|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Commission on the Status of Women
9th & 10th Meetings (AM & PM)
speakers in commission on status of women call for full involvement
of men, boys in fight to end gender inequality worldwide
Men and boys were aware that the “rules” on how to treat women and girls were changing, but Governments, the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and the media needed to step up their efforts and funding to involve males fully in the fight to end gender inequality around the globe, speakers told the Commission on the Status of Women today as it concluded its general debate.
Speakers stressed that the Beijing Platform for Action and other major global documents argued that women’s concerns -- education for their children, safe sex and family planning, the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, ending gender-based violence and balancing work and family responsibilities -- could be better addressed in partnership with men.
Gary Barker, Executive Director of Brazil’s Instituto Promundo and a panellist in an interactive discussion held this morning, said studies revealed the existence of social technology to engage men and boys and it had, in fact, proven effective in fostering attitudinal and behavioural change concerning gender. A review by the Instituto Promundo and the World Health Organization (WHO) of 59 programmes to end and prevent gender-based violence, treat and prevent HIV/AIDS and improve maternal health showed that men’s and boys’ attitudes changed considerably in almost two thirds of all cases. Non-governmental organizations had taken the lead in engaging men and boys, but often lacked the funds to keep their programmes going.
As a whole, the issue was not taken seriously, and gains in the fight against gender discrimination were modest, he said. Harassment of and discrimination against girl students worldwide, both by boys and teachers, continued to go unpunished. Similarly, the inclusion of men and boys in gender mainstreaming had enjoyed limited success, despite efforts by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to integrate gender equality into public policy. All too few visible leaders spoke out against the ill-treatment of girls and women, while leaders and celebrities who did so often did not practise what they preached.
Aminata Touré, Officer-in-Charge of the Culture, Gender and Human Rights Branch of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), another panellist, said it was essential to understand social perceptions of masculinity. Men who championed women’s rights were often ridiculed by their peers and needed support networks to reach out to them regarding their proper role in achieving gender equality in order to break down existing barriers.
Men could actually be good news for gender-equality programmes, she said, noting that UNFPA had helped to enlist religious leaders to promote reproductive health among Muslims in Senegal, and in southern Thailand’s Islamic Pattani Province. In Côte d’Ivoire, military health centres had been expanded to include family planning services, based on the idea that the military could be motivated to adopt responsible sexual behaviour.
Successive speakers stressed that discrimination was not an innate trait but a learned behaviour, and that teaching boys at an early age to respect and value the girls and women in their lives was crucial. Other speakers said changing the attitudes of boys and men was a tricky balancing act. In pushing the Beijing Platform further, men must learn to accept that they would have less control over women. Power-sharing was an end result to gender equality. Speakers also noted the importance of discouraging violence as part of a boy’s upbringing and a sign of his future manhood.
Dicky Komar ( Indonesia), Vice-Chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women, also made a statement during the panel discussion.
As the Commission continued its general debate this afternoon, it heard statements by representatives of Croatia, Netherlands, Peru, China, Belarus, Italy, France, Cameroon, Qatar, Bangladesh, Suriname, Lebanon, Fiji, Lesotho, Senegal and Benin.
A delegate from the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See also made a statement, as did a representative of the African Union.
Also speaking today were representatives of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, International Organization for Migration and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
Other speakers included representatives of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), World Bank, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, International Labour Organization and United Nations Regional Commissions.
Speakers representing the Asia-Pacific Caucus, African Women’s Caucus, North American NGO Caucus and the Middle East Caucus also made statements.
The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again at a time and date to be announced.
The Commission on the Status of Women met this morning to hold a panel discussion to evaluate progress in the implementation of the agreed conclusions on “The role of men and boys in achieving gender equality”. In the afternoon it continued its general debate on follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and to the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, entitled “Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century”. (For more background details, please see Press Release WOM/1612 of 1 March.)
DICKY KOMAR (Indonesia), Commission Vice-Chairperson, welcomed participants to the morning panel discussion and said that, in the past decade, United Nations global conferences and conference reviews -– including the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, the 1995 World Summit on Social Development and the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women -– had paid significant attention to the role of men and boys in promoting and achieving gender equality. The Beijing Platform for Action argued that women’s concerns could be addressed in partnership with men and identified education and socialization of children, sexual and reproductive health, gender-based violence, and balancing work and family responsibilities as priority areas for action in that regard.
He said the Commission, in agreed conclusions during its 2004 forty-eighth session, the Commission had called on Governments, the United Nations and other stakeholders to promote reconciliation of work and family responsibilities; encourage men and boys to work for the elimination of gender stereotypes; encourage men to participate in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programmes; launch programmes to enable men to engage in safe, responsible sex; support men’s and boy’s efforts to prevent and eliminate gender-based violence; and implement programmes to change societal attitudes towards gender equality.
