06/03/2001
Press Release
WOM/1264



Commission on Status of Women

Forty-fifth Session

1st Meeting (AM)


COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN OPENS FORTY-FIFTH


SESSION AT HEADQUARTERS


The Commission on the Status of Women began its forty-fifth session this morning at Headquarters, with speakers focusing on, among other issues, the need for speedy implementation of the outcome document of the General Assembly’s special session on women, as well as the need for a gender-equality perspective in the upcoming special session on HIV/AIDS.


Opening the session, which will conclude on 16 March, Dubravka Šimonovic (Croatia), Chair of the Commission, said the outcome document of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, which outlines further actions and initiatives to implement the Declaration and Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995), was not merely a list of wishes, but rather a set of concrete proposals for concerted actions and implementation at the international and national levels.


She went on to say that the role of the Commission during the current session was to incorporate that document into its follow-up segment in the most efficient manner.  The Commission’s working methods should be an ongoing activity and should become sufficiently flexible.  That would enable effective, productive and action-oriented ways and means of carrying out functions in formulating policies and monitoring implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.

Angela King, Assistant Secretary-General, Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, proposed that members focus on finding strategic entry points for integrating the gender perspective into the work of the United Nations and its Members States.  The Commission now needed more than ever to focus on practical implementation strategies and workable mechanisms, as it adopted its multi-year programme.


That, she continued, could be done in two ways.  First, by linking gender equality with the main intergovernmental and expert events, such as the Millennium Summit.  The work of the Commission had influenced the Summit’s Declaration and the Millennium Assembly, which adopted a set of far-reaching resolutions on the prevention of violence against women.  Second, by incorporating gender into the critical themes with which the United Nations was concerned, such as development, globalization, poverty, HIV/AIDS and peace.


Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director, United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), said the lens through which the HIV/AIDS pandemic would be


discussed and explored during the current session would be distinct from almost any other intergovernmental forum.  The Commission would enter that frame from the perspective of gender equality -– a perspective that had been sorely missing in too many public health policies, HIV/AIDS action plans and treatment programmes. 


The reality was that the frightful epidemic was fueled by gender inequality, she added.  That reality must inform all United Nations Commissions and intergovernmental bodies considering the pandemic.  The Commission, therefore, had the opportunity to ensure that gender pervaded every future United Nations meeting on HIV/AIDS.


Also this morning, due to Misako Kaji’s (Japan) inability to resume her post as Vice-Chairperson and Rapporteur for this session, Atsuko Nishimura (Japan) was nominated by the Asian Group and elected to fill that position. 


The other officers, elected at the last session of the Commission to serve for a term of two years, are:  Kirsten Geelan (Denmark), Vice-Chair; Loreto Leyton (Chile), Vice-Chair; and Mankeur Ndiaye (Senegal), Vice-Chair.


The Commission also adopted its provisional agenda and approved its draft organization of work for the session.


In other action this morning, Yu Wenz He (China) and Audra Plepyte (Lithuania) were designated to serve in the Working Group on Communications on the Status of Women.  Other names have yet to be submitted by regional groups.


Yakin Erturk, director, Division for the Advancement of Women, introduced the documents before the Commission.


Statements in this morning’s general discussion were made by the representatives of Iran (on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China), Sweden (on behalf of the European Union and associated States), Chile (on behalf of the Rio Group), Namibia (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)), Germany, Senegal, Pakistan and Cuba.  Representatives of the Mothers Union and the Five-O Coalition also made statements.


The Commission will meet again at 3 p.m. today to continue its general discussion.


Background


The Commission on the Status of Women met this morning to begin its forty-fifth session.


It had before it the report of the Secretary-General on the Proposed System-Wide Medium-Term Plan for the Advancement of Women 2002-2005 (document E/CN.6/2001/4), the fourth such plan.  It outlines the individual actions of organizations that combine to form a coherent, coordinated whole to achieve the broad objectives set out in the Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) and the outcome document of the twenty-third special session of the Assembly. 


The report is structured around how the system is working to mainstream a gender perspective into all of its activities, as well as in relation to each of the 12 critical areas of concern in the Platform for Action.  Once adopted, the plan will serve as a coordination and monitoring tool.


