A day-long celebration was held today to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the adoption by the General Assembly of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The 23-member treaty-monitoring body, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, beginning its twenty-first session, heard from senior United Nations officials and hosted a round-table discussion on the impact of the Convention on the domestic level.
Saluting the work of the Committee, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette said the document was a powerful tool in influencing legislation, policy and opinion worldwide.
Noting that women were underrepresented in nearly every political forum, however, she drew attention to the fact that women comprised the bulk of the world's poor and illiterate. Women's work -- including subsistence farming and family enterprises -- was often ignored in statistics such as gross national product; and health or old age benefits were often not attached to it.
The Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, Angela King, said the Convention was the only human rights treaty which directly addressed the significant roles rural women played in the economic survival of their families, and the particular problems they faced. It was also the only one to affirm reproductive rights.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said national strategies to promote women's human rights should centre on ratifying, withdrawing reservations, and implementing the Convention. In a statement read out by the Director of her New York Office, Bacre Waly Ndiaye, she called for redoubled efforts to ensure that women everywhere lived in peace and freedom, consistent with the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the Convention.
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Gender equality was crucial if the other aims of economic and social development, such as poverty eradication, were to be achieved, the Under- Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Nitin Desai, said. For that reason, gender equality had to be mainstreamed throughout the work of the United Nations.
This morning, the Committee also heard from the new Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, Yakin Erturk, who said the Committee and the Division would face exciting challenges once the Optional Protocol to the Convention entered into force.
[That Protocol enables individuals and groups of women to submit to the Committee claims of violations of rights protected under the Convention and enables the Committee to initiate inquiries into grave or systematic violations of women's rights.]
The Committee's first chairperson, Luvsandanzangyn Ider, said that the issue of equality had become a priority in the United Nations and other international bodies through the mobilization of women. Today, while it was the Convention with the largest number of States parties, it also had the largest number of reservations placed on it by governments, affecting its practical realization.
The Committee's Chairperson, Aida Gonzalez Martinez, said young women today had an international legal framework to protect their basic rights and freedoms. Most importantly, women today had the right not to be discriminated against based on sex. These achievements were the culmination of efforts begun over a century ago.
In the afternoon, the Committee held a round-table discussion on the impact of the Convention at the domestic level. Participants included former and current Committee members, as well as representatives of United Nations agencies and of non-governmental organizations.
The wide-ranging discussion covered topics, including the impact of the Convention in changing national legislation in the promotion of women's rights, equal employment opportunities for women and political representation of women. A number of speakers also touched on the human rights of women and children, the trafficking in and sexual harassment of women and young girls. Many noted that while the Convention's twentieth anniversary marked an important milestone in the struggle for women's equality, much still remained to be done.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow to adopt its agenda and organization of work and to hear introductory statements.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to begin its twenty-first session, which will conclude 25 June. Commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Committee was expected to hear statements from: Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette; the first chairperson of the Committee, Luvsandanzangyn Ider; the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Nitin Desai; the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, Angela E.V. King; and the Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, Yakin Erturk.
The Committee was also expected to hold a round-table discussion on "The Impact of the Convention at the Domestic Level", in which several former and present members of the Committee, including former chairpersons, representatives of United Nations bodies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as special guests, would participate.
Comprised of 23 experts serving in their individual capacities, the Committee monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, often referred to as an international bill of rights for women, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979 and entered into force in 1981.
(For further information on the Committee's and the current session, see Press Release WOM/1125 of 4 June.)
Statements Opening the commemoration, AIDA GONZALEZ MARTINEZ of Mexico, Chairperson of the Committee, said that although 18 December would mark 20 years since the adoption of the Convention, the efforts to achieve equality between men and women had been going on for a long time, since the middle of the nineteenth century. The United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had laid the basis for the promotion and protection of women's rights. While the numerous international agreements referring to the conditions of women were well known, none of them could prevent discrimination against women. That was, until the adoption of the Convention.
The Convention had been called the human rights charter for women, she continued. According to some specialists, it covered fields that had been important obstacles to women enjoying their basic human rights. Many obstacles to the conclusion of the Convention had appeared from the male sector, as well as from some women. Careful negotiations for the content and scope of the Convention had been needed, and many of those present today had worked on preparing the draft Convention. They were determined, with their different views, to move forward and achieve agreement on actions to be taken by States to eliminate discrimination.
