MILLIONS OF WOMEN STILL LIVE IN POVERTY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN"S FUND TELLS COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN

28 February 2000
WOM/1178

MILLIONS OF WOMEN STILL LIVE IN POVERTY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN"S FUND TELLS COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN

28 February 2000

Press ReleaseWOM/1178

MILLIONS OF WOMEN STILL LIVE IN POVERTY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN’S FUND TELLS COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN

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An honest appraisal of the situation of women and girls would show that, while some gains had been made, millions of women still lived in poverty, 600,000 women still died annually during pregnancy, 600 million could not read or write, and of the 100 million children out of school, two thirds were girls, the Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Carol Bellamy, said this afternoon as the Commission on the Status of Women continued its general discussion.

As the Commission's forty-fourth annual session continued, Ms. Bellamy highlighted what she called alarming new statistics, indicating that, globally, at least one in three women and girls had been beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime. In addition, women and girls were the most affected in situations of armed conflict and by the HIV/AIDS catastrophe. All of that must change, and the world had the framework to change it. Human rights instruments and international agreements had provided the vision for action; the missing ingredient was political commitment on a global scale -- and the resources and actions to match.

The Commission, which is the subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council charged with formulating policies to achieve gender equality between women and men, will conclude its two-day discussion on follow-up to the Beijing Platform for Action of the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women tomorrow evening. Then, from 3 to 17 March, it will meet as the preparatory committee for the special session of the General Assembly in June entitled "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century".

The representative of the Russian Federation said this afternoon that as the analysis of “Beijing + 5” approached its final stage, fundamental global advances had presented new risks and challenges, including international terrorism and international organized crime, military separatism, and the illicit circulation of drugs -- all directly affecting the lives of women worldwide. The special session should be "our common contribution" to finding solutions to the global issues facing mankind. Hopefully, the crucial contributions made by women in transitional economies and emerging democracies would be emphasized.

Commission on Status of Women - 1a - Press Release WOM/1178 2nd Meeting (PM) 28 February 2000

Members of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) called for wider participation in the forthcoming special session. A representative of AIDOS, an Italian Women's NGO, said the NGOs in her country had been extremely active in "bringing Beijing back" and had initiated a wide range of activities to mobilize local women's machinery countrywide and provide impetus to the special session.

Similarly, several delegations heralded the valuable contribution of NGOs to an efficient review process. The representative of the Republic of Korea said that NGO activities had served as valuable catalysts for the advancement of women, particularly by raising awareness and monitoring governments' implementation of global declarations. Thus, their active and widened participation in the special session was crucial to its success.

A representative of the Economic Commission for Europe, speaking on behalf of the United Nations five regional commissions -- for Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific and Western Asia -- said that the regional commissions were in a unique position to provide a region-wide forum for assessing gender equality and developing new strategies for its achievement. All five commissions had pledged to support Member States in their efforts to accelerate the pace of implementation of the Beijing outcome.

Also today, the Commission elected by acclamation Misako Kaji (Japan) as Vice-Chairman, thus, completing its 2000-2002 Bureau. Mostafa Alaei (Iran) was designated to serve on the working group on communications. One vacancy remained and, in that respect, the Group of Western European and Other States was asked to conclude consultations so that their designate could participate in the work of the group, which was about to begin.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Colombia (on behalf of the Rio Group), China, Paraguay, Côte d'Ivoire, Indonesia, Turkey, and Ecuador. The observers for Palestine and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta also spoke.

Representatives of the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization also addressed the meeting, as did members of the following NGOs: the International Federation of University Women and the NGO Caucus on Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women.

The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 29 February, to continue its general discussion.

Commission Work Programme

The Commission on the Status of Women met this afternoon to continue its two-day discussion on follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995. From 3 to 17 March, it will convene as the third and final preparatory committee for the special session of the General Assembly in June entitled “Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty- first century.” (For background on the reports before the Commission, see Press Release WOM/1176.)

Statements

ALFONSO VALDIVIESO (Colombia), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said several important events had taken place since last year, notably, the adoption by the General Assembly of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, an important development which would benefit women worldwide to which six countries of the Rio Group had ascribed. Indeed, the Group had great expectations about the forthcoming special session. As part of preparatory process, the subsidiary organs of the Economic and Social Council had met several times throughout the past year.

