had dropped to 11 per cent in 2004.
ARNI MAGNUSSON, Minister of Social Affairs of Iceland, said the role of women in development was a central aspect of the global fight against poverty. The interlinkages between development, good governance, human rights and peace and security put gender equality at the heart of the United Nations mission. Further progress towards the Millennium Development Goals would be limited unless gender strategies were better incorporated into the international community's work. Elaborate strategies had no meaning if implementation was lacking, however. Women remained voiceless despite intentions to empower them. Development agencies should ask whether actions to integrate the gender perspective into their strategies had been adequate. Also, violence against women was a major problem that each Government must address on its own doorstep. Iceland was working on a national plan of action against violence in intimate relationships, which would be a major step forward. A more gender-equal society meant less violence against women, and men must shoulder their responsibility and take an active part in the promotion of gender equality. Following the enactment of paternity leave legislation in 2003, some 90 per cent of Icelandic fathers had participated.
KARITA BEKKEMELLEM, Minister of Children and Equality of Norway, said that her Government consisted of 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men. In addition, the Saami Parliament in Norway had 51 per cent women. The Labour Party had decided that the time had come to nominate an equal number of women and men to all politically appointed or elected bodies and electoral lists. Concrete and binding measures were necessary to change the power imbalance between women and men; voluntary agreements did not work. That was why Norway had introduced a 40 per cent requirement for the underrepresented sex on company boards in the private sector. As of 1 January, Norway's 500 privately-owned public limited companies had to comply with the new amendment. They had two years to meet that target, or be subject to sanctions. She added that due to poor maternal care and health facilities, women suffered from unplanned pregnancies and abortions in large parts of the world. Women who had suffered abortions should not be penalized.
ALIMA MAHAMA, Minister for Women and Children's Affairs of Ghana, said her country was taking steps to provide an enabling environment for women's enhanced participation in decision-making at all levels. Gender mainstreaming had been pursued in Government ministries, agencies and departments. Gender issues had been mainstreamed in the thematic areas of Ghana's new Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy. The Executive Directors of the National Development Planning Commission, the Ghana Statistical Service and the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice and Immigration Service were women. On the legal front, steps were being taken to ratify regional and United Nations conventions. Also, the economic empowerment of women remained a key goal of the Government, and steps had been taken to increase women's access to information and communication technology. Ghana was the first country to subject itself to the Peer Review Process under the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). Gender variables were aspects of the review process, highlighting issues that needed to be tackled. Ghana was determined to implement measures progressively to achieve gender equality and women's empowerment.
TUULA HAATAINEN, Minister of Social Affairs and Health of Finland, said her country was celebrating the 100-year-long history of Finnish women's full political participation. In 1906, her country had been the first country in the world to give women full political rights and to put those rights into practice. Women did not only achieve the right to vote but also the right to be candidates in elections. In January of this year, Finland had re-elected its female President, and women's proportion of the members of Parliament was 38 per cent. Women also accounted for 44 per cent of the ministers in the present Government. Despite the progress made, efforts to increase the number of women in political and economic decision-making in Finland remained relevant. Even though Finnish women of working age were already better educated and trained than men and participated in the labour market as actively as men, the percentage of women among economic decision makers was still disproportionately low. The aim of the Government was to increase the proportion of women in political, economic and other decision-making arenas. She added that the boards of State-owned companies in Finland had reached the target of 40 per cent female membership.
JEANNE FRANÇOISE LECKOMBA LOUMETO, Minister of the Promotion of Women and the Integration of Women in Development of Congo, said her country had embraced the principles of the Beijing Platform, as well as the Millennium Development Goals. Government and civil society were doing their utmost to ensure that the principle of equality became daily practice. The Government's resolve to follow best practices and democracy had taken tangible form in the fact that women held many positions of responsibility. Specific key ministries, including agriculture, livestock, fisheries and food production were held by women. Women were also present in the National Assembly, the Senate and local councils. Certain ministerial delegations had revised their policies to take into account gender issues in all aspects of development. Regarding women's participation in conflict resolution and post-conflict peacebuilding, Congo's women had been involved in the building of peace and democracy in the Great Lakes region. Mindful of all that was involved in their access to decision-making, Congolese women were determined to participate to the full in the country's upcoming elections. The future held a great deal of promise, which would only be realized by increased political will, strengthened cooperation between the North and South and gender mainstreaming of gender specific elements in all development polices.
MARIAM MARIE GISELE GUIGMA, Minister for the Advancement of Women of Burkina Faso, said that 11 years after Beijing, the question of women had become a critical issue and become of singular importance for developing countries, like hers. Women represented about 52 per cent of the population of Burkina Faso. The Government had been attempting to create optimal conditions for the full participation of women in economic and political life. Women were underrepresented in the senior ranks of Government, in spite of their large presence in political parties and the electorate. Also, in daily life, women were still victims of different sociocultural ills. She added that, among other things, favourable conditions for implementing income generation activities had been developed, and special credit funds for women had been established. While unequal access to education and training had limited opportunities for women, they were fighting for access to economic sectors. Civil society had also made tremendous efforts to improve the conditions of women and girls in social, economic and political areas. Despite difficulties, women must play a more active role in decision-making bodies.
