16 October 2003



NEW YORK, 15 October (UN Headquarters) -- Gender equality and violence against women presented continuing challenges to the international community, Angela King, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, as it began its consideration of issues related to the advancement of women.

Gender equality was the responsibility of everyone, and the international community must promote the advancement of women in political, economic and social spheres, she continued.  Efforts were also needed to increase participation and representation of women in decision-making processes.  In the world’s parliaments, women accounted for only 15.3 per cent of members, and there were only 10 women Heads of State and Government.  Within the United Nations system, women professionals also remained under-represented at 35 per cent and only two organizations -- the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) -- were headed by women. 

The Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, Carolyn Hannan, called on the Committee to ensure that commitments to gender equality were included in development strategies.  Failure to address gender dimensions exacerbated inequalities between women and men and compromised the achievement of all other development goals. There was a clear link between the empowerment of women and the achievements in development and poverty eradication, environmental protection, the promotion of human rights, democracy and good governance, she said.

The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) placed women’s human rights at the centre of its programming in all areas, said UNIFEM Executive Director, Noleen Heyzer.  Violence against women and girls was the most pervasive human rights violation and was evident both, during armed conflict, and in times of peace.  Even the HIV/AIDS pandemic was fuelled by the lack of gender equality, she noted, adding that by the end of 2002 women had constituted 50 per cent of all people living with HIV/AIDS, compared to 41 per cent only five years before.

The Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, welcomed reforms undertaken by States to support gender equality and to eliminate discriminatory legislation, said its Chairperson Feride Acar.  However, the Committee remained concerned that discrimination against women in the labour market and the persistence of traditional stereotypes regarding the roles of women and men in the family and society, continued to adversely affect women’s human rights and the full implementation of the Convention against the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against women.

A question-and-answer session followed the introductory presentations in which delegations raised issues of concern to them and asked for clarification on issues including the mainstreaming of a gender perspective in peacekeeping, the appraisal of progress in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action, and the serious financial situation of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW).  Delegations also asked what they could do as Member States to ensure gender mainstreaming and increase women’s participation and representation within the United Nations system.

In today’s general discussion, delegations told the Committee about national initiatives undertaken to empower women; increase their participation in decision-making and integrate a gender perspective in national policies.  It was stressed that women were important agents for development, as well as peace-building.  Concern was expressed about the feminization of poverty, and HIV/AIDS particularly in rural areas; and the international community was urged to place women at the centre of policies to combat poverty and HIV/AIDS.  Delegations also expressed concern about violence against women and trafficking in women and girls for sexual exploitation, as well as the situation of women in armed conflict. 

Concerning violence against women, delegations highlighted domestic violence, honour killings, and female genital mutilation and stressed the importance of speeding up implementation of national laws for the protection of women.  Several delegations also welcomed the news that this year’s Nobel Prize for Peace was given to a woman lawyer from Iran -- a personal triumph for her, but also recognition of unsung activists fighting for women’s human rights in their respective countries.

The representative of Morocco, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, urged that more attention on women’s access to new information and communications technologies and stressed the need for the forthcoming World Summit on the Information Society to address this issue.  He also, along with the representatives of Peru (speaking on behalf of the Rio Group) and Venezuela, reiterated his full support to the work of INSTRAW, saying that political and financial support of the international community was indispensable for its sustainability. 

Also addressing the Committee today were the representatives of Italy (on behalf of the European Union), China, Brazil, Malawi (on behalf of the Southern Africa Development Community), Iran, South Africa, Norway, Egypt, Ukraine (on behalf of Georgia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and the Republic of Moldova), Indonesia, United States, Oman, Canada (on behalf of Australia and New Zealand), Sudan, Argentina, Japan, Singapore, United Republic of Tanzania, United Arab Emirates, Russian Federation, Ecuador, Qatar, and Croatia.

Representatives of the World Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and International Committee of the Red Cross. 

The Committee will reconvene tomorrow at 10 a.m. to continue its consideration of the advancement of women.


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to begin consideration of items related to the status and advancement of women.  The Committee has before it reports addressing a number of issues, including discrimination against women, the situation of women in rural areas, the effects of traditional practices on the health of women and girls, violence against women migrant workers, and the status of women in the United Nations system.

The Committee will consider a report of the Secretary General on traditional or customary practices affecting the health of women and girls (document A/58/169).  The report provides information on the measures taken by Member States and within the United Nations system on existing practices in various countries.  The report also identifies areas in which further efforts are needed.  Some Member States reported on legal measures directed specifically at female genital mutilation, and other Member States reported on proposed legislative measures and existing laws on women’s health and/or violence against women and children, in general.

The report concludes there has been an increased recognition of the need for the prevention and elimination of harmful traditional practices, but says Member States, non-governmental organizations and United Nations entities should strengthen concrete measures aimed at the elimination of such practices.  It recommends legislative measures to challenge underlying attitudes perpetuating harmful traditional practices and to strengthen the status of women in society from the earliest age.

Also before the Committee is a report of the Secretary-General on the improvement of the status of women in the United Nations system (document A/58/374).  The report provides an overview of the current status of the representation of women in the Secretariat and in the United Nations system for the period from July 2002 to June 2003.  The report says the status of women in the United Nations system has not improved sufficiently in certain categories and certain levels of posts, despite the continued commitment of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General to achieve 50/50 gender balance.  As of 30 June 2003, women account for 35.6 per cent of Professional and higher-level staff with appointments of one year or more in the Secretariat.  Within the United Nations system, the overall proportion of women in the Professional and higher categories is 35 per cent as of 31 December 2002.

The report urges more concerted efforts to achieve gender parity at all levels, particularly at the senior and policy-making levels.  To improve the status of women, efforts must also address the situation of women in the General Service category where they constitute the majority of staff.  In order to provide a pool of women staff suitable for higher-level posts, there is a need to establish networks with professional organizations.  The report calls on Member States to assist in efforts to identify, recruit and promote senior women.

There is a report on the twenty-eighth session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (document A/58/38, Part I), held from 13 to 31 January 2003 at United Nations Headquarters.  The report contains information relating to matters brought to the attention of State parties; organizational matters; report of the Chairperson on the activities undertaken between the exceptional and twenty-eighth session; consideration of reports submitted by State parties under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; activities carried out under the Optional Protocol to the Convention; and ways and means of expediting the work of the Committee.

A report of the Secretary-General on the improvement of the situation of women in rural areas (document A/58/167) reviews the attention given to the situation of rural women by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, intergovernmental bodies and processes, the United Nations system and international financial organizations.  The report concludes with a summary of the responses received from Member States on the desirability of convening a high-level policy consultation on the situation of rural women.