He said the Seventh Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, held last month in Lima, Peru, had discussed the strong decline in economic growth in the region in 1999, and the overall growth of just 3 per cent for the entire decade. Growth had been moderate and the opportunities generated by globalization had not always been distributed equitably and had had negative effects for gender equality, as a result of the "feminization of poverty".

The most significant changes during the past decade in Latin America, he said, had been the consequence of the massive and accelerated entry of women into the labour market, their universal access to education, and their steady participation in the decision-making process. Several legislative advances had been made, including the formulation of national plans based on equality. Government mechanisms had been created in favour of women and the recognition of their rights as citizens. Those positive changes had been countered by shortcomings in other areas, however, including the unequal tendencies of economic development, growing inequalities in the educational system, and a general deterioration of the region's health services.

He said that all of the countries of the Rio Group had established national offices for the advancement of women, which had contributed to the process of modernization and institutionalization inspired by the Beijing Conference. Significant development had also taken place in the social mobilization and advancement of the legislative systems, which had contributed to a positive evolution of cultural patterns and the formation of new leaders and vigorous democratic debate. Despite such progress, much remained to be done. The Rio Group members solemnly committed themselves to promotion of the full participation of women in all spheres of public life, in conditions of equality with men.

BARBARA TERENZI CALAMAI (Italy) said the Italian women's non-governmental organizations ((NGOs) had been extremely active in "bringing Beijing back". Those NGOs had undertaken a wide range of activities aimed at mobilizing local women's machinery country-wide and providing impetus to the special session. They had also helped draft the Optional Protocol to the Convention. Their most important contribution could be seen at the local and grass-roots levels, with the development of the following: women's cultural centres; empowerment centres by and for immigrant women; trade unions; capacity-building courses for women interested in politics; and education aimed at preventing female genital mutilation.

Moreover, she said that North-South cooperation had been fostered and new partnerships had been created by which women in developing countries -- the Balkans, the Middle East, and others -- had benefited from the experiences of Italian women in such areas as the establishment of women's health centres and micro-small enterprises. Despite serious problems concerning women's representation in politics, much had been done in the Government, including the appointment of a Minister for Equal Opportunities and the creation of a corresponding department.

Mainstreaming efforts had been especially targeted to budgetary and employment policies, she said. Initiatives included a new law on parental leave, which contained provisions encouraging the parental leave of fathers and the right to educational leave. A new immigration law included a provision to protect and empower women victims of trafficking. Indeed, 49 social support projects concerned with the trafficking problem had been developed by NGOs and funded by the Italian Government. The positive experience of regional meetings for the Beijing + 5 review had highlighted the value of NGO support. A further step forward should be rules for their wider participation in all forthcoming events, including the special session, the Millennium Assembly and meetings on United Nations reform.

SHEN GUOFANG (China) said that since the Beijing Conference, serious efforts had been undertaken to translate governments' commitments into action, and progress had been made by United Nations agencies to integrate the gender perspective into policies and programmes. Since the Commission's fortieth session, the follow-up on the 12 critical areas of concern identified by the Beijing Platform had been reviewed with agreed conclusions for each. Implementation of the Action Platform had been accelerated and the follow-up had been pushed forward. It was important to undertake a comprehensive review and appraisal of the Action Platform at the beginning of the new millennium, in order to help better understand those areas requiring intensified efforts. Strategies could be formulated and obstacles overcome.

He said that in the past five years the Chinese Government had taken action to fulfil its commitments, and the major objectives of the Action Platform had been achieved. There had been a steady reduction of the number of Chinese women living in poverty and an increase in the school enrolment rate of girls. Women's health needs were better met, efforts were succeeding in improving literacy rates, and violence against women had been dealt with effectively. Some obstacles still existed, however, such as an imbalance among regions and constraints derived from traditional stereotypes. In particular, domestic violence and the trafficking of women and girls must be tackled with urgency. His Government had carried out projects and set up special funds in rural and poor areas, he said. For instance, budgetary allowances had been made to train surgeons and purchase the necessary facilities to reduce the mortality rate. Such initiatives had inspired confidence that progress would be achieved in the overall situation of Chinese women. Governments, United Nations agencies and all organizations dedicated to the promotion of women's causes should promote cooperation, with a view to truly realizing the objectives of the Beijing Action Platform, he stressed.

