28 February 2000


Press Release
WOM/1177



COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN BEGINS FORTY-FOURTH SESSION AT HEADQUARTERS

20000228

Commission Elects Officers, Hears Statement By Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Gender Issues

The Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, had been a "critical milestone" in the advancement of women; now, swift, bold and uncompromising policies were needed to find more effective ways of implementing its outcome, Angela King, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, told the Commission on the Status of Women this morning at the opening of its forty- fourth session.

The Commission will meet until 2 March to hold substantive deliberations on follow-up to the Beijing Conference and a comprehensive review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. From 3 to 17 March, it will serve as the third and final preparatory committee for the special session of the General Assembly in June entitled "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century".

Ms. King said that Member States, international organizations and civil society had responded to the challenges set forth at Beijing in many strategic and specific ways. Women now had greater access to education and employment and there was an increased awareness of violence against them. Further progress had included the designation of rape as a war crime. At the same time, however, poverty among women and their vulnerability in armed conflict had deepened. Women's human rights had been blatantly ignored in some countries, and girls attending school were still the first to be pulled out in times of crisis.

Also today, the Commission elected by acclamation the officers of its Bureau for two-year terms, as follows: Dubravka Simonovic (Croatia), Chairperson; Mankeur Ndiaye (Senegal), Loreto Leyton (Chile), and Kirsten Geelan (Denmark)as Vice-Chairpersons. Informal consultations were ongoing among the members of the Group of Asian States for the remaining officer.

During the meeting, the Chairperson announced that the following members had been designated to serve on the working group on communications: Lulit Zewdie G/Mariam (Ethiopia); Rasa Ostrauskaite (Lithuania); and Eduardo Tapia (Chile). [As mandated by the Economic and Social Council, the working group reports to the Commission on those communications, including replies from governments, which reveal a "consistent pattern of reliably attested injustice and discriminatory practices against women".]


Commission on Status of Women - 1a - Press Release WOM/1177 1st Meeting (AM) 28 February 2000

The Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, Yakin Erturk, introduced the documents before the Commission and promised that Commission members would embrace the challenging task of accelerating the full implementation of the Beijing outcome and play a key role in turning promises and commitments into a reality for women worldwide. The members of the outgoing Bureau had made invaluable contributions to the Commission's work and the advancement of women.

The outgoing chairperson, Patricia Flor, said it had been a most rewarding task to chair the Commission, whose work was part of a long process. Particularly gratifying had been the completion last year in the Commission of the Optional Protocol under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which will establish a mechanism to allow women to complain if they are denied their rights because of gender. She thanked the community of non-governmental organizations, which had always been a staunch supporter in numbers and in furtherance of the Commission's goals.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Portugal (on behalf of the European Union), Nigeria (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Cuba, Malaysia, Chile, Japan and Malawi.

Also addressing the opening meeting were representatives of the World Food Programme (WFP), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Commonwealth Secretariat, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again at 3 p.m. today to continue its general discussion.



Commission on Status of Women - 3 - Press Release WOM/1177 1st Meeting (AM) 28 February 2000

Commission Work Programme

The Commission on the Status of Women met this morning to begin its forty- fourth session, which will last until 2 March. From 3 to 17 March, it will meet, for the third time, as the preparatory committee for the special session of the General Assembly in June entitled "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century".

The Commission was expected to hear introductory statements by Angela King, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, and Yakin Erturk, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women. Then, members would begin a two-day general discussion on the follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995 and undertake a comprehensive review of the Conference's outcome.

The Commission was also expected to hold elections of officers and adopt its 2000 agenda. (For background on the reports before the Commission, see Press Release WOM/1176.)

Statements

ANGELA KING, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, said the presence of many distinguished delegations testified to the importance accorded the Commission's work by Member States. The new Bureau would guide the Commission over the next two years as it carried out the challenging task of laying the foundations for implementing the decisions made by the forthcoming special session of the General Assembly. The Bureau would also set the context, pace and tone for constructive dialogue at the Commission's first session of the new century. The work of the outgoing chairperson and the other members of the Bureau had contributed to the Commission's success.

