9 October 2006
General Assembly
GA/SHC/3850

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-first General Assembly

Third Committee

8th & 9th Meetings (AM & PM)


VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN NOT CONFINED TO SPECIFIC CULTURE OR REGION,


THIRD COMMITTEE TOLD AS DEBATE BEGINS ON ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN


Violence against women is “a global phenomenon” -- complex, pervasive and pernicious -- to which at least one woman in three is subjected at some point of her lifetime, José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today as it began its debate on the advancement of women and implementation of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women and of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly.


Presenting an in-depth study from the Secretary-General on violence against women, Mr. Ocampo said, “Violence against women is not confined to a specific culture, region or country, or to a particular group of women within a society.”  To the contrary, violence against women was truly a global phenomenon.


The Secretary-General’s study set out the broad context within which violence against women occurred such as within the family, the community, and perpetrated or condoned by the State, including in conflict settings, Mr. Ocampo said.  It reviewed the causes and consequences of such violence, and gaps in the availability of data on the problem.  It also put forward a blueprint for action by States and by intergovernmental bodies, including United Nations bodies, towards preventing and eliminating violence against women.


Elaborating on Mr. Ocampo’s remarks, Rachel N. Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, said no one policy would trigger an end to violence against women, and a comprehensive approach was needed to systematically address the links between violence, discrimination, development, human rights, and peace and security.  Member States, the United Nations system and civil society all had to provide leadership in order to sustain the momentum generated by the study’s preparatory process.


Ms. Mayanja also introduced the Secretary-General’s report on women in the United Nations System, which showed that, in the Secretariat, for example, over the last two years, the proportion of women in the professional and higher categories on appointments of one year or more had remained unchanged at 37 per cent.  That trend was of deep concern to the Secretary-General, and efforts were being made to redress the situation.


Responding to questions from national representatives, she said that the problem was due in part to long-established “networks” which worked to the detriment of women.  She added that the incoming Secretary-General had a “great opportunity” to show his commitment to gender balance by ensuring that half his cabinet was made up of women.


Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), presenting the Secretary-General’s report on the Fund’s activities, said UNIFEM was at a crossroads in its work on gender equality, namely, whether or not to take the more challenging road of investing in those areas which had delivered for women.  She also noted that, despite a global consensus that improving the status of women was essential to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, there were not the strengthened institutional structures, increased resources or effective accountability or monitoring mechanisms to help countries advance gender equality.  The sole millennium target for 2005, gender parity in primary and secondary education, had already been missed, and women were paying the costs of that institutional neglect.


Delegations which took the floor today were unanimous in their condemnation of violence against women, and welcomed the Secretary-General’s in-depth study as a road map for action.  France announced that it, with the Netherlands, would bring forth a draft resolution to highlight the issue.  In addition, several countries responded to the call for more women at higher echelons within the United Nations system, with South Africa, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, saying that 50-50 gender representation had to respect the principle of equitable geographical distribution.


Carolyn Hannan, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, spoke on behalf of Rosario G. Manalo, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.


Also speaking today were the representatives of Finland (on behalf of the European Union and associated States), Malawi (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)), Egypt, Pakistan, Guyana, Sudan, Colombia, Netherlands, Iraq, Liechtenstein, Norway, China, United States, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Brazil (on behalf of Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR)), Russian Federation, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Ukraine and the Niger.


The representatives of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Japan also spoke in exercise of the right of reply.


The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 10 October, to continue its debate on the advancement of women and to consider draft resolutions on social development, crime prevention and criminal justice.


Background


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to begin its general discussion on the advancement of women.


The Committee had before it a letter dated 18 August 2006 from the Permanent Representative of Uzbekistan to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General (document A/61/283), with an annex containing information on the progress of Uzbekistan’s National Plan of Action for implementation of the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.


The Committee also had before it the Report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the work of its thirty-fourth, thirty-fifth and thirty-sixth sessions (document A/61/38 -- not yet available).


In addition, the Committee had before it the Secretary-General’s report on an in-depth study on violence against women (document A/61/122), by which the Secretary-General transmits an in-depth study in an Annex (document A/61/122/Add.1).  The report summarizes the mandate, preparatory process, content and recommendations of the Secretary-General’s study, stating that the study begins with an overview of the emergence of violence against women as a public concern and responsibility.  It discusses contexts and causes then reviews manifestations, consequences and costs.  The current status of available data, responsibilities of States and promising practices are presented.


The report says that ending violence against women must be made a local, national, regional and global priority.  While detailed recommendations for action already exist, implementation is hampered by significant gaps.  Recommendations are aimed at accelerating implementation and enhancing actions to prevent and respond to violence against women, with six key areas addressed for actions at the national level:  securing gender equality and protecting women’s human rights; closing gaps between international standards and national legislative norms; strengthening the knowledge base to inform policy and strategy development; insuring strong multisectoral strategies coordinated nationally and locally; and allocating adequate resources.


The study’s recommendations at the international level, the report states, are directed at the intergovernmental level and at the United Nations system, particularly the Assembly’s role in ensuring follow-up and implementation by stakeholders.  Altogether, the recommendations constituted a clear strategy for making measurable progress in preventing and eliminating violence against women.


Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General’s report on improvement of the status of women in the United Nations system (document A/61/318), which provides information on progress made in the representation of women in the United Nations organizations and agencies.  It notes that the representation of women in both the United Nations system and the Secretariat has been almost static in the Professional and higher categories with negligible improvement and, in some cases, even a decrease.


According to the report, greater efforts are needed to achieve gender parity in the Organization, particularly in senior and policymaking posts.  The document analyses factors in the slow advancement of women in the United Nations such as gender strategy, gender planning statistics, recruitment and selection, development and career planning, career mobility, working climate and culture, accountability and informal barriers.  It also suggests measures to improve the status of women.


