3 March 2005

Women’s Efforts to Take Rightful Place in Societies after Tragedy of War Highlighted, as Women’s Commission Concludes High-Level Debate

Hears from 48 More Speakers in Review of Progress 10 years after Beijing Women’s Conference

NEW YORK, 2 March (UN Headquarters) -- Ministers from countries emerging from inter- and intra-state conflicts described efforts under way to shake off the tragedy of war and catapult women to their rightful place in societies, as the Commission on the Status of Women concluded its high-level discussion on implementation of the Beijing agenda.

Afghanistan’s Women’s Affairs Minister, one of 48 speakers today, said the story of Afghan women was inextricably linked to the story of the nation. The world watched with awe, as a new wave of optimism unfolded following the collapse of the Taliban rule three years ago. It was like coming out from the dark after 23 years of quiet solitude, she said, adding that “The shackles we carried during the past 23 years may have been broken, but continue to stand in the way of our vision.”

War had destroyed the foundations necessary for Afghanistan’s growth as a nation, she explained. And, owing to a lack of data, it was impossible to describe with accuracy the extent to which the women suffered, but their story was a “living example of the worst that could happen to women under the regime of despotism, lawlessness and armed conflict”. Despite the many issues still deeply affecting Afghan women in such critical areas as health and education, the new Constitution contained explicit provisions banning discrimination against women and promoting their protection.  And, the Government had been mandated to take appropriate measures to eradicate negative customs contrary to Islam.

Iraqi women had occupied a distinguished place in society in Iraq’s history, but in recent years, they had suffered dictatorial practices and the effects of war, its Minister of Women’s Affairs said. As a result, many women had been affected by poverty, while the number that headed households had increased.  The quality of life had worsened overall, accompanied by a marked decline in health services. Notwithstanding the challenges of terrorism, however, Iraqi women had participated in the January elections, whose outcome was a testament to their courage. Moreover, women had won more than 30 per cent of the National Assembly seats and they were positioned to play a significant role in the building of a democratic society and the drafting of the country’s new Constitution.

Also emerging from years of conflict, the Democratic Republic of the Congo had still seen women make substantial strides and the Government had done its part towards implementation of the 12 critical areas identified at Beijing, its Minister for Women and Family noted.  Nevertheless, poverty and HIV/AIDS remained persistent, major challenges. She was indignant about the thousands of cases of sexual violence against Congolese women, specifically the use of rape as a weapon of war. Also infuriating had been the reports of rapes perpetrated by United Nations personnel seeking to keep the peace in her country, and she called for reparations and the swift prosecution of the perpetrators.

A United States’ representative of the Bureau of International Organization Affairs said that the United States had worked with many nations to improve the lives of women and girls around the world, and together, they could be proud of their achievements. In many Muslim countries, while much remained to be done, the bigger picture was one of freedom expanding and surmounting the forces of tyranny, including those that held women in second-class status. One only had to look at the elections in various quarters and the expanding roles for women. In Iraq, the Iraqi women’s initiative and the United States-Iraqi women’s network had laid the groundwork for the turnout of women voters in the recent historical elections.

Turning to women’s reproductive health, she said her country had a long history of supporting reproductive health care on the international level, including voluntary family planning, and it was the world’s largest supplier of contraceptives. She had concerns, however, about efforts to mischaracterize the outcomes of Beijing and Beijing +5. There had been no intent on the part of supporting States to create new rights. While those outcome documents expressed important political goals, they did not create new rights or legally binding ones, including the right to abortion. Abortion policies were a matter of national sovereignty. She was pleased that so many other countries had indicated their agreement with that position, and it was now possible to focus clearly on addressing the many urgent needs around the world.

Statements were made by high-level representatives, including many ministers, of Canada, Bahamas, Senegal, Mexico, Algeria, Egypt, Barbados, Azerbaijan, Kenya, Chile, Guinea, Zambia, Madagascar, Bangladesh, Turkey, Costa Rica, Haiti, Paraguay, Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Namibia, Uganda, India, Australia, Congo, Qatar, Bolivia, Japan, China, Mauritania, Pakistan, Viet Nam, United Arab Emirates, Lesotho, Germany, Lithuania, Iran, Guatemala, Portugal, Venezuela, Syria, Kazakhstan, Argentina on behalf of the Rio Group, and Balgium.

The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again tomorrow at 10 a.m. to convene a series of panel discussions.


The Commission on the Status of Women met this morning to continue its general discussion of implementation of the Beijing outcome texts, due to conclude this afternoon. 


LIZA FRULLA, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Minister Responsible for Status of Women, Canada, said that a sustained effort would be required to keep the Beijing agenda alive, including in the context of the United Nations. Gender equality and women’s human rights must be at the forefront, as preparations began for the 2005 review of the Millennium Declaration and Millennium Development Goals. Full implementation of both the Beijing Platform for Action and the Cairo Programme of Action were essential to the achievement of the Goals.  She urged that those interconnections be explicitly incorporated throughout the five-year review process of the Millennium documents. Advancement of sexual and reproductive health and rights was “nothing less than intrinsic to the achievement of gender equality and of the ‘MDGs’”, she stressed.

She said that women had made great strides since the first world conference in 1975, but the gains were not even and they were constantly threatened. Women must stand strong, not only to ensure that the gender equality bar remained high, but also to ensure that it was not lowered. Women’s human rights needed to be rigorously protected and promoted in all areas, from economic and political to sexual and reproductive rights.  Ministers responsible for women’s status must support women’s efforts and be steadfast in working towards the main goal -- gender equality -- in itself and as an integral part of sustainable social, economic and democratic development.  Among the many strengths and achievements in Canada in that regard was its strong legal framework in support of gender equality and its continually improving access to student loans to support women’s higher education. The Government had also taken a major step by doubling the length of parental benefits available to eligible workers under an employment insurance system.

Canada’s main gaps and challenges included the need to reduce poverty rates among women, which were still too high, she said. The Government also recognized the need to improve the situation of aboriginal women who faced discrimination. It also recognized the need for a national child care system, as children’s development, no doubt, was a vital building block for gender equality. It also knew that it had the tools for gender-based analysis to develop policies and programmes to meet those challenges.  It needed to apply them more systematically now to get the desired results.  Government accountability to Canadians for progress on gender equality needed improvement. As Canada looked forward, it would build on its strengths, and learn from the experience, its own and of others. It had already begun, through a $5 billion commitment over five years, building a framework for an early learning and childcare initiative.

MELANIE S. GRIFFIN, Minister of Social Services and Community Development of the Bahamas, said that her country had made some tangible progress in the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, paying particular attention to the promulgation of gender equality legislation, empowerment of women, reproductive health and poverty among women. The Government had made efforts to establish equal pay for equal work and address inequality in the workplace. The Bahamas now offered reproductive health services free of charge, as well as a variety of family planning programmes.

Also among the country’s priorities was the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS, she said. The Government had recently appointed a commission on family violence. Measures in the areas of protection, information and support would continue with the help of the country’s development partners. Many quotas had been introduced in the Bahamas to promote women’s participation in the public life. For instance, women now comprised some 20 per cent of the Parliament and 25 per cent of the cabinet of ministers.

In conclusion, she said that the country had suffered greatly from devastating hurricanes, and the cost of restoration had taken a heavy toll on development. However, the Bahamas remained committed to the cause of the advancement of women. She pledged the country’s continued support to the Beijing Platform for Action.

AIDA MBODJ, Minister of Family and Social Development of Senegal, said the President remained strongly committed to the idea of gender equality, and had proposed a framework for action recently at the African summit to build women’s capacity throughout Africa. Her Government had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, as well as treaties on children’s rights. It had also adopted laws criminalizing violence against women and girls. Since the country’s political transformation, in March 2000, the legal framework in support of women’s rights had been consolidated, and the leadership was now working out more robust national policies in the area of gender equality.

The 2001 Constitution contained provisions on gender equality, as well as on the right of the access of all persons to land ownership, education, health, the exercise of power and to public services, she said. The Constitution rejected all forms of inequality and injustice to women. In the past few years, the Government had promulgated new laws and revised old ones, in harmony with its international commitments. There was a new family code and a new agricultural guidelines law, which strengthened the access of women and young persons to land and land tenure, and a law on reproductive health was being finalized.

Those important legal gains had been bolstered by institutional and policy measures undertaken by the President, she continued.  Those included free care for births in five of 11 regions. That measure would be extended to the other regions beginning in July.  Many mechanisms for funding and women’s capacity-building had also been put in place. For example, there was a credit project for women, a fund for women entrepreneurs, projects to fight poverty, training projects, and a women’s household chores relief programme.  There was also a structure of support for girls’ schooling and obstetric emergency centres in health-care facilities. And, all ministers and certain senior officials had received training on gender mainstreaming in policies and budgets.

PATRICIA ESPINOSA, President, National Institute for Women, Mexico, highlighted the importance of the national preparatory process for the current session, which had allowed countries of Latin America and the Caribbean to make a significant contribution to the work of the Commission. The Ninth Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, which had been held in Mexico last June, had played an important role in that respect, having allowed its participants to develop a regional network of national mechanisms for women and identify the progress achieved, the lessons learned and the challenges remaining. For Mexico, it had been an opportunity to reaffirm its international commitments and continue to promote respect for human rights of women in all the critical areas of concern.