She said the current session was taking place at a critical time in the quest for women's advancement. The year 2000 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Beijing Conference and the year of the General Assembly's special session. It was also the year of the World Social Summit (Copenhagen + 5), and the Millennium Assembly. Beginning next week, the Commission, acting as the preparatory committee for the special session, would assess progress and define future priorities. Its assessment would provide vital input for the discussions due to start on Friday. Tremendous efforts had gone into preparations, and much had been achieved since Beijing, at all levels.

Continuing, she highlighted areas of recent progress: women lived longer and were generally healthier; they had greater access to nutrition; more girls were schooled; there was higher employment among women; there had been an increasing recognition at the national level of women's human rights; rape had been designated a war crime; and awareness of violence against women had increased. She also noted changes in women's role in society; the impact of a critical mass of women on decision-making; and progress made towards eliminating stereotypes and gender roles.

On the other side of the picture, she noted that poverty among women had deepened and violence against them, especially in the home, had increased. Women's vulnerability in armed conflict was also deepening, and their specific health-care needs, separate from men’s, had not been sufficiently considered. Women's human rights had been blatantly ignored in some countries, and girls attending school were still the first to be pulled out in times of crisis. More than ever before, the nature of women's work was of a more part-time, informal, unregulated and unstable nature.

The United Nations system had been responding fully to those realities and challenges, she said, but high on the agenda was the need to ensure that gains made in the area of gender streaming were not eroded as a result of downsizing. Mechanisms needed to be established to ensure responsibility for promoting gender equality programmes on the part of managers and to develop indicators to measure progress in mainstreaming. In a very striking report presented by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on gender focal points, concern was expressed about the low percentage of gender focal points involved in decision- making on a continuous basis: 25.7 per cent. Another report, by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), had found that, despite some progress at the country level, the integration of a gender perspective had been "disappointingly weak".

Confusion persisted between the goals of gender mainstreaming and of achieving a 50/50 gender balance between women and men in professional posts, she went on. Also present was the lack of effective measurement tools to assess progress, including more concrete guidelines integrating gender perspectives more consistently and forcefully into medium-term planning and programme budgeting. If gender advancement of women's programmes at the United Nations and relevant agencies were to continue "on a firm footing" into the twenty-first century, they might not be able to continue to depend on extrabudgetary funding for a substantive part of their activities.

The Beijing Conference had indeed been a "critical milestone" in the advancement of women, she said. Member States, international organizations and civil society had responded to the challenges set in the Declaration and Platform for Action in many strategic and specific ways. Clearly, "swift, bold and uncompromising" policies were needed to search for more effective ways of implementation. In that context, the Commission could provide authoritative advice to the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council and guide national machineries, international organizations and civil society towards meeting the goals set in Beijing.

YAKIN ERTURK, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, introduced the documents before the Commission and promised that members would embrace the challenging task of accelerating the full implementation of the Beijing outcome and play a key role in turning promises and commitments into a reality for women worldwide. Patricia Flor and the other members of the Commission’s outgoing Bureau had made invaluable contributions to the work of the Commission and the advancement of women.

ANTONIO COSTA LOBO (Portugal), speaking on behalf of the European Union, noted that the Beijing Platform for Action, in its own words, was “an agenda for women’s empowerment”. During the five years of the Platform’s existence, it had helped focus attention on the issue of women’s rights as human rights, the promotion and protection of which was the first responsibility of governments. The Platform had also placed new emphasis on the importance of a rights-based approach to gender equality as the framework in which all issues must be considered.

The Commission was now at a time of “stocktaking and evaluation” of measures adopted, achievements made and obstacles encountered, in the implementation of the Platform, he said. “Above all”, he said, “we have to assess where fundamental rights are denied to women or where women, representing more that half of the world’s population, have been excluded or marginalized from the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.” This type of analysis should become the basis for promoting the Platform at local, regional and international levels and would ensure a coordinated approach within the United Nations system.

It would also be important to examine the future role of the Commission itself, including its working methods and mandate, to ensure that it remained a dynamic forum for the coordination of implementation. In that regard, the integrated implementation and follow-up to the major United Nations conferences and summits of the 1990s should be kept in mind.

