Background Release

7 March 2001


Thematic Issues: HIV/AIDS; Gender, all Forms of Discrimination

NEW YORK, 2 March (UN Headquarters) -- The Commission on the Status of Women will open its forty-fifth session on Tuesday, 6 March, at United Nations Headquarters, focusing on two thematic issues: Women, girls and HIV/AIDS; and gender and all forms of discrimination, in particular racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The session will conclude on 16 March.

At its first meeting, the Commission will elect its officers, adopt its agenda and other organizational matters, and introduce the various reports before it. It will also begin its general discussion on follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) and to the special session of the General Assembly entitled "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century".

During the upcoming session, the Commission is also expected to approve its new multi-year work programme for the period 2002-2005 and consider its working methods. In addition, two expert panel discussions will take place on this year’s thematic issues, as will an observance of International Women's Day on 8 March.

The Commission was established as a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on 21 June 1946 to prepare recommendations and reports to the Council on promoting women’s rights in political, economic, civil, social and educational fields. The Commission also makes recommendations to the Council on urgent problems requiring immediate attention in the field of women’s rights.

The object of the Commission is to promote implementation of the principle that men and women shall have equal rights. The Council expanded the Commission's mandate in 1987. Following the Fourth World Conference on Women, the General Assembly mandated the Commission to integrate into its work programme a follow-up process to the Conference, in which the Commission should play a catalytic role, regularly reviewing the critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action.

The Commission will have before it the following reports:

Thematic Issues before the Commission

The report of the Secretary-General on thematic issues before the Commission (document E/CN.6/2001/9) states that it aims to identify policy measures that might be of relevance at the international, regional and national levels to combat HIV/AIDS, especially among women and girls. It also sets out recommendations to accelerate efforts towards the elimination of all forms of discrimination against them, in particular, racial and gender discrimination, thus contributing to the achievement of gender equality.

The Secretary-General states that HIV/AIDS is a development, security and rights issue that threatens the survival not only of individuals, but also of communities and nations. The pandemic requires both short-term relief measures and long-term recommendations aimed at addressing the virus, and transforming relations between women and men to eliminate gender inequality and reduce the risk of infection. There is, therefore, a need for political commitment, adequate resources, good governance and democratic participation to provide a lasting solution.

The report states that, under immediate actions, an expert group meeting recommended that governments and the international community should immediately distribute emergency food aid and home-based care packs to people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS in the most severely affected countries and regions. Governments should also enact, implement and enforce urgently, by 2005, laws that grant women equal rights to inheritance and ownership of property, to improve their economic status and enhance the ability of women, families and communities to deal with HIV/AIDS.

In addition, continues the report, governments and international agencies should ensure the provision of accurate and culturally sensitive prevention education, services and technologies within a gender-sensitive framework and with particular emphasis on adolescents and young adults. This work should aim to promote gender equality in relationships, and provide information and resources to promote the practice of safer sex and human rights. Governments and the private sector must also ensure that all forms of media promote non-discriminatory gender-sensitive images of messages about women and men.

The expert group meeting also called on governments to ensure, by 2005, access to free and voluntary counselling and testing for HIV infection, affordable treatments and healthy diets in order to increase the life expectancy of people living with the virus. It was further recommended that the international community and governments should introduce, by 2002, measures to ensure that peacekeeping and military personnel respect the rights of women and girls in all aspects of their operations.

Among other specific recommendations, continues the report, international institutions are called upon to review their constitutions, mandates and relevant conventions, where appropriate, to ascertain their application to HIV/AIDS within a gender perspective; undertake information and training sessions on gender and HIV/AIDS; incorporate considerations of HIV/AIDS, gender and human security in their work; promote and implement the international guidelines on HIV/AIDS and human rights; and review economic and trade policies and practices that result in increased unemployment and cuts in social services, discriminate against poor countries and make people more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.

In addition, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is called on to further develop the International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights with a particular focus on gender, says the report. All United Nations organizations should implement ECOSOC-agreed conclusions (1997/12), on mainstreaming the gender perspective into all policies and programme in the United Nations.