The two panellists were Gary Barker, Executive Director, Instituto Promundo of Brazil, and Aminata Touré, Officer-in-Charge, Culture, Gender and Human Rights Branch of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Mr. BARKER said studies suggested that boys were aware of the changing “rules” on gender but girls still faced subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination, harassment and violence in schools. While many education ministries called for engaging boys and men, schools were still failing to reprimand teachers, particularly males, who abused girls. Gender sensitization in teaching methodologies and school curricula was limited and that issue as a whole had not been taken seriously.
Similarly, he continued, inclusion of men and boys in gender mainstreaming had enjoyed limited success despite efforts by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) gender focal points and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to integrate gender equality into public policy. Most progress had been made in engaging men and boys in responsible sex and reproductive health. There was an increase in condom use, voluntary counselling and testing for sexually transmitted diseases and in collaboration between couples on reproductive health.
While more evaluation data were needed on such trends, it was evident that the social technology to engage men and boys in erasing gender inequality was available and that they did, in fact, change as a result of such intervention. For example, an ongoing World Health Organization/Promundo review of 59 programmes on prevention of gender-based violence, HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, maternal health and others had revealed that men’s and boys’ attitudes changed considerably in almost two thirds of the programmes. Such non-governmental organizations as the MenEngage global civil society network had taken the lead in engaging men and boys, but often lacked the resources to sustain and expand such efforts. Too few visible leaders were taking a public stance in urging boys and men to practise gender equality, and when they did speak out, leaders and celebrities often failed to practise what they preached.
Ms. TOURÉ recalled that, in the 1980s, it had been thought that the most optimal way to achieve equality between men and women was the adoption of a “gender and development” approach, as opposed to a “women in development” tack, since focusing on women in isolation was not believed adequately to advance the cause. As a result, increased attention had been given to the proper role of men and boys in achieving gender equality by reaching out to men so that male resistance did not undermine interventions, for example. Over the years, the UNFPA had learned the key importance of understanding social perceptions of masculinity. Men who stood up for women’s rights were at times ridiculed by their peers, which highlighted the need to create support networks for men.
She said reproductive health services should become more male-friendly and many health centres had not yet been prepared to address men’s needs. Investing money in programmes that targeted men might reduce the already under-resourced funding available to women, running the risk of further empowering men and perpetuating the cycle of inequality. But that risk seemed worth taking because experience had shown that men could actually be good news for gender equality programmes.
Shedding light on UNFPA projects, she noted that, in Côte d’Ivoire, military health centres had been expanded to include family planning services, on the basis of the idea that the military could be motivated to adopt responsible sexual behaviour. In the Dominican Republic, barbers acted as conduits for HIV/AIDS prevention messages. Religious leaders had been enlisted to promote reproductive health among Muslims in Senegal and among the Muslim people of Thailand’s southern Pattani Province.
The representative of Mali applauded those efforts, stressing the importance of engaging Islamic religious leaders, mostly men, in West Africa to send the right message about reproductive health and other women’s rights, which had been effective in changing men’s attitudes and behaviours in Mali. Similarly, the representative of Mauritius said men were becoming better fathers and practising responsible birth control in her country thanks to counselling and alternative recreation programmes for men.
A representative of the Inuit Circumpolar Council noted that men in Greenland were beginning to contact crisis centres for counselling, whereas previously they had had nowhere to go since the focus had traditionally been on helping women and girls. The Inuit Circumpolar Council planned to draw on the successes of countries where men’s groups had been set up so it that it could follow suit. That task would not be easy as men’s groups were not in vogue, but there was a growing awareness about gender equality among Inuit men. A representative of the Centre for Professorssaid it hadhad successfully influenced clan elders and others in Kenya to teach society to value women and their bodies. That had occasioned a drop in female genital mutilation in certain communities from 89 per cent to less than 40 per cent in four years.
Successive speakers stressed that discrimination was not an innate trait but a learned behaviour, and that teaching boys at an early age to respect and value the girls and women in their lives was crucial. India’s representative said children in northern India discussed human rights in “Brother and Sister” peer groups, resulting in teen boys bringing girls back to school and groups forming a protective circle around potential trafficking victims. Girls were delaying marriage and becoming more interested in school, particularly information and communication technology classes.
Some speakers said that changing boys’ and men’s attitudes was a tricky balancing act. In pushing the Beijing Platform further, men must learn to accept that they would have less control over women and lose their “privileges”. Power-sharing was the end result of gender equality. Speakers also noted the importance of discouraging violence as part of a boy’s upbringing and a sign of his future manhood.