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The mere definition of discrimination, as stated in article 1, had followed much debate as to what it should include and what it should be based on, she said. A special characteristic of the Convention, established by article 2, referred to not only the responsibility of a State for its actions, but also to the responsibilities of private entities and persons for their actions. Back then, it had not been imagined that the elimination of stereotypes would be one of the most difficult articles to implement. It had been very difficult to change society's attitudes and social beliefs, which underlined women's underdevelopment and prevented their advancement.
The right of women not to be discriminated against in the area of health had been discussed with mixed views, she said. In the course of negotiations, it had been recognized that it was vital to reaffirm that right and to have a specific article on health. That had lead to article 12, which was limited. However, the Committee had since then adopted a general recommendation on health expanding the scope of that right. Other areas of serious negotiation included the rights of the family, women in marriage, their position as mothers, and their right with respect to care for and education of their children.
Another issue had been what reports would be requested and in what time frame, she said. The question of what bodies would be responsible for monitoring its implementation had led to the establishment of the Committee. It was fortunate, she added, that in 1999 the twentieth anniversary of the Convention could be celebrated. She was also pleased with the conclusion on the negotiating process on the draft optional Protocol to the Convention. On the threshold of a new century, the young women of today now had an international legal framework to protect their basic rights and freedoms, the most important of which was the right not to be discriminated against based on their sex.
Deputy Secretary-General LOUISE FRÉCHETTE said the Convention's roots could be traced through the United Nations history and its efforts to proclaim and codify human rights. According to the Charter, 54 years ago people had been determined to "reaffirm faith in the equal rights of men and women"; that pledge had been reiterated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All international human rights instruments purported to apply to women and men alike.
The trouble was that international codes were not self-implementing, she said. Nor was national legislation, although it was an essential part of the process. Today, women's human rights continued to be disregarded and violated worldwide, in different ways and to varying degrees. Women were victims of sexual violence. The majority of the world's poor and illiterate persons were women. Women earned 75 per cent or less of every dollar, euro or yen earned by men. Women were more commonly found in part-time work, the informal sector, and among the unemployed and underemployed. Women's work in subsistence farming and family enterprises was ignored in conventional statistics, such as gross national product (GNP) and social security. Health or old age benefits were
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not attached to such work. Women were also deprived of basic health rights, as indicated by shocking maternal mortality rates in so many countries.
"How can we not suspect that these failures are directly related to the continued underrepresentation of women in nearly every political forum?" she asked. At the United Nations fiftieth anniversary, there had been 185 male heads of State and government and other senior representatives, but only five women. It was heartening that two of those five were now top United Nations officials: Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), and Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Things were changing, albeit too slowly.
There were now 163 States parties to the Convention, which meant that in 163 countries, activists and legislators, judges and educators, politicians and professionals had a powerful tool in their hands, she said. Even in States that were not party to the Convention, the document influenced legislation, policies and public opinion. Inspired by the Convention and the Committee, diplomats and activists last year had ensured that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court codified rape and other forms of sexual violence in armed conflict as crimes against humanity. While that Statute was not yet in force, already last September, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda convicted Jean-Paul Akayesu on charges that included rape and sexual violence as crimes against humanity.
The Committee had been an agent for change for women collectively and individually; "I salute your work", she said. At the Fourth World Conference on Women, Member States had committed to achieving universal ratification of the Convention by 2000. The United Nations Secretariat would work with the Committee and governments to achieve that goal, which would be the most fitting way to mark the Convention's twentieth anniversary, and to begin the new millennium.
The first chairperson of the Committee, LUVSANDANZANGYN IDER, said that she still carried vivid memories of her days in the Committee. During her tenure, rules of procedure had been adopted and several reports heard. There had been many emotional debates and a tremendous feeling of closeness among the members of the Committee. There had only been one member of the opposite sex in the Committee at that time. Those days had been the most interesting and happiest in her life.
During the past 20 years, the international community had witnessed the growing importance of the Convention for the promotion of women's equality, both in legislation and in reality, she said. A larger number of States had acceded to the Convention than any other convention, which had been due to the active pressure of women in their respective countries and action at the international level. Thanks to their mobilization, the issue of equality had been a priority issue for the United Nations and other international
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organizations for several decades. That progress had demonstrated how much could be achieved if men and women worked together to achieve their goals.