Mexico had made significant progress towards the elimination of discrimination and achievement of equality, she said. Ten years after Beijing, the creation and strengthening of national institutions had facilitated the advancement of women in the country.  In terms of legislation, she highlighted the amendments to the constitution and reforms of the Code of Electoral Institutions, which ensured participation of women in posts subject to popular elections. Introduction of quotas had led to a 22.8 increase in the participation of women in the Congress. Some 22 federal entities had established obligatory temporary measures. In the fight against gender-based violence, 24 of the 31 federal entities currently had laws on the handling and prevention of domestic violence. At the national level, a programme “for a life without violence” had been initiated.  Mexico’s social policy included concrete measures to address the needs of women living in poverty.

NOUARA SAADIA DJAFFER, Minister Responsible for the Family and Conditions of Women of Algeria, said that the Beijing agenda had been a major step in the history of women’s struggle to protect their rights, and had reflected the international community’s strong determination to adopt measures to ensure that such rights were implemented. She reiterated Algeria’s commitment to turn into reality the very important recommendations made at Beijing and during its follow-up in 2000, and she applauded the will of States to implement them. In Algeria, the Council of Ministers had, last month, adopted two draft bills to revise two laws, thereby ensuring that the national legislation was in keeping with the country’s national values and international commitments. The bill revised the nationality code and aimed to enshrine gender equality, protect children’s nationality, grant the privilege of acquiring nationality through marriage to an Algerian man or woman, and acknowledge Algerian nationality flowing from mother to daughter. Other bills inserted in the family code re-established a balance of rights and duties between the spouses. 

She explained that the new text also stipulated that there should be full recognition of women’s ability to enter into marriage; the marriage age was standardized at 19 for both men and women. In addition, polygamy was now strictly regulated, and husbands were required to provide housing for even those minor children living with the mother in the case of divorce. The current Commission session was an opportunity to assess what was being done, but also to ponder those policies and programmes that could guarantee a better grasp of the situation of women, both nationally and internationally, to ensure implementation of their fundamental rights.  Her country was devoted to the principles of equality and equal rights for men and women, and, owing to the President’s political will, had been pursing many efforts along those lines, despite the difficult terrorist and humanitarian situation its people faced. As a result, much had been accomplished, including the establishment of a ministry of women and children. Special attention had also been paid to education at all levels.  The concept of reproductive health had also been strengthened, paving the way for reduced infant and maternal mortality. Women’s life expectancy now was 74.9 years. 

FARKHANDA HASSAN, Minister, Secretary-General of the National Council of Women of Egypt, noted a remarkable improvement in the status of Egyptian women, who now had increased access to education and employment. Today’s young generation of women had boundless aspirations and competed with their male peers in all areas and all levels of education. In the past 10 years, there had been a significant increase in the number of women occupying high managerial posts and other decision-making positions. One of the country’s most significant achievements had been the establishment of the National Council of Women in 2000 -- an independent government institution directly under the President of the Republic. For the first time in Egypt, the Council had developed gender-sensitive indicators to monitor the implementation of the national development plan, as well as methodologies for gender auditing of national budgets. In addition, it had developed a gender-sensitive strategy to be integrated into the national plan for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Among Egypt’s other accomplishments, she listed the creation of an Ombudsman Office and Equal Opportunities Units in ministries.  The Nationality Law had been amended in 2004 to allow Egyptian women to bestow their nationality upon their children if they were married to non-Egyptians. Family courts had been established last year, ending a bitter phase in the lives of Egyptian women seeking divorce. Due to its unconstitutional nature, a decree was abolished that stipulated that the wife should obtain her husband’s approval for the issuance of a passport and as a condition to travel abroad. In terms of economic empowerment, special attention was given to female heads of households. The National Council for Women had established a centre for the political empowerment of women as a pilot initiative that provided intensive training programmes.

In conclusion, she turned to the issue of women and peace. Egypt had initiated peace in the region since 1977, and its efforts continued to this day, culminating in the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit that President Mubarak had called for last month. Peace initiatives were not restricted to governmental efforts, however. Among the non-governmental efforts, was the First Lady’s Women for Peace Movement, which as an example of the efforts to achieve peace not only in the region, but all over the world.

HAMILTON LASHLEY, Minister of Social Transformation of Barbados, said that, in an effort to promote gender equality at the national level, his Government in 2000 had redesignated the Bureau of Women’s Affairs to the Bureau of Gender Affairs. The restructured organ was mandated, among other tasks, to facilitate a programme of gender mainstreaming of national development policies and programmes, and to promote the achievement of gender equality and equity. Several initiatives aimed at creating an awareness of gender and national development had been undertaken, including gender sensitization workshops with gender focal points and the identification of strategies for the incorporation of gender into national sectoral policies, plans and projects. The Government was “totally committed” to elimination or condemning any policies or legislation that sought to nullify women’s enjoyment and exercise of their fundamental rights and freedoms. 

In order to promote women’s advancement, he said his Government had identified 5 of the 12 critical areas of concern outlined at Beijing as priority issues. Those were: the persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women; violence against women; inequalities in and unequal access to health-care and related services; inequality between men and women in the sharing of power and decision-making; and insufficient mechanisms to promote women’s advancement. In addition, gender mainstreaming had become an integral component of the process of achieving gender equality and sustainable development. The ever emerging development challenges necessitated that programmes and policies be kept under constant review, for which 68 persons across the public sector had been identified as focal points. The fight against poverty was seen as key to the social and economic transformation of women’s lives. In Barbados, more women than men lived below the poverty line, and many of them were heads of households. The Government had implemented several programmes to assist in the alleviation and eradication of poverty, and women’s empowerment through education.

He said his Government had taken the necessary steps to eradicate violence against women. Through the national machinery for gender equality, support had been provided for the implementation of public education programmes to raise awareness about the causes and consequences of gender-based violence to national development. The Government also adopted a rights-based approach to health, particularly with respect to reproductive health, and regarded the availability of adequate health care as a fundamental human right.  Health-care services, therefore, were provided free at the point of contact between the individual and the health-care provider in all health-care institutions. There was also a national programme to integrate gender into HIV/AIDS action programmes at the community level, and a campaign had focused attention on women’s vulnerability to the infection. In addition to the relevant remaining challenges, globalization and trade liberalization had also severely challenged the economies of developing countries, with women suffering the most.

NARMIN BARZINGY, Minister of Women’s Affairs of Iraq, said that Iraqi women had occupied a distinguished position in society throughout her country’s history, since Babylon. However, in recent years, they had also become victims of war, dictatorial practices and general crisis in her country. As a result of that crisis, many women were affected by poverty; the number of female heads of household had increased and the level of life declined. The percentage of illiteracy among women was very high. There had also been a decline in the health services.

Notwithstanding the challenges of terrorism, Iraqi women had participated in the January elections, she continued, the outcome of which was an additional testament to their courage. As a result of the elections, women had won over 30 per cent of the National Assembly seats. Thus, they would be able to play a significant role in the building of a democratic society and the drafting of the country’s new constitution. No legislation undermining the status of women and their rights should be allowed.  Islam should not be allowed to be interpreted in a way that would undermine women’s rights. For the first time in 35 years, new concepts of civil society and non-governmental organizations had emerged in the country. In that connection, she noted that all political parties in the country supported the advancement of women and believed that women should take their rightful place in society. Despite the challenges, women could play an important role in the rebuilding of Iraq.  She reminded the participants that their sisters in Iraq needed their support.

ZAHRA BULIYEVA, Chairperson of the State Committee for Women’s Issues of Azerbaijan, reiterated her country’s strong support and commitment to the Beijing agenda. In Azerbaijan, the reforms of the last decade in the spheres of socio-economic development, education, health and institutionalization had made it possible to achieve macroeconomic stability and dynamic economic development. That had been reflected in the combined second and third periodic report of Azerbaijan to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which monitored the Women’s Convention. Mainstreaming gender policy into the overall development strategy ensured equal distribution of programmes targeting the poor. Integration of gender as a cross-cutting issue into the State Programme on Poverty Reduction and Economic Development had been another important achievement, which had allowed gender-based indicators to be mainstreamed into all sectors of the programme. Specific measures aimed at achieving gender balance had also been included in the policy matrix on employment, education and health.

She said her country attached particular importance to the preparation of the National Human Development Report for 2005, which would be carried out by the State Committee and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with the financial support of Norway’s Embassy in Azerbaijan. Within that project, the plans were to conduct a pilot survey to reveal society’s gender attitudes. The results should stimulate public debate and trigger policy action for ensuring greater gender equality throughout the country. The survey results would also provide an opportunity to explore social, economic and cultural grounds of gender imbalances. Gender perspectives were also being mainstreamed into the national programmes and plans of action on several important areas, such as employment, migration, counter-trafficking, and so on. Azerbaijan valued the role of relevant international organizations in elaborating and implementing those documents. 

OCHILO AYACKO, Minister of Gender, Sports, Culture and Social Services of Kenya, outlined his country’s efforts to implement the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Development Goals. The country’s Government was pursuing the advancement of women in formulation of its policies. Discrimination on the basis of sex was forbidden in Kenya. The review of the Constitution sought to protect gender equality and introduced affirmative action on the nomination of members of Parliament. Consequently, the number of female members of Parliament had doubled, and the number of female councillors increased. Free primary education had been recently made mandatory in the country, and female genital mutilation had been forbidden. Increased reporting in the media was drawing attention to the issue of violence against women.