HIJRAN HUSEYNOVA, Chairperson of the State Committee for Family, Women and Children of Azerbaijan, said her country had continuously integrated gender equality and women's empowerment as cross-cutting issues in its development policy. The targets of the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Development Goals had been reflected in its 2003-2005 State Programme on Poverty Reduction and Economic Development and in its 2000-2005 National Plan of Action on Women. The main impediment to socio-economic progress in Azerbaijan remained the ongoing conflict with Armenia, which had resulted in the occupation of a significant part of Azerbaijan's territory and the emergence of some 1 million refugees and internally displaced persons, of whom some 420,000 were women. The return of the displaced population remained one of the Government's key priorities. Another important challenge was the lack of women's equal participation in decision-making. The balanced participation of men and women in political decision-making was in integral part of human rights and an element of social justice. To fill the existing gap between de jure and de facto representation of women, the national law on equal rights and equal opportunities had been drafted which, among other things, set the legal framework for balanced political participation of women and men.
PATRICIA ESPINOSA TORRES, President of the National Institute for Women of Mexico, said the consolidation of the national mechanism for women (INMUJERES) had enabled it, in the five years of operation, to build internal capacities, and to develop experiences concerning gender mainstreaming in public policies and federal public administration. Budgets had been established and integrated by the Ministry of Finance, and itemized by gender. The expense budget for women's development aid programmes approved for 2006 had increased by 100 per cent compared to 2005. Various initiatives had been undertaken to promote women's participation in decision-making positions at the national, state and municipal levels within the framework of equity and equal opportunity, including the programme "Building Women's Electoral and Political Participation in Municipalities". In addition, training was being provided on gender mainstreaming in the new labour culture, tackling the importance of reconciling work and family life, the right to equal pay for equal work, and fighting sexual harassment and sexual discrimination at work. Furthermore, campaigns had been launched through the Women and Health Programme with regard to sexual and reproductive rights and the prevention of illnesses in women.
NASREEN BARWARI, Minister of Municipalities and Public Works of Iraq, congratulated every woman for her love of family and for serving as a role model for her family, despite limited resources. Iraq had gone through a difficult period. For more than 30 years, women had suffered from a dictatorial, fascist system, which had no compunction about humiliating its citizens. The torture rooms, graves and cells used to rape testified to the suffering Iraqi women had endured. Women had also suffered from poverty and genuine misery and had been deprived of the most basic rights. Helping to eliminate the despots, Iraqi women had been part of the historic change in the country. The new Constitution, adopted in 2005 by referendum, contained true safeguards for women's rights. Iraqi women had six ministerial posts in the current Government. The National Commission to promote Iraqi women had also been strengthened. Iraqi women faced dangerous challenges, including daily acts of terrorism. The desecration of sacred places in recent days was part of those challenges. The failure of the terrorists resided in the fact that the Iraqi people wished to preserve their unity. They needed the international community's support to build capacity, combat terrorism and build a new society based on the principles of democracy and human rights. She was committed to a redesign of the map of Iraq that would take into account women and the principles of Islam.
UBAH MOHAMMED, State Minister of the Ministry of Women's Affairs of Ethiopia, said that, as in many other sub-Saharan African societies, land ownership was important in Ethiopia. The country's Constitution guaranteed equal rights for women and men in land and property ownership. The Land Use and Administration Laws at both the federal and regional levels also provided equal rights to women concerning the use, administration, transfer and bequeathing of land-holding rights. Efforts to increase women's participation in trade and services included the provision of credit through the Government and non-governmental organizations. A major reform of the country's civil service system had enabled it to recruit and promote more women, through various affirmative action tools, to positions of leadership. Regarding the equal participation of women and men in decision-making, she said specific measures had been initiated to increase gender-balanced representation within the political and public spheres. While the target of 30 per cent for female members of Parliament had not been met, the number of women in Parliament had significantly increased. Ethiopia now had 117 female members of Parliament and a female Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.
SHAHRIZAT ABDUL JALIL, Minister of Women, Family and Community Development of Malaysia stressed that the creation of an enabling environment and gender mainstreaming were necessary for the foundation of equal rights and opportunities for women and men. The Government's most significant measure had been the formulation of enabling legislation and policies. The establishment in 2001 of the Ministry of Women and Family Development was another effort for the advancement of women. Recognizing that access to quality education, employment and health was key to achieving gender equality, the Government was dedicated to ensuring that men and women had equal access and equal opportunities. Given the dynamic global environment, the Government strongly supported efforts towards global networking, debate and dialogue that would promote the interrelatedness of socio-economic development. Malaysia would continue to support the international and regional initiatives that achieved results. The Government appreciated the continued support of many women's non-governmental organizations and hoped to work in partnership for the achievement of common goals.
JEANNE PEUHMOND, Minister of Family and Social Affairs of Côte d'Ivoire, said her country had been long regarded as a haven of peace. However, since September 2002, it had been undergoing a political crisis affecting the lives of its population, especially women and children. In the areas of education and training, the Government had expressed its resolve by distributing textbooks to girls in primary schools and literacy modules for young girls, making it possible to increase the level of parity in primary education. But significant disparities still existed between the sexes. A genuine information and awareness raising campaign was needed to bring about behavioural changes vis-à-vis the education of women. Among other things, it was necessary to grant special scholarships for women in the scientific and technical fields. In the area of health, Côte d'Ivoire had laws punishing female genital mutilation and early marriages. However, maternal mortality was still high. To remedy the difficulties faced, the Government intended to strengthen family planning, promote community health centres, and strengthen national programmes to combat HIV/AIDS and malaria. In the area of decision-making, the Government had launched the programme "Water, Women and Decision-making" in order to include women in the daily management of water and to ensure a lasting supply of water in rural areas.