The Committee also had before it a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the activities of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) (document A/61/292), which reviews UNIFEM’s 2005 programmes and activities and tracks progress during 2005 in implementing the 2004-2007 multiyear funding framework.  It also recommends measures to strengthen the Fund’s effectiveness in helping States to formulate national and regional women’s rights policy, institutional capacity for gender mainstreaming, gender equality advocacy and anti-discrimination campaigns.  The report also suggests steps to strengthen the effectiveness and reach of the Fund’s services, influence on United Nations reform, human and financial resource management and strategic partnerships for gender equality.


UNIFEM income totalled a record $57.6 million in 2005, up from $51.1 million the previous year and significantly higher than the 2005 target amount of $43.4 million for multi-funding, according to the report.  Real growth was due to a significant increase in cost-sharing agreements, up from $20 million in 2004 to $27.7 million in 2005.  Monies for trust fund agreements, however, dropped from $5.9 million in 2004 to $3.9 million in 2005.


Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General’s report on follow-up to the implementation of Beijing Declaration and Platform and the outcome of the Assembly’s twenty-third special session on women (document A/61/174).  The report reviews steps taken by the United Nations system during the Assembly’s sixtieth session to promote gender equity by mainstreaming the gender strategy, by assessing the extent to which the gender perspective is reflected in resolutions and documents, and by making recommendations for action.  The report takes into account the work of the Assembly’s Committees and of major events during the session, including the 2005 World Summit and the 2005 High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS.


The report concludes that only about a quarter of all adopted resolutions paid attention to gender perspectives and only half of those made gender-specific action-oriented recommendations.  Further efforts in that regard could be make particularly concerning disarmament and international security issues, special political issues, administrative and budgetary matters and legal affairs.  Documentation paid more attention to gender-sensitivity than resolutions and some correlation was seen between reports by the Secretary-General and inclusion of gender-sensitivity in a relevant resolution.


In light of all that, the report indicates that the Assembly may wish to ensure integration of gender perspectives by its subsidiary bodies in implementing and following up on conferences and summits as well as in the context of United Nations reform.  The Assembly may also wish to encourage its subsidiary bodies to intensify efforts at raising attention to gender in resolutions and in developing methods of work.  Finally, the Assembly may wish to encourage bodies to enhance monitoring of progress and for qualitative gender analysis to be included in reports to facilitate policy development through a systematic address of the gender perspective.



Introductory Statements


JOSE ANTONIO OCAMPO, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, in presenting the Secretary-General’s study, said violence against women was a global phenomenon -— complex, pervasive, persistent and pernicious.  On average, at least one in three women was subject to violence at some point in her lifetime.  Violence has undercut the enormous potential of women to contribute to peace and development by restricting their choices and limiting their ability to act.  The study sought to identify ways to ensure sustained and effective implementation of State obligations to address all forms of violence against women and to strengthen accountability.


The study set out the broad context within which violence against women occurred such as within the family, the community and perpetrated or condoned by the State including in conflict settings, he continued.  The study reviewed the causes and consequences of the violence including its costs as well as the gaps in the availability of data.  It also put forward a blueprint for action by all stakeholders -— by States, at the national level, and by intergovernmental bodies and United Nations entities —- to make measurable progress in preventing and eliminating violence against women.


After highlighting several of the study’s main findings and recommendations, he said that leadership was critical at all levels from the local to the global, in public and private arenas.


RACHEL N. MAYANJA, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, focused her remarks on implementation of commitments set out in the study on all forms of violence against women and accountability for action to halt violence against women.  Over the last two years, she said, a political momentum had been generated towards carrying out the study’s recommendations in a comprehensive, systematic and coordinated manner.  Preparing the study -– a task that involved Governments, United Nations entities, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and academics -– had created stronger networks, partnerships and alliances which cut across borders and issues.  Issues had been flagged and challenges, gaps and shortcomings identified.  Women at the grass roots level had gained experience in working with the United Nations. 


Preparing the study had showed that no one policy would trigger an end to violence against women and a comprehensive approach was needed to systematically address the links between violence, discrimination, development, human rights, and peace and security, she said.  Accountability measures also had to be introduced which emphasized individual, community and national responsibility for eliminating violence against women, and sufficient resources had to be allocated to achieve that goal.  Member States, the United Nations system and civil society were called upon to provide leadership in order to sustain the momentum generated by the study’s preparatory process.


Discussion


Mr. OCAMPO, responding to questions from the floor on how to improve the collection of information about violence against women, stressed that, while data collection was primarily the responsibility of national Governments, the international community had a role to play in helping develop standards and in supporting countries with weaker statistical capacity.  There was a need to develop a methodology based on common indicators worldwide to measure the phenomenon of violence against women.  Different State authorities including the police, armed forces and judiciary should also collect information to see how pervasive the problem was and to evaluate progress.


In response to questions from Syria and the Observer for Palestine on why the Secretary-General’s report had not highlighted the specific situation of women living under foreign occupation, he said the report examined different forms of violence against women including in domestic contexts and conflict situations, and by state actors, among others.  He also noted that paragraph 71 of the report referred to violence against women in the context of colonialism and post-colonial domination.  The Syrian representative replied that that brief reference to the status of women was not enough, and Mr. Ocampo took note of his concern.


Ms. MAYANJA also spoke on the need to improve data collection, noting that national census surveys often were not the best way to gather information.  There was a need to develop specific questions to gather reliable data and to find methodology.  More work would be done within the inter-agency network to see how best to address the issue.


She agreed with the representative of Cuba that the media had an important role to play in addressing violence against women.  She noted that the media had helped expose some of the worst forms of that violence and that exposure had been extremely helpful for advocacy work.  However, the media also portrayed women in ways that promoted stereotyping and there was a need to intensify work to change that.


