Committee Work Programme
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to continue consideration of issues related to the advancement of women and the implementation of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women.
The Committee has before it the report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, as well as seven reports by the Secretary-General on the status of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW); the situation of women in rural areas; violence against women migrant workers; traffic in women and girls; the status of women in the Secretariat; and the implementation of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women.
In addition, a note by the Secretary-General transmits the report on the activities of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). Relevant sections of the report of the Economic and Social Council (to be issued) are also before the Committee.
Also before the Committee are the following two letters: one, dated 19 July, from the Permanent Representative of Bangladesh, draws attention to documents issued at the Microcredit Summit held in Washington, D.C., from 2 to 4 February; the other, dated 14 April, from the Permanent Representative of Georgia, transmits a copy of a report on the policy of ethnic cleansing/ genocide conducted in the territory of Abkhazia, Georgia. (For background on these documents, see Press Release GA/SHC/3416 dated 20 October.)
MARIA SUAREZ HAMM, observer for the Holy See, said the series of recent international conferences and the follow-up to the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women had ensured much progress towards improving the lives of women. The Catholic Church had welcomed and supported initiatives to improve women's lives. In several of the recent efforts to help women, the issues of their rights had come to the fore. More attention should be given to women's rights, such as the rights relating to motherhood and the role of women in the family. Millions of women throughout the world wanted those rights to be given the importance they deserved. Mothers had a right to carry out their important role in the family. The function of women to give birth should not be a target of discrimination. Women's role represented a vital contribution to society; it should be recognized and supported.
The freedom to have children should not be curtailed, particularly through sterilization and forced abortion, she said. Parents had the right to decide freely on the number and spacing of their children. There should be no policies encroaching on that right. Women in difficult and vulnerable situations, such as those in refugee camps, should be assured of their rights.
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Society should support mothers in the carrying out of their duties. The value of mothers' work in the home should be recognized as a full-time job. All discrimination against the role of motherhood should be eliminated. Society should ensure that mothers had the freedom to work at home and that they were not forced to work outside the home.
In the interest of women who work, conditions in the workplace should facilitate their working and their motherhood, through such means as flexible hours, part-time work, and a new culture in which fathers would assume a role in domestic life. Those goals were far from being achieved. Progress for mothers throughout the world required deep changes in attitude. However, the costs of break-up of the family would be even greater. The strengthening of the family and of mothers was the best way to improve the world.
NGUYEN THANH CHAU (Viet Nam) said that empowerment of women required great efforts to incur changes in economic, social, political and other fields. To be sustainable, such changes must hold empowerment as their goal. The most important change must be in the economic field. Gender equality could not be achieved in the context of the growing feminization of poverty, a phenomenon that had deepened in developing countries over the past decade. Such tangible measures as microcredit schemes, training and technical assistance, employment opportunities and income-generating activities were ways in which the United Nations system and governments had addressed the improvement of women's economic situation. Education was one of the main methods of empowering women and represented the highest yielding investment in the developing world. However, discrimination against women in education exacerbated their discrimination in general. Ways had to be found to improve women's education, so as to ensure changes in women's lives and in the whole community.
Women's political empowerment, including their participation in high- level decision-making, was essential to ensuring a sustainable improvement of women's status in society, he said. In order to increase the percentage of women in decision-making positions, there was a need to promote preferential polices for them. It was also necessary to rapidly strengthen education and training for women in their professions, as well as in their management skills.
In Viet Nam, measures had been taken to empower women and to improve their status, he said. Those measures included the formulation of the national plan of action by the National Committee for the Advancement of Women, which provided guidelines for local committees and assisted them in formulating their own plans. As a result, 31 ministries and branches and 32 provinces had their own plans of action. The overall objectives of the national plan of action for the advancement of women to the year 2000 were to improve women's material and spiritual life, enhance their capacity and knowledge, and ensure their full and equal participation in developing the country.
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HASSAN KASSEM NAJEM (Lebanon) said that his Government in 1996 formed a committee to deal with women's issues. Its specific objectives included achieving equality between men and women, protecting women's rights in line with Lebanon's Constitution, enabling women to profit from opportunity, increasing women's participation in State structures, and ensuring social equality between men and women. The means for achieving those objectives were to ensure respect for international regulations and norms and to create legislation affirming women's rights and banning discrimination against them.