Also before the Committee is a report of the Secretary-General on violence against women migrant workers (document A/58/161), which consists of information on measures taken by Member States and activities undertaken by United Nations system organizations and other intergovernmental bodies in the area of violence against women migrant workers.  The report makes it clear that violence against women migrant workers remains an issue of concern of Member States and entities of the United Nations system.  The lack of comprehensive and timely data on the number of women migrants and, in particular, on the violence and discrimination they suffer, remains an obstacle to understanding the scale of the phenomenon, making it more difficult to design appropriate policies to combat such violence and discrimination.

Efforts are needed to further explore the link between migration and trafficking and to address the two issues accordingly, with a particular focus on the need to protect women from all forms of violence, irrespective of their immigrant status.  It encourages governments to ratify the international instruments dealing with migration issues, particularly the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

A report of the Secretary-General on the status of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (document A/58/341) states that, as of 31 July 2003, 174 States parties had ratified, acceded or succeeded to the Convention, of which 62 had acceded to it and seven had succeeded to it.  The most recent States to ratify or accede to the Convention were Afghanistan, Syria, Timor-Leste and Sao Tome and Principe.  The report further states that, as of 31 July 2003, 75 States had signed the Optional Protocol and 54 had ratified or acceded to it.  This represents an increase of 11 ratifications since the submission of the last report.

There is also a report of the Secretary-General on the future operation of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) (document A/58/417).  The report covers the implementation of the measures for an institutional reform of INSTRAW proposed by the Working Group on the Future Operation of INSTRAW.  The report says that, despite the endorsement by the General Assembly of the measures proposed by the Working Group, the Institute continues to face a critical financial situation and will continue to operate at a minimum level only until the end of May 2004.  The report concludes that the capacity of the Institute to contribute in any meaningful and effective way to the advancement of women and gender equality continues to deteriorate.

A note by the Secretary-General on activities of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) (document A/58/168) reviews and updates the programmes and activities of UNIFEM for the year 2002.  The report tracks UNIFEM’s overall progress and highlights concrete results in the implementation of its Strategy and Business Plan (2000-2003) during the year under review.

The report concludes with the recommendations of the UNIFEM Consultative Committee, which encourages UNIFEM to collaborate with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the Division for the Advancement of Women, and the Department of Political Affairs to devise a joint strategy on implementation issues.  It also strongly encourages UNIFEM to strengthen its work in tracking progress on the gender dimensions of the Millennium Development Goals in close collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Consultative Committee strongly encourages donors to consider devoting a greater share of their contributions to the UNIFEM core budget, and to adopt multiyear funding frameworks.  The UNIFEM is encouraged to further explore the possibilities of private sector funding for some of its activities. 

A report of the Secretary-General on the follow-up to and progress in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcome of the twenty-third special session (document A/58/166) reviews steps taken by the Assembly and its Main Committees during its fifty-seventh session to promote the achievement of gender equality through the gender mainstreaming strategy.  Particular focus is placed on actions taken in relation to the follow-up to the United Nations Millennium Declaration and at major events during the past year.  An assessment of the work of the Economic and Social Council is also provided.  Finally, the catalytic role of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women in support of gender mainstreaming in all policies and programmes of the United Nations is addressed.

The report recommends that the General Assembly call for continuing efforts to include attention to gender equality in reports submitted to the Assembly and its subsidiary bodies, to enhance the analysis of gender perspectives and to further integrate gender perspectives in its resolutions.  It also suggests that the General Assembly take specific steps to ensure that gender perspectives are an integral part of all aspects of the implementation of the United Nations Millennium Declaration.

Also before the Committee (not yet available) is a report of the Secretary-General on the financial situation of INSTRAW and a report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) on the financial situation of INSTRAW.


Statements by United Nations System Officials

ANGELA E.V.KING, Assistant Secretary-General, and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said that three years ago at the Millennium Summit, world leaders had provided a common framework in the Millennium Declaration.  The events during 2005 included the conference on the Millennium Declaration and reviews and appraisals of the Beijing conference Platform for Action and the outcome document of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly of the Copenhagen World Summit on Social Development and of the Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development.  She would welcome this Committee’s views on what should be the main areas of focus and what delegations wished to derive from those events.

Women’s full enjoyment of their human rights was a serious challenge, she said.  Since the Beijing Conference, 23 States Parties had ratified or acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), bringing the total number of States Parties to 174.  She appealed to those Member States that had not ratified CEDAW to do so by 2005.

Women continued to face varying degrees of violence in all its forms, she said, and the Beijing +5 Outcome Document urged that legislation and mechanisms to handle criminal matters relating to violence against women and girls must be introduces and strengthened.  Above all, the Document called for zero tolerance regarding violence against women.

Trafficking in women and girls was a particularly hideous form of violence, she said.  It was estimated that some 700,000 persons were trafficked each year across international borders.  The majority were women and girls, usually in their teens or early twenties.

Any list of major challenges would be incomplete without mentioning the deadly impact of HIV/AIDS on women, she said.  The pandemic had reached catastrophic proportions threatening whole nations with extinction, especially Southern Africa.  The disease was spreading faster among women and girls and was inextricably linked to violence, abuse and their status in society. 

Efforts of the international community to reverse the rate of spread of HIV/AIDS had been largely unsuccessful with only 300,000 infected women and men out of 42 million receiving assistance.  She called on Member States to support the World Health Organization (WHO) initiative to provide anti-retroviral drugs to 3 million infected by 2005 and to make every effort to change laws, policies and practices which increased women’s empowerment and their capacity to protect themselves against infection.

More efforts were also needed to change the situation in other critical areas, including women in decision-making and in the peace process.  She said women were still severely under-represented in higher level echelons.  There were only 10 women Heads of State and Government, five vice-presidents and four women leaders of main opposition parties in their countries.  Women in the world’s Parliaments accounted for only 15.3 per cent.  Within the United Nations, there were fewer women heads of organizations -- only the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) were headed by women.  Within the United Nations system, women professional remained at approximately 35 per cent.  For the United Nations, this figure had remained the same over a five-year period, indicating that recruitments were barely replacing retirements and separations.

Gender equality was the responsibility of everyone, she said.  Whether it was the establishment of programmes to support women’s sustainable livelihoods and economic independence, the elimination of discriminatory legislation, protection of women from sexual violence, the adoption of measures to increase women’s participation in public life and decision-making or an improved access to health care -- the international community must take responsibility for initiating such change and to see it through towards a successful outcome.

