15 April 2010
Economic and Social Council
POP/983

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

Commission on Population and Development

Forty-third Session

8th Meeting (AM)


Link between Population, Development and Gender Equality, Women’s Empowerment


Informs Debate in Population Commission, Set to Conclude Session Friday


Economic and Social Council President Says Commission’s Examination

of Intertwined Issues Will Contribute to Council’s Annual Ministerial Review


Despite their systematic marginalization over centuries, women formed the very foundation of the world’s economy and development, the Commission on Population and Development was told today as it debated how population and development issues contributed in turn to gender equality and women’s empowerment.


Today’s discussion was intended to serve as an input to the Economic and Social Council’s Annual Ministerial Review, which will be held in New York during the high-level segment of the Council’s substantive session.  The Review will focus on how the intertwined issues of gender equality and women’s empowerment have fared in the implementation of the internationally agreed goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.


Council President Hamidon Ali of Malaysia welcomed the Commission’s debate today as a means of strengthening the linkages between the Council and its subsidiary machinery.  As it considered the intersection between population and development trends and the status of women, the Commission, he said, would provide a particularly valuable contribution by featuring statements from nearly half of the 13 countries scheduled to make national voluntary presentations during the Annual Ministerial Review.


To that end, representatives from the Netherlands, Brazil, Australia, Mongolia and Norway telegraphed many of the themes they planned to elaborate in their presentations.  Many highlighted the national policies and programmes they had adopted to bolster women’s health, education and employment.  Several underlined how their commitment to women’s equality framed their international development outreach, emphasizing economic empowerment and reproductive health and rights among their priorities for intervention.


Others pointed to ongoing challenges facing their societies.  Those ranged from maternal mortality rates and domestic violence to the feminization of sexually transmitted diseases and the absence of women in leadership positions in both the public and private sectors.


The Director for International Training and Collaboration of the National Planning Coordinating Board of Indonesia drew explicit connections between the Commission’s current session theme on “health, morbidity and mortality” and the role women played in their families and households, where, he said, the realities of that theme played out.  He also stressed how women contributed to the economies of their households and served as the foundation of health and social development.


Speaking more generally than some of his colleagues, he suggested the Commission should, as part of its contribution to the Council’s Review, provide an update on the progress made in implementing the goals regarding women’s equality and empowerment that were included in the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development.  It could also provide sub-themes for the Review, such as “international migration and the protection of women workers”, or “women in the area of conflict and natural disasters”.


The representatives of Israel and Uganda also spoke during the morning’s debate.


The Commission will reconvene at 3 p.m. Friday, 16 April, to conclude its forty-third session.


Background


The Commission on Population and Development today held a general discussion on “contribution of population and development issues to the theme of the Annual Ministerial Review 2010”.  The Commission, a functional body of the Economic and Social Council, monitors, reviews and assesses the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development at the national, regional and international levels, and advises the Council thereon.  Its forty-third session is being held from 12 to 16 April.  (For more information on the session, please see Press Release POP/979.)


Opening Remarks


Addressing the Commission in his capacity as Council President, HAMIDON ALI (Malaysia) said his presence today was part of the effort being undertaken to strengthen the linkages between the Economic and Social Council and its subsidiary machinery and to mutually reinforce its work and that of its functional commissions.


He noted that the special theme for the Commission’s current session –- “health, morbidity, mortality and development” –- was closely linked to the theme of the Council’s 2009 Annual Ministerial Review, which had focused on implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments on public health.  In particular, last year’s ministerial round table breakfast had considered the implications of population ageing for global health.  The Commission’s work this session would build on and add specificity to the outcome of that Review.


Recalling that the theme of this year’s Review would be devoted to “implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to gender equality and the empowerment of women”, he said that mandate aimed to assess progress achieved towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.  It would provide a forum for highlighting lessons learned and successful practices and approaches that merited scaling up and replication.


He said two significant preparatory meetings had been held: a regional meeting on the theme of “Women and Health” had taken place in Dakar, Senegal, in January, while a second meeting in February had brought together philanthropic organizations and corporations to discuss how engaging philanthropy could help promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.  The second event had addressed the linkage between global health and gender equality, and particularly the nexus between violence against women and HIV/AIDS.  A global preparatory meeting for the Council’s Annual Ministerial Review and the Development Cooperation Forum would also be held in New York, on 22 April.  Together, the outcomes of those events would serve as important inputs for the Council’s upcoming high-level segment.


The forthcoming substantive session would also consider inputs received form the Council’s subsidiary machinery, he said, noting that the Commission would today examine how population and development contributed to gender and equality and women’s empowerment.  The Council welcomed that initiative, as well as the invitations extended by the Commission to Member States making national voluntary presentations during the Annual Ministerial Review to participate in today’s general debate.