Addressing gender and all forms of discrimination, the report says that an expert group meeting agreed that there was an urgent necessity to develop the methodology to identify intersectional discrimination and its effect on people, particularly women and girls and to uncover the ways in which various structures of discrimination converge to their disadvantage in both public and private life. This intersectional methodology should form the basis for design and implementation of policies and programmes in that area and for establishing legal instruments for necessary remedies and redress.

The report states that it was also recalled that the ultimate responsibility for the respect, promotion, protection and fulfilment of the human rights of all individuals and groups lies with the State. It was also emphasized that, rather than take a holistic approach to the elimination of discrimination, the United Nations should continue to address specific categories of discrimination.

Follow-up to Beijing Declaration, Platform for Action

The report of the Secretary-General on follow-up and implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (document E/CN.6/2001/2) emphasizes efforts undertaken by the Secretariat in support of gender mainstreaming and follow-up activities, including those by non-governmental organizations, since the submission of his previous report on the subject (document E/CN.6/2000/2).

Providing information supplied in accordance with specific mandates, the Secretary-General also details the situation of Palestinian women and assistance given by the United Nations. The report notes that, during the reporting period, despite positive trends in the domestic Palestinian economy, women still experienced unequal access to the labour market and income-generating activities. They also continued to have higher unemployment rates than men. The Secretary-General states that the situation of Palestinian women still requires special attention.

The Secretary-General also underscores that the status and living conditions of Palestinian women are linked to the achievement of progress in the Middle East peace process. Women living in the occupied territories continued to be directly affected by Israeli policies, especially the closure that hinders efforts by the Palestinian authority, civil society groups and the United Nations to advance women. Towards the end of the reporting period, violence between Israeli security forces and Palestinian civilians erupted in the occupied territories, jeopardizing the peace process and hindering assistance efforts by the Organization. The Secretary-General stresses that it is important for United Nations entities to continue operating in the occupied territories, and that efforts to advance and empower Palestinian women are carried on.

Women and Girls in Afghanistan

The addendum to the report of the Secretary-General (document E/CN.6/2001/2/Add.1) provides an overview of the current situation of women and girls in Afghanistan against the background of deteriorating socio-economic conditions, continued conflict, and discriminatory edicts issued by the Taliban authorities. The report also contains information about actions taken by the United Nations system and the assistance community in Afghanistan to improve the situation of women and girls.

The Secretary-General states that Afghanistan is nearing a humanitarian disaster and women are particularly vulnerable, due their social status in the society. Historically, conservative cultural norms and traditions and a strong division of gender roles have characterized this status. With the Taliban takeover of Kabul in 1996, gender discrimination had become institutionalized placing severe restrictions on women's freedom of movement, association and participation in public life. Their access to education, health, employment and public life has been severely curtailed.

The Secretary-General states that the overall situation of women, therefore, remains unacceptable and requires the sustained attention of the international community. Thus, bringing the Afghan war to an end and averting an approaching humanitarian catastrophe will be the most important policy facing that community. The quest for peace required a comprehensive international strategy to bring about a lasting solution.

Joint Work Plan

This report of the Secretary-General (document E/CN.4/2001/70-E/CN.6/2001/3) contains the joint work plan for the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, the Division for the Advancement of Women and the UNHCR for 2001, as well as an assessment of the implementation of the work plan for 2000.

The report says that the offices of the UNHCR, the Special Adviser and the Division will continue the targeted approach to joint activities that has been consolidated in the course of the implementation of the 2000 work plan. Major emphasis will be placed on supporting the work of human rights treaty bodies and selected special mechanisms and on cooperation between national machineries for the advancement of women and national human rights institutions. Particular efforts will be made to address constraints encountered in the implementation of new and ongoing activities, as well as activities carried over from the 2000 joint work plan. Cooperation between the three entities will also continue.

Improvement of the Status of Women in the Secretariat

The report of the Secretary-General (document E/CN.6/2001/5) says that in resolution 55/69 of December 2000 on "the improvement of the status of women in the United Nations system", the Assembly asked the Secretary-General to report to the Commission on implementation of that text by providing up-to-date statistics on the number and percentage of women in all organizational units and at all levels throughout the system.