CAROLYN HANNAN, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, introduced the reports before the Committee, which addressed traditional practices affecting the health of women and girls, violence against women migrant workers, improvement of women’s status in rural areas, discrimination against women, and the status of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.  She emphasized that gender equality and the empowerment of women were an integral part of sustainable development and called on the Committee to send a strong message that commitments to gender equality must be taken fully into account in development strategies undertaken at the national, regional and international levels.

She pointed to the Secretary-General’s message at the opening of the General Assembly, which highlighted the link between the empowerment of women and the achievements in development and poverty eradication, environmental protection, and the promotion of human rights, democracy and good governance.  Noting the growing recognition that gender equality was a core concern for development in all of those areas, she said the failure to address gender dimensions exacerbated inequalities between women and men and compromised the achievement of all other development goals.

NOLEEN HEYZER, Executive Director, United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), said there were three strategic areas in which UNIFEM worked to address gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Those included strengthening women’s economic security and rights; supporting women’s leadership in governance and peace-building; and promoting women’s human rights, including ending gender based violence and combating the spread of HIV/AIDS.  Within each of those strategic areas, the Fund supported advocacy for women’s empowerment, built women’s capacity and provided a knowledge base that facilitated the mainstreaming of a gender perspective throughout the United Nations system as a whole.

The UNIFEM placed women’s human rights at the centre of its programming in all areas, she said, and CEDAW served as a cornerstone in this respect.  In this connection, she thanked the Government of Canada for the generous support extended to UNIFEM for its programme to implement the Convention in seven countries in South-East Asia.  UNIFEM had also continued to promote women’s participation and leadership in shaping the policies that affected their lives.  In Southern Africa, UNIFEM supported the launch of a regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) Women’s Parliamentary Caucus aimed at dismantling structural barriers and institutional practices affecting women.

In situations of war, as well as peace, all forms of violence against women and girls -- the most pervasive human rights violation -- could be seen, she said.  UNIFEM continued to manage the Inter-Agency Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence against Women.

In the context of globalization, one could see an increase of migration, she continued.  Migrant women often lacked basic rights and were therefore extremely vulnerable to violence.  UNIFEM had embarked on an initiative with the Jordanian Government to strengthen the rights of those women workers and help prevent abuse.

She stressed that the HIV/AIDS pandemic was fuelled by the lack of gender equality.  By the end of 2002, women constituted 50 per cent of all people living with HIV/AIDS, compared to 41 per cent only five years before.  New and innovative partnerships had been established to help prevent the further spreading of the virus.  UNIFEM had been working with HIV-positive women networks in Zimbabwe and India, with youth advocates in the Caribbean, Southern Africa and Senegal, as well as with faith-based networks in Kenya and Nigeria.

Initiatives were also being taken within the context of women’s access to information and communications technology, she said.  UNIFEM’s effectiveness was directly related to its ability to attract and sustain partnerships.  UNIFEM would continue to expand its partnerships within and beyond the United Nations system to ensure the implementation of commitments for women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Statement by Convention Monitoring Committee Chair

FERIDE ACAR, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, urged Member States that had yet to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination of all Forms against Women to renew their efforts to favourably consider participating in this critical international human rights instrument for women’s equality.  The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had noted a number of common trends and challenges during its consideration of reports submitted thus far by 16 States Parties to the Convention, she said.  The Committee welcomed reforms undertaken by States parties to support gender equality and to eliminate legislation that discriminated against women and also noted increasing cooperation between States parties and non-governmental organizations, as well as efforts by several States to include gender dimensions in their development programmes.

The Committee remained concerned, however, that States did not consistently reflect in their domestic legislation the definition of violence against women as set out in article 1 of the Convention.  The lack of systematic data on and penalties for violence against women were additional issues of concern.  The Committee also noted that the discrimination against women in the labour market and the persistence of traditional stereotypes regarding the roles of women and men in the family and society at large were continuing to negatively affect women’s enjoyment of their rights and to impede the full implementation of the Convention.  There was also particular concern for the status of women’s human rights in post-war Iraq, a State party to the Convention.

She encouraged States that had not already done so to submit their reports to the Committee, reminding them that reporting was an integral part of a continuing process designed to promote and enhance respect for women’s human rights, and was a primary obligation assumed with ratification of the Convention.  Reporting enabled the Committee to review and evaluate how well legislation, policies and programmes complied with the requirements of the Convention, to develop new legislative and policy initiatives and to take corrective action to enhance compliance with the Convention.

Interactive Dialogue

In a subsequent question-and-answer session, the representative of Italy asked what would be the basis for the review and appraisal of the Beijing Platform for Action in 2005.

A representative of Singapore made a clarification on the report of the Secretary-General on violence against migrant women, stressing that foreign domestic workers were allowed to continue employment, while their employers were in the midst of court proceedings in Singapore.  Another employer could also employ foreign domestic workers at such a time.

A representative of Canada asked about equal representation of women at all levels.  He also asked about the type of action that could be taken to improve the gender balance within the United Nations, but particularly outside the Secretariat.

Responding, Ms. King said that the Commission on the Status of Women had the appraisal and review of the Beijing Platform for Action on its agenda.  The review would also be based on national human development reports, Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP), statistics from the United Nations Statistics Divisions, as well as, on a questionnaire prepared for this purpose.  She encouraged governments to submit their responses by the end of April and provide information of relevant changes in the policies on advancement of women and gender mainstreaming. 

Concerning staffing, and how one could increase the number of women, she said, a new system had been introduced last year.  There was now a new Head of the Office of Human Resources who was collaborating in the monitoring of the new system.  She stressed the need to monitor this process, as well as to improve and strengthen training on this topic.  There was still a tendency of people expressing a male preference, particularly in areas that were seen to be more “male”, such as peacekeeping issues.  Member States had a major role to play, both in submitting candidates but also in encouraging applications. 

A representative of Syria said she had studied the reports before the Committee.  The report on traditional practices with harmful effects on women’s health did not reflect the response of the Government of Syria.  She therefore rejected the report as incomplete.  In another report, there had been a failure to report on assistance to Palestinian women.  This gave the impression of bias and disregard for Arab women suffering under occupation.

Concerning the report on the follow-up to the Beijing Platform of Action, a representative of Cuba said it was impossible to gauge from the report how much or little progress there had been made.  Cuba had also been struck by the fact that no director had been appointed to head the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW).  What was assessment of the future of its operation and the revitalization of the Institute, she asked.

A representative of Peru asked what the Division for the Advancement of Women was doing to ensure greater participation of women in peacekeeping. 

How many reports of the United Nations did not contain a gender perspective, asked a representative of Croatia.

