1 March 2010
Economic and Social Council

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

Commission on the Status of Women

Fifty-fourth Session

3rd & 4th Meetings (AM & PM)

 ‘Standing Up for Women’s Rights and Development Is Standing Up for the Global

Good,’ Deputy Secretary-General Tells Women’s Commission at Session’s Opening

Results Clear 15 Years after Beijing – More and More People Realize

Gender Equality Key to Development, Peace, Security, High-level Segment Hears

Fifteen years after world leaders adopted the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on gender equality and women’s empowerment, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro urged Government ministers to replicate successful policies and programmes to end violence against women and improve women’s education, maternal health and role in decision-making, as the Commission on the Status of Women opened its fifty-fourth session today.

“Let us use this session to explore how to scale up and better support such practices,” Ms. Migiro said this afternoon, as she opened the fifty-fourth session of the Commission on the Status of Women.  “Where women are fully represented, societies are more peaceful and stable.  Standing up for women’s rights and development is standing up for the global good.”

The Commission’s two-week session will consider follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, entitled “Women 2000:  gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century”.  Today’s high-level meeting featured speeches by Government ministers worldwide, as well as two round tables on implementing the Beijing documents and the special session’s outcome, and their role in shaping a gender perspective in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Ms. Migiro said that Governments, spurred by activist women’s groups and networks, had made gains through legal reform, sector-specific initiatives and efforts to improve data collection.  “The results are clear.  More and more people now understand that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is not just a goal in itself, but a key to sustainable development, economic growth, and peace and security,” she said.

The United Nations was doing its part to stamp out sexual violence that occurred during armed conflict, she said.  Last year, the Security Council had adopted two strong resolutions on that issue, while the Secretary-General had launched the “UNiTE to End Violence against Women” campaign and the Network of Men Leaders.  Moreover, the proposal to combine the Organization’s four gender entities into one dynamic body was an “historic opportunity” to strengthen women’s voice in global governance and bolster the Organization’s ability to help countries implement gender commitments.

Despite such advances, in most countries, laws were not fully enforced and negative stereotypes continued to block positive change, she said.  Statistics showed that women were still worse off than men, outnumbering them among the world’s poorest, the illiterate and those employed in low-paying jobs without social protection.  Maternal mortality ‑‑ largely preventable ‑‑ was unacceptably high.  In 2009, women held 30 per cent or more seats in national parliaments in just 25 countries.  That must change, she said, adding that it was time to move from commitment to action.

The Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Sha Zukang, agreed, challenging decision makers to act concretely.  “Build more childcare centres; allow longer paid maternal leave; allow paternity leave,” he said.  “This way, men have no excuse for not participating in childcare.  They can no longer say, for example, that they have too much work in the office!”

This year’s 15-year review of the Beijing goals was an opportunity to take stock of progress, identify gaps and challenges and reflect on lessons learned, he said.  Many Governments had already created comprehensive gender-equality plans, institutional mechanisms and awareness-raising campaigns to support women’s empowerment.  But progress was uneven across regions and within countries.  The 2009 World Survey on the Role of Women in Development published by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs showed that structural constraints hindering women’s empowerment had not been adequately addressed in the past decade.  Measures were mostly small-scale, while gender equality perspectives were largely ignored in macroeconomic analysis.

To advance the gender equality agenda, asserted Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women,  “strong and visible leadership”, and commitment at all levels, was required.  Among the agenda’s main priorities was to quash the growing problem of trafficking in which “human beings are being bought and sold as commodities, many of whom are women and girls”.  Emergency humanitarian situations, like those in Haiti and Chile, increased the risks for trafficking.  Her Office and the Council of Europe had commissioned a study on traffickers working to steal human organs, and they had called for a binding instrument to end that abhorrent practice.

Concerning violence against women, she said the Secretary-General’s database launched at the Commission last year, was a “one-stop shop” for information on States’ measures to address it, as well as services for victims and survivors.  A handbook of the Division for the Advancement of Women made recommendations on the content of legislation to end such violence.  On gender parity in the Organization, she said the Secretary-General had appointed more women in senior posts and had adopted a Gender Balance Strategy and Action Plan, including departmental gender scorecards.

Ines Alberdi, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), introduced the Secretary-General’s note on the Activities of UNIFEM to eliminate violence against women, which also included a report on the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (document A/HRC/13/71-E/CN.6/2010/8).

In other business, the Commission appointed Leysa Fay Sow (Senegal) to serve as Rapporteur for its fifty-fourth and fifty-fifth session, and elected the following members to its Working Group of Communications:  Nicolas Burniat of Belgium (on behalf of the Western European and Other States); Julio Peralta of Paraguay (on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries); and Cho Hyung-hwa of the Republic of Korea (on behalf of the Asian Group).

It also adopted its agenda and other organizational matters.

Additional speakers during the morning session were Garen Nazarian (Armenia), Commission Chairperson; Hamidon Ali (Malaysia), Economic and Social Council President; and Naéla Gabr (Egypt), Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Statements were also made by Government ministers and senior officials on women’s issues of Gambia, China, Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Chile (on behalf of the Rio Group), Samoa (on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum), Argentina (on behalf of the Southern Common Market), Turkey, New Zealand, United Kingdom and Cuba.  The representative of Yemen (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China also make a statement.

The Vice-President of the European Commission also spoke.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 2 March, to continue its high-level plenary debate.


The Commission on the Status of Women met this morning to begin its fifty-fourth session, during which it would consider the 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”.

Opening Statements

Opening the session, Chairperson GAREN NAZARIAN (Armenia) said this year marked 15 years since the adoption of the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action at the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995.  Since that time, the Commission had reviewed progress in implementing critical areas of the Platform for Action and provided recommendations for further action.  It had also highlighted emerging issues of concern and played a catalytic role in promoting gender mainstreaming.  The 15-year review would highlight the links between many aspects of women’s lives and how progress in one area could accelerate progress in another.