KANG GUI-WON (Republic of Korea) said that looking back over the last five years, tremendous achievements had been made towards gender equality and gender mainstreaming. The Beijing Conference had had a wide-ranging impact on the direction of women's policy in her country, which had made such major strides as the adoption of a series of laws designed to protect women's rights and guarantee their full participation in all sectors of society. The Gender Protection and Relief Act had granted substantial authority to the Government to investigate gender discrimination cases and prescribe effective measures accordingly. Its implementation had required significant initiatives to increase women's representation in politics.

The President had committed himself to establishing a Ministry of Women's Affairs in order to strengthen the national machinery on women's affairs and promote efficiency in implementing women's policies. That new initiative had provided a unique opportunity to develop the optimal national machinery for the promotion of the status of women in the new millennium. In addition, comprehensive medium-to-long-term plans had been drawn up to enhance women's competitiveness for the knowledge-based society of the twenty-first century. Plans included cultivating women professionals and advancing working women's capabilities through lifetime training programmes.

She said that a review of women's achievements and emerging issues highlighted the significant barriers still faced by women in their societies. The important role of the international agencies and programmes of the United Nations systems -- such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) -- on the issue of women and children in vulnerable situations, especially refugees and those in regions of armed conflict, should not be overlooked. An efficient review process was essential for implementation of important global commitments such as the Beijing Action Platform. In that regard, NGO activities had served as valuable catalysts for the advancement of women, particularly by raising awareness and monitoring their implementation by governments. Their active and widened participation in the special session was crucial to its success.

SOMAIA BARGHOUTI, observer for Palestine, said that there was no doubt that since the adoption of the Plan of Action, some progress had been made in the advancement and empowerment of women around the world. Among the various achievements was the growing recognition of the gender dimension of poverty and the increased efforts to mainstream gender perspectives. However, much work remained to be done. The lack of resources to eradicate illiteracy among women and girls, the increase in all forms of violence against women, aggression, armed conflict and ethnic cleansing were foremost among the many obstacles that hindered women from achieving their full potential and participating in the development of their societies.

She had hoped that the situation of Palestinian women would have improved with the approach of the new millennium, but was disheartened to report that they still shared the problems facing other women around the globe -– inequality, discrimination, violence and poverty. Israeli occupation provided the principal hurdle to the equality of Palestinian women. The report of the Secretary-General covered some of the issues regarding the negative impact of Israeli policies and occupation on the situation of Palestinian women. “The adverse impact of the Israeli policies and practices in this regard is widespread and manifests itself in many forms, despite the existence of the peace process and occasional progress in this respect”, she said.

The issue of occupation made the situation of Palestinian women an important one, she went on. In that regard, her delegation would submit to the Commission a draft resolution on that issue. She believed that it was the responsibility of the United Nations, and the Commission in particular, to continue to review and monitor this situation and provide assistance according to their needs for advancement until they could achieve independence. “Thereafter”, she said, “Palestinian women could join the ranks of their sisters around the world in daily efforts for advancement, development, and equality in their independent state of Palestine.”

CRISTINA MUÑOZ (Paraguay) said her country's adoption of a new national constitution in 1992 had incorporated the principles of equality and affirmative action. The adoption had resulted in a broad series of legislative reforms culminating in revised civil, criminal, employment and electoral codes. As part of that reform, the National Congress now had before it bills against violence in the family. A Secretariat for Women had also been created. In 1993, the Government had begun integrating the gender perspective into public policies and had developed a national plan for equal opportunity, which encouraged the broad participation of the private sector. In order to institutionalize the follow-up to Beijing, a tripartite commission had been created in 1995, which had established implementation of the Action Platform as its priority.

The 1997 national plan for equal opportunity for women had been a guiding document for public policies and had reflected the commitments undertaken by her country in Beijing, she said. In compliance with the mandate to institutionalize the national plan, focal points had been authorized within the various government ministries. Her Government was also in the process of creating regional and local offices for women, and the Secretariat had been established in a large number of municipalities. Each of those endeavours had involved the participation of NGOs and civil society, which were valuable partners.