Despite the large number of States that had acceded to the Convention, it was also the Convention to which the largest number of reservations were made by governments, she said. The practical realization of the Convention was another issue that had to be dealt with. Time was required to achieve a genuine equality of men and women. To expedite those objectives, more intensified efforts by men and women were required at the national and international level.
BACRE WALY NDIAYE, Director of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, read a message from the High Commissioner, Mary Robinson, to her "sisters in arms". Today's commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the women's convention was an occasion to mark rather than celebrate, the High Commissioner wrote. Adopting the Convention had been a milestone towards the goal of full equality for all women, but the ways in which implementation had failed to match the document's ideals must be borne in mind.
Advancing women's rights was a common responsibility, he continued. Over the years, the United Nations had striven to create a legacy of internationally agreed strategies, standards and goals for advancing women's rights. The United Nations Charter itself had been the first international agreement to proclaim gender equality as a fundamental human right. The Women's Convention was the most comprehensive, legally binding treaty on women's rights. It was an explicit statement on States' responsibility to eliminate discrimination against women and ensure de jure and de facto enjoyment of rights.
Social justice could not be achieved without equality and freedom from discrimination for women, he continued. A tangible way for governments to show their commitment to women's rights would be for the first Protocol of the Convention to be adopted by the General Assembly and for governments to sign and speedily ratify it. Also, the Convention should be fully integrated into national development plans. Ratification, withdrawal of reservations, and implementation of the Convention should be at the centre of every country's strategy to promote women's human rights.
Last week, the Office of the High Commissioner, together with the Division for the Advancement of Women and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), had brought together the special rapporteurs and chairs of human rights treaty monitoring bodies to assess integrating gender into their work, he said. The ideas and recommendations stemming from that gathering would be of great use to the agencies involved. Remarkable women were championing human rights in all walks of life. It was time to redouble efforts to ensure that women everywhere could live in dignity, peace and freedom, consistent with the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration, and the Women's Convention.
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Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs NITIN DESAI said that tremendous work was being done in the area of the advancement of women. When looking at the past century, many things had changed from the previous century in both the social and political spheres. Several things stood out, including the fact that during the previous century many countries had been under colonial rule, many countries that were free were not democratic and, of those countries, only one of them allowed women to vote. In contrast, today many countries were free, many of those were democracies and, in those democracies, women had the right to vote.
In the period before the establishment of the United Nations, the major focus of advancement had come from the work of the suffrage movement, he said. The role women played in national liberation movements had been the driving force of the advancement of women in the first part of the century. During the second part of the century, a great deal of the drive for the advancement of women had come from within the United Nations system. Work had been done in integrating women's issues into the work of the United Nations. That work was grounded on the spread of the women's movement throughout the world. That could be seen in the work of the present Committee, as well as in the Commission on the Status of Women and the various international women's conferences.
The work being done on women's rights in the United Nations had shown itself in other areas, such as in the domestic policies of governments, he said. The legal obligation that governments accepted, as part of the Convention, was only the beginning. To be effective, governments had to undertake programmatic actions. He stressed the growing importance of the work being done on gender equality within the activities of the United Nations. Gender equality was not simply the concern of the Committee and the Commission on the Status of Women. It was also important to the other bodies dealing with economic and social issues.
He said that one of the Copenhagen commitments from the World Summit for Social Development dealt specifically with gender equality and the advancement of women. The outcome of the Copenhagen Summit had shown the clear link between gender equality and the other areas of commitment, such as poverty eradication and full employment. Gender equality was central to achieving the other aims of economic and social development. Therefore, gender equality had to be mainstreamed into other areas of the work of the United Nations. That had been why the responsibility for the Division for the Advancement of Women had been placed in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
ANGELA E.V. KING, the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said that the Convention brought together in one comprehensive, legally binding instrument obligations of States parties that provided the basis for the realization of equality between women and men in the economic, social, cultural, civil and political fields. The Convention was the only human rights treaty which affirmed the reproductive rights of the
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family. It was also the only one which directly addressed the particular problems faced by rural women and the significant roles which they played in the economic survival of their families.
During her tenure as the Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, the Committee had experienced one of its most exciting phases of development, she said. Partly in the wake of the Fourth World Conference on Women, which focused global attention on the situation of women, the Committee had attracted increasing interest from Member States, the United Nations system and NGOs. In 1996, the General Assembly had approved a second annual session for the Committee, thereby allowing it to review a greater number of reports of States parties and to deepen its work in other areas.
