10 March 2010
Economic and Social Council
WOM/1789

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

Commission on the Status of Women                          

Fifty-fourth Session                                       

16th Meeting (PM)


National Interventions Must Be Brought to Scale to Alter Deeply Embedded Norms


Underlying Women’s Vulnerability to HIV Transmission, Women’s Commission Told


As High-Level Debate Wraps Up, Civil Society Weighs In on Curbing

New Infections, Tackling Key Factors Boosting Spread to Women, Girls


Gender inequality and discrimination were key drivers of women’s and girl’s increased vulnerability to HIV infection, and while various global commitments had been made, national interventions had not been implemented on a scale that made a true difference in prevention, the Commission on the Status of Women heard today as it addressed health and related issues on its last day of high-level debate.


Unless gender inequality was addressed, and violence against women and girls was stopped at the country level, the spread of HIV would not be contained, said Victor Ortega, speaking on behalf of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).  Interventions must be brought to scale to fundamentally alter deeply embedded gender norms that were at the root of women’s vulnerability to HIV transmission.


Providing tactical suggestions from civil society, a representative of the Center for Health and Gender Equity said “female and male condoms are essential in stemming new HIV infections and promoting good sexual and reproductive health”.  To advance the Beijing Platform for Action, and achieve Millennium Development Goals on gender equality, maternal health and HIV/AIDS, funding for the purchase and distribution of condoms should be dramatically increased.


Among the six other non-governmental organizations to take the floor, the representative of International Sexual and Reproductive Rights Coalition called for strengthening health systems to ensure non-discriminatory services and implementing comprehensive sex education programmes, among other things.  Only healthy women whose human rights were protected could be productive workers.


On a related note, the representative of the International Alliance of Women said eradicating hunger and malnutrition was fundamental to achieving gender equality.  Women were the first victims of food shortages, and Governments had yet to turn their global commitments into local action.  However, some countries, like Brazil, had shown that by increasing the food production of female small-scale farmers, hunger and malnutrition levels could fall fast.


Shedding light on the nuances of doing that, Marcela Villarreal, Director of the Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that gender disparities in land access remained significant in most countries, regardless of their level of development.  Not only did women have lesser access to land than men, but they were often restricted to holding land rights through male family members.  Policymakers should address the multiple layers that impeded gender equality in land rights and place investment in agriculture livelihoods prominently on the development agenda.


In other business, the Commission took note of the report of the Working Group on Communications on the Status of Women (document E/CN.6/2010/CRP.4).


Introducing that report, Belgium’s representative said the group had considered 45 confidential communications received by the Division for the Advancement of Women on discrimination against women and girls.  They included, among others, examples of sexual violence against women, trafficking in women and girls, female genital mutilation and the lack of or inadequate health care.


Also speaking today was a representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO).


Civil society representatives from the Ibero-American Group, Huairou Commission, Education International and International Federation of University Women also delivered remarks.


Eritrea’s representative spoke in exercise of the right of reply.


The Commission on the Status of Women will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 11 March, to hold panel discussions on the themes of “Unite to End Violence against Women” and “The evolving status and role of national mechanisms for gender equality”.


Background


The Commission on the Status of Women met today to conclude its high-level plenary debate.  It was also expected to take up the report of the Working Group on Communications on the Status of Women (document E/CN.6/2010/CRP.4).  (For further information, please see Press Release WOM/1787)


Statements


VICTOR ORTEGA, speaking on behalf of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), said that emphasizing national-level implementation of the 12 critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action had become even more significant in the context of the AIDS epidemic.  There was an urgent need for integrated multisectoral responses in order to address the cross-cutting nature of gender inequality and AIDS.  Globally, women represented about 50 per cent of all people living with HIV, and more than 60 per cent of HIV infections in Africa.  Gender inequality and discrimination, including violence against women and girls, were key drivers of women’s and girl’s increased vulnerability to HIV infection and to the epidemic’s disproportionate impact.  That was further exacerbated in situations of humanitarian crisis.  While high-level global commitments had resulted in numerous promising interventions at the country level, such efforts were generally not included as part of the national response to AIDS, and were not adequately budgeted for or implemented at a scale that could make a true difference.  Those interventions should be brought to scale in order to fundamentally alter the deeply embedded harmful gender norms that were at the root of the vulnerability of women and girls to HIV transmission.  Unless gender inequality was effectively addressed, and discrimination and violence against women and girls at the country level was stopped, the spread of HIV would not be contained, he said.