Continuing, she said that a national plan for reproductive health had been established. Priority had been given to combating poverty, which focused actions on communities with the greatest needs. In addition, comprehensive plans to support rural women had focused on women as heads of households and on their productive endeavours. Important steps had also been taken to combat violence against women. The challenges faced by all in the follow-up process would be clarified by identifying the obstacles and continuing the search for gender equality. In short, success meant reasserting the commitments undertaken at Beijing.

YAI CONSTANCE (Côte d’Ivoire) said that the upcoming special session was very important because it would allow the Commission to review the challenges facing women in the areas of gender equality and mainstreaming at the start of the new millennium.

Her Government had done much to promote gender equality in the years following the Beijing Conference, she said. Some of the highlights of her country’s advancements included the legal protection of women, the elimination of the dowry and female genital mutilation and other harmful traditional practices. The issue of rural women was also important, since they provided 70 per cent of farm labour in many African countries. In that regard, Côte d’Ivoire had established village groups that would enhance women’s knowledge of farm production and agricultural techniques

She went on to point out that her country had made advances in the areas of illiteracy training, women’s health and raising the awareness level of the Government to women’s issues. There had also been massive mobilization and education programmes focusing on the issue of HIV/AIDS.

She said that the Plan for Action needed to be strengthened globally with the repeal of discriminatory laws so women could play a greater role in shaping the societies in which they lived. World leaders should be made aware that women required equal rights in the areas of education, labour and health care in order to be more effective spouses, mothers and citizens.

KHOFIFAH INDAR PARAWANSA, State Minister for Empowerment of Women of Indonesia, said she was committed to striving for the full implementation of the Women's Rights Convention through stronger enforcement and supervisory mechanisms. With respect to eliminating violence against women, Indonesia had, since 1998: established a National Commission on the Elimination of Violence against Women; adopted a national action plan to eliminate such violence; engaged in inter-ministerial activities to strengthen victims services and reform the legal framework to protect victims and witnesses and prosecute perpetrators; and implemented a gender mainstreaming strategy.

The Office of the State Ministry had rearranged its organizational structure to advance women and gender equality, she continued. Five major issues were being addressed: empowering women in education, health, employment and access to development resources; realizing gender equity and equality; implementing a "zero-tolerance" policy to eliminate violence against women; respect for women's dignity and human rights; and building organizational and professional capacity. This morning, she had signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention.

Still, issues affecting the situation of women required urgent action, she said. The Asian crisis had disproportionately affected women and children. Increasing numbers of women had been forced to enter the informal sector, where labour standards were difficult to enforce. Many were working as domestics or overseas for scant remuneration, while poverty had led to the growth of trafficking in women and children within and across national boundaries. Further, traditional and cultural values continued to subordinate women in all areas of life. Taking into consideration the fact that women constituted 52 per cent of the 200 million people of Indonesia, she hoped efforts to protect women's rights would contribute to national efforts to build a culture of human rights. The international community should reaffirm its commitment to enhance efforts to create a more just and prosperous society through partnerships among nations, between governments and non-governmental groups, and between men and women.

ESER SENAY (Turkey) said that, over the past five years, the national mechanism for the empowerment of women had pursued the goal of equality, peace and development in close collaboration with other governmental bodies and non- governmental women's organizations, in line with the principles set out in the Turkish National Plan of Action. A number of initiatives had been launched to enhance the capacities of the existing mechanisms and create new independent bodies such as a standing committee in Parliament. The work on the establishment of both bodies had recently gained impetus. Furthermore, women's units within the Governor's Office were established for effective gender mainstreaming.

While a new understanding of women's human rights had guided efforts towards greater gender equality, Turkey, due to patriarchal values, still continued to confront various obstacles up until now. Despite growing political rhetoric in support of gender equality, there was very slow progress in the realization of corresponding policies and programmes. Women's unequal representation or their absence in political and socio-economic decisions and limited access to resources were still some of the major obstacles confronted in Turkey. However, one of the ground-breaking changes was the implementation of eight-year compulsory education, which was targeted to raise the enrolment levels of the girl child. That would also raise marriage and birth ages and keep the girl child in the educational system.