She then introduced the former chairpersons of the Committee, who were able to be present at the commemoration, after which she introduced Yakin Erturk, the new Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women.
YAKIN ERTURK, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, recalled that in January 1997 she had presented the combined second and third period reports of the Turkish Government to the Committee. She clearly remembered the frank and open dialogue that had taken place, and the Committee's recommendations provided critical guidance in the ongoing efforts of the Turkish Government. Both the Committee and the Division faced exciting new challenges once the Optional Protocol to the Convention would enter into force. She was confident that the Committee would assume the new resulting tasks with the same commitment, attention and flexibility it had displayed to date.
Since 1982, the Committee had benefited from the wisdom of a diverse group of experts, with over 72 individuals having served, she said. All the Committee's former members had been invited to attend today's commemorative event; 12 were in attendance and many others had sent best wishes for the event. The experts academic and professional background had always reflected a diverse mix of fields, giving a multidimensional approach to the Committee's work. During the Committee's first three sessions, 70 per cent of its members had been lawyers, but since then, there had been an increase in the number of sociologists and activists.
After leaving the Committee, experts had continued distinguished professional careers, including in government, judiciary and academia, she said. After presenting former members of the Committee who were attending the ceremony, and conveying greetings from others who were unable to attend, she expressed gratitude to them for laying the foundation upon which the present members of the Committee could build. Women's human rights were now enjoying unprecedented attention. Due in large part to the Committee's work, such attention included the increased accountability of States for concrete action to improve the situation of women.
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Opening the round-table discussion, Ms. GONZALEZ, Committee Chairperson, said that as the Committee assessed compliance of States parties with the Convention, it was, by extension, assessing the level of women's enjoyment of their human rights. The Convention's impact, however, could be looked at in a much broader fashion. It encompassed the experiences of individuals, whose work was influenced by knowledge of the Convention, as well as the institutional level of government, where the Convention provided the framework for legislation, policies and programming.
The Convention also shaped the work of international organizations, who referred to the Convention when working with governments at the project and policy level, she said. It had shown a profound impact through the work of NGOs who were advocating for women's rights, and who were supporting their demands for equality between women and men with projects, services and hands- on support to women in all parts of the world. During the discussion, the Committee would hear from individuals and organizations who had firsthand experiences in using the Convention as a tool for achieving equality for women.
ELISABETH EVATT, Chairperson of the Committee at its eighth and ninth sessions, said that the Women's Convention was not a magic wand or the first word in women's rights; nor would it be the last word in achieving equality. It was due to its ratification of the Convention that Australia had been able to pass legislation at the domestic level on sex discrimination. The existence of such an important legal tool had continued to make a difference. Australia now had a Sex Discrimination Commissioner and cases could be taken under the act to a tribunal and then to the courts.
That tool was necessary to support women's efforts to achieve equality, she said. One of the first cases brought under the sex discrimination legislation had been by a man complaining that he did not have access to a women's health clinic. There had also been a decision defining sexual harassment as an aspect of discrimination even before the issue had been addressed by the Committee. That was not to say that Australia did not have its share of problems, including the disadvantaged state of its indigenous women. Women would continue to fight for equality and, for the last 20 years, they had had an important tool -- the Convention -- to help them.
RYOKO AKAMATSU, former Committee member from Japan, said the Convention had had an enormous impact on Japan. The Government had revised the nationality law in 1984 and had enacted an equal employment opportunity law in 1985. It had been continuously making efforts to strengthen the national machinery for gender equality and revising the employment opportunity law, and strengthening the prohibition of discrimination against women. New provisions on positive actions and sexual harassment had been set in order to establish de facto equality.
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The activities of NGOs for women in Japan had become powerful since the declaration of the United Nations International Decade for Women, she said. It was regrettable, however, that the customary, traditional prejudices based on the stereotyped roles of men and women still existed in Japan. That phantom must be fought in daily life. The Convention and the Committee would be an important ally in that fight.
ARVONNE FRASER, founder of International Women's Rights Action Watch of the United States, said that the history of women was very important and that the Committee was recording a little bit of it. The importance of reiterating legal instruments and United Nations documents must be stressed, as they had a special significance -- they were symbols of international cooperation and understanding.
Tribute should be paid to all women in the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) and the General Assembly who had drafted the Convention and helped to have it adopted, she said. Legal instruments lived on long after their authors were gone. The importance of "insiders and outsiders" -- United Nations delegates and committees, as well as the NGOs that supported them -- could not be overstated. The combination and collaboration of both was much more powerful than each alone. The International Women's Rights Action Watch had worked hard to push governments towards implementation of the Convention.