The European Union was pleased that a gender perspective had been incorporated in recent international legal instruments such as the Statute of the International Criminal Court, where gender-based crimes, including rape and forced sexual slavery, would, henceforth, be considered crimes against humanity or war crimes. This Statute made it indispensable that the Court conduct its proceedings in a gender-sensitive way. He called for early signature and ratification of this Statute by all States.

The Union regretted, however, that universal ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women by the year 2000 had not been achieved despite many appeals and commitments. He said that efforts to reach this objective must continue and that all reservations that were incompatible with the objectives and principles of the Convention must be withdrawn in order to bridge the gap between ratification and full implementation.

He said that in the five years since Beijing, many positive developments had occurred in the European Union’s region. He drew special attention to the Treaty of Amsterdam (1999), that aimed to promote equality between men and women and the systematic adoption of Implementation Strategies for the Beijing Platform. The European Union also had developed cooperative programmes and projects where a systematic effort had been made to integrate a gender dimension and the idea of gender equality into issues that were political in nature.

Another aspect of those polices which he emphasized were new tools and instruments that would allow countries to better identify areas where action was needed and to evaluate and monitor progress in qualitative and quantitative terms, and to devise mechanisms and strategies for the achievement of gender equality. Those tools must be fully developed and applied, as they were essential elements for the regular functioning of monitoring and accountability mechanisms.

Some other aspects of developments in the European Union that deserved particular notice were programmes that addressed the issue of violence against women, increased efforts to combat the problem of trafficking in women, and addressing the critical issue of women in power and decision-making.

He emphasized the importance of women’s sexual and reproductive rights. The United Nations had paid increasing attention to this issue, and the European Union was aware of the need to promote those rights, both at national level and in development cooperation.

HAJIA A.S. ISMAIL (Nigeria), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that since the adoption of the Beijing Platform, developing countries had made special efforts to implement it. However, some obstacles to translating the objectives and commitments of the Platform into reality existed. Developing countries currently faced specific challenges such as globalization, new and expanding technology and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The Group of 77 believed, she said, that it was essential for the developing countries to have access to new and improved communication and technology to enable them to compete effectively in an increasingly globalized economy. Focus should, therefore, be placed on how developing countries could benefit from the opportunities created by new technology, especially regarding the status of women.

On the issue of the AIDS epidemic, she said that the fact that women were twice as likely to be infected as men made this a particular challenge. Developing countries, particularly Africa, were worse hit by this pandemic, which had been described as “the greatest catastrophe in modern history”. “Only partnership and cooperation can effectively manage and control this tragedy affecting humanity”, she said.

Developing and developed countries must work together to create an enabling environment for the advancement and empowerment of women, she said. Political will and commitment at both the national and international levels were necessary prerequisites for the full realization of the goals of the Platform for Action.

She said it was lamentable that the 12 critical areas of concern identified in the Platform had not been fully implemented. Therefore, the Group remained fully committed to a thorough assessment and realistic review of the Platform and wished to reiterate its call for the provision of adequate resources to facilitate the translation of the commitments into concrete actions at both the national and international level.

TREVOR HUGHES (New Zealand) said the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action had embodied his country's full aspirations towards the achievement of women's equality and empowerment. The comprehensive report of the Secretary- General on its implementation had highlighted the Platform’s positive impact and showed that while barriers had impeded full implementation, none were insurmountable. The realization of its goals, however, would require political will to address the new challenges of implementation. The special session must produce specific, concrete measures at all levels to overcome obstacles to implementation. There was no need to rewrite the Platform, as it had remained the fundamental charter for all efforts towards gender equality and empowerment.

He said the special session must also address the changing global environment and the new or enhanced challenges to implementation. Of particular concern were the persistent gaps in the economic and social status of indigenous women and girls, who often lagged behind their counterparts, with shorter life expectancy, lower income, fewer jobs, poorer health and fewer opportunities in decision-making roles. His country was committed to addressing those issues in a long-term and sustainable way. The commitment of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) was central to implementing the Beijing outcome.

