22 October 1997


Press Release
GA/SHC/3420



THIRD COMMITTEE IS TOLD STILL TOO FEW WOMEN OCCUPY SENIOR POSITIONS IN UNITED NATIONS SECRETARIAT

19971022
In Debate on Beijing Conference Implementation, Delegates Call for Gender Equality in World Organization and at National Level

The representation of women at the levels of Director and above in the United Nations Secretariat remained low and the overall representation of women from developing countries unacceptable, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) was told this afternoon, as it continued its consideration of issues related to the advancement of women and the implementation of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

The representative of the Bahamas, speaking on behalf of the countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said representation from those countries remained "dismally inadequate". Although it was encouraging to see the Secretariat moving closer towards the goal of achieving 50/50 gender representation, its statistics were still disappointing.

Issues related to achieving gender equality, both within the United Nations and at the national level, were addressed by a number of delegations. The representative of Cuba said her country, which had a higher proportion of women in critical areas of work such as science and the political arena than the developed countries on the American continent, had shown that the status of women could be transformed immediately if the political will existed.

To effect a permanent change for the better in the status of women, the representative of Israel advocated a two-pronged approach, encouraging women to realize their full human potential at the same time that legal protections and remedies were provided, along with strategies to assure the physical safety of women by eliminating violence against them.

On the issue of gender mainstreaming, the representative of Turkey said it needed a strong political will and commitment at the highest levels, including financial and resource commitments. The ultimate responsibility lay not simply with countries at the national level, but with international organizations as well.


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All representatives continued a review of their national plans and programmes, as well as institutional mechanisms, established for improving the status of women in their respective countries. The representative of Kyrgyzstan said that, despite such developments in her country, women were far from achieving the goals of equality and development, owing to the economic difficulties being experienced in countries with economies in transition. Rural women in particular faced great difficulties. It was important to ensure their access to land and credit. The representative of Belarus said recent social and economic changes had not always been for the better. Women had lost some advantages they held under a planned economy. For example, living standards for single mothers had declined.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Romania, Venezuela, New Zealand, Liberia, El Salvador, Thailand, Syria, Nigeria, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Kazakhstan and Yemen. Representatives of the International Organization for Migration, of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and of the World Health Organization (WHO) also spoke.

The Committee will meet again tomorrow, Thursday, 23 October, at 10 a.m., to continue its consideration of issues related to the advancement of women and the implementation of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women.


Committee Work Programme

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this afternoon 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. (For summary of the documents before the Committee, see Press Release GA/SHC/3416 of 20 October.)

Statements

ROBERT G. PAIVA, of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said the situation of migrant women should be addressed. It was important for all concerned to ensure that the special needs of migrant women were taken into account from the moment they decided to migrate through to their social, economic and cultural integration into the host communities and their reintegration in their home countries, if and when they go back. The phenomenon of trafficking in migrant women affected countries in every region of the world and was of great concern as a violation of the basic rights of women. It was even more worrying amidst growing evidence that it was increasingly controlled by international criminal networks.

Lack of reliable data and research on the phenomena hampered targeted action, he said. The European Commission had requested the IOM to undertake research on the availability and adequacy of statistical and other data on trafficking in human beings, particularly women and children. A research project along those lines was currently being carried out in 15 European Union member States, as well as in selected source and transit countries. His organization's programme of action focused on two essential pillars: prevention before victimization, through information campaigns in areas of origin, as well as through training and capacity-building; and assistance to victims who had already suffered the consequences of trafficking. He stressed that trafficking in human beings was an important issue of basic rights and human dignity, as well as of border control. Such abuse could only be stopped through concerted action on the part of governments, United Nations bodies, other intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and civil society. However such action must be based on better information.

ZAMIRA B. ESHMAMBETOVA (Kyrgyzstan) said the Beijing Conference had focused on the priority areas which required the adoption of measures by governments and international organizations. The Platform for Action made it possible for women to attain full equality in all areas of life. A recent regional meeting of countries of Central and Eastern Europe had facilitated the preparation of national plans of action. Kyrgyzstan's plan of action included measures to improve women's health, provide employment opportunities for women, prevent violence against women, and increase their participation in decision-making processes. Programmes for implementing the plan of action had been developed in areas such as education, health care and credit for women.


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Through those programmes, the gender perspective could be seen in all areas of national policy.