Another landmark gain was the enactment of the Family Protection Law in 1998. Eradication of domestic violence had been comprehensively addressed with that piece of legislation. The law granted third parties the right to file complaints of domestic violence and made it possible for judges to place restraining orders against perpetrators, so that they could be kept away from victims. Most importantly, Turkey had withdrawn the reservations placed on the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. That was in line with the new civil code which contained unbiased provisions and which was now waiting to be ratified. Turkey was also prepared to adopt the Optional Protocol to the Convention. Women's health, on the other hand, was one of the fields where the country lagged far behind in expected targets.

GALINA PARCHENTSEVA (Russian Federation) said that analysis of Beijing + 5 was approaching its final stage, and it was up to the Commission to lead the way. Unfortunately, fundamental global advances had presented new risks and challenges, including international terrorism and international organized crime, military separatism, and the illicit circulation of drugs, among others -- all directly affecting the lives of women worldwide. Other problems had included increasing polarities of poverty and wealth, the deteriorating environment, and the rapid spread of the AIDS pandemic. The forthcoming special session should be "our common contribution" to finding solutions to the global issues facing mankind. It was only through united and global efforts that such challenges would be met.

She said the attention accorded the plight of women in economies in transition at the European Regional Conference, held this year in Geneva, had been highly commendable. The process of transformation had a broadening negative impact on women, who nevertheless had played a crucial role on a market economy and emerging democratic institutions. Hopefully, their contributions would be appropriately reflected in the special session. Few States had suffered as many trials in the last century as the Russian Federation, which had endured more than its fair share of political and social upheavals, cataclysms and radical changes. The Government had begun to prepare a long-term strategy and create the premise for its economic and social development.

She said the wish of her Government was to achieve stable economic growth in conditions of political instability. It had only recently been able to consider the enhanced effectiveness of its social policy and make it more goal oriented. Indeed, tangible progress had been made last year -- the salaries of government workers had increased, stipends had doubled and pensions had increased. All of those improvements had directly affected the situation of women, who comprised the majority of the Russian population. The Government was also continuing to prepare and implement a series of measures to guarantee gender equality, and work had begun on a national plan of action for the years 2001 to 2003, which would highlight, among other things, reproductive health, and the prevention of violence against women. She was confident that her country could enter the twenty-first century as long as stable progress and development continued.

VILLAQUIRAN DE ESPINOSA (Ecuador) said that there had been major progress in the rights of women and gender equality in her country, including legal advancements in the Constitution, as well as the laws. A State institutional system to ensure the promotion and advancement of women’s rights had also been consolidated in order to place this important issue on the public agenda.

Ecuador’s initiatives had also focused on maternal and reproductive rights, she continued. The Government had introduced measures concerning contraception, pre- and post-natal care, and had, most importantly, enlisted the participation of women in those programmes. Ecuador now stressed greater access of women to all levels of education and the labour market.

Finally, she said that there was a need to have a global vision that included gender equality at all levels, including macroeconomic polices and ethnic diversity. The civil rights of women could only be consolidated through the cooperation of governments, civil society and international organizations and agencies.

CAROL BELLAMY, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said there must be an honest appraisal of the slow pace of implementation of the Beijing outcome. Since the Beijing Conference, some gains had been made for women and girls, but the reality was that millions of women still lived in poverty; 600,000 women still died annually during pregnancy; 600 million could not read or write; and of the 100 million children out of school, two thirds were girls. Women and girls were the most affected in situations of armed conflict and by the HIV/AIDS catastrophe, and many of them were victims of violence and abuse. Millions of girls worked in their homes and in the homes of others or in factories and bars, and risked physical and sexual abuse by their employers.

She said that many girls were trafficked across borders, often for sexual exploitation. Alarming new statistics had shown that, globally, at least one in three women and girls worldwide had been beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime. A key element in the expansion of the HIV/AIDS pandemic was the fact that women and girls did not have power to successfully negotiate their protection in the face of male power. All of that must change, and the world had the framework for global action. Human rights instruments and international agreements had provided the vision and inspiration for action. The missing ingredient was political commitment on a global scale -- and resources and actions to match.

