22 October 1997


Press Release
GA/SHC/3419



SPEAKERS IN THIRD COMMITTEE STRESS NEED FOR ACTION TO ADDRESS 'EMERGING ISSUE' OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN MIGRANT WORKERS

19971022
Violence against migrant workers should be condemned as highly objectionable and measures put in place to deal with it, the representative of Singapore said this morning, as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its consideration of issues relating to the advancement of women.

While there was much common ground among Member States with respect to the problem, most had reservations on whether a global approach was the best way to deal with it, given the diversity of domestic conditions in each receiving country. He called for the adoption of a balanced, compromised text on this emerging issue at the Assembly's current session.

The representative of the Philippines said, despite the efforts of many countries of origin and the cooperation by a number of receiving countries, violence against women migrant workers continued. The acts of violence ranged from exploitative terms and conditions of work and unpaid salaries to physical abuse, sexual harassment and rape, trafficking and forced prostitution, and sometimes even death. Bilateral, regional and international cooperation must be strengthened as important elements of a global strategy to address the problem, she said.

Also this morning, a number of representatives stressed the need for women to assume a greater role in decision-making, both within the United Nations system and in national governments. The representative of Australia said the number of women in such senior positions within the Secretariat demonstrated the continuing difficulties in shattering the "glass ceiling" in the Organization. Similarly, of 20 people working as special or personal representatives or envoys of the Secretary-General, none were women. Those were tough and demanding jobs, but they should not be the exclusive domain of men, she said.

The representatives of Bangladesh and Malaysia stressed that microcredit was an important instrument for poverty alleviation, especially for rural women, since it gave them experience in decision-making and in participation within their communities. The representative of the Marshall Islands said that 50 years ago the women of her country received their brief education under coconut trees, using sand as blackboards, and then returned to their


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traditional roles. Today, they were an essential part of building a healthy nation based on peace, prosperity and economic development. Remaining obstacles to such participation could be overcome by continuing to work together, she said.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Jordan, Jamaica, Kenya, Croatia, Ukraine, Iraq, Republic of Korea, Costa Rica, Colombia, Zambia (for the Southern African Development Community), and the Russian Federation.

The Third Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to continue its consideration of issues relating to the advancement of women and to implementation of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women.


Committee Work Programme

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to continue its consideration of issues relating to the advancement of women and to 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 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 1997.

Statements

SAMER A. NABER (Jordan) said his country had built on the cultural heritage and the tolerant values of the Islamic Sharia to promote respect for women and appreciation of their role. The Jordanian Government had adopted a positive stance towards integrating women in education and to a variety of projects aimed at improving their status. The result had been a raising of the educational standards, with illiteracy being reduced among females from 49 per cent in 1979 to 22 per cent in 1991. Women's rate of participation in the workforce had steadily increased over the years, from just 1 per cent in 1961 to 16 per cent in 1996, despite the economic recession.

Women were also participating in Jordanian politics and other areas of public life, he said. Women had been elected to the posts of mayor and to the judiciary in 1995 and 1996, respectively. The Government had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, as a testimony of its commitment to women's rights within its entire development strategy. To further optimize women's participation in economic, social and political spheres, the Jordanian Council of Ministers decreed in October 1996 the establishment of the Jordanian Committee for Women, which would play a


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vital role in implementation of the Convention. There was cause for optimism that action in favour of Jordanian women would progressively materialize.

HENG JEE SEE (Singapore) said the issue of violence against migrant workers deserved the Committee's attention. Such violence was highly objectionable and should be condemned, and measures put in place to deal with it. There was much common ground among Member States on the issue. Unfortunately, there were also differences of opinion, primarily with respect to approach. A sense of balance should be injected into the debate.

Discussions on the related draft resolution were ongoing, he said. A consensus text remained the goal, which would require compromise by all sides. Such compromise should allow the issue to be dealt with in a non-divisive way. Since it dealt with what was an emerging issue, Committee members should not rush to judgement. Any progress made by the receiving States in instituting measures to fight violence against women migrant workers should be acknowledged.

He drew attention to the internationalization of the issue. Given the diversity of the domestic conditions in each receiving country, he wondered whether it was possible to come up with an international norm to address the matter. The majority of Member States had reservations on whether a global approach was the best way to deal with the problem. The most effective way of dealing with it was through the national approach.