 Responding, Ms. Hannan said she had taken note of the clarifications made by the concerns raised about reports by Singapore and Syria.  In terms of the questions on the report on the follow-up to Beijing, she said there were three reports coming out on three different substantive issues, in order to avoid repetition and overlapping.  She explained that the analysis of gender perspectives within the United Nations was undertaken by looking at resolutions passed, rather than reports.  She agreed that it might be useful to look at the level of gender mainstreaming in United Nations reports too.  She said that her Division was cooperating with other Departments, such as the Departments of Disarmament Affairs and Peacekeeping, as well as with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to mainstream a gender perspective.

Ms. King said there was a report assessing gender mainstreaming in over 267 reports of the Security Council.  It had been found that 67 per cent did not mention women or girls at all.  More data was required and further monitoring was needed on reporting on gender mainstreaming and on the number of women that had been hired in this field.  Member States had an important role to play to ensure that women participated in military or police contingents. 

Concerning the situation of INSTRAW, she said the working group had approved the list of candidates to ensure that the position of director be filled.  The actual assessment would have to wait for budget report. 

Ms. Acar said that the Committee had decided to ask the Secretariat to explore different possibilities and modalities available for the reporting mechanisms.  The matter was being considered regarding periodic reports only.

Ms. Heyzer said reconstruction processes and peace-building was a major part of her organization’s work, particularly in ensuring the participation of women.

The representative of Spain, chair of the working group on the situation of INSTRAW, said the working group had asked that regional representation be taken into account with regard to the appointment of a director.  It was regrettable that the report of the Secretary-General stated that no progress had been made.  The working group had proposed a number of changes that had already been implemented.  The statute of the institute had been changed, and some donors had made pledges to the institute.  It was also regrettable that the report of the working group had not been circulated, even though the working group had been requested to submit a report.

The Observer for Palestine said that the report on the follow-up to the Beijing Platform of Action had not mentioned the situation of Palestinian women.  She looked forward to the clarification that would be provided on this topic.

Ms. King agreed that there had been some developments to do with INSTRAW.  A Deputy Director still needed to be found.  Hopefully funds could be raised, through voluntary contribution, as soon as the Director was appointed.

Statements by Delegations

OSWALDO DE RIVERO (Peru), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said there had been significant advances in all the countries of the region, regarding to the five priority areas identified in the Platform for Action in Beijing.  Work had been focused on the promotion of equal conditions and opportunities for women in society, where each of their human rights could be completely recognized and respected.  Nevertheless, there were many challenges to overcome, such as the big number of women living in poverty.  In some countries of the region, there was only equity in access to education in primary schooling; there were salary gaps and discrimination in the labour market; and the numbers of women participating in politics and institutions remained low.  For those reasons, the countries of the region had agreed to continue to promote the inclusion of gender issues in their development policies and enhance programmes and projects specifically targeting women from vulnerable groups, in particular indigenous and Afro-descendent women.

He said that the members of the Rio Group reiterated their firm support to the process of revitalization and strengthening of INSTRAW, for being the only institute of the United Nations dedicated to investigation and training on the advancement of women, particularly in developing countries.  The Rio Group therefore requested the United Nations Secretary-General to appoint, in consultation with the working group on the future activities of the Institute, the new Director of INSTRAW, in order to provide it with the competent power to complete the pending tasks for its revitalization. 

One of the most difficult challenges to overcome was HIV/AIDS, he said.  The pandemic had been recognized as a humanitarian crisis that specially affected women and adolescent girls.  HIV/AIDS had become an imperative of foreign policy with economic effects on development, as well as on the enjoyment of human rights.  The pandemic had expanded beyond the means and capacities of each of the nations involved, and it was of great importance to continue implementing campaigns to create awareness in the population, as well as guarantee access to treatment.

STEFANIA PRESTIGIACOMO (Italy), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Union recognized that equality, sustainable development and peace could only be attained if both women and men played an equal role in all spheres of life.  The European Union fully supported gender mainstreaming strategies, which it considered a guiding principle in the formulation and implementation of European Union policies and in the national policies of Member States.  A great deal of work still remained before gender equality would be a part of day-to-day political and administrative work.

The gender perspective must be made an integral part of all decision-making, and gender issues should be fully considered, she said.  The European Union fully agreed with the principle that gender equality in decision-making processes was a prerequisite for democracy.  In accordance with the CEDAW convention, measures must be taken to eliminate discrimination against women in political and public life.

Gender equality was an essential element that formed the basis for real sustainable development, she said.  As stated in the Millennium Declaration, the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women were critical in combating poverty, hunger and disease.  Inequality and poverty prevented women and girls from the full enjoyment of their human rights.  Women must be recognized as full citizens, with the same civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, as men, and with the right to freely decide over issues regarding their bodies, reproduction and sexuality.

The European Union was concerned about the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, as well as domestic violence, the trafficking of women and girls, crimes against women committed in the name of honour, and all other forms of gender-based violence, she said.  The European Union called on governments to intensify efforts to prevent, punish, and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls through legislative and policy measures.  The Union was also strongly committed to the adoption of all international measures and instruments, including the Palermo Protocol, aimed at supporting the fight against the trafficking of human beings, in particular women and girls.  The Union called on all Member States that had not yet done so, to ratify or accede to CEDAW and its Optional Protocol.

OMAR KADIRI (Morocco), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that almost a decade after Beijing and despite the efforts made at all levels, women throughout the world were still facing many challenges and obstacles that prevented them from the full enjoyment of their rights.  A sustained and firm political will at all levels was indispensable in this regard.

Regarding the forthcoming World Summit on the Information Society, he welcomed the conclusions adopted by the Commission on the Status of Women on its priority theme “Participation and access of women to the media, and information and communications technologies, and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women”.  All relevant stakeholders must enhance, for the benefit of women and girls, international cooperation in support of national efforts to create an enabling environment to reduce the digital and information divide between developed and developing countries. 

Violence against women was one of the worst violations of their basic rights and fundamental freedoms, he continued.  Fighting and eliminating such a degrading phenomenon that unfortunately existed in all societies under different forms, must be at the centre of national and international efforts for the advancement and empowerment of women.  The media and civil society, among others, also had an important role in this regard by raising awareness among the population as to the severe consequences of violence on the physical and mental health of women and on their capacity to participate positively in all activities of the society.

The Group of 77 and China reiterated their full support to the work of INSTRAW, he said.  The General Assembly had unanimously urged the Secretary-General to appoint immediately a director at the D2 level, to be based at the headquarters of the Institute in the Dominican Republic, and thereafter to inform the working group on the future operations of INSTRAW of the designation of the nominee.  He welcomed the decision of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to establish an Executive Board composed of 10 Member States that he believed would have a positive impact on the work of the institute and would facilitate its institutional process.  The political and financial support of the international community was indispensable for the sustainability of INSTRAW. 

