Press Release

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

647th Meeting (PM)


Recommends Use of Temporary Special Measures,

Such as Quotas, to Accelerate Equal Treatment of Men, Women

Wrapping up a three-week session in which it assessed implementation of the Women’s Convention by eight States parties, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today adopted its draft reports, as amended, as well as a general recommendation -- the first since 1999 -- promoting the use of temporary special measures, such as quotas, to accelerate the equal treatment of men and women.

The Committee, which monitors implementation of the 1981 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, is comprised of 23 experts who, in their personal capacities, examine steps taken by the 175 States parties to improve the situation of women in their countries.

By the adoption of its draft reports, the Committee decided that its thirty-first session would be held from 6 to 23 July 2004 and that its thirty-second session would be held from 10 to 28 January 2005.  The Working Group on Communications under the Optional Protocol would hold its fourth session from 30 June to 2 July 2004 and its fifth session from 31 January to 4 February 2005.

The Optional Protocol, which entered into force in 2000, allows the Committee to consider petitions from individual women or groups of women who have exhausted national remedies.  It has so far received three such communications.

During the current session, which began on 12 January, the Committee examined the reports of eight States parties:  Belarus, Bhutan, Ethiopia, Germany, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal and Nigeria.  Those included initial reports from Bhutan and Kuwait.  Under the Convention, a State party is required to report to the Committee every four years on steps it has taken towards implementation.

Generally, progress was noted in each of the countries, such as the enactment of new laws and, in some cases, sweeping legal reforms, as well as efforts to strengthen the national mechanisms to promote women’s rights.  At the same time, however, experts repeatedly drew attention to the persistence of discriminatory stereotypes and entrenched patriarchal attitudes, which had led to grave and systematic violations of women’s human rights across the spectrum of nations.

Concerning adoption of the general recommendation, article 21 of the Convention empowers the Committee to make general recommendations based on the examination of reports received from States parties.  It has adopted 25 general recommendations, which, since 1991, have addressed specific provisions of the Convention and themes such as:  unpaid women workers in rural and urban family enterprises; measurement of unremunerated domestic activities and their recognition in gross national product; violence against women; equality in marriage and family relations; women in political and public life; and women and health.

Announcing the completion of her 38-year career at the United Nations, Angela King, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said that, among the most satisfying developments, had been the steady improvement of awareness of women’s human rights, which had been especially boosted by the work of the Committee.  She congratulated the experts on the adoption of general recommendation 25.  That would provide critical guidance to States parties on article 4.1 on temporary special measures -- the scope of meaning of which still seemed to be fraught with uncertainties.

In closing, Committee Chairperson and expert from Turkey, Ayse Feride Acar, said that several commonalities had emerged once again in the States’ reports, which continued to challenge the achievement of gender equality.  Those factors concerned the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women and the persistence of prejudices and customary and other practices, as well as the stereotyped roles of women and men.  Those phenomena took different forms in different countries, but in each case, the Committee had taken the firm view that States parties had a clear obligation under the Convention to eliminate such discriminatory practices without delay.

The other members of the Committee are:  Sjamsiah Achmad, Indonesia; Meriem Belmihoub-Zerdani, Algeria; Huguette Bokpe Gnacadja, Benin; Dorcas Ama Frema Coker-Appiah, Ghana; María Yolanda Ferrer Gómez, Cuba; Cornelis Flinterman, the Netherlands; Naela Gabr, Egypt; Françoise Gaspard, France; Aída González Martínez, Mexico; Christine Kapalata, United Republic of Tanzania; Salma Khan, Bangladesh; Fatima Kwaku, Nigeria; Rosario Manalo, Philippines; Göran Melander, Sweden; Krisztina Morvai, Hungary; Pramila Patten, Mauritius; Victoria Popescu Sandru, Romania; Fumiko Saiga, Japan; Hanna Beate Schöpp-Schilling, Germany; Heisoo Shin, Republic of Korea; Dubravka Šimonovic, Croatia; Maria Regina Tavares da Silva, Portugal.

Summary of Statements

ANGELA KING, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, congratulated the Committee on the adoption of general recommendation 25, on temporary special measures.  That represented a significant contribution to the Committee’s work and would provide critical guidance to States parties concerning article 4.1 on temporary special measures, whose scope of meaning still seemed to be fraught with uncertainties on the part of many States parties and other stakeholders.  She was also pleased that the Committee had taken the initial steps towards the preparation of its next concluding comment on conforming domestic legislation with the Convention.