MIRJANA MLADINEO ( Croatia) said her country’s experience in post-conflict management had led it to place particular importance on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), which sought to safeguard women’s role in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. For a number of years, Croatia had organized international peacekeeping training, while paying close heed to that programme’s human rights component. Croatian international peacekeepers would be educated on child protection and suppression of trafficking.
She said corporal punishment of children was forbidden by the national family law and the domestic violence law, although it was still widespread. Particular importance was placed on educating all professionals dealing with children and programmes were currently in the works for employees in preschools, primary and secondary schools, as well as higher education institutions. The country also had a national plan for the suppression of child trafficking.
CARLIEN SCHEELE, Senior Policy Officer, Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment of the Netherlands, said that, though sexual and reproductive health and rights were basic rights and indispensable to development, they were far from being realized. In developing countries, 29 per cent of women would like to use modern contraceptives, but were unable to do so for various reasons. More than 500,000 girls died annually from pregnancy-related complications, while adolescent girls and those of childbearing age were at twice as much risk as older women of dying during pregnancy or when giving birth.
In October 2006, the General Assembly had agreed to include a target titled “Universal access to reproductive health by 2015” under Millennium target number 5, as well as three others, she said. The Netherlands was endeavouring to implement that target and needed more diverse partners and funding channels to reach it. Civil society groups and United Nations agencies should work together in that regard.
Turning to the struggle against HIV/AIDS, she said the number of women and girls infected with HIV had increased worldwide in the past two years. In sub-Saharan Africa, 57 per cent of people living with the AIDS-causing virus were women. World Health Organization (WHO) studies showed that comprehensive sexual education postponed the start of sexual activity and led to safer sexual behaviour. The Netherlands welcomed the Secretary-General’s study on violence against women and had tabled, with France, a resolution on the subject calling on the United Nations and Member States to adhere to international commitments to eliminate discrimination against women.
JORGE VOTO-BERNALES ( Peru) said his country’s President had instituted a series of measures to protect the girl child, such as stiffer punishments for violence directed at girls and boys, as well as for children harmed by domestic violence. The country was currently establishing uniform standards on the proper treatment of boys and girls by creating a schools ombudsman and developing policies to counter the involvement of children in the worst forms of labour.
He said his country recognized that millions of children lived in poverty, and that girls were the most vulnerable to human rights abuses. In partnership with Belgium, Peru was engaged in a programme pitting the State against the abuse and sexual exploitation of children. The Ministry of Women and the office of the Attorney-General had been working to establish a shared database to facilitate the hearing of court cases. Some problems, however, required international coordination. They included the protection of girls in post-conflict situations and migrant women.
LIU ZHENMIN ( China) said his country’s leaders had made great efforts to fully implement the Beijing Platform for Action through various policies and programmes. In 2006, the Chinese Government and women’s groups had conducted widespread advocacy of the Law on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Chinese Women, which had been amended in 2005, and pushed for its enforcement in Chinese provinces. Five provinces had developed enforcement procedures and 18 had put the issue on their legislative agendas. Legal assistance systems had been mainstreamed to provide poor women and children with free legal services. The midterm evaluation of the 2001-2010 Programme for the Development of Chinese Women revealed that more than half of the targets had been achieved, including those on women’s employment, education, social security, participation in decision-making, health and building a favourable environment for gender equality. Still, serious challenges remained in the protection of migrant women’s rights and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.
Last year, the National Statistics Bureau had formally incorporated sex-disaggregated indicators into the national statistics system, he continued. Central and local governments had also set up organizations to monitor and assess women’s development. The 2001-2010 Programme for the Development of Chinese Women and the 2001-2010 Action Plan for the Development of Children both addressed girls’ rights in health care, education and protection from abuse. The Chinese Government had taken steps to balance the number of boys and girls being born annually by 2015. The 2001 Law on Population and Family Planning explicitly prohibited prenatal sex selection for non-medical purposes and the termination of pregnancies due to the baby’s sex. In 2003, China had launched the “Care for Girls Initiative” to create a favourable environment for girls to live in and grow. In 2004, it had devised the Policy for Providing Social Support to Rural Families Practicing Family Planning, which, among other things, provided financial support to elderly rural couples with only one child or two girls.
SERGEI RACHKOV ( Belarus) said his country had developed a 2004-2010 national plan of action to protect girls’ rights. Attention had also been devoted to a mass information campaign on ways to eliminate violence against women and school textbooks had been revised to remove gender stereotypes. Issues relating to violence against girls were being highlighted in teacher training and young people were being taught the elements of a healthy family life, including the proper role of men in society. To strengthen family relations, the Ministry of Home Affairs had been monitoring individuals engaged in domestic violence.