MEIFANG ZHANG (China) said her country endorsed the recommendations of the Secretary General--in his report on the follow-up to the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and the outcome of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly--that States should strengthen their legislative efforts, severely punish violence and crimes against women, and suppress the trafficking of women and girls.  In China’s view the international community still had a long way to go in advancing the status of women, eliminating poverty facing women, and suppressing the trafficking of women and girls.

China had acceded to a number of international human rights instruments, including the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Pornography.  Her Government was in the process of formulating and improving laws and regulations designed to protect the rights of women and girls and to punish perpetrators of violence against women and girls.

The Government had promulgated the Programme of Action for the Development of Women in China from 2001 to 2010, which addressed gender equality, women’s political participation, elimination of violence against women, and employment, health and education for women.  She said her Government stood ready to collaborate with civil society and the private sector, including Chinese women’s groups, in an effort to fully realize the goals set forth in the Programme.

FREDERICO S. DUQUE ESTRADA MEYER (Brazil) stressed the commitment of his Government to the advancement of women and highlighted the reorganization of the Special Secretariat for Women’s Policies.  That Secretariat’s mission was to advise the President, both directly and indirectly, regarding proposals, coordination and articulation of women’s policies.  It would also elaborate and implement nationwide awareness campaigns against discrimination and create a gender planning mechanism to help government to implement actions to increase equality.  The Secretariat would also monitor the enactment of an affirmative legislation outlining public policies for the implementation of international agreements, conventions, and action plans subscribed by Brazil that dealt with gender equality and the fight against discrimination.

Brazil’s principal goals included the eradication of poverty and the enhancement of citizen’s rights, women and men alike, he said.  This year had seen the launching by the new Brazilian Administration of the “Fome Zero” (Zero Hunger) program that aimed at promoting actions to combat hunger and to guarantee the nutritional safety of the Brazilian population.  A number of initiatives were focused specifically on women, such as those which aimed at combating malnutrition and infant mortality, or that offered education in health issues with an emphasis in adolescent pregnancy and that stimulated breast feeding.  The fight against poverty was also a struggle for autonomy, dignity, respect and promotion of all human rights, including the right to development.

HASTINGS AMURANI-PHIRI (Malawi), speaking on behalf of the SADC, said gender equality was an essential element in realizing development that was people-centred and truly sustainable.  The SADC encouraged support for and attention to the gender equality agenda.  The formation of the SADC Regional Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, an autonomous lobbying body, was one strategy for achieving the goal of equality between women and men in the political sphere.  The SADC continued to work towards the attainment of a minimum target of a 30 per cent quota for women in political and decision-making positions by 2005.

Women’s ownership of productive resources was another critical step towards empowerment, and the SADC was fully committed to the promotion of women’s full access to, and control over, resources including land, livestock, markets, credit and modern technology to reduce the level of poverty among women.  The drafting of the Women’s Charter for Africa on Women’s Human Rights was also a critical factor, as a tool for development in sustaining the livelihoods of women on the continent.

Regarding international efforts to eliminate traditional or customary practices affecting the health of women and girls, the SADC condemned all forms of violence against women and all traditional or customary practices that negatively affected the health of women and girls identified in the outcome document of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly.

Gholam Hossein Seyed Salehi (Iran) extended his congratulations to the human rights activist from Iran, Shirin Ebadi, who had been selected to win the Nobel Peace Prize of 2003.  In many countries, discrimination against women and girls started from the very birth of a girl child.  Lack of access to economic opportunities, education, health services and the decision-making process made women more susceptible to repression leading to violence.  During the last two decades, many initiatives had been undertaken globally to promote, respect and enforce women’s rights.  In spite of all those initiatives, progress in the achievement of women’s rights had been slow worldwide.

In Iran, the percentage of social participation of women had increased remarkably, he said.  In addition to integrating a gender perspective and gender mainstreaming in the fourth 5-year economic, social and cultural development plan in Iran, tremendous efforts had been employed within the framework of other structures of the Government with the view of accelerating the empowerment of women in the country.  Some of the measures taken involved a larger allocation of the annual Government budget for women empowerment, the provision of gender-based data and information on women issues, and paving the way for the increased participation of women in all social, political and economic aspects of the society.

DUMISANI S. KUMALO (South Africa) said that since 1994, South Africa had been grappling with the transformation of its society and the creation of a better life for all.  Nonetheless, poverty remained a problem for women in South Africa, particularly women in rural areas.  The underdevelopment of infrastructure in rural areas was the reason for the poor condition under which the majority of South Africa’s rural communities lived.  The spread of HIV/AIDS also remained a serious problem in South Africa.  The levels of awareness had increased significantly, which had resulted in behaviour change for about 70 per cent of young women aged 15 to 19 years.

Another challenge was violence against women and girls, he continued.  The Government had identified this phenomenon as a national priority, and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development had enacted and amended laws such as sexual offences and domestic violence legislation, making various forms of violence against women clearly defined crimes, and taking measures to impose penalties, punishment and other appropriate enforcement mechanisms.

The adoption of a holistic approach to gender mainstreaming aimed at transforming systems and structure for gender equality was essential, he said.  The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) vision on this issue was based on principles of good governance, human resources development and in particular, the full integration of women into the economies of the region.

GURO KATHARINA HELWIG VIKOR (Norway) said that despite progress towards gender equality in recent decades, gender discrimination remained pervasive in many parts of the world.  In no region of the world were women completely equal to men in all legal, political, social and economic rights and opportunities.  Such inequalities were a barrier to overall development and democracy, and it was critical to mainstream a gender perspective in development policies.  Also, there could be no development without human security.  Global escalation of conflict, violence and criminality had created an environment that was increasingly dangerous for women and children, especially because they were targets of specific forms of abuse, including sexual violence and exploitation.

Regarding violence against women, she said the challenge was to get to its root causes, including women’s socio-economic standing, political status, access to justice and impunity from gender-based violence. Even in Norway’s relatively gender equal society, gender-based violence remained a serious challenge.  Norway planned to launch a new national action plan in November that would focus on men as perpetrators and children growing up in violent family situations.  The trafficking of women, a new form of gender-based violence, was on the rise as a result of globalization.  Norway’s national plan of action, launched in January of this year, aimed to combat that problem and was an important contribution to the struggle against organized crime.

Norwegian women had achieved considerable political influence and enjoyed a high level of workforce participation, she said.  However, women were still largely absent from decision-making positions in the private sector.  The Norwegian Government in June had presented a bill to the Parliament to meet the challenge of increasing gender equality in the private sector.