Women were crucial to Kenya’s national development agenda, he stressed. They were the major players in agriculture and small enterprises. Unfortunately, they were constrained from fulfilling their full potential. To effectively address the issue of gender equality, it was important to sustain efforts to attain economic empowerment of women by ensuring equality in inheritance, land ownership, property rights and access to markets. He was also convinced that improved provision of reproductive health services and access to affordable anti-retroviral drugs, with the help of the country’s development partners, would give an impetus to the efforts to combat HIV/AIDS.

CECILIA PEREZ, Minister, Office for Women’s Affairs, Chile, said that for Chile and the women of Chile, the Beijing agenda had served as a point of reference in Chile’s unprecedented social, cultural and political change.  That change had been characterized by the large-scale inclusion of thousands of women in the labour force, their social participation, entrepreneurship, politics and the country’s cultural development. In Chile today, the presence of women in the various sectors of national life was one of the most visible and recognized social phenomenon of recent times and a cause for pride and hope for all Chileans. Since the restoration of democracy in 1990, the Government had placed special emphasis on creating the conditions for effectively ensuring equality of opportunities for men and women.  The creation of the National Service for Women soon after Chile’s return to democracy had been a key step towards achievement of that goal. 

Among the notable changes brought about by the efforts of the democratic governments was the significant progress towards increasing women’s participation in the work force, she said. More than 57 per cent of all new jobs created last years were held by women. The phenomenon of women leaving the home had been one of the principal factors behind the notable progress that the country had achieved in reducing poverty.  Not only had that process had a quantitative component, but it had also been accompanied by women’s participation in sectors traditionally reserved for men, such as working in mines, as well as the police and armed forces. Women also occupied senior posts in the private and public sectors, a trend that had been reinforced by a series of legal reforms prohibiting discrimination in the workplace. Curriculum reform at schools had sought to eliminate sexist images and to promote al “culture of equality”, which allowed girls to realize their potential to build a limitless future. Families were also protected, and in 1994, a law against domestic violence had been adopted. Efforts were under way to perfect a public policy that brought violence against women “out from the shadows of the private sphere into the rejection and collective responsibility of the public sphere”, she said.  

BRUCE MARIAMA ARIBOT, Minister for Social Affairs, Women and Children of Guinea, said that Africa had made its contribution to the preparations for the current session, in particular through regional conferences.  Her country took part in all the regional initiatives. Guinea had signed and ratified many international human rights instruments, including the Women’s Convention. Her Government took its commitments seriously. Her ministry had been charged with the formulation and implementation of the country’s policies in the area of gender equality. The national women’s advancement policy focused on cross-cutting policies and coordination of various actions for the promotion of gender equality. A network of focal points had been established in various ministries.

Continuing, she elaborated on Guinea’s efforts to implement the Beijing Platform, including legislative action and measures to improve women’s education and health. Films had been produced on various concerns related to the 12 focal points established in Beijing. Several research projects had been initiated to provide information on the situation of women in the country. Despite progress made, many challenges remained, however, including armed conflict in the region, poverty and HIV/AIDS. It was important to mainstream a gender perspective in all policies and programmes and make men and women true partners in development.

MARINA NSINGO, Minister of Works and Supply, Community Development and Social Services of Zambia, said her country’s efforts to implement the Beijing outcomes had borne fruit. The Government had continued to provide the political leadership and policy environment for gender mainstreaming. In March 2000, it had adopted the National Gender Policy, which provided broad guidelines for gender and development activities in various sectors. It had also adopted the Strategic Plan of Action for the National Gender Policy (2004-2008), which was not only meant to guide government ministries on how to mainstream gender into their respective policies and programmes, but also to guide the private sector and civil society. The action plan took into account the critical areas for implementation, as outlined at Beijing and set targets against which progress could be measured. Issues covered in the strategic plan included: implementation mechanism; poverty; culture; family and socialization; education and training; health; water and sanitation; labour, employment and social security; and land and agriculture.

She said that the development of both the gender policy and a strategic action plan had been an extensive process, involving the public sector, civil society, political parties and the church. The Government had also established an integrated institutional mechanism at national, provincial and district levels, as well as the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs, Governance, Human Rights and Gender Matters, in order to ensure compliance with the aim of gender mainstreaming into all policies and programmes of the executive.  In order to facilitate a gender-responsive policy environment, the Government had mainstreamed gender into the Transitional National Development Plan, the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, and the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework.  The document sought to:  enhance women’s access to land ownership; enhance access to information; eliminate gender imbalances in access to financial and material resources; provide support to female entrepreneurs; enhance women’s participation in decision-making; and reduce HIV transmission, especially among women and girls. 

Mr. ZAFILAZA, Minister for Population, Social Welfare and Sports of Madagascar, speaking both in his national capacity and on behalf of the African Group, said that Africa had witnessed many positive changes since Beijing.  Efforts to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment had gained a new momentum.  The African Union had been created with an explicit commitment to gender equality.  Within the first two years of its existence, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights of African Women had been signed, and African heads of State had adopted a solemn declaration on gender equality in Africa.  Among the challenges before Africa, he listed poverty, HIV/AIDS and conflict.

The number of people living in poverty had dropped in developing regions in general in 1990-2000, but had actually risen in Africa by 82 million.  African women constituted the majority of both urban and rural poor.  It had now been well established that development policies and actions that failed to take into account gender inequality and enabled women to be actors in those policies, had limited effectiveness and caused serious costs for societies.  To reduce poverty, therefore, it was critical to focus on the poorest women and on closing gender gaps.  Most African countries were investing effort in addressing poverty on the basis of comprehensive development strategies.  International fair trade was a major concern for the region.  International commitments on official development assistance (ODA) needed to be acted upon.

Regarding AIDS, he said that there was an urgent need to address unequal gender relations and protect women and girls from sexual violence.  More priority should be given to the care of orphans and the protection of their rights.  It was also necessary to increase African countries’ access to affordable anti-retroviral drugs.  The world’s attention also must remain on the situation of women and children in conflict.  Implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security and the African Union Protocol on the rights of women should be enforced and monitored at all levels by governments and civil society.

Although many African countries had adopted legislation guaranteeing non-discrimination based on sex, very often policies or customary practices, as well as biased attitudes, unresponsive authorities, a lack of access to courts and other obstacles continued to deny women justice and equal status.  His region attached importance to the elimination of discriminatory law and the enforcement of laws that guaranteed gender equality.  The African region proposed that the Commission’s work in that critical area should be strengthened.

Regarding Madagascar’s efforts to promote gender equality, he said that it was important to give women the same opportunities as men.  The country’s Constitution prohibited any form of gender-based discrimination.  However, in reality, women still encountered discrimination.  As a result of the Government’s efforts, the country was moving towards a society where gender equality was more than just a political slogan.  A national development plan had been elaborated in the country.  Women in Madagascar were increasingly gaining access to elected positions.  Efforts were being made to improve the situation in the area of reproductive health and involve men in family planning.  A new strategy had just been worked out in that regard.  Among the issues that needed to be addressed were the HIV/AIDS epidemic, a relative low level of schooling and negative cultural stereotypes.

IFTEKHAR AHMED CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) said his country, despite the many and varied constraints, had remained fully committed to implementation of the Beijing objectives at the national, regional and international levels.  A national action plan was drawn up by an inter-ministerial task force immediately following Beijing, and there was now a separate ministry devoted solely to the advancement of women and children.  There was also a National Council for Women’s Development headed by the Prime Minister, which comprised a cross-section of public and private individuals, including some eminent personalities with considerable skill and experience.  The largest percentage of the Government’s gender-sensitive annual budget had been devoted to education.  According to the World Bank, Bangladesh had the highest primary school enrolment among developing countries.  Education was free of cost for women through high school and women, in fact, had greater access to different types of credit in the marketplace.  The incidence of poverty had been reduced from 59 per cent in 1991 to 49 per cent today. 

He said that, through innovative ideas like microcredit and non-formal education, coupled with an active government interest, it had been possible to empower women and mainstream gender.  More than 1.5 million women were employed in the garment industry, and they earned 75 to 80 per cent of the trade income.  Economic empowerment had also led to a major role for women in the political domain; more than 13,000 women had been elected as representatives in local governments.  Other specific measures had included reserving 45 seats for women in the National Parliament.  His Government was also actively participating in the regional initiatives for women’s advancement, particularly those taken by the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.  At the international level, Bangladesh had always been at the forefront of debates on women’s rights and empowerment.  It had been a main sponsor of Security Council resolution 1325, and it played an active role in the United Nations system.  It was jointly tabling a resolution on gender mainstreaming with the United Kingdom during the session. 