Institutional mechanisms developed to promote women's interests included a commission to deal with women and family issues, the establishment of a congress of Kyrgyz women, and a woman's democratic party. Those bodies had played a prominent role in the country. However, the period of transition in Kyrgyzstan had an adverse effect on women's status. The Government was pursuing increased participation by women in decision-making positions. Legislation had been adopted to ensure equal rights for women and various laws, including the family code, had been subjected to gender analysis. Kyrgyzstan had also ratified a number of international instruments relating to women.

Despite such developments, Kyrgyz women were far from achieving the goals of equality and development, owing to the economic difficulties being experienced in the country, she said. Rural women, in particular, faced great difficulties. It was important to ensure their access to land and credit. The situation of women migrant workers was also of concern, since women were forced to migrate because of economic hardships. She called for the taking of effective measures to address the exploitation of, and violence against, migrant women, as well as the smuggling of illegal migrants.

VICTORIA SANDRU (Romania) commended the Economic and Social Council's conclusions on gender mainstreaming. The promotion of equal opportunities for women and men had particular significance for Romania, which was in the process of ongoing socio-economic reform and endeavouring to accede to Euro- Atlantic institutions.

An important objective before her Government was the task of modernizing the country's gender-related legislative and institutional framework, she said. Initiatives taken to that end included a draft law on equal opportunities, which encouraged women's participation in political life. Similarly, Romania had taken part in cooperative efforts, participating in an International Labour Organization (ILO) pilot programme and sharing in technical expertise provided by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). The International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women should incorporate studies on the specific gender situation of Central and Eastern European countries.

LYDA APONTE DE ZACKLIN (Venezuela) commended the actions taken by the United Nations system for the advancement of women. Venezuela's national plan was in line with the Platform for action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The Plan sought to integrate women's advancement with social development, aiming at such goals as increasing women's impact in government and promoting gender mainstreaming in legislation. The history of women in Venezuela was based on the Bolivarian


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law of equality; thus, Venezuela was committed to protecting women's rights in a world where all people were equal.

ROGER BALL (New Zealand) said his country was committed to fulfilling the aspirations of both governments and non-governmental organizations with respect to the Beijing Platform. As the United Nations underwent a process of reform, the issues of gender equity, mainstreaming and women's rights within the Organization were particularly important.

The main focus for implementation of the Platform for Action was at the national level, he said. However, such national issues as mainstreaming and data collection must be part of that effort. Both the Platform and the Convention represented important benchmarks against which governments could measure their progress.

SELMA ACUNER (Turkey) welcomed the reports and initiatives currently under discussion and encouraged efforts to mainstream a gender perspective within the United Nations system. For an effective strategy, gender issues should be linked directly to mainstream institutional spending. Gender mainstreaming required a strong political will and commitment at the highest levels, including financial and resource commitments. The ultimate responsibility lay not simply countries at the national level, but with international organizations as well.

To have institutions which were responsive to those needs of all citizens, development must be redefined from a gender perspective, she said. Gender mainstreaming at the United Nations would represent a milestone, setting a clear foundation for the translation of policy statements into action at both the national and international levels.

COMFORT O. SWENGBE (Liberia) said that, during the current period of United Nations reform, it was imperative that the goal of equal representation by women in all spheres of life should be pursued by all Member States. Liberia supported the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, including all relevant decisions and programmes now being enunciated at the national and international levels. The advancement of women had always been regarded as national policy in Liberia. Over the years, Liberian women had been involved in decision-making in development, as well as in the fields of civil administration, education, law, medicine, information, business and politics. Their work in those fields represented important accomplishments for the advancement of Liberian women.

Despite the protracted war in her country, women had been participating constructively as partners in the peace process, as well as in the recent electoral process, she said. The new President of Liberia had continued the tradition of appointing women to cabinet-level positions. Women held the ministerial posts governing education, planning and economic affairs. The


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judiciary was also headed by a woman. Those high-level functionaries would bring a feminine perspective to the execution of their duties during the reconstruction and social rehabilitation of Liberia.

She condemned the trafficking in women and girls, as well as the degrading treatment meted out to migrant women. Improving the status of women would require attaining the objectives outlined in the Beijing Declaration. It would require political will by national governments and the international community, as well as financial and material support for various programmes being implemented by the specialized agencies.