MAI TAHA MOHAMED KHALIL (Egypt), reviewing the latest developments in Egypt on the advancement of women, said one of the most important steps was a new bill to the nationality act, leading to equality between Egyptian fathers and mothers married to foreigners.  Moreover, a National Women’s Council had been established and was in charge of forming general policies on women’s affairs and empowerment.  That body was also working to ensure that those policies were taken into account in the national development policies.  The National Women’s Council was representing Egypt in various international forums, and was now working to enact a law on family.  The Council was also setting up an office for an Ombudsman for complaints filed by women and to provide legal assistance.

The Secretary-General had emphasized the need to take into account the status of women in the formulation of national economic policies, she continued.  There was also need to include socio-economic development in women’s policies and programmes, as the advancement of women would benefit society.  Egypt was concerned about the most vulnerable group of women -- rural women -- who suffered most from discrimination.  In that area, Egypt attached the highest priority to literacy, education, health services, food security and the sanitation.  Her country was also focusing on rural areas in order to stop the rural exoduses.

OKSANA BOIKO (Ukraine), speaking on behalf of the GUUAM countries (comprising Azerbaijan, Georgia, Republic of Moldova and Ukraine), said violence against women in all its forms constituted one of the principal obstacles to the achievement of gender equality.  Some of the GUUAM countries had set up crisis centres and shelters to provide assistance to victims of violence.

Sexual exploitation and trafficking of women remained one of the worst forms of violence against women, she said.  According to some estimates, anywhere from 700,000 to 4 million persons were subjected to trafficking worldwide, and among them, were women and children from the GUUAM countries.  The leadership of the GUUAM States had undertaken legislative measures to combat human trafficking.

The GUUAM countries were greatly concerned that the majority of refugees and internally displaced persons were women and children.  She said the United Nations had a crucial role to play in the protection of this particularly vulnerable group of women in her region.  The GUUAM countries stressed the role of Security Council Resolution 1325, which called on all parties to armed conflict to respect international law applicable to the rights and protection of women and girls and to take special measures to protect them from gender-based violence.  She noted that since its adoption, the resolution had not been fully implemented, including at the United Nations level.

YUNI SURYATI (Indonesia) said the advancement and empowerment of women in Indonesia was a national priority, and gender mainstreaming was currently supported in all aspects of development and civic life.  All Government offices, together with public institutions, non-governmental offices, together with public institutions, non-governmental organizations, women’s organizations, and the mass media were currently working together to achieve gender equity and gender equality in family, community, national and country life.

Indonesia paid particular attention to the issues of trafficking in women and children and the commercial sexual exploitation of children, she said.  In order to prevent and minimize the problem, two presidential decrees had been issued in 2002, forming the basis for the establishment of the National Action Plans for the Elimination of Trafficking of Women and for the Elimination of Commercial Sexual Exploitation Against Children.

Indonesia also paid particular attention to women in rural areas, she said.  They must be empowered and given access to the various resources they required.  Indonesia also was steadily moving forward in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcome of the twenty-third special session.  Her country believed that women’s issues were multidimensional, and intersectoral, integrated and coherent measures were required in addressing those issues.  Partnerships involving diverse stakeholders at all levels were also essential.

ELLEN SAUERBREY (United States) said her country, as part of its firm commitment to women’s rights, was sponsoring a resolution this year on women and political participation.  She noted the attempts by the former Governments of Afghanistan and Iraq to silence the voice of women.  The United States believed successful democracy could not exist without the active participation of all its members and called on governments and civil society to provide the tools to help women overcome barriers preventing their greater participation in politics.  The U.S. draft resolution reaffirmed that women had the right to run for and hold public office, to express their views publicly and to openly debate public policy.  It outlined practical suggestions for States, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations to achieve these goals.

The United States also supported programmes to increase women’s political participation throughout the world.  In Iraq, her country strongly supported Iraqi women’s participation in political, social and economic reconstruction.  In Afghanistan, the United States was providing more than $8 million to support the election process, including programmes to promote the political participation of women.  The United States had also been active in supporting elections in Senegal and Serbia.

Turning to the trafficking in human beings, she said her Government had placed a major focus on combating this crime, whose victims were primarily women and children.  President Bush this year signed the Protect Act into law, making it a crime for any person to enter the United States, or for any citizen to travel abroad, for the purpose of sex tourism involving children.  An inter-agency task force had also been set up to monitor and combat trafficking in persons.  The United States Department of Justice was actively investigating sex tour operators and patrons and her Government encouraged other nations, the United Nations and other multilateral institutions to work with it to combat the crime of human trafficking.

MR. AL-HARTHY (Oman) said that since 1970 his country had made strides in achieving comprehensive development, and had been transformed from a rural community to a modern society, much due to the participation of women in education, finance and higher circles of decision-making.  This year, for the first time, a woman had been elected as a minister of cabinet.  New legislation had guaranteed both the right to vote, and run for election, for men and women over 21 years of age.  Women were a strong pillar of the family and needed protection.  They also needed to be given economic opportunities in order to contribute to the development process of Oman.  All current laws in Oman guaranteed women equal opportunities with men, at all levels.

The State explicitly provided for justice and equality between men and women, he said.  Education was necessary to achieve social change, eradicate poverty, advance women and protect children from abuse, and the Government had attached primary importance to education over the last three decades.  His Majesty the Sultan had stressed that education and training must start, as soon as possible, so as to enable the population to serve their country’s development goals.  His Government had allocated financial and in-kind resources to advance young women and girls in fields of education, health and through programmes ensuring their preparation for future employment.

GILBERT LAURIN (Canada), speaking on behalf of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, said the continued discrimination and abuse suffered by women and girls had an adverse impact on the advancement of all societies.  The ongoing efforts to renegotiate the issue of women’s human rights was deeply distressing, as they were undermining long-standing commitments and standards on the human rights of women and the elimination of violence against women.  In order for real and lasting change to occur, the international community must focus on the more urgent and important task of implementing commitments to already agreed international standards.  He urged all countries to work together towards the elimination of gender inequality and gender-based violence, since all countries and communities suffered as a result of those problems. 

Canada, Australia, and New Zealand were encouraged by the new resolution on women’s political participation proposed by the United States.  The full and equal participation of women in political processes, and at all levels of decision-making, was a concrete way to advance existing commitments to promote gender equality.  In this regard, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand continued to present a resolution calling for the improvement of the status of women in the United Nations system.

ILHAM IBRAHIM MOHAMED AHMED (Sudan) said States had collectively emphasized the need for the advancement of women.  Based on this, the Sudan believed that achieving this goal could only happen if questions concerning women were raised while taking into account the cultural diversity of all nations.  The Sudanese Government had undertaken initiatives in cooperation with civil society to achieve the advancement of women.