As for child labour, he said laws prevented the hiring of children under the age of 16 years. However, young people were allowed to engage in temporary work during school holidays, which inculcated a strong work ethic. Regarding human trafficking, there was a need for closer international coordination to reduce the number of child victims, which, in 2006, had stood at 12 per cent of the total number of victims. An international conference on the trafficking of women and girls would be held on 5 March. It was organized jointly by Belarus, the Philippines, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Vital Voices, a non-governmental organization.
ALDO MANTOVANI ( Italy) said his country was investing in efforts to counter violence against girls as a matter of priority. The Observatory on Violence, expected to begin operating in early 2008, would systematically compile statistics on violence against girls and women, using innovative data collection criteria. Italian legislators were promoting a new organic draft law addressing sexual violence against and harassment of girls and women, including domestic violence. The law, which would be approved by year’s end, identified steps for prevention and awareness-raising as fundamental action. It aimed primarily to strengthen protection and support for victims of violence, guaranteeing them legal and psychological assistance and reintegration into social environments and work. It focused particularly on education and the need to instil respect for gender differences in children.
In line with European directives and the Final Declaration of the 2003 Cairo Conference, he said, Italy had passed a law in 2006 that provided for measures to prevent and end female genital mutilation, and increase funding to stop the practice, which was a serious violation of fundamental human rights and an assault on the dignity, integrity and health of women and girls. Concerned with the trafficking in and exploitation of minors, Italy, in partnership with the European Union and the European Council, had devised innovative legislation in recent years to counter all new forms of slavery and was designing wide-ranging assistance and reintegration programmes to safeguard victims.
FABIEN FIESCHI ( France), noting that more women tended to be unemployed than men, said that, in order to correct those inequalities, his country had begun a programme to diversify career choices for girls. An abundance of teaching material had been adapted to different ages, so as to help girls and boys realize that both sexes had the same rights and capacities. Education professionals were also trained to be more gender-sensitive.
He said France and the Netherlands had worked together to bring about a General Assembly resolution on the intensification of efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women. To help eradicate female genital mutilation, for example, France had created a law in 2006 on the prevention and suppression of violence between couples and against minors. Under that law, victims had up to 20 years to start a court action. It also removed medical confidentiality in the event that doctors observed sexual mutilation. Attention was also drawn to the Paris Principles to free children from war, adopted at a conference organized jointly by France and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in February.
MARTIN BELINGA-EBOUTOU (Cameroon), speaking on behalf of his country’s Minister for the Advancement of Women and the Family, supported the statement by Ecuador’s delegate on the need to review the dates for the Commission’s substantive session, taking into account the date of National Women’s Day. Doing so would allow a large number of Ministers to participate.
Stressing that girls deserved special attention, he said his country was committed to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to ensuring good health, education and nutrition for all children and to ending harmful cultural practices. Cameroon was a party to all internal legal instruments and measures aimed at protecting children from violence, sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse, including all relevant conventions of the United Nations and the African Union.
Cameroon had adopted a comprehensive strategy in 1999 to promote and protect women and girls, he said. It had mainstreamed gender concerns into its education strategy and adopted a school grants policy whereby it awarded 40 per cent of school grants to girls. Furthermore, school curricula and textbooks had been analysed to detect and remove stereotypes. Despite significant progress in promoting and protecting girls in schools and women’s rights in society, much remained to be done and further collective action was needed on the part of both men and women.
NASSIR ABDULZIZ Al-NASSER (Qatar), aligning himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action had consistently guided his country’s Government in its quest for the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls. That was evident in several national initiatives, including a decree by the Council of Ministers establishing a committee intended to complement the existing family law with procedural legislative activities and to review laws in line with international human rights instruments.
He said the Government had also focused considerable attention on, among other issues, the elaboration of an integrated national strategy for the advancement of women and on ensuring adequate intersectoral coordination for a consistent gender mainstreaming approach. As a non-permanent member of the Security Council for the period 2006-2007, Qatar had been actively involved in issues of children in armed conflict; women, peace and security; and civilians in armed conflict. The United Nations system must intensify its efforts to assess further the impact of foreign occupation on women and girls as that would shed light on their plight in such horrific conditions.