She postponed responding to a question from the representative of the Sudan on the status of women in the United Nations system until she introduced a report on that topic later in the meeting.


Statements


RACHEL N. MAYANJA, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, addressed the Committee a second time to introduce the Secretary-General’s report on the status of women in the United Nations system.  Major events this past year had confirmed that women had been disproportionately affected by global problems, she said.  Poverty, a persistent educational gap, under-representation in decision-making, wage disparities, unacceptably high maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS were among common issues for women around the world.  It was critical to link the Beijing process with other international processes such as the Millennium Development Goals and the 2005 Summit Outcome.  The problems facing women today were so diverse and complex that no single nation could solve them in isolation no matter how well-resourced.  Everyone had to contribute to that task including the private sector and non-governmental organizations.


She challenged Member States to increase official development assistance (ODA) and to earmark at least 15 per cent of ODA for gender equality.  Member States should also support the UNITAID initiative to raise funds to fight HIV/AIDS through a tax on air tickets.  She recalled that she had twice addressed the Human Rights Council with concrete proposals to link its work to that of the Commission on the Status of Women and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  Ensuring the visibility of women’s rights was particularly important in conflict and post-conflict societies.  Women and girls bore the brunt of peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction, but they had limited access to decision-making and resources.  Their human rights were also often ignored.  The Peacebuilding Commission had a significant role to play in addressing that issue.


Regarding women in the United Nations system, she noted that, as of 31 December 2004, 37 per cent of positions in the Professional and higher categories were occupied by women.  The proportion at the D-1 level and above had been 24 per cent.  In the Secretariat, over the last two years, the proportion of women in the Professional and higher categories on appointments of one year or more had remained unchanged at 37 per cent.  At the D-1 level and higher, women made up 25 per cent of staff, a decrease of 4 percent.  At the P-1 to P-5 levels, the proportion of women had increased insignificantly by 0.4 per cent to 39 per cent.  Those trends had been of deep concern to the Secretary-General and efforts were being made to redress the situation.  The incoming Secretary-General had a great opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to the goal of 50/50 distribution by appointing a gender-balanced cabinet.  Challenges facing women were not without solutions.  The 2005 World Summit had generated new momentum and a strong quest for concrete action on gender equality.  Full implementation of the Summit Outcome should be the goal.


NOELEEN HEYZER, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), presented the Secretary-General’s report on the activities of the Fund.  The report highlighted practical actions and achievements in the areas where UNIFEM worked -— reducing feminized poverty and exclusion, promoting gender equality in democratic governance and post-conflict reconstruction, ending violence against women, and halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS.  The agency took a holistic approach, she said, linking normative and legal frameworks with institutional reform to bring concrete change on the ground.  Highlighting several examples of UNIFEM’s work on gender equality, she noted that the issue was not a lack of good practices or even lack of know-how.  The issue was how to implement strategies and practices on a scale that was large enough to turn the tide for gender equality and women’s rights.


UNIFEM was at a crossroads in its work on gender equality, she said, adding that the question now was to whether continue down the current path or take the more challenging road of investing in what had delivered for women and change what was not working.  In the context of United Nations reform, the renewed commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and the new aid effectiveness agenda, there was an unprecedented opportunity to expand effective strategies to help countries deliver on gender equality and women’s empowerment.  She noted that despite the global consensus that improving the status of women was essential to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, there were not the strengthened institutional structures, increased resources or effective accountability or monitoring mechanisms to help countries advance gender equality.  The sole Millennium target for 2005, gender parity in primary and secondary education, had already been missed and women were paying the costs of that institutional neglect.


She highlighted three priorities to begin to turn the tide on gender equality and women’s rights:  strengthening gender equality in national development strategies, strengthening a more coherent and integrated approach to gender equality across the United Nations system, and strengthening monitoring and accountability by women on the ground.



Discussion


Responding to a question from the representative of Canada regarding a need for enhanced collection of data on violence against women and girls, Ms. MAYANJA said an inter-agency task force had been set up to look into the matter.  Answering a question from the representative of Turkey, she explained that proposals which she had put before the Human Rights Council had stressed the need for gender equality to be integrated fully in the Council’s work.  She recalled that the Commission on Human Rights and the Commission on the Status of Women had had very close arrangements in the past and that those should continue.


Responding to a question from the representative of the Sudan, she said the existing gender balance within the United Nations system was not a happy situation.  It was due to a number of factors:  difficulties in attracting and retaining women, the work-family balance, the prevailing culture within the United Nations regarding part-time work and telecommuting, and networks that had been in place for many years and that had been difficult to break into.  Those networks perpetuated a system that had been biased against women.  Proposals were being drawn up on how to overcome these problems and it was hoped that the incoming Secretary-General would support them.


Statements


CAROLYN HANNAN, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, speaking on behalf of Rosario G. Manalo, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, presented a report on the Committee’s work at its thirty-fourth, thirty-fifth and thirty-sixth sessions.  She noted that 184 States were party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, an increase of 4 since the Committee’s last report to the General Assembly.  The Committee had adopted views on two communications under article 2 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, one on maternity benefits in the Netherlands and the other on involuntary sterilization in Hungary.  One communication originating in Turkey had been declared inadmissible.


The Committee also had adopted two statements, one advancing a proposal “Towards a harmonized and integrated treaty bodies system” and the other on the situation of women in the Middle East.  The latter statement reflected on the impact of the hostilities on women and emphasized the obligations of all parties under the Convention.  The Committee also had made significant progress in elaborating a general recommendation on migrant women, she said.  The draft would be further refined intersessionally so the Committee might complete this work in early 2007.


She reviewed the working methods of the Committee, noting that extended meeting time would likely be required in 2008, and a proposal in that regard would be submitted to the General Assembly.