There were, however, some shortcomings in the current international thinking on the advancement of women, she said.  Even though Governments were responsible for the situation of women in their respective countries, more attention was needed on international cooperation.  Globalization had become an inescapable fact, and measures must be taken to assist countries adversely affected by it.  The adverse effect of globalization was directly linked to the feminization of poverty.

She also raised concern about violence against women, particularly the exploitation of women for prostitution.  Violence against women was an affront to women’s dignity and human rights.  Attacking violence against women must be undertaken through holistic approaches that looked into the underlying causes of violence.  Focusing on only certain elements of violence against women belittled this affront to the dignity and human rights of women.  She said, although the outcome of the special session constituted a major step forward for the advancement of women, women’s situations in the world could only truly change when poverty was eradicated and, when women were no longer living under foreign occupation.

MARTIN GARCIA MORITAN (Argentina) said the condition of women in rural areas was a priority in the social and economic agenda of Argentina.  While women represented almost 20 per cent of the country’s rural workforce, the central role of women in economic production was often not recognized.  Most decisions in production were taken by men, leaving women out of decision-making processes.  To address that problem, the Minister of Agriculture had made special efforts to increase awareness about the role of women in rural activities, and to include the issue of rural women in public policy.

Argentina was also greatly concerned about violence against migrants and recognized the links between migration and trafficking in women.  Those issues must be considered together, he said.  Argentina had ratified the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and had initiated national strategies to combat it.  On a bilateral regional level, Argentina had a high-level of cooperation with Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru.

Regarding traditional and customary practices affecting the health of women and girls, he said current legislation in Argentina did not believe that honour-based defence could be used as a just cause for violence.

KAY FUSANO (Japan) said her Government would endeavour to advance the status of women by improving women’s representation in all spheres of society.  In this context, she encouraged the United Nations system to increase the number of qualified female staff and the appointment of qualified female candidates at high levels, in conformity with the principle of equitable geographical distribution, with a view to promoting gender equality and achieving gender balance.  In addition to those efforts, Japan would also like to encourage the United Nations system to recruit more men and women from unrepresented or under-represented countries, including Japan. 

Japan recognized that trafficking in women and girls was a serious issue and firmly believed that it was a grave violation of the human rights of women and girls, she said.  Japan had made great efforts to address this problem, cooperating with law enforcement and immigration authorities in countries of origin and transit in the Asia-Pacific region to investigate instances of trafficking and prevent trafficking from taking place.

Japan was profoundly pleased that the Government of the Sudan had convened the Regional Symposium on the Abolition of Female Genital Mutilation to Ensure Safe Motherhood, she said.  It was of great importance to recognize that the problem of female genital mutilation was related to four of the eight Millennium Development Goals -- empowerment of girls and women and promoting gender equality; reduction of child mortality; improving maternal health; and combating HIV/AIDS.

ANAMAH TAN (Singapore) said violence against women was still rampant today, despite international agreements and declarations aimed at reversing this problem.  Perpetrators still often went unpunished, and many communities around the world still regarded women as subordinate and turned a blind eye towards violence inflicted against women.  Strict enforcement of laws was clearly the starting point for defending the right of women to live free of gender-based violence. There was a critical need to speed up the implementation of national laws that adequately protected women in all countries from domestic violence.

For its part, Singapore had recently strengthened its legislation with respect to domestic violence, she said. Cases of domestic violence were criminal offences under its criminal code, and the Women’s Charter defined family violence to include intimidation, continual harassment, restraint against a person’s will and physical violence.

In changing violent behaviour, education and rehabilitation were additional tools in combating violence against women, she said.  Combining these tools with law enforcement and legal reform could do much to advance the efforts to eradicate violence against women.

ADRIANA P. PULIDO SANTANA (Venezuela) said traditional practices against women and girls that ran counter to the integrity of their health also ran counter to their human rights.  At the national level, the Government had undertaken a series of policies to do away with such practices, including violence against women and intra-family violence.  Much attention had been focused on the quality of life and human rights of indigenous and rural women. 

In addition, her Government was aiming to ensure that the contribution of older women to society was fully recognized, she said.  It had established a national mechanism in charge of gender mainstreaming and the implementation of a gender perspective in national policies.  Preliminary drafts were also underway on responsible fatherhood and social security issues.

She stressed the importance of INSTRAW and said that the Working Group had functioned with dedication, sparing no effort, in compliance with its mandate, to make a contribution to recommendations on the future of INSTRAW.  The efforts of the Working Group had been hampered this year by misunderstandings and half-truths that had led to a loss of trust and confidence.  She trusted that the new leadership in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs would speed up its nomination of a director for the Institute to allow it to continue its important work.

CHRISTINE KAPALATA (United Republic of Tanzania) said her country recognized that education was a basic right of every child, boy or girl, and had made progress in achieving gender equality in the enrollment of children in primary schools.  The Government had taken steps to ensure girls did not drop out of their studies by adopting girl-friendly measures in schools.

Tanzania was fully committed to protecting the human rights of women, she said.  It had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and was working to ratify its Protocol.  It was convinced the Convention was a powerful tool for eliminating discrimination against women and strove to fulfil its obligations under the convention.

Regarding the situation of rural women, she noted that 75 per cent of the country’s population lived in rural areas, of which, women made up the majority, accounting for 80 per cent of food production.  Women were, therefore, key stakeholders in sustainable rural development and their mobilization and organization was crucial.  The United Republic of Tanzania believed a high-level policy consultation would contribute towards incorporating issues related to rural women in development strategies, and in establishing an international framework for partnership.

MARIAM AL-SHAMISI (United Arab Emirates) said women were partners in the process of development, and her Government, guided by its constitution, had enacted a number of laws that enabled women to fully contribute to society in the areas of equal opportunity for work, education, social justice, and claim to title.  Recently, the Government had extended maternity leave from 45 days to six months.  While, the United Arab Emirates was looking into the possibility of taking action on the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women, it was already applying laws to protect national and immigrant women against discrimination in all its forms.

Women in the United Arab Emirates had been able to accomplish much in the areas of education and employment, she said.  The illiteracy rate among women had dropped to below 10 per cent, and women currently made up 57 per cent of students attending universities in the country.  She was proud to point out that in 2000, women constituted 59 per cent of the country’s work force occupying 30 per cent of senior decision-making positions.  Women in the United Arab Emirates had been successfully participating in the decision-making process during the last few years.  She believed this was an encouraging step towards their participation on a higher level of politics in the near future.  In this connection, she urged the Committee not to forget women in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq, who suffered the most from violence and humiliation on a daily basis.

