28 February 2006

UN Women's Commission "Ahead of Its Time" as 60-Year Catalyst for Progress, Says Deputy Secretary-General, in New York Remarks

NEW YORK, 27 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette's remarks at the 50th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, in New York, 27 February:

I am delighted to be with you at this historic Session for the Commission on the Status of Women.  Sixty years ago, this body was established as a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council.  Today, as you start the work of the Commission's 50th session, you mark a milestone for the United Nations.

I congratulate you, Madam Chairperson, as well as the Bureau and the Members of the Commission, and celebrate with you the achievements of the Commission over the past six decades.

Over these 60 years, the Commission has played a critical role in shaping the progress of women at global and national levels, by helping to develop legal measures, by shaping new policy, by raising awareness of the challenges confronting women worldwide.

You paved the way for the General Assembly to adopt the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, or CEDAW, in 1979.  This landmark treaty has now been ratified by 181 countries, and has become a crucial tool in the struggle to improve conditions for women everywhere. 

You also laid the groundwork for adoption in 2000 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, which was a wonderful achievement in its own right.  Women in more than 70 countries can now use the Protocol to seek remedies for violations of their rights.

And in the course of four world conferences on women, you have played a pivotal role -- both in the preparation and in the follow-up.  From Mexico to Copenhagen, from Nairobi to Beijing, the Commission helped generate the momentum for change that imbued those conferences.  And, as important, you have helped keep the momentum going since.

Since Beijing, the Commission has been a catalyst in bringing the perspectives of women into the work of the United Nations as a whole, and into processes at the national level.

You have played a critical role in raising awareness of the impact of major global trends affecting women, from globalization to migration; from human trafficking to HIV/AIDS.

Working in partnership with civil society organizations around the world, you have provided a forum for women to meet, to share experiences, and to create and sustain the networks that are so essential to achieve change.

You have demonstrated, time and again, that the Commission not only moves with the times:  it is ahead of its time.

At this session, you will be discussing two themes that are central to the progress of women around the world:  women in decision-making, and women's participation in development.

Ten years after the Beijing declaration, we still have far to go on actual representation of women at the highest levels of national and international leadership.  That includes the United Nations itself, the Charter of which proclaims the equal rights of men and women.

But I think the international community as a whole is beginning to understand a fundamental principle:  women are every bit as affected as any man by the challenges facing humanity in the 21st century.  It is, therefore, right and indeed necessary that women should be engaged in the decision-making processes in all areas, with equal strength and in equal numbers.

The world is also starting to grasp that there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women and girls.  Study after study has taught us that no other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, or to reduce infant and maternal mortality.  No other policy is as sure to improve nutrition and promote health -- including the prevention of HIV/AIDS.  No other policy is as powerful in increasing the chances of education for the next generation.

World leaders gave voice to those principles at the 2005 World Summit.  As they declared in the Outcome Document, "progress for women is progress for all".

I know the Commission on the Status of Women will keep advancing that understanding in the years to come, and that you will use this fiftieth session to reinvigorate efforts for the benefit of all women around the world.

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