(For detailed background see Press Release WOM/1263 issued 2 March.)


      Statement by Chair


DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIC (Croatia), Chair of the Commission, said the outcome document of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly on Further actions and initiatives to implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was not merely a list of wishes, but rather a set of concrete proposals for concerted actions and implementation at the international and national level.  Emphasis was being placed on the use of explicit short- and long-term time-bound targets or measurable goals for their implementation. 


She went on to say that women’s equal access and full participation -- on the basis of equality with men in all areas and at all levels of public life, especially in decision and policy-making positions -- had been reaffirmed as an achievable goal for the twenty-first century.  The role of the Commission during the current session was to incorporate the outcome document into its follow-up segment in the most efficient manner.  Another goal of the Commission was to incorporate commitments made at the Millennium Summit -- vis-à-vis gender equality –- which were relevant to its work.


She said improvement of the Commission’s working methods should be an ongoing activity.  Methods of work should become sufficiently flexible.  That would enable effective, productive and action-oriented ways and means of carrying out the Commission’s functions in formulating policies and monitoring implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome of the twenty-third special session.  Improved working methods would further assist the Commission in executing its catalytic role in mainstreaming a gender perspective in policies and programmes and monitoring achieved results.


Election of Officers


Due to Misako Kaji’s (Japan) inability to resume her post as Vice-Chairperson and Rapporteur for this session, Atsuko Nishimura (Japan) was nominated by the Asian Group and elected to fill that position.


      Adoption of Agenda and Programme of Work


The Commission then adopted its provisional agenda as contained in document E/CN.6/2001/1 and approved its draft organization of work for the session.


Working Group on Communications on Status of Women


As a result of nominations by the representatives of regional groups, Yu Wenz He (China) and Audra Plepyte (Lithuania) were designated to serve in the working group on communications on the status of women.  Other names have yet to be submitted by regional groups.


Statements


ANGELA KING, Assistant Secretary-General, Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, proposed that members focus on finding strategic entry points for integrating a gender perspective into the work of the United Nations and its Member States.  The Commission now needed more than ever to focus on practical implementation strategies and workable mechanisms, as it adopted its multi-year programme.


That, she said, could be done in two ways.  First, by linking gender equality with the main intergovernmental and expert events, such as the Millennium Summit.  The work of the Commission had influenced the Summit’s Declaration and the Millennium Assembly, which adopted a set of far-reaching resolutions on the prevention of violence against women.  Second, by incorporating gender into the critical themes with which the United Nations was concerned, such as development, globalization, poverty, HIV/AIDS and peace.


Turning to those issues, she stressed that the Commission’s primary challenge was to ensure that globalization was managed in such a way that women did not have to bear the brunt of its negative effects.  Closely related to globalization and development was widening poverty.  One factor that played a critical role in development was the escalation of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  The social and economic status of women and girls rendered them vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS.


Gender-based violence against women, which still persisted and had deepened in most countries, was another factor affecting global progress, she continued.  The Commission should focus on ways of increasing the political empowerment of women by looking at areas where progress had been made.  Citing the situation of women in Afghanistan, she said that in one night alone in the freezing refugee camps, 150 people -- mainly women, children and the elderly -- had died.  Concluding, she said that since challenges still remained in making gender perspectives an integral part of the follow-up to global conferences and the follow-up to the Millennium Summit, it was important for all commissions of the Economic and Social Council to continue to broaden attention to gender perspectives in their work. 


YAKIN ERTURK, Director, Division for the Advancement of Women, in introducing the documents before the Commission, under agenda items concerning:  follow-up to Beijing and the General Assembly special session; thematic issues; Economic and Social Council resolutions and decisions; and communications concerning the status of women.  She said that the documentation presented a series of challenges and opportunities regarding the issues and approaches to accelerate the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome document.  She added that the Commission’s deliberations could significantly enrich the process and the implementation of commitments that were made during the Beijing Conference and the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly.


In highlighting agenda item 4, which dealt with thematic issues, she stated that the Commission would be considering the issues of:  women, the girl child and HIV/AIDS; and gender and all forms of discrimination.  The Commission’s discussion on those themes, she added, would deepen understanding of the issues, identify new trends and challenges and promote the types of action-oriented recommendations that would accelerate the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome document.  She concluded by reiterating her Division’s readiness to assist members of the Bureau in the common endeavour for gender equality within the work of the Commission.      


