COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN CONTINUES DISCUSSION ON FOLLOW-UP TO 1995 WORLD CONFERENCE

29 February 2000
WOM/1179

COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN CONTINUES DISCUSSION ON FOLLOW-UP TO 1995 WORLD CONFERENCE

29 February 2000

Press ReleaseWOM/1179

COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN CONTINUES DISCUSSION ON FOLLOW-UP TO 1995 WORLD CONFERENCE

20000229

Women and girls still comprised the majority of the world's 1.3 billion absolute poor, while women's participation in government jobs that would enable them to shape relevant policies had continued to hover at around 13 per cent globally, Noleen Heyzer, the Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) told the Commission on the Status of Women this morning as it heard from United Nations Member States and representatives of non-governmental organizations.

Speaking at the Commission's continued discussion of implementation of the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, she noted that the globalization process had not served as an agent of progress for many women, but rather as a force which deepened existing inequalities in the distribution of opportunities and resources. Thus, there was a pressing need to assist countries in developing new frameworks that transformed globalization into a "pro-poor and pro-women" process that was more socially accountable.

The representative of South Africa said that while globalization held the potential of increasing prosperity, it had presented major challenges to the developing world. Existing economic inequalities between nations had prevented that potential from reaching poor women. The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania agreed that the challenges of globalization, namely trade imbalances and capital flight, had meant that women had to work harder for less.

Several other representatives highlighted the gains made by their governments to promote women's empowerment, but drew attention to the crippling effect of poverty on their advancement. The representative of Kenya said that the eradication of poverty had been a major challenge in implementing the Platform of Action. Women had been the most affected due to deeply rooted disparities that undermined efforts to achieve reasonable standards of living. Low participation in power and decision- making had compounded the problem.

The trauma and loss experienced by the Rwandese people emerging from genocide at the time of the Beijing Conference had not prevented the women of Rwanda from joining the rest of the world in pledging their commitment to the implementation of the Action Platform, that country's representative said. Effective national machinery had enabled Rwandan women to embark on a process of political empowerment, aimed at preparing them to participate in decision-making posts.

Commission on Status of Women - 1a - Press Release WOM/1179 3rd Meeting (AM) 29 February 2000

Also today, during a dialogue with members of the NGO community, the Commission heard a declaration by African women at the Sixth African Regional Conference on Women. It noted that, despite the efforts of civil societies, governments and other actors, the situation of women had continued to deteriorate in all sectors of development.

Also today, the Chairperson announced that Vice-Chairperson Misako Kaji (Japan) would serve as the Commission’s Rapporteur, and that Martha Franken (Belgium) would serve on the working group on communications.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Spain, Ghana, Croatia, Yemen, Namibia, Israel, Greece and the Dominican Republic.

Representatives of the following non-governmental organizations also spoke: Latin American and Caribbean Regional Caucus; Asia-Pacific Women’s Watch; Arab Regional Caucus; NGO Economic Commission for Europe and North America; Mental Health Caucus; and the Worldwide Organization for Women, on behalf of the Older Women's Caucus.

The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again at 3 p.m. today to conclude its general discussion.

Commission on Status of Women - 2 - Press Release WOM/1179 3rd Meeting (AM) 29 February 2000

Commission Work Programme

The Commission on the Status of Women met this morning to continue its two-day comprehensive review and appraisal of the implementation of the outcome of the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing. It was also expected to hold a dialogue with non-governmental organizations. From 3 to 17 March, the Commission will meet as the final preparatory committee for the high-level review of the General Assembly in June on gender equality, development and peace for women in the twenty-first century. (For background on reports before the Commission, see Press Release WOM/1176 of 24 February.)

Statements

NOLEEN HEYZER, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), said the Beijing Platform for Action was a cornerstone of UNIFEM's work in supporting women's economic and political empowerment and gender equality. The progress made by the global community in transforming those agreements into realities for millions of women and girls worldwide was the test and measure of the effectiveness and commitment to social and economic justice. As one benchmark, within the United Nations Resident Coordinator system, there were now at least 58 countries in which inter-agency thematic groups on gender had become operational.