Gender mainstreaming had remained a key global strategy underpinning the promotion of gender equality in the Beijing Platform, he said. Despite the promotion of gender mainstreaming within the United Nations, his country was particularly concerned about the failure of the United Nations system to achieve the goal of 50/50 gender balance by 2000. Significant steps had been undertaken to ensure that women had been represented in the broad range of activities, but a renewed push regarding the representation of women in the Secretariat was needed, particularly at the senior and policy-making levels, including through a coordinated approach to identifying potential opportunities to advance or recruit women.

Universal ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women represented another unmet Beijing goal, he went on. The number of ratifications had grown to 165, and the remaining States were urged to ratify it. The Convention provided the legal underpinning for implementation of the Beijing Platform. The monitoring body, namely, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, had made a significant contribution in that regard. The Beijing + 5 review would be an opportunity to show the women of the world the determination of its leaders to turn their words into positive and urgent action.

FLORENCE IEVERS (Canada) said that the Commission on the Status of Women continued to play an important role in the implementation of the Platform for Action and in mainstreaming a gender perspective throughout the United Nations system. In that regard, she welcomed the report of the Secretary-General on the assessment of the implementation of the medium-term plan for the advancement of women and encouraged the Secretariat to use the report’s “lessons learned” as a guide in the development of a new plan for 2002-2005. At the conclusion of the special session, the Commission should also continue to push the global agenda for women’s empowerment forward by maintaining the flexibility to address emerging issues.

She said that the best way to achieve gender equality in the twenty-first century was to ensure that future initiatives were based on the best practices and lessons learned from the review and appraisal process. The principles that were the foundation of the Beijing Platform should guide the Commission’s work in shaping the global agenda for women’s empowerment. One of the key issues that had emerged from Beijing was the need to respect and value the diversity of women’s experiences both within and between countries and to recognize that some women faced barriers due to factors of race, class and indigenous and migratory status.

She also said that partnerships were critical for full implementation of the Platform. Key alliances included government and NGO collaboration and partnerships between international organizations, such as the United Nations, world governments and NGOs.

JO CALDWELL (Australia) said that the Beijing Platform had set the standard for measures to advance the status of women, and that Australia’s progress since the 1995 World Conference had revealed very substantial achievements for and by Australian women. “Australian women have a wider range of choices and opportunities than ever before”, she said. They were sharing in the benefits of Australia’s sound economy and female unemployment was at a nine- year low. Vocational choices for women were also expanding rapidly and women had significantly increased their share of apprentices and trainees. More women and girls were now studying non-traditional subjects, including science and technology.

She said that to complete its economic reforms, Australia had developed new visions and new directions for addressing the social issues in that country. This new vision demonstrated that governments alone could not make women equal -– no amount of funding or legislative reforms would achieve gender equality. “Issues of gender require committed effort from society as a whole”, she said. To that end, Australia was actively building social coalitions between the Government and society.

Finally, she said that the Australian Government was firmly committed to the full and active participation of all spheres of public and private life. Women’s participation was vital to reflect the talents, experience and aspirations of all citizens. Australia would continue to consolidate and build upon its achievements since Beijing so those women could realize their full potential in the dynamic society of the twenty-first century.

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ (Cuba)said that millions of women worldwide had focused their energies on implementation of the Beijing Platform. Many laws had been adopted, but despite all of the inroads made, there were still many obstacles and challenges to be tackled in order to turn the Platform into a reality. Its validity was absolute, however, and should continue as the main international document for the advancement of women in the coming years. While globalization could be an ideal framework for implementing the Beijing outcome, the serious negative consequences that the globalization process had incurred on women and children could not be minimized. Similarly, the differing impact of the technological revolution on women of the north and south should be examined.

She said that implementation of the Beijing goals had led to the approval of national measures, and the State Council had expressed its willingness to assume responsibility for enacting the relevant policies. Indeed, there had been quantitative and qualitative improvements for Cuban women in the economic and social life of the country. Their representation in leadership positions had grown, along with their parliamentary presence. Her Government, which had been the first to sign and the second to ratify the anti-discrimination Convention, had decided to proceed to the signing of the Optional Protocol during the Commission's session.