He said the Commission should result in a renewed commitment of all stakeholders for the full and effective implementation of the Platform for Action at the national level.  It should jump-start the process of concrete action that placed gender equality and women’s empowerment at the centre of intergovernmental processes, notably the annual ministerial review of the Economic and Social Council in July and the General Assembly’s high-level plenary in September, which would focus on accelerating progress towards the achievement of all the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

ASHA-ROSE MIGIRO, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, said 15 years after the Fourth World Conference on Women and the landmark Beijing Declaration, its goals remained just as fundamental, if not more so, to the global mission.  This year, the Secretary-General had designated gender equality and women’s empowerment as priority areas with distinct strategic opportunities for progress.  Many countries had achieved gains in various spheres, including education and the development of national laws, policy and programmes.  Much of that was due to global, regional and national efforts of women’s groups and networks.

She applauded women’s groups for their creativity and determination in demanding commitments and holding their Governments to account.  “The results are clear.  More and more people now understand that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is not just a goal in itself, but a key to sustainable development, economic growth, and peace and security,” she said.

More and more leaders were taking a public stance on decent work for all and were speaking out against the pandemic of violence, particularly sexual violence that occurred during conflict, she said.  Last year, the Security Council adopted two strong resolutions on that issue.  The Secretary-General’s new Special Representative on the subject had assumed her duties.  The Secretary-General’s “UNiTE to End Violence against Women” campaign and the recently launched “Network of Men Leaders” were helping to expand global advocacy efforts.

Violence was the most blatant form of discrimination against women, but it was not the only one, she said.  Injustice and inequality persisted everywhere.  In 1968, the General Assembly’s twenty-third special session called for the removal of laws by 2000 that discriminated against women, but many such laws still existed.  In most countries, gaps remained between legislation and implementation, while negative attitudes and stereotyping continued to prevent change.

Women still outnumbered men among the world’s poorest people, she said.  Many women worked in vulnerable and low-paid jobs without social protection, and they were still generally paid less than men for the same work.  Two thirds of illiterate adults were women ‑‑ a statistic that had not changed in 20 years.  Unpaid domestic and caregiving work remained a predominantly female realm, limiting women’s opportunities for education, training, employment and political activity.  In 2009, only 25 countries had 30 per cent or more women parliamentarians.  That was a significant increase from 1995, but still insufficient.

There was limited progress on reproductive health, she said.  Maternal mortality remained unacceptably high.  Almost all those deaths could be prevented.  “The message emanating from the regional meetings held in preparation for this CSW session is clear ‑‑ we need to move from commitment to action,” she said.

Many good lessons had been learned over the years in education, participation in decision-making, maternal health and ending violence against women, she said.  There were many good and promising practices to build on, from legislative change, policy development and capacity-building, to sector-specific initiatives and efforts to improve data collection.  “Let us use this session to explore how to scale up and better support such practices,” she said.

“The Secretary-General and I are strongly committed to ensuring that the United Nations provides every possible support to Governments and civil society in order to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment.  They are integral to all the MDGs,” she said.  The decision by Member States to consolidate the existing four gender entities into one dynamic body was an “historic opportunity”.  The new gender entity would champion a stronger role and voice for women in global governance and policymaking.  It would strengthen accountability in the United Nations for gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment, and significantly enhance the Organization’s ability to help countries implement gender commitments.

“What this means, particularly for women and girls in developing countries, is that they will have greater life opportunities and be better equipped to make choices for themselves,” she said, adding that they would be able to have fulfilling working lives and be better equipped to care for their families and become representatives and leaders of their communities.  “Where women are fully represented, societies are more peaceful and stable.  Standing up for women’s rights and development is standing up for the global good,” she said.

HAMIDON ALI (Malaysia), Economic and Social Council President, said 2010 held importance for the issue of gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Noting that the theme of the Council-led 2010 annual ministerial review was “Implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to gender equality and the empowerment of women”, he said the Commission’s fifty-fourth session would undertake a comprehensive review of all aspects of the Beijing Platform for Action, as well as the outcomes of the General Assembly’s twenty-third special session, held in 2000.  Indeed, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action constituted the “global blueprint” for promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The Commission had played a key role in its follow-up, he said, notably by regularly reviewing progress in implementing the Platform’s critical areas of concern, providing policy guidance for action, identifying new and emerging challenges and highlighting the gender perspectives of the United Nations development agenda.  Recalling that recent crises in finance, food, fuel and climate change had impacted efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, he said such events were expected to have a more negative impact on female unemployment rates than those of men in most of the world’s regions.  Increased educational gains of women and girls across the globe did not necessarily translate into improved employment opportunities.

While gender equality was a goal in itself, it also was a means to achieving the other Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed development goals, he said.  It was well understood that the success of policies aimed at eradicating hunger and malnutrition, reducing child mortality and combating HIV/AIDS, among others, would be enhanced by taking into account gender equality perspectives.  Advances in gender equality would also lead to faster development and more robust economies ‑‑ making the Platform for Action not just desirable but essential for achieving the Millennium Goals.

He said the Commission’s session would contribute to the Council-led annual ministerial review and, in turn, the review would expand on the Commission’s work.  The 2010 review was also an opportunity to ensure that the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment was centrally anchored in the context of the broader development agenda.  The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action united everyone.  The challenge was to prevent political or ideological differences from usurping the discourse on gender equality and women’s empowerment.  He urged focusing on the entire spectrum of challenges that affected developing and developed countries, rather than choosing individual concerns over others.

SHA ZUKANG, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the Secretary-General had so far appointed the most female Under-Secretaries-General and Assistant Secretaries-General in United Nations history.  He had backed up his commitments with real action.  This year’s 15-year review was an opportune time to take stock of progress, identify gaps and challenges and reflect on lessons learned.  It was a critical chance to reorient and focus global, national and local action towards achieving the millennium targets and sustainable development.  That was particularly important because of the multiple crises of food insecurity, climate change and financial crises.  Conditions for sustained growth were fragile and employment prospects bleak, impacting women and girls.

He said in the past 15 years, despite the current grim situation, there had been successful country efforts to improve legislative frameworks for women’s empowerment.  Many Governments had formed comprehensive gender-equality policies and action plans, and had set up institutional mechanisms and awareness-raising campaigns to support women’s empowerment.  But progress was uneven across regions and within countries.  While women were increasingly participating in the workforce, they were disproportionately represented in the informal sector.  Such work was often precarious, poorly paid and not covered by labour legislation or social protection.  The persistent unequal sharing of unpaid work between women and men, including in caregiving, adversely affected women’s labour market choices and opportunities.