She said that while the advances were noteworthy, there were still more women worldwide of reproductive age who died from domestic violence than of cancer. Also, women and girls continued to comprise the majority of the world's 1.3 billion absolute poor, and women's participation in government continued to hover at around 13 per cent globally. The world had been shaped by three major phenomena -- economic globalization, fragmentation and problems without borders -- each having major consequences for women's lives. Those issues were directly relevant to discussions on how to achieve gender equality.

Economic globalization had resulted in a restructuring of rights and relationships between the monetized and non-monetized sectors of the economy, she said. Many women had experienced globalization not as an agent of progress but as a force creating or deepening existing inequalities in the distribution of opportunities and resources. There was a pressing need to assist countries in developing new frameworks that transformed globalization into "pro-poor and pro- women" -- a process that was more socially accountable. Also worthy of exploration was a process connecting women and markets globally through the democratization of information and communication technologies.

Fragmentation had been a parallel process to globalization, she said, dividing people along the lines of ethnicity, language and religion. There were more intra- State conflicts than at any other time in human history, and the social fabric in many countries had been disintegrating, thus leading to increasing violence against women and girls. Indeed, the use of gender-based violence, including rape and forced pregnancy, had been an increasingly "horrifying feature" of ethnic conflicts. Women had a critical role to play in rebuilding institutions and capacities and in bringing to bear international agreements upon the operation of economic and political systems.

She said that the globalization of criminal networks, the trafficking in women and children, drug trafficking and the arms trade had risen as problems without borders. The spread of HIV/AIDS had decimated entire communities and taken their productive members, leaving behind AIDS orphans in the care of the very old. Concerning the question of accountability, none of the documents of the world conferences, including Beijing, had contained sufficient targets and benchmarks to provide guidance and impetus for greater accountability. A path had been selected, but the creation of the road signs and maps defining the journey had been neglected. Targets must be established that were explicitly linked to the promotion and protection of women's rights, and strategies must be incorporated to sustain gains.

MADINA BL. JARBUSSYNOVA (Kazakhstan) said her Government's programme had identified health, education and the well-being of citizens among its priorities. In accordance with its long-term strategies, effective measures were being developed to increase women's integration in the social and political life of the country and to expand their representation in leadership posts. Her Government had been fully committed to the follow-up process and had prepared a comprehensive report on the implementation of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women, which had been submitted to the Division for the Advancement of Women.

Nevertheless, she said, the situation of women had remained extremely complicated in Kazakhstan: globalization and the transition to a market economy had negatively affected the most vulnerable groups; maternal health had not shown signs of improvement; and the maternal mortality rate had been growing steadily, especially in areas with dislocated economies. The situation was especially acute in the severely degraded areas of the former nuclear test site of Semipalatinsk and the Aral Sea, where an increased number of women were suffering from anemia, as well as respiratory and diarrhoeal infections. Such problems should be reflected in the special session's outcome.

LALA IBRAHIMOVA (Azerbaijan) said that while some developing countries had introduced institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women in their efforts towards implementing the tenets of the Beijing Platform for Action, women’s rights in Azerbaijan were a contradictory and complicated issue determined by historical, social and cultural factors that formed specific attitudes towards gender relations. There had been, however, an increased interest in women’s issues following the Fourth World Conference on Women. For example, her Government’s first Constitution provided citizens with equal rights, irrespective of sex, language or religion.

Following the Conference, the Government had also begun to consider legislation that addressed the issue of women’s rights. It was also no accident, she said, that in 1995 her Government had signed and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

In spite of those democratic changes and advancements, she said there were still many problems to be addressed, particularly in the economic sphere. Transitional difficulties, inflation and unemployment had all resulted in poverty within her country. Women in those situations had turned out to be the most vulnerable part of the population.

About 20 per cent of Azerbaijan’s territory was occupied, and the majority of the refugees were women and children, she said. The occupation of lands was accompanied by forcing civilians from their homes, hostage taking and massive violations of civil rights.

Azerbaijan also faced a major problem in protecting the rights of the girl child, she said. Girls represented a large part of the population and continued to suffer from a lack of educational opportunities, jobs and access to health benefits. The HIV/AIDS epidemic was also a major problem among girl children. Issues related to gender equality affected all levels of society. “We must work together with the international community, for full realization of the goals of the Beijing Platform for Action”, she said.

JARMILA M. DE CERRUTO (Bolivia) said that her country was among the many that had ratified treaties pertaining to the important issue of women’s rights and gender equality. Her Government was particularly pleased to have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The Government had also enacted a decree of equality between men and women and had begun to shape the countries’ educational policies to respect gender and cultural differences. This practice had specifically led to reduced illiteracy among women by ensuring that more rural girls were enrolled in school.