NOELEEN HEYZER, Executive Director, United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), said the Commission’s deliberations on racism and related intolerance could bring a deeper understanding of the insidious intersection between the types of discriminations -- including the gender-based kind -- to the global community.  The focus on gender and HIV/AIDS would also enable the Commission to highlight the gender and rights-based dimensions from which to address the pandemic. 


She said the lens through which the pandemic would be discussed and explored during the current session would be distinct from almost any other intergovernmental forum.  The Commission would enter this frame from the perspective of gender equality -– a perspective that had been sorely missing in too many public health policies, HIV/AIDS action plans, and treatment programmes.  The reality was that the frightful epidemic was fuelled by gender inequality.  That reality must inform all United Nations Commissions and intergovernmental bodies considering the pandemic.  The Commission, therefore, had the opportunity to ensure that gender pervaded every future United Nations meeting on HIV/AIDS.


She said that women were at the very epicentre of the epidemic.  The percentage of women infected was rapidly reaching parity with men, and in some regions had already surpassed it.  In sub-Saharan Africa for example, women now accounted for 55 per cent of the total number of people living with the virus.  Inspiration, however, could be found in the many ways that women were responding to the epidemic, including in the projects supported by UNIFEM.  In all regions, women were organizing new livelihood opportunities for networks of women living with HIV/AIDS, launching research and advocacy strategies to educate others about their risks and rights, and linking strategies to end the epidemic with those to end violence and poverty.


“Now we need support and political will to ensure that lessons learned underpin all policies and strategies related to ending HIV/AIDS, and that women are central to prevention and treatment plans, as well as to finding sustainable solutions to the epidemic”, she said.  The United Nations Development Fund for Women hoped to work with four communities in different regions of the world, and through its partnerships, to demonstrate how an integrated “gendered” approach could make a difference in women's and girls’ lives.  “We will be inviting other United Nations agencies to work with us in demonstrating that if we address the challenges of gender inequality and discrimination, and of the lack of rights of men and women living with HIV/AIDS, we can find a way to stem the rapid spread of the disease”, she said.


BAGHER ASADI (Iran) speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that the major task before the Commission was to provide an enriched conceptual, thematic and substantive framework that would be an overall guideline for the formulation of strategies and policies geared to intensify the advancement of women.


Women were usually the victims of double discrimination, he continued.  In some societies, women were exposed to particular forms of discrimination because they were women of a different race, colour, origin or religion.  Such conduct, which intersected race and gender, should be the focus of any attempt to eliminate racially motivated discrimination, including the situation of foreign occupation.  That aspect should be given serious attention and remedied effectively.


Turning to the Commission’s programme of work, he said that the themes of poverty eradication and related issues were of the utmost importance and should be given due prominence and priority in the future activities of the United Nations system.  Among the key factors for effective implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome document were:  adoption of an integrated and coordinated approach on cross-cutting issues; the mobilization of adequate resources to support national, regional and international activities; the strengthening of development assistance; and the active participation of non-governmental organizations.


MARGARETA WINBERG (Sweden) spoke on behalf of the European Union and the associated States of Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus, Malta and Iceland.  She said governments must ensure that women enjoyed all human rights and fundamental freedoms.  “We have to remember that women are not born vulnerable, but are made vulnerable by persistent gender-based discrimination”, she stressed.  The Union believed that further action to remove discriminatory practices through human rights education, for example, were needed to ensure that every woman and man could fully enjoy all human rights.


She said the current session provided a crucial opportunity to enhance the effectiveness of the work programme and the methods of the Commission.  The Commission must become more dynamic, if it were to:  fulfil its mandate; assist in monitoring and reviewing progress to enhance gender equality; mainstream gender into the work of the United nations; act in a catalytic manner to identify issues affecting gender; and enhance public awareness on gender issues.


