Statement by Ms. MARIAM AL-AWADHI
Deputy Executive Secretary Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)
To Participants of The World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia
and related Intolerance
(Durban, 31 August-7 September 2001)
Ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure
to address this World Conference against racism and all forms and manifestations
of discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance. The international community is
convening this Conference in a spirit of political commitment to combat racism
and all forms of discrimination. As such, it is the pinnacle of human rights,
a realization of genuine equality of opportunities, respect for fundamental
liberties, and non-discrimination regardless of ethnicity, religion or gender.
The Universal Declaration
of Human Rights and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, have highlighted
the central importance of fighting all manifestations of discrimination among
people by according them their economic, social and political rights. This is
essential for gender equality and the preservation of human dignity worldwide.
The end of the Cold War
and the simultaneous shift from a bipolar to a unipolar world system is being
increasingly associated with the global village and manifestations of globalization:
its challenges and opportunities. At the regional level, structural adjustment
policies in some countries, and economic recession coupled with an environment
of political instability have had adverse effects on the economic, social, cultural
and political situation in the ESCWA region. Chief among these, I wish to flag
poverty, unemployment and labour migration, the brain drain, the question of
the refugees and displaced, vulnerable groups, urbanization, religious extremism,
and the controversial social and economic impact of structural adjustment policies.
At the outset, I wish to
emphasize that for ESCWA, racism is taken in its broader sense to cover all
forms of discrimination based on age, race and ethnicity, gender, religion,
language, disability and much more. It is a multidimensional phenomenon.
Since its inception in
1974, the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) has exerted
every effort to serve as a catalyst and as an agent of change in the region.
ESCWA assists member States in their efforts to create an enabling environment
for social, political, cultural and economic development; an environment conducive
to upholding universal human rights and promoting the enforcement of non-discriminatory
policies, practices and measures at the national and regional levels. ESCWA
continues to assist member States by encouraging them to pursue a rights-based
approach to sustainable social and economic development and by proposing action-oriented
and non-discriminatory policies and programmes to promote equal opportunities
for women and men in all walks of life.
The close link between
democracy, human rights and gender equality has been proclaimed by the international
community as an essential engine for growth and development of nations.
ESCWA serves as an early
warning system so that member States are equipped to meet the challenges and
grab the opportunities of globalization. ESCWA also serves as a forum for all
state and non-state actors in the development process, including civil society
institutions and NGOs. In this context, ESCWA is encouraging synergy between
NGOs and governments to accelerate the implementation of programmes and plans
of action emanating from the United Nations Global Conferences of the 1990s
and the enforcement of human rights declarations.
ESCWA aims to promote change
for sustainable social development as a first step towards improvement of the
quality of life in the region. This is accomplished by assisting member States
to overcome the root causes of discrimination, redress the disproportionate
and uneven income distribution and integrate marginalized and vulnerable groups
in the society. This includes direct interventions to eradicate illiteracy,
alleviate gender-based poverty, develop the community, bridge the gap between
urban and rural areas, and achieve gender equality.
ESCWA lays great emphasis
on social inclusion of the elderly, children and other vulnerable groups. The
integration of both women and youth in the process of development is considered
among the regional priorities and, hence, in the work and activities of ESCWA.
ESCWA has embarked on a
comprehensive programme to address the advancement and empowerment of women
and gender issues in the region. This programme is also designed to assist member
states in mainstreaming a gender perspective into their policies and projects
for gender equality. In addition, a media campaign was launched and is still
ongoing to raise gender awareness and to identify the means and ways to overcome
the main obstacles hampering the advancement of women in the region.
Aware that youth comprise
one-fifth of the total population in the region, ESCWA organized the Arab Youth
Forum that was held from 26-27 June 2001 in Beirut, Lebanon. This was the regional
preparatory meeting for the World Youth Forum that took place in Dakar, Senegal,
from 5-12 August 2001. Moreover, ESCWA co-organized with the League of Arab
States and UNICEF, the Arab High Level Conference for Children that was convened
in Cairo from 3-5 July 2001. This Conference was organized in preparation for
the upcoming special session of the General Assembly on Children in New York,
September 2001. Other Issues that ESCWA is addressing have to do with the Disabled.
Such issues include teaching blind girls to use information communication technologies
(ICTs), community-based rehabilitation as the Braille system and other skills,
and ensuring accessibility and barrier-free environments for the disabled. ESCWA
is also organizing a regional meeting in preparation for the Second World Assembly
on Ageing to be held in Madrid between 8 and 12 April 2002.
In conclusion, I wish to
stress that despite the efforts exerted by ESCWA to address issues of gender
discrimination, social exclusion, especially of the refugees and the displaced,
a lot more needs to be done to combat all forms of racism and discrimination.
In the ESCWA region, the
Occupied Palestinian Territories are witnessing extreme deterioration in the
living conditions of the Palestinian people. Human rights are being violated
daily and discriminatory measures affect the lives of all concerned. Negotiations
should be resumed promptly to end the violence and provide a peaceful existence
free from all forms of discrimination.
In this context, I wish
to express our great appreciation for the support provided by Ms. Mary Robinson,
the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to deploy Human Rights Advisors in the
This support will enhance
ESCWA's ability to address issues of gender-based violence and discrimination,
HIV/AIDS, and to ensure that the international community keeps pushing for the
right to self-determination and return of the Palestinian people to their homeland.
Thank you for your kind