In Singapore, measures taken to address the issue included the putting in place of comprehensive civil and penal systems, along with administrative measures to protect all workers, whether citizens or foreigners, he said. The Government would not hesitate to punish employers who mistreated or abused their foreign domestic workers. A foreign workers unit in the Ministry of Labour provided conciliation services for foreign workers with employment disputes. Recently, the Government had introduced a policy whereby employers would take out a personal accident insurance for their foreign domestic workers as a condition for the granting of work permits. His Government did not condone abuse of any workers by employers. Singapore called on all Member States to cooperate so that women migrant workers would one day be able to work anywhere in the world without fear of violence being perpetrated against them.

CHERRYL GORDON (Jamaica) said her country's views would be more fully expressed by the representative of Barbados, who would speak later on behalf of the Caribbean States. Like other Caribbean countries, Jamaica had made great progress in women's rights but many challenges remained. Its lead agency responsible for follow-up to the Beijing Platform for Action was the Bureau of Women's Affairs, which focused on institutional strengthening of the mechanisms to promote the advancement of women. Public awareness activities, such as workshops and seminars, were carried out in conjunction with non- governmental organizations and international agencies.


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She said she supported the views expressed in the report on the violence against women migrant workers. The issue was emerging as a serious concern for which appropriate measures must be formulated, and that required data. Jamaica was both a sending and receiving State. While the number of migrant workers in Jamaica was extremely small at present, Jamaican women as migrant workers represented a growing workforce. They were sent on a seasonal basis, for example, to work in the hotel sector in the United States. Those women were not protected by Jamaican laws against violence. Although the Minister of Labour and her technical advisers made annual visits to such working sites, Jamaica wanted to continue working with sister nations to achieve the goals of gender equity and the protection of women's rights and dignity.

DANIEL MBATIA WAROBI (Kenya) said the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action represented an historic milestone towards the full and effective empowerment of women in the political, social, economic and cultural fields. The success of action, however, required a strong political commitment by governments, international organizations and institutions at all levels to mobilize resources. The developed countries were called upon to fulfil their agreed obligations to target 0.7 per cent of their gross national product (GNP) for official development assistance (ODA) to the developing countries, with an additional 0.15 per cent for the least developed countries.

While welcoming the measures undertaken to implement the mandated goal of 50/50 gender balance in the Secretariat, he urged that the recruitment of qualified women in the Professional category conform with the principle of equitable geographical distribution. Reporting on Kenya's national plan of action for implementation of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women, he cited such actions as the establishment of a national fund for women, which was aimed at enhancing women's access to credit. The donor community was called upon to support Kenya's efforts in that area.

NEIJON R. EDWARDS (Marshall Islands) said that 50 years ago, the women of the Marshall Islands received their education under coconut trees, using sand as blackboards. Once finished with their brief education, they went back to traditional roles in their families and communities. Today, women had proved to be an essential part of a healthy environment and in building a nation based on peace, prosperity and economic development.

Women took their modern role seriously, she said. Marshallese women knew they were part of the future and were working for better opportunities for themselves and their male and female children. A national council for women, guided by a national policy for the development of women, was responsible for coordinating and implementing women-related activities in the country.

Factors affecting women's ability to make changes in society included a lack of technical skills for creating initiatives responsive to women's needs, she said. Another was the lack of effective ways to reach men with


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information on the importance of family planning to the health of women and the family. Still, another was the need to expand and strengthen collaboration between the Government and women's non-governmental organizations. Those constraints were not impossible to overcome; the key was to continue working together.

ANWARUL KARIM CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) said he was encouraged by the steps being taken by the United Nations and different agencies to mainstream a gender perspective in their work. The agreed conclusions on mainstreaming adopted by the Economic and Social Council at its recent substantive session provided comprehensive guidelines on how to achieve gender mainstreaming at all levels and in areas of the United Nations system. Specific steps should be taken to implement those goals. Much more was needed for appointments of women to high-level posts in the United Nations to reflect true gender parity, with due regard to equitable geographical representation.

While welcoming the Secretary-General's approach to improving coordination within the United Nations in implementing the outcome of the Beijing Conference, he stressed the need for support to be provided for national efforts. Commitments for the provision of resources to developing countries, particularly the least developed countries, for implementation of the Platform for Action, should be fulfilled.