Lebanon had also striven to improve the situation of women who were suffering under the yoke of Israeli occupation, he said. Lebanon had suffered in many ways since 1978. Women had been subjected to torture. More than 300 women had been imprisoned since 1982. Some had been released after being tortured. Their only offence had been not leaving their villages. The United Nations must reiterate that foreign occupation prevented the exercise of human rights. Such occupation must be ended. He called on all countries working for peace and human rights to support the Lebanese women in southern and western Lebanon.
JARGALSAIKHANY ENKHSAIKHAN (Mongolia) said the Microcredit Summit in Washington had recognized that building institutions capable of providing micro-finance services was a viable strategy for eradicating poverty and promoting small business, particularly in rural areas. Experience had confirmed that premise. Women made up more than half the 2.3 million population of Mongolia, and more than 45 per cent of the female population lived in rural areas, leading a nomadic or semi-nomadic way of life.
The transition to a market economy since 1990 had brought opportunities and challenges for the rural population, he said. Privatization had turned herders into owners. However, the dismantling of the State-subsidized social safety net, which included free access for all to health services and education and the subsequent failure to immediately replace it with alternative social protection arrangements, had negatively affected living standards of the rural population, particularly women. The Government had taken steps to improve the situation of rural women through such measures as a national forum on small credit. Nevertheless, the participation of women in decision-making had a long way to go, particularly for rural women, before it matched the level of equality proclaimed by law.
Acting in cooperation with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Mongolia had successfully implemented a distance learning project for 15,000 rural women in the Gobi region, and there were plans to extend the programme, he said. That was one example of Mongolia's commitment to the political and economic empowerment of women and to their full participation in social, economic and cultural life. Mongolia was submitting a draft resolution on the question of rural women.
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CLAUDIA FRITSCHE (Liechtenstein) said the Beijing Platform for Action was an agenda for women's empowerment. Her Government had established a number of critical areas of concern for implementation at the national level. Those included such issues as education and training for women, violence against women, women in power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, and women's human rights. Specific action was being taken to eliminate discrimination with respect to citizenship and to social security, to establish a national machinery to deal with equality matters, and on accession to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Action was also being taken to protect mothers-to-be and nursing women with respect to their employment status and social benefits.
She said that women, who represented 50 per cent of humanity, remained largely underrepresented in public decision-making processes. The situation in the private sector was not much better. However, recent trends indicated that, in future, many more women would be making high-level corporate decisions. The United Nations must serve as an example and increase the number of women in the Secretariat overall, and at decision-making levels in particular. Efforts must be increased to reach the 25 per cent target for women in senior positions and to attain overall gender equality in the Secretariat by the year 2000. She stressed the need for women to participate in preventive diplomacy as special representatives and envoys of the Secretary-General, as well as in post-conflict peace-building and peacekeeping. Negotiation and consensus- building were among women's special abilities. The issue of violence against women must also be addressed, she said. Combating such violence required close cooperation between governments and non-governmental organizations and other representatives of civil society. Public education campaigns were important to raise awareness of the problem, as well as to inform women of their legal rights and to encourage victims to use support services. It was particularly important that men begin to take more responsibility for the issue by acknowledging their capacity to be violent, accepting responsibility for their own behaviour, disassociating themselves from assumed power and privilege, and according women equal status and respect. Violence against women would only be eliminated when men stopped using violence and society refused to condone it.
MARIAN AL-AWADHI (Kuwait) said that, as a result of her Government's policy of encouraging women to receive education, Kuwaiti women represented a considerable part of the workforce and also held professional jobs. Women comprised 28 per cent of the total labour force and worked in various fields. That highlighted the role played by women in the country's economic and social development. They also had access to leadership positions in all fields, participated in various social spheres, and held positions in the academic and diplomatic sphere, as well as in charity and other national associations. The Kuwaiti Constitution insisted on the equality of men and women. Therefore, there was no discrimination against women, including in the workforce.
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Kuwaiti women had suffered from the Iraqi occupation, which had a more serious impact than the material damage it inflicted, she said. They had been subjected to all forms of violations, including rape. As a result, they had experienced psychological damage, both as widows and as women whose husbands were still prisoners of war. Children who had lost their fathers or whose fathers were detained by Iraq also suffered from trauma, anxieties and fear. The tragedy of those women and children had worsened, because Iraq had refused to release Kuwaiti prisoners of war and to provide full information on the detainees.
LINDA TARR-WHEELEN (United States) said that, two years after the Fourth World Conference on Women, the United States was encouraged by the work of the Economic and Social Council in mainstreaming the gender perspective into all policies and programmes in the United Nations system. As attention focused on progress within the United Nations system, implementation and monitoring of gender mainstreaming policies at the national level could not be overlooked. She was making available to delegations and non-governmental organizations a national plan developed by the United States two years ago, when an inter- agency council on women to ensure implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action was formed. The plan represented a work in progress. A highlighted initiative was the United States' hosting of an international leadership forum on women with disabilities.