The UNICEF had identified three priority areas for implementation of the Beijing Action Platform: girls' education; the health of girls and women, including adolescents; and children's and women's human rights. Among the key lessons learned was the understanding that no real change would take place unless there was a commitment at the highest level to the realization of equal rights for women and girls and that human rights was the only effective framework for ensuring the full contribution of women to development efforts. Also, expansion of girls' education was the key to fulfilling the rights of girls and women. Of increasing importance were strong partnerships among governments, civil society and United Nations agencies.

KAREN MASON, Director, Gender and Development, for the World Bank, said that the Bank strongly endorsed the Beijing Plan for Action because the dual goals of empowering women and striving for gender equality made practical sense by ensuring women’s human rights, promoting development effectiveness and improving the quality of life for all people.

“The issue of improving the quality of life for all people lies at the heart of the World Bank’s mission to reduce poverty”, she said. Since the Fourth World Conference on Women, evidence had been mounting which proved that gender equality helped to reduce poverty and increase economic growth. In some sub-Saharan countries, for example, giving female farmers the same access to land, seeds and fertilizer that male farmers enjoyed could increase total agricultural outputs by as much as one fifth.

She went on to say that promoting gender equality also increased the effectiveness of development assistance. When assistance projects were designed with both men and women in mind, those projects were usually more effective in meeting their development goals. “Even more important”, she said, “when women are given an equal voice in determining development actions, women are empowered by the very process of participation.”

Finally, she said that a forthcoming World Bank report on gender and development would highlight the notion that gender asymmetries in power and resources could most likely be reduced through a multi-pronged approach that operated at a policy level within the framework of poverty and economic growth. Countries that had simultaneously adopted policies to improve women’s rights and access to resources, while striving to reduce poverty and promote growth with equity, had experienced the greatest reduction in gender disparities.

PATRICE ROBINEAU, Senior Adviser to the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), Coordinator of the United Nations five regional commissions for 1999-2000, said that it was important to highlight that all five commissions had strongly reaffirmed their willingness to comply with the principles, objectives and commitments of the Beijing Platform.

She said that the main function of the commissions was to provide a regional perspective to key issues addressed by the United Nations system at a global level. Each of the commissions had convened meetings to focus on issues corresponding to their specific characteristics, and those meetings had clearly shown that the commissions were in a unique position to provide a region-wide forum for assessing the situation of gender equality. It was important to note that all the regional conferences allowed for the wide participation of NGO representatives, which resulted in their substantial contribution to the debate and outcome.

These regional meetings also produced some shared common issues in the area of gender equality, she said. While all regions had shown an increased participation of women in the labour market, increased access to education, and the development of legislation against gender-based discrimination and violence, there were some causes for concern. Foremost among those was the fact that there was very slow progress in access to leadership and decision-making in the political, economic, social and judicial spheres.

She said that all five regional commissions had expressed their willingness to support Member States in their efforts to accelerate the pace of the implementation of the Platform for Action. To that end, she said that gender mainstreaming was an indispensable process that needed to be reinforced by governments and by the regional commissions themselves.

MARY REINER BARNES, observer for the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said that since its inception over 900 years ago, the Order had served others, including service to and by women. While its projects, such as those for the disabled and elderly, were inclusive of all persons regardless of nationality or opinion, others specifically targeted women and girls. For example, the Order sponsored the Maternity Hospital of the Holy Family in Bethlehem, which played a vital role in the community by guaranteeing normal obstetrical treatment.

The Order recognized and supported the role of women in the development of society and the social significance of maternity, thereby clearly echoing mandates set forth in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of

Discrimination against Women, she said. Besides serving girls and women, the Order had included women since its inception. In fact, some of the Order’s auxiliary services provided for young girls to participate, thereby installing a sense of social responsibility right from childhood.

She added that the Order had long provided ways in which to serve the particular issues concerning women. Being politically neutral, ever striving to promote peace in the world, and being a supranational entity having full diplomatic relations with over 80 countries, the Order was uniquely situated to comprehensively serve the needs of women and girls.

SISSEL EKAAS, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), said that the FAO addressed areas of critical concern through its Plan of Action for Women in Development. The Plan covered three biennia -- 1996-2001. The key objective of the Plan was to stimulate growth with equity, while reducing rural poverty and achieving food security through the provision of adequate and equitable access to productive resources and essential supporting services to both rural women and men. The concept of gender mainstreaming referred to activities to improve the FAO's capacity to address issues of gender within its mandate and technical areas of expertise, including gender-awareness training, the creation or strengthening of "core groups" on gender and collaborative activities with other international organizations working on gender.

