1 March 2000

Press Release



Of the 100 million children out of school, two-thirds of them were girls, the Commission on the Status of Women was told this afternoon as it continued its appraisal of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995.

That situation was unacceptable and must be reversed, Zofia Olszowska of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said. While it had been widely accepted that education was the single most effective investment for empowering both women and men, gains made in recent years had been insufficient and unevenly spread across regions. A new framework for action was expected in April at the World Forum in Dakar, which promised to be the biggest review of education in history.

In other business today, the Commission heard the introduction of draft resolutions on: the release of women and children taken hostage, including those subsequently imprisoned, in armed conflicts; the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan; the situation of and assistance to Palestinian women; and women, the girl child and HIV/AIDS.

Introducing the draft on the situation of women in Afghanistan, which would have the Economic and Social Council condemn the continuing grave violations of the human rights of women and girls in all areas of Afghanistan, particularly those under the control of the Taliban, the United States representative said the Commission could not allow those terrible violations to continue with impunity. It must be made unmistakably clear that the terrible suffering inflicted on women and girls in Afghanistan must be stopped.

The representative of Azerbaijan, introducing the text on women and children hostages, which would have the Commission condemn violent acts against civilian women and children in areas of armed conflict and call for their immediate release, said the increasing phenomenon of civilian hostage-taking in order to achieve specific political goals was a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.

Texts were also introduced by the representatives of Nigeria and Zambia.

Commission on Status of Women - 1a - Press Release WOM/1182 6th Meeting (PM) 1 March 2000

Statements were made by the representatives of Peru, Mongolia, Panama, and Jordan, as well as by the representatives of the World Health Organization and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Representatives of the following non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also addressed the meeting: International Organization for Migration; World Blind Union; NGO Caucus on Violence Against Women; International Federation of University Women; and the Asia-Pacific Forum.

The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again at 3 p.m. Thursday, 2 March to conclude its regular annual session, before resuming as the preparatory committee for the General Assembly special session in June on “Beijing + 5”.

Commission on Status of Women - 2 - Press Release WOM/1182 6th Meeting (PM) 1 March 2000

Commission Work Programme

The Commission on the Status of Women met this afternoon to resume its general discussion on implementation of the Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, and to hear the introduction of draft resolutions.

Draft Resolutions

A draft resolution on the release of women and children taken hostage, including those subsequently imprisoned, in armed conflicts (document E/CN.6/2000/L.2), sponsored by Azerbaijan, would have the Commission condemn violent acts in contravention of international humanitarian law against civilian women and children in areas of armed conflict and call for an effective response to such acts, including the immediate release of such women and children.

Also according to the text, the Commission would strongly urge all parties to armed conflicts to respect fully the norms of international humanitarian law in armed conflict and take all necessary measures for the protection of these women and children and for their immediate release. The Commission would urge all parties to conflicts to provide unimpeded access to specialized humanitarian assistance for these women and children.

The Secretary-General and all relevant international organizations would be requested to use their capabilities and efforts to facilitate the release of these women and children.

A draft on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan (document E/CN.6/2000/L.4) would have the Economic and Social Council condemn the continuing grave violations of the human rights of women and girls, including all forms of discrimination against them, in all areas of Afghanistan, particularly in areas under the control of the Taliban.

The Council would also condemn the restrictions on women's access to health care and the systematic violation of the human rights of women in Afghanistan, including the restrictions on access to education and to employment outside the home, freedom of movement, and freedom from intimidation, harassment and violence, which has serious detrimental effect on the well-being of Afghan women and the children in their care.

In that connection, the Council would urge the Taliban and other Afghan parties to recognize, protect, promote and act in accordance with, all human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of gender, ethnicity or religion, in accordance with international human rights instruments, and to respect international humanitarian law.

All Afghan parties, in particular the Taliban, would be urged to bring to an end, without delay, all human rights violations against women and girls and to take urgent measures to ensure, among other things: the repeal of all discriminatory legislative and other measures which impede the realization of the human rights of women and girls; respect for the equal right of women to work; the equal right of women and girls to education; and respect for freedom of movement for women.

Under a further provision, States would be urged to continue to give special attention to the promotion and protection of the human rights of women in Afghanistan and to maintain a gender perspective in all aspects of their policies and actions related to Afghanistan.