The continued advancement of women in the United Nations system, particularly at the senior decision-making levels, was essential to the Organization's efforts to mainstream the gender perspective, she said. However, there was concern over the apparent glass ceiling for women in the Secretariat, as reported by the Secretary-General. He was encouraged to appoint more women, especially in the areas of peacekeeping and preventive diplomacy.
Another issue of concern was the trafficking in women and children, an area in which the United States had strict laws. Her country and had begun an information campaign together with the European Union, but campaigns were needed to protect victims and train officials in identifying potential problems and addressing them. Similar cooperative measures were needed to eradicate violence against women and girls. In that regard, the situation of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban could not be overlooked; the international community was urged to continue its focus on the status of women there.
GHIZAL YOUNOS (Afghanistan) said her Government would co-sponsor resolutions on the advancement of women and wanted to bring attention to the situation of women in Muslim countries. Overall developments in the twentieth century has been beneficial for women, but in some territories, including within her country, there was military occupation, and restrictions had been imposed, including a refusal to provide education for women.
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As a landlocked, least developed and war-torn country, the situation of women in Afghanistan had gotten worse during the occupation by the Taliban, she said. That occupation had led to situations where women could not leave homes. Such restrictions were said to be based in Islam, but they represented an erroneous interpretation. The prophetic view in Islam said that the acquisition of knowledge was important to both men and women.
Having fought a super-Power, Afghanistan had now fallen prey to extremists who had two victims: peace and women. Schools for women had been closed, and women were not allowed to participate in life in the occupied areas. They were not allowed to work, and if they did, they were humiliated by the Taliban. There were numerous restrictions, such as drivers not being allowed to transport women without veils. The thinking of the Taliban was incompatible with that of the Afghan people and with their religion. Her country appealed to all friendly nations to make the plight of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban known to the world and to international organizations.
KARIN SHAM POO, of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said her organization's gender policy, developed in 1994, promoted gender equality and the empowerment of girls and women. It sought to mainstream gender issues in all programmes, targeting, in particular, initiatives for girls. UNICEF's mission statement reinforced its commitment to gender equality and empowerment, promoting those rights through its country programmes.
A key area in which the rights of women and girls were most often abrogated was that of gender-based violence, which represented one of the most pervasive human rights violations in the world today, she said. The agency's most effective strategy for promoting women's empowerment was a two-component programme of training in gender concepts and the establishment of global and regional gender networks of experts and resource persons to support work associated with UNICEF's country programmes. She supported the Economic and Social Council's conclusion on gender mainstreaming as a strategy for making both women's and men's concerns and experiences integral to the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes. That kind of organizational ethos would ensure equity and respect for the rights of all, and thus further UNICEF's obligation to protect children's rights.
ZOFIA OLSZOWSKI, of UNESCO, said that UNESCO's priorities with respect to women and gender equality were based on the objectives defined in the agenda for gender equality, which it presented at the Beijing Conference. The Beijing Platform for Action had asked UNESCO to be the lead agency in a number of areas. These included: progress in eliminating differences between women and men and boys and girls in opportunities for education and training; the provision of technical assistance to developing countries to monitor such progress; and conducting an international campaign to promote women's rights in education.
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All such activities had been incorporated into UNESCO's major programme devoted to science, as well as through concerted action in such programme sectors as education, communication, information and informatics, and social and human sciences, she said. Several UNESCO field offices were implementing such programmes by contributing to the campaign of major non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies. The UNESCO was also organizing a major world conference on higher education, to be held in 1998, and steps were being taken to ensure women's visibility at that conference. The gender dimension would be incorporated into the deliberation on the conference. Similar action would be taken with respect to the 1999 World Conference on Science and its preparatory process. That would aim at reinforcing women's access to science education and their role as scientists and at accentuating the need to place science and technology at the service of women.
The mainstreaming of the gender perspective into policies and programmes on the national and international levels remained a major task, she said. Institutional changes were an important means to that end. At UNESCO, a new unit had been established for promoting gender equality and the status of women. The new structure had led to more concerted collaboration with focal points of the various sectors, programme specialists responsible for projects, UNESCO field offices, national commissions, major intergovernmental and non- governmental organizations, and other partners. The development of a UNESCO priority website on women on the Internet would strengthen cooperation with the UNESCO national commissions, as well as with other United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and partners.
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