He challenged those in a decision-making position to do something concrete.  “Build more childcare centres; allow longer paid maternal leave; allow paternity leave ‑‑ this way, men have no excuse for not participating in childcare.  They can no longer say, for example, that they have too much work in the office!”  Women also continued to face discrimination in access to economic resources, such as credits and land, because of societal attitudes and stereotypes.

This year was crucial for stepping up gender equality and women’s advancement, and all opportunities must be seized to give new impetus, he said.  The Commission’s work would contribute importantly to the Economic and Social Council’s upcoming annual ministerial review, which would focus on implementing the millennium targets on gender equality and women’s empowerment.  That implementation would require participatory processes and strategic partnerships, strong political commitment, improved analysis, monitoring and reporting, and investment in those goals.

He welcomed the review process by the United Nations regional commissions, including the economic empowerment review.  The reviews echoed the findings of the 2009 World Survey on the Role of Women in Development, issued by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, which showed that the structural constraints hindering women’s empowerment had not been adequately addressed in the past decade.  Most measures were at the micro-level; gender equality perspectives were largely ignored in macroeconomic analysis.  An integrated economic and social policy framework would promote equitable distribution of economic growth benefits.

RACHEL MAYANJA, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said “strong and visible leadership”, and commitment at all levels, was required to move the gender equality agenda forward.  The Commission’s session would produce critical inputs into intergovernmental discussions later this year and the Commission played a catalytic role for ensuring that the gender equality perspective was fully addressed.  “The gap between rhetoric and action, between commitments and implementation must be closed,” she stressed.  “The time for action is now.”

She said that these were difficult times ‑‑ times of uncertainty.  Although there were some signs of recovery, the global financial crisis had led to job losses and cutbacks in essential social services, with differentiated impacts on women.  Citing some advances, she said most gains had been made in education, with women’s enrolment at the tertiary level now exceeding that of men.  A gender mainstreaming strategy was increasingly applied across all sectors, supported by a wider range of tools and capacity-building programmes.

Despite such gains, the world was witnessing a growing problem of trafficking of women and children.  “Human beings are being bought and sold as commodities, many of whom are women and girls,” she said.  Emergency situations, like those in Haiti and Chile, increased the risks.  Criminals responsible for such human rights violations had different motivations, but trafficking for the purpose of removing organs was clearly one of the most abhorrent forms.  That was why the Council of Europe and her Office had commissioned a study on that issue, which called for a binding instrument.

Presenting the reports before the Commission, she said the Secretary-General’s report on the Review of the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, the outcomes of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly and its contribution to shaping a gender perspective towards the full realization of the Millennium Development Goals (document E/CN.6/2010/2) identified challenges vis-à-vis the 12 critical areas of concern of the Platform for Action and highlighted links between implementation of the Platform and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Describing reports and conference room papers under agenda items 3 (c), 4, 5, she also drew attention to additional reports of particular relevance to the Commission, including the World Survey on the Role of Women in Development (document A/64/93), a five-yearly flagship report of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, which, this year, noted significant development gains to be made in ensuring women’s equitable access to and control over economic and financial resources.

She also highlighted the report of an expert group meeting, convened by the Division for the Advancement of Women, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and hosted by the European Economic Commission last November.  It had focused on the links between implementation of the Platform for Action and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  The Secretary-General’s database on violence against women, launched at the Commission last year, was a “one-stop shop” for information on measures undertaken by States to address violence against women, as well as services for victims and survivors, among other data.

The Division for the Advancement of Women’s handbook for legislation on violence against women offered recommendations on the content of legislation, she said.  The Division had also convened an expert group in May 2009, in collaboration with the Economic Commission for Africa, which had elaborated on recommendations for legislation to address harmful practices against women.  As in past years, an update to the Inventory of United Nations activities to prevent and eliminate violence against women had been completed.  Further, the Secretary-General had been vigilant in increasing the appointments of women at the DSG-USG-ASG levels, from 20.7 per cent on 1 January 2007 to 24.4 per cent as of 31 December 2008.  Women’s representation at lower levels, however, had not kept a similar pace.

Finally, she noted the Secretary-General’s adoption last year of the Gender Balance Strategy and Action Plan, including departmental gender scorecards.  Among its recommendations were the strengthening implementation of policies that positively impacted productivity; mechanisms related to the 1999 policy on temporary special measures applicable to the recruitment, promotion and placement of women and increased attention to achieving gender balance at field duty stations.  It was hoped that the commitment of senior leadership, along with implementation and monitoring of policies, would accelerate progress towards attaining gender balance in the United Nations.

INES ALBERDI, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), introduced the Secretary-General’s note on the Activities of UNIFEM to eliminate violence against women, which also included a report on the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (document A/HRC/13/71-E/CN.6/2010/8).  The Trust Fund was now a recognized source of support for seriously under-resourced efforts.  Its resource base had grown steadily, but so had demands.  In response to its fourteenth Call for Proposals, launched in March, the Trust Fund had received 1,643 concept notes with grant requests totalling $857 million, a 53 per cent increase in the number of applications and a 63 per cent increase in the amount of funding requested in one year.

She said that the Trust Fund’s growth in the past four years had been guided by its 2005-2008 strategy, which had introduced measures to enhance effectiveness in line with stronger monitoring and evaluation and effective institutional mechanisms to ensure coordination, action and accountability.  In 2009, the Trust Fund had managed a nearly $30 million portfolio of 81 active grants in 76 countries and territories.  The accomplishments of its 2009 grantees made a compelling case about how much could be done with strategic support.

For example, Breakthrough, a grantee in India, had initiated a national television campaign in partnership with the Government, which had reached more than 124 million people in four months and generated better awareness of women’s legal rights and concrete action to end violence against women and girls, she said.  In war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, a grantee with 300 civil society leaders with new knowledge and a model for paralegal services had enabled thousands of women survivors of sexual violence to access justice.  Initiatives in Bolivia and Ecuador partnered with indigenous peoples’ organizations to develop service models specific to their needs.

In 2009, the Trust Fund had made grants to 13 initiatives in 18 countries and territories, she said.  Grantees would work to implement laws and policies to better protect women and girls from violence in Thailand; use sexual and reproductive health services to analyse the impact of sexual violence on women and girls and increase support for survivors in Cameroon, Lesotho, Namibia and Nigeria; and scale up proven approaches to end female genital mutilation in Gambia, Guinea, Mali and Senegal through a human rights-based approach.