GULDAL AKSIT, Minister of State in charge of women’s issues, Turkey, said that despite the measures taken at both national and international level, negative social factors, poverty and armed conflicts remained the main obstacles to the realization of the objectives of Beijing.  Turkey had implemented national policies to promote gender equality.  Among its achievements, was the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, introduction of the eight-year compulsory basic education law, promulgation of the law to prevent domestic violence, and changes in the civil, penal and labour codes in line with the principle of gender equality.  There was progress in increasing the literacy rate and reducing infant mortality.  By adopting an amendment to its Constitution, Turkey had given the State the responsibility not only for ensuring non-discrimination between men and women, but also for taking necessary measures to provide equal rights and opportunities in practice.  Turkey continued its efforts to raise social awareness that gender equality was an issue of human rights, social justice and democratic representation.

The empowerment of women could be achieved through parallel arrangements in the public and private sectors, she added.  That was the only way for women to lead independent, peaceful and happy lives and to fully realize their potential.

GEORGINA VARGAS, Minister for Women, Costa Rica, said she hoped that the solidarity that had made it possible 10 years ago to arrive on a consensus agenda for women would prevail at this meeting.  Her country’s position on human rights was clear:  enjoyment of all human rights must be promoted and protected in all spheres.  In order to turn that commitment in to a reality, the primacy and inviolability of life must be fully acknowledged.  The Government had understood all of its international commitments when it agreed to shoulder them.  The Beijing Platform had guided its activities in the area of gender equality and fairness.  That text was more than a declarative instrument, and implementing it was an excellent way to make progress in complying with the country’s obligations under the Women’s Convention.  Costa Rica had been one of 69 States to date to have ratified that instrument’s Optional Protocol.  In general, the Government had made significant progress in policies and actions to foster women’s advancement, and that had had an “undeniable and direct” impact on society’s improvement.

She said her Government had also identified the gaps, as well as the real and symbolic limitations, which perpetuated discrimination and inequality.  It was urgent to develop strategies that would allow Costa Rica to produce a development agenda, which would acknowledge and promote women, in keeping with the Millennium Development Goals, and with women’s full participation as agents of development and change.  The ability to have an impact in terms of economic and financial policies at national, regional and global levels must be strengthened.  It must be ensured that women’s status was promoted fairly and equally to that of men, as that was an imperative to sustainable development.  More energy and greater resources should be devoted to deal with the root causes of discrimination, for which a people-centred model should be designed.  Also crucial was to face the structural root causes of gender-based discrimination, by focusing efforts on the cultural problems and by overturning age-old social patterns.  In particular, patriarchal patterns, one of the most deeply rooted traditions in human society, must be eradicated.

ADELINE MAGLOIRE CHANCY, Minister on the Situation and Rights of Women of Haiti, said that respect for women’s rights and elimination of discrimination formed a basis of any sustainable development and building of democracy.  Haiti attached utmost importance to the principles embodied in the Millennium Development Goals.  Among her country’s achievements in the first year of the Transitional Government, she listed the establishment of the national machinery, introduction of a gender perspective in various policies, institutional restructuring and introduction of links with the civil society and international bodies working in Haiti.

The plan of action on violence against women had been instituted in the country, and a number of discriminatory laws were being revised, she said.  Women’s involvement would be encouraged in the elections this year.  In society faced with tremendous difficulties, advancement of women was not always the focus of concern, but the State of Haiti intended to take urgent action to build a better tomorrow for its sons and daughters.  Respect for women’s rights was very important, and the Government intended to address such challenges as exclusion, feminization of poverty and violence against women.

MASOODA JALAL, Minister of Women’s Affairs, Afghanistan, said the story of Afghan women was inextricably linked to the story of the nation. The world watched with awe as a new wave of optimism unfolded, following the collapse of the Taliban rule three years ago.  It was “like coming out from the dark after 23 years of quiet solitude”.  She added, “The shackles we carried during the past 23 years may have been broken, but continue to stand in the way of our vision.”  War had destroyed the foundations necessary for the country’s growth as a nation.  Due to a lack of statistical capacity, it was impossible to describe with accuracy the extent to which women suffered in Afghanistan. Their story was a “living example of the worst that could happen to women under the regime of despotism, lawlessness and armed conflict”.  Nevertheless, positive steps had since been taken. With the international community’s help, the Government had compiled some data that provided a clearer picture of where things stood in terms of women’s status.

She said that the data had revealed the existence of many issues still afflicting Afghan women, with the worst indicators in the areas of health, education, economy, legal protection of human rights and political participation. Women represented 48.6 per cent of an estimated 22.2 million people in Afghanistan. While women in developed countries generally lived longer than men, life expectancy of women in Afghanistan was 44, one year shorter than their male counterparts. The maternal mortality rate was 1,600 per 100,000 live births, which was believed to be the second highest in the world.  Infant mortality was 115 per 1,000, while the fertility rate was 6.8 children per mother. Last year, the health expenditure per capita amounted to only $1, in contrast to the average $21 among the other countries of South Asia. Almost half of the deaths among Afghan women, within the reproductive group, resulted from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Exposure to violence and conflict for 23 years had left many Afghan women traumatized and in dire need of therapeutic assistance.

Forced marriages, which occur mainly during puberty, inadequate reproductive health services and facilities, poverty, lack of female health practitioners, unfavourable traditional beliefs and practices, among many other factors, had prevented women from enjoying proper health conditions, she said. The Taliban had imposed repressive edicts, which severely stunted women’s learning and thinking capacities. In the region, Afghan women had the lowest literacy rate of 10 per cent.  More than 1 million girls, ages 7 to 13, remained out of school. The completion rate for the primary education of females was 0.4 per cent, while for men the rate was 15 per cent. The average number of years in school was 0.8 for females and 2.6 for males. Distance between schools and communities, lack of transportation, restriction on girls’ mobility, poverty, lack of interest in education, shortage of female teachers and schools for girls, male preference, coupled with a lack of security and poor instructional materials, were daunting challenges facing women in the field of education.

Despite recent progress in the country’s economy, she said that approximately 70 per cent of the population continued to live in extreme poverty, with women experiencing the worst consequences. Women predominantly worked in the informal sector, which accounted for nearly 90 per cent of the total economy.  Economic projects were available, but they were few, palliative, unsustainable and “too micro” to create meaningful impacts. Moreover, women’s economic potential was hampered by a lack of education, restricted mobility, insufficient capital and technical services, lack of market access, low productive capacity, and lack of infrastructures for product transport and storage, as well as poor technology. In addition, women’s contribution to the economy had been undervalued, even while they retained control over their income. In the legal sphere, protection for all was the aim of the national laws, but a lack of knowledge of their rights and a culture that generally supported women’s subordination had deprived many women of equal protection under the law.  Participation in public life was also very low.

On the positive side of the ledger, she said that on 14 December, 2003, the Constitutional Loya Jirga had convened with the unprecedented participation of 102 women of the 502 delegates. Afghan’s new Constitution was promulgated in January 2004, with explicit provisions on non-discrimination, equality between men and women, and protection of women in various sectors, such as education and health.  Moreover, the Constitution also ensures the right of women to political participation. In that context, the Government had been mandated to take appropriate measures to prevent and eradicate negative customs contrary to Islam. It had also ratified and acceded to the Women’s Convention and, with the help of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), it was currently working with a technical assistance mission from the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women to enhance its capacity to fulfil its State obligations to women at the highest levels. A Ministry of Women’s Affairs had been set up to facilitate gender mainstreaming and provide policy advice to the Government, which was committed to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, especially women’s empowerment of women and gender equality.

MARIA JOSE ARGANA MATEU, Minister for Women’s Affairs of Paraguay, listed an increase in education, reduction in illiteracy rates and incorporation of the gender perspective in education programmes at all levels, among the achievements in promoting gender equality and empowering women in her country. Measures were also being taken to improve women’s health, and a reproductive health plan had been launched. Specific prevention, care and non-discrimination measures were being taken in relation to women infected with HIV/AIDS. Violence in the workplace and in the home was also among the Government’s priorities.  While the number of working women had increased in the country, the level of their participation in elected positions had not grown significantly. By and large, high-level posts, including ministerial ones, were held by men. However, recently eight women had been appointed as ministers. Also, the national gender equality plan had been recently adopted.

SOLEDAD MURILLO, Secretary General for Equality Policies, Spain, said her country had clearly demonstrated a commitment to equality. The Government itself had achieved parity, with eight male ministers and eight female ministers, as well as a woman Vice-President and a woman President of the Constitutional Court. That had showed a decided commitment to modernization, which included placing men and women on an equal footing. One notable achievement had been the introduction of gender into the justice code through the Organic Law of Integral Measures Against Gender Violence. For the first time, that law had included measures of prevention and public awareness, as well as corresponding civil and criminal measures that pertained to a law oriented towards eradicating gender violence. With that law, the Government had sought to support abused women throughout the entire cycle perpetuated by gender-based violence.

She said that that was the first law in Spain establishing measures to prevent violence before it occurred, and it gave women a voice.  Often, women did not denounce their aggressor, and even blamed themselves. No other victim of other kinds of violence reacted in that manner. The Government had wished to show, in the law’s preamble, that violence was equivalent to an exercise of power, in a masculine way that perceived women as property. Thus, men who mistreated, hurt or caused the death of a woman often did not assume that they were committing a crime. For that reason, the Government had sought to severely penalize the threats, knowing that those signalled a grave risk to women. It had also sought to “overthrow” traditional images of mistreated women. At the same time, the Government had not forgotten immigrant or handicapped women. Equality was also a fundamental component in education, and the Government had also wished to create courts specializing in gender-based violence.