FLAVIA PANSIERI, Deputy Director of UNIFEM, said that the Convention was a document that belonged to everyone and represented the aspirations of people for a world where peace and freedom could be enjoyed by women and men alike. Everyone at UNIFEM believed in the absolute importance of the Convention, and that was an essential part of their work. Strengthening support for the work of the Committee and the understanding of States parties and civil society on ways of implementing the Convention were also integral parts of UNIFEM's work. The Convention was the basis for the rights-based approach of the Fund's work.
She said that the Fund would take to heart the suggestion by one of the Committee's former chairpersons, that UNIFEM should become to the Women's Convention what the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) had become to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Fund would also continue to encourage and support programmes to eliminate all forms of violence against women. During the past few years, UNIFEM had increased the funds given to activities of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. At the national level, it had undertaken many initiatives around the Convention. In Western Asia, for example, it had supported and provided technical assistance to countries for drafting reports to the Committee. It was also supporting a study of an analysis of the Convention's principles and Sharia law. In Africa, it had encouraged the translation of the Convention into local languages, as well as its widespread dissemination.
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FRANKLYN LISK, Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Office with the United Nations, delivering the remarks of Juan Somavia, said that the Convention and ILO conventions shared a common philosophical orientation as they both viewed women workers' rights, as first and foremost, a matter of human rights. They were complementary and mutually reinforcing. A number of principles contained in ILO conventions were found in the various provisions of the Women's Convention.
The ratification of the Women's Convention by a member State of the ILO was seen as enhancing the application of the relevant ILO standards concerning the promotion of gender equality, he said. The full application of the Convention was necessary for the enjoyment of women's economic and social rights in the sphere of women's access to education, training, employment and income generation. Recognizing that link, the ILO and UNIFEM, along with the Division for the Advancement of Women, were jointly preparing an information kit for women workers in the Caribbean on the importance of the Convention and ILO conventions. Preparatory work had begun to launch a similar activity in the Asia/Pacific region.
EMNA AOUIJ, expert from Tunisia, said the Convention had given Tunisian women the right to work without discrimination and legitimacy to their struggle for equality. Democracy could not be attained without the equality of women. The Convention gave the States that ratified it a moral duty to implement it and a duty to follow it up. Cultural and social behaviour that deprived women of their liberty had been shattered. Tunisia had proved to the world that democracy and the rights of women were not incompatible with Islam. The future of Islam would depend greatly on the role of women in the decades to come. Women were voting in Iran, while in Qatar they were election candidates. Many challenges lay ahead, but solidarity at both the national and international levels would move the struggle forward.
ALMA MONTENEGRO DE FLETCHER, former expert from Panama, said that her country had established a Ministry for the Family, Women and Children in 1997. Non-governmental organizations had played an important role in the 1990s by promoting a scientific, serious treatment of the gender issue and working out the basis of public policy. Panama was carrying out important research on the situation of women. No opportunity or venue was neglected in stressing the need to eliminate the obstacles to full implementation of the Convention.
For the first time in Panama's history, 2.7 million inhabitants had elected a woman as President of the Republic, she said. Panamanians had made a reality of the words "the struggle continues" and those of a Latin American poet, "The road to the future is small but it is coming".
ZELMIRA REGAZZOLI, expert from Argentina, said that, after 20 years, it was satisfying to see the achievements of the Convention. Though much remained to be done, it had to be recognized that progress had been made. The
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Convention was a tool for correcting the many normative aspects in individual countries and eliminating the manifestations of authoritarianism and machismo in domestic legislation. Her region, Latin America and the Caribbean, had been the first to ratify the Convention. Ten years ago, the region had finished ratifying the Convention. That was a milestone which marked a distinct stage in action in the countries of that region.
Argentina was a country which had made substantial progress on women's issues since 1983, when it had embarked on the path of democracy, she said. Her country's experience had had strong influence on other countries of the region. Spaces for women had been created at the national level and policies enacted to establish provisional and municipal women's councils. Argentina also had a law punishing domestic violence and criminalizing sexual assault. When it had ratified its national Constitution in 1994, the Government had included the Convention on a constitutional level and had included it among other human rights treaties. It had also changed school texts to help eliminate sexual stereotypes.