She said that several new grantees would work with girls and youth, and reach out to particularly excluded groups.  They would work to enhance justice for sexually abused girls in Zambia through improved laws and enforcement, mobilize youth groups to stop domestic violence in Cambodia, strengthen networks against sexual and intra-family violence in Bolivia, protect the rights of Roma women in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and support indigenous women’s groups in Guatemala and Mexico.

NAÉLA GABR, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and Committee expert from Egypt, said that since last year, there had been one new State party to the Convention, bringing to 186 the total number of States parties, which was only eight ratifications away from the goal of universal ratification established by the Platform for Action.  The number of ratifications of the Convention’s Optional Protocol had also increased to 99.  Some 68 acceptances were required before the amendment to article 20, paragraph 1 of the Convention ‑‑ concerning the Committee’s meeting time ‑‑ were needed before it could enter into force.

Describing the Committee’s work, she said it had appointed a Rapporteur on follow-up to concluding observations and had adopted methodology to assess States parties’ reports received under that procedure.  It had also adopted a statement aimed at strengthening the role of national parliaments vis-à-vis the Convention.  At its forty-fourth session, it had taken advantage of its presence in New York to meet with representatives of the Division for the Advancement of Women, UNIFEM and the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, which were of utmost importance.  A two-day seminar on the Protection of Women of Concern to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had been held last July.

As for interpreting the Convention, she said the Committee had pursued its work on two draft general recommendations, on older women and on the economic consequences of marriage and its dissolution.  It had adopted a statement on gender and climate change to ensure inclusion of a gender perspective in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and, following the 12 January earthquake in Haiti, the Committee had adopted a statement on the situation there, calling for inclusion of a gender perspective in all humanitarian relief efforts.

Noting that 2009 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention’s adoption by the General Assembly, and the tenth anniversary of the adoption of its Optional Protocol, she said more efforts were needed to strengthen implementation.  The Committee, at its last session, had adopted a statement on the 15-year review and appraisal of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which acknowledged progress States had made in realizing women’s human rights, such as the withdrawal of reservations to the Convention.  At the same time, it underscored that full equality for women in law and practice had not been achieved in any country in the world.  Women continued to suffer profound human rights violations, including gender-based violence, and there was increasing concern at the multiple aspects encompassed by discrimination against women.

Throughout its work, the Committee had emphasized the links between the Convention, the Platform for Action and the Beijing+10 outcomes, and considered that these consensus texts were complementary, she said.  They provided guidance for States on steps needed to realize their legal obligations under the Convention so that women enjoyed their rights in both law and fact.  She reiterated the Committee’s readiness to continue cooperation with the Commission in pursuing the elimination of discrimination against women.


AJA ISATOU NJIE-SAIDY, Vice-President and Minister of Women’s Affairs of Gambia, said her Government had implemented a 1999-2009 national policy for women’s and girls’ advancement and was now creating a gender and women’s empowerment policy for the 2010-2020 period.  In November 2009, Gambia had hosted the Eighth African Regional Conference on Women Beijing+15.  The African review process had taken stock of implementation of national, regional and international conventions.  That regional meeting’s outcome, the Banjul Declaration, had seven priority areas, including:  women’s economic empowerment through poverty reduction, employment creation, social protection and the use of information and communications technology; peace, security and development; violence against women; representation and participation of women in all decision-making processes; sexual and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS; and climate change, food security and financing for gender equality.

She said her Government was implementing a national development strategy and supporting girls’ education through scholarships and programmes to reduce the dropout rate.  High priority was given to women’s reproductive health.  Safe motherhood, reduction of maternal and child mortality was provided through free maternal health care, recruitment of competent birth attendants and emergency obstetrics care.  A women’s bill had been drafted and was in the advanced stage of enactment.  The 2007 Trafficking in Persons Act, 2005 Children’s Act and creation of a children’s court were clear examples of the Government’s commitment to women’s rights.  Also, a national action plan had been developed to follow up the 2004 study of commercial and sexual exploitation of children.  There was an increase in the number of women seeking elected posts it the National Assembly and local government.  For the first time in the country’s electoral history, 20 women had run for local government and 15 had won the election.

MENG XIAOSI, Minister and Vice-Chairperson of National Committee on Women and Children under the State Council of China, said global gender equality had made mixed progress over the past 15 years.  Although equality between men and women and protection of women’s rights had been written into international instruments, gender stereotypes were still deeply entrenched and gender discrimination was widespread.  China, home to one fifth of the world’s women, had delivered on its international commitments.  New measures had been adopted to promote gender equality.  Gender equality principles had been introduced and promotion of women’s rights strengthened in the formulations of laws.  China was taking policy measures to promote women’s participation in political decision-making, increasing funding for women’s health care, incorporating women’s rights in the National Action Plan on Human Rights and enhancing women’s economic empowerment.

She said China called for turning commitments into concrete actions.  All States should invest more manpower and resources into implementing the Beijing Platform for Action.  She underscored the importance of continued focus on women and development and more attention to women in developing and least developed countries.  It was also vital to enhance experience-sharing and dialogue among regions, with efforts to address key obstacles in advancing gender equality.  Men and women were equal partners.  The women’s liberation movement was not the “business of women alone”; it was a shared endeavour for men and women whose roles were mutually reinforcing.

ABDULLAH ALSAIDI (Yemen), Chair of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that, despite progress since the Beijing conference, challenges and obstacles remained to implementation of the Declaration and Platform, and the outcome of the Assembly’s twenty-third special session.  Poverty was still a major challenge for women, particularly in developing countries.  More girls than boys did not attend school, and more women than men were illiterate.  Women’s health continued to face preventable challenges.  Violence against women and girls persisted worldwide, and women still suffered the consequences of conflict.  They also had limited access to labour markets and decent work.  Women were still underrepresented at senior decision-making at all levels, and the institutional mechanisms for gender equality and women’s empowerment had obstacles to fully implement their mandates.  Many women also faced barriers to human rights.  Stereotyped portrayals of women in the media were another serious challenge in many countries.  Environmental degradation also negatively impacted women.