AIDA MBODJ, Minister for Women, the Family and Social Development of Senegal, said gender equity and equality were important factors for sustainable development. Senegal had implemented two action plans for women in two decades, and a third framework to promote gender quality had been established. In terms of education, significant progress had been achieved at all levels. Since 2004, the number of girls in school was greater than the number of boys. In two years, the Government had spent 40 per cent of its national budget on education. Almost all public literacy programmes had given priority to targeting women, who comprised 90 per cent of literacy classes. Regarding health, recent statistics showed a decline in maternal and infant mortality, and HIV/AIDS had been held to a level below 1.5 per cent. Public health expenditures accounted for some 10.5 per cent of the Government's 2006 budget, which was well beyond the standard set by the World Health Organization (WHO). Projects to improve women's access to financial resources and their ability to strengthen their organization had also been established. The Women's Credit Project had injected more than 2 billion francs for income-generating activities for women. In the area of politics and administration, women were participating in the Government, the Parliament and other agencies. Given the election of the first woman president in Africa, she was confident that others would follow, as women's demographic weight in elections was significant. She called on the international community to increase its support for women's empowerment.
OUSMANE ZEINABOU MOULAYE, Minister for the Promotion of Women and the Protection of the Child of the Niger, said that gender inequalities were an international concern. Her Government was convinced that poverty had a female face. How could countries claim to combat poverty and achieve the Millennium Goals without effectively taking into account gender? The Niger had taken several measures, including the adoption of the national policy for the promotion of women, and women now occupied senior positions of Government. There were six female ministers within the Government and six female ambassadors. The 2004 parliamentary and municipal elections had resulted in 14 women being elected to Parliament and the selection of 671 female municipal councillors. In addition, actions had been taken to promote the autonomy of women, especially through an intensive campaign to educate girls and promote female leadership. In the area of health, actions had also been taken to ensure the early diagnosis of cancer and other illnesses. While significant progress had been made, the remaining challenges included improving the representation of women in decision-making bodies and strengthening the economic power of women so they could be independent and have adequate work. Also, institutional capacity-building in governmental and non-governmental bodies charged with the status of women needed to be strengthened.
DURGA POKHREL, Minister of State for Women, Children and Social Affairs of Nepal, said the status of women in the country had to be understood within the context of religion and politics. The Hindu religion promoted gender equality and gender justice and negated violence against women. The Government was committed to women's advancement, as demonstrated by its adoption of a 21-point agenda to address women's advancement and inclusion. The Women's Advancement Framework, prepared under the leadership of her Ministry by the First Women's Commission, was a comprehensive recommendation to make women equal partners in national development plans and programmes. The Framework had identified the key targets requiring special attention, including war widows and their children, victims of rape and children and women in polyandrous families. A new education act had been passed, guaranteeing girl children from poor and minority groups access to free education at all levels. The Government had also passed a law providing a 20 per cent discount on land registered in a woman's name, which would provide motivation for women's increased property ownership.
CATHERINE VAUTRIN, Minister for Social Cohesion and Gender Equality of France, said that although the vast majority of French women did advanced studies, worked and had had the right to vote and to run for elected office since 1946, women were still underrepresented in political office and in all positions of responsibility. The public authorities had had to take legislative measures to remedy that anomaly, including amending the Constitution and enacting electoral laws. The results were immediate with, among other things, the proportion of women among municipal councillors in 2001 increasing from barely a quarter to nearly half. Even so, difficulties persisted, including the low number of women who held executive office in local communities. In addition, the place of women in positions of responsibility still fell short in the business world. Among the measures taken in that regard was a recent law requiring that at least 20 per cent of the members of the boards of directors of public and private companies be women. She added that the experience of France, with one of the highest fertility rates in Europe and where 80 per cent of women worked, showed that having a job and being a mother were not contradictory.
EUGENIA TSOUMANI-SPENTZA, Secretary-General for Gender Equality, Ministry of Interior and Public Administration of Greece, said gender equality was directly bound to democracy and to a society of equal opportunities. It was also important to economic growth, competitiveness and social cohesion. A significant step towards the achievement of equality was to consider it as a tool of economic growth. In that regard, the General Secretariat for Gender Equality had been implementing, for the period 2004-2008, an integrated, cohesive strategic intervention, which aimed to highlight the political and economic developmental dimensions of gender equality issues. A policy framework for that period comprised four areas of action, including equality in the labour market, prevention of violence and trafficking of women, combating stereotypes and enhancing women's participation in decision-making. The Government had also embarked on a dialogue with employer's organizations concerning the promotion of gender equality. Equality between men and women no longer constituted merely a social, economic and democratic demand. It was an urgent need for millions of women and a necessary force for the economy and democracy. Ultimately, equality meant growth and development.
FILOMENA DELGADO, Deputy Minister of Family and Promotion of Women of Angola, said that in the past, the status of Angolan women was affected by many political and socio-economic setbacks. Now that war was an issue of the past, the Government was committed to improving the living conditions of the population, and to strengthen democratic governance, human rights and the rule of law. That provided an opportunity for strengthening women's access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Although Angola had promulgated legislation to address gender parity, the main obstacle for the full enjoyment of women's human rights was the ineffectiveness of those provisions. In addition, gender-based violence was still rampant, including abduction for marriage, rape, wife beating, early marriage and adultery. Continued efforts needed to be made to mainstream gender issues, so that women could equally reap the benefits of development. An enabling environment for achieving gender equality must start at home. Family played an important role in educating boys and girls, and men and women, concerning the equal status of both.