She said the Commission’s agenda in the coming years should link with the major processes in the United Nations, and define the gender perspective in human rights and fundamental freedoms, population and development, poverty eradication and social development.  One of the messages of the Commission to the special session on HIV/AIDS in June should be to place gender at the centre of all analyses and all HIV/AIDS related activities.  Specific attention should also be given to poor women and girls.  “We must also emphasize the importance of the empowerment of women, which will enable them, if they so wish, to say no”, she added.  Without the empowerment of women, and without sexual and reproductive rights, no one could fight the spread of HIV/AIDS.


JUAN GABRIEL VALDES, (Chile), on behalf of the Rio Group, said that the road ahead was long and the challenges numerous in terms of discrimination against women.  Last year’s review of the implementation of the outcome of the Beijing Conference revealed that discrimination against women still persisted and that their human rights were frequently violated.


He stressed that the Rio Group was committed to working towards the implementation of each of the commitments given during the special session of the General Assembly held last year.  In that regard, many countries had assumed the commitments given in Beijing and were addressing the problem of the effects of HIV/AIDS on women and children from a holistic perspective, taking into consideration that the problem was not only health related, but affected many other aspects with respect to human rights.


The Preparatory Conference of the Americas for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Forms of Intolerance, held in Chile last December, had urged all States in the region to strengthen their national mechanisms to protect the human rights of people affected by HIV/AIDS, he stated.  In addition, with regard to racial discrimination, countries in the region also agreed to give full recognition to all the rights of indigenous peoples.  The countries had also undertaken to incorporate the gender perspective into all their programmes of action against racism and racial discrimination.


MARTIN ANDJABA (Namibia) spoke on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC):  Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa, Seychelles, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.


He said he hoped the session would adopt positive approaches that would influence the outcome of the special session on HIV/AIDS and the World Conference against Racism, thus contributing to the humane standards of all people, particularly women and girls.  In August 2000, the SADC heads of State and government recommitted themselves to adopting further special measures, such as constitutional or legislated quotas and nominations of women, to ensure the attainment of the agreed 30 per cent target of women in decision-making by the year 2005. 


Yet, despite the best attempts to improve the lives of women, regional efforts were being undermined by abject poverty, and particularly the feminization of poverty, he said.  “The poverty and underdevelopment that our countries must deal with stands in stark contrast to the prosperity of the developed world”, he said.  The SADC region was also the hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  In addition, opportunistic illnesses fueled by AIDS and other infectious diseases, such as cholera, malaria and tuberculosis, continued to plague his region.  International cooperation and support was required.  It was also critical, vis-à-vis HIV/AIDS, that mother-to-child infection be addressed with all the available international assistance.  The SADC could not stress enough that in addressing the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic effectively, a holistic and comprehensive solution was required.


Turning to gender discrimination, racism, ethnicity, xenophobia and related intolerance, he said the SADC believed that legal provisions alone did not provide sufficient solutions.  “We believe that the elimination of all these practices embrace the redistribution and the equal distribution of social, economic and cultural resources, particularly for women”, he said.  That could only be achieved by:  ensuring social justice and fairness; promoting equality of opportunities and equitable participation in the political and economic spheres of society; and mainstreaming a gender perspective into all policies and programmes, at national and regional levels.


The representative of the Mother’s Union believed that those in positions of authority had a responsibility to encourage education, raise awareness and de-stigmatize issues surrounding HIV/AIDS.  Government, religious and traditional leaders should cooperate in identifying and addressing harmful religious and traditional practices.


She further stated that boys and girls should be targeted, before they became sexually active, with information and education on self esteem, choices and rights, peer counselling and support in relation to HIV/AIDS.  As with education in general, that should be gender sensitive and, within the community, men should be involved in raising awareness about sexual health and dispelling associated myths.  She reiterated that HIV/AIDS was strongly linked with poverty and that the scale the disease made it far more than a health issue.  Governments should address, as a matter of urgency, the integration of their strategy on HIV/AIDS across all policies and decision-making.


MARION THIELENHAUS (Germany) said equality was the central prerequisite for fighting poverty worldwide.  Securing access for women to socio-economic resources and their equality on the labour markets in the age of the information society must be advanced through targeted measures, as well as statutory requirements. 


