11 January 2005

Anti-Discrimination Convention Remains Catalyst for Change, Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Gender Issues Tells Committee

She Stresses Body’s Pivotal Role in Enhancing Government’s Accountability at Opening of Thirty-Second Session

NEW YORK, 10 January (UN Headquarters) -- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women remained a catalyst for constitutional and legislative change in many countries, Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, told the opening meeting of the Committee mandated to monitor the Convention’s implementation this morning.

She said that, as parties to the Convention, 179 States were now obligated to translate into practice that international human rights treaty of paramount significance to the practical realization of the principle of equality of women and men. The Convention contributed significantly to enhancing the rule of law and fostered a climate where violations of the rights of women would not be tolerated, nationally or internationally.

Addressing the 23-member Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women as it started its three-week thirty-second session, she also stressed the Committee’s pivotal role in enhancing governments’ accountability for their adherence to their international legal obligations. Women’s dignity and liberty were still being compromised and many of them were subjected to abuse, exploitation and violence. Among the main issues pertinent to the advancement of women were women’s participation in decision-making, human trafficking, abject poverty, illiteracy and discrimination.

Many of the trends noted in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals were also apparent in the work of the Committee, she said. The target of achieving parity between girls and boys in primary and secondary education by 2005 was being met or nearly met, except in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern and Western Asia, but progress as measured by other indicators under the goal on gender equality and empowerment of women was lagging behind. Educational achievements, while increasing in many countries, did not seem to translate in a commensurate manner into achievements in the labour market. The issues of violence against women and their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, and their linkages, had been constant concerns to the Committee for some time and its general recommendation on violence against women was an important achievement.

She added that the Committee systematically emphasized that the de jure equality of women, while not enough, was a prerequisite for the practical realization of the principle of gender equality. The Committee continued to be concerned not only about remaining discriminatory laws in States parties, but also about laws whose effect resulted in discriminatory treatment. The Committee was especially concerned about women’s access to justice. Availability to women of an international means of redress for their grievances, including through the procedures afforded under the Convention’s Optional Protocol, was increasingly seen as an integral part of both access to justice and full protection of the law.

Highlighting recent developments, Carolyn Hannan, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, said that as the General Assembly had not acted on the Committee’s request for additional meeting time, its members might wish to reiterate the request at the next session. Among other things, the Division had held discussions with government officials in Timor-Leste on training needs for capacity-building and organized a consultation mission on the Convention in Sierra Leone, as well as a round table in Morocco, prepared jointly with the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Since the last session, she said, the Federated States of Micronesia and the United Arab Emirates had become parties to the Convention, bringing the total number to 179. Seventy States had ratified or acceded to the Optional Protocol, including Gabon, Lesotho, Lithuania, Niger, Nigeria, Slovenia and the United Kingdom.

A report on the Committee’s activities since its last session was presented to the experts on behalf of the Committee’s outgoing Chairperson, Feride Acar, by Victoria Popescu Sandru from Romania. On the Committee’s actions under the Optional Protocol, the former Chairperson emphasized that the instrument had become operational with the Committee’s first decision in response to a complaint, namely B.J. versus Germany, and the Committee’s completion of its first inquiry under article 8 of the Protocol in regard to the killings and disappearances of women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Highlighting progress achieved in the past year, she noted the Committee’s desire to achieve greater efficiency without jeopardizing the usefulness of constructive dialogue with reporting States. As for the request for an extension of the Committee’s meeting time, she urged its members to restate the need to find both short- and long-term solutions to the constraints the Committee faced in dealing with all its responsibilities in a timely manner. She also underlined the rationale for its request to extend the annual meeting time in 2005 and 2006, and for holding three annual sessions as of 2007 as a long-term solution.

The need to maintain the Committee’s exemplary competence and integrity were more important than ever, she stressed. As the Committee became increasingly influential, its independence needed to be even more carefully protected, and the Optional Protocol, as well as the larger number of ratifications, had secured that. Navigating the rough waters of the international human rights system, the Committee needed to ensure that it was neither “alienated” nor “submerged” into the mainstream. The Convention’s higher popularity and the Committee’s increased power brought with it a bigger responsibility for its members.

During the organizational part of today’s meeting, the Committee elected, by acclamation, Rosario Manalo from the Philippines as its Chairperson. Silvia Pimentel from Brazil and Meriem Belmihoub-Zerdani from Algeria were elected as the Committee’s Vice-Chairpersons, and Dubravka Simonovic from Croatia as its Rapporteur, also by acclamation. The election of the third Vice-Chairperson was postponed to a later date.

 Adopting the agenda and programme of work for its thirty-second session, the Committee agreed to examine the reports of the following eight States parties to the Convention: Algeria, Croatia, Gabon, Italy, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Paraguay, Samoa and Turkey. The Committee will also continue its work under the Optional Protocol to the Convention, which provides for a petition and an inquiry procedure regarding violations of the rights of women in States parties to the Convention. In accordance with established practice, representatives of non-governmental organizations will address the Committee later today and next Monday.

Also today, Christine Brautigam, Chief of the Women’s Rights Section, introduced agenda items on the implementation of article 21 of the Convention and on ways and means to expedite the Committee’s work.

The Committee is expected to take up Algeria’s second periodic report at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 11 January.

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