CARLOS ENRIQUE GARCIA GONZALES (El Salvador) said that among the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, El Salvador ranked high in the number of women in high-level decision-making posts, with 28.8 per cent of such posts being held by Salvadoran women. The Government had promoted women's rights through its participation in international forums and had given strong support to the efforts aimed at improving the status of women in Latin America and the Caribbean. It had also harmonized national legislation in keeping with the objectives of the Beijing Declaration, including the adoption of a new family code.

Other action at the national level included the establishment of a centre for the training of women in such areas as management of small businesses, personal advancement and awareness programmes, he said. The Government had also created the Salvadoran Institute for the Advancement of Women. Another area of importance was women and the economy. A programme of community banks had been set up, with as many as 442 such banks helping thousands of women. Microcredit programmes were also under way. El Salvador supported efforts to eliminate violence against women and girl children and to end the feminization of poverty and supported the drafting of resolutions on those issues, he said. While a sustained effort was important to eradicate poverty, such effort must be backed up by the international financial institutions and the provision of technical assistance. Private sources of financing also had an important role to play.

CHARIVAT SANTAPUTRA (Thailand) said that on the issue of women in the Secretariat, his country was encouraged by recent initiatives. Nevertheless, it was still concerned that the goal of 50/50 gender distribution was, by no means, assured, particularly in light of the current financial situation. Policy must be transformed into action, with sufficient financial and human resources. Maintaining equitable geographical distribution while attaining that goal was also important.

Thailand was committed to increasing the presence of women at the decision-making level in its economic, social and political spheres, he said. National initiatives included adoption by an overwhelming majority earlier this month of legislation which provided for gender equality before the law.


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Thailand had also taken initiatives at the regional level and recognized the importance of international norms, as well in the protection and promotion of women's rights.

From its own experience, Thailand recognized that there were strong barriers to overcome, particularly in the form of traditional stereotypes which must be eliminated, he said. Thailand intended to accelerate the pace and extent of its progress until equality was achieved. The advancement of women was not an issue for women only, nor was it a woman's issue. With its movement towards equality, development and peace, the advancement of women was everyone's issue, benefiting society as a whole.

IGAR GUBAREVICH (Belarus) said the status of women today was one of the greatest indicators of a society's progress. The question of improving their status should not be seen in isolation. Women's rights were an integral part of human rights, an important component of rights between all people. It was significant that three quarters of States had become parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Belarus was actively involved in advancing the rights of women, as were many nations in transition, and its Constitution made opportunities equally available to men and women. However, social and economic changes had not always been for the better. Women had lost some advantages they held under a planned economy. For example, living standards for single mothers had declined. In its serious efforts to live up to its obligations, his Government had taken a number of initiatives, including the establishment of tax advantages. However, countries in transition could not solve serious social issues by themselves, and Belarus was open to international financial expertise.

AHMAD AL-HARIRI (Syria) said that promoting the status of women was a high priority in Syria and had led to changes in attitudes towards women and their role in society. Women there were now participating in all areas of life. They also had increased access to training, which prepared them to participate in the workforce. Noting that the Beijing Conference had emphasized that foreign occupation impeded women's enjoyment of their rights, he said the occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights, as well as of Palestine and southern Lebanon, had deprived the women of those areas of the enjoyment of their fundamental rights.

As a follow-up to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, Syria had developed a draft national plan for the advancement of women, he said. The sectors in the plan which focused on women included law, the environment, information, decision-making, the economy, education, health and human rights. Studies were being conducted in all those areas by Syrian experts, with the aim of developing programmes for the benefit of women. The United Nations had cooperated in those efforts.


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JUDITH S. ATTAH, Minister for Women's Affairs and Social Development of Nigeria, cited high-level appointments of women in the United Nations and expressed the hope that the trend would continue. There was need for targeted action for women's economic empowerment at the national, regional and international levels. Training and education were important to prepare women for the challenges of modern life. Her Government had given special consideration to the full integration of women's issues in its national development processes, taking specific steps to establish and strengthen local machineries for their advancement.

She said that such mechanisms included the Federal and States Ministries of Women Affairs and Social Development, which addressed the situation of women and took cognizance of the national lifestyle and culture. They also included multipurpose centres, which had been established in all parts of the country to provide literacy classes and skills training to promote income- generating activities. Centres were also being established to provide legal assistance to women victims of gender-related violence and unfair cultural and traditional practices.