ALICEN CHALAITE, Assistant Minister for Gender, Sports, Culture and Social Services of Kenya, said that in order to achieve the time-bound targets for gender equality and the empowerment of women, the Government had taken steps to mainstream the Millennium Development Goals in the policy, planning and budgeting processes. In the education sector, tangible results from the implementation of free primary education were immediate with the gross enrolment rate rising significantly. However, challenges relating to retention of the children in school, transitions from primary to secondary levels and affordability had been experienced. Through a consultative process between the Government and civil society, there were now legal provisions for affirmative action in the decision-making organs of several national institutions such as the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and the National Commission on Gender and Development. There were also legal requirements and policy provisions for women and women's rights organizations to be represented in national decision-making processes. The Government recognized that the participation of women in all spheres of life and in key leadership positions contributed to changing negative attitudes toward women.
HAMILTON LASHLEY, Special Adviser to the Prime Minister of Barbados, said the challenge of gender equality for countries in the South was greater. Some 44 per cent of women in Barbados were the sole breadwinners in their households. Despite those challenges, significant strides had been made in his country's pursuit of gender equality, including in the areas of education and health care. Unprecedented legislative reform had provided for equal pay for equal work, inheritance rights for women and children in common-law unions and property rights for women. Of the 30 elected members of Parliament, four were women with ministerial portfolios, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Development. Barbados' deputy Prime Minister was also a woman, as were the Governor of the Central Bank and the Head of the Stock Exchange. Despite those achievements, areas of concern remained. Educational attainment had not translated into the expected levels of employment among women. Although significant numbers of women were working outside the home, most found themselves having to settle for the lower paying jobs. It was not surprising that more women were numbered among the country's poor with 60 per cent of them heading poor households. The feminization of poverty remained a reality. Every attempt was being made to address those concerns.
ELIZABETH QUEROL DE ARANA, Vice-Minister for Women of Peru, said that Peru was pursuing policies to advance the status of women and empower them. Among other things, it had adopted the National Plan for Equal Opportunities for Women and Men 2006-2010. It was also working on decentralized projects to enhance the capacities of women entrepreneurs, as well as projects for women victims of violence. The "JUNTOS" programme, addressing extremely poor families, sought to provide identity documents for women in the high Andes, so they could exercise their rights as citizens. In addition, the Government had undertaken a crusade for zero tolerance against any form of violence against women. During the next five years, Peru proposed to reduce illiteracy among adult women and older women by 50 per cent. Among the country's achievements was the reduction of maternal mortality and the number of adolescent pregnancies. Violence against women was one of the major problems in the country, with a report of a woman being battered received every nine minutes. The Government was working to establish a system for shared information on statistics on reports, trials and verdicts to ensure the effectiveness of policies and better allocation of resources. In the political sphere, the Government was applying a gender quota to election processes.
A representative of the Coalition of Islamic Organizations said most of the United Nations conventions reflected the justifiable concerns for the status of women worldwide. Thanks to international concern, the status of women had improved in the areas of literacy, political participation and health services. Society was still far from achieving its goals, however, as humanity continued to suffer from many problems, including the suffering of women and children as a result of armed disputes and occupation, the increase of divorce rates and the replacement of marriage by other types of relationships and the deterioration of values that had led to sexual relations outside of marriage and homosexuality. Islam emphasized that each sex had its specific characteristics without implying that one was ultimately superior to the other. It opposed all injustices against women such as forced marriages. Islam also emphasized a "culture of chastity" and prohibited sexual relationships outside marriage. Men and women should be treated within the family framework as complementary pairs.
PAWADEE TONGUTHAI, on behalf of Asia Pacific Women's Watch, said that the United Nations had recognized the necessity for women to engage and fully participate in the development process. Therefore, the United Nations must reflect the equal participation of women and men in decision-making through processes that were transparent, accountable and democratic. In the current United Nations reform process, there was a notable underrepresentation of women in decision-making roles. She urged the United Nations system to be a role model for Member States in the equal participation of women and men, and called for the setting up of a women's task force on United Nations reform. It was essential that the United Nations reform process reflected the equal participation of women and men in all high-level decision-making. That would strengthen the gender architecture of the Organization's structure, processes and mechanisms, and contribute to bringing about real change for many women around the world.
SONIA DIAZ, Vice-Minister for Women of the Dominican Republic, said her Government was working to mainstream a gender perspective and ensure the rights of women. It sought to ensure that the planning and execution of the work of its agencies had women as the focus of their work. It was carrying out a strategy with civil society to ensure that any new act approved would be formulated with gender concerns incorporated. It was also working with political parties to ensure that they met their quotas. In addition, the office of the defender of the human rights of women was working to address illicit trafficking and establish victim care programmes. The Ministry for Women was conducting training and raising awareness, through formal and informal programmes, to prevent domestic violence. Work was also ongoing to build up a national statistical system that included gender disaggregated indicators, as well as reflecting information on violence. In the field of education, efforts were being undertaken for teacher training and for mainstreaming gender equity in basic and middle-level education. In addition, work was being done in the classroom to promote women's rights as human rights.