RAKEL SURLIEN, expert from Norway, said that tomorrow Norway would celebrate the twentieth anniversary of its national gender equality act. The international debate on the drafting of the Convention had inspired Norway to enact her own equality act, which had been adopted at the same time. That had made it easy for Norway to join the Convention soon after its adoption, and without reservations. It had contributed to strengthening Norway's own national legislation.
MOHAMED NIZAMUDDIN, Director of the Technical and Policy Division of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that the UNFPA had been actively using the articles of the Convention, particulary article 12, in all its work. The Fund's work had drawn largely on the Convention, especially at the country level, where it had been used extensively in domestic projects. The Fund had used the Convention in the three main areas of its work: reproductive rights; population and development policies; and advocacy. It was taking women's rights as the basis for its work. The Fund was fully behind the Committee's work and its organizing framework lay within the Women's Convention.
FENG CUI, expert from China, said the Convention was an important milestone in the women's movement. Through the efforts of governments, but especially through their own efforts, the social situation of women had improved. The principles and provisions of the Convention were recognized and respected by the international community. Many Member States had already adopted national laws to embody those provisions. However, the achievement of the Committee's goals could not be viewed in isolation.
She said that 21 June was Children's Day, but children in the Balkans were suffering from a bombing campaign and had no guarantee even of their right to survival. War should be condemned and the bombing must end so that
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women and children in that region could enjoy their right to peace. How could the aims of the Convention be achieved and its rights guaranteed without peace and development? On 25 May, China's State Council had called a meeting on the rights of women and children at which government ministries and NGOs were represented. It had been a high-level meeting at which reviews and discussion were held on the implementation of women-related laws. Seminars would be organized and publicity campaigns held at the provincial and central government levels.
Ms. EVATT, of Australia, Committee co-Chairperson, said what was impressive in the afternoon's interventions was the complex interweaving between the international legal norms, national laws and jurisprudence and the activism of women at all levels. All those elements were linked together under the umbrella of the Committee. It was impressive that the Convention had been such a catalyst.
SALMA KHAN, of Bangladesh, Committee co-Chairperson, said that the most effective action undertaken by her country on the Convention in the legal area was related to the trafficking in and sexual abuse against women and children, as well as human rights education. Non-governmental organizations had succeeded in drafting a family law to replace Islamic sharia law.
CECILIA MEDINA-QUIROGA, Chairperson of the Human Rights Committee of Chile, said that the task of women in the human rights field was a slow and historic one. The Convention had reminded States that women were human beings. One of the ways it did that was by galvanizing women for action. In Latin America, the Convention had resulted in reforms in penal and civil codes and education. The most important thing done by the Convention was the re- reading of the responsibilities of the Government at all levels. That was slowly leading to the extension of social and political rights of women.
FERIDE ACAR, expert from Turkey, said that in many parts of the world women's rights were still a controversial issue. Being a party to the Convention had the impact of politically legitimizing the rights of women as human rights at the national level. Turkey had had a Muslim population with a secular State for the last 75 years, and had made women's rights a banner of its modern identity. The most visible impact of the Convention was in terms of initiation of laws and with regard to jurisprudence.
When Turkey had presented its report to the Committee a few years ago, domestic violence had been taken up by the Committee as an important issue, she said. That had resulted in the enactment of the Protection of Family Act, which specifically addressed domestic violence. That was just one example of how the Convention had impacted women at the national level in Turkey. Six months ago, a parliamentary commission had recommended that all of Turkey's substantive reservations to the Convention be withdrawn. She hoped that that would be done shortly.
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KARIN SHAM POO, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, said the rights of women must start with the rights of girls, for whom equality was no longer a distant dream, but was increasingly within reach. Attention must be paid to the root causes of discrimination and to the realization of equal rights. Sex, age, geographical location and ethnicity must be eliminated as causes of discrimination. The world's embrace of human rights was transforming the way in which governments and the United Nations system dealt with the issue of gender equality. The achievements of the last 20 years had been memorable, but there was still a long way to go in achieving the full implementation of the Convention.
LILIANA GURDULICH DE CORREA, former expert from Argentina, said that her country had been one of the first in the world to grant constitutional rank to the Convention. Between 1983 and 1992, there had been basic central concerns in the legislature, especially those regarding the enaction of laws relating to women. The situation of women's parliamentary representation had led to a campaign for a national law. The challenge now was in the direction of full spiritual and material equality of women. It was hoped that the immediate universal application of the Convention would be achieved.