The Government of Bangladesh had developed a national machinery for the advancement of women, he said. Its Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs had been designated as the nodal ministry for follow-up on the Platform for Action. A national action plan had been formulated and was awaiting formal approval by the Prime Minister. In addition, special legislative measures had been adopted to promote the human rights of women. They addressed such issues as discrimination and violence against women, and sought to safeguard their rights through such measures as special quotas which reserved seats for women in the national parliament and in the civil service. They also addressed the issues of dowry and dowry-related violence, as well as of trafficking in women and children.

On the feminization of poverty, he stressed the importance of microcredit as a tool for the economic empowerment of the poor, particularly women. The Microcredit Summit in February in Washington D.C., which was co-chaired by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, had emphasized the need for intensifying efforts at the national and international levels, and by the United Nations, to support microcredit institutions and microlending programmes for poverty eradication and empowerment of women. Those efforts were bearing fruit, and the impact of women's political empowerment had also been clearly manifested. In the case of Bangladesh, two women had succeeded each other as Prime Minister and leader of the opposition. He also cited the high turn-out of women in the country's recent national election.


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DUBRAVIKA SIMONOVIC (Croatia) said gender equality was protected in Croatia's Constitution. The Government had ratified the Women's Anti- Discrimination Convention and, in 1994, submitted its initial report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. A special report on the suffering of women during the war in Croatia had been presented to that body in January 1995. New legislation had taken account of such issues as family relations, health and education measures in family planning, and the termination of pregnancy. Legal reform had focused on the equal rights of women. Those efforts were being further strengthened through national legislation and the implementation of human rights treaties to which Croatia was a party. Women were increasingly taking up high-level posts, such as at the level of deputy minister and assistant minister. Another important development was the growing number of non-governmental organizations dealing with women's issues.

The Beijing Platform for Action had noted that the transition to parliamentary democracy in central and eastern Europe had been mostly peaceful but that in some countries the process had been hindered by armed conflict which resulted in grave violations of human rights, she said. That was the case in Croatia, where the imposed war had resulted in specific war-related problems for women that should be specifically addressed in the national plan for implementation of the Platform for Action. The formulation of a comprehensive national programme of action would serve women's advancement in political, economic and social life. It would also facilitate the achievement of de facto equality by women, as an integral part of the democratic process in Croatia.

PENNY WENSLEY (Australia) drew attention to Australia's progress in two key areas of the Beijing Platform: women's participation in decision-making, and violence against women. She was one of only eight women permanent representatives at the United Nations, indicating her country's commitment to the advancement of women.

The increased participation of women in politics was a priority in Australia. Its 47 women parliamentarians in her country represented 21 per cent of that body, which was nearly double the international average of 11 per cent. Decision-making everywhere benefited from the expertise and talents of both men and women.

Addressing the status of women in the United Nations Secretariat, she said the numbers of women in senior decision-making positions reflected continuing difficulties in shattering the "glass ceiling" within the Organization. Of 20 people working as special representatives, special envoys or personal representatives or envoys, none were women. Those were tough and demanding jobs, but they should not be the exclusive domain of men.

Reviewing her country's actions in curbing violence against women, particularly in the domestic area, she stressed the importance of addressing


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the issues of prevention systematically. Australia was fully committed to consolidating and increasing the gains made towards establishing full equality for women and achieving the aims and objectives of the Beijing Platform.

KAMARUDDIN AHMAD (Malaysia) said the Beijing Declaration represented an international recognition that progress for women was a main element of development; such progress played a vital role in the economic, social, cultural and political development of all societies. Malaysia was encouraged with the outcome of the Microcredit Summit held in Washington. Microcredit was an important instrument for poverty alleviation, especially for rural women, since it gave them experience in decision-making and in participation within their communities.

Malaysia's national plan of action for the advancement of women, adopted in 1996, incorporated salient elements of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. It demonstrated the Malaysian vision that the development agenda for the twenty-first century required a fundamental shift in policies to address the realities of women's lives and to actively assist women in gaining access to avenues for development.