TETYANA KONDRATYUK, Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports of Ukraine said women continued to face a host of persistent obstacles, including the unrelenting threat of violence, trafficking and the spread of HIV/AIDS. Sexual exploitation and trafficking remained one of the worst forms of violence. Trafficking and other forms of violation were particularly flourishing in areas of armed conflict. Women and children constituted a majority of refugees or internally displaced persons. Promoting gender equality was among Ukraine's national priorities. More than 1 million Ukrainian women were entrepreneurs and almost half of the country's women had higher and secondary special education. Girls constituted more than half of the students in universities. The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol continued to play the key role in securing the enjoyment of human rights by women. In that regard, Ukraine would do its utmost to fulfil its reporting obligations.
BAYNEY KARRAN ( Guyana), on behalf of the Rio Group, said that in most countries, women had been accorded equal status to their male counterparts before the law. Notwithstanding the gains made, more still needed to be done to achieve true gender equality. Within the Rio Group, women constituted in most cases a majority of the population, and as such should be empowered to participate fully in public life and decision-making. Members of the Group had adopted legislation to ensure the integration of women into all spheres of life, and women's access to education and health care had improved. At the same time, formidable challenges remained in the form of feminized poverty, gender-based violence, the underrepresentation of women in all levels of Government and decision-making positions, and trafficking in persons. The situation was even more severe for rural, indigenous women and women of ethnic minorities. The Group, he said, supported the equal participation of women and men in decision-making, but also believed that the qualitative participation of women also merited urgent attention. The underrepresentation of women in politics was rooted in societal biases. The creation of an enabling environment was crucial to the acceleration of gender equality and required action at both the national and international levels.
YORIKO MEGURO ( Japan) said that as a result of the general election of September 2005, there were now an unprecedented number of female members in the House of Representatives (43), an increase of 26 per cent. While women's participation in society was growing and more women were involved in decision-making processes, the proportion of the whole they represented remained unsatisfactory. Japan had implemented international and domestic measures to increase women's participation in development. In the policy formulation process, Japan took into consideration women's need to have access to basic social services in the areas of education and health, as well as to have access to equal employment opportunities. She added that, for the realization of a gender-equal society, it was essential to ensure equal participation and to maintain a democratic system in which everyone's views were given proper opportunities to be reflected. The level of women's participation in decision-making processes in Japan was still very low, with little improvement at any level, national or local, public or private.
OLGA V. SHARAPOVA, Director of the Department of Medical and Social Problems of Family, Motherhood and Childhood, Ministry of Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation, said the rights of women, the improvement of their socio-economic condition and their advancement to decision-making positions were still pressing issues throughout the world. Despite clear progress in ensuring women's rights, the international community was still far from achieving gender equality. Her country continued to implement strategies to improve the status of women. In 2006 the country was working on a new national plan of action for women. The Government was working on the creation of new institutional machinery for improving the status of women, which, as an intergovernmental commission, would include federal and regional authorities, and civic and academic organizations. The Ministry of Health and Social Development had set up a coordinating council on gender mainstreaming, which had carried out a social audit of the federal budget for 2006. She welcomed national cooperation in all questions of securing the rights of women and would continue to carry on a dialogue on those problems with all interested partners.
PATRICIA P. BRISTER ( United States) said one of the highest priorities of the United States President was to fight human trafficking. The need for accelerated Government responses to human trafficking had led the United States Congress to pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000, which, among other things, protected and assisted victims in the United States and abroad. Since 2001, the United States had provided some $375 million to support anti-trafficking efforts in over 120 countries, including pilot projects to address demand for sex trafficking victims. In October 2005, the United States Senate had consented to the ratification of the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons. The Women's Justice and Empowerment Initiative for Africa was a $55 million, three-year programme to assist Benin, Kenya, South Africa and Zambia to improve legal rights for women. The United States was heavily engaged in bringing an end to the problem of violence against women in the Sudan, providing some $16.5 million to address the issue of gender-based violence in Darfur and among refuges in Chad. Regarding reproductive health, she noted that the United States was the world's largest donor of bilateral reproductive health and family planning assistance -- some $437 million this year.
VALERIE NYIRAHABINEZA, Minister for Gender of Rwanda, said that gender equality was an essential component of sustainable development. Rwanda remained committed to the principles of equality, the commitments undertaken in Beijing and the Millennium Development Goals. Some 10 years after the genocide, her country had made significant progress regarding equality in education. Since 2000, enrolment at the primary and secondary levels reflected equality. Measures had been taken to improve the health infrastructure at schools, as well as to raise awareness among parents. In the area of health, the rate of maternal mortality had markedly diminished thanks to the establishment of a national policy regarding health clinics. Awareness-raising among pregnant women and increased testing had led to the lowering of the mortality rate. The drop in maternal mortality went hand in hand with the drop in infant mortality. It was not through good intentions that gender parity would be achieved, but by ensuring the effective participation of women. Rwanda was committed to the equal participation of women in all levels of decision-making. She noted a lack of efforts to abolish discriminatory laws vis-à-vis women, and suggested that the appointment of a special rapporteur on the issue would help strengthen the efforts of States in that regard.
JANG HA-JIN, Minister of Gender Equality and Family of the Republic of Korea, noted that, since its inception in 2003, the current Government had sought to fulfil its goal of a "gender equal society". In June 2005, the Government reformulated the Minister of Gender Equality into the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, with a view to diversifying the Ministry's mandate to include family policies. Education was a basic human right and an essential tool for the advancement of the status of women. In 2005, 100 per cent of children in her country attended elementary school. The Government had made substantial efforts to build the necessary infrastructure to promote lifelong education for women. The future of national development in the twenty-first century depended in large part on how effectively a society incorporated women in the workforce and community. As of 2005, the women's labour force participation rate was 50.1 per cent. The Government had made substantial efforts to lay the foundation for women's equal representation in the decision-making processes of legislation and major public policies. The Government was also making substantial efforts for the advancement of women with vulnerabilities, including women with disabilities and female migrant workers, in its decision-making processes.