DUMISANI S. KUMALO (South Africa), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said gender equality had been one of the most effective and sustainable ways to eradicate poverty, hunger and disease, and to achieve internationally agreed development goals.  Women had an important role to play as engines of development and agents of change.  Gender equality should be at the centre of analysis, policy decisions, plans, programmes, monitoring, budgetary subvention and institutional structures.  There had been an unprecedented feminization of poverty and pandemics such as HIV/AIDS, also, rural and migrant women had continued to be exposed to inhuman conditions and women, especially those under foreign occupation, had remained victims of multiple forms of discrimination, violence and conflicts.


Gender mainstreaming had to be taken into account within the United Nations system, he said, including the principle of 50/50 gender balance with an equitable geographical distribution of women.  Despite some progress, the Group of 77 and China was deeply disappointed by the statistics in the Secretary-General’s report.  There had been a lack of progress.  A concerted effort should be made by senior management within the United Nations system to accelerate progress and to support developing countries in encouraging women to apply for positions in the United Nations system including peacekeeping. 


Regarding the Secretary-General’s report on violence against women, he said the increase of violence against women and girls was disturbing.  There was an urgent need for all to address that critical problem together.  It was a scourge that made it difficult to enjoy gains made in other sectors as such violence had a serious impact on families, communities and nations as a whole.


TAISTO HUIMASALO ( Finland), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said the 2005 World Summit had given the United Nations a strong mandate to implement decisions taken on global commitments to gender equality.  The full and effective implementation of those commitments was an essential prerequisite for achieving internationally agreed development targets including the Millennium Development Goals.  The promotion of women’s participation at all levels of decision-making, especially on economic issues, should be seen as a key issue for the improvement of global democracy.  The European Union had stressed the need for an “enabling environment” for achieving gender equality with legal and regulatory frameworks playing an important role.  In addressing discriminatory practices and stereotyped attitudes, the international community should pay special attention to the eradication of violence against women and girls, to education, to sensitization, and to the need to involve men and boys in implementation efforts.


One of the major international challenges was the integration of a social dimension into economic policies and globalization, he said.  Without a proper gender analysis, poverty would not be effectively tackled.  Highlighting the important economic role played by migrant women, he urged that a gender perspective should be integrated into migration policies.  The European Union supported the establishment of a Global Forum for International Migration and Development as a follow-up to the United Nations High-Level Dialogue on that issue.  Promoting women’s rights and gender equality should be crucial to the work of that forum.  Recalling the importance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, the European Union underlined the importance of ensuring adequate representation of women as well as sufficient gender expertise on the newly established Peacebuilding Commission.


ROSELYN MAKHUMULA ( Malawi), speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said gender was an area in which there had been considerable agreement within SADC.  As a subregion, it had been striving to create an environment in which women could live free from gender-based violence.  SADC Heads of State and Government had, in 1998, declared as crimes all forms of violence against women.  However, despite some legal milestones such as law and criminal justice reform, domestic and other forms of violence continued to be a menace and a serious violation of the rights of many SADC women and children.  There was a need to intensify cultural practices which heavily contributed to domestic violence.  It was hoped that the Secretary-General’s report on violence against women would provide the necessary push for the elimination of violence.


There had been quite visible progress within SADC regarding women in politics and decision-making.  Three SADC countries had met or surpassed a SADC target of 30 per cent female representation in all structures by 2005 and one had come close.  Their good example would prod the others to follow suit; meanwhile, SADC had endorsed the African Union’s target of 50 per cent representation for women in all political and decision-making positions.  In most SADC countries, poverty had been on the rise and, increasingly, had a feminine face.  The Southern African Development Community was deeply concerned by this trend.  While more concerted efforts were needed, additional support and resources were required in order to implement poverty reduction strategies.  The community had been worst hit by the HIV/AIDS pandemic with women, especially young women, constituting the majority of those who had contracted the HIV virus.  SADC member States were committed to increasing the availability of services to them.


Ms. GENDI ( Egypt) noted that, despite pledges made at the Beijing Summit and other conferences, outcomes had fallen short of expectations.  Women were suffering from occupation as could be seen by the plight of Palestinian and Lebanese women.  She also noted the suffering of women in situations of conflict in parts of Africa.  Poverty, oppression and double standards could be observed in the present world order and the lack of commitment to helping developing countries had limited opportunities for women to play economic and social roles.


In Egypt, women had held leading positions for a long time, she said.  The Government had worked to improve the situation for women, including through the establishment of the National Women’s Council, which had been founded six years ago.  The Council had made considerable progress in raising awareness of women’s issues.  Recent years had seen the first women judges in Egypt, reform of legislation, the establishment of a family tribunal and reform of the social security fund.  Egypt also had mainstreamed women’s issues in its five-year national development plan.  In addition to holding posts as ambassadors and ministers, women increasingly were taking up leadership roles in rural communities as well as in cities.  Egypt, under the leadership of the First Lady, had helped establish the Arab Women’s Organization aimed at protecting the rights and interests of Arab women.  In conclusion, she recalled that poverty, disease and occupation were serious forms of violence against women and that it was time to summon the political will to address those problems.


FARUKH AMIL ( Pakistan) said the challenge before the Committee was how to surmount the highly complex and historically entrenched phenomena of violence against women.  He highlighted the Secretary-General’s observation that as long as violence against women continued, the international community could not claim to be making progress toward equality, development and peace.  Underdevelopment, poverty, illiteracy and external debt also remained burdens on developing countries including Pakistan.


However, he said that as a party to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and core International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions, Pakistan had made several policy decisions to realize the social, political and economic empowerment of women.  The Government had launched a National Plan of Action, which had introduced judicial and police reforms, promoted partnership with civil society organizations and established separate female police stations and complaint cells in those stations to provide confidential processes for women.