ELENA GASTALDO, International Labour Organization (ILO), said the organization’s most comprehensive contribution to gender equality and women’s empowerment was the International Labour Conference Resolution on Gender Equality at the Heart of Decent Work, unanimously adopted by representatives of Government, employers and workers in June 2009.  It called for the implementation of wide-ranging measures, such as fostering small- and medium-sized enterprises and women’s entrepreneurship as a key way to create jobs and socio-economically empower women.  The Cairo Platform of Action for women’s entrepreneurship in Africa, adopted by ILO and the African Development Bank in October 2009 was an important milestone, particularly since it took into account the impact of the financial and economic crisis on Africa’s poverty rates and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  The resolution also addressed equal pay for equal work, strengthening women’s participation in social dialogue by improving their representation in decision-making, and developing tools and research to prevent sexual harassment of women and violence against them at work.


MARCELA VILLARREAL, Director of the Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that gender disparities in land access remained significant in most countries, regardless of their level of development.  Gender inequalities in land rights were pervasive.  Not only did women have lesser access to land than men, but they were often also restricted to so-called secondary land rights, meaning that they held those rights through male family members.  An international comparison of agricultural census data showed that less than 20 per cent of landholders were women.  The situation was particularly grim in Western and Central Africa, as well as the Near East and North Africa, where generally less than 10 per cent of landholders were women.  Policymakers should address the multiple layers that impeded gender equality in land rights.  The new FAO Gender and Land Rights Database helped to better understand the social, economic, political and cultural dimensions of women’s access to land, which was crucial to design better policies.  Policy action was urgently needed, especially considering that gender disparities in land access were unlikely to disappear within the existing legal, institutional, social and cultural frameworks and under current economic trends.  The world would not be able to achieve Millennium Development Goal 1, or any of the Goals, without empowering rural women and without giving a prominent place in the development agenda to investment in agriculture and agricultural livelihoods, she concluded.


LINDA CLAUSSEN, Ibero-American Group, said an increase in pregnancies had been seen in her region, which led many women to leave their education.  For two decades, her organization had worked to decrease adolescent pregnancies, but had not been fully effective, particularly in terms of education.  It was important to increase education about pregnancy, and expand condom use.  Also vital was the improvement of informed decision-making among sexually active adolescents.  Some 16 million adolescents gave birth every year, and they needed psychological and physical care, both during pregnancy and birth.  Services also must be guaranteed for women who carried their pregnancies to term.


KIMBERLY WHIPKEY, Center for Health and Gender Equity, said that to advance the Beijing Platform, and achieve Millennium Development Goals 3 (gender equality), 5 (maternal health) and 6 (HIV/AIDS), female and male condoms must be accessible to everyone.  As such, she urged dramatically increased funding for their purchase and distribution, and redoubling efforts to alleviate high costs for consumers.  Also important was ensuring comprehensive, rights-based programming to facilitate sustained use; involving civil society, especially women’s groups, in female and male condom policy and programme decision-making; and investing in research and development of woman-initiated and -controlled prevention methods.  “Female and male condoms are essential in stemming new HIV infections and promoting good sexual and reproductive health,” she said.


SHANNON HAYES, Huairou Commission, speaking on behalf of 14 non-governmental organizations, called upon Governments and international humanitarian aid agencies to commit to action that would ensure that all future relief, recovery and reconstruction investments adhered to measurable standards of gender equality.  She urged actors to collaborate and form partnerships with Haitian women’s groups to design and distribute relief and temporary shelter, and to plan and rebuild infrastructure and development programmes.  Her coalition would partner with Haitian women to ensure just standards in all phases of recovery and to regularly monitor it to ensure Haitian women’s participation, leadership, protection from discrimination, capacity-development and transparency.  Women’s leadership and care-giving work should be recognized and supported by policy and programme mandates and transparency resource commitments that enabled women to play meaningful, sustained and formal roles in the long-term recovery process.