GRETE FENGER-MOLLER, former expert from Denmark, said that she had participated in the First World Conference on Women in Mexico City in 1975. Delegates had been overjoyed when the Conference had decided to hold a Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. When Denmark had ratified the Convention in 1983, most of the actions to be pursued by States parties had already been enacted. There had been a long tradition of equality between men and women in Denmark. Therefore, the ratification of the Convention had no large impact on the promotion of equality at the national level.
However, that was not to say that the Convention had no legal impact in the country, she said. It had served to create de facto equality between men and women. While equality had prevailed in most areas, gender constraints still existed in many areas. Women still took on the greatest responsibilities for family and children, despite their high numbers in the labour markets. The low percentage of men who took parental and family leave further testified to that. The priority now was to change gender stereotypes.
Dr. BASSANI, on behalf of the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the WHO was committed to working with governments and the treaty bodies to overcome the numerous constraints that still hindered the expansion of women's choices and the improvement in their health status, especially in countries undergoing conflicts and economic crises. Further, it was urging countries to incorporate a gender perspective into all policies, programmes and activities, to foster an environment of equality for both women and men in all spheres of life.
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The WHO was involved with the collection of data on the critical issue of violence against women, and developing training materials and strategies for the legal, health and education professions. A reinvigorated initiative to make pregnancy safer was under way to give added impetus, at all levels, to interventions which would stop women from dying from and becoming disabled by the act of giving life. The WHO was happy to see the general recommendation on article 12 -- which elaborated the meaning of the right to health care -- adopted by the Committee.
YUNG-CHUNG KIM, expert from the Republic of Korea, said that since her country's ratification of it in 1984, the Convention had served as the general framework for national legislation on women. As a result of lobbying by NGOs, new legislation had been passed in January 1999 on the prohibition of gender discrimination, giving a mandate to the presidential commission to investigate incidents of sexual harassment. An Asia-Pacific regional workshop on trafficking in women had been held in Seoul which had provided an occasion to raise public awareness of the depth and scope of trafficking in women and young girls. The matter would be discussed again at a reporting session on that seminar to be held in Cairo. Challenges remained, including disparities in the law and practice -- government and NGOs must take steps to remove the gap between statutory rights and the enjoyment of those rights. Another concern was the low level of political participation by women.
EIMI WATANABE, Assistant Administrator and Director, Bureau for Development Policy of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that for the UNDP the low status of women was one of the key dimensions of overall human poverty. Discrimination against women had direct effects in reinforcing and perpetuating poverty. The UNDP was committed to eliminating discrimination against women not only as a fundamental principle of human rights, but also as a necessary component of its mission of eliminating poverty. The Convention gave the UNDP a powerful tool and strengthened its efforts. It was also active in the area of micro-finance for women, and wanted to ensure that sound financial practice was combined with women's empowerment, including through discussion of basic rights and legal literacy.
In addition to working on women's rights through a poverty perspective, the UNDP contributed to the Committee through its activities in the area of good governance, she said. In Africa, for example, the UNDP had supported organizations working to extend full citizenship rights to women. It had a major opportunity to further strengthen its support for the implementation of the Convention and had recently strengthened the human rights dimension of its activities, including women's rights. It had also approved a capacity- building programme for government and NGO personnel, which would address issues of women's status and human rights, and the Convention.
SILVIA CARTWRIGHT, expert from New Zealand, said that, as she was speaking, the first woman Prime Minister of her country was chairing a cabinet
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meeting. Women in New Zealand had gained the right to vote over 100 years ago. Her country had made major advances and all its legislation permitted equal rights for women. She believed the way forward for governments implementing the Convention was to ensure de facto equality. The likely adoption of an optional protocol would contribute further to advancing the rights of women.
YOLANDA FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, said her country had been the first to sign the Convention and the second to ratify it. The Convention was an important instrument in eliminating discrimination against women. Despite difficulties caused by the economic blockade imposed against it, Cuba had continued to move forward. In May 1997, it had signed a plan of action following the Beijing Platform of Action. It was a priority for Cuba to continue educating its people to sensitize them to the Convention's importance.
Ms. KHAN, of Bangladesh, Committee co-Chairman, said one of the Convention's greatest achievements had been its impact on the laws of developing countries.
