19 January 1999


Press Release
WOM/1077



TWENTIETH SESSION OF COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN OPENS

19990119
Committee Hears Statement by Special Adviser on Gender Issues; Elects New Officers

There had been an increase in the number of States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, but the target of universality had remained elusive, the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, Angela King, told the treaty's monitoring body this morning.

At the opening of the twentieth session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Ms. King said that achieving universality was realistic, but would require imaginative strategies and concerted effort. For its part, the Division for the Advancement of Women was constantly seeking to raise the issue of accession by the 20 or so States outside the treaty, and looking for innovative ways to promote the visibility of both the Committee and the Convention.

Elected this morning, the Committee's new Chairperson, Ida Gonzales of Mexico, told the 23-member expert body that over the years the Committee had promoted the development and advancement of women and had personalized the multifaceted problems faced by women worldwide. Hearing the reports of States parties was not its only obligation; it also needed to understand the specific characteristics of member countries and assess the impact of national measures on their populations.

The Committee adopted its programme of work for the three-week session, which will last until 5 February, and completed elections for its Bureau. Elected for two-year terms were Ms. Gonzales, as Chairperson; Yung-Chung Kim of the Republic of Korea, Ahoua Ouedraogo of Burkina Faso, and Hanna Beate Schopp-Shilling of Germany as Vice-Chairpersons. Feride Acar of Turkey was elected Rapporteur.


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Outgoing Chairperson, Salma Khan of Bangladesh, said that most of the States parties reviewed during her two-year term had taken positive steps to ensure de jure equality of women. In addition, Committee efforts to evolve a growing partnership with non-governmental organizations and civil society had begun to bear fruit, and its work had been widely disseminated through the creation of the Women Watch web site. Despite those achievements, discrimination against women persisted in most societies, and intensified efforts were encouraged.

Also this morning, the Deputy Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, Kristen Timothy, welcomed the expert members. She extended a special welcome to the new members who had been elected last February at the tenth meeting of States parties. Their knowledge and expertise would greatly enrich the work of the Committee. Likewise, the experience of the four re-elected members would continue to enhance the Committee's work.

The eight new members are: Feng Cui of China; Naela Gabr of Egypt; Savitri Goonesekere of Sri Lanka; Rosalyn Hazelle of Saint Kitts and Nevis; Rosario Manalo of the Philippines; Mavivi Myakayaka-Manzini of South Africa; Zelmira Regazzoli of Argentina; and Chikako Taya of Japan. The experts made the solemn declaration provided for in the Committee's rules of procedure.

The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to continue hearing introductory remarks and to consider ways and means of expediting its work.


Committee Work Programme

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to begin its twentieth session. It was scheduled to adopt its agenda and organization of work and elect a new Chairperson, three Vice- Chairpersons, and one Rapporteur. It was also scheduled to hear the report of the Committee's outgoing Chairperson on activities undertaken since the last session.

During the current session, the 23-member expert committee -- the monitoring body of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women -- will discuss measures taken by seven States parties to that treaty to ensure the full development and advancement of women in the political, social, economic and cultural fields. It will consider the initial reports of Algeria, Kyrgyzstan and Liechtenstein; the combined second and third periodic reports of Greece and Thailand; and the fourth periodic reports of China and Colombia. (For background on the session, see Press Release WOM/1076 of 15 January.)

Statements

KRISTEN TIMOTHY, Deputy Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, apologized on behalf of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, Angela King, for her inability to attend the morning meeting. Ms. King would, however, address the Committee this afternoon.

Speaking on behalf of the Secretary-General, Ms. Timothy opened the twentieth session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and welcomed the expert members. She extended a special welcome to the new Committee members, who had been elected at the tenth meeting of States parties last February. Their knowledge and expertise would greatly enrich the work of the Committee. Also congratulated were the four re-elected Committee members, whose proven knowledge and experience would continue to enhance the Committee's development.

Before new officers were elected, she thanked members of the outgoing Bureau for their hard work and dedication. She then invited new members to make the solemn declaration provided for in rule 10 of the Committee's Rules of Procedure.

The newly elected Chairperson of the Committee, IDA GONZALES, expert from Mexico, expressed her sincerest thanks to all Committee members who had deemed her capable of chairing a body with which she had been involved since its inception. She recalled the painstaking and delicate negotiations, begun in 1974, to elaborate the Convention and convince governments and official organizations of its necessity.


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Hearing the reports of States parties was not the Committee's only obligation, she said. Members also needed to understand those countries and assess the impact of their new measures on the development and advancement of women. The balance of those policies on both women and men also required an in-depth understanding. Future efforts of the Committee and the coordination of its work would be best assessed by recalling its initial difficulties and subsequent achievements.

The Committee's working procedures had changed, generally for the good, she said. Past Chairpersons had succeeded in promoting the Committee's objectives and personalizing the multifaceted problems faced by women worldwide. Her predecessors had sought to consolidate the Committee's responsibilities and build on its emerging strengths. In addition to examining countries' reports, the Committee would also have to fulfil its additional responsibility with regard to the elaboration of the new optional complaints protocol to the Convention. Further, members should also consider the viability of the proposal to convene its annual sessions alternately in New York and Geneva, which was a human rights centre.

