CRUCIAL ROLE OF UNITED NATIONS SYSTEM IN ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN STRESSED IN THIRD COMMITTEE19971021 The United Nations had played a crucial role in the process of fully integrating women in political, social and economic life and in incorporating a gender perspective in all areas of human activity, the representative of Brazil said this afternoon, as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its consideration of issues relating to the advancement of women.
Welcoming the Organization's efforts to raise awareness about women's entitlements and rights, she specifically commended the work of the Commission on the Status of Women, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and of the Secretariat, as well as the contribution made by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). The representative of Tunisia also welcomed the work of UNIFEM, as well as that of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW). She said that both UNIFEM and INSTRAW should be strengthened in their work aimed at implementing the Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Sufficient resources should also be provided for developing countries to implement the Platform.
Citing limitations faced by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the representative of Indonesia said the budget of the Centre for Human Rights should be made available to the Committee for technical and advisory services to promote the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and so facilitate the Committee's work.
Women had to be both the beneficiaries and the agents of change, the representative of Nepal said. Only by involving women in development efforts could their advancement take place. The representative of Benin stressed that microcredit was not a panacea, but it was an important mechanism for advancement of people overall. However, it was in the mind that prejudice existed and must be eradicated. A change in the mindset about women had to occur at the national, regional and international levels, he said.
Statements were also made by the representative of the Sudan, Senegal, Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Israel and Fiji, as well as by the Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m tomorrow, 22 October, to continue its consideration of issues relating to the advancement of women and to the implementation of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women.
Committee Work Programme
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of issues relating to the advancement of women and to implementation of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women. (For summary of the documents before the Committee, see Press Release GA/SHC/3416 of 20 October.)
SALMA KHAN, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said 161 States were parties to the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women. While some States had expressed reservations, much progress was being made toward having the Convention in place by the year 2000. She called on the States in question to conduct a periodic review of those reservations, with a view toward dropping them.
Over the past year, her Committee had continued its cooperation with other United Nations bodies and looked forward to even closer cooperation and coordination with them in the future, she said. Also, of value was information from non-governmental organizations, which could be of assistance to States parties.
Monitoring of the Convention was an important task, to which the working group on the Convention's Optional Protocol would contribute. The Convention called for action to bring about equality between men and women; both the Convention and its Optional Protocol were important instruments for gender equalization.
WIWIEK SETYOWATI (Indonesia) said the United Nations as the central body for promoting economic and social development, should adhere to a high standard and serve as an example of gender equality by promoting the advancement of women in decision-making. She commended the recommendation that statistics should be provided on the number and percentage of women at all levels in the United Nations system, and that progress toward achieving gender balance should be monitored.
Indonesia remained sensitive to the limitations faced by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, she said. The budget of the Centre for Human Rights should be made available to the Committee for technical and advisory services to promote the Convention and to facilitate the Committee's work. Indonesia also supported the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers.
Her country's national plan for the advancement of women focused on such matters as enhancing the quality of women as human resources in development, and on promoting a socio-cultural environment that would support the goals of women in development.
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MARCELA ANICADEMOS (Brazil) said there was reason to rejoice about all that had been accomplished for the advancement of women. The United Nations had played a crucial role in the process of fully integrating women in political, social and economic life, in raising awareness about women's entitlements and rights, and in incorporating a gender perspective in all areas of human activity. The work of the Commission on the Status of Women, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and of the Secretariat should be commended. Brazil also recognized the work of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and continued to provide financial support to it.
She said Brazil's Constitution incorporated many of the directives and principles of international instruments which promoted women's rights. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action constituted one of the most comprehensive sets of guidelines aimed at orienting the international community, governments, non-governmental organizations and society as a whole towards the promotion and protection of women's rights. In Brazil, gender equality and the introduction of a gender perspective were perceived as key elements of women's participation in political life. New electoral legislation established that a minimum of 30 per cent of all political candidates should be women. The impact of that initiative was far-reaching. The increase in the political participation of women, especially in the legislative field, would have an impact on their participation in all spheres of life.
NAZIHA BEN YEDDER (Tunisia) said the United Nations system had a decisive role to play with respect to the advancement of women and the follow- up to the Beijing Conference. She welcomed the debate during the recent substantive session of the Economic and Social Council on the mainstreaming of gender issues. Such mainstreaming should continue in all United Nations activities. As to the status of women in the United Nations, she called for strict application of the principle of geographical distribution, as well as on the qualifications and experience of women. The United Nations implementation of the Platform for Action was a necessary complement to, and a source of support for, national activity.
The work of UNIFEM and of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) towards the advancement and emancipation of women was welcomed, she said. Both bodies should be strengthened in their work towards implementation of the Platform for Action. Financial and human resources should be provided for the United Nations for the area of advancement of women. Sufficient resources should also be provided for developing countries to implement the Platform.
