For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No: UNIS/WOM/491
Release Date: 4 July 2000
Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee Concludes
Three-Week Session at Headquarters

Adopts Recommendations for Advancing Women’s Status
In Iraq, Austria, Lithuania, Cuba, Cameroon, Moldova, Romania

NEW YORK, 3 July (UN Headquarters) -- Concluding its three-week twenty-third session this afternoon, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women adopted recommendations for advancing the status of women in Iraq, Austria, Lithuania, Cuba, Cameroon, Moldova and Romania.

Also adopting its draft report for the twenty-third session, the 23-member expert body noted that the twenty-third session of the Committee was taking place after the very upbeat and positive closing of the General Assembly special session entitled "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace in the twenty-first century", which had reviewed the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women.  At that session, Member States expressed their concern that the goal of universal ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women by the year 2000, established in the Beijing Platform for Action, had not been achieved.  There were still a large number of reservations to the Convention and many countries had not yet fully implemented the provisions contained in the Convention.

The draft report also notes that the twenty-third session was important not only because the reports of the seven countries were analysed, but also because the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the Convention was imminent.  The commitment of governments with regard to the Optional Protocol had largely been translated into reality.  To date, 41 States parties to the Convention had signed the Optional Protocol and five had ratified it.  The first State party to ratify it was Namibia, closely followed by Senegal and Denmark.  During the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly a number of States had committed themselves to ratification, or accession to, the Optional Protocol.  The Committee remained hopeful that the 10 ratifications required for entry into force of the Optional Protocol would be achieved during 2000.

Among other actions taken by the Committee this afternoon was the adoption of the provisional agenda for its twenty-fourth session, which will take place from 15 January to 2 February 2001.  It also adopted the dates for the pre-session  working group for the twenty-fifth session, which will meet from 5 to 9 February 2001.  

The Committee also adopted three draft decisions this afternoon.  The draft decision on temporary measures to address the backlog of reports awaiting consideration encouraged States parties with overdue reports to combine those outstanding reports in a single document.  The draft decision on general recommendations for Article 4 of the Convention called for a general discussion with specialized agencies, other bodies of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations to take place during its twenty-fourth session in January 2001.  By the final draft decision, the Committee decided to adopt its rules of procedure as to substance, with final form to be adopted during the twenty-fourth session.  The Committee also adopted a draft suggestion, which requested the Secretariat to explore the possibility of holding an upcoming session outside United Nations Headquarters, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

Addressing the Committee, the Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, Yakin Erturk, congratulated the Committee on reviewing seven States parties -- one from Western Europe, three from Eastern Europe, one from the Middle East, one from Latin America and the Caribbean and one from Africa.  She also commended the Committee on finalizing its rules of procedure.  That had been a difficult task, she said.  The Committee had also taken important steps towards developing its practices with regard to the Optional Protocol.  The Protocol had been ratified by five States parties to the Convention.  The remaining five ratifications required would most likely be received during the year.  The Division for the Advancement of Women was preparing itself for the entry into force of that instrument and would ensure that the Committee be provided with full support, including expert legal advice, to administer the Protocol efficiently and appropriately.  

The twenty-third session had been particularly memorable because it took place immediately after the special session of the General Assembly on Beijing +5, she said.  The special session was especially important because it clearly recognized the connection between the Convention, the legal basis for women’s advancement, and the Platform for Action, the policy framework for gender equality.  The connection between the two would become more widely appreciated.  The special session was also instrumental in revitalizing the Beijing momentum, which carried with it the goal of universal ratification of the Convention.  Several Member States had indicated their intention to ratify the Convention.  

She said that the closing day was particularly sad for the Division because three members of the Committee were completing their terms and had indicated that they were not seeking re-election.  They were:  Silvia Rose Cartwright (New Zealand); Yung-Chung Kim (Republic of Korea); and Kongit Sinegiorgis (Ethiopia).  She thanked them for their commitment to the work of the Committee.  

In her closing remarks, the Committee's Chairperson, Aida Gonzalez Martinez of Mexico, said that her tenure had been a very enriching experience and had strengthened her constant desire to support the work of the Committee and its objective -- to supervise and monitor the full implementation of the Convention.

She said that this was the last meeting of an “impressive” three-week session.  It was important to note that it had taken place almost immediately following the General Assembly special session on women.  Such close proximity to that “lively” conference had affected the work of the Committee in two ways.  First, it had brought the dynamic of enthusiasm to all the debates and discussions.  But second, those logistics had prevented the Committee from completing its work in a more timely manner. 

She added that it had been a very fruitful session.  Not only had the Committee examined reports on the implementation of the Convention, it had also had discussions on amending its rules of procedure.  That was very important, as those rules had been drafted in 1982 and were in need of updating. 

She went on to echo the sentiments of Ms. Erturk in regard to the implementation of the Optional Protocol.  Discussions on the methods of the Committee’s work in that regard had been timely, since with only five more signatures the Protocol would enter into force.  The Committee had also discussed ways in which it could adapt its working methods to the outstanding workload without hindering results.  In that regard, the Committee had been very concerned about the periodic reports that had not yet been submitted, particularly the initial reports of some States parties.  To that end, the Committee had adopted a decision to urge parties to combine outstanding reports.