IVANKA CORTI of Italy, Committee co-Chairman, said the Committee's most important achievement in 20 years had been in maintaining its independence while defending and making respectable the human rights of women, establishing constructive dialogue with States parties and improving cooperation with NGOs. While the Convention had been virtually unknown at United Nations Headquarters in 1987, today it was very well known in the Organization and in its specialized agencies. The Committee had played a big role in improving recognition of the Convention.
SHANTI DAIRIAM, of Malaysia and Director of International Women's Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) Asia-Pacific, said that the Convention was a powerful tool in advancing the rights of women. Despite the over two decades of interventions for women's rights made in the United Nations system, inequality between men and women had not been anywhere near elimination. The Convention forced governments to unravel the structural processes of discrimination. It was unequivocal in its demands. Implementation depended not only on what the State did, but also on what the State achieved.
The Convention insisted on the practical realization of women's rights, she said. It did not automatically confer rights on women. That would only take place if the Convention was used effectively in practice. Discriminatory legislation had been challenged in countries as a result of the principles of the Convention. For example, in Nepal, NGOs had successfully challenged legislation in such areas as inheritance. It was the Convention that forced the closure of the gap between law, policy and reality.
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PIRKKO ANNELI MAKINEN, former expert from Finland, said that her country had been the last Nordic country to ratify the Convention, and that had played a big role in giving women wide-ranging equality. Before ratifying the Convention, governments should examine all existing legislation. In Finland, a lot of national legislation had to be changed before it was able to ratify the Convention without any reservations. Since reporting to the Committee, action had been taken to tackle problems such as violence against women. Also, the number of women in decision-making bodies had not been sufficient, and so Finland amended its Gender Equality Act and introduced quotas, with which it had achieved a more balanced participation of women.
VINITHA JAYASINGHE, former expert from Sri Lanka, said the establishment in 1978 of a Women's Bureau in her country had worked towards identifying areas of discrimination against women and towards training them in non- traditional areas of employment. In 1990, for the first time a State Ministry for Women's Affairs had been established which had later been elevated to Cabinet status. A female judge of the Supreme Court had been appointed for the first time in 1996.
NGUYEN NGOC DUNG, former expert from Viet Nam, said that her country's long struggle for independence had played a particular role in establishing the place of women in society. The new battle for development, modernization and industrialization were all standards that were out of reach for women of modest means. After the hardships of war, it was quite natural that women would want to go back to their traditional role, but how could gender equality be achieved if they stayed passively within the four walls of their houses? Viet Nam appreciated the Convention as a political instrument of unparalleled moral, juridical and practical utility in the fight against discrimination.
BOUBACAR TOURE, Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) New York Liaison Office, said that the FAO promoted the implementation of the Convention through its Plan of Action for Integrating Women in Development. That Plan was operable from 1996 to 2001 and defined FAO's role in stimulating and facilitating efforts, both within the organization and with partners at the national and international levels, to overcome constraints and take advantage of opportunities to increase the involvement of rural women as contributors to, and beneficiaries of, economic social and political development.
Despite the fact that women were the world's principal food producers and providers, they remained "invisible" partners in development, he said. A lack of available gender-disaggregated data meant that women's contribution to agriculture in particular was poorly understood and their specific needs ignored in development planning. The FAO's initiatives had been targeted at increasing the efforts of staff to use gender analysis in designing, implementing and assessing plans and projects.
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NINA SIBAL, Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) New York Liaison Office, delivering a message from the Director General of UNESCO, said that eliminating discrimination against girls and women in education was a priority of UNESCO. The adoption of the Optional Protocol would serve to further strengthen the impact of the Convention. Despite the many achievements, more needed to be done. To defend one's rights, one needed to know one's rights. Bringing the Convention to women and girls worldwide was an enormous task shared by all entities of the United Nations system. To that end, UNESCO had disseminated a Passport to Equality -- a passport size document containing the Convention, in over 10 languages, including Swahili, Hindi and Urdu.
MIRIAM ESTRADA, former expert from Ecuador, said that her country had ratified the Convention 19 years ago. Its congress had witnessed a debate which resulted in reforms in 1989, thus eliminating inequalities of female spouses, as well as the impossibility of married women to administer their own property and leave the country. In February 1988, women in Ecuador had eliminated a negative article in the Penal Code, by which men who found women in their family in illicit acts were able to kill or injure them and not be punished because they were acting for the good of the family. The country's new Constitution recognized the human and reproductive rights of women.
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