Yet, despite her Government's firm willingness to improve the conditions of women, the many problems linked to the consequences of the "unjust and unilateral" economic blockade against Cuba had prevented its realization. Better times lay ahead, however, where the conditions existed for women's prospects for growth and the full exercise of their equality. Women, themselves, women's organizations, governments and the international community would take up the fight to provide the necessary justice.

SHAHRIZAT ABDUL JALIL (Malaysia) said that his Government remained committed to the pursuance of gender equality as acknowledged by the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. His country had since attempted to ensure that the principles of the Conference and the Beijing Platform could be realized.

Some of the institutional reforms that had taken place as a result of Malaysia’s efforts to strengthen the national machinery for the advancement of women were strengthening an inter-ministerial coordinating body that would act as a forum accountable for working relationships; upgrading the country’s lead agency dealing with women’s issues to a full fledged department; and giving a new mandate to the National Council on the Integration of Women in Development (NACIWID) so that it could be a more proactive advocate, advising and influencing decision-makers on the issues pertaining to the development of women.

He said that Malaysia was fully committed to gender mainstreaming. To that end, his country had instituted enabling mechanisms to help government agencies mainstream a gender perspective at all stages of the development planning process, in line with national development policy. In addition, raising awareness of government officials, especially planners and policy- makers, was being carried out as an ongoing programme.

In the critical area of concern, “women and poverty”, he emphasized the importance of empowering women to raise their standard of living. “We believe that the route to women’s empowerment lies through self-employment and self- reliance.” To that end, the Malaysian Government and NGOs had launched countrywide programmes, which had made it evident that women participated actively as agents for economic change.

He said that Malaysia would hold tenaciously to its “balanced development” concept –-which promoted the theory that men and women, regardless of race or group, benefited equally from development. His Government would continue to strengthen all activities for the advancement of women in the spirit of the Beijing Platform and, in conformity with its national policies, continue to contribute to international efforts for the empowerment of women.

JUAN LARRAIN (Chile) said that significant advances had been made towards implementation of the commitments undertaken at Beijing. Of particular importance had been the completion last year of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which would be a key instrument for the full operation of the Convention. His country had been the first to sign that important instrument for the protection of the human rights of women; hopefully, others would accede to it without delay.

He said that for his country, the Beijing Conference had galvanized public opinion on gender issues, which, until then, had been ignored. His Government had identified as key thematic areas those of education, employment, participation, poverty and the family. The advances made over the past decade in each of those field had been considerable. Despite overall progress, cultural resistance to such change had still not allowed for the truly active participation of women. Indeed, their participation still resembled a pyramid: a broad base, but narrow at the top. It was, therefore, necessary to promote the idea of shared family responsibilities as one of the ways of ensuring that women were able to participate equally in public life.

Combating extreme poverty in Chile had been another one of his Government's main commitments, he said. Indeed, during the past 10 years, the number of poor households in Chile had declined, and a large number of such households had crossed over the poverty threshold, thanks to the economic contribution of women. The number of poor households with both a father and mother present had declined, indicating that the paid employment of women was key to overcoming poverty. For that reason, the Government had initiated a comprehensive programme to train low-income women, particularly women heads of household. Significant progress had also been made to protect women and children in the family, but a great deal remained to be done.

YORIKO MEGURO (Japan) said that while Japan had made steady efforts towards the realization of gender equality, at present, the country was experiencing rapid socio-economic changes such as globalization, the trend towards fewer children, population ageing and the maturation of domestic economic activities. Therefore, it was urgent to work to create a gender-equal society; one in which women and men respected each other’s human rights, shared responsibilities and were able to fully exercise their individuality and abilities regardless of sex.

In that connection, she said that Japan had enacted the Basic Law for a Gender-Equal Society last year. This law laid out the fundamental principles concerning the realization of a gender-equal society, clarified the responsibilities of the Government in this area and provided the basis for policy formulation. To ensure respect for women’s rights, measures had also been taken to deal with violence against women, including sexual offences and sexual harassment.