He said that peace was inextricably linked to equality and development.  The international community should give priority attention to the plight of women living under foreign occupation and work to end their suffering.  He stressed the importance of international cooperation and global partnerships to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment, including fulfilling all commitments on official development assistance (ODA), debt relief, market access, financial and technical support and capacity-building.  He supported the creation of a new Entity on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women.  He reiterated his concern that a new Director of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) had yet to be designated.  That vacuum seriously affected the Institute’s capacity to carry out training and research at a time when it was critically needed.

BIBIANA AIDO, Minister for Equality, Spain, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Union had entered a new phase, with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, which boosted the aim of eliminating gender inequality by making the European Charter of Fundamental Rights legally binding.  The economic crisis was impacting women and men differently, due to the different roles assigned to them.  Gender responsive analysis and budgeting was one way to ensure adequate funding for gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Aware of the crucial role of social partners in resolving the crisis, the Union welcomed the contributions of women’s associations and acknowledged the important contributions that national and international non-governmental organizations were making to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.

In the fight against poverty, she said the European Union was preparing a “Plan of Action on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Development”.  The promotion of gender equality was instrumental for achieving internationally agreed development goals, and the Union affirmed its support for full implementation of the Cairo Programme of Action, among other instruments.  The Union was also working to combat factors that perpetuated human trafficking.  Women played a key role as agents in conflict prevention, peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction.  Nine of the 27 European Union States had adopted national action plans for implementing Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).  Women were still underrepresented in decision-making in the economic field.  Part-time work was, for the most part, female, owing to the unequal distribution of family and care obligations.  The Union was pleased to see the General Assembly’s unanimous support for the creation of a composite gender entity.  The Union’s priority was to bring that process to a successful conclusion in the first semester of 2010.

CARMEN ANDRADE, Minister Director of the National Service for Women of Chile, speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, expressed solidarity with the Haitian people and stressed the importance of Haitian women and girls in terms of emergency humanitarian assistance, early recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction, and the transition to development.  She affirmed the importance of fully implementing the Beijing Platform for Action, the outcome of the Assembly’s twenty-third session and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol.  This year, it would be important to take stock of progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment and decisive action to tackle pending issues.  Violence against women was a major concern.  Every year, 53,000 women ‑‑ or one woman every 10 minutes ‑‑ died a violent death, according to UNIFEM.  In Latin America and the Caribbean, violence affected between one third and one half of all women.  The Rio Group was firmly committed to eliminating such violence.  Regional leaders had developed a mechanism towards that goal, and were working to implement the Convention of Belem do Para.

She stressed the importance of promoting women’s economic independence through changes in economic structures to ensure equal access to all women, including in rural areas, and of better protecting migrant women and girls from violence and discrimination.  The tenth Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean worked to make gender equality a political priority.  The eleventh conference in Brasilia in June would seek to provide more information on such issues.  During the first Ministerial Meeting of Women and Equality of Opportunities of the States Parties to the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas, or ALBA, held in February, a Women’s Ministerial Committee had been created.  The Advisory Council of Andean Community High Authorities for Women had been set up in 2009.

FIAME NAOMI MATA’AFA, Minister of Women, Community and Social Development of Samoa, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, said a Pacific regional review of implementation of the Beijing Platform was being carried out by the secretariat of the Pacific community, with funding from the Australian Government Office for Women.  Much work was needed to speed action towards critical areas of concern of the Platform, with a main challenge being the absence of national gender equality policies or lack of their endorsement in many Pacific countries.  Pacific countries were semi-subsistence economies and women represented the majority of subsistence farmers, she added.

Progress had been made in providing women with access to savings and credit mechanisms, she said, with significant gains also seen in education and health.  Samoa’s launch of a free primary education scheme in early January was a milestone achievement towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.  Violence against women was a major concern, with research showing that two thirds of women in the Solomon Islands experiencing physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner.  Of the 16 Pacific Island Forum countries, 3 had yet to ratify the women’s anti-discrimination Convention.  The region ranked the lowest in the world in terms of gender-balanced parliaments, with 95.8 per cent of seats held by men.  The most critical issue, however, was climate change, and she urgently called for the meaningful participation of women and men from all sectors in national and global climate policies, prioritizing the most vulnerable and enhancing gender-sensitive approaches to increasing women’s access to mitigation and adaptation funds.

MAGDALENA FAILLACE, International Special Representative of Women’s Issues, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Worship, Argentina, speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), said there had been a remarkable increase recently in the number of female Heads of State in Latin America, including in Chile and Argentina.  More women held legislative and judicial posts.  In most cases, the increase had been due to affirmative action and quota laws.  The increased presence of women in parliament had led to the adoption of norms that tackled the needs of and historic discrimination against women.  Most countries in the region had adopted laws on violence against women, trafficking in persons, child prostitution and the right to work and health, including sexual and reproductive health.  The current challenge was the lack of human and financial resources to regulate and ensure the effectiveness of the laws.  More women were participating in the political arena, including in non-traditional areas, such as the ministries of economy and defence.  The MERCOSUR Specialized Meeting on Women had been functioning for more than 10 years and it had become the main forum for regional policy debate on women’s issues.

She said that women should participate as protagonists in a new development model.  Despite overall progress in gender equality in the region, progress was uneven across sectors and aspects of development.  Women were still overrepresented among the poor and often the first to feel the impact of economic crises.  A pay gap between men and women persisted.  MERCOSUR’s goal was to foster women’s economic empowerment and autonomy.  The Organization of American States declared 2010 the “Inter-American Year of Women” and MERCOSUR countries had committed to fully implementing the Convention of Belem de Para to prevent violence against women and punish offenders.  Most countries in the region had special services to assist victims of trafficking in persons.  A tri-party agreement between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay aimed to optimize border patrols.

SELMA ALIYE KAVAF, State Minister for Women and Family Issues of Turkey, said that, since the last review in 2005, her Government had made progress in promoting gender and had intensified efforts to put equality, provided for in legislation, into practice.  The national action plan on gender equality covered 10 critical areas set forth in the Beijing Declaration.  Steps had been taken in the area of education, with the schooling rate among girls rising to 96 per cent, and among boys, to 97 per cent.  Measures had been taken to raise women’s education levels and work skills through labour policies, including a 2008 employment package, which contained provisions to enhance women’s employment prospects.