The report goes on to say that in the same resolution, the Assembly reaffirmed the urgent goal of achieving 50/50 gender distribution in all categories of posts within the United nations system, especially at the D-1 level and above, with full respect for the principle of equitable geographical distribution. The continuing lack of representation of women from certain countries –- developing nations and States with economies in transition -- should also be taken into account.

The report states that due to the short time period between the fifty-fifth session of the Assembly and the opening of the current session of the Commission, the present report updates information contained in previous reports of the Secretary-General on the issue. It includes the latest statistics on the representation of women and men in the Secretariat, as well as information the work programme for the year 2001.

United Nations Development Fund for Women

The report of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)(document E/CN.4/2001/126-E/CN.6/2001/60) documents the dynamic and groundbreaking activities undertaken by the Fund during 2000 to eliminate violence against women.

According to the report, in 1996, UNIFEM developed the Trust Fund in Support of Action to Eliminate Violence against Women. Since that time, it has continued to identify and support innovative and catalytic projects around the world aimed at breaking new ground, creating new models and mobilizing new constituencies in the growing movement to eradicate gender-based violence in all its manifestations. As such, the Trust Fund serves as a launching pad for a wide range of effective new strategies to end violence.

The report says that in 2000, the Assembly held its twenty-third special session entitled "Women 2000: gender, equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century". Among a host of other initiatives, specific forms of violence against women were added to the international agenda, namely, so-called honour killings and dowry-related deaths. The UNIFEM will give priority these issues in the selection of new Trust Fund projects for 2001, as well as to the call issued at the special session for an exploration of positive role models for men to be used as a tool in the struggle to eliminate violence against women.

The report says that in 2000, UNIFEM committed itself to building on the solid advocacy campaigns it has established with other United Nations partners in various regions of the world. In consolidating this work, UNIFEM identified lessons learned and best practices developed in Trust Fund projects and campaigns to distil key programming areas for the future. The Fund will continue to identify and support innovative, local, national and regional, and international initiatives to prevent and eliminate violence against women.

Proposals for Commission’s Multi-Year Programme of Work

The report of the Secretary-General (document E/CN.6/2001/7) says that the Commission's proposed programme of work for 2002-2006 attempts to focus on current challenges, which impact on the critical areas of concern of the Beijing Platform for Action. The process of globalization in its socio-economic manifestations provides the overall framework within which the thematic areas would be considered. In 2002, the two proposed thematic issues are: eradicating poverty: globalization, women and work throughout the life cycle; and gender and environmental management and natural disasters. In 2003, the Commission will take up: institutional capacity-building for implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome document of the twenty-third special session of the Assembly; and women's human rights and elimination of all forms of violence, including trafficking.

In 2004, the proposed themes are: decision-making structures and leadership and women peace and security. For 2005, the Commission will review further implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome document of the twenty-third special session of the Assembly; emerging issues and future oriented strategies. In 2006, the thematic issues will be: a gender perspective of the role of information and communication technologies; and review of the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty from a gender perspective. A general thematic issue during the five years will be a review of implementation strategies, including good practices and national action plans.

Recommendations for Enhancing Commission Working Methods

The report of the Secretary-General (document E/CN.5/2001/8) looks at ways of enhancing the working methods of the Commission. This is aimed at making it more effective in formulating policies, monitoring implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome document of the twenty-third special session of the Assembly, as well as its catalytic role in mainstreaming a gender perspective in policies and programmes. The Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women and the Division for the Advancement of Women within the Department of Economic and Social Affairs supports the work of the Commission.

Follow-up to ECOSOC Resolutions and Decisions

The note by the Secretariat (document E/CN.6/2000/10) contains a summary of recommendations addressed by ECOSOC to its functional commissions, in particular the Commission on the Status of Women. It also contains a summary of actions already taken by the Commission on the Status of Women to implement those recommendations, as well as suggested recommendations for further action which the Commission may wish to take, or which it may wish to address to the Council.

According to the note, during its substantive session of 2000, the Council adopted several resolutions on the advancement of women, noting with concern the persistent problems in addressing the challenges of poverty eradication, gender inequalities, empowerment and advancement of women and employment. It also reaffirmed the need for the international community to urgently address the challenges of poverty eradication and employment creation in a holistic approach, particularly within the context of their efforts to achieve the empowerment and advancement of women.