Stressing the importance of peace for meaningful development, she said the First Lady of Nigeria had initiated action for the peaceful resolution of conflicts in Africa. A "Peace Mission Summit" was held at Abuja in May 1997 to sensitize the wives of heads of States and governments to their crucial role and influential positions as wives and mothers in the resolution of armed conflicts. In addition, the First Lady led a delegation of other African First Ladies to present the report of that meeting to the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Summit at Harare in May.

Poverty had been addressed in Nigeria through several poverty- alleviation programmes, she said. They aimed at improving the economic status of women and empowering them for increased economic production. In addition, the Government had approved $190 million as an initial take-off fund for the country's family economic advancement programme. About 65 per cent of the poor in Nigeria were women.

JONG MYONG HAK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) said that at the threshold of a new millennium, gender issues remained as urgent and important as ever, to be addressed by both developed and developing nations. Conflicts and disputes in many parts of the world were also presenting obstacles to the realization of women's rights.

His country had been actively pursuing implementation of the Beijing Declaration and action programme as a matter of priority, he said. Ongoing activities of the United Nations system -- by such bodies as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and UNIFEM -- were contributing to women's employment and health and creating the environment and conditions for the realization of gender equality.


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Elimination of violence against women should be a matter of the highest priority for the international community, he said. With respect to crimes of violence against women committed in the past, attention should be given to the crimes of sexual slavery, including the issue of "comfort women" created by the Japanese Government during the Second World War. That Government should apologize and make compensation for the crimes committed against Korean and other Asian women and thus show its willingness, before the international community, to ensure such crimes would not be repeated.

Citing instances illustrating women's advancement in his country, he said that women now constituted 49 per cent of the nations labour force. His country would continue to strengthen activities aimed at addressing gender issues, in conformity with the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter and the Beijing action programme.

MARIA DE LOS ANGELES FLOREZ PRIDA, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, said the obstacles confronting women in the developing world required comprehensive and sustainable action. Their situation remained very difficult, owing to such factors as childbirth deaths and vulnerabilities with respect to unscrupulous merchants of sex. That was in addition to such abuses as rape, which were even faced by developed countries worldwide. Cuba welcomed the ratification by an additional eight States of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and also welcomed its Optional Protocol. Particularly welcomed were the conclusions that had been reached on gender manistreaming in the United Nations.

She said that Cuba's plan of action included 90 measures, ranging in focus from the national to the local level. They addressed questions relating to education, health, participation in political life and management posts, as well as law and research. Implementation of the measures was by law, and a copy of the plan had been forward to the Secretary-General.

Cuba has shown that a better life for humans was possible and that the status of women could be transformed immediately if the political will existed, she said. Cuba had a higher proportion of women in such critical work areas as science and the political sphere than the developed countries on the American continent. In some cases, the percentage of women in those fields was higher than the proportion of women in the population. That had been accomplished despite the blockade which has hardened women's fate, even though five United Nations resolutions had called for the blockade to be ended.

YOSEPHA STEINER (Israel) said that, to effect a permanent change for the better in the status of women, it was necessary to adopt a two-pronged approach. While women should be encouraged to realize their full human potential, legal protections and remedies must also be provided, along with strategies to ensure the physical safety of women by eliminating violence against them.


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Since the Beijing Conference, Israel had undertaken a number of such steps, she said. In the area of empowerment, emphasis had been placed on legislative changes aimed at breaking the "glass ceiling" in the business world and enlarging women's participation in decision-making positions and in political representation.

With respect to the question of protection, shelters had been opened and made available to both Jewish and Arab women, she said. The Government had also taken part in joint efforts with non-governmental organizations to open a treatment home for violent men and to carry out a massive media campaign opposing violence against women with the aim of preventing domestic violence. Women's empowerment would never be achieved without the adoption by society of a definitive approach to preventing crimes against them. For all such efforts, comprehensive research was needed.

AKMARAL KH. ARYSTANBEKOVA (Kazakhstan) said the Beijing Conference was the most important international event of the past decade for the world's women. The most urgent challenge facing the international community as a whole was the mobilization of efforts under the United Nations auspices at the national, regional and global level to implement the decisions of the Conference. The role of the Commission on the Status of Women was a catalytic one in ensuring that Member States fulfilled the commitments made at Beijing. The results of the Commission's recent session had been positive. As the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Right approached, the Commission should adopt an optional protocol which would be a major contribution by the international community to the cause of defending women's rights.