Despite these developments, many issues remained, she said. First among these was overcoming the notion of a stereotyped division of roles based on gender in Japanese society. That would be a particular challenge for the twenty-first century. Recognizing the need for education and advocacy activities, the Japanese Government had begun to plan and implement actions. Gender-equal schools and education had been reinforced, and there were plans to introduce gender-equal education to children in the home in the hope of overcoming stereotyped notions.

She went on to say that the Government of Japan recognized the importance of integrating a gender perspective into all policy matters and was currently considering a methodology that could be used to examine the impact of government policies on the formation of a gender-equal society.

Finally, she said that Japan’s Prime Minister had called for the twenty- first century to be a “human-centred century”. That approach aimed at protecting all human beings from the threats of poverty, environmental degradation, armed conflict and displacement. In order to cope with those challenges, women must be empowered and given the opportunity to realize their potential. Japan, therefore, would continue to put a gender perspective into its human-centred approach.

JUWA YEYI (Malawi) said that his country had conducted many awareness- raising meetings as a follow-up to the Beijing Conference. It had also launched a national plan for action in 1997, which was a declaration of its commitment to improve the status of women with the long-term objective of achieving gender equality. The Beijing Platform had been a powerful agenda for women's empowerment, as it called for the integration of a gender perspective in all programmes and actions. It encompassed, among others, the following objectives for women: increased participation in agriculture; increased employment; access to reproductive health services; food security and nutrition; and environmental and natural resource management.

He said his country's own declaration covered, among other issues: practices negatively affecting the girl child; violence against women; the plight of Malawi women; their participation in politics and decision making; the effects of armed conflict on women; and their involvement in conflict resolution. Following the Fourth World Conference, his Government had sought to create a conducive environment for poverty eradication and the empowerment of women. Financial institutions had been encouraged to target rural women, and the value to women of the informal sector had been recognized. Access to health services by women and men of reproductive age had improved, and the implementation of the national population and development scheme had been reviewed to mainstream gender concerns.

Among other achievements had been the development of a national nutrition plan, which emphasized food security and utilization, he said. An intensified social mobilization campaign had been launched to change attitudes towards girls' education, and their enrolment in primary schools had doubled. Several steps had also been taken to combat violence against women, including the establishment of victim support and counselling services. In addition, laws governing marriage, wills and inheritance had been amended. Recognizing that the issue of women and human rights lay at the core of peace, the Government had ensured the inclusion of women and men in cross-border peace missions. The Government had also sought to increase the number of women in government and decision-making posts. Overall, he said, Malawi's gender policy, which would be launched next week, was committed to the full implementation of the objectives of the Beijing Platform and had firmly included that agenda in its own development endeavours. Sustainable development could not be achieved unless women and men worked together as partners in the new millennium.

ELINA SANA, Senior Programme Adviser for Socio-economic Development and Gender for the World Food Programme (WFP), speaking on behalf of Catherine Bertini, WFP Executive Director, said that, since Beijing, the WFP had continued to utilize its food aid rescues to invest in human survival and development. About two thirds of the world’s hungry poor were women and children, she said, and the WFP had taken up the challenge by enlisting women as its most important partners in the fight against hunger and poverty.

The WFP’s experience in addressing gender-specific hunger problems had been both encouraging and frustrating, she said. The organization had chosen to focus on four of the critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform: poverty, education, health and armed conflict. Based on those, the WFP had formulated its own Commitments to Women, thus, setting both qualitative and quantitative goals for future action.

Defining gender-specific empowerment actions and developing tools to implement them remained a challenge for WFP staff and their partners in development and relief activities, she said. Sometimes, women had been inadvertently made more vulnerable in conflict situations because they had been provided with valuable assets like food. “In extreme cases, women often get killed because they carry our food”, she said. The WFP had since decided to ration some food and to employ specific timing and place of delivery to ensure the safety of women beneficiaries.

She said that the WFP constantly struggled with the question of how to involve men in taking on positive gender roles that might upset existing power structures and cultural habits. “Gender mainstreaming means changes in power relations for both men and women”, she said.