FAYSSAL MEKDAD ( Syria) said that his Government had adopted policies aimed at achieving gender equality, including signing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The Government was working on implementing the Convention through various plans at the national level. The Government had also adopted a national plan to protect women from violence in the family, and to ensure their growth. Also, proposals had been submitted to increase the proportion of women in national councils and Parliament. In addition, a number of measures had been adopted to implement the Beijing Platform for Action. With the support of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Syria had adopted a policy that promoted women's rights in legislation adopted. The national plan for the next decade promoted human development and attached great importance to the achievement of the Millennium Goals. Syria was one of the few countries that had attached the objective of national growth to the Goals. He added that, unfortunately, foreign pressure had prevented the implementation of women's rights, and referred to the situation of women living under Israeli occupation, where women were deprived of their essential rights to education, health and work.
MADINA JARBUSSYNOVA, Ambassador-at-Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, noted that in the last decade her country introduced a national plan of action on the improvement of the status of women. Kazakhstan's national policy was based on four key elements, namely women's political promotion, economic involvement, improved health and the elimination of violence against women. In addition to drafting well-designed programmes, greater focus was needed on results and accountability. The effective realization of programmes greatly depended on adequate funding and technical assistance. One effective tool in that area could be the creation of special councils on gender mainstreaming consisting of Government officials and non-governmental organization representatives. The involvement of men and boys in gender mainstreaming was also a key element. Access to education did not automatically translate into decent work and well-paid employment. Women still occupied lower echelons of occupational hierarchy than men. Programmes on the advancement of women should, therefore, focus on the promotion of women in decision-making.
SUHAIL SAFDAR, Secretary, Ministry of Women's Development of Pakistan, said the international community had come a long way in realizing that the goals of development and poverty reduction could not be achieved without the empowerment of women. Pakistan was committed to the promotion of gender equality and women's empowerment through sustained and vigorous policies at the national level. It had taken many initiatives for women's economic empowerment, including the operationalization of the National Fund for Advancement of Rural Women to promote income generation for rural women through skills development. A permanent National Commission on the Status of Women was fully functional and looked into all discriminatory law and made recommendations to the Government. The Government was also doing its utmost to work towards zero tolerance on violence against women, he said, adding that the Ministry of Women's Development had hosted a regional conference on violence against women in September 2005.
MARIA DE LA LUZ SILVA, Head of International Affairs of the National Service for Women of Chile, noted that Chile had, for the first time, elected a woman as President. In 1990, Chile had only dreamed of democracy and a fairer, more equitable society. Overcoming the trauma of the past, Chile had entrusted its destiny to a woman. What had happened in Chile could set a clear example of how various factors could converge leading to the election of a woman president in a country with no quota laws. Chile was witnessing progress and was working to maintain gender sensitivity throughout all Government agencies. Women were now receiving schooling levels equivalent to those of men. Regarding health, Chile had achieved satisfactory levels in terms of maternal and infant health, while much remained to be done regarding sexual and reproductive health. Poverty reduction was happening quickly, with particular benefit to women. Among the challenges was the need for progress in integrating women into remunerated labour. Efforts were also needed in the area of equal pay for equal work.
FLORENCE LEVERS, Coordinator, Status of Women of Canada, said that her country recognized the connections among health, education and work and between those issues and women's overall social and economic situation. Canada sought to achieve results for gender equality in three areas: women as decision makers; the human rights of women and girls; and women's access to and control over resources and the benefits of development. Regarding participation in decision-making, she noted Canada had made particular efforts to ensure that Aboriginal women had a place at the table, but more needed to be done in that area. Canada continued to face challenges, including in making progress towards greater gender balance among elected representatives. Turning to the Commission's work programme and methods of work, she said that negotiated texts would always have their place, but the Commission's greatest value was in facilitating rich dialogue to enable Member States to benefit from a wide range of expertise and experience in the field of gender equality. It was important to determine how to best utilize the Commission to foster implementation and the achievement of results.
KHADIGA ABULGASIM HAGHAMAD, Director-General, Department of Women and Family, Ministry of Social Affairs of Sudan, said her country paid special attention to the implementation of the lofty goals of the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Development Goals. The Sudan, which had witnessed the longest conflict in Africa, had entered a new phase with the signing of the Inclusive Peace Agreement. Sudanese woman had acquired all their rights by virtue of the peace agreements. They had proven their competence in all fields, and were well represented in political parties and parliamentary councils. Women chaired five technical committees. A woman served as adviser to the President. Women also served on the Supreme Court, the Armed Forces and the police. The Government paid special attention to the area of education, maternal mortality and raising awareness of the need to combat harmful customs and sexually transmitted diseases. In the field of poverty reduction, the Government sought to establish income-generating projects. Solving the problem of Darfur was a priority and women had participated in the Abuja negotiations. The Government's efforts were clear in the humanitarian field. Some reports of violence concerning the women of Darfur were exaggerated. The matter should not be politicized.