Further, the Government had outlawed exchange marriages and the Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, had banned the traditional practices of early marriage and Vani, which had forced women into marriage as compensation in a family feud.  Domestic laws had been brought into compliance with international commitments and women’s political representation had hit unprecedented levels of 20 per cent in the national Assembly and Senate and 33 per cent in local Government.  A Women’s Political School had been jointly established with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  Pakistan also had launched microcredit programmes and established the Women Chambers of Commerce and Industry.


DONNETTE CRITCHLOW (Guyana), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and associating that community with the statement made by South Africa on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said the Group attached high priority to women’s issues and viewed the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women as a vital instrument for promoting gender equality.  All States in the Group were parties to that convention and had presented at least their initial reports to the Committee.  Guided by the convention, the Beijing Platform and the Millennium Development Goals were making incremental progress in enhancing the status of women.


She said that challenges to further progress in the region included HIV/AIDS and poverty among women, which was linked to gender-based violence.  To address that linkage, Government Ministers in the region had agreed to prioritize gender mainstreaming and to strengthen actions to counter the feminization of poverty and female unemployment.  A regional commission on gender-based violence had also been established and there was a high level of cooperation between national and regional programmes in the struggle against HIV/AIDS.  The fight against trafficking in persons required greater awareness, increased economic opportunities for women, strengthened legislation and enforcement and concerted action at the international level.


IDREES MOHAMED ALI MOHAMMED SAEED ( Sudan) recalled the declaration made by the Commission on the Status of Women, adopted in 2005, which stressed that full implementation of the Beijing Platform, adopted 10 years earlier by 189 countries, was fundamental if the Millennium Development Goals were to be met.  Violence against women in any form was an affront to women’s dignity and rights.  The Sudan welcomed the Secretary-General’s in-depth study on all forms of violence against women and its delegation would be studying it carefully.


The Sudan had been a leader on women’s civil and political rights, he said, and since the 1960s, his country had realized advances in all fields.  The proportion of women in Parliament had increased since the first female deputy had been elected in 1965.  Women were also more visible in the judiciary and they were represented in the President’s circle of advisers.  Women had been involved in peace negotiations as well.  Palestinian women living under the yoke of Israeli occupation had been suffering greatly; the United Nations was obliged to restore their right to a decent life.


CLAUDIA BLUM ( Colombia) said that women were placed at the centre in the country’s national development plan and other policies related to the Millennium Development Goals.  The policy, “Women Builders of Peace and Development”, included actions that provided incentives for their employment, education and culture as well as their political participation.  The policy also helped women to confront violence against them and to strengthen institutions working in that field.  Measures to promote economic growth had allowed the increase of productive employment for men and women.  The Government was carrying out microcredit and business training programmes for women heads of households.  Specialized business fairs for women were also being promoted to guarantee more stable and equitable income for them.


She said that the participation of women in political decision-making was fundamental and that it could be seen at high levels in Government ministries, high courts of justice and the presidency of the national congress.  A year ago, the 16 most influential political parties and movements had endorsed a pact for the effective inclusion of women in politics, the follow-up of which was being carried out by the office of the Attorney-General.  She highlighted specific advances made in the protection of women from violence.  A strategic plan for their protection under the legal system sought to perfect practical application of legislation to deal with intra-family violence, break-up of marital union and in work-place discrimination.


MARIEKE SANDERS-TEN HOLTE ( Netherlands) said gender equality, development and peace -- goals set forth in the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action -– could not be achieved without women’s participation at all decision-making levels.  Thus far the global women’s movement had invested mainly in strategies to end exploitation, discrimination and sexual violence.  In recent years, there had been an increase in mainstreaming strategies to ensure equal access for women to budgets, education and health care.  But neither strategy had led to gender equality because both focused on women as victims instead of actors, she said, adding that women should be in the driver’s seat as decision-makers and economic leaders.


A new movement based on diversity and pluralism was needed to achieve the millennium targets, she said.  Women needed more knowledge, income, respect and self-esteem.  Men’s support for this strategy was crucial to its success.  The “Diverse but Together” strategy would have five main goals.  They would include:  men and women working as allies to enhance women’s participation in decision-making and serious investments in education to fight poverty and promote cultural change; good governance education to increase the number of women voters; firm support for women’s organizations, women entrepreneurs and women’s access to information and communication technology; setting a minimum target of filling at least one third of all leadership posts with women; and charging the United Nations with leading the strategy.


Mr. HATEM ( Iraq) highlighted the important role of women in family life, society and in decision-making.  While his country had long been a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), it had not made much progress in its implementation.  Today, as Iraq was laying the foundations of democracy, the country was seeing the expansion of the role of women in the political arena and in civil society.  Women in Iraq had demonstrated courage by challenging all forms of terrorism to take part in the January 2006 elections.  Women occupied 31 per cent of the seats in the National Assembly and held ministerial posts in the Government.  Iraq had established a Women’s Ministry and had consolidated the national Committee to advance the status of women, which monitored implementation of the Convention.  Iraq’s new constitution enshrined gender equality.


The Iraqi people needed the support of all States, organizations and international bodies to create a climate of stability and security so that women could take part in the country’s recovery, he said.  Women needed help to meet the great challenges hindering them from taking up a full role in nation-building.


PATRICK RITTER ( Liechtenstein) said the Secretary-General’s study on violence against women had the potential to create real change in the way in which the violation of women’s rights worldwide was handled.  It addressed issues, which had often been perceived not least by victims of violence as taboos or non-issues, such as the impact of culture and its politicization on the phenomenon of violence against women.  The importance of the issue was such that it warranted an expression of commitment by the General Assembly similar to the Counter-Terrorism Strategy.  The study provided all the elements for such a comprehensive text to be adopted.