She said she also welcomed the Committee’s continuing attention to enhancing its working methods.  Its responsibility to consider the reports of States parties was now complemented by its responsibilities under the Optional Protocol.  The reports of 33 States were awaiting consideration and, since the beginning of the thirtieth session, two more States, China and Australia, had submitted their periodic reports, bringing that number to 35.  She trusted that the Committee, at its informal meeting in May, would carefully weigh all implications of those numbers to chart the way ahead for future sessions.  She was particularly pleased by the adoption of the recommendation on special measures and the thorough preparations that preceded that by Ms. Schöpp-Schilling.  The United Nations had long used article 4 as its “raison d’être” for achieving the gender balance target of 50/50 women and men staff.

On a personal note, she announced that today would be the last time she would attend the Committee session as Special Adviser, as she had decided to leave the United Nations after serving in many capacities for nearly 38 years and in the Permanent Mission of Jamaica for nearly two years before that.  Among the most satisfying developments over the four-decade period had been the steady improvement of awareness of women’s human rights, which had been boosted by the Vienna and Beijing International Conferences, the adoption of the Women’s Convention, and especially by the work of the Committee, whose concluding comments had promoted gender mainstreaming and implementation of the Convention.  Indeed, the Committee had given hope to women’s groups and non-governmental organizations worldwide.

Committee Chairperson and expert from Turkey, AYSE FERIDE ACAR, recalled the consideration of two initial reports, of Bhutan and Kuwait.  The Committee had been pleased to hold that first dialogue with those two reporting States and had been very happy with the commitment made, especially by Bhutan, to more regular reporting in the future.  Several of the reporting States, including Ethiopia, Nigeria, Bhutan and Nepal, had been represented at a high level.  The Committee had also been very pleased that the political leadership of several delegations had been complemented by high-quality technical expertise.  That had allowed for a careful probing of important aspects that either facilitated or hindered implementation of the Convention in those countries.

Noting that the Committee’s concluding comments would be transmitted to States parties in the next few days, she requested the reporting States to give wide publicity to those.  She expected that they would be the basis for specific follow-up action in the area of legislative initiatives, policy and programme development and administrative measures.  The Committee had emphasized the role of civil society and, in particular, women’s non-governmental organizations, urging States parties to cooperate with non-governmental organizations in the implementation of the Convention and of the Committee’s concluding comments.  The Committee had also pointed to the critical role of parliamentarians, encouraging States parties to emphasize the Convention’s implementation in legislative initiatives.

While the status of the Convention’s implementation was specific to each reporting State, several commonalities had emerged, she said.  A series of factors in all reporting States that constituted challenges to the achievement of gender equality could be grouped around article 5 of the Convention, namely, social and cultural patterns, the persistence of prejudices and customary practices and stereotyped roles of women and men.  The Committee had taken the view that States parties had a clear obligation under the Convention to eliminate discriminatory practices without delay.  While tradition and culture were sources of richness for a country, they could not be allowed to function as impediments to women’s enjoyment of their human rights.

The Committee had noticed progress in many areas, including legislative revisions to penal, family and civil codes, she said.  It had also assessed national action plans for gender equality and increasing efforts at gender mainstreaming.  States had been encouraged to set timetables for implementing particular actions, to prioritize their activities and to monitor the impact of their policies and programmes.  The need for greater awareness of the Convention had also been emphasized.

The session had witnessed the culmination of efforts to elaborate and adopt a general recommendation on article 4.1 of the Convention, she said.  She was particularly pleased that the Committee had adopted general recommendation 25 on temporary special measures.  The Committee had also continued to review the effectiveness of its working methods and had made progress in its work under the Optional Protocol.  The Working Group on Communications under the Optional Protocol had now registered three communications, and the Committee had continued to implement its mandate under article 8 of the Optional Protocol, to conduct inquiries into alleged grave or systematic violations of the rights protected under the Convention.

Also during the session, the Committee had focused attention on the situation of women in Iraq, noting a decision by Iraq’s Governing Council to repeal existing civil statutes governing issues related to marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance.  The Committee had also adopted a statement in support of the women of Iraq.  It drew attention to the fact that Iraq was a State party to the Convention and emphasized the essential importance of women’s enjoyment of their human rights to the development of Iraqi society.  The Committee called on all responsible authorities in Iraq, with the assistance of the international community, to ensure full compliance with the Convention.

The fact that it was Ms. King’s last time in a closing session was most moving, she said.  It was difficult to imagine the Committee and the United Nations without her.  She expressed her personal thanks and the Committee’s appreciation for Ms. King’s tremendous support both for the Committee’s individual’s members and for its mandate.  Her commitment to women’s rights had allowed the Committee to make significant steps forward.  It was not easy to see someone of such “monumental importance” leave.

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