Bolivia had also made advancements in the area of interfamily and inter- gender violence, she said. There were now laws involving the justice system and social agencies to address this issue. Many cities had “family protection brigades” that worked with legal service teams to decimate information and provide assistance to women and children who were victims of violence. She hoped that these services would be extended throughout the country. Current laws against sexual violence also played a positive role to ensure the safety of women. “We don’t want violence to be added to the humiliation of discrimination”, she said.

On the subject of women’s health in Bolivia, she said that a gender perspective had been incorporated into all political and social discussions. Most importantly, violence against women was also now considered a public health issue. Insurance policies also now promoted responsible sexual practices.

Women accounted for more than two thirds of the world’s poor and hungry, she said. “While we are better off today than we were yesterday, the struggle has not ended.”

PILAR DAVILA DEL CERRO (Spain) highlighted several of the advancements made by women in her country since the Fourth Conference. She said that the number of women in the job market had increased and that unemployment had dropped. Many jobs had been created for women and, most importantly, women now headed several major corporations.

On the issue of advancement in the area of violence against women, she said that an action plan against domestic violence, with an operating budget of over $70 million, had been created to ensure that issue was addressed and integrated into all levels of society. There was some evidence that the action plan had been successful, as complaints by women were now being reported more frequently. Also in this regard, social resources such as halfway houses and 24-hour emergency centres had been established to ensure women’s safety.

While these policies and advances were certainly positive, she said that the international community must continue to work with the cooperation of all social agents to ensure the safety of all women. It was important for the international community to cooperate with governments and for civil society to enforce the tenets of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

CHARLOTTE C. ABAKA (Ghana) said that the empowerment of women was an integral part of the development of her country and had been one of Ghana’s main objectives. The implementation of educational reforms had enhanced the education of girls at all levels, especially in the sciences, mathematics and technology, thanks to grants offered to girls both by the Government and NGOs. Considerable progress had also been made on health issues. Free medical care was available for pregnant women, children under five and the elderly. Maternal child and infant mortality rates had been reduced. Despite progress in the health field, however, HIV/AIDS was spreading at a fast rate and women were more vulnerable to contracting the disease.

Specific credit schemes had also been instituted for the economic empowerment of women, she said. National poverty reduction schemes targeted rural and urban poor women. Ghana had also established legal measures to safeguard the human rights of women and the girl child. Female genital mutilation and ritual servitude had been outlawed. Penalties for rape and defilement had been raised and the minimum age for marriage had been fixed at 18 years of age for both girls and boys. The special session on “Beijing + 5” should consider fixing a target for the further reduction of infant and maternal mortality rates within a specific time-frame.

ANGELINA MUGANZA (Rwanda) said that five years ago when nations had gathered in Beijing to review the status of women and map out new strategies, Rwanda had been emerging from genocide. Despite that trauma, the people and women of Rwanda had joined the rest of the world in pledging their commitment to the Beijing outcome. Women now comprised 54 per cent of the population. Most of them were illiterate, but they were the heads of some 37 per cent of all Rwandese households. Of the 70 per cent of the population living below the poverty line, the majority were women.

She said her Government had pledged itself to gender equality and the advancement of women, despite the socio-economic and other challenges resulting from the genocide. That commitment had created an enabling environment for implementation of the Beijing outcome. Among the achievements had been the creation of a national machinery for the advancement of women. In addition, the establishment of gender focal points within many institutions had broken down the resistance to calls for gender equality and women’s advancement.

The women of Rwanda, facilitated by the national machinery, had embarked on a process of political empowerment, she said. Women’s councils had been elected from the village to the provincial levels. In due course, women would be elected as council representatives at the national level. In the ongoing process of democratization, the Government had adopted a 30 per cent affirmative action initiative for women’s representation in local administration.

One of the greatest challenges facing Rwanda following the 1994 genocide had been resolving the problem of bringing to justice the thousands of suspects, she said. Women had played a vital role in the justice system. As challenges that still needed to be faced, she cited the issues of poverty, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, violence against women and girls, armed conflicts in the Great Lakes region and overcoming the heavy foreign-debt burden.