Liechtenstein welcomed the particular emphasis in the study on the pressing need to end impunity for acts of violence against women, he said.  Such impunity not only denied justice to individual victims, but also sent a message that male violence against women was acceptable and the underlying discrimination against women and girls was normal.  Liechtenstein hoped that the International Criminal Court would soon be able to send a clear signal that violence against women would not go unpunished.


GURO VIKR ( Norway) said the United Nations needed to improve its gender mainstreaming efforts in all areas.  It had to become an integral part of the Organization, funded by core resources rather than contributions from bilateral donors.  The Government of Norway had proposed a substantial increase in financial support to promote women’s rights with about $60 million to be allocated from the international development budget in 2007 for targeted gender equality interventions, subject to parliamentary approval.


Domestically, Norway had undertaken legal action to increase the participation of women on the boards of the largest 500 privately-owned, public limited companies as well as in state-owned companies.  Privately-owned companies were now obliged to have no fewer than 40 per cent women on their boards.  Internationally, Norway had co-hosted with the United Kingdom and the World Bank a High-Level Conference on the Millennium Development Goals and women’s economic rights.  More often than not, women had not had equal participation and full involvement in peacebuilding processes.  It was key for a gender perspective to be included in the work of the Peacebuilding Commission, consistently and from the start, and the Peacebuilding Support Office should include a gender expert.


LI XIAOMEI ( China) said her delegation supported the continued implementation by United Nations agencies of gender mainstreaming.  At the first meeting of the Human Rights Council, China had pointed out that advancing the rights of vulnerable groups such as women should be among the measures on its agenda.  In August 2006, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had considered China’s fifth and sixth periodic reports under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  The Chinese delegation informed the Committee of major measures taken by the Government to implement the Convention including legislative reform, special measures to carry out the Women’s Development Programme and publicity campaigns to increase awareness of the Convention and the principle of gender equality.  


She recalled that the Outcome document of the World Summit had specified a number of targets in the area of women’s progress.  To achieve those goals, the Government had, among other things, approved the 2006-2010 National Development Programme, which had for the first time devoted a section to safeguarding the rights and interests of women and children.  Her country would continue working to safeguard the rights of Chinese women based on national circumstances and in the context of implementation of the Outcome document, the Beijing Declaration and Programme of Action, and the Convention.


BARBARA BARRETT (United States) noted that attention to gender issues at the United Nations and elsewhere had helped increase recognition that respect for and empowerment of women were pragmatic necessities as well as moral imperatives.  She cited several examples of her country’s activities to support women and development, both in terms of combating violence against women and in helping to empower them.  Human trafficking not only harmed victims physically and emotionally, but also threatened public health and fuelled organized crime, she said.  The United States had provided more than $375 million bilaterally in the last five years towards anti-trafficking programmes in 120 countries and regularly supported international organizations working on that issue.  Countering demand was an important component of the fight against trafficking, she said, noting a United States law that prohibited engaging in child sex tourism anywhere in the world.


The United States also provided access to health care for women including maternal and child health, she said.  President George W. Bush’s $15 billion Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief addressed the needs of women and girls and had helped more than 3.2 million pregnant women prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission.  It also was crucial to challenge behavioural norms, she said, noting a project in South Africa that exhorted men to battle the HIV/AIDS epidemic through an ABC message to “Abstain, Be faithful, and use Condoms.”  Her country also supported broader education and literacy campaigns aimed at empowering women and girls.  In closing, she called attention to a panel discussion the United States would hold at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 16 October on the harvesting and trafficking of human eggs, which was emerging as a form of possible exploitation of women.


IFTEKHAR AHMED CHOWDHURY ( Bangladesh) noted that, while Governments bore the primary responsibility for the advancement of women, international cooperation was crucial for full realization of the goals of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Millennium Development Goals.  Women in Bangladesh had made advances in visibility and mobility, he said, citing the achievement of gender-parity in primary and secondary education, access to birth control measures and microcredit programmes.  Significant progress had been achieved in maternal health and child care.  Women were empowered through employment with more than 2 million women employed in the garment industry and 15 million self-employed through the successful use of microcredit, he said.  Economic empowerment had led to political empowerment with women serving as Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, and more than 13,000 elected women representatives in local Government.


Challenges remained, he said, noting that women were at risk of being the “new poor” because of the mixed impact of globalization.  For example, between 30 to 40 per cent of the ready-made garment industry in Bangladesh might close down due to the phasing out of the Multi-Fibre Agreement, which put more one million women at risk of losing their jobs.  Women’s empowerment was linked to foreign direct investment, duty free and quota free market access for all products and free labour movement as well as to the rule of law and democratic principles.  Bangladesh would continue to work for the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 including through its role as a member of the new Peacebuilding Commission and as a top troop-contributing country to United Nations peacekeeping operations.


CHEM WIDHYA ( Cambodia) said his country’s National Strategic Development Plan had recognized that a speedy removal of latent and overt barriers inherent in gender disparities was very critical to poverty reduction.  The Ministry of Women’s Affairs had been the leading national mechanism for the promotion and protection of the rights of Cambodian women.  A law on the prevention of domestic violence and protection of its victims had been adopted; and it had played a significant role in ensuring the safety of victims of domestic violence, who unfortunately had been mostly women and children.


Information, technology and trade opportunities had been more accessible in the age of globalization, but many women continued to be left behind and had been suffering from poverty, poor working conditions and job insecurity.  Empty promises of wealth and a better future accompanied by the opening of national borders meant that women had become more susceptible to becoming victims of trafficking.  Gender equality had been crucially important for achieving sustainable and long term development and it was in this spirit that Cambodia reiterated its call for the international community to remain firm in its commitments to assist developing countries and to honour its ODA pledges.