An important element in mainstreaming efforts within the FAO had been the establishment of the Committee on Women in Development, she said. That Committee provided policy guidance and facilitated coordination and decision- making on normative and operational matters relating to women in development. Despite the fact that women were the world's principal food producers and providers, they remained invisible partners in development. A lack of available sex-disaggregated data meant that women's contribution to agriculture in particular was poorly understood. As a part of its efforts to ensure food security and gender equality, the FAO was involved in the Special Programme for Food Security, launched in 1994, and targeted at low-income food-deficit countries that were home to the vast majority of the world's chronically under-nourished people.

The FAO recognized that empowerment of women was key to raising levels of nutrition, improving the production and distribution of food and agricultural products and enhancing the living conditions of rural populations, she said. Population and gender issues were fundamentally linked to environmental sustainability and food security. An understanding of these issues was a key to sustainable development. Environment was a key area for rural women since natural resources were the main capital base for rural women's activities. Despite a substantial global increase in food supplies, there was a considerable lack of food security in several regions, and constraints to access to food included gender and population related issues. The issue of improving the well- being of rural populations was a daunting challenge and necessitated the close collaboration of many different actors.

Ms. PURCELL, International Federation of University Women, said that in 1995 girls had won their place on the Beijing agenda, and the Platform for Action had made a significant pledge to eliminate all forms of discrimination against the girl child. At the five-year review, it must be recognized that many governments had made far too little progress in turning their promises into reality as confirmed by the absence of plans for girls in many National Plans of Action. It must be remembered that girls were not yet women. They were children with special rights and needs. Girls were not only doubly impacted by age and gender bias, but also doubly disadvantaged by the negative interplay of discrimination and poverty.

Despite laws and growing world awareness, violence and exploitation of girls were still rampant, she said. Among the most damning aspect of violence against girls was that in too many places it was still denied or accepted as normal behaviour. In situations of armed conflict, girls were frequently deliberate military targets of systematic rape, abduction and murder. Research had confirmed that girls were infected with AIDS at a higher rate than women, and women at a higher rate than men. Girls lived not only with the devastating health impact of AIDS, but also with the stigma, isolation, and rejection of their families and communities.

To address the needs of the girls, governments should exercise the political will to commit the resources needed to fulfil the promises made to them in Beijing. They should also provide full access to all levels of quality education from early childhood through 18 years of age. Programmes and policies affecting girls should be designed around the principle of their full participation. The caucus called on all governments to increase their outreach to NGOs and to make every effort to raise awareness among all sectors of society about the harmful impact of negative attitudes and practices against girls. Governments should routinely gather data by age and gender and they should also rely on data from various NGOs.

Ms. EVANS, NGO Caucus on Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women, said that the three strategic objectives of Section H of the Beijing Platform for Action were to create and strengthen national machineries and other governmental bodies for gender equality; integrate gender perspectives in legislation, public policies, programmes and projects; and generate and disseminate gender-disaggregated data and information for planning and evaluation. The NGO alternative reports drew attention to the extreme vulnerability of existing institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women. That was particularly true when there was a lack of political will to ensure that they were really embedded in government structures and when a change of government could see the collapse of such institutional mechanisms.

Existing mechanisms needed to be strengthened, she said. First, bench marking that ensured that the gender perspective was mainstreamed into all legislation, public policy and programmatic initiatives was recommended. Second, definite and clear time-bound targets for effective implementation of Section H of the Beijing Platform for Action must be put in place. Third, all statistics must be dissagregated to reflect gender concerns. Also, national

machineries for the advancement of women must be placed at the highest possible level within government structures and should not be marginalized.

Further, government-wide mainstreaming of a gender equality perspective should be ensured in all policy areas, she continued. Among the other recommendations were that public ownership of gender initiatives should be broadened to include men as partners in promoting the advancement of women, and that national mechanisms should be strengthened and supported through an adequate allocation of financial and human resources.

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For information media. Not an official record.