MUHAMMAD ALI SORCAR ( Bangladesh) said his country was a party to almost all major international instruments relating to the rights of women and girls, and had adopted national laws to protect them from violence. Examples included the Suppression of Violence against Women and Children Act 2000, the Acid Crimes Control Act 2002 and the Speedy Trial Tribunal Act 2002. Bangladesh had established one-stop crisis centres and safe houses for victims of sexual abuse and harassment. As part of the Decade of the Girl Child, the country had created policies seeking to improve education, health, nutrition and access to safe water and sanitation, with a specific focus on girls.
He said his country had also adopted innovative programmes to empower women, including through microcredit and non-formal education. Bangladesh owed that progress mainly to a vibrant civil society, which included more than 20,000 non-governmental organizations, one of which was the world-famous Grameen organization. Despite those achievements, more work remained to be done and in that respect, the international community should honour its official development assistance commitments to developing countries.
ASHA BURKHARDT-REMESAR ( Suriname), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China, said the full implementation of the Millennium Development Goals was a key instrument for the elimination of violence and discrimination against the girl child. Suriname’s Ministry of Home Affairs had recently launched its second Integral Gender Action Plan 2006-2010, which focused on various priority areas, particularly the elimination of domestic and sexual violence. On education, the country had developed several programmes, including a lesson plan for primary and secondary school teachers on violence against and abuse of children, and how to deal with HIV/AIDS at school.
On the subject of the trafficking of women, she said the Government had adopted a Trafficking in Persons Act that had entered into force last April. It had also created a special police unit to deal with trafficking in persons. In addition, a Foundation called Man mit Man (Men meet Men) was encouraging and supporting men to take up their responsibilities, their place in the family and in society to strengthen family life and set good examples for young boys and girls. Lastly, the Government acknowledged the need for special attention to the specific needs of indigenous girls and women, which had been incorporated into the National Policy Documents programmes.
MAJDI RAMADAN ( Lebanon) said his country was integrating gender-equality strategies into all national policies and programmes. The Beirut Declaration was part of those efforts, as was the creation in 2005 of the Arab Women’s Parliamentary Network. At present, the National Commission for Lebanese Women was the main body charged with the empowerment of women and gender equality and it had four legal objectives: to adhere to international conventions on women’s and girl’s rights; to implement all legal texts in that regard; to draft legislation on women’s rights; and to ensure the consecration of women’s rights in all texts. Lebanon was committed to promoting awareness of the rights and protections guaranteed for women and girls in international instruments. It was also committed to lifting its reservations relating to various articles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Noting that his country was indeed achieving progress in that regard, he said school textbooks and materials referred to the Convention and other international instruments on women’s rights. The idea was to enable children to understand and become familiar, from an early age, with the social, political and economic rights of women and girls as fundamental human rights. Women’s rights and gender equality were important to national socio-economic development. The elimination of armed conflict and the attainment of peace were prerequisites for the advancement of women and national development. Despite years of hard work towards women’s and girls’ empowerment, the latest Israeli aggression was still Lebanon’s heaviest national development burden, particularly in the realm of gender equality.
FILIMONE KAU ( Fiji) said a coordinating committee on children had been set up to oversee implementation of his country’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Some achievements included the establishment of a family law court, to serve the girl child whose parents were facing marital crisis. Efforts were under way to provide health education, including on sexual and family life issues. Meanwhile, the Fiji Women’s Plan of Action 1999-2008 strove to create an environment free of domestic violence, sexual harassment and girl-child abuse, under the banner, “Fit for the Girl Child”. However, corporal punishment of children was still of great concern, despite laws which criminalizing it. The Government sought to educate the public through the media and community workshops so as to help identify alternative methods of discipline.
LEBOHANG MAEMA ( Lesotho), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said his country had taken administrative and legislative measures to address gender-based discrimination and violence. In 2003, the Government had adopted a Gender and Development Policy to ensure the enactment and enforcement of gender-sensitive laws.
He said his country was severely affected by HIV/AIDS and, in light of that, an Action Plan had been developed in 2005 with the aim of reducing the burden of care for AIDS patients, which mostly fell on women and girls. Additionally, the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 was intended to safeguard the rights of minors, especially girls. One of the most significant recent developments in the legislative area had been the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act in December 2006, which aimed to abolish the absolute marital power of a husband over his wife and her property, and to remove the minor status of married women. Finally, preparations were under way to enact the Child Protection and Welfare Bill, which would provide the overall framework for ensuring adequate standards of care and protection for orphaned and vulnerable children, many of whom were girls.
PAUL BADJI ( Senegal) said his country had ratified all relevant instruments on the elimination of discrimination against women and adopted legislation to prosecute the perpetrators of violence against girls. Senegal had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Conventions 138 and 182 of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the African Charter on the Human Rights and well-being of the Child, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.