Following the election by acclamation of two Vice-Chairpersons -- the experts from Germany and Burkina Faso, representing the Western European and Other States Group and the African Group of States, respectively -- and one Rapporteur -- the expert from Turkey, from the Western European and Other States Group -- the Chairperson suspended the meeting for five minutes to allow the Asian Group of States to consult on their proposal for a third Vice-Chairperson.

At the resumption of the meeting, the expert from the Republic of Korea was elected by acclamation, thus concluding the election of new officers.

Comments on Adoption of Agenda and Organization of Work

One expert suggested that an evening session be added on Monday, 1 February, to allow extra time to consider the report by China, given the size of the country's population and the fact that Hong Kong was also now to be considered. Other experts reminded the Committee of the existing rules concerning the allotment of time to consider country reports and stated that it would be difficult to now change those rules. The rules applied to all countries and no exceptions could be made.

Another expert asked for a clarification on the current status of ratification of the amendment to article 20 of the Convention and requested that the amendment be further discussed.

The Committee then adopted the agenda and organization of work.


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Report of Chairperson

SALMA KHAN, outgoing Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, reporting on activities between the nineteenth and twentieth sessions of the Committee, said that during the intersessional period, she had tried to maintain contact with the experts on a regular basis, which had facilitated her work and contributed to improving their common commitments. Responding to questions by members on the delay in receiving the reports of countries to be considered by the Committee, she stated that the main reason for the delay, as explained by the Secretariat, was that the States parties listed for review by the Committee had not made their intentions clear until quite close to the session. When all reports had been received, they could not be sent immediately to the experts as they had had needed to be translated in United Nations working languages.

Ms. Khan began her report with the Second South Asian Regional Meeting to Commemorate the Beijing Conference held in Kathmandu, Nepal, on 9-12 September 1998. As an outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, over 85 countries, including countries in the South Asian region, had formulated national action plans. The Kathmandu meeting, organized by the regional United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) office, had aimed at developing a regional overview of the Fourth World Conference on Women and at identifying regional challenges and gaps to formulate future courses of action. It had also aimed at developing a joint strategy regarding gender mainstreaming in the national development plans of each country. It had been emphasized at the meeting that to enable developing countries to live up to their Beijing commitments, the international community had to take concrete measures aimed at alleviating their major developmental problems.

Regarding the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, held in Paris from 14 to 16 September 1998, she said that the Committee's participation in the international symposium, on the theme "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948-1998 -- The Future of a Common Ideal", had not only given a rightful recognition to its role, but had also provided it with wider visibility. However, she had registered profound disappointment at the fact that while the symposium had covered analysis of a wide range of human rights issues, none of the six plenary sessions had addressed the human rights of women.

She said the Committee had continued to maintain its strong relationship with United Nations specialized agencies during the period. The efforts of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, to cooperate with the Committee not only indicated her firm commitment to address the relevant issues concerning women's rights in a pragmatic manner, but also demonstrated a sense of partnership between her Office and the Committee. Prior to her trip to China, the High Commissioner had sought inputs from Committee members to use while discussing relevant issues with the Chinese


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authorities. Mrs. Robinson had given a detailed account of her visit, including the progress made and the challenges faced by China, in a letter dated 3 December 1998.

She said that another important development regarding the relationship between the Committee and the specialized agencies was the invitation by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for two members of the Committee to participate in the International Conference on Population and Development to be held in The Hague. The aim of the Conference was to assess the progress and constraints faced by countries in the implementation of the Programme of Action adopted in Cairo in September 1994.

She said 18 December would mark the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, while 20 November would mark the tenth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Those anniversaries would provide a unique opportunity to underline the role and importance of international normative instruments to establish full and equal rights of women and the girl child. Also, as in previous years, the national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had been invited to present country- specific information in the pre-session working group which had proved useful to the Committee's work, she noted.

The goal of universal ratification of the Convention set by the Beijing Platform for Action had yet to be reached, she said. The Convention was still far short of universal ratification, and the United States was one of the important remaining countries to become party to the Convention. She urged the newly elected Chairperson to take up the issue, so that the goal of universal ratification could be met by the year 2000.

Since it was the last time she would present a report in her capacity as Chairperson of the Committee, she commented on the achievements of the Committee during the last two years and on what still remained to be done. The Committee had improved its methods of reviewing States parties reports and had revised the way it formulated concluding comments, so that they were able to provide a clear indication of their strengths in implementing the Convention and in the areas where further efforts were required. Also, most of the States parties reviewed had taken positive steps to ensure de jure equality of women. In addition, the working group of the Commission on the Status of Women had made progress in drafting the optional complaints protocol to the Convention.

She said that to broaden women's rights through consensus, the Committee was working for a growing partnership with NGOs and civil society, and wide dissemination of the Committee's work had been achieved as a result of the Women Watch web site developed by International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, UNIFEM, and the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women.