JOAN YUILLE-WILLIAMS, Minister of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago, said that legal equality, which for women in many countries remained an elusive goal, required ongoing assiduous work in order to become a reality. For example, greater female than male representation in the education system had not translated into a more equitable income distribution between the sexes. When considered together with feminization of HIV/AIDS, the threat of violence against women and perceived feminization of poverty, that fact presented policy makers with a complex challenge. Complex as it was, that challenge presented an opportunity to effect an integrated and multi-pronged programme and project approach.

Such an approach shaped her ministry’s work, she said, which focused on such priority areas as women and poverty, education, violence against women and women’s health. Efforts were under way to provide non-traditional training for women and improve their level of skill. The work to eliminate violence against women involved the establishment of a domestic violence unit within the ministry and establishment of a domestic violence hotline.

On women’s health, she said that women had the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Her Government focused on the spread of HIV/AIDs and women.  Among the country’s initiatives in that respect was an HIV/AIDS Education and Prevention Programme for Women in Rural Communities.

FAIDA MWANGILA, Minister for Women and Family of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said her country was emerging from 10 painful years of conflict, yet those were also years in which women had made substantial progress. The Government had established programmes and mechanisms aimed at advancing the status of women and young girls, taking into account the 12 critical areas identified at Beijing. Those had included the establishment of the ministry she led, as well as the creation of mechanisms for women and children in the Parliament. A National Women’s Council had also be set up, along with a technical committee charged with formulating strategies to reduce poverty, among its other key tasks. In conjunction with its social parties, the Democratic Republic of the Congo had spared no effort in improving women’s conditions countrywide, which had included the initiation of income-generating activities.

Nevertheless, she said, a major challenge persisted in terms of reducing poverty rates, with 80 per cent of the population living on less than $1 a day. The health situation had seriously deteriorated, owing to the spread of HIV/AIDS and the repeated wars afflicting the territory. The Government had undertaken a geographic mapping of the country, in order to establish centres for HIV/AIDS prevention and care where those were needed the most. A schooling project had also been launched, which had led to a “slight” increase in young girls’ enrolment. Surveys had also shown an increase in women’s interest in science and technologies as a field of study and employment. Efforts in the education sphere had focused largely on reducing illiteracy rates, which stood at 44 per cent of women and 18 per cent of men. The Government was also seeking to educate women about their basic rights; it had ratified the Women’s Convention, which it disseminated, and made gender equality part of its Constitution. “Cultural baggage”, however, impeded implementation of women’s rights, necessitating a strengthening of capacities to raise women’s awareness. 

The Government had ratified and disseminated international treaties containing provisions on violence against women, and it would properly criminalize any domestic or gender-based violence, including violence stemming from customs or religion. She was indignant about the thousands of cases of sexual violence against Congolese women, specifically the use of rape as a weapon of war. Also infuriating had been the reports of rapes perpetrated by United Nations personnel seeking to keep the peace in her country. She called for reparations and the swift prosecution of the perpetrators. That situation concerned the future of thousands of children, whose parents had been subjected to sexual violence.  Centres had been established to support the victims and a joint effort was under way to partner with other organizations to provide relief. Elections preparations were also afoot and Congolese women were striving to attain a greater number of decision-making posts. The women faced major financial constraints and were still barred from receiving loans.

NETUMBO NANDI-NDAITWAH, Minister of Women’s Affairs and Child Welfare of Namibia, said that gender equality had been at the centre of her Government’s attention, since women’s empowerment was a prerequisite for democracy and sustainable development. The national gender machinery had recently been expanded, and a full-fledged ministry was now responsible for women’s affairs and child welfare. The road to gender equality was full of obstacles, some based on traditions, as well as the whole concept of power struggle. Hence, it was important to bring everybody on board. Participation of men, boys and girls in women-focused programmes was crucial.

Among the challenges that had a negative impact on the country’s gender programmes, she mentioned the problem of HIV/AIDS and poverty. However, the country continued to make progress. In addition to legal reform, which included the Married Persons Equality Act and Domestic Violence Act, the country had taken steps to improve women’s education. Namibia had reached one of the targets set by the Millennium Summit. In 2001, the ratio of girls and boys in primary education had been 100 boys to every 100 girls. In secondary school, there were 113 girls per 100 boys. The Government also provided anti-retroviral therapy to HIV-positive people. Although the country had not achieved the 30 per cent women representation in its Parliament, it had reached the borderline of 25 per cent. Women were also increasingly become owners of small and medium enterprises. However, it was still necessary to support women in the economy.

BAKOKO BAKORU ZOE, Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development of Uganda, said that her country had made tremendous progress in several areas of concern identified in Beijing. The country’s constitution guaranteed gender balance and fair representation of women in all constitutional bodies, as well as women’s economic, maternal and political rights. Political representation of women in the National Assembly stood at 25 per cent in 2003. Women’s sexual and reproductive health had been identified as a critical area that would be addressed by the national action plan.

Uganda had taken a unique leadership role in the efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and promote treatment, she continued. As a result, the disease prevalence rate had been reduced from 6.8 in 1989 to the current 6.5 per cent. Among other priorities, the Government recognized education and training of women and mainstreaming of gender equality. Violence against women, particularly in situations of armed conflict, continued to be a source of concern. Uganda was committed to the Vienna Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the principles of the Women’s Convention and the Rights of the Child Convention. Elimination of armed conflict remained among the main challenges faced by the country’s women, so that they could fully enjoy their rights and participate in development. Other challenges included provision of financial services for women, particularly in rural areas; improvement of access to markets; and assistance in providing access to anti-retroviral therapy.

KANTI SINGH, Minister of State for Human Resource Development, India, said that, as the first country to have adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action without reservations, India was fully committed to its implementation. Initiatives to address situation of Women were already under way at the time of the Beijing Conference. The National Commission for Women had been set up in 1990 to safeguard women’s rights and legal entitlements. The most far-reaching and influential measures, however, had been adoption of the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution, in 1993, which provided for reserving one third of all seats for women in the local, village and municipal bodies, laying a strong foundation for their participation in decision-making. In a quiet but powerful revolution, more than 1 million women now occupied positions as members and chairpersons of local bodies. As a single act of women’s empowerment, that had known no parallel. Education, training and self-employment strategies were also playing a crucial role in emancipating women from traditional dependencies. 

Calling attention to another notable development, she cited the progress made in the last few years to reduce the “gender gap” in school enrolment and retention. Through concerted efforts, female literacy had risen significantly from 39.3 per cent in 1991 to 53.7 per cent in 2001. The focus now in that regard was on improving women’s participation in higher education, technical education and vocational courses.  Legal protection through the progressive development and strengthening of national laws had also been a vital part of India’s efforts to combat discriminatory practices against women. The real test of the Government’s commitment had been the allocation of financial resources for programmes for women’s empowerment. All state governments and central ministries earmarked at least 30 per cent of all non-women specific developmental outlays exclusively for women, in a sub-plan known as the Women’s Component Plan, wherever such disaggregating was possible. That had contributed greatly to mainstreaming gender activities. 

KAY PATTERSON, Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Women, Australia, said that the reports of the regional groups had made clear that, despite the many differences between individual countries and regions, there were threads of common interest that could be addressed. International cooperation to achieve tangible results for women of those areas of common interest was crucial. Under the 12 critical areas, some common areas for action were: the feminization of poverty; underrepresentation of women and girls in non-traditional fields of study; HIV/AIDS; cultural and social issues that hampered States’ efforts to combat violence against women; the trafficking of women and children; implementation of Security Council resolution 1325; valuing women’s unpaid word; the gender wage gap; linking the Beijing process with other international processes for women’s advancement; accessing reliable and relevant sex-disaggregated data; and addressing the stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

In Australia, she said, significant inroads had been made across the Platform’s 12 critical areas.  Today, Australian women had the same or better outcomes than men in several key areas, such as education and health, and they continue to make steady progress in other areas.  Women’s participation in both full- and part-time employment continued to increase, as women steadily made their way into what had traditionally been male occupations and industries. About one third of small business operators were now women.  Maximizing the retirement savings had been another key objective, and a recently introduced government bonus benefited women in particular. Australia also had a new universal maternity payment for each newborn child, which ensured that mothers had financial assistance at that critical period in their lives. Coupled with ongoing government payments to assist families with children, and assistance to pay for good quality childcare, Australia had maintained its solid record of support of families.  The country also attached high priority to combating domestic violence, sexual assault and trafficking, through increased education, funding of services, training for service providers and improvements to the criminal justice system. 

JEANNE FRANÇOISE LECKOMBA LOUMETO, Minister for the Promotion of Women and their Integration in Development of Congo, reiterated her country’s commitment to the international instruments and agreements reached at recent conferences, including the Fourth Women’s Conference in Beijing. The fundamental rights of women and their participation in decision-making and the peace process were among the Government’s priorities. The Congolese Constitution had always enshrined the principle of gender equality, and many measures had been taken to promote women. Raising awareness among women, young people and decision makers had led to significant progress in such areas as women’s health and elimination of sexual stereotypes. Campaigns had been initiated to eradicate women’s illiteracy. Other measures introduced in the country included nomination of gender focal points in various ministries and introduction of women’s legal clinics to inform women of their rights. Despite the progress, much remained to be done, but the country was determined to overcome the challenges.