The Secretary-General would be urged to ensure that all United Nations activities in Afghanistan were carried out according to the principle of non- discrimination against women and girls, and that a gender perspective and special attention to the human rights of women and girls were fully incorporated into the work of the civil affairs unit established within the United Nations Mission to Afghanistan (UNMA).

The draft resolution is sponsored by Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, Germany, Ghana, Iceland, Japan, Kenya, Liechtenstein and the United States.

Under a draft text on the situation of and assistance to Palestinian women (document E/CN.6/2000/L.5), the Economic and Social Council would demand that Israel, the occupying Power, comply fully with the provisions and principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Regulations annexed to The Hague Convention of 1907 and the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, in order to protect the rights of Palestinian women and their families.

The Council would call upon Israel to facilitate the return of all refugees and displaced Palestinian women and children to their homes and properties, in compliance with the relevant United Nations resolution.

In a related provision, the Council would call upon the concerned parties, as well as the entire international community, to exert all the necessary efforts to ensure the continuity and success of the peace process and its conclusion by the agreed time of September 2000 and the achievement of tangible progress in the improvement of the situation of Palestinian women and their families.

The Council would urge Member States, financial organizations of the United Nations system, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other relevant institutions to intensify their efforts to provide financial and technical assistance to Palestinian women, especially during the transitional period.

The draft resolution is sponsored by Nigeria on behalf of the States Member of the United Nations that are members of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China.

A draft resolution sponsored by Zambia, on behalf of the Group of African States, on women, the girl child and HIV/AIDS (document E/CN.6/2000/L.6) would have the Commission urge governments to take all necessary measures to strengthen women's economic independence and to protect and promote their human rights and fundamental freedoms in order to allow them to better protect themselves from HIV infection. The Commission would also urge governments to take steps to create an environment that promotes compassion and support for those infected with HIV, to provide the legal framework that would protect the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, to enable those who were vulnerable to have access to appropriate counselling services and to encourage efforts to reduce discrimination and stigmatization.

It would also urge governments, with the assistance of relevant United Nations agencies, funds and programmes and intergovernmental and non- governmental organizations to create an environment and conditions that would take care of and support children orphaned by AIDS.

Governments, with the assistance of relevant United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, would be further urged to adopt a long-term, timely, coherent and integrated AIDS-prevention policy, with public information and life-skills-based education programmes specifically tailored to the needs of women and girls within their socio-cultural context and sensitivities and the specific needs in their life cycle.

In a related provision, the Commission would urge, also, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and its co-sponsors to intensify their efforts in assisting governments to determine the best policies and programmes to prevent women and young girls from becoming infected with HIV/AIDS.

Introductions of Drafts

The representative of Azerbaijan introduced the draft resolution on release of women and children taken hostage, including those subsequently imprisoned, in armed conflict (document E/CN.6/2000/L.2). The Beijing Platform had acknowledged the existence of conflicts in many parts of the world, as well as the effects on women and men in nearly every region of aggression, foreign occupation, ethnic and other types of conflicts. Women and children had been the most vulnerable. Taking civilians as hostages as a means of political pressure to achieve specific political goals had been an increasingly common phenomenon and a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.

She said that various reports of the Secretary-General on the subject containing information by States and international organizations had noted that some parties to conflicts had committed themselves to stopping the practice of detaining civilians. That had highlighted the need to consolidate the efforts of governments, international organizations, and members of civil society to combat the practice and achieve the rapid and unconditional release of civilian women and children taken hostage in areas of armed conflict.

The principal aspect of the present draft resolution had been humanitarian in scope, as it had concerned bringing to light the practice, she said. The resolution was also preventive in character and was meant to serve as a barrier for any party to armed conflict engaged in the practice of hostage-taking. Hopefully, certain results would be achieved as a result of the draft, including the release of hostages and their return home and the elimination of mutual hostility and suspicion, which might become an important tool for peace. The representative of the United States introduced the resolution on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan (document E/CN.6/2000/L.4). She said the draft followed up on the text adopted at the Commission's last session, which had addressed the deplorable and intolerable conditions imposed on women and girls in Afghanistan. Those conditions had limited their human rights and affected their access to education, employment and health care. Under the control of the Taliban, such widespread and systematic violations of human rights had continued, and discrimination against women had been officially sanctioned. The report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women had indicated that minor improvements had occurred in Afghanistan with regard to primary education and the health sector.