Statements


SERGIO DELLAPERGOA (Israel) said that, in his country, gender equality and women’s empowerment were given high priority in public discourse and health-related policies.  Despite its small size, Israel enjoyed a diverse cultural, religious and political society.  While the Jewish community comprised the majority of the population, Muslims, Druze and Christians made up substantial minority communities.  Israel had welcomed millions of immigrants, notably from the Middle East, and since 1989, had absorbed more than 1.5 million immigrants from the former Soviet Union.  The country was also home to some 200,000 documented and undocumented temporary contract workers.  High life expectancy and low infant mortality rates testified to universally available health care.  Visits to receive medical treatment in Israel by people in the region reflected the untapped potential of regional health cooperation, and Israel was ready to engage with its neighbours.  The gender differential in Israel, similar to other developed countries, indicated higher life expectancy for women.


Taking up education, he said that with nearly universal school enrolment in Israel, the percentage of women with post-secondary education was higher than their male equivalent.  While gaps existed when comparing workplace achievement and income between men and women, Israel was among a handful of countries that had had a woman serve as Prime Minister.  Such indicators showed Israel’s commitment to addressing such issues through affirmative-action legislation.  On two related points, he said it was important to consider the interaction between variables and processes that operated in separate realms.  For example, health and social policies could not be achieved without expanding public and private resources.  Also, cultural organizations had an important mediating role in population patterns, as culturally rooted norms shaped the family, reproduction and quality of life.  Particular attention should be given to the “differential effects” of widespread cultural norms and customs concerning exposure to health risks and access to health care.


HERMAN SCHAPER (Netherlands) said the rights of women and girls were of high priority in Dutch development policy and within foreign policy as a whole.  Last year’s impressive World Health Organization (WHO) report on women and health focused on gender inequality and urged the global community to consider the costs and consequences of failing to address health issues during women’s lives.  It showed that the leading causes of death among young women in developing countries were complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.  Globally, the leading cause of death of women of reproductive age was HIV/AIDS.  As such, those were priorities for his Government.  While an article in The Lancet this week showed encouraging new figures in combating maternal mortality, far too many women were still dying in childbirth.  “We need to redouble our efforts,” he said, noting the need to focus on universal access to reproductive health.


He said that the Netherlands had designated gender and sexual and reproductive health and rights as two priority intervention areas in development cooperation.  His Government was keen to engage with partners to promote reproductive health and worked with non-governmental organizations, among others, to train midwives in countries with the worst rates of maternal mortality, such as Afghanistan and Sierra Leone.  It also contributed €30 million annually to the Global Programme on Reproductive Health Commodity Security.  Gender and health were linked on many levels.  Gender was also linked to other issues, such as education and political participation.  Thus, gender equality and women’s empowerment had to be at the core of policy priorities.  The Netherlands subscribed to the operational framework adopted by the Millennium Development Task Force on Gender Equality, which reflected its long-term commitment to improving women’s position in developing countries.


EDDY HASMI, Director for International Training and Collaboration of the National Planning Coordinating Board of Indonesia, highlighted “gloomy facts” about women, from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).  Among other things, women constituted about 70 per cent of the absolute poor.  They also accounted for two thirds of the world’s 758 million illiterate adults.  Eight million of them suffered from life-threatening pregnancy-related complications each year, with one third of all pregnant women receiving no health care during pregnancy.  Young women and girls were also three times more likely than their male counterparts to be infected with sexually transmitted diseases.  While their structured marginalization over centuries had exposed them to poverty, inequality, disempowerment, violence and even death, it was undeniable that women were the very foundation of the world’s economy and development.


Against that backdrop, he highlighted the importance of the theme of gender equality and women’s empowerment, which would be the focus of the Council’s 2010 Annual Ministerial Review, and he stressed that population issues were especially relevant to achieving those two goals.  Health, morbidity and mortality, as well as family planning and reproductive rights and health, began in families and households.  In families around the world, women both contributed to the economies of their households and served as their foundation of health and social development.  The Commission, in its contribution to the Council’s Review, should provide an update on the progress made in implementing the Population Conference goal regarding women’s equality and empowerment.  It should also identify remaining obstacles and challenges and provide sub-themes for the review, such as “international migration and the protection of women workers”, or “women in the area of conflict and natural disasters”.  Additionally, it should formulate a comprehensive strategy or road map for a global and multi-stakeholder partnership to promote women’s equality and empowerment that sought to mobilize resources and sustainable funding.