MUNEERA NASSER AL-MISNAD, Member of the Board of Directors of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs and Chairperson of the Committee for Women’s Affairs, Qatar, said that women and girls were the social group most affected by poverty, illiteracy, the spread of epidemics and disease, and armed conflict in numerous developing and least developed countries. The fact that those impediments limited efforts aimed at women’s advancement made it imperative for the current session to underscore those challenges and adopt recommendations to overcome them. She looked forward to a greater role for regional and international organizations in women’s advancement and enhancement of their full participation in development. Qatar had sought to establish a modern State based on broad popular participation, the rule of law, respect for human rights and elimination of all forms of discrimination. That orientation had been accompanied by an integrated institutional endeavour to create the conditions for a comprehensive renaissance. The effort to implement decisions for the advancement of women had grown out of a radical transformation aimed at achieving positive change and development.

She said that major efforts were under way to promote women’s status. The first step had been to include gender questions in the development process. That had resulted in the establishment of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs, which was the first body ever created in Qatar for the sole purpose of safeguarding women’s rights and enhancing their participation in all fields. That had been followed by the creation of many institutions and programmes along the same lines, such as the Committee for Women’s Affairs in the Supreme Council for Family Affairs, which undertook to review all plans and legislation affecting women for the sake of removing any discriminatory provisions. The draft civil status code had attracted much interest, since it was the law that most affected women’s status in Qatar. Numerous independent institutions had also been established to protect and consolidate women’s mental welfare, such as the Family Counselling Centre and the Institution for the Protection of Children and Women.  Women’s participation in the democratic focus was another focus of attention, as was a strategy to prevent trafficking in women and girls. 

TERESA CANAVIRI SIRPA, Vice-Minister for Women of Bolivia, said that in Beijing Member States had subscribed to a Platform for Action, which was envisioned to span a period of twenty years. That underscored the importance of devoting international attention to long-term goals for the promotion of women. At a recent regional meeting, Bolivia’s President had expressed the country’s will to implement the Beijing outcome documents. The country had made major progress in the past 10 years, striving to build new relations of power, based on respect for the country’s men and women. For instance, Bolivia’s educational reform had been based on the principle of gender equality, and the Government sought to narrow the gap in school attendance between boys and girls. It had also achieved a reduction of fertility and maternal mortality rates.

Today, the international community had the responsibility to reaffirm the commitments made in Beijing, she stressed. Looking back at the time since that Conference, one could say that the world was moving forward, but it was important to evaluate the situation. Among the concerns, she listed the lack of political will and adequate financing. In order to ensure that there was no violence, as well as respect and equality between men and women, it was important to hold high the banner for the struggle of all women.  “Let us not be discouraged”, she said, encouraging participants of the meeting to keep moving forward.

JUNSHIRO NISHIME, Parliamentary Secretary of the Cabinet Office, Japan, said that since Beijing, the international community had been striving towards women’s advancement, with the United Nations playing a central role.  Considerable progress had been made; however, challenges and obstacles remained. Japan had done its best to take concrete steps following adoption of the Beijing agenda, which had proven effective in protecting women’s human rights and promoting gender equality. The Government had focused on three main areas: strengthening of national machineries; progress in legal and administrative measures for gender equality and women’s empowerment; and international cooperation. In the area of administrative and legal measures, the Basic Law for a Gender-Equal Society had been promulgated in 1999, in order to promote measures, comprehensively and deliberately, for the realization of a gender-equal society. 

Among the other notable endeavours, he said his country was taking initiatives to promote women’s participation in the policy and decision-making processes. Since 2001, eight women had been appointed to the Prime Minister’s cabinet, and at the local level, there were currently four women governors. Those statistics clearly showed an increase in women’s political empowerment. In the area of equal employment and balancing work and family, the Japanese Government had promoted the expansion of day-care facilities to support the balancing of work and household duties. Since 2002, the number of children accommodated at day-care facilities had increased by 50,000 each year. Japan had also promoted men’s participation in child rearing and increased childcare support services. Local authorities and private companies were also obliged to establish and implement their own action plans to support childcare and improve working patterns. Efforts were also being made to prevent violence against women, and the law to that effect was amended and strengthened in December 2004.  Actions had also been put in place to combat the trafficking phenomenon.

SHAOHUA ZHAO, Vice-Chairperson of the National Committee on Women and Children and the State Council of China, Vice-President of All China Women’s Federation, said that the international community had strengthened cooperation for the promotion of gender equality since the Beijing Conference. With concerted efforts, the principles of non-discrimination had been incorporated in many countries’ legal frameworks and policies. However, the world situation was changing with the passage of time. As globalization accelerated, the gap between developed and developing countries widened.  The feminization of poverty and spread of HIV/AIDs were among the new concerns.

The declaration to be adopted at the end of the Commission’s session should reaffirm the principles outlined in Beijing 10 years ago, she continued. It was important to build up the capacities of developing countries.  Different countries had different systems, and the choices they made were based on their national conditions. As such, they should be respected. As home to one fifth of the world’s women and host to the Beijing Conference, China attached particular importance to gender equality. It had introduced laws for the advancement of women and developed measures to improve their situation, including programmes to combat violence against women. Efforts were being made to advance women’s human rights. Much progress had been achieved in the areas of literacy and poverty reduction. The percentage of women at high levels of decision-making had risen. The average life expectancy of women was higher than that of men.

ZEINEBOU MINT MOHAMED OULD NAHAH, Secretary of State Responsible for Women, Mauritania said that women’s participation was the only way to lay down the basis of a more just, equitable and sustainable development, which took into account equality between the sexes. Several measures had been adopted to improve the institutional framework for women’s advancement, to combat poverty, and promote respect for human rights. The national strategy had also been improved to align itself with internationally agreed commitments, including in the Millennium Declaration. The country had also approved all international instruments related to women, children and the family, and had decreed education free for all. It had also adopted an action plans making women’s and children’s rights a priority.  Some ambitious, long-term development programmes had also been launched to combat poverty and promote respect for human rights. That strategy had also sought to combat illiteracy, and had narrowed the gender gap in that regard. 

In addition, she said, enrolment of girls in primary school was now at 92 per cent.  And, maternal and infant mortality rates had dropped, as health coverage now reached 80 per cent of the population within areas of up to five kilometres. The “democratic atmosphere” being enjoyed throughout the country had helped promote women’s place in economic, social and political life. More and more women were also involved in income-generating activities, and there had been a great increase in the number of women participating in political parties. Despite those important achievements, notable challenges remained in the sustainable development field. Thus, efforts must be intensified to combat poverty, eradicate illiteracy, and improve reproductive health services. Women’s rights should be further developed, and all forms of violence against them should be eliminated. The gains made thus far had been testimony to the Government’s commitment to improve women’s standing. 

NILOFAR BAKHTIAR (Pakistan) said that her country had prepared a national plan of action on the 12 areas of concern.  A 13th area, women with disabilities, had been added to the global agenda on women by her country. Today, women made up 22 per cent of Pakistan’s Parliament, including two federal ministers, five State ministers and seven provincial ministers.  At the grass-roots level, the country had elected 40,000 women councillors, also as mayors and deputy mayors.  Some 27,000 of them had been promoted through a woman’s political participation project. The National Commission on the Status of Women was mandated to act as a watchdog, reviewing all discriminatory laws. A major focus was placed on the economic and social empowerment of women. Microcredit programmes were under way to fund income generation for women.

Gender budgeting was a relatively new concept in the world, she continued. Pakistan had taken a lead in accepting the challenge. A separate chapter had been included in its Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, with $7 million allocated for the initial implementation of the project. On violence against women, her Government had established 10 crisis centres, along with shelters and a helpline service. A law on honour killings had been recently passed.  Pakistan would host two conferences in the coming months, one on Millennium Development Goals and the other on Beijing +10.

DANG HUYNH MAI, Vice-Minister of Education and Training of Viet Nam, said that over the past 10 years, the role and status of Vietnamese women had significantly improved. Her country ranked first in Asia for women’s representation in the National Assembly, for instance. Women’s economic power had increased, thanks to legal regulations stating that names of both wife and husband had to be put on property certificates. Women’s life expectancy currently stood at 73, an increase of seven years in comparison with 1995. Currently, Viet Nam ranked 87 out of 144 for the Gender Development Index. Her country had completed the 5th and 6th national report on Convention implementation, one of the few countries that had done so.

She said that, like many other countries in the region, Viet Nam experienced some negative effects from globalization. Various issues, such as trafficking in women, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burden of housework, women’s lack of access to communications technologies, male preferences and the traditional thinking of policy makers had limited the implementation of the Platform for Action. In keeping with the strategic objectives of the Beijing and Beijing +5 conferences, her country was committed to promote implementation of its National Strategy by 2010, to finalize the law and policy framework on gender equality, to develop the national economy and reduce poverty, and to ensure the realization of equal rights for women and girl children.

NOORA KHALEEFA ALSUWAIDE, Director of the General Women’s Union of United Arab Emirates, said her Government had set up six national mechanisms to implement the Beijing recommendations, as well as several civil organizations to create an enabling environment for the advancement of women, children, and the family. Other measures it had taken included raising the education budget to 24.6 per cent of federal expenditure to meet growing student numbers, particularly women. It had also allocated 7 per cent of federal expenditures to the health sector in 2003, with special attention to maternity and childhood; set up the Supreme Council for Maternity and Childhood in 2003; and acceded to the Women’s Convention in 2004.