FLORE CHANTAL ASSOUMOU ( Côte d’Ivoire) said women and children had paid a heavy price during her country’s politico-military crisis.  They had been victims of murder; emotional, physical and sexual violence; prostitution, which spread HIV/AIDS; unwanted and untimely pregnancies; and child abandonment.  Many women had become war widows called upon to assume the traditional role of head-of-family.  Faced with that situation, women had demonstrated a lot of ingenuity and a high capacity to adapt despite the hardships they faced.  They had become key actors in the socio-economic and indeed political life of Côte d’Ivoire.


Women in rural districts and foodstuff merchants had organized themselves into agricultural cooperatives to ensure food security, she said.  They had also embraced microfinancing.  Several women’s groups had been involved in mediation efforts between belligerents and in the good conduct of the electoral process.  Within the framework of the forum of national dialogue, women had been designated by the Government to take part in peace missions.  Such actions demonstrated that the Ivorian Government was conscious that building a genuine and durable peace involved gender equality and reinforcing the power of women at all levels.


SIN SONG CHOL (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) said that it was the consistent policy of his Government to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and realize gender equality.  In the half-century since the adoption of the Law on Sex Equality in 1946, conditions for women had steadily improved.  The Government also had made continuous efforts to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  In 2005, the Government had had a frank and constructive dialogue with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women during the consideration of its initial report on implementation of the Convention. 


He focused the bulk of his remarks on what he said were Japan’s efforts to conceal past crimes including the practice of military sexual slavery during the Second World War, which constituted the most organized and systematic crime against humanity, he stated.  In 1996, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women had defined the “comfort women” system run by the Japanese military as a crime of “military sexual slavery” and recommended that the Japanese Government accept legal responsibility for the crime, make a public apology, pay compensation to the victims without further delay and punish the perpetrators.  In the 10 years since then, those recommendations had not been implemented at all.  In that context, it was a mockery to consider Japan for permanent membership in the Security Council of the United Nations.  His delegation strongly urged Japan to accept legal responsibility for its past crimes, including Japanese military sexual slavery forced upon 200,000 women and girls, to make an honest apology and provide compensation.


PIRAGIBE DOS SANTOS TARRAGÔ ( Brazil), speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) and associated States, said any measure which deterred social and economic development including unilateral coercive measures had a negative impact on the promotion of the rights of women.  Gender equality was essential for combating poverty, hunger and disease and for achieving worldwide sustainable development.  Promoting the participation and access of women in State decisions, right up to the highest levels of Government, was essential.  One recent accomplishment had been the assumption of Michelle Bachelet to the Presidency of Chile, a MERCOSUR associated Member State.


For MERCOSUR, access to sexual and reproductive health services including sexual education, information and care had to be based on a human rights perspective, he said.  Universal access to such services was essential to promote economic development and reduce inequalities.  It was also an integral part of curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS.  Violence against women was a perverse expression of the inequality of power between men and women with clear negative repercussions at various levels, such as poor performance at school among children who witnessed such violence.  The State had a fundamental role to play.  Many women did not resort to the police out of fear, shame or distrust.  The State therefore had a responsibility to establish a network of support services including trained personnel and specialized attention in police precincts and courts.


BORIS V. CHERNENKO ( Russian Federation) noted that globalization of the world economy and the growing gap between the rich and poor had an impact on the status of women.  He also acknowledged the ongoing problem of violence against women.  However, he said, the Secretary-General’s study contained a number of inappropriate and tendentious conclusions, particularly regarding the situation of women in armed conflict.  He warned that politicization of this theme could complicate achievement of the goals of gender strategies.


The Russian Federation was fully committed to the Convention, which was a crucial instrument for protecting the rights of women.  The Government was preparing a report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which would be submitted later in the fall.  He cited a number of initiatives undertaken by the Government to promote gender equality, but said that the efforts of civil society were also needed.  In order to strengthen collaborative efforts, the Ministry of Health Care and Social Development had established a coordinating council on gender issues.  The Russian Federation was open to an impartial dialogue on gender issues with all interested parties, as evidenced by the visit in February of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour.


BELĖN SAPAG ( Chile) stressed the importance of implementing international commitments dealing with gender equality and women’s empowerment.  She also welcomed the Secretary-General’s study on violence against women, which would make it possible for States to draw up follow-up policies.  For the first time in its history, Chile had a woman as President, Michelle Bachelet, who had won 53 per cent of the vote in the presidential elections.  She was proof of a qualitative leap forward in Chile in terms of putting women in positions of authority.  Obstacles remained to be overcome, however, due to the electoral system while a major effort was being made to enact a quota law.


President Bachelet had handed down a code of good practice regarding equal treatment and the promotion of conciliation in labour disputes, she said.  It was hoped that the private sector would welcome these measures.  Regarding family violence, Chile had set up 29 centres to deal with such situations around the country.  It had also set up a national telephone hotline and was creating welcoming shelters next year to help women and children who had been affected by violence.  Such progress would not have been possible without guidelines from the United Nations and its agencies.  Chile today had a historic opportunity now that it had a female President who stood by women.


Ms. AGCEL ( Saudi Arabia) said her country attached great importance to women’s issues as the precepts of Islam highlighted gender equality.  Based on Islamic principles, the Government promoted the concept of the family as the nucleus of society and fostered respect for law and order and morality.  The 2005-2009 national plan focused on strengthening family ties, protecting Islamic values and encouraging the role of women.  The country had made advances in terms of expanding access to education for girls with secondary and primary school rates for girls at over 40 per cent.  The Government had allocated increased funding for girls’ education in its latest development plan.


Women were involved in all areas of Government and also were represented in the media and health professions, among others, she said.  The recent development plan recognized women’s contributions to the economy and sought to attract more women investors.  Saudi Arabia would do its utmost to advance cause of women in accord with sharia.