He said his country had a Family Code and had amended its Penal Code to expand human rights for women and girls. In 1999, the Government had banned female genital mutilation, in a move deemed a model for the international community. In December 2005, it had hosted a conference in Dakar on the role of national parliaments in ending violence against women, including the practice of female genital mutilation.
Senegal had institutional mechanisms to protect and promote the rights of the child, he said. They included the Directorate for Protection of Children’s Rights and the Education for Family Life programme in Islamic schools. The country participated in the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour to end child labour in Senegal and had assistance centres for street children, as well as family mediation projects to reunite them with their families. In 2001, Senegal had launched, in partnership with civil society and UNICEF, a National Action Plan to end female genital mutilation and early marriage. A total of 1,671 villages had issued public declarations against female genital mutilation and free treatment was now provided for obstetric fistula -– a consequence of early marriages.
YVETTE KPONGNONHOU, Judicial Technical Counsellor, Ministry of Family, Women and Children of Benin, said a phenomenon whereby a child was transferred to a third party who was the parent was prevalent in her country. The Government was working with UNICEF, the UNFPA and the UNDP in developing a set of laws to stem the practice and had created special shelters to house rescued victims.
She said the Government had also taken measures to ban the mistreatment and displacement of children, protect their sexual reproductive rights and ban female genital mutilation. In addition, non-governmental organizations cooperated with the Ministry of Family, Women and Children in publicizing laws through cassettes and brochures, and in translating them into different languages. Benin had signed a regional agreement with Nigeria and nine other West African countries on child trafficking.
MARY ANN DANTUONO, Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, said that, if the world wished to see an end to the mistreatment of women, different peoples and cultures must learn to work together in addressing the issue. There was a need to uphold the dignity and worth of every human being, including children and girls. Indeed, the inferior status bestowed on women in certain places had led to the abortion of female infants, who were considered a financial burden. In such cases, abortion was regarded as a tool of liberation whereas, ironically, it was a tool used by women against women. In other places, marriage was sometimes used as a façade to cover up sexual exploitation and slave labour, such as with mail-order and temporary brides.
As for the trafficking of women, no one profited from it except for traffickers and clients, she said. It was not enough to sensationalize the “tragic plight” of trafficked women; there was a need to examine why the market for such women was so profitable and to determine what body should be mandated to intervene. Nor should the world limit its response to the construction of refuges here and there; ways must be found to return victims to their homes safely and without shame. Women who travelled abroad in search of work should be able to do so safely. Rural villages, whose girls were often impelled to seek work elsewhere, must be taught how to deal with the risks faced by their young people.
MONICA XAVIER, Inter-Parliamentary Union, said that, on 1 March, an event organized jointly with the Division for the Advancement of Women had attracted 150 Members of Parliament from around the world, which promised to enrich the deliberations of the Commission’s fifty-first session. At those discussions, participants had focused on the need to develop strong laws to prohibit physical, psychological and all other types of violence, including those taking place in a sphere that legislators sometimes hesitated to enter -- the home. Such laws must be reviewed regularly, which required parliamentarians to exercise their oversight functions thoroughly to ensure they responded adequately to girls’ needs.
She said other topics discussed included enforcement regulations, the importance of “voting resources” for the girl child and the need to develop partnerships with men. In addition, a meeting for women Speakers of Parliament had been organized to discuss what they could do as political leaders and role models. Also, the “iKnow Politics” -- International Knowledge Network of Women in Politics –- had been launched jointly with several other partners. The Network was designed for parliamentarians, legislators, candidates, political parties, researchers and practitioners to support full political participation for women.
NDIORO N’DIAYE, Assistant Director-General, International Organization for Migration, said the girl child still suffered from discrimination due to patriarchal systems still present in many regions. Despite many of its negative consequences, migration could have positive impact on girls. Migrant women were often able to step up their financial contributions to their families as the result of work found abroad. When women were involved in financial management, they often prioritized the well-being and education of their children, particularly daughters. But the economic aspects of migration were not the only elements to take into account. Migrant women often presented positive female role models for girls.
Turning to trafficking, she said it had proved useful to alert young girls, particularly migrant girls, to the dangers of trafficking. By involving migrant women in outreach campaigns on the dangers of trafficking, communities could help reduce the risk of falling prey to traffickers. Trafficking was the main danger faced by migrant girls as it was a cross-border phenomenon. In 2006, the IOM had provided assistance to 1,879 trafficking victims worldwide, 82 per cent of whom were female. Trafficking was a result of the demand for cheap labour and sexual services. Many poor African girls became victims of trafficking and were lured to work in the Middle East. Their illegal migration all too often resulted in sexual slavery, with traffickers confiscating the girls’ passports and forcing them to work as prostitutes to pay off their debt to the traffickers. European tourists also lured African girls with the promise of a good education, but then forced them into pornography. Sex trafficking was a $9 billion annual trade and education was the best weapon in the fight to end it.