With the help of such measures, women currently made up 66 per cent of the total Government workforce, of which 30 per cent were in decision-making positions, she said. The number of businesswomen in the private sector amounted to 10,500 women, managing around $4 billion worth of investments in major fields.

HLONEPHO NTSEKHE, Assistant Minister of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation of Lesotho, said it was the momentum created at gatherings such as today’s that motivated countries to overcome the challenges. His Government had established a ministry responsible for gender, youth and development affairs in 1998, and it had initiated a gender and development policy in 2001, in collaboration with non-governmental organizations and academia. That policy was based on, among other things, the Beijing Platform for Action, the outcomes of Beijing +5, the Women’s Convention, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Cairo Action Programme, and the African Charter on human and people’s rights. The policy took a holistic approach to addressing far-reaching cultural and development issues that impeded women’s participation in society as equal partners and beneficiaries. There were also gender focal points within each government ministry, and non-governmental organizations and academia formed part of the National Gender Steering Committee. The focal points provided direction in their respective institutions.

He said the Government had been gratified at the tremendous change in attitudes among both men and women regarding their traditional roles and responsibilities. That was due to several factors, including efforts by the media to promote equal involvement of men and women, political will, heightened advocacy, and electoral reforms. Women had entered the political arena in unprecedented numbers, and they had been appointed to senior positions, including as speaker of the National Assembly and Police Commissioner. Improvements had also been registered in other important sectors. For example, the participation of women in the independent electoral commission had reached 30 per cent and women occupied the same percentage of seats in the cabinet. At the same time, the Government was seeking to eliminate violence against women, including as one way of combating HIV/AIDS. It was also embarking on legal reforms. Still, the Government faced severe poverty-related challenges, some of which undermined the gains already made. For example, girls’ enrolment in schools had declined, as they had to leave to take care of their ailing parents. 

MARIELUISE BECK, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth and Federal Government Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration of Germany, said that despite achievements made in Germany, the country still faced challenges in realizing full gender equality. Gender mainstreaming, gainful employment and combating violence against women were among the Government’s main priorities. The Parliament was now debating a bill on protection against discrimination, which would allow women to better protect themselves. The employment rate for women in Germany had risen in recent years, but many of jobs were part-time. Measures were being taken to advance equality in the workplace and eliminate the wage gap between men and women. In 1997, a working group on trafficking in women had been set up in the country. Efforts were being made to increase public awareness on the dangers of violence against women.

Full equality should not be called into question because of cultural and religious differences, she continued. She was looking forward to the day when women themselves could decide how they wanted to dress, because even clothing was a sign of self-determination. It was of utmost importance to fully reaffirm the commitments of Beijing and the principles of the Convention. Germany was deeply committed to the vision of Security Council resolution 1325. It was important to introduce a gender perspective in the mandates of peacekeeping missions and include women in peace negotiations and peace-building. Without full implementation of the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action, none of the internationally agreed development goals could be achieved. It was important to elevate women’s issues to a high place on the international agenda.

RIMANTAS KAIRELIS, State Secretary of Social Security and Labour of Lithuania, said her country had developed institutional mechanisms, tools and methods, appropriate legislation, and programmes to further gender equality and contribute to the advancement of women. Institutional gender equality mechanisms included a minister responsible for gender equality, focal points on gender equality in ministries, a women’s parliamentary group, and four gender studies centres. The Government had also recognized the contribution of civil society in promoting women’s rights and equal opportunities for women and men, and encouraged dialogue with non-governmental organizations to ensure their participation in the process. Constructive debates between non-governmental organizations and governmental representatives were occurring, as they worked to establish benchmarks, indicators, deadlines and monitoring processes.

Due to active work and collaboration among different institutions, legislation had been improved to remove discriminatory provisions, she said. The National Programme on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men was working on concrete measures in the fields of:  employment; education and science; politics and decision-making; women’s human rights; violence against women and trafficking in women; and health. Special measures for women were integrated into several other programmes aimed at eliminating imbalances in employment, promoting women’s small- and medium-sized businesses, and ensuring their human rights. Such measures had resulted in decreased salary differences between women and men, lower unemployment levels for women, women’s participation in small- and medium-sized business, greater awareness of gender equality, and helped to combat violence against women and trafficking in women.

AZHRA SHOJAIE, Head of Centre for Women’s Participation and Advisor to the President of Iran, said it had been acknowledged in Beijing that women’s rights were human rights. Now, 10 years later, and despite efforts made at various levels, there still remained impediments to implementation. During the last decade, the international community had acquired new experiences, which could help all human rights activists to make progress. The unrelenting effort of women’s human rights defenders within non-governmental organizations and various institutions could be counted among the successes. She praised efforts by those organizations and people, along with other actors worldwide, to overcome the obstacles, as well as their innovative new methods for achieving women’s development objectives.  Indeed, past experience had shown that the most advanced development plans had been initiated by non-governmental organizations, which had as their core objective the advancement of women. Plurality in thinking and ideas represented an evolution of human society, and all ideas must be taken into account, in order to achieve the very real goal of promoting women’s status.

She said that while notable progress had been made in Iran to elevate women’s status, much work remained to be done to equalize women’s participation in education and decision-making. At present, women’s education was encountering serious difficulties. Sadly, after 10 years, violations of women’s rights were still occurring in different parts of the world. Under the pretext of banning the wearing of religious symbols, women from particular religions were excluded from education and participation in the social development process. In practice, a lack of regard for women’s value and human dignity hindered realization of their human rights and adversely influenced their activities in different social fields. Also, despite the pledges made at Beijing, violence against women in different forms had persisted, and was the biggest obstacle to women’s advancement on a number of fronts. Trafficking in women also demanded special attention and a real willingness of decision makers, at the national and international levels, to address it.

GABRIELA NUNEZ, Secretary of the Presidential Secretariat of the Women of Guatemala, said that the signing of peace accords and democratisation of her country had determined the implementation of gender equality policies in Guatemala. The country now had a legal framework, which was more favourable to women.  Reforms had been introduced in the penal code by penalizing the trafficking in women, among other things. The law on social development addressed such issues as population, family planning and other aspects important to the advancement of women. Women could now be part of the Cabinet of Ministers.

Progress had also been made in giving women land deeds and providing them with access to credit, she continued.  Efforts were being made to address the situation of the country’s indigenous women. One of the commitments of the peace accords was rehabilitation of victims of conflict, including widows.  In the labour field, there was greater participation of women, mainly in the informal sector. Recognizing that special attention should be given to reproductive health services, family planning counselling and fighting HIV/AIDS, Guatemala devoted 15 per cent of the taxes on alcoholic beverages to reproductive health programmes. The country reiterated its commitment to the right of life from the moment of conception and the protection of family, as stated in its Constitution. The Government was concerned over violence against women, particularly murders of women, and was committed to eradicating that problem. Guatemala confirmed its commitment to the Beijing Platform for Action.

ELLEN SAUERBREY, Bureau of International Organization Affairs of the United States, recalling a quotation from United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said that the United States had worked with many nations to improve the lives of women and girls around the world. Together, they could be proud of their achievements in instilling greater protection, including in conflict situations, better health care, and women’s increased political participation, among them. In many Muslim countries, while much remained to be done, the bigger picture was one of freedom expanding and surmounting the forces of tyranny, including those that held women in second-class status. One only had to look at the elections in various quarters and the expanding roles for women.

Ms. Sauerbrey said that among her country’s key initiatives had been efforts to eliminate human trafficking, that horrible crime of exploitation and abuse that treated women and girls as commodities. The 2000 protection act had assisted other countries, in that regard, and since 2002 the United States had contributed $295 million in support of efforts in more than 120 countries. It was announced in 2003 that an additional $50 million in new money would be spent to protect and rescue trafficked women. On child sex tourism, a 2003 law allowed the prosecution of Americans who travelled abroad and engaged in sex with a minor. The United States was also sponsoring a resolution, in the Commission, on trafficking. It continued to lead the world’s fight against HIV/AIDS, and under its plans women were the primary beneficiaries.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was the largest of its kind, she said.  The United States had recognized the gender dimension of the struggle against HIV/AIDS and had devoted much of its special assistance to increasing access to information and services. It supported actions to empower and protect women, and it encouraged responsible behaviour by men. Countries that failed to protect human rights would find it very difficult to qualify for funding from the United States, which had also been very active in helping women in post-conflict situations. In Afghanistan, the United States had built 17 women’s resource centres to meet health needs and train women for work.

In the recent historical elections in Iraq, the Iraqi women’s initiative and the United States-Iraqi women’s network had laid the groundwork for the turnout of women voters. The presence, at the session, of women colleagues from Iraq and Afghanistan should be heartening to all participants. Emphasizing her country’s commitment to women’s reproductive health, she said that the United States had a long history of supporting reproductive health care on the international level, including through voluntary family planning.  The United States was the world’s largest supplier of contraceptives and since President Bush took office, the country had supplied $1.7 billion for family planning and reproductive and maternal health.