She then amended operative paragraph 9 to read as follows:

"Notes the report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences, on her mission to Pakistan and Afghanistan, which indicates certain minor improvements in girls' access to primary schools and women working in the health sector."

She said that in operative paragraph 7, the word "maintain" on the second line should be changed to "mainstream" so that the paragraph would read:

"Urges States to continue to give special attention to the promotion and protection of human rights of women in Afghanistan and to mainstream a gender perspective into all aspects of their policies and actions related to Afghanistan."

The Commission could not allow those terrible violations against women and girls to continue with impunity, she said. It must be made unmistakably clear that the terrible suffering inflicted on women and girls in Afghanistan was not culture and was totally unacceptable. Everything possible must be done to stop it. The adoption of the resolution would be a necessary part of the international community's effort to reaffirm that the intolerable situation of women and girls in Afghanistan must be remedied.

The representative of Nigeria introduced the text on the situation of Palestinian women (document E/CN.6/2000/L.5). Most of the paragraphs were similar to last year's text; however, two paragraphs were newly worded: the fifth preambular paragraph had stressed the need for full implementation of the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum of 4 September 1999, and full compliance with the existing agreements, as well as the need for the conclusion of the final settlement by the agreed time of September 2000.

She said the first operative paragraph, which combined elements from last year's text, called upon the concerned parties and the international community to ensure the continued success of the peace process and its conclusion by the agreed time and the achievement of tangible progress in improvement of the situation of Palestinian women. Hopefully, the text would be adopted by consensus.

The representative of Zambia, introducing the draft on women, the girl child and HIV/AIDS (document E/CN.6/2000/L.6), said that while the crisis had been growing in every region of the world, in sub-Saharan Africa the magnitude of the growth had been daunting. An increased percentage of girls were living with the infection and they were at a higher risk of being infected than boys. That had required a stronger and comprehensive reference to HIV/AIDS, as an emerging issue, in the outcome document of the General Assembly's special session. Gender-focused responses to AIDS needed to be evolved, and it should be ascertained whether existing structures were enough to cope with the scope of the problem.

Questions about what could be done to alleviate suffering and stress of care givers and how to address the correlation between HIV and poverty needed to be addressed, she said. The African Group of States, for its part, would work to see that further concrete actions were identified. The present draft was essentially an update of last year's text; the Group would concentrate efforts on the outcome document of the special session. At the same time, the Group had recognized the importance of continuing to table a resolution on the subject, which continued to require the urgent response of governments, and regional and international organizations.

The representative of Syria said that in the Arabic translation of the text on the situation of Palestinian women, the word "status" should be translated in a way that resembled the French translation, as that would be a more accurate reflection of the intent.

The representatives of Iraq, Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria, as well as the observer for Palestine, endorsed the comment made by the Syrian representative.


NAFSIAH MBOI, Director, Department of Women’s Health, World Health Organization (WHO), said that the grim reality of the lives of the women of the world was depressing. Over 70 per cent of the 1.2 billion poor were women. “They live in poverty so oppressive it effects their minds, their bodies and their spirits.” That grim statistic served as a reminder of the degree to which the issue of women’s health reflects the overall situation of women. In that regard, it was important to recall that a woman’s right to health, to health information and appropriate health services was a human right set forth in the various international agreements endorsed by most of the countries of the world.

Nevertheless, he continued, much work still needed to be done. Some issues had not been addressed and, in some cases, the inequities were glaring. In some cases, the evidence for action was clear, but political will was lacking. He went on to say that if governments, United Nations agencies and civil society were truly committed to completing in the next five years the “unfinished business of Beijing”, they must act promptly, decisively and effectively to make available the necessary human and financial resources focus and accelerate the implementation of the Platform.

Ms. GLASSOCOCK, speaking on behalf of the Deputy Director-General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that, while partly the result of family reunification, the increasing number of women migrating internationally had been mainly due to the worldwide increase in female- dominated jobs within the service sector, family survival strategies in deteriorating economic conditions, and the generally increasing independence of women in many countries. Women in search of temporary labour had also been on the rise. The increased migration had been accompanied by a greater irregular migration, which had provided lucrative opportunities to traffickers.