MARY REINER BARNES, Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said improving women’s health was one of the Order’s areas of expertise. A primary focus was to protect against mother-to-child HIV infection and providing mothers with access to screening and prenatal therapies. In Mexico, infected women whom the Order had brought into prenatal care had all given birth to healthy children. In Afghanistan, the Order operated an educational programme for midwives, while in the West Bank, it guaranteed quality obstetric care through its Maternity Hospital of the Holy Family in Bethlehem. A mobile unit from that institution served the prenatal needs of women in outlying areas.
She said the Order had started a specialized programme in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to provide psychological assistance and counteract the effects of violence against women and girls brutalized by war. Many of the counsellors used by the Order had been victims themselves and they used their own experience to help others. Tens of thousands of mistreated girls and women sought assistance through those health centres. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which enjoyed diplomatic relations with more than 96 countries, looked forward to further collaboration with the United Nations, Member States and non-governmental organizations in helping women and girls fulfil their potential in society.
Ms. RATSIFANDRIHAMANANA, African Union, said women and girls were empowered in countries where the Head of State was a woman. In 2005, the African Union had adopted a gender framework to promote women’s rights in peace and security, the fight against HIV/AIDS, fundamental rights, land-property rights and land-inheritance rights. In January, its Assembly had reiterated its commitment to collaborate with partners for development and decided to organize a conference later this year on the environmental and economic sustainability of women.
She stressed the importance of the African Union decision to adopt a plan of action on human trafficking, particularly the trafficking of women and children, and to pursue advocacy in that area. The organization’s Commission was also addressing the challenges of mainstreaming gender into national policies and programmes. It had just published a manual on best practices regarding gender mainstreaming. African women, more than any other women in the world, were victims of discrimination, violence and sexual abuse and the African Union’s priorities lay in devising ways to combat that problem.
YAMINA DJACTA, Deputy Director, United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), drew attention to the plight of homeless girls and those living in squalid slums. The girl child and her mother tended to bear the brunt of the lack of clean water, sanitation and energy. Rape was rampant in slums and some girls from slums and rural areas dropped out of school as a result of sexual harassment related to a lack of toilets for girls. Amid overcrowding and lack of privacy in households, slum-dwelling girls became sexually active two years earlier than their counterparts elsewhere, which was linked to higher rates of teen pregnancy and HIV infection.
Some girls resorted to prostitution to help their mothers or orphaned siblings, and incest was also a problem, she said. Children who failed to cope in such an environment joined the homeless on the streets, opening themselves up to sexual exploitation and abuse. UN-HABITAT was building community-based local action partnerships on women’s safety, involving women’s groups and municipal governments. The Programme had also been promoting the “safety audit” tool in such cities as Johannesburg, Durban, Dar es Salaam and Nairobi to encourage people to begin looking at living spaces, and to identify ways to make them safer.
MAYRA BUVINIC, Sector Director, Gender and Development, Poverty Reduction and Economic Management of the World Bank, said that financial institution, building on its comparative advantage, had committed to substantially increase its investments in expanding women’s economic opportunities. Building also on the centrality of gender equality to poverty reduction and economic growth, the Bank’s President had announced in September 2006 a four-year Action Plan to enhance the economic empowerment of women in land, labour, financial markets and agricultural products. At the heart of that action plan was the need to implement policy measures that would level the economic playing field for women.
The Bank’s “results agenda” was driving the work in many institutions because it acknowledged the need to improve the effectiveness of work development, she said, stressing the need for measurable goals with quantifiable indicators. The Bank had selected three areas in which to establish and measure the results of emphasis on women’s economic empowerment: including intensifying gender mainstreaming in analytical and operational work in client countries; mobilizing resources to implement initiatives that produced tangible results; and collaborating with United Nations agencies and Governments to improve knowledge and statistics on women’s economic participation, to strengthen monitoring of the Millennium Development Goals and to lay the analytical foundations for gender and development work.
PAULINE MUCHINA, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), pointed out that nearly half of those living with HIV were women and girls, and that, in some countries, young women and girls could be as many as 13 times more likely to be HIV-infected than young men. Those figures represented the feminization of the epidemic and it was for that reason that UNAIDS had initiated the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS. Its action areas included: reducing gender-based violence; preventing HIV infection among adolescent girls; protecting the property and inheritance rights of women and girls; and supporting efforts towards universal education for girls.