ANDREY NIKIFOROV (Russian Federation) said the rights of women were an integral part of universal human rights.  The Russian Federation fully endorsed the United Nations approach to gender equality and recognized that gender equality was needed for sustainable development and the full realization of human potential.  Measures should be developed to achieve equal social status between and men and women, and the Russian Federation adhered to provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women in formulating strategies for socioeconomic development.  It was also preparing to ratify the protocol of the convention.

The Russian Federation had taken numerous steps to advance the status of women, including the drafting of a gender strategy policy, he said.  It had adopted a national plan of action to improve the status of women and enhance their role in society.  Laws had been adopted to guarantee women equal rights and freedoms.

The Government had also made substantial efforts to combat the trafficking of human beings, he said.  A bill had been drafted to counter trafficking human beings, and the criminal code had been improved to punish offenders.  A law to provide witness protection was also being prepared.  The Russian Federation welcomed international cooperation to combat human trafficking and was open to dialogue with all interested parties on this issue.

LUIS GALLEGOS (Ecuador) said the Beijing Declaration had reaffirmed that the basic human rights of men and women were the same and aimed to eliminate any discriminatory legislation.  It was the most complete instrument to reach the full realization of human rights.  Unfortunately, the human rights of women were violated in many parts of the world.  The Millennium Declaration gave great attention to women’s issues and appealed for gender equality and the training of women in order to combat poverty.  There was no doubt that many unprecedented transformations had occurred to achieve advancement, including the adoption of specific laws and national policies.  Despite progress, women were still the subjects of discrimination. 

In July of this year, Ecuador had submitted its fourth and fifth reports to CEDAW.  The Government had enacted the civil code, as well as other legislation to protect women and punish perpetrators of crimes against them.  The Government of Ecuador also believed there was a need to focus more attention on the particular vulnerability of indigenous, rural, migrant and older women.  He appealed to the international community to commit itself to take collective action for the advancement of women.

NOOR AL-MALKI (Qatar) said her country was committed to enhancing human rights and the status of women in society.  Qatar’s constitution guaranteed equality before the law for both women and men and considered education a basic right for every citizen.  She noted that women in Qatar had acquired many gains, including the increase in women’s political participation.  Qatar’s national strategy on the advancement of women was designed to achieve wider participation for women in decision-making processes.  It stressed the nexus between education and development, and promoted the linking of education issues with development policies.

Qatar strongly believed that investment in education was a critical means to achieve security, peace and stability, she said.  It was important to provide an environment characterized by peace and respect for human rights.  The Middle East region had suffered greatly from the scourge of war, which had caused much suffering among men and women.  Talking about the advancement of women would only be a rhetorical exercise in the absence of stability.

DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC (Croatia) said domestic violence had shown a steady increase in Croatia for the past few years.  This was partly due to increased reporting of domestic violence acts, which was an encouraging factor, but it still called for a strong State response.  New laws introduced an entire set of precautionary measures, including the restraining order, the purpose of which was to prevent domestic violence and provide necessary protection for persons exposed to violence.  Moreover, new laws tackled the still existing problem of “grey numbers” and the insufficient reporting of domestic violence cases, as it imposed the obligation on health care professionals, social welfare workers, psychologists, social workers, and employees in education institutions to report domestic violence to relevant bodies. 

She said there was a joint initiative of the Croatian Government and UNIFEM aimed at strengthening the implementation of the Convention in six Central and Eastern European countries -- the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Croatia.  It would also secure commitments from the six Governments aimed at strengthening the mechanisms for reporting and monitoring the progress in its implementation.

CECILIA VALDIVIESO, Sector Manager of Gender and Development, Poverty Reduction and Economic Management for the World Bank, said ignoring gender inequality came at a great cost to people’s well-being and to the ability of countries to grow sustainably and reduce poverty.  Gender inequalities also contributed to non-monetary aspects of poverty, including lack of opportunity, empowerment and security, thereby lowering the quality of life for women, men, and children.

She noted that while women bore the largest and most direct costs of gender inequalities, the costs cut broadly across society and ultimately hindered a country’s overall development.  The ambitious agenda set out in the Millennium Declaration could only be met if women and men were ensured equal opportunities, capacities and voice.

XENIA VON LILIEN-WALDAU, of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said rural women provided most of the work in small-scale and labour-intensive agriculture, and the proportion of women-headed households had reached almost one-third in some developing countries.  In Africa, 70 per cent of women were engaged in agriculture.  However, women received only five per cent of extension services worldwide, and women in Africa only saw one per cent of available formal credit in the agricultural sector.  The dramatic imbalance between what rural women did and what they had, was a root cause of poverty, and made women particularly vulnerable to poverty.

Rural women were a key target group and fully mainstreamed into IFAD’s policies and programmes, both as active agents of change, as well as beneficiaries, she said.  Improved access to productive resources -- an important means for women’s economic empowerment -- had long been IFAD’s main entry-point to improve the overall status of women.  When poor women were asked what they wanted for themselves, they spoke of economic independence, access to property, knowledge, respect, and a voice in household and community matters and political decision-making.  It was important that the development community sought to work within rural women’s own agendas to ensure that the Millennium Development Goals did not become a far away dream, but a real life opportunity.

LUNTAN BAYARMAA of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) called on governments to make firm commitments to ensure gender equity and equal opportunities for all.  That was imperative for driving programmes and national development.  The IFRC also emphasized the need for equal opportunities for its own staff and volunteers and considered this a prerequisite for the delivery of quality in its work.

She said the IFRC encouraged its staff and volunteers not to base their work on the assumption that women were the most vulnerable, but rather to assess the needs and capacities from both women and men’s perspective. This was a challenging task that required consistent efforts to raise awareness, change attitudes and develop tools, skills, and competencies.

DANIEL HELLE, of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said the plight of women in today’s armed conflicts continued to preoccupy the International Committee of the Red Cross.  Despite the specific and general protection women were entitled to, under international humanitarian law, and the other bodies of law applicable in wartime, women continued to be regularly subjected to physical violations, forced displacement, random acts of violence, intimidation and other atrocities.  The ICRC reiterated the fact that sexual violence, in any form, was unacceptable, and prohibited by international humanitarian law as a method of warfare, a form of torture or a means of ethnic cleansing. 

While men and boys also suffered from sexual violence, it was predominantly women and girls who were at a much greater risk of being subjected to this form of abuse.  Sexual violence was preventable, he said.  This must be recognized and realized.  While prevention must improve, so must the response to victims of sexual violence. Prevention and assistance must go hand in hand.  Improving the plight of women in wartime was achievable and must be achieved.  While prevention must improve, so must the response to victims of sexual violence.  Prevention and assistance must go hand in hand.  Improving the plight of women in wartime was achievable and must be achieved. 

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