Indeed, she said, trafficking in women violated their basic human rights and posed numerous risks, including unsafe travel, sexual violence, and denied access to social services. For her organization, combating trafficking in migrants, especially women, had been a high priority. Its focus had been on two types of activities: prevention before victimization through the launching of information campaigns in areas of origin; and the provision of assistance in the form of rescue and rehabilitation to those who had already suffered the consequences.

KOFI ASOMANI, of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that since the Beijing Conference, the UNHCR and its government, NGO and United Nations partners had made a significant effort to design new strategies to address the recommendations outlined in the 12 critical areas of the Platform for Action. Those strategies had included workshops on incorporating gender equality in the development of projects and country operations plans and people-oriented planning training to provide UNHCR staff and implementing partners with a framework for analysing the different experiences of women and men refugees, returnees and internally displaced people.

He said that in order for UNHCR's initial involvement in recovery programmes in post-conflict scenarios to be effective, solid gender analysis was needed in all activities. In order to be properly implemented, effective coordination mechanisms were needed to ensure that programmes promoted gender equality through the preparation for safe, dignified and voluntary repatriation to the point of handover of activities to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other developmental agencies. In the first of many joint endeavours, the UNHCR and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) had been developing programmes to assist the survivors of sexual- and gender- based violence in Sierra Leone as they returned to their cities, villages and communities after the civil war.

Following the success of the Rwandan and Bosnian Women's Initiative, another such programme had been launched in Kosovo, he said. Towards implementation of the Kosovo Women's Initiative, the United States had contributed $10 million to mobilize women throughout Kosovo, assist them and their families in rebuilding their lives, and promote their equality and empowerment as agents of change and solidarity. More significantly, perhaps, the initiative had been creating a Kosovo-wide forum through the mass media and at the village level for the discussion of the rights and changing roles of women in Kosovo society. In the United Republic of Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Kenya, community-based, multi-sectoral programmes to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence were under way.

The representative of Peru said that the Beijing Platform had been enacted to transform global ideas and attitudes in the area of gender equality for women. The Platform would prove an important tool in the elimination of poverty. It would also ensure equal access to health services, and promote autonomy.

He said that the struggle against poverty was one of the main areas in which his country had made great strides. The magnitude of that achievement, as well as advances in the areas of women’s health and education, could only be understood with the knowledge that their implementation had taken place during years of terrorist violence. The gender approach was, therefore, crucial in a society marked by structural violence.

Institutional mechanisms within the government apparatus had been the basic vector for the gender-based approach, he said. These mechanisms had been established to harmonize the efforts of the Government and civil society in the area of gender equality. The Platform was an immutable document and the current review of its implementation would provide an important means to identify new initiatives and strategies.

The representative of Mongolia said that the efforts made since Beijing had resulted in significant progress, and it was now more widely recognized that much more should be done to ensure gender equality, development and peace for women in the twenty-first century. Her Government had adopted a national programme of action for the advancement of women in 1996, which had initially covered 10 critical areas of concern. A new chapter on environment and women had since been incorporated. Towards the promotion of gender equality, the Government had focused on further development of legislation, enhancing social security, and protecting women's human rights.

She said that last year, a new labour law had come into effect, which had contained specific provisions prohibiting acts of discrimination, exclusion or preference in labour relations. Women's equal rights for inheritance, land use, ownership of livestock and other properties had been formalized in a civil code and family law. Newly amended legislation on social insurance and social security had guaranteed pensions and benefits for pregnant women and mothers caring for their children. A national poverty alleviation programme had also focused on gender equality, as more than 60 per cent of the beneficiaries had been women. Another priority concern of the Government was improving the living conditions of rural women, and raising their educational and cultural level.

Despite such achievements, she said her country was still facing many obstacles requiring an increased effort on the part of the Government and civil society. Economic hardships of the transitional period that had affected, first of all, the vulnerable segments of the population, including women, had called for more effective measures to reduce unemployment and poverty, improve basic social services, promote the advancement of women through their economic and political empowerment, and combat all forms of violence against them. The special session should give fresh impetus to realizing such goals.