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However, despite the achievements, there was little room for complacency, she said. In most societies, women continued to face discrimination and were far from fully enjoying their human rights. There were still miles to go before equality, freedom, dignity and security were achieved. However, it was encouraging that full compliance to the Convention had become a natural point of reference for the United Nations system, NGOs and civil society. Efforts to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women had to be redoubled, and the Committee had to achieve what was expected of it. That should be the guiding principle for the Committee for the twenty-first century.

CHARLOTTE ABAKA, outgoing Committee Vice-Chairperson, gave a report on the tenth meeting of the persons chairing the treaty bodies in Geneva, from 14 to 18 September 1998. She and two other Vice-Chairpersons had attended that meeting on behalf of Ms. Khan. Many important issues had been discussed at the meeting, which had been addressed by Mrs. Robinson. The Committee's disappointment at not having a rapporteur on violence against women had been reiterated. The Committee might wish to consider implementing some of the recommendations made at the meeting.

The meeting had also been addressed by the representative of the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI), she said. Since what happened in one region of Africa was important to other regions of Africa, it would have been beneficial to receive the concluding statements of the countries which had presented their reports. That was why she had requested that DPI be added to the list of bodies with which the Committee would like to interact. She was also disappointed that the numerous activities of the Committee had not been included in the document entitled "Activities Profiles", which had been circulated.

Statement by Special Adviser on Gender Issues

ANGELA KING, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, officially opened the Committee's twentieth session and welcomed the newly elected members and Bureau officers. The current session was taking place in a year that marked the twentieth anniversary of the Convention. The Committee might, therefore, wish to consider the proposal to commemorate that important anniversary during its twenty-first session and how it would like to mark that event. It might also wish to recall that 1999 marked the tenth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It had been a busy six months since the conclusion of the Committee's nineteenth session, she said. During that time, the Division for the Advancement of Women had analysed the achievements of the various treaty bodies and ways in which they could integrate a gender perspective into their work. Its report included recommendations aimed at increasing cooperation between the Committee and other treaty bodies, and had been strongly endorsed by the chairpersons at their tenth meeting in September.


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She noted that, in September, the Division had convened an expert group meeting on women and health in Tunis, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), UNFPA, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Tunisian Ministry of Women and Family. The meeting had contributed to the Division's preparations for the forty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women in March, which was to take up the issue of women and health, a critical area of concern. Its findings directly related to the Committee's work on general recommendation on women's health, which the Committee would hopefully conclude at its current session.

She noted the Division's organization of a workshop in early October on a rights-based approach to women's advancement and empowerment and gender equality, which had been hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome. The workshop had sought to review and clarify the rights-based approach to gender equality and its implications for policy and operations by bilateral and multilateral entities. An important focus had been the value of the Convention as a tool for rights-based programming. The report of the meeting had been provided to Committee members.

Also in October, the Division, in cooperation with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), UNIFEM, the International Women's Rights Action Watch, and Save the Children, had organized an expert consultation on violence in families, she said. Participating Committee experts had focused on the role of treaty bodies in confronting inter-familial violence. The consultation had been followed by a half-day dialogue between members of the Committee and of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, during which possible joint activities to address that pressing problem had been discussed.

She said much of the Division's activities during the latter part of 1998 had been directed towards the work of the General Assembly's Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural). Most delegations which had spoken about the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had commended its work and had reported on their country's compliance with the Convention. Several delegations had welcomed the progress made by the Working Group on the Elaboration of an Optional Complaints Protocol, and a number of them had urged States parties to withdraw their reservations to the Convention.

She noted the adoption by the Assembly on 9 December of a resolution urging States to ratify or accede to the Convention as soon as possible. The resolution emphasized the importance of full compliance, and urged States parties to withdraw or limit their reservations. Among its other provisions, the resolution commended the Committee for contributing to the effective implementation of the Convention. Its efforts to strengthen coordination with other human rights treaty bodies were also encouraged, and it was invited to draw up joint general comments with other treaty bodies on the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness of human rights.


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Ms. King drew attention to the ratification of the Convention by Djibouti last December. She said, however, said that although the increase in the number of States parties was gratifying, the target of universality had remained elusive. That target was realistic, but imaginative strategies and concerted effort would be required to encourage those 20 or so States outside of the Convention to join it. In her capacity as Special Adviser, she was constantly seeking opportunities to raise that issue. The tenth meeting of chairpersons of human rights treaty bodies had recommended the development of a comprehensive action programme to promote universal ratification of the six core human rights treaties.

She said that in addition to the interesting reports under consideration at the current session, the Committee was expected to finalize its general recommendation concerning women and health. Also before the Committee was a draft report of its assessment of the implementation of the Beijing Platform of Action, as requested by the Commission on the Status of Women. That report, which would be presented to the forty-third session of the Commission, would provide crucial information in assisting that body's preparatory work for the special session of the General Assembly to assess the progress achieved in the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women and the Beijing Platform for Action to be held from 5 to 9 June 2000.

In closing, she said that in this important anniversary year for the Committee, the Division would be looking for innovative ways to promote the Committee's visibility along with that of the Convention. She and her staff were on hand to help ensure the session's success.

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