She said the Government was determined to combat violence against women, for which a circular had been issued by the Prime Minister.  A “Stop Violence against Women” campaign, launched in 2004, was still in operation, while a national action plan for the 2007-2010 period had initiated work in such areas as legislation, awareness raising and inter-institutional cooperation.  Training had been provided to raise awareness among law enforcement officers and health personnel.  Some 40,000 police officers alone having benefited from such training.  Preparations were near complete for launching a similar programme for religious officers.  In closing, she recalled the candidacy of Ms. Feride Acar for the Committee of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

PANSY WONG, Minister of Women’s Affairs, New Zealand, said in the past 15 years, New Zealand had made steady advances in improving women’s lives and choices, particularly in terms of access to education and employment at all levels.  In the current economic climate, no country could afford to under-utilize women’s skills and talents.  That was why her Government focused on increasing women in leadership and government posts.   New Zealand was also playing its part to promote the rights of women and girls internationally.  Last year, New Zealand and Colombia presented a resolution in the Human Rights Council that, for the first time, recognized maternal mortality as a human rights issue.   Every day, at least 1,500 women died of complications during pregnancy and childbirth.  For every woman that died, 20 more suffered from serious injury and disease.  “By any standard, this is a human catastrophe,” she said.  A redoubling of efforts was needed to improve access to health services for all women and girls, with a focus on emergency obstetric care, family planning and skilled birth attendance.

She said that discrimination against women was a major barrier to the empowerment of women and girls.  New Zealand was a State party to the women’s Convention.  She called on all non-State parties to sign on without further delay.  She regretted that New Zealand had not made greater progress in combating violence against women.  In New Zealand, one in five women would be subjected to violence in their lifetimes, compared with 1 in 20 men.  The real incidence of violence against women was far worse that what was reported in official statistics.  She reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to ending violence.  It had introduced on-the-spot protection orders by the police.  The “It’s not OK” marketing campaign was an example of how it was working to bring violence out into the open.  She supported creation of a new United Nations gender entity and called on the Secretary-General to appoint a new Under-Secretary-General on Gender.

HARRIET HARMAN, Minister for Women and Equality of the United Kingdom, supporting the statement made on behalf of the European Union, outlined three priorities:  to help women balance work and family commitments, prevent violence against women and increase women’s representation in her country’s democracy.  Progress had been made on all those fronts and would be strengthened when the new equality bill became law.  Now was an important moment to take a great step forward by establishing a United Nations women’s agency.  Last September’s resolution agreed to bring together the four parts of the United Nations work on women into one single, coherent agency.

She said that body would be most important where the challenge was greatest, where women in governments and parliaments were struggling to protect women from poverty and conflict.  To make progress, she urged reaching agreement quickly so momentum from the resolution was not lost.  It was vital to counter false arguments that the body was an imposition from the North on the South.  While progress on system-wide coherence was needed, it must not hold up the creation of the new body.  Issues of accountability, governance, finance and leadership could all be agreed with political will.  “Women are counting on us not just to talk this week but to make progress,” she said.  The new agency would be a testament to the United Nations commitment to women and recognition that their empowerment was essential for development.

MARIA YOLANDA FERRER GOMEZ, Member of the Council of State, Cuba, said women were faced with foreign occupations, blockades and inequality in the work place.  She expressed international solidarity with Haiti.  More than 400 Cuban health workers had been in Haiti for several years.  Cuba had sent more medical assistance to Haiti after the 12 January earthquake.  She also expressed solidarity with Chile in the wake of the quake there.  The session must proceed effectively.  Many initiatives had been taken and many plans had been adopted with a gender perspective.  But there were still many obstacles and problems to gender equality and women’s empowerment.  It was necessary to strengthen alliances to cooperate and work more effectively for the benefit of women.  In June, the meeting in Brazil of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean would address Beijing follow-up.

She said that sufficient ODA and resources were needed to implement the Beijing Platform and the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women.  It was necessary to combat illiteracy and all other problems facing women.  The economic and financial blockade by the United States against Cuba was a real form of violence.  Despite it, the Cuban people had made progress and had exercised their right to independence.  Cuban women had adopted a national plan for follow-up to the Beijing Platform.   The Ministry of Social Justice and Equality focused on that.  The Government had worked to foster equitable participation of women.  More than 40 per cent of Cuba’s parliamentarians were women ‑‑ the fourth highest percentage of women in that regard in the world.  Women’s representation was at a similar level in the Council of State.

VIVIANE REDING, Vice-President of the European Commission, said she spoke on behalf of the 250 million women living in Europe.  Gender equality had been enshrined in European treaties since 2007.  A legal arsenal had been created, which had given rise to many success stories around the continent.  The Charter of Fundamental Rights stated that gender equality was a fundamental right, and since December, that provision had been made legally binding on European Union member States.  This week, she would present a women’s charter.  Indeed, much had been done since Beijing, but much more was needed.  There were still serious issues to tackle:  67 per cent of women with young children were unemployed and the work-family balance did not favour women.  The gender pay gap had barely fallen in 15 years and, in some cases, had increased, which was unacceptable.

She said that women, in decision-making, were not yet where they should be.  Though 35 per cent of European parliamentarians were women, that was not enough.  Up to 25 per cent of women in Europe experienced violence at least once in their adult lives.  Women were tortured in war situations, and an estimated 6,000 girls suffered female genital mutilation, a brutal crime that could not be accepted anywhere in the world.  She would propose a multidisciplinary approach that would address the cross-border dimensions of that issue.  Actions for fighting violence against women and female genital mutilation would be integrated into development aid policies.  Beijing was an ambitious start, and New York could represent a breakthrough with the creation of a gender entity, if everyone joined forces.

Round Tables

The Commission then held two parallel high-level round tables on the theme “The implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcome of the twenty-third special session and its contribution to shaping a gender perspective in the realization of the Millennium Development Goals”.

The keynote speaker for round table A was CAREN GROWN, Economist in residence at American University in Washington, D.C.  Respondents were THORAYA AHMED OBAID, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); and MONICA ALEMAN, Coordinator of the International Indigenous Women’s Forum.  Chairperson NAZARIAN of Armenia moderated.

Mr. NAZARIAN said that the discussion was an opportunity to consider policies, programmes and actions that had accelerated the practical realization of the principle of equality between women and men, and to share best practices in that area.