By the year 2005, Internet access by women in Germany would be raised to 40 per cent, she continued.  Her country, therefore, looked to the Information and Communication Technologies World Conference in 2003 as particularly important event and expected it to provide seminal decisions for a gender perspective in that field, as well.  She added that the traditional role distribution in the family hindered many women from reconciling gainful employment and family life.  The policy being pursued by her Government, therefore, aimed to win more fathers over to assuming child-raising tasks.


IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal) said that his President had recently nominated a woman to the post of Prime Minister, which was evidence of the confidence that his country had in women.  His Government was further committed to creating the conditions for the full political integration of women.  Senegal had adopted a fundamental law that gave constitutional rights to women and children.  The law also related to incorporating the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  It also gave women the right to own land for the first time in the country’s history.


He reaffirmed his country’s determination to promote gender equality and combat all types of violence against women, regardless of motive.  Further, the Government was committed to the implementation of programmes aimed at empowering women economically, as well as politically, in accordance with the Platform for Action adopted in Beijing.  In that regard, special emphasis had been given to the training of women and girls in schools.


This session of the Commission was significant because it was the first since Beijing + 5.  His country was among the first to ratify the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention and had set up a system to monitor the rights of women and girls.  His Government had made it a priority to prevent the “feminization” of poverty.  That illustrated its commitment to gender equality.  Turning to the role of the Commission, he said that its should be strengthened with regard to developing guidelines and in monitoring the implementation of resolutions adopted by the General Assembly.  His country would contribute to the implementation of objectives, identified through fruitful intergovernmental dialogue, aimed at protecting the rights of women.


ROSHAN KHIRSHEED BHARUCHA (Pakistan) said globalization had had an adverse effect on women.  In underprivileged societies, it had made them more vulnerable to exploitation.  In the affluent countries, women were increasingly being used for the promotion of sex markets, sex tourism and as objects of exhibition and commercial exploitation.  That global exploitation, due to affluence as well as destitution, must be addressed by the international community through a unified and common endeavour, in a spirit of cooperation and solidarity without recrimination.


She said that despite its economic problems, Pakistan was committed to the ideals of gender equality and the empowerment of women.  The constitution guaranteed equality to both sexes and contained special provisions for affirmative action.  Pakistani women had made some headway, though not so significant, in participation in such areas as education, health, mass media,

politics and enterprise development.  There was, however, still a long way to go in bridging the gender gap in almost all walks of life and to establish the recognition of women as true and equal partners in the development process, and in society at large.


MERCEDES DE ARMAS GARCIA (Cuba) recognized the fundamental importance of achieving equality between men and women in every corner of the world.  In that regard, her country had adopted a national plan of action in the follow-up to the Beijing Conference and had played an active role in the General Assembly special session on women.  Further, Cuba had also widely disseminated through radio and television the results of all world conferences and summits on the issue of gender equality.  Her country remained firmly committed to the implementation of the Platform for Action adopted in Beijing, although the United States embargo against it was one of the principle obstacles to that objective.


She said that while the social exclusion of women had increased in many countries, the women in Cuba continued to progress in comparison to their counterparts.  Women represented 43 per cent of the work force and occupied

33 per cent of important managerial positions both at the middle and top levels.  She supported the idea of reviewing and revising the Commission’s methods of work and stressed that its practices should be wide and as open as possible, in order to find solutions to the problems women faced.  In that regard, the Commission should not blindly follow methods of work followed by other bodies. Her country was committed to working with others to achieve progress for women and would continue to advocate policies and programmes that served to ensure this, nationally, regionally and internationally.


The representative of the Five-O Coalition said that with the inevitability of globalization, it was imperative that women and girls be provided with the tools to maximize the benefits and to minimize the detrimental effects of the process.  Therefore, they must have adequate access to, and education and training in, new technologies to enable them to take power and control over their lives.  Information and Communications technologies, for example, were central to the eradication of poverty, environmental management, the elimination of all forms of violence, decision-making and the promotion of peace and security.  In a knowledge-based economy and society it was, thus, essential that the gender digital divide be acknowledged and eliminated.  She recommended that the gender perspective of the role of the Information and Communications technologies be incorporated immediately into each of the priority themes for the proposed multi-year programme of work (2002-2006).


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