For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No:  UNIS/GA/1641
Release Date:   6 June  2000
General Assembly President Tells “Women 2000" Special Session
“Victory Is Certain” in Gallant Struggle for Women’s Equality

NEW YORK, 5 June 9 (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the statement by the President of the General Assembly, Theo-Ben Gurirab (Namibia), to the twenty-third special session of the Assembly “Women 2000:  Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-first Century” on 5 June:

I am delighted to welcome you to the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly entitled “Women 2000:  Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-first Century”.

Over the last decade, the Assembly has taken on a critical role in its follow-up to the global conferences of the 1990s that have helped shape our common commitments and objectives in areas, such as the environment, human rights, population issues, habitat, social development, food security and the concerns of small island developing States.  A special session was held as well on drug control, its relation to crime and impact on the global community.

In addition to this special session, yet another special session on social development will take place in Geneva later this month.  Moreover, next year, the Assembly will convene a special session on HIV/AIDS and another one to review the achievement of the goals of the World Summit for Children.

Against this background, 1995 was particularly a hectic year for the United Nations.  Our Organization celebrated its fiftieth anniversary.  The Beijing Conference earned itself the distinction for having been the largest gathering of delegations representing governments, intergovernmental bodies and non-governmental organizations, with 17,000 in attendance.

There was hurly and burly of protracted discussions, and tough negotiations before and at the venue in Beijing.  At the end, a forward-looking Platform for Action was adopted by a consensus.  Twelve critical areas were identified as the basis for public policy and for implementation as national objectives of Member States, as well as other stakeholders, with time-bound targets.

Specific emphasis was put on poverty reduction; against violence and armed conflict; for education and training; for health care; for human rights; institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women and their meaningful participation in the economy, decision-making and power-sharing, in the media, and for the protection and well-being of the girl child.

A large number of Member States and, indeed, other concerned quarters in the society, have taken the conclusions and experiences of the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women to heart and are applying them in formulating national programmes and progressive legislation.

Women are bringing their unique concerns to the attention of their governments for action.  These concerns include domestic violence, lack of access to land and property, unequal pay for work of equal value, bias portrayal of their roles in society, and laws that perpetuate backward traditional practices.

Women are insisting that all human issues concern them, and demand their legitimate role in the quest for solutions:  whether it is about shaping the path of globalization, of a new international financial architecture, efforts towards conflict resolution, peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace enforcement, or the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security.  Women demand to play an active role in dealing with the impact of any new world order and of information technology.

It is, thus, most timely and fitting that we should turn our collective attention today to reviewing the progress made since Member States met to discuss action for gender equality, development and peace in Beijing in 1995.  This twenty-third special session of the General Assembly gives us an ideal opportunity to assess how far Member States have come, to fulfil their promises, to address the shortcomings, to face the new challenges and to reaffirm their commitments.  The international community can then move forward with renewed dedication and abundant energy to achieve the goal of women’s equality and empowerment in all walks of life everywhere, particularly in the developing countries.

Beijing -- 1995 -- was called the “conference of commitments”.  Many government leaders made specific commitments to strengthen national mechanisms for the benefit of women and to mobilize increased human and financial resources to implement national gender equality policies.  They committed themselves to the early revision and repeal of discriminatory laws and practices in their countries; to improve the position of women in the labour market; to bridge the pay gap and enhance women’s access to capital and productive resources.  Not to forget women’s access to health care, the fight against pervasive violence against women and, indeed, better education for girls.

In front of us is the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) latest report, “Domestic Violence against Women and Girls”.  Its publication is timely, and I commend the Fund’s Executive Director, my friend, Carol Bellamy, and her team for this moving and revealing report.

I should mention the fact that many governments have provided their replies to the General Assembly questionnaire regarding the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action; the United Nations agencies have likewise accounted for their contributions; and non-governmental organizations have shared their assessment of progress made so far.  This and additional  information is available to the delegations in the Secretary-General’s report to the Economic and Social Council contained in document E/CN.6/2000/PC/2 of 19 January 2000. 

Since Beijing, many, but hardly all, States have ratified or acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  The promise to elaborate an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the right to petition the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was fulfilled last October with its unanimous adoption by the General Assembly.  And we now await its entry into force without delay.

Some Governments have taken measures to counterbalance the effects of structural adjustment and globalization on vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in the society by promoting employment and income-generating activities for women.  In a number of countries, women’s literacy gains have been higher than those of men and girls’ enrolment rates have increased noticeably.  Still in others, more women than men now graduate from university.  More and more countries are shifting their health policies from a mother and child health approach to the provision of reproductive health services and strengthened primary care to assist women and improve their health through informed choices.