In her address, Ms. GROWN said that the current context for women’s empowerment was the global financial crisis, which, besides its negative effects, also presented an opportunity for new beginnings.  Creative thinking had to be ramped up for that purpose, and all frameworks, including the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Development Goals, should be looked at critically.  In that light, priority indicators such as health, education, infrastructure, employment and property ownership could provide better assessments of progress than more traditional development indicators, as the women’s Millennium Task Force, of which she was a part, had proposed.

Regarding post-primary education, she said that the gender gap had been narrowing in general, with reverse gender gaps now becoming a growing problem in some developing countries, with fewer boys than girls completing secondary school.  However, secondary and university education remained crucial for expanding opportunities for girls and allowing them to make better life choices.  Supporting the non-formal educational system and vocational programmes were seen as good alternatives to formal schooling in that regard.  To make further progress, better data on adolescents was essential.

On the priority of guaranteeing women’s sexual and reproductive rights, she said that an important focus had been adolescent fertility, which was generally higher in developing countries.  Freedom from forced marriage and alternatives to marriage were important strategies in that area.  Transformation of harmful social norms, ensuring services and working with males to change their behaviour were among the factors that required more attention.  She said that maternal mortality rates had not gone down enough because medical systems were still lagging.

Infrastructure provision was another important priority because women’s unpaid labour made up for gaps in that area, she said.  Women still had fewer opportunities than men and were exploited more often, and progress was in danger of reversal because of the financial crisis.  Since women were often at the “back of the queue” for jobs, stimulus dollars meant to relieve the crisis must be targeted towards gender equity.  Employment in the informal economy might expand during a downturn, but informal workers suffered just as much and must also be accounted for in stimulus plans.

On the priority of women’s ownership of productive assets, she again stressed the importance of good data.  Assets were often more important than income, particularly as a bulwark against extreme poverty.  Legislation in that area was not enough, and traditional norms must be dealt with at a community level.

In all those areas, she stressed the importance of increasing public investment for social gain.  She supported financial transaction taxes in some or all of the Group of 20 (G-20) countries for that purpose.  It was also necessary to review tax codes and tax instruments for gender bias.  It was crucial, as well, to allocate resources in the most effective manner, and to take into account that crisis might be the “new normal” in developing countries.  Finally, she suggested that a global commission be created that put gender equality in the centre of short-term economic recovery and long-term economic growth.

In the discussion that followed, most speakers agreed with Ms. Grown that women’s empowerment was an essential component of poverty eradication, and that achievement of the Beijing Platform was integrally linked with achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Many speakers described their national programmes and the progress those programmes had achieved under those two frameworks.  Given the amount of intergovernmental activity on the issue this year, many stressed that it was time to lay out detailed proposals for accelerating progress or altering those frameworks to make them more effective.

The representative of Spain, which holds the European Union presidency, agreed with Ms. Grown’s call for re-examining the effectiveness of the current framework for efforts to achieve gender equality.  Egypt’s delegate, seconded by the representative of Zimbabwe and others, suggested that a formal strategy should be laid out to link the human rights of women with their economic empowerment.

Jordan’s representative said that it was important to remember, when thinking about new frameworks for gender equality, that women’s progress was based on basic human rights that could not always be quantified.  Many speakers agreed with her, saying that the matter involved multiple dimensions of society.

Other participants stressed the significance of Ms. Grown’s statement that crises would always be present and that it was important that women not bear the brunt of them.  In that context, they asked for gender budgeting and other policies that could accelerate women’s empowerment and minimum living standards to be instituted.

As they took the floor this afternoon, many speakers also expressed solidarity with the people of Chile and Haiti in the wake of the recent earthquakes.

Ms. OBAID, in her response to the discussion, said that the Millennium Development Goals review in September would provide an opportunity to review the linkages between women’s empowerment and all development goals, stressing that all the Goals were grounded in human rights, as well as in previous agreements on such rights.  She assured delegates that she would take the views of Commission delegates to that review summit.

She said that the right to reproductive and sexual health was fundamental.  If women could not make decisions about when to have children and under what conditions, they could not make decisions in any area of their lives.  Providing health services to women was important in bringing services to everyone at the local level.  She added that the financial crisis was causing earlier marriages in some areas, when girls were pulled out of school.

Ms. ALEMAN, in her response, said that matters of economic development were a priority for indigenous women.  She noted that everyone in the room had their origins as indigenous people who had survived and, in that context, it was crucial to see current crises as an opportunity for further advancement.  She stressed that it was important to recognize that there had indeed been progress under the Beijing Platform.

She said it was also particularly important to link indigenous women and the Millennium Development Goals, especially at this time of environmental and economic crisis.  She stressed that, in the past 30 years, indigenous peoples had learned that they could be political actors and that they needed to aim for development that included the preservation of identity.  They had also learned that empowerment, whether women’s or indigenous empowerment, required the development of partnerships.

In her conclusion, Ms. GROWN, noting all the expressions of solidarity with Haiti and Chile, stressed that at times of such crises, it was particularly important that women had equal access to resources for recovery, reconstruction and rebuilding the economy.  She also spoke of the great economic costs of violence against women, in addition to the personal suffering that it caused.  She agreed with the comments of previous speakers about the need for minimal global standard of living, and in that context, she reiterated the importance of mobilizing greater aid resources.  She questioned the wisdom of separately funding “MDG 3”, on women’s equality, because of the value of mainstreaming gender throughout all the Goals.

Opening the discussion on round table B, CESARE MARIA RAGAGLINI (Italy) said the discussion would provide an opportunity to consider policies, programmes and actions that had successfully accelerated the realization of equality between women and men.

In a keynote address, LYDIA ALPÍZAR DURÁN, Association for Women’s Rights in Development, said progress achieved in the past 15 years was very fragile, and in times of crisis, women’s rights were the first to be eroded.  The Commission’s deliberations should focus on advancing the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action as a whole.  The Millennium Development Goals, while important, reduced a more comprehensive agenda that had been advanced in various United Nations conferences and summits of the 1990s, including Beijing.  Offering insights gained over the 15 years, she said there were no magic bullets to achieve gender equality or women’s rights.  Strengthening dimensions of women’s autonomy was needed to advance both.

