|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by International Organization of la Francophonie
Strongly condemning violence against women and girls, the International Organization of la Francophonie today adopted a declaration that confirmed its support for women’s equality and its commitment to prevent harm against women and girls, as part of its contribution to reviewing the 15 years implementing the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, Canada’s Minister for La Francophonie said today.
Speaking at an afternoon press conference on the opening day of the fifty-fourth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, Josée Verner said the International Organization hoped, among other things, to raise awareness about violence against women, provide assistance to victims and promote education about non-violence. The Commission’s current session, along with other meetings held in its margins, provided real opportunities to advance gender equality.
Hary Andriamboavonjy, Director of Strategic Planning of the OIF, said the organization had chosen to focus on this topic because its members believed that, of the Beijing Declaration’s 12 areas of concern, violence against women had enjoyed the least progress. Indeed, backtracking had even been seen in some countries.
In targeting violence against women, she said the organization sought to draw the attention of its members to the issue, to urge further work in that area and to mobilize its own efforts toward this goal. It sought both preventive and corrective action through advocacy, training, awareness-raising and the promotion of civil society. The current programme’s ultimate goal was to integrate gender equality to the greatest extent possible in each project on the ground.
“This is a way for the francophones to talk about the status of women,” Anne-Marie Lizin, Senator of Belgium, stressed. “We want to be at the forefront of talking about this.”
She suggested today’s declaration went further than the organization had dared to go before. Among its prescriptions, it called for the training of trainers, as well as of medical personnel, police and troops.
Farida Jaidi, personal representative of the Prime Minister of Morocco, said her country had taken huge steps forward in advancing the status of women, chiefly through its adoption of a Family Code that, by naming both men and women as heads of the family, was “revolutionary” for an Arab-Muslim country. A new Penal Code that sought to end violence against women had also been developed.
However, Morocco was proudest, she said, of its multi-sectoral programme against gender-based violence, which spanned 13 departments, such as social development, justice, the interior, agriculture, youth, communications and Islamic studies. While it had served as a model for a number of countries, Morocco remained far from satisfied with its efforts.
Isabel Machik Ruth Tshombe, personal representative of the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, underlined that the declaration’s importance lay in its use of law to combat the problems affecting women. While her country’s new Constitution enshrined gender equality, that principle existed primarily in writing and hard work was needed to translate it into reality.
Her Government had undertaken a national awareness-raising campaign regarding the participation of women in decision-making processes. But, as citizens of a country persistently afflicted by conflict, the women of the Democratic Republic of the Congo had suffered domestic violence, as well as violence from armed groups and from some groups, such as peacekeeping forces, intended to help them. Clearly, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s history had made it the most influential in last fall’s Security Council resolution on peacekeeping forces and violence against women. Assistance from the francophonie family had allowed women to become aware of their rights and to allow them to acquire a certain level of autonomy. Soldiers had also been trained to be aware of their responsibilities.
Responding to a question on what action Canada was taking in the French-speaking area to improve the situation in other countries of the francophonie, Ms. Verner noted that Canada had international assistance programmes that operated, on both a bilateral and multilateral basis, to end violence against women in developing countries. It was also involved in the adoption of important declarations, such as the one dealing with States in conflict.
Asked if the Democratic Republic of the Congo was doing enough and if the United Nations was setting a good enough example for the rest of the world by adopting resolutions that merely shipped peacekeepers that harmed women back home, Ms. Tshombe said that, given the status of immunity of United Nations agents, her Government could not do more. That situation was not sufficient. But, with the resolution’s adoption, a phenomenon that had typically been ignored was ignored no longer.
Ms. Lizin stressed that, in this context, it was also important to recognize that the national armies contributing peacekeeping troops were responsible for disciplinary measures.
Responding to further questions on what disciplinary measures had been taken in Morocco against Moroccan peacekeepers sent home from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ms. Jaidi said it was important to be certain that peacekeeping personnel were actually guilty. Some of the accusations made against Moroccan peacekeepers had been proven false. In one case, where guilt was demonstrated, a sentence had been handed down.
Asked if African women had the power to play a larger part in francophonie action, given the history of colonialism on the continent, Ms. Tschombe suggested that the organization was a political and economic partnership based on development. One of its flagships was education and the empowerment of women applied specifically to that arena.
She said that, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, efforts were focused on the Kivus, where women had suffered significantly. There, women were active participants, since many of the projects came from local initiatives.
Ms. Andriamboavonjy said the question should be flipped around to ask, “If there was no empowerment of women, could the status of women be developed?” Looking at how women’s rights had developed, there had been progress and the empowerment of women was one of the essential means of allowing women to prosper and enjoy their rights.
Speaking specifically of Africa and Morocco, Ms. Jaidi said the call for women’s participation was simply a recognition of what already existed. Indeed, women and young girls often did the work ‑‑ in the field, at home and in other areas ‑‑ but their work was not always fully acknowledged.
Ms. Verner recalled that she had visited a community in Mali where women had used microcredit programmes to start small businesses. The women told her that when income started coming in, it changed the way they were seen in their families, and particularly by their husbands.
* *** *For information media • not an official record