She said she had concerns, however, about efforts to “mischaracterize” the outcomes of Beijing and Beijing +5. It was clear that there had been no intent on the part of supporting States to create new rights.  While those outcome documents expressed important political goals, they did not create new rights or legally binding ones, including the right to abortion. Abortion policies were a matter of national sovereignty. She was pleased that so many other countries had indicated their agreement with that position, and it was now possible to focus clearly on addressing the many urgent needs around the world.

MARIA AMELIA PAIVA, President, Commission for Equality and Women’s Rights, Portugal, aligning herself with the statement made on behalf of the European Union, said that the experience of Portugal, where women had equal rights since 1976, showed that if women were given tools, skills and equal opportunities, they would achieve their rightful place in society and would bring on the corresponding sustainable development for all. The three major national plans -- the Second National Plan against Domestic Violence, the Second National Plan for Equality and the Second National Plan for Employment -- had contributed some progress in gender equality. Equal access at all levels of education had allowed women to be the majority in obtaining university degrees, even in areas traditionally not associated with women.

She said in the labour market, women represented 45.6 per cent of the employees. Among the unemployed, the gap between women and men was decreasing, and the same was happening with the salary gap, which now stood at 22.6 per cent. However, among the 50 largest publicly held firms, women had 6 per cent of the leadership positions. There was still a long way to go to achieve such goals as the promotion and protection of women’s rights, poverty eradication and gender equality in all fields of economic, political and social life. There were positive signs, however, such as the discussion of such issues as reproductive rights during the last campaign for parliamentary elections. That was a first for Portugal.

DORIS ACEVEDO, Executive Secretary of the National Institute for Women of Venezuela, said that her Government was strengthening and enhancing its mechanisms to promote gender equality. The budget of the Institute had increased by 500 per cent in the last five years. Institutions had also been established to promote women’s human rights and address their specific needs, including a Women’s Development Bank. The grass-roots organizations helped State institutions in their work within the participatory framework established in the country. A plan for the prevention of violence against women had been initiated.

Her Government categorically rejected the slave-trade in people, and it had joined international instruments to counteract trafficking, she continued.  Radio and television programmes were being used to eliminate sexist stereotypes. The proportion of women in high Government positions had significantly increased, especially in elected positions. The Government was accomplishing its development goals through poverty eradication, health, nutrition, education and other programmes. Subsidized loans were benefiting many women around the country.

MOUNA GHANEM, Chairperson of the Syrian Commission for Family Affairs, said that women’s empowerment and advancement in Syria was only part of the international women’s movement, and ran parallel with the international spirit seeking to promote gender equality and ensure full rights under international human rights standards. Syria’s efforts were focused on women’s political and economic empowerment, promoting reproductive rights, and meeting the needs of young people. The Government was fully committed to the Millennium Development Goals, which were not at all new to Syrian development plans, especially those related to narrowing the “gender gap” in basic education, enhancing working women’s share in the work place, and increasing the percentage of seats occupied by women in national legislative assemblies.

She said that women in the Syrian Parliament had increased from 2.3 per cent in 1973 to 12 per cent in 2003, which was the highest among developing countries. Since 1976, women were representing the country a ministers, judges, ambassadors and prosecutors. Recently, women were given more opportunities to take senior positions in the Government, regardless of their age or political background. Since 2000, Syria was experiencing an accelerated rate of development, which had reflected positively on women’s status in Syrian society. The 12 critical areas of the Beijing Platform had received the Government’s utmost attention. The Syrian Commission for Family Affairs had been established as the national women machinery in 2003, and it acted as a catalyst for promoting gender equality, gender mainstreaming and for monitoring implementation of the Beijing agenda. Syria had also made significant progress in the educational sphere, and the Government had taken concrete steps to reform and update that system.

MADINA B. JARBUSSYNOVA (Kazakhstan) said that her country had every right to be proud of what it had accomplished in the 10 years since Beijing. Advancement of women and protection of their rights were among the priorities of Kazakhstan’s Government. The National Commission for Family and Women, under the President of the country, had developed a national plan of action for the improvement of the status of women in Kazakhstan. The national policy in that regard was based on political promotion of women, their wide involvement in economic life, improvement of women’s health and elimination of violence against women. Effective mechanisms were being developed to increase women’s integration into the social and political life of the country and expand their representation at all decision-making levels. Women accounted for almost 60 per cent of those employed in the public sector in Kazakhstan. More than 150 women’s non-governmental organizations were functioning in the country.

The Government was taking measures to improve the well-being of every family, she continued, especially through the creation of equal opportunities for women and girls. Special attention was paid to education and improvement of women’s awareness of their rights. The National Commission for Family and Women had drafted a national strategy on gender equality for the years 2005-2015.  Despite all the achievements, however, some problems remained, including discrimination of women in the labour market and their low representation in governmental bodies. Maternal mortality, especially in rural areas, also represented a matter of concern. An important part of the country’s strategy was to provide decent living standards for the most vulnerable members of society, including children, mothers and the elderly. Today, Kazakhstan had stable growth, but the State budget was still not capable to cover all social programmes.  For that reason, the country would require international assistance before it could achieve a balance between its economic and social development.

JULIANA DI TULLIO, International Representative for Women Issues of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Argentina, speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, urged States to establish cooperation mechanisms in their regions, in order to identify the main obstacles to women’s empowerment and design specific strategies to overcome them. Promotion of international cooperation for the support of national mechanisms for women’s advancement was fundamental to implementation of the Beijing Platform. The Rio Group countries rejected the use of “unilateral coercive measures” as instruments of political or economic pressure against any country, but especially against developing countries. Such measures were not compatible with international law or the United Nations Charter, and they impeded the full economic and social development of the population of the affected countries, especially women, children and persons with special needs.

She said the Group’s great concern was the extent to which women were discriminated against. The fundamental role of women in the processes of social transformation and as a determining factor in their nations’ progress made it necessary to end the discrimination against them. In several cases, women were subjected to “multiple discrimination”, owing to factors such as gender, origin, culture, disability, age and poverty. In her region, for example, indigenous women and African descendents tended to live together in greater poverty, which prevented them from fully exercising their rights. The Rio Group countries were aware of the need for those women to receive priority attention and, as such, had committed to promote the full and equal participation of women and men at all levels of decision-making and in society as a whole.

The protection and promotion of human rights was an indispensable framework in which to approach such important subjects as gender equality, the elimination of discrimination and the eradication of violence. Acts of violence against women, whether public or private, were a violation of their human rights. A principal goal of the countries of the region was to design adequate policies to eliminate all forms of violence against women, especially domestic violence, both physical and psychological. Those policies must prioritize programmes to prevent and eliminate that violence. Attention must be given to the treatment and recovery of the victims, as well as to the integration of men and boys in the process.  Community campaigns and the strengthening of social services were other integral components. Another concern was trafficking, which must be prevented and eliminated through collective and international action with the participation of countries of origin, transit and host countries.

CHRISTIAN DUPONT, Minister for Equal Opportunities of Belgium, said that the promotion of equality between men and women had been part of the positive heritage from the twentieth century. Belgium unreservedly supported such efforts and it would remain faithful to its policies. The country had reformed its constitution, in particular giving women a greater role in elected positions. It was also important to ensure their economic independence and ensure respect for their physical integrity. Women needed to enjoy real freedom, and Belgium had made it a real priority. The country was trying to ensure a balance between women’s public and home lives. The objective of equality also required that measures be taken against all forms of domestic violence. No longer confined to the private domain, that issue was now publicly discussed in Belgium.

Following the Beijing+10 review, the country intended to define more clearly its gender equality objectives and further fine-tune its plans, he said. Gender equality was one of the preconditions for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. In that connection, he highlighted such priorities as investment in women’s education as a factor in development; women’s health and sexual and reproductive rights; and the promotion of peace and security. Over 350 million women did not have access to contraceptives, some 500,000 women died each year from pregnancy complications, and many suffered serious complications from illegal abortions. Under those circumstances, Belgium supported making an explicit reference in the Millennium agenda to sexual and reproductive rights of women as they had been defined in articles 96 to 99 of the Beijing Platform.

CHRISTIAN DUPONT, Minister for Equal Opportunities of Belgium, said that the promotion of equality between men and women had been part of the positive heritage from the 20th century.  Belgium unreservedly supported such efforts and it would remain faithful to its policies. The country had reformed its Constitution, in particular giving women a greater role in elected positions. It was also important to ensure their economic independence and ensure respect for their physical integrity. Women needed to enjoy real freedom, and Belgium had made it a real priority. The country was trying to ensure a balance between women’s public and home lives. The objective of equality also required that measures be taken against all forms of domestic violence. No longer confined to the private domain, that issue was now publicly discussed in Belgium.

Following the Beijing +10 review, the country intended to define more clearly its gender equality objectives and further fine-tune its plans, he said. Gender equality was one of the preconditions for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. In that connection, he highlighted such priorities as investment in women’s education as a factor in development; women’s health and sexual and reproductive rights; and the promotion of peace and security. Over 350 million women did not have access to contraceptives, some 500,000 women died each year from pregnancy complications, and many suffered serious complications from illegal abortions. Under those circumstances, Belgium supported making an explicit reference in the Millennium agenda to sexual and reproductive rights of women as they had been defined in articles 96 to 99 of the Beijing Platform.

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