She said millions of women and girls were becoming infected because they were denied information and education about HIV. Among the 14 million children who had lost one or both parents to AIDS, girls faced the “triple discrimination” of being girls, being linked to HIV infection and being orphans. In addition, women and girls bore a disproportionate burden of providing care and support for sick family members. But Governments had not yet prioritized programmes to address gender inequality and violence in their national responses to HIV. More financial and political commitment was, therefore, needed, as were programmes involving men and boys in transforming harmful gender norms.
EVY MESSELL, Director, Bureau for Gender Equality, International Labour Organization (ILO), said gender equality was a prerequisite for the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda. In line with its mandate to ensure the promotion of gender equality and combating discrimination, the ILO focused on violence against women and girls, particularly sexual harassment at work, forced labour and trafficking, and on eliminating child labour. Girls’ empowerment was a key element in breaking the cycle of discrimination and violence and in protecting and promoting their human rights, as provided for under ILO Convention 138 (1973) on the minimum work age.
He said that, according to the World Report on Violence against Women, prepared by the Secretary-General’s independent expert on violence against children, millions of girl and boy child labourers, and legally employed adolescents, faced continuous violence at their places of work. The ILO estimated that more girl children under 16 years of age were working in domestic service than any other category of work, which was among the most invisible of female-dominated occupations. Girl domestic workers were isolated behind closed doors with little or no protection or social support. They were exposed to excessive work hours, discrimination, social stigma and sexual abuse, while receiving no education and enjoying no social life.
NRITYA SUBRAMANIAM, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), delivered a joint statement by the United Nations Regional Commissions -– the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).
She said global commitments must be translated into region-specific contexts, noting that the ECE was currently reviewing national surveys measuring violence against women in Europe. ECLAC had coordinated a regional report on violence against women and ESCAP was planning an expert group meeting on the topic, to take place in April. ESCWA was working to encourage the participation of women in peacemaking and ECA had developed a programme to sensitize African countries to the need to mainstream women’s rights education in schools. All the Regional Commissions provided advisory services and technical support for the promotion of women’s and girls’ rights, particularly on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
ANJANA SHAKYA, Asia-Pacific Caucus, strongly urged Member States to give immediate attention to immediate ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. They should also implement their commitments to the Beijing Platform of Action, the Millennium targets and the Paris Principles.
She called on Member States to stop rape and sexual harassment through enactment and enforcement of legislation and to penalize offenders; to monitor and collect sex- and age-disaggregated data in order to develop appropriate policies and strategies; and to enact and enforce legislation to prosecute those who participated in or profited from child trafficking and Internet child pornography.
In addition, Member States should enact and monitor laws on the minimum legal age of marriage and on child incarceration, she said. They should also enact legislation in line with ILO Conventions 138 and 182. Member States were called upon to ensure girls’ participation in all programmes and policies, and to recognize the particular needs of girls in conflict situations, especially their physical and mental health, education and reintegration. It was important for men and boys to participate fully in overcoming all forms of gender-based violence and discrimination.
BISI OLATERU-OLAGBEGI, African Women’s Caucus, called on all African Governments to ratify, domesticate and implement all instruments protecting the rights of women and the girl child, without watering down earlier commitments made in the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the protocol to the Africa Charter on the Rights of Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child relating to the age of marriage, which should not be below 18 years. They should ensure the equal participation of women in politics and decision-making, peacebuilding and conflict resolution, as well as the involvement of boys and men in the fight against gender-based violence.
ANNE BENVENUTI, North American NGO Caucus, called for a fifth World Women’s Conference in order to channel the creative energy of a new generation of girls and women into implementing the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium targets, as well as United Nations conventions and protocols. Such a conference would draw on twenty-first century technology to address its commitments and articulate emergent issues. A technologically linked conference of girls and women offered great hope in bringing grass-roots networks of women together to solve the persistent problems of implementation, while energizing a new generation of human rights advocates and workers.
AMAL MAHMOUD FAYED, Middle East Women’s Caucus, said participating Arab women from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine and Tunisia, as well as Somalia urged Governments to place greater focus on conflict resolution in the Middle East, which affected the well-being of women and girls. Member States were called upon to remove from Lebanon the landmines and explosive devices left from the 2006 war, and the United Nations should provide asylum for Iraqi refugees.
She said the Caucus wished the Commission’s agreed conclusions to reflect the minimum age of marriage (18 years); to call for girls to be kept in school until the completion of their education; and to collect data on traditional marriages, based on geographical location, ethnicity and income. The Caucus highlighted the need to ensure girls’ and boys’ rights to their mother’s citizenship, as related to the Israel Family Unification Law.
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