Of the Council's recommendations, one suggests the Commission may wish to look at the gender dimension of the digital divide, particularly in developing countries and countries with economies in transition, in its multi-year programme of work. Based on another Council recommendation, the Commission called on the Commission on Human Rights to consider providing input on ensuring women's real enjoyment of their human rights, in particular, those relating to alleviation of women's poverty, economic development and economic resources. The preparatory committee of the special session also submitted for approval the sessions' provisional agenda, which focused on review of the progress made in implementing the 12 critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action and identifying further initiatives for overcoming obstacles to its implementation.

Letter from ECOSOC President

A letter dated 4 October 2000 from the President of the Economic and Social Council addressed to the Chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women (document E/CN.6/2001/11) draws the Chairperson's attention to the importance of taking into account the policy recommendations adopted by the Council in the work of its subsidiary bodies.

An annex to the letter contains a list of resolutions, agreed conclusions and decisions adopted by the Council specifically addressed to the functional commissions. A recommendation specifically for consideration by the Commission was ECOSOC resolution 2000/26 on the role of employment and work in poverty eradication: empowerment and advancement of women.

Reform of Mechanisms in the Human Rights Area (1503 Procedure)

The report of the Secretary-General (document E/CN.6/2001/12) states that while its preparation was prompted by concerns about the interaction of two Commissions –- on the status of women and human rights -- it also provides an opportunity for an overall evaluation of the communications procedure of the former, which was last reviewed in detail in 1991.

The present report is divided in to three sections. The first gives a brief review of the development of the confidential communications procedures of both Commissions. The second provides a discussion of the operation of the two procedures and the relationship between them and the options for better coordination. The third part details options for more fundamental reform of the existing communications procedure of the Commission on the Status of Women.

International Year of Volunteers

A note by the Secretariat (document E/CN.6/2001/13) refers delegations to the document it is transmitting entitled "Review reports and proposals for further action and initiatives submitted by organs and specialized agencies of the United nations system and other concerned organizations: contribution from the United Nations Volunteer Programme (document A/AC.253/16/Add.7).

Medium-term Plan

As of today, the report of the Secretary-General on proposed system-wide medium-term plan for the advancement of women 2002-2005 (document E/CN.6/2001/4) had not been issued.


The Commission, which began with 15 members, now consists of 45 members elected by the Council for four years. Members, who are appointed by governments, are elected on the following basis: 13 from African States; 11 from Asian States; four from Eastern European States; nine from Latin American and Caribbean States; and eight from Western European and Other States. The Commission meets normally on an annual basis for a period of eight working days.

The current Bureau of the Commission is made up of the following members: Dubravka Šimonovic (Croatia), Chair; Kirsten Geelan (Denmark), Vice-Chair; Atsuko Nishimura (Japan), Vice-Chair; Loreto Leyton (Chile), Vice-Chair; Mankeur Ndiaye (Senegal), Vice-Chair.

The members of the Commission with their terms of expiry (31 December) are Argentina (2004), Azerbaijan (2004), Belgium (2002), Benin (2003), Bolivia (2001), Brazil (2003), Burundi (2002), Chile (2003), China (2003), Côte d’Ivoire (2001), Croatia (2003), Cuba (2001), Democratic People's Republic of Korea (2002), Denmark (2003), Dominican Republic (2003), Egypt (2002), Germany (2004), Guinea (2004), India (2001), and Iran (2001).

The other members with their terms of expiry are Italy (2002), Japan (2004), Kyrgyzstan (2003), Lesotho (2001), Lithuania (2002), Malawi (2003), Malaysia (2001), Mexico (2002), Mongolia (2002), Netherlands (2004), Pakistan (2004), Peru (2004), Republic of Korea (2001), Russian Federation (2002), Rwanda (2001), Saint Lucia (2001), Senegal (2002), Sri Lanka (2001), Sudan (2001), Tunisia (2004), Turkey (2002), Uganda (2001), United Kingdom (2004), United Republic of Tanzania (2004), and United States (2003).

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