The issue of violence against women should not be confined to migrant women, he said. Equal emphasis must be placed on bilateral efforts by sending and receiving countries to exchange views and find ways of improving workers' recruitment, as well as their living and working conditions. Commending the efforts of the international community, he said that only with cooperation and participation at all levels could obstacles to the advancement of women be removed. That was the only way to assure the well-being of future generations.

OKSANA V. BOYKO (Ukraine) said she was pleased by the appointment of a woman as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights but was concerned by the efforts to justify mechanical promotion of the principle of 50/50 gender balance in the United Nations system and elsewhere. The brightest female actors of international dimensions were appointed to their positions thanks to their high professionalism, valuable experience and other qualifications. Too many women continued to think in terms of the traditional images of women. Drastic changes must be introduced into the psychology and culture of society to foster the image that women did not constitute any special group of human beings. The advancement of women required new approaches based on the idea of partnership and better cooperation among international bodies concerned with that issue.

The current status of women in Ukraine reflected the general process of transition from totalitarianism to democracy, she said. Ukraine was about to complete the formation of a national mechanism to guarantee women's rights and opportunities. The Ministry for Family and Youth Affairs established last year was empowered to study women's social status and to work out proposals on its improvement, as well as on other aspects of protecting the family and


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children. In addition, national programmes on family planning and the children of Ukraine had been approved. The country's new Constitution consolidated the equality of rights for men and women in all fields of public, political and cultural life. However, for efficient implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action by the countries with economies in transition, it was necessary to consolidate international cooperation and to support the efforts being made at the national level.

MOHAMMED AL-HUMAIMID (Iraq) said the rights of women in Iraq were guaranteed and protected by the Sharia and the heritage of a civilization based on human rights. The Government's strategy aimed at ensuring a good future for women and their participation in the decision-making process in all areas. The economic situation of women must be expanded to give them access to all opportunities and to guarantee all human rights to them, thus allowing them to strengthen their role in society. In Iraq, measures and machinery had been adopted to implement that strategy.

He said the Government had focused particular attention on women and had opened up new opportunities for them. The number of women in high-level posts had increased and women had been enabled to promote their capacities in all fields. They received maternity leave as well as leave to take care of their children. In addition, child care was available for working women in even the most remote areas.

Unfortunately, however, the economic embargo against Iraq had led to the decline of women and had affected all of their economic and social attainments. Some women had to give up their professions to attend to their households. The embargo had also affected their physical health. Many pregnant women had been negatively affected, and many Iraqi women suffered from malnutrition and undernourishment. That was in contradiction to the principle of Beijing that the international community must commit itself to improve the status of women. The first step to change the situation would be to lift the economic embargo against Iraqi women, so that they could continue to participate in a full life.

KANG KYUNG WHA (Republic of Korea) said it was particularly important to increase the presence of women in decision-making posts and to ensure more balanced geographical representation of women in the Secretariat. She commended the United Nations system-wide efforts for the advancement of women. As an initial contributor to the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), her country hoped to raise global awareness about the disturbing trend of violence against women.

Far too many women were victimized by poverty and abuse and much of that suffering had yet to be addressed, she said. It must be resolutely repeated at every turn that women's rights were human rights, and that sustainable development and genuine prosperity were unattainable without fully nurturing and utilizing the vast ability and potential of women. Implementation of the


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Beijing Platform required an integrated approach at both national and international levels; the Republic of Korea would be an active participant in that endeavour.

EMILIA CASTRO DE BARISH (Costa Rica) said the advancement of women required the political will both of States and of the United Nations. The Commission on the Status of Women should be strengthened, not only for the actions undertaken by the Commission itself but also in the interest of mainstreaming the gender perspective. There was a great need for real and de jure recognition of women's rights the world over.

Equal rights between men and women had to become a matter of legislation and it must be system-wide, both in governments and at the United Nations, she said. In that effort, both data and the research and training of women in all sectors of society were vital. The International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) was a very useful instrument in that respect.

She went on to review what was being done in Costa Rica for the advancement of women, including a national plan for prevention of family violence. Continued international cooperation was required, she said.