AMARYLLIS T. TORRES, Commissioner, the Philippines' National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, said that gender equality and women's empowerment were the basic goals of the Philippine Plan for Gender-Responsive Development. The National Commission had led the way towards the collection and dissemination of gender statistics in all areas of governance. Sex-disaggregated data facilitated the design and implementation of gender-responsive policies and interventions, and provided the bases for more systematically monitoring the progress of efforts for attaining human rights, peace and human security, and sustainable development. There had also been significant efforts in promoting the gender perspective in education. In addition, the Government had made gender-responsive entrepreneurship development a keystone for poverty eradication, targeting a sizeable sector of women engaged in informal labour. Furthermore, substantial efforts had been undertaken to promote women's health, and the elimination of discrimination and the protection of women's dignity and rights remained the bedrock of the Government's gender equality efforts.
LEE EMERSON, Branch Manager, Office for Women of Australia, said Australian governments at both the national and subnational level were strongly committed to building women's leadership and participation in Australian life. She was pleased to report that the number of women in Australia's national, state and territory parliaments was the highest it had ever been, ranging between 27 and 43 per cent, and included six indigenous women. In recent years, four of the state and territory governments had been led by women and three had women opposition leaders. Twenty-nine per cent of the appointments made to the federal judiciary since 1996 had been women. The Government did not operate a system of quotas to achieve equal participation of women in decision-making roles, but rather was committed to the merit principle and to providing targeted support to create and maintain an environment which enabled women to compete equitably on merit.
MAGALYS AROCHA, Member of the Executive Board of the National Machinery for the Advancement of Women of Cuba, said she hoped that the current reform of the United Nations, especially in the area of human rights, would not affect the role of entities responsible for protecting women. The national programmes and plans of justice and equality for all its citizens were consistent with the political will of the Cuban Government and international commitments to women's advancement. Cuban women comprised 45 per cent of the country's labour force. In the science field, they comprised 46 per cent of workers. For decades, most university graduates had been women. Women also accounted for 36 per cent of Cuba's Parliament and 25 per cent of the ministerial cabinet. Such achievements were the result of the importance of gender equality and the need to overcome the grave material and psychological consequences of an economic blockade by the United States. The blockade had been accompanied and complemented by the terrorist actions conceived and masterminded in United States territory. How could gender equality be achieved in an international environment of disrespect? It was time to promote solidarity.
INGRID CHARLES-GUMBS, Director of Gender Affairs of Saint Kitts and Nevis, said women in her country had made significant progress in every area of national endeavour except in political decision-making. The Government had given serious attention to its commitment to accelerate women's access to decision-making and had, through its Department of Gender Affairs, provided training in governance and democracy since 2002. Women in Saint Kitts and Nevis enjoyed equal access with men to education at all levels, since access to education at the primary and secondary levels was universal. Women outnumbered men at the tertiary level of education. However, there was still the traditional clustering of women in traditionally female areas of study. Last year, the Domestic Violence Act of 2000 was amended to better address violence against women. While the women of her country had made tremendous progress, more needed to be done in addressing sex role stereotyping and prejudice, which had played a major role in women's absence from political decision-making.
CATHERINE NAMUGALA, Member of Parliament of Zambia, said her Government had initiated a constitutional review process to facilitate the enactment of a people-driven constitution which, among other things, addressed gender inequalities. The Government had directed all ministries to ensure that all policies take into account the provisions of all relevant international instruments on gender. Zambia was currently engaged in the development of its Fifth National Development Plan for the next five years. To facilitate gender mainstreaming, the Government, in collaboration with non-governmental organizations, had established an elaborate institutional framework. Major challenges existed, however, including limited financial resources, limited gender analytical skills, brain drain in the education and health sectors, cultural barriers, low education levels, high maternal mortality rates and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. She reaffirmed her Government's commitment to ensuring that legal impediments and socio-economic obstacles against women were removed in order to facilitate gender responsive development.
NILCÉIA FREIRE, Secretary of Women's Policy of Brazil, said that while historic gains were being made, such as the recent election of a female president in Chile, women continued to suffer all kinds of violations of their human rights. For the first time Brazil had a set of policies devoted to women contained in a plan reached following extensive consultations. It was establishing the necessary arrangements to ensure the plan could effectively reach out to all areas of the country. Measures of the plan focused on four pillars: equality in labour and civil affairs; education; women's health, sexual and reproductive rights; and tackling violence against women. Among the initiatives she highlighted was a programme for the documentation of female rural workers in the poorest regions of the country. Regarding education and cultural change, she said that on 29 March, Brazil would hold a seminar on women and science, with the participation of university researchers working on gender issues. She added that preventing and combating violence against women had seen some progress in recent years, including the extension of the network of care for women in situations of violence, and that the Government intended to adopt a set of measures to regularize the employment of domestic workers.
NADEJDA RADEVA, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, said her Government had actively engaged in efforts to promote genuine gender equality, including by enhancing the efficiency of measures at the national level. Bulgaria had strengthened its legislation, including in the fight against human trafficking. Since 2005, Bulgaria had adopted an annual National Action Plan on Gender Equality, which aimed at providing equal opportunities for women in all spheres of economic, political and social life. The National Action Plan for the participation of Bulgaria in the initiative "Decade for Roma Inclusion 2005-2015" envisaged specific measures on the elimination of gender stereotypes in the Roma community. The system of national mechanisms for human rights protection has also been strengthened with the establishment of the Commission for Protection against Discrimination and the institution of the Ombudsman. Women had made advances in many spheres, notably in the legal profession and in the civil service. In terms of figures, women accounted for some 21.25 per cent of Parliament and about 19 per cent of the Council of Ministers.