The Statute of the International Criminal Court, adopted in 1998, includes gender-based international crimes relating to bodily integrity; and the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia have issued indictments relating to sexual violence.  Some governments have also adopted legislation and committed significant resources for strategies to address gender-based violence against women, especially domestic violence.  They have also stepped up the use of targets and of special strategies to increase the participation of women in decision-making:  the optimal goal being parity.  These are, indeed, noteworthy achievements.  But we are not quite there yet.  Indeed, as the UNICEF report confirms, there is much to do with a sense of urgency. 

Today, the world is bedevilled by endless wars and armed conflicts.  In those situations, women, along with children, are the main targets of hostile acts and abuse by warring States and rebel groups.  This cruelty takes various forms, such as death, abduction of girls into slavery, including sexual slavery; the use of rape and other forms of sexual violence as a weapon of war; the total denial of basic rights of women; or revenge inflicted on women out of ethnic hatred.  Women and girls have become the real victims in these wars and armed conflicts, the worst of them today in my own continent -– Africa.  Trafficking in women and girls and their exploitation through prostitution and pornography has become one of the most serious challenges facing the global community.  We must condemn these heinous crimes; better still, we must stop them forthwith. 

Moreover, discriminatory laws persist on marriage, the administration of marital property, as well as on land and inheritance rights.  This deprives women not only of their right to equal status under the law, but also robs them of economic rights and opportunities for advancement.  Also, women’s health rights remain curtailed by unequal access to health care; maternal and infant mortality remain unacceptably high in many countries; and there are very few effective programmes to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic among women in many parts of the world, especially in Africa. 

Women’s reproductive health remains threatened by a lack of, or insufficient, family planning services.  Women also lag behind men in enjoying work-related rights, whether it is equal pay for equal work and work of equal value, work-related social, health and retirement benefits, or equal opportunities in access to work, promotion and protection against lay-offs. 

Women’s representation remains low in political and economic life.  It generally remains marginal in public and private-sector employment, as well as in trade unions.  Women are very poorly represented at higher levels of decision-making.  In 1999, only in 14 countries was the participation of women in parliament above 25 per cent.  Only seven States have a woman head of State, and only 11 women head their countries’ Missions to the United Nations.  At the international level, only a few women participate in United Nations peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace enforcement.  This includes involving women in preventive diplomacy, conflict-resolution negotiations and post-conflict peace-building and reconstruction.  Perhaps, the most insidious barrier to women’s equal participation in leadership roles is the persistence of stereotypes towards women, which perpetuate discrimination and entrenched prejudices.

We still have a long way to go in achieving the goals set out in the Beijing Platform for Action.  I believe, however, that the time for urgent and speedy progress has never been more propitious.  We now have a deeper awareness of the retarding economic consequences of discrimination due to disadvantages that women face.  We also see the negative social impact on families and nations when women are held back from developing their full potential and denied the unfettered enjoyment of their human, civil, economic and political rights.  

In their gallant struggle for equality, women can count allies and partners.  Enlightened men, youth and religious leaders are part of their struggle, in ever-increasing numbers.  Governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations and the private sector are working together at many levels to promote equality between women and men.  For example, companies have realized to do this as a matter of enlightened self-interest and because to do so makes good business sense.

In this context, the consistent role of non-governmental organizations has been indispensable, constructive and creative.  On Saturday, I was presented, by the Conference of NGOs, with an “NGO Alternative Global Report” for consideration by Member States during this special session -– Beijing + 5.  I believe this report has reached all the delegations. 

At the same time, it must be stressed that governments’ policies on gender equality and the implementation of the Platform for Action cannot be an afterthought or remain simply at the level of political pronouncements or election ploy.  Resources for gender equality goals must be mobilized and utilized.  Resources for gender equality must be a visible part of international development cooperation. 

We have a number of factors in our favour for a positive outcome of this special session.  Women and men, governments, parliaments and non-governmental organizations have consciously prepared for this week over many months.  Regional meetings have taken place, which have increased the momentum for commitment and accountability.  We are all charged with a sense of a new beginning barely six months into the new century.  Later, in September, heads of State and government will assemble in this very Hall for the Millennium Summit.  Our collective endeavours here should help shape their deliberations and the final outcome.  The Secretary-General has, in his highly praised report, “We the Peoples:  The Role of the United Nations in the Twenty-first Century”, offered a clear vision for the future and bold ideas that will help ensure that brighter, kinder, peaceful and prosperous future for all. 

This special session must strive to live up to the expectations of billions of women in the world.  They are not alone in this struggle.  Rather, we are all helping to advance ideas, commitments and concerns that have been generated in many parts of the world by many citizens who are genuinely committed to gender equality, peace and development.  Our deliberations this week will encourage and strengthen the devotion of all those struggling but brave women.  Let us not disappoint them.  We have the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as our inspiration and shield in the face of all the odds and uncertainties.  The victory is certain.

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