MARINA MUSULIN (Croatia) said that transformation periods should have enabled women's issues to become the focus of policy makers in their quest for development, but the Secretary-General's report had shown that, in many countries, the opposite had occurred. Indeed, the political, social and economic change of the last decade had created obstacles to governments' ability to bring about positive change in the status of women. For that reason, political commitments must be reaffirmed. Awareness-raising and placing women's issues high on the global agenda had been a direct result of the Beijing Conference, yet all positive developments demanded a strong political commitment for pursuing the goal of women's empowerment.

She said her Government had been firmly committed to pursuing the full implementation of the Beijing Platform. To that end, it had established a commission for equality issues in 1996, as a direct result of the events in Beijing. It had also adopted a national policy to promote equality and overturn the prevailing view that de jure equality equaled de facto equality. In each of the 12 critical areas identified at Beijing as requiring immediate action, her Government had established goals and measures, with particular attention directed at improving women's economic and political roles.

CHRISTINE KAPALATA (United Republic of Tanzania) said that following the Beijing Conference, her Government, in collaboration with key stakeholders, had prepared a sub-programme on women and gender advancement. The sub-programme served as a guideline to the government, NGOs, civil society and donor communities in advancing gender and women’s issues in her country. In efforts to enhance women’s legal capacity, the Government had taken measures to review laws which were oppressive to women and to enact new ones which would promote and protect women’s human rights. It had also carried out legal literacy programmes and mass campaigns to educate women and men on their human rights.

More than 60 per cent of women in the United Republic of Tanzania lived in absolute poverty, she said. The Government had committed itself to improving women’s economic capacity through advocacy and sensitization, making credit facilities available to the majority of women, developing their entrepreneurial skills, as well as facilitating women’s participation in domestic and international trade fairs. Traditionally, women had not been fully involved in decision-making at various levels of society. The Government was determined to ensure that at least 30 per cent of all appointees in political and public service were women by 2005.

Education was the key to liberation and socio-economic development, she said. In that connection, her Government had committed itself to increasing women and girl’s participation in education, training and employment. Despite efforts to address critical areas of concern, many obstacles had impeded success, including financial constraints, the negative effects of globalization and deep-rooted patriarchal social systems. The challenges brought on by globalization, namely trade imbalances and capital flight, compounded by a lack of information and communications technology, had meant that women had to work harder for less income. Discriminatory cultural and traditional practices had also negatively impacted on development policies, planning practices and legislation.

AISHA ABDUL AZIZ (Yemen) said that progress in the areas of critical interest, namely poverty and the scale of achievements, had met with difficulties in his country. Poverty had increased in Yemen for numerous reasons, including the Gulf crisis and the return of millions of expatriates, as well as the drop in external assistance. In addition, the rate of unemployment had been growing, particularly in rural areas. The illiteracy rate had also grown, and the face of poverty had been "feminized". Moreover, the experience necessary for securing employment was lacking, particularly in rural areas.

He said his Government had enacted financial measures with the establishment in 1995 of an economic and financial reform programme aimed at eradicating the imbalances present in the Government's structure. It had likewise endeavoured to set, as an objective, the realization of gender equality across the board in all areas and had established the programmes and projects to do so. It had also set up a national programme in 1998 to mitigate the scale of poverty, and agreements in such areas as health, training and productive work for women had been concluded. A social security network to accompany the economic reform programme had also been established, with a safety net comprised of a complete system of funds and direct support progammes aimed at broadening the production base.

Under that umbrella, a social protection fund had been set up, and the number of beneficiaries had exceeded 1 million families, he said. A social development fund had been set up in 1997 to improve the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable groups by providing them with basic services. Employment opportunities had also been created, and small projects had been set up to provide employment opportunities in the private sector to mitigate poverty and create the development of small industries. Legislation had also ensured equality and non-discrimination. For example, the labour law adopted in 1995 had emphasized complete gender equality by requiring the same remuneration and career opportunities for both women and men.

GERALDINE FRASER-MOLEKETI (South Africa) said that South Africa was entering into what could be referred to as a gender and development decade where the focus was changing the balance of power between men and women and integrating gender into all programmes. The key objective of this post Beijing era would be to ensure women’s rights and equitable access to the world’s resources. In that regard, South Africa had undertaken an extensive process of developing an enabling environment through the promulgation of new legislation and adoption of new policies.