She said that in an effort to focus resources where the WFP had a comparative advantage, the organization had selected five strategic areas: health, education and training, asset creation, disaster mitigation and sustainable livelihoods in environmentally degraded locations. Women played a major role in all those strategic areas.

YOUYUN ZHANG, Director, Bureau for Gender Equality, International Labour Organization (ILO), said that the ILO had identified several areas of concern critical to women’s rights in its follow-up efforts to the Beijing Platform. Those included poverty eradication and productive employment; working conditions and social protection; international labour standards; and normative action on women workers. Some specific programmes had been launched, such as the international programme “More and Better Jobs for Women”. She said that the economic changes that had restructured global labour markets had opened new opportunities and also presented new challenges. In spite of their increased participation in the labour force and other positive developments, the majority of women continued to face persistent barriers in the labour market. Women’s jobs continued to be concentrated in mainly low paid, semi-skilled forms of wage work or self-employment. In the wider labour market, the “glass ceiling” phenomenon continued to be a challenge. To counter some of these difficulties, the ILO had intensified its work in a number of areas, including improving the employability of women and widening their access to jobs and incomes, increasing the protection of women and families against growing insecurity and enhancing women’s participation in decision-making at all levels.

“The implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action is a learning process for us all”, she said. What was now required was further joint and reinforced action: action to enhance political commitment, action to translate political will to gender specific policies, programmes and resource allocation, and action to forge strong alliances and partnerships at the local and global levels, and between men and women.

RAWWIDA BAKSHSODEEN, of the Commonwealth Secretariat, said that, while much progress had been made in the area of promoting equal rights for women, gender inequalities continued to exist mainly because they were deeply imbedded in the political, cultural and social fabric of many countries. In that regard, the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Women’s Affairs Ministers had identified and produced tools such as publications and gender management systems to assist governments in their efforts at gender mainstreaming.

She said that the Commonwealth Secretariat had also identified what she called a “gender budget initiative”, which recognized that national budgets were key policy instruments that could either advance the equality of women in society or exacerbate inequality. The analysis of budget expenditures to promote equality was effective in that regard.

The main obstacle facing gender equality programmes was the lack of resources, she said. At its Ministers meeting in New Delhi in April, the Commonwealth Secretariat would seek to explore new relationships that would provide cooperative funding and development opportunities. “Governments, NGOs, United Nations agencies and all other actors need to see the work we are doing as a cooperative partnership”, she said.

She said that the Commonwealth Secretariat was committed to its endorsement and support of the work of the Commission and the processes included in the Plan of Action. The implementation of the Plan would promote gender equality, development and peace.

A representative from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), speaking on behalf of UNFPA’s Executive Director, Nafis Sadik, said that the Commission’s current review of the Beijing Platform provided the opportunity to assess “how far we have come and how far we yet have to go in eliminating all forms of gender discrimination”. The review process also provided the opportunity to reassess strategies and to share and exchange views on the most rewarding and proven approaches.

He went on to say that while progress had been made in the important areas that affected women’s health, women continued to bear far too much of a burden of ill health from their reproductive roles. One of the most persistent

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examples of that trend was the high level of maternal mortality rates in many regions of the world. Greater political will and a clearer focus on women’s health as a central tenet of health policies were required to reverse that trend. The UNFPA continued to implement a life-cycle approach to women’s health issues so that pregnancy could be placed in the context of a woman’s entire existence in order to significantly improve the probabilities of safe motherhood.

The HIV|AIDS pandemic also continued to jeopardize the health of both men and women, she said. In the new century, however, women were rapidly reaching and surpassing the number of infected men. The fact that millions of women would die from AIDS this year pointed to the need for renewed efforts and a rethinking of strategies for combating the disease. The UNFPA would continue to play its part to address that problem by promoting the empowerment of women and girls, and supporting preventive activities that responded to the specific needs of women, men and youth.

The Beijing Platform was an essential blueprint for the development of an integrated approach to the advancement of women, she said. Achieving the goals stated therein required sufficient financial and human resources, committed government action and priority setting, and effective, transparent partnerships. The UNFPA would continue to build all its activities on the premise that women’s rights were universal, indivisible and inalienable human rights.

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