Statement to the 49th session on the Commission on the Status of Women

Equality between women and men is one of the fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter. The commitment made at the founding of the United Nations has been strengthened and further elaborated over the past three decades. At this 49th session of the Commission on the Status of Women we commemorate the ten year anniversary of the Fourth World Conference of Women in Beijing in 1995, as well as the thirtieth anniversary of the First World Conference on Women held in Mexico in 1975.

The road from Mexico City to Beijing also included the Second and Third World Conferences on Women in Copenhagen in 1980 and Nairobi in 1985, and the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994. All these processes have underscored the importance of the United Nations as a unique forum for global policy-making on gender equality and empowerment of women. The high level presence today of Member States, United Nations entities, other international and regional organizations and non-governmental organizations, reaffirms the role of the United Nations as such a privileged global forum.

The unanimous adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995 was a landmark in the history of United Nations efforts to promote gender equality and empowerment of women. The framework of the twelve critical areas of concern established in the Platform for Action continues to guide the work of the United Nations and its Member States, international and regional organizations, civil society and all other actors.

Five years ago, in the Millennium Declaration, Member States also placed gender equality and the empowerment of women as effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease and to stimulate development that is truly equitable and sustainable. Member States further committed themselves, in the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, to eliminate violence against women and to promote the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The ten-year review and appraisal of implementation by Member States of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action before the Commission indicates that much has been achieved over the past decade in terms of increased awareness, policy reforms, improved legislative frameworks, and institutional development at the national level in many countries. Positive developments include the establishment of national policies and strategies for gender equality; adherence to international and regional instruments for the protection of the human rights of women; increased diversity in the mechanisms promoting and monitoring attention to gender equality; attention to resource allocations through gender-sensitive budgeting; the recognition of the critical role played by NGOs in awareness-raising, advocacy, monitoring and programme delivery; and efforts to engage men and boys more actively in the promotion of gender equality.

Nonetheless, the review also underscores that a large gap between policy and practice remains to be addressed in the coming decade. While some gains had been seen in relation to the 12 Critical Areas of Concern in all regions, serious obstacles and challenges were also reported in every area. These include: the persistence of violence against women; low levels of participation in political decision-making; the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among women and girls and the disproportionate impact on their lives; the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, including sexual violence and lack of representation in peace processes; and an increase in trafficking in women and girls.

In this context, I would like to mention the World Survey on the Role of Women in Development, which deals with key issues relating to the international migration of women. This Report of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, indicates that women are increasingly migrating on their own to become the principal wage earners for their families, and make significant economic contributions to both countries of destination and origin. Most women move voluntarily, but women and girls are also forced migrants who have fled conflict, natural disasters and other situations that affect their livelihoods and security. While migration can empower women, women migrants can face significant discrimination and exploitation. Women refugees and trafficked women and girls face particular problems, including vulnerability to sexual violence.

The Survey makes a number of important recommendations to improve the situation of migrant, refugee and trafficked women, including ratification and implementation of all international legal instruments that promote and protect the rights of migrant women and girls, the review of national emigration and immigration laws and policies in order to identify discriminatory provisions, and development of policies and programmes to enhance women’s access to opportunities and services. It also calls for research and improved data collection to provide a more solid basis for the formulation of gender-sensitive migration policies and programmes.

The overall global framework for gender equality and empowerment of women remains the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the further initiatives and actions identified in its review in 2000. The challenge before the Commission is to secure reaffirmation of commitment and enhanced action to ensure full implementation. The outcome of this session of the Commission will also provide an important input to the review of implementation of the Millennium Declaration in the General Assembly in September this year.