At the national level, Tunisia had placed emphasis on the participation of women in economic and social development activity, she said. National development plans incorporated provisions to benefit women and the family.
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In 1992, legislation was adopted to eliminate such outdated elements of law as the concept of the duty of wives to husbands, legal guardianship of children, subsidies for divorced women and their children, and on domestic violence. The labour code ensured that women had the right to work. Reforms had been introduced to end gender-based discrimination in education and to reduce the early drop-out rate for young girls. The drop-out rate had decreased at the primary and secondary levels and the number of girls taking science had increased. The national development plan reaffirmed equality between women and men and gave priority to such issues as the need to combat poverty, protect the rights of women, strengthen international cooperation, and improve the situation of migrant women workers.
LEYLA OMER BASHIR (Sudan) said her Country's Constitution ensured equality for all its citizens regardless of language, ethnic origin, faith, gender, social position, economic status or political affiliation. Equality of men and women was clear in Sudanese law, and the Government was working with relevant United Nations bodies to mainstream a gender perspective in all economic, political and social activities. However, conflict in the southern part of the country had a direct effect on a wide spectrum of the Sudan's citizens, with women and children being most affected.
She said that 70 per cent of the 3 million Sudanese displaced from the south to the north were women and children. That displacement had affected women both economically and socially, since it isolated them from natural surroundings and it distanced them from their traditional means of survival. That had led to such phenomena as begging, family disintegration, unemployment and health problems.
The Government was helping solve the problem by establishing camps for shelter, providing training, and establishing a programme of guidance to preserve traditions and norms among displaced women. Those formed part of the Government's efforts aimed at establishing peace in the country. The type of problems faced by women differed from one society to another and it was difficult to address them in the same manner.
RADHA GYAWALI (Nepal) said that women had to be both the beneficiaries and agents of change. There was a large gap between women in developed and developing countries. Only by involving women in development efforts could advancement take place. The Beijing Platform for Action and efforts of United Nations bodies were all aimed in that direction.
Violence against women took both physical and psychological forms, she said. As a party to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Nepal called for an end to all forms of violence and for support of all of women's rights. Like most developing countries, Nepal needed to rectify the problem of a low literacy rate in the country. Assuring equal rights, especially in decision-making, had to be the overriding concern
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in any development programme. That meant both, bringing about equality and removing the obstacles to it.
IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal) said the Beijing Conference had been an important event which contributed to shedding light on the new challenges of our time. In Senegal, 52 per cent of the population were women. They played a central role in the social and economic life of the country. His country looked forward to the 1998 session of the Commission on the Status of Women, when member States should present reports on national action taken to improve the status of women. Those reports would allow the United Nations system to understand the problems facing member States, particularly in the area of resource mobilization.
Senegal's national plan for the period 1996 to 2001 had taken the Beijing Platform for Action into account, he said. The plan's priorities included economic development and the elimination of poverty, making improvements in education and health, ensuring the rights of women, and establishing institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women. The problems of urban and rural women had been taken into account, including ways of resolving their problems. The issue of mobilization of resources and the contribution of development partners had also been considered. There was a need to mainstream the gender perspective in global strategies in all activities.
Significant progress had been made in Senegal and in many other developing countries since the Beijing Conference towards improving women's lives, he said. Nevertheless, their situation remained precarious. African countries had made some progress, but the social costs of structural adjustment programmes had been high. The impact of constraints to which countries had been subjected were made worse by the downturn in development assistance. Economic problems such as debt and low commodity prices also had a negative effect on national action plans. Therefore, it was urgent to focus on how resources could be mobilized to ensure that plans and programmes for the advancement of women could be implemented. The special situation of women and children in war was of grave concern, as they were the silent victims of conflict and were particularly vulnerable.
JANA BARTOSIEWICZOVA (Slovakia) said the rights of women were an integral part of human rights; their violation was as inadmissible as the violation of human rights in general. The situation of women in Slovakia was complicated because of the economic and social changes being experienced in the society. Despite that, women preferred an active approach to the solution of their financial problems. Representation of women in political and decision-making bodies was inadequate. In the Slovak Parliament, women accounted for 14 per cent of all deputies. Their proportion in the Slovak Government was only 17 per cent.
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National actions taken to advance the interests of women included the creation of a governmental committee for women in February 1996, she said. The committee, in which the Slovak women could present their concerns and promote their interests, was unique in Central and Eastern Europe. Other developments included the elaboration of the national action plan, which was the essential document guiding programmes and activities for the advancement of women, and the creation of a gender centre in Bratislava, which would open this month. The results of such activities would serve as the basis for decision-making on women's issues by executive bodies of State administration, national non-governmental organizations and international organizations. They would also represent a permanent platform for gender sensitive studies at the national level.