The representative of Panama said that his country had made efforts to emphasize the importance of addressing the question of violence against women and minors. There had also been advances in the areas of women’s reproductive heath and decision-making. It was important to note that officials had been trained to promote equity and fashion policies that recognized the human rights of women.

She said that Panamanian women now had improved access to education. She also noted that a national reform policy entitled “Education without Sexism” had been introduced to combat inequity in this important area.

The representative from Jordan said that the country’s efforts to achieve gender equality were still below the level of its aspirations. Early strategies that had focused on certain areas, such as health and education had proved insufficient because they lacked a component that took into account women’s capabilities. Jordan had now enacted a number of national development schemes which identified clear-cut priorities, and women were now making tangible progress in the fields of teaching, and social and economic development.

Many challenges and problems associated with globalization had been identified since Beijing. This demonstrated the need for an international multilateral effort to implement detailed national programmes and plans within a framework of regional and international collaboration.

ZOFIA OLSZOWSKA, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said that UNESCO had addressed all of the critical areas of concern identified at Beijing, but it would focus today on one: education. It was a widely accepted notion that education was the most effective single investment that could empower both women and men, yet positive developments during recent years had been insufficient and unevenly spread across regions. It had been estimated that the start of the new century had begun with nearly 900 million adult illiterates worldwide, two-thirds of them women. Other findings had indicated that some 100 million children remained out of school, and that two-thirds of them were girls. Those facts were unacceptable and must be reversed.

She said that the fast changing world presented a daily reminder that basic education could not just be a matter of reading, writing and counting. In that regard, UNESCO was prepared to contribute to redefining the content, indeed the goal and purpose, of basic education. Furthermore, the worldwide Education for All assessment had dramatically showcased the power of information and knowledge, which had resulted in a wellspring of renewed advocacy, public awareness, and social mobilization. The UNESCO would sustain that momentum of developing a culture of information, and it was now preparing for an important milestone in progress through the World Forum to take place in Dakar, Senegal next April.

The challenges ahead were great and the context for achieving education for all had been changing rapidly, she said. A new framework for action would emerge from the Dakar Forum that would be based on what some believed to be the biggest review of education in history. The action framework would be adopted before the end of April, just in time to provide important inputs into the

review progress made in girls' and women's education during the “Beijing + five” review in June.

A representative of the World Blind Union said that throughout the world, the modern workplace had been revolutionized by the introduction of new computer technology. Computers had also become an essential tool in education. Women with disabilities, however, suffered from serious disadvantages in their attempts to make use of those advances. Blind and illiterate women, particularly in developing countries, were often deprived of education in reading and writing, since new technologies assumed a certain level of knowledge and few used braille as a means of transcription.

She called on the Member States of the United Nations to address those needs and ensure that women with disabilities were guaranteed an equal opportunity to be educated and rehabilitated so that they could make maximum use of both traditional and new technology in the labour market. She also strongly urged the Commission to include at least one woman with disabilities in the delegations that would attend the Beijing Conference in May. Such a step would demonstrate a willingness to integrate women with disabilities into society on the basis of equality and help them gain the leadership skills that would empower them to act for their own needs in the future.

Ms. Patel, NGO Caucus on Violence Against Women, said that, whereas the Beijing Platform had recognized the physical, sexual and psychological dimensions of the problem, the Caucus had identified emerging related issues which belonged on the Commission's future agenda. Those had included an upsurge of religious extremism, which had constituted a grave threat to women's dignity, human rights, and very survival. Sexual abuse within the family, which had not been mentioned in the Beijing outcome, should also be included. Also, in the past five years, the widespread use of the Internet had led to its use as a tool for the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls.

She said the Internet had been used to promote the mail order bride trade, sex tourism, and call girl networks. As a medium boasting anonymity to its users, the Internet facilitated the networking of sexually predatory men and provided an all too easy means of connecting them to their victims. Of particular concern was the violence against women in prisons, especially in light of the increasing number of incarcerated women, including migrant women. The Caucus also wished to promote the idea that racism was a form of violence, as well as a motivation to other forms of violence. It took “gendered” forms and, when targeting women and girls, marginalized and victimized them.

The representative of Yemen said that it was his opinion that the statement by the representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had been translated incorrectly and that translators should consider the needs of all the delegations of the Commission.

The representatives of the Sudan and Lebanon also expressed support for the proper translation of statements.

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