Speaking as one of the countries that would be making a national voluntary presentation during the Council’s 2010 Review, EDUARDO RIOS-NETO (Brazil) said his Government, in 1983, had created the Programme of Integral Assistance to Women’s Health.  It broke with the predominant model of mother and child care, and ensured women’s control over their reproductive health.  A Special Secretariat for Women’s Policies had also been established in 2003.  Brazil’s national policy for reproductive rights and health was part of the Programme for Integral Assistance to Women’s Health.  Family planning was perceived a matter of individual choice rather than a strategy for population control.  Brazil had also launched the National Pact for Reducing Maternal and Neonatal Mortality in 2004, which had established a National Commission for Monitoring and Evaluation, with a view to achieving annual reductions of 5 per cent in maternal and neonatal mortality.


He highlighted a number of other policies for fertility, family planning, natural births and maternal mortality, which had declined slightly since 1990, although Brazil had not yet achieved Millennium Development Goal 5.  Brazil was well known for its pioneer policy in treating HIV/AIDS through the public health system, he said, noting that its incidence had decline slightly at the beginning of the century.  Still, the feminization of sexually transmitted infections, particularly HIV/AIDS, remained a challenge.  The Second National Plan for Women’s Policies, which had made combating that trend a top priority, sought to promote coordinated polices with federative states, monitor mechanisms to fight HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, and supply male and female condoms for free.  That plan also sought to reduce all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence.  As a middle-income developing country facing the challenge of below-replacement and declining fertility levels, Brazil realized that implementing gender-friendly social policies aimed at reconciling market work and domestic care for both men and women was necessary.  In that context, it recognized the need to improve the provision of childcare and full-time schools, among other measures.


FLEUR MARGARET DAVIES (Australia) said most maternal deaths could be prevented through cost-effective actions, including access to family planning.  It was clear that poor health outcomes of women in developing countries resulted from gender inequality, which underscored the importance of women’s empowerment.  Mothers and newborns needed access to health-care services “at all places, at all times”.  Such investments could have significant returns, as they helped to reduce poverty and improve economic development.


She said Australia supported several countries in its region in achieving Millennium Development Goals 4 (child health) and 5 (maternal health), which highlighted the bottlenecks in achieving those Goals.  News that progress in tackling maternal mortality was better than had been thought was not a reason for complacency, but showed that achieving Goals 4 and 5 was possible.   Australia looked forward to making its voluntary presentation during the Economic and Social Council’s session this year.


CHARLES ZIRAREMA ( Uganda) said the issue of continued and unacceptably high maternal mortality ratios were linked to the low empowerment of women, especially as far as education and economic well-being were concerned.  During the Council’s 2010 Annual Ministerial Review, Governments must commit to reinvigorating gender equality, notably through education for the girl child in least developed countries.  That would help reduce the maternal mortality ratio in those countries.


TUYA NYAM-OSOR (Mongolia) said her country was pleased to inform the Commission that it was holding its consultative meeting on the report it would submit to the Economic and Social Council today.  All major stakeholders, including civil society and non-governmental organizations, were participating.  The report’s preparation was an opportunity for all parties in Mongolia to appraise progress towards achieving women’s equality and empowerment, which was essential for attaining sustainable development.  Mongolia had developed and implemented several policies that promoted women’s economic empowerment, including, among others, supporting sustainable income generation for them.


She went on to note that women accounted for the majority of those in the education and tourism sectors in Mongolia, but men were paid higher.  Moreover, more men than women were employed in better-paid industries and the average salary for women was roughly 13 per cent lower than men’s average salaries.  Promoting women to high-level management positions was critical for Mongolian society.  She stressed Mongolia’s commitment to women’s empowerment, which it considered a key to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  Still, the country had had some slippage in terms of women’s representation in the national parliament, and the Government was working to reverse that.


BERIT AUSTVEG ( Norway) said the theme of women’s equality and empowerment was a major concern for her country, both in terms of its national situation and in its international development initiatives.  Domestically, gender gaps and inequalities were seen in the economic sector and in the persistence of gender-based violence.   Norway’s international efforts were oriented around the view that women had the right to health services and to control their bodies and sexuality.  Also, women’s economic participation with men was not possible if they were tied down by family and home responsibilities.  Moreover, women died for want of affordable and relevant health services.


She went to say that Norway had given particular attention to women’s empowerment.  It sought to improve health services.  It believed the unmet need for family planning should be addressed through the provision of information and reproductive health services, including safe abortion.  She noted the importance of Security Council resolution 1820 (2008), which condemned rape as a war crime.  Norway sought to step up assistance to the victims and to end impunity for the perpetrators.  Finally, she emphasized the need to engage men and boys in women’s empowerment.


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For information media • not an official record