She went on to say that, despite the work of the General Assembly and the current feeling in the international community, the world had not met the goal set when the year 2000 was named the “international year for the ratification of the Convention”.  She said that the work of the Committee would not flag in that regard and hoped that the 26 States that had not ratified the Convention would do so before the end of 2001.

She was pleased to note that the Committee had gained much prestige during the current session.  It was important for the members to continue to raise the level of awareness of the Committee’s work in all sectors of society.  The experts had worked particularly hard to increase visibility.  Those efforts must continue, so that women of all ages could learn about the Committee’s work to ensure the protection of their human rights.  She also encouraged and applauded the work of non-governmental organizations in that regard.

Finally, she said that many members, including herself, would conclude the mandate given them four years ago and leave the Committee at the close of the current session.  They should all be satisfied with the work they had accomplished, but should continue with another more personal mandate, to promote the Committee and the Convention wherever they go.

Throughout the three-week session, which began on 12 June, Committee members expressed concern on a wide range of issues affecting the equal rights of women.  They included equal access of women to employment, education and health care, the situation of elderly women, and the full inclusion of women in public and political life.  The Committee also voiced concern for the rights of migrant women, many of whom were highly educated and skilled workers who were forced to seek hazardous and poorly paid employment in foreign countries.

While situations differed from country to country, one of the most common issues among all the countries was the persistence of stereotypical attitudes towards women and men.  Although stereotypes manifested themselves differently in each culture, the persistence of negative attitudes continued to be a source of inequality.  Stereotypical attitudes tended to overemphasize women's responsibilities for household work to the detriment of their role in public life.  The Committee identified several examples of that phenomenon, including:  the incidents of forced marriage and so-called "honour killings" in Iraq; the stereotypical representation of women in the media in Lithuania; and the double load of home and outside work as well as legal restrictions of property rights in Moldova.

During this session, various forms of violence against women had also been identified as obstacles to the implementation of the Convention in each country under review.  While the Committee noted that there had been progress in that area, the phenomenon of trafficking in women appeared to be growing in Austria, Lithuania, Moldova and Romania, as countries both receiving women victims of trafficking and as countries of origin.  Although the Committee noted Austria's pioneering legislation to address the issue, it urged all those countries to confront the problem through bilateral and multilateral cooperation and to develop new laws that prioritized the human rights of the victims of trafficking either for purposes of sexual exploitation or labour.

The Committee’s experts identified the shift from planned economy systems to market economies taking place in Lithuania, Moldova and Romania as bringing significant challenges to the implementation of the Convention.  Those countries were currently undergoing economic reforms that led to high levels of unemployment and low levels of school enrollment.  It noted, however that countries undergoing severe economic hardships during such transition periods could take advantage of crisis situations to galvanize support for women's rights and ensure their full participation in all spheres of life.

Background on Committee, Convention

As the only United Nations human rights body dealing exclusively with women's rights, the Committee monitors the implementation of the Convention, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979 and came into force in 1981.  As of last December, it had been ratified or acceded to by 165 countries.  It requires States to eliminate discrimination against women in the enjoyment of all civil, political, economic and cultural rights. 

Besides reviewing reports and evaluating progress made, the Committee formulates general recommendations to States parties as a whole in eliminating discrimination against women.  It may also invite United Nations specialized agencies to submit reports for consideration and receive information from non-governmental organizations.  In pursuance of the Convention's goals, States parties are encouraged to introduce affirmative action measures designed to promote equality between women and men. 

The Committee, to date, has considered 104 initial, 72 second, 48 third, 17 fourth and 2 fifth periodic reports.  It has also received five reports on an exceptional basis -- Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Rwanda, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

States Parties to Convention

The following are among the 165 States that have either ratified or acceded to the Convention, which entered into force on 3 September 1981:  Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Israel and Italy. 

Also:  Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Yugoslavia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Committee Membership

The Committee's 23 expert members serve in their personal capacity.  They are:  Charlotte Abaka, Ghana; Ayse Feride Acar, Turkey; Emma Aouij, Tunisia; Carlota Bustelo Garcia del Real, Spain; Silvia Rose Cartwright, New Zealand; Ivanka Corti, Italy; Feng Cui, China; Naela Gabr, Egypt; Yolanda Ferrer Gomez, Cuba; Aida Gonzalez Martinez, Mexico; Savitri Goonesekere, Sri Lanka; Rosalyn Hazelle, Saint Kitts and Nevis; Salma Khan, Bangladesh; Yung-Chung Kim, Republic of Korea; Rosario Manalo, Philippines; Mavivi Myakayaka-Manzini, South Africa; Ahoua Ouedraogo, Burkina Faso; Zelmira Regazzoli, Argentina; Anne Lise Ryel, Norway; Hanna Beate Schopp-Schilling, Germany; Carmel Shalev, Israel; Kongit Sinegiorgis, Ethiopia; and Chikako Taya, Japan. 

Committee Officers Aida Gonzalez Martinez of Mexico was elected in January of 1999 to chair the Committee.  The three vice-chairpersons are Yung-Chung Kim of the Republic of Korea, Ahoua Ouedraogo of Burkina Faso and Hanna Beate Schopp-Schilling of Germany.  Ayse Feride Acar of Turkey is the Rapporteur.

* * * * *