JAN EASTMAN, speaking on behalf of Public Services International, International Trade Union Confederation and Education International, expressed her dismay that the Commission’s outcome document had been negotiated and agreed upon before meetings had begun.  Despite emphasis on the importance of civil society in advancing women’s rights, it had not been easy to engage or negotiate.  She called on the United Nations to invest in public health and social care to mitigate the effects of the global crisis.  Of paramount importance must be the implementation of the International Labour Organization’s “Global Jobs Pact”.  Welcoming resolutions put forward by Governments on women’s economic empowerment, she advocated gender perspectives in social and economic policies; promoting women’s empowerment through education; providing access to decent work and full employment; and redressing workplace discrimination.


XIMENA ANDIAN, International Sexual and Reproductive Rights Coalition, said that, at their 2009 session, members of the Commission on Population and Development had affirmed their commitment to Millennium Development Goal 5 on reducing maternal mortality and preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS among women through gender equality activities.  It was necessary to act immediately to achieve those goals.  She called for implementing comprehensive sexual and reproductive heath-care services; strengthening health systems to ensure non-discriminatory services; implementing comprehensive sex education; and investing in legislative reforms, policies and programmes for gender equality.  Only healthy women whose human rights were protected could be productive workers.  That was a necessary building block of a stable society.


CATHERINE MOORE, International Federation of University Women, speaking on behalf of 11 other non-governmental organizations, said it was essential that cultural relativism not be an overarching consideration founded on traditional values, practices and cultural beliefs that continued to subordinate and discriminate against women in many parts of the world.  Violence against women was widespread.  Certain harmful traditional practices, notably female genital mutilation and domestic violence, were perpetuated in the name of cultural relativism and values.  A gender equality lens and human rights education were necessary to effectively analyse how traditional values had evolved in societies.  Women from all walks of life, particularly from indigenous and rural populations, must be involved in that global debate.


ROSY WEISS, International Alliance of Women, noting that women were the first victims of food shortages, said the eradication of hunger and malnutrition was fundamental to achieving equality.  Governments must live up to their commitments.  Many Governments were parties to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but had yet to turn their pledges into action.  Brazil and others were showing that, through action, hunger and malnutrition levels could fall quickly, notably by increasing production of small-scale farmers, many of whom were women.  A small monthly grant made a difference between hunger and nutrition.  Social safety nets like that protected families from economic vulnerabilities. Every country should use 2010 to mobilize the required funds to attain the Goal to halve hunger. Women’s organizations should urge their Governments to use the hunger crisis as a way to a democratic future.


Right of Reply


Eritrea’s delegate, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, referenced previous comments by the Ethiopian delegate.  Ethiopia’s illegal occupation had been mentioned in the context of peace and development.  The Beijing Platform and the Millennium Development Goals could not be achieved when armed conflict constrained women’s aspirations.  There was nothing misleading about Eritrea’s statement.   Ethiopia’s attempt to occupy Eritrean lands violated the United Nations Charter.  In that regard, Ethiopia must withdraw from Eritrea’s territories, without condition.  She called for international pressure on Ethiopia to withdraw from Eritrea’s sovereign territories.  She urged repeal of Security Council resolution 1907 (2009) and the sanctions imposed therein.  “We women have the ability to work on conflict resolution,” she said. Her delegation was convinced that was doable.


Report of Working Group


The Commission then took up its agenda item titled “communications concerning the status of women” to consider the report of the Working Group on Communications on the Status of Women (document E/CN.6/2010/CRP.4).


NICOLAS BURNIAT ( Belgium), a member of the Working Group, introduced the report, saying it had been adopted in mid-February.  It considered 45 confidential communications received by the Division for the Advancement of Women on discrimination against women and girls.  They included, among others, examples of sexual violence against women; other forms of violence against women; trafficking in women and girls; female genital mutilation; sexual harassment; the lack of or inadequate health care, including maternal health care; discrimination in education and the workplace; and forced and early marriage.  The communications also shed light on States’ failure to protect such women and provide due diligence.  Some Governments had investigated the allegations and conducted legal reform, enacted legislation, developed national plans of action and introduced training modules to promote gender equality.  That was clear testimony of their readiness to be actively involved in the Commission’s work.


The Russian Federation’s delegate said the Russian version of the report contained several translation problems, notably with the words “inhuman” and “forced marriage”.  She expressed hope that the Russian text would be corrected.


The Commission then took note of the report.


The Commission’s Secretary confirmed that the Secretariat had taken note of the translation problems in the Russian version of the report and said that corrective action would be taken.  As the Chair had advised, various draft resolutions would be out tomorrow morning.  He then read the names of the draft resolutions received thus far.


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For information media • not an official record