WIJESIRI HETTIARACHCHI (Sri Lanka) said his country's commitment to non- discrimination against women could be seen in such actions as its ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and its establishment of a national committee to implement its women's charter. Particular importance was attached to the issue of violence against women migrant workers, an issue for Sri Lanka since 1976 when the Middle East labour market was opened to it.
There were over a half million Sri Lankan migrant workers employed in many parts of the world, he said. Nearly 80 per cent of the migrant worker population was women, for whom employment was an economic necessity. However, they were vulnerable to abuses and deprivation of rights, including lack of proper work contracts, non-payment of wages, non-availability of security, and sexual harassment. His country supported the adoption by member States of appropriate legal measures against intermediaries who deliberately encouraged the clandestine movement of workers and who exploited women migrant workers.
Despite difficulties, the Government of Sri Lanka had taken specific measures to implement the Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women. It supported the initiative by the Commission of the Status of Women for elaboration of a draft optional protocol to the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
HOUSSOU P. HOUANSOU (Benin) said the statistics in the reports before the Committee would be more effectively presented in table form. More than a billion people worldwide lived in poverty, and the face of poverty now bore a woman's face. Following the Fourth World Conference, Benin, which had been pursuing democracy since 1990, instituted measures in line with the Platform for Action. Benin did not have a perfect record, but it had acted to improve the situation of women. It had earmarked a proportion of its budget exceeding the "20/20 initiative" for social development called for by the Stockholm Convention. Grassroots measures included the provision of free education for girls at the elementary school level.
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It was in the mind where prejudice existed and from which it must be eradicated, he said. A change in the mindset about women had to occur at the national, regional and international levels. The United Nations Department of Public Information should focus on promoting development issues, highlighting the value of women. That should be a priority for information programmes, and the message should be repeated continually. At the same time, men should not be discriminated against either. Microcredit was not a panacea, but it was an important mechanism for advancement of people overall.
YOSEPHA STEINER (Israel) said her country had embarked on a number of strategies and specific actions since the Beijing Conference. Women in Israel had been encouraged to take up high-level positions in the economic system, serving on boards of directors or in high-level government positions. In the private sector, a high court ruling had instructed ministers to appoint women in high-level positions. As a result, women's participation on boards of State-owned corporations had increased from 3 per cent to 26 per cent. Legislation on women's issues had been progressive, but more needed to be done to implement them so as to ensure improvement in such areas as working conditions and occupational segregation.
Stressing the importance of women's economic empowerment, she said in the past few years women in Israel were awakening to their economic potential and had started opening small businesses at an unprecedented rate. A revolution was taking place in the rural agricultural sector, as well as in the Arab sector, through the opening of small businesses by women without adversely affecting the family structure. They were moving into small cottage industries.
During the past year, women's business clubs had been developed with the objective of providing small business training, information and networking for women interested in entrepreneurship, she said. That network of business clubs included career business women who had opened joint market ventures. The network had also helped to form a bridge to the Arab sector, which would help strengthen the peace process.
In the political arena, a community strategy had been developed to empower women in local politics, she said. Women had been encouraged to participate in support of suitable candidates from all political parties. Women's empowerment would be achieved when societies made use of communal and educational strategies. In addition, women should be more vocal about discrimination and lack of parity. Women in powerful positions should develop networks of women in power, both in business and politics.
SAKIUSA RABUKA (Fiji) said his country had formulated policies to improve the lot of women. Their participation in economic activities beyond the household had increased significantly, since Fiji attained independence in 1970. National initiatives included a micro-enterprise development
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programme to create self-employment and integrate women into the commercial sector. Nevertheless, as a multi-religious and multi-cultural State, Fiji faced challenges in implementing policies aimed at ensuring equality between men and women.
Religious and cultural norms posed major constraints in efforts to improve the mobility of women to positions of power and authority, he said. Mere legislative protection was not sufficient to promote equality between men and women. Local resources, whether financial or technical, were inadequate to deal with such contraints; external help was needed. Such help must be on such as the educational front, he said. More importantly, implementation of the obligations created under the Beijing Platform for Action required that cognizance be taken of the economic and political realities faced by small developing countries such as his own. No serious discussion of the problems encountered in advancing women's rights could take place in isolation from the political, economic and social factors at work in any given country.
The international community could help by creating an international economic environment that would enable small island developing States to participate effectively in global actions, he said. Specific ways in which that might be done included making markets and loans accessible to remote islands. Unless developing countries were aided in improving the lot of their women through creation of the necessary environment, the lofty ideals and principles behind all efforts to advance the cause of women -- and thereby to eradicate poverty -- would remain unrealized.
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