She said that the accomplishments made by South Africa could be categorized into those that related to legislative reform and those specific to programme interventions. Foremost among her countries legislative reforms was the adoption of a new democratic Constitution that espoused non-racism and non-sexism. There had also been legislative reforms enacted to address her country’s national priority -– poverty alleviation.

She said the HIV/AIDS epidemic had placed a heavy burden on women, who were not only disproportionately infected, but were also the primary caretakers for family members and children infected with the virus. She said that political leaders at the highest level had committed themselves to address this epidemic in a holistic manner in partnership with all sectors of society.

She concluded by noting that while globalization had the potential to increase prosperity in all countries, it presented major challenges for the developing world. Existing inequalities between nations had made it difficult for this potential for prosperity to reach poor women. “The challenge, therefore, is to bridge this gap”, she said.

FRB OERI (Kenya) said that the eradication of poverty had been a major challenge in implementing the Platform for Action. Women had been the most affected due to social-cultural, economic and legal disparities, which undermined efforts to achieve reasonable standards of living. In the health sector, gains that had been made in reducing maternal and child mortality rates were now threatened by HIV/AIDS. The major impediments to women’s effective participation in Kenya’s economic development had been lack of access and control of economic (productive) resources, inadequate access to credit facilities and low levels of education and entrepreneurial skills. Environmental problems had greater impact on women’s lives due to their dependence on the environment for basic necessities such as water, firewood and food.

Violence against women violated their fundamental human rights, she said. One of the key measures to address violence was the formulation of domestic violence legislation that was being finalized for consideration by Kenya’s Parliament. Inadequate participation of women in power and decision-making still remained a challenge. There had been a considerable increase in the number of women employed by the media. Her Government was reviewing all laws relating to the media with a view to enhancing gender parity in that field.

NETUMBO NANDI-NDAITWAH (Namibia) said that her country had committed itself to the full implementation of the Beijing Platform and had paid special attention to the areas of poverty eradication, education, violence against women and the girl child, health, and power and decision-making.

Highlighting some of Namibia’s advances, she said that in the area of poverty eradication, a Communal Land Bill had been passed by the National Assembly earlier in the month. The Bill would go a long way to ensure that women had access and control over land even after the death of their spouses. She also said that in May, Namibia would host the first-ever Southern African Development Community (SADC) Women in Business Trade Fair and Investment Forum. The purpose of that Forum would be to find ways to ensure the economic empowerment of women in the region.

On the issue of the girl child, she said that Namibia strongly believed that unless the idea of gender equality was instilled in children, equal opportunity between men and women would remain a dream. Her country, therefore, continued to make use of families and schools as training institutions for children to learn as they grew that boys and girls were equal partners in all aspect of life.

She said that although five years was not enough time to conceptualize, plan and implement all the aspects of the Beijing Platform, Namibia would continue to support the Commission’s efforts in that important cause.

BRENDA KATTEN (Israel) said that the issue was not merely one of equity in politics or public service. The promotion of the status of women was essentially bound to their role in the political process. Only inasmuch as women could be empowered could their status be elevated. Data from various nations indicated that women’s participation in the political arena had increased, if slightly. Yet there was still much ground to be gained. That was especially true higher up on the decision-making ladder. The question was, what had been learned from the progress already made and how could it be utilized? One of the lessons learned was that the ultimate source of women’s empowerment lay at the grass-roots level, whether through NGOs and grass-roots movements or through programmes that prepare women to cross the bridge to political life.

Politics began at the municipal level and that was where women’s organizations could accomplish most, she said. The goal of women worldwide, however, must remain committed to the principle that women should be as high on the decision-making scale as men. To exclude women from the most important decisions of national and foreign policy was to deprive them of their right to shape their own destiny, and to deprive history of the contributions of women. Training women in the political field was important. One way to increase political involvement was to make the most of the inroads that had already been made. Women who had entered Parliament should enact legislation that would open more doors for women nationwide. It was also true that women need to promote women -- women must vote for women.

Dialogue Segment

PAM RAJPUT, Asia Pacific Women’s Watch, said that she would conspicuously avoid using the term “grass roots” to describe her organization’s call for equality on behalf of the women in the region and around the world. While it was acknowledged that some gains had been made since Beijing, particularly a growing acceptance and commitment towards addressing women’s needs, most governments still persisted in reporting perceptions and not facts.