JENNIFER FELLER ( Mexico) said there had been some improvement in the lot of women in Latin America, but problems remained.  Mexico was fully committed to implementing the Beijing Platform especially in areas of major concern.  Violence against women had been a serious impediment to development and had been disruptive to societies.  It was hoped that the General Assembly would follow up on the issue in a substantive way.


There had been many twists and turns in the struggle to end violence against women including indigenous women, she said.  That was a challenge for the international community as a whole.  Her country could not understand why the issue had been politicized or downgraded.  Mexico had worked closely with various bodies involved with gender issues; it had also contributed to gender-related work in Haiti.  It appreciated UNIFEM as a strategic tool for supporting national bodies involved in women’s issues.  On the international level, much remained to be done to spread information about women’s rights.  If women did not know about their rights, there was not much that Governments could do.  Education was fundamental.


VOLODYMYR PEKARCHUK ( Ukraine) noted that sexual exploitation and trafficking of women remained one of the worst forms of violence against women as was confirmed by the Secretary-General’s report.  Experience over the past decade suggested that those forms of abuse were on the rise particularly in areas of armed conflict.  His delegation hoped for successful negotiations on the draft resolutions on “trafficking in women and girls” and “improving coordination efforts against slavery and trafficking in persons”.  Reaffirming Ukraine’s commitment to the Beijing Platform for Action and the Outcome document of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, he noted that promoting gender equality was among his country’s national priorities.


More than one million women in Ukraine were engaged in entrepreneurial activities and nearly half of all women in the country had higher education and secondary special education.  He highlighted a number of initiatives undertaken by the Government to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, including legislative reform and a proposed National Programme on the Establishment of Gender Equality to be adopted soon.  The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol were key instruments in securing women’s rights and Ukraine would do its utmost to fulfil its reporting obligations under the treaty.


ALOU HAOUA NA-ALLAH ( Niger) said her country had taken a number of steps towards improving the living conditions of women and promoting the equality of the sexes.  Thanks to legislation setting a 10 per cent minimum quota of women in elected positions, Niger had 14 women in its parliament plus 661 municipal councillors and 6 Government ministers.  However, on the socio-political level, 73 per cent of people in Niger living under the poverty line were women.  To address that situation, a number of programmes had been initiated including in 2002 a poverty reduction strategy.  School enrolment for girls had increased from 25 per cent in 2000 to 36 per cent in 2005.


In the health sector, despite economic problems, considerable efforts had been made to improve the quality of and access to health services, and the health of women and children were the cornerstone of national health policy as set out in the 2005-2010 health development plan.  Regarding violence against women, Niger had been reforming its penal code in order to address slavery, female genital mutilation and sexual harassment.  Penalties for existing crimes, such as rape, were meanwhile being strengthened.


FABIEN FIESCHI ( France), aligning his country with the statement made by Finland on behalf of the European Union and also speaking on behalf of the Netherlands, drew specific attention to the issue of violence against women, a grave phenomenon which denied women the enjoyment of their rights.  Failure to respond to that issue in itself amounted to a human rights violation.  Despite consensus among States that violence against women was unacceptable, there had been differences in the past on the best means to combat it.  It was for that reason that the General Assembly had asked the Secretary-General three years ago for his in-depth study.


France and the Netherlands considered that the recommendations made in the study together with the comments made by Mr. Ocampo had to be given priority attention by delegations, he said.  The two countries would therefore present very soon, in the framework of the Committee, a draft resolution aimed at intensifying efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women with a view to its adoption by consensus.


Statements in Right of Reply


Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Japan responded to the statement of the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, noting that it was unfortunate that he referred to issues of the past not relevant to the topic under discussion.  The issue mentioned had been recognized by the Government of Japan on many occasions, such as in the Pyongyang Declaration and in a statement by the President last year.  Japan had consistently contributed to promoting peace and security since the Second World War.


The property claims issue also had been addressed in the Pyongyang Declaration, he said.  The numbers mentioned by the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were greatly exaggerated, and his delegation could not accept them.  The unsubstantiated statement by the representative could not be used as an excuse for abductions by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which were a clear violation of human rights and a continuing problem.


Regarding Security Council reform, which also was not relevant to the agenda item on women, his Government’s position was that permanent membership should be based on a Member State’s contributions to peace and security.  His delegation drew the attention of all Member States to the 8 October statement by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on that its Government had conducted a nuclear test.  That clearly violated the 6 October statement of the Security Council urging the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to implement resolution 1695 (2006), including by returning to the six-party talks and commitments made during earlier discussions.


In response, the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said he had only referred to the pure and simple truth, but the Japanese delegation had once again tried to cover up its blood-stained past crimes.  He referred to the threat posed by Japan’s ultra-right, including incitement to hatred of Koreans in Japan.  Japan had forcibly abducted 8.4 million Koreans and had forced sexual slavery on 200,000 women and girls, he said.  Even today, after more than half a century, the whereabouts of most of these victims remained unknown.  Despite Japan’s talk about human rights, the Government had not given a sincere response regarding the fate of these victims, and had neither apologized nor provided compensation.


Taking the floor again, the representative of Japan said there was a need to address the current issue, which was abductions by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  There was also a need to ask which country posed a threat to the international community in view of yesterday’s statement by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that the country had engaged in nuclear testing.  He said that Japan, meanwhile, had promoted human rights and the rights of women and children for more than 60 years.


The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea responded that it was absurd to think that the past crimes of Japan had been addressed.  The abduction issue had been fully resolved in the Pyongyang Declaration, which had been fully implemented by his Government.  There were no outstanding issues, he said.  He also referred to earlier talks in Beijing where the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had called on Japan to return disputed ashes.  He repeated his delegation’s call for Japan to accept responsibility for past crimes, including military sexual slavery.


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For information media • not an official record