Women and women’s organizing played an important role and there were numerous examples of the ways in which women’s organizations ‑‑ from the grass roots to international levels ‑‑ had been driving forces to advance women’s empowerment, she said.  The United Nations had a limited capacity to accomplish its mandate and had to go beyond provision of technical advice, among other things, to a strong country-level presence and operational capacity.  Among the current trends and challenges, she cited the financial crisis, increased social insecurity in various settings, religious fundamentalists on the rise that were opposed to women’s human rights, climate change and the feminization of HIV/AIDS.

As for the road ahead, she said it was important to ensure support for women’s human rights defenders, define clear funding targets for implementing the Beijing Platform, enhance accountability of States and other relevant actors, resolve to fully engage women and gender equality concerns in relief and reconstruction efforts in Haiti, and establish a strong, operational and well-funded United Nations gender entity.  That body should have strong operational capacity at the country level, significant resources, a leader with strong political stature and clear mechanisms to ensure civil society participation.

In the ensuing discussion, country representatives discussed progress made in addressing the 12 critical areas of concern of the Beijing conference and national strategies to achieve gender equality, which some underscored was fundamental to reducing poverty and achieving sustainable development.  Implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action had contributed to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  In turn, implementation of the Goals was an opportunity to create gender equality while addressing poverty, hunger and disease.  One delegate called for an integrated approach to link the Beijing Platform with the Goals, which would involve civil society.

Many pointed to the different impacts of the economic crisis on women than men, fearing that the aftermath would hit women the hardest.  They called for enhancing the central role of women in education and training programmes and combating sexual violence.  Stress was also place on the importance of fostering women’s participation in development processes and helping women to balance professional and family life.  Among the many challenges discussed, delegates cited insufficient technical capacity to reduce inequalities, a lack of gender-disaggregated data, persistent salary gaps, entrenched gender stereotypes and the need to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.

As for the creation of a new United Nations gender entity, many called for a mechanism that would allow for meaningful civil society participation.  They noted that terms for the recruitment of an Under-Secretary-General should be made clear and a timeline set for that person’s appointment.

Israel’s delegate pointed out that male-dominated systems had the most to lose from women’s empowerment, but women could not change a system that denied them the means to actually do so.  She asked how women in such societies could break that cycle to promote genuine legal and electoral reform.

Norway’s speaker said that countries that emphasized equality had benefited from doing so, and vice versa.  He urged recognition of the importance of equality to development.  Investment in equality had been crucial to increasing productivity in his country, and the Government had emphasized welfare reforms that could help people have both careers and families.  Given that, efforts to combat the financial crisis could not be seen as separate from those to achieve gender equality.

Belgium’s delegate said a major shortcoming of the Goals was their inability to do away with inequality, notably between men and women.  There had been a lack of gender-disaggregated data among Governments.  Moreover, post-conflict countries showed slowest attainment of Goals 3 (gender equality) and 5 (maternal health).  The Economic and Social Council’s annual ministerial review should look at how human development could be supported in such States and how donor countries could support that process.

Noting that 1,500 women died daily from childbirth complications, New Zealand’s representative said “we have failed our women”.  She called on all delegates to urge the United Nations to step up support for the Beijing Platform by establishing a new United Nations gender entity.  She also called for the appointment of an Under-Secretary-General on gender, without delay.

South Africa’s delegate, stressing her concern that existing macroeconomic policies were “gender blind”, said South Africa had been among the first to institute gender-responsive budgeting.

Taking the floor next were two panellists who spoke on the priority theme.

SANYE GÜLSER CORAT, Director for the Division for Gender Equality at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said Beijing had shed a brighter spotlight on issues central to women’s lives and had changed the lens through which those issues were perceived.  For the first time, there was a focus on empowering women, as opposed to merely eliminating discrimination.  A significant shift was seen in confirmation of the view that human rights were women’s rights, and vice versa.  The fifteenth anniversary of the Beijing Platform came at a time when the world was struggling with multiple crises, including earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, which had deepened inequalities and heightened awareness of economic fragility.  UNESCO had designated gender equality as one of two priorities for the organization.  Education was the key to gender equality, women’s empowerment and attainment of all Millennium Development Goals.  While women’s literacy rates were increasing, it was important to note that they had started from very far behind.  It would take women in South and West Asia another 56 years to catch up.  Education for all would remain elusive unless factors such as gender, which excluded children from education were overcome.

RUTH OCHIENG, Director of Isis-Women International Cross Cultural Exchange, pointed out that not much had been said about women in armed conflict.  There were three issues:  promotion of women’s rights; protection of their bodily integrity; and participation in decision-making.  She came from the continent where three quarters of countries were in conflict.  It was critical to understand that no woman would be empowered unless her sexual and reproductive rights were protected and respected.  On Goal 3 (gender equality), Governments and donors often did not prioritize a women’s bodily integrity.  If a woman was not healthy, she could not be involved in development ‑‑ she would be mentally, physically and psychologically traumatized.  While Goal 6 (combating HIV/AIDS) had received large sums from the global HIV/AIDS fund, women and girls had not accessed it:  they did not know where to access antiretroviral drugs and related services.  Why continue to ignore women’s sexual and reproductive health?  Why not examine the specific needs of women in conflict situations?  Give a woman the opportunity to provide food for her children and fetch water without the fear of being raped.  It was important to collect sex-disaggregated data and put money in the hands of small women’s groups.

In concluding remarks, Ms. DURÁN responded to specific comments, saying that affirmative action, such as quotas were important tools, but such measures in themselves did not solve the problem of inequality.  They did not ensure that women’s participation was achieved or led to substantive legislative change.  Microfinancing and microcredit were often associated with women, but macroinvestments were also needed.

Further, women were diverse as was the discrimination against them, she said, and many women required specific action, including widowed women in conflict areas, children orphaned by HIV/AIDS and lesbian women.  Without gender-disaggregated data, it would be difficult to both design effective policies and implement them.  Discussing how to ensure that money flowed to those who needed it most, she urged creating targets and engaging in discussion that would lead to proposals in September.  She recalled the proposal regarding a Commission resolution on Haiti and asked which countries would be interested in working on it.

In closing, the Mr. RAGAGLINI said he would prepare a Chairperson’s summary of the high-level round table.

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For information media • not an official record