There were other challenges to women’s rights posed by new trends, which perpetuated injustice, threatened world peace and impeded women’s empowerment. Those challenges included the negative impact of globalization, the Asian financial crisis, the intensification of armed conflict and the lack of political will to empower women beyond policy statements and legislation.

She said that the Asia Pacific region had seen an increase in the number of women living in poverty. This was largely caused by the impact of the international influences of globalization and the policies and practices of bodies such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank and the Bretton Woods institutions. For many women, she said, those policies and practices had resulted in unemployment, loss of wages and the shift in labour from the formal to the informal sector.

She said that as countries reeled under debt, there were cuts to the social sector. “Safety nets are lip services”, she said. There was reduced access to affordable quality health care as well as increased struggle for means of livelihood. Food security standards were also endangered. It was also important to take note of violence, trafficking, the escalating commodification of women and children and the violation of their human rights.

Finally, she called upon the world governments, the United Nations, international agencies and civil society to have the courage and commitment to translate the high hopes of the Beijing Platform into concrete actions. That commitment would help the world move from conflict, inequality and injustice towards mutual respect, equality and justice.

LIJDIA ALPIZAR, Latin American and Caribbean Regional Caucus, said her group had not been satisfied with the implementation of the Beijing Platform. Although it had embodied proposals to address the debt societies had with women, gender equality policies had required commitments and resources at the highest political levels. What had been evident, however, had been vocalization and a scarce allocation of resources. While such fragmented efforts had been important, they had demonstrated the lack of political will to establish a strategy to eliminate the inequalities affecting the lives of women and girls.

She said her organization demanded that governments establish a dialogue with civil society and find new democratic methods ensuring the establishment of gender equality and the elimination of inequality. It was also essential to address the question of income disparities and the lack of women's access to information, knowledge and education. Those priorities would ensure women's participation in decision-making and democracy. Poverty had reached intolerable limits. Reversing that unjust situation, which had particularly afflicted women, should be the primary goal of governments.

Policies of exclusion, with their roots in racism, must also be addressed, she said. In particular, governments should attempt to redress the flagrant violations of the rights of indigenous peoples. Numerous women in her region had continued to suffer mutilations and death from unsafe abortions. In short, their human rights continued to be violated as they suffered rape and humiliation both in armed conflicts and in the intimate sphere. It was the responsibility of governments to ensure the defence of those rights, above and beyond all other commitments.

ELAINE WATSON, speaking on behalf of the Global Alliance for Women’s Health and the NGO Health Committee, read from a declaration from African women who had attended the Sixth African Regional Conference on Women in November. That declaration noted that in spite of efforts made by civil societies, governments and other actors, the situation of women had continued to deteriorate in all sectors of development. The participants had been disappointed by the lack of political will shown on the part of some African States towards commitments made in the global and African Platform of Action. They had also been shocked at the rising manifestations of all forms of violence against women.

She said that the participants at the Conference demanded, among other things, that all governments demonstrate their integrity by showing compliance with regional and international commitments and standards through the coordination of national laws and constitutions. They also demanded that governments institute measures to outlaw and eliminate all forms of violence against women by 2004. She called on all governments and development partners to reinforce their commitments and collaborations with local, national and regional African women’s NGOs in order to promote a transformatory development agenda for Africa.

Statements

ANTIGONI KARALI-DIMITRIADI (Greece) said her country had made outstanding progress in its efforts to ensure equal rights for women. She briefly highlighted advances in the areas of violence against women, women and poverty, women and the economy and women in power and decision-making.

Her country was proud to announce the launch of a six-month, nation-wide media campaign entitled: “Break the Silence: Violence against Women Is a Crime”. This campaign, which used posters, television and radio advertising and talk show programmes, had spread the message that violence against women was an issue that should be addressed at all levels of society.

She went on to say that Greece was currently considering the introduction of legislation that would provide a 30 per cent quota for the participation of women in all public, State and government agency boards at the highest levels. Women’s active participation in society could only help the world be a better and less dangerous place. Her country would continue to support the successful review of the Beijing Platform’s implementation.

HODA BADRAN, Arab Region Caucus and Alliance for Arab Women, said some significant steps had been undertaken since the Beijing Conference. While Arab NGOs had played an important role in influencing positive changes in the status of women and in monitoring implementation of the Platform in the Arab countries, gains in the critical areas of concern had been uneven and several challenges and gaps had remained.