ROSARIO G. MANALO (Philippines) said the prevention of violence against women, and situations adversely affecting migrant women workers and children in particular, were priority concerns for her country, both on the domestic and international fronts. Since 1992, the Philippines had taken a very active role in increasing international awareness about violence confronting women in various parts of the world. However, despite the efforts of many countries of origin and the cooperation by a number of receiving countries, violence against women migrant workers continued. The acts of violence ranged from exploitative terms and conditions of work and unpaid salaries to physical abuse, sexual harassment and rape, trafficking and forced prostitution, and sometimes even death.

Violence against women was an emerging issue and had become a serious issue confronting many nations today, she said. Two resolutions must be adopted on the subject during the current session -- one on violence against women migrant workers, and one on traffic in women and girls. It was important to strengthen bilateral, regional and international cooperation, as important elements in the global strategy to address the problem. All States should accede to or ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Priority should be given to updating the 1949 Convention on the Suppression of Traffic in Persons and Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. Forced marriages and forced labour should be included in the Convention's concept of trafficking and exploitation.


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Action taken at the national level in the Philippines to implement the Beijing Platform for Action included the adoption of national programmes aimed at promoting full equality between men and women. Regional efforts to provide policy recommendations for improving the lot of rural women were also welcome. In the Asia-Pacific region, the rural economy continued to lead the global economy. Nevertheless, a substantial number of women still lived in rural areas, many of them in poverty. Concerted efforts were therefore needed to eliminate the feminization of poverty, particularly for rural women.

EDITH CAMERANO (Colombia) said her country had undertaken many initiatives to include women in positions of power within the Government. Equity and participation were important, particularly with respect to rural women. It was a matter of government policy to recognize that rural women were agents of change in the health and economic spheres. International organizations had helped the Government to produce a sustainable policy.

She drew particular attention to efforts made to address the situation of rural women and the issue of violence against women. In working for the advancement of women, achievements must be multiplied and extended, and access to those achievements must be widened.

MWILA GRACE BANDA CHIGAGA (Zambia), speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), attached great importance to implementation of the Beijing Platform, which could be a major instrument for facilitating development in the subregion. However, conferences without implementation were worthless; implementation began with a galvanizing political will. In the subregion, that implementation had taken the form of an SADC ministerial meeting held on gender equality. Its recommendations integrated and mainstreamed gender issues into a programme of action and community building. The entire initiative was key to sustainable development in the region.

She said SADC members were convinced that the Platform for Action must become an integral part of regional and national strategies for socio-economic development. However, gender mainstreaming must not be made into a goal in itself but must be seen as a means to an end. The end objective was to achieve gender equality through implementation of the Beijing Platform. Within the United Nations, all bodies must focus on gender mainstreaming, particularly in such areas as macroeconomics, operational activities for development, poverty eradication, and budgeting. It was also important that gender concerns be addressed in all planning activities, both in setting priorities and in allocating resources.

The goal of gender balance must be met in the shortest possible time- frame, she said. While it was regrettable that another 1,000 posts would be affected by the reform measures at the Secretariat, restructuring must make headway in ensuring achievement of the desired gender balance.


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ALEKSEI A. ROGOV (Russian Federation) said that, until recently, the problems confronted by women were not a priority on the international agenda. The 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna and the 1995 Beijing Conference had changed that by beginning the process of taking account of women's rights, including issues of equality, development and peace for all women throughout the world. Follow-up action was necessary at the national and international levels. In the Russian Federation, the reform process was creating an opportunity for improving the status of women who had been able to enter all spheres of life. The market economy had facilitated their increased participation in economic life. Non-governmental organizations, many of which had been accredited to the Economic and Social Council, were also becoming important in improving women's lives in Russia.

Noting that the period of transition had been difficult for Russian women, he appealed for further international cooperation for the successful implementation of the Platform for Action in countries with economies in transition. As part of its follow-up to the Beijing Platform of Action, his Government had adopted a national plan of action to the year 2000 for improving the status of women. In addition, legislation had been adopted to ensure equal rights for men and women. There had also been a number of significant appointments of women to decision-making positions.

While commending the work of the Commission on the Status of Women, he said it also demonstrated the difficulties facing such bodies. Within the context of the reform of the United Nations Secretariat, the Commission must preserve its momentum, and its work should remain a priority in the Organization. The attainment of progress in mainstreaming the gender perspective in the United Nations system was important. The end of the century must be marked by the attainment of equality and peace for all women.

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