TRAN THI MAI HUONG, First Vice-Chairperson of the National Committee for the Advancement of Women in Viet Nam, said gender mainstreaming was considered an effective tool for equity and sustainable development in her country. During the drafting of the new five-year Socio-Economic Development Plan, gender mainstreaming received a greater degree of attention. To facilitate the process of gender mainstreaming, a sex-disaggregated system of national indicators was approved last year, of which there was a group of indicators on the advancement of women. To further improve the legislation on gender equality in Viet Nam, the National Assembly had recently decided to develop a domestic violence law with a view to addressing violence and better protecting women's and children's rights, while a gender equality law was also being finalized with stronger sanctions and an appropriate enforcement mechanism.
SYEDA HAMEED, Member, Planning Commission of India, noted that 60 years since the Charter had reaffirmed the collective faith in the equal rights of men and women, much had been done, but much more clearly needed to be done. In India, gender equality and empowerment of women had consistently received careful attention. Notable initiatives undertaken in India for social, economic and political empowerment of women included reserving one third of the seats in the urban and local self-government for women. The gender gap in literacy had also been reduced. In 2005, the Parliament had passed important legislation to provide immediate relief to women in situations of domestic violence. The Hindu Succession Act had been amended to give daughters and widows equal right in ancestral property, including agricultural land. The number of women entrepreneurs was growing, from a meagre 2 per cent in 1971 to around 10 per cent in 2006. The proportion of women in the information technology industry constituted some 20 per cent of the total information technology work force. Another major initiative was the institutionalization of gender-sensitive budgeting. Studies have shown that gender equality had been an ephemeral dream where resources were scarce. There were no quick-fix solutions or ready-made answers. It was, therefore, imperative that the international community take measures so that the commitments undertaken at Beijing could be realized by all Member States.
KOKEA MALUA ( Tuvalu) said that his Government's commitment to women and gender equality had been unrelenting. It had established the Department of Women's Affairs, and reformulated the National Women's Policy with a focus on gender equality. The realization of the Government's commitment, however, was challenged by the many constraints common in small island developing States. An issue of particular concern to the women of Tuvalu was the uncertainty of the country's future because of the threat of climate change. Unless climate change was urgently addressed, all efforts for women's development would be seriously compromised. In addition, more was needed to expand microcredit schemes and to train women in business management and investment. Also, women's representation needed to be improved, and fundamental to that was appropriate education and training at all levels for confidence-building. There was an urgent need to locate a full-time presence of the United Nations in Tuvalu and other Pacific island States, given their remoteness and in view of their lagging behind on the Millennium Goals and gender equality.
NORIA ABDULQADAZ ALI, Health Director of the Women's National Committee of Yemen said her Government had established a national mechanism for gender equality. Five high-level posts had been allocated for that effort. Yemen had two female ministers in the areas of human rights and social questions and labour. The proportion of women in high-level decision-making positions needed to be strengthened. Many challenges remained, including maternal mortality, early marriages, illiteracy and lack of work. Without real will to put women on an equal footing with men, there would be no sustainable development, peace or security.
PIA LOCATELLI, President of Socialist International Women, said that to truly achieve gender equality and contribute to development, it was important to learn from the experiences of others, define specific targets and act consistently. Countries where at least one third of the seats in parliament were held by women had three things in common: quotas for women; a system of proportional representation; and election campaign rules covering media access limits and campaign spending. Quotas could be established by political parties or by law. Parties that bent their quotas still had more women than parties that had no quotas at all. Legal quotas were grounded in law, guaranteeing women the right to candidacy in the electoral race or to a certain number of seats in parliament. Among the common barriers to women's participation in politics were insufficient time for activity outside the household, and inadequate understanding within the family, mainly by male partners, of social activism.
ROBERT G. AISI (Papua New Guinea), speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, said member countries of the Forum were party to a multitude of gender commitments, including the Revised Pacific Platform of Action for the Advancement of Women 2005-2015. That Platform had renewed the commitment of countries to four critical areas: strengthening institutions and mechanisms to advance the status of women; focusing on gender equality within the legal and human rights context; access to services; and economic empowerment. Progress to date was, in part, attributable to effective networking between regional organizations, national women's machineries and non-governmental organizations in the region. Although national policies demonstrated commitment to achieving gender equality, most of the member countries' national women's machineries that were responsible for implementation tended to be under-resourced and were unable to exert significant policy influence. Regarding decision-making, he said that in most jurisdictions, women remained severely underrepresented in parliament and other decision-making bodies, and as a result, gender issues were less likely to be addressed at the political level. He added that violence against women remained pervasive across the Pacific region and was a major impediment to the development of women and girls.
BISI OLATERU OLAGBEGI, of Women in Law and Development in Africa, said that as a network aiming to promote the role of women in development, her organization was concerned about the low level of participation of women in decision-making in Africa. While recognizing the marginal progress made in some countries, including the recent election of the first female African President, she noted that the participation of women in political life and decision-making remained very low. Also, there could be no democracy or good governance without women's participation in decision-making. Her organization was committed to pursuing the programme on women and governance, which was begun in January, in order to strengthen women's capacity for effective representation in decision-making bodies, among other things. She urged African States to take concrete measures to ensure equal participation of women in decision-making; to consider women's groups as true partners; to reaffirm their commitment to women's rights by ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Women's Anti-Discrimination Convention; and to implement the commitments undertaken in Beijing.
* *** *