For example, she said, the quality of reproductive health services in many Arab countries still needed improvement, especially in rural nomadic areas or in areas of conflict or economic sanctions. A significant number of all family heads of households in the Arab region had been living in poverty, and although women's participation in the labour market had increased, the rate was still very low.

She said that Arab countries had been exposed to several wars and conflicts that had threatened the progress of the region in general, and the development of women in particular. Regionally, a significant portion of the wealth had benefited arms manufacturers instead of women. Only a just and sustainable peace would reduce the suffering. For decades, Palestinian women had suffered from occupation and displacement, Lebanese women had suffered from continued invasions in the south and Syrian women had endured occupation. The Iraqi, Sudanese and Libyan women had been plagued by economic sanctions and embargoes.

RENATE BLOEM, President, NGO Committee on the Status of Women, Geneva, speaking on behalf of the NGO Economic Commission for Europe and North America, reflected on the outcome of the working session of the recent Economic Commission Preparatory meeting in Geneva. She said that the meeting had facilitated a meaningful dialogue on critical issues in the area of women’s rights. For many participants, particularly counties in transition, the Working Session provided a chance to talk to their governments and address issues that were often still taboo in their own countries.

Some of the key recommendations from the caucuses at the working session were to recognize the importance of a gender perspective in the development of macro- economies, to address all forms of violence against women and girls in the private and public sphere by State and non-State actors as basic violations of human rights principles and to adopt measures that facilitate women’s equal participation in decision-making in all walks of life.

She said that there was one common line which ran through all those themes and recommendations which the upcoming preparatory committee should make a priority in order to make the Beijing Platform meaningful. That thread needed commitments first from governments, which should strive toward a real political will to move the agenda forward, coupled with the allocation of necessary resources. And from all society, there must be a change of attitude that accepted women, men and boys and girls, as persons of equal value.

Ms. NICASIO (Dominican Republic) said her country had used the Platform to define public policies aimed at achieving gender equality. Her Government had assigned priority to the following areas, among others: the empowerment of women through participation in the public sphere; the strengthening of mechanisms for their advancement; the modernization of the legal system; and the elimination of poverty through the integration of women in economic and social policies. Women living in extreme poverty had been targeted for assistance by the Government, and violence against them was another central concern. For the first time in the country's history, women were occupying high posts in Government, including that of

Secretary of State. Also, in an updated Supreme Court, five of 15 justices were women.

She said her country had gone through an important process of modernizing and revising its legal structures, with an emphasis on the problems of family violence, abandonment of the family and the trafficking of women and girls. Violence in the family was now perceived as a public health problem, and greater attention had been accorded to such gender-related issues by the mass media. Women themselves had played a vanguard role in monitoring gender mainstreaming in the last decade. A key element in deepening the implementation of the Beijing Platform had been the process of defining a national gender equality plan, which was an expression of the Government's will to carry out social, political and economic policies to enhance gender equality.

EUNADIE JOHNSON, Women’s Health in Women’s Hands and FAFIA, speaking on behalf of the Mental Health Caucus, said that the Beijing Platform had placed the critical area of women’s mental health on the global agenda by asserting that “women have the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”. To that end, mental health must be recognized as an “emerging issue” for women and girl children in order to address, among other issues, the growing awareness that imposed inferior social and economic status throughout the world was reflected in higher rates of depression and anxiety. Women’s subordinate roles in society also interfered with the development of healthy self-esteem and positive identity.

On the basis of the increased awareness of mental health as an emerging issue, she recommended that mental health be integrated as a priority issue in the implementation of the health objective of the Beijing Platform for Action. It was also recommended that discrimination against women and girls in mental and physical health care be eliminated, and that appropriate mental health care for women throughout the life cycle be developed.

CAROL UGOCHUKWU, World Organization for Women, Africa, speaking on behalf of the Older Women’s Caucus, said that older women and their social contributions remained invisible. Older women, in all their diversity, should be recognized as contributing members of and equal partners in society.

The issues of older women should be an agenda item included in all documents, resolutions, conventions and action plans, she said. She also stressed that since women now lived 5-10 years longer than their male counterparts, it was very important to increase consideration for the financial situation of older women.

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For information media. Not an official record.