The development strategy of her Government to the year 2030 established priority areas for development and included strategies for improving the situation of women and children, she said. A recent outline plan for State policy on the advancement of women in Kazakhstan aimed at giving effect to the principle of equal rights and freedoms and at creating equal opportunities for men and women, in accordance with the country's Constitution, its international obligations, and the recommendations of the Beijing Conference. The plan made provision for mainstreaming the gender perspective in new laws and policies. The Council on Women, Family and Population coordinated the plan and worked closely with all areas of governmental and non-governmental organizations. In addition, the Council carried out gender and family studies.

Ms. MOHAMED (Yemen) commended the progress made in international forums on women. While the dialogue continued on the struggle against all forms of discrimination against women, it was time to transpose the outcome of Beijing into an operational approach. Her country was aware of the importance of women's participation at all levels of the society. The Commission on the Status of Women had been effective in combating all forms of discrimination


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against women. The UNIFEM programmes had also contributed to the advancement of women's issues.

At the national level, the Government of Yemen promoted women's rights in areas such as education and legislation, as well as access to high-level appointments in the diplomatic corps, political parties and in parliamentary elections. Assistance was also being provided for handicapped and disabled women. The cultural traditions of Yemeni society were important, and it was important for women to be trained in those traditions. She stressed the need to establish strategies and plans of action at the national and international levels to change the economic situation of many developing countries.

SHARON BRENNEN-HAYLOCK (Bahamas), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said CARICOM countries remained firmly committed to the advancement of women and to the implementation of the Beijing Platform by consolidating gains already made at the national level and examining new approaches to attaining goals in three priority areas: poverty eradication, economic empowerment of women, and prevention of violence against women. Those priorities had been considered at three post-Beijing subregional encounters.

The mainstreaming of a gender perspective in all policies and programmes brought an important new viewpoint in the way CARICOM countries had traditionally perceived programmes for the advancement of women. Noting numerous initiatives such as regional and national workshops, and seminars towards the economic empowerment of women, she said CARICOM countries had been strengthening national mechanisms to carry out the work within the framework of an integrated follow-up to all United Nations conferences. She said that included increasing resources for women's programmes and strengthening collaboration with civil society. Within the CARICOM countries, the requisite political will existed at the highest levels to ensure that the goals would be met expeditiously.

It was encouraging to see the United Nations Secretariat moving closer towards the goal of achieving 50/50 representation of men and women, she said, but it was disappointing to find that representation of women at the levels of D-1 and above remained low. Also, the overall representation of women from developing countries was unacceptably low, and the representation of women from CARICOM countries remained "dismally inadequate".

BENJAMIN GURMAN, Acting Manager of the Gender-in-Development Programme of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said it was important to recognize that the United Nations system was demonstrating great unity of purpose and common goals to promote inter-agency coordination and cooperation in relation to gender issues.


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At the country-level, gender mainstreaming was becoming a reality within UNDP cooperation in numerous areas, Mr. Gurman said, citing the example of gender issues being integrated into poverty-eradication programmes in Viet Nam as just one of several. At the analytic and policy level, the UNDP was focusing on gender-equality indicators, capacity-building and increased programming for gender mainstreaming and advancement of women through such actions as issuing a guidance note.

He said the UNDP senior management had increased resource allocation towards the aims of achieving gender equality, and a Gender Advisory Committee was working in collaboration with other United Nations bodies. Finally, gender considerations were playing a prominent role in the UNDP management change process, and in shaping the UNDP of the future. However, the challenge on all fronts remained. What was preached had to be practised; equality began at home. Progress was being made but much more needed to be done.

ASHA SINGH WILLIAMS, Coordinator, Employment and Participation of Women of the World Health Organization (WHO), said the WHO had been applying a gender approach to health by bringing into the analysis of health the differences between men and women. It had examined how those differences determined differential exposure to risk, access to the benefits of technology and health care, rights and responsibilities and control over women's lives. The gender approach led, among other factors, to more consideration of all the factors that affected women's health; more attention to women's role as wives and mothers; and the role and responsibilities of men and the inequalities between men and women.

The issue of female genital mutilation was being addressed through a regional-specific focus and, in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). The WHO had launched a regional strategy for Africa in April 1997. The integration of the gender perspective in all WHO's policies and programmes was gaining momentum. Efforts were being made to increase the number of women in the work of the WHO through consultancies and attendance at meetings of technical and advisory groups, among other approaches being pursued.

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