17 March 2000


17 March 2000

Press Release



"It is painfully clear that we have not completed our work", Roselyn Ruth Asumwa Odera (Kenya), Chairperson of the Preparatory Committee for the upcoming special session of the General Assembly on women, said this afternoon as final preparations were suspended, pending further negotiations.

The Commission on the Status of Women, acting as the Preparatory Committee for the high-level plenary review entitled "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century", had been expected to conclude its third series of preparatory meetings. Instead, it decided, pending approval by the Economic and Social Council, to resume the third session for one day, on an exceptional basis, in order to complete work on one of its outcome documents.

In other action, the Committee adopted a draft political declaration, as orally revised, by which governments participating in the special session would reaffirm their commitment to the Beijing Platform for Action and the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women and pledge to ensure their full and accelerated implementation.

Also pending adoption by the Assembly, the Committee approved a draft provisional agenda which would have the special session review and appraise progress made in implementing the 12 critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action and identify further actions and initiatives for overcoming obstacles to its implementation.

It was also decided today, pending adoption by the Assembly, that the special session should be presided over by the President and Vice-Presidents of the fifty-fourth regular Assembly session. That decision also contains provisions for the composition of the Bureau and the establishment of an Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole.

Earlier this week, the Assembly, acting on the recommendation of the Preparatory Committee, decided to broaden the participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in its special session on women in June. It also urged relevant United Nations bodies to assist the participation of those lacking resources, in particular from developing countries and countries with economies in transition. It adopted a related decision of the Committee concerning arrangements for the accreditation of NGOs. The representative of Portugal, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the work of NGOs had been hindered during the session, as some representatives had tried to disrupt the Committee's work. Tolerance of ideas and freedom of expression were part of the United Nations, and defending the rights of NGOs should also be a part of what it did. Their freedom of action was imperative and their active participation must be assured at the forthcoming special session.

Speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the Nigerian representative said expectations had been very high. The Group was pleased about the adoption of the political declaration and the decision to expand the participation of representatives of NGOs. It would support all efforts to achieve good results in the process that had begun.

In closing remarks, the Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, Angela King, said that, while the preparatory session had been rewarding and productive, it had also been complex and often gruelling. There had been a positive outcome to the session with the adoption of the draft political declaration and the decision to expand the participation of NGOs, whose energetic pursuits had shown delegations where the grass roots of women's issues truly lay.

The Committee Chairperson, Ms. Odera (Kenya), said the Committee might not have achieved all that it had set out to, but it had attained some measure of success, under great time pressure. Moreover, everyone had been committed to producing a good outcome for the special session in June, when "it will all be worthwhile".

Closing remarks were also made by the representatives of Canada, Mexico, and the Russian Federation. The observer for the Holy See also spoke.

Action by Preparatory Committee

On 3 March, the Preparatory Committee approved two draft decisions, which it put forward to the General Assembly for adoption.

By the first, on arrangements for the participation of non-governmental organizations (document E/CN.6/2000/PC/L.3), the Assembly would decide to allow representatives from NGOs accredited to the special session to make statements in its Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole.

The Assembly would also decide that, given the availability of time, a limited number of NGOs in good standing in their consultative status with the Economic and Social Council may also make statements in the debate in the plenary of the special session. Non-governmental organizations would be requested to select spokespersons among themselves and provide the list to the Assembly President through the Secretariat.

It would further decide to request its President to present the list of selected NGOs to Member States in a timely manner for approval and to ensure that such selections were made on an equal and transparent basis, taking into account the geographical representation and diversity of NGOs. It would decide that such arrangements would in no way create a precedent for other special sessions of the Assembly.

The preparatory committee approved a second draft decision on the accreditation of NGOs (document E/CN.6/2000/PC/L.4*). By its terms, the Assembly would decide to reconsider the question of accreditation of NGOs to the special session, and decide that those interested NGOs that are neither in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council, nor accredited to the Fourth World Conference on Women and its preparatory process, may participate in the special session.

The Assembly would urge, in recognition of the importance of equitable geographical participation of NGOs in the special session, relevant United Nations bodies to assist those NGOs which do not have resources, in particular NGOs from developing countries and countries with economies in transition, in participating in the special session.

It would further decide that these NGOs should submit their application for accreditation to a committee composed of the Bureau of the Preparatory Committee and the Secretariat by 5 April, and the application should contain such information as the purpose of the organization, confirmation of its activities at the national, regional or international levels, and a list of members of the governing body of the organization and their countries of nationality.

In a related provision, the Assembly would decide that the Bureau of the Preparatory Committee should submit, by 10 April, to its members a list of the applicant NGOs for their approval. Members of the Preparatory Committee would have until 10 May to decide on a no-objection basis regarding accreditation of those NGOs.

It would also decide that those NGOs whose applications for consultative status with the Economic and Social Council had been rejected or whose consultative status with the Council had been withdrawn or suspended would not be accredited to the special session.

The Secretary-General would be requested to widely disseminate to the community of NGOs all available information on accreditation procedures, as well as information on supportive measures for participation in the special session. Such arrangements would in no way create a precedent for other special sessions of the Assembly.

Highlights of 44th Session of Commission on Status of Women and Commission Acting as Preparatory Committee

During its forty-fourth session and in its capacity as Preparatory Committee for the special session, the Commission heard statements from many delegations, United Nations agencies and NGOs. A wide range of gender issues was debated and a number of divergent approaches was discussed, but overall, delegations affirmed the Platform as an essential instrument for the achievement of gender equality, which was not open to renegotiation.

Opening the Commission's session, the Special Adviser to the Secretary- General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, Ms. King, highlighted recent progress, including increasing recognition at the national level of women's human rights, higher employment among women, and the designation of rape as a war crime. Thus, while the Beijing Conference had been a "critical milestone" in the advancement of women, clearly, "swift, bold and uncompromising" policies were needed to search for more effective ways of implementation.

On the other side of the picture, she noted that women's human rights had been blatantly ignored, in some countries. There had been an increase in the "feminization" of poverty and violence against women, especially in the home, and their specific health care needs had not been sufficiently addressed. Moreover, their vulnerability in armed conflict was deepening. Indeed, girls in school were often the first to be pulled out in times of crisis.

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, told the Commission. While some gains had been made, millions of women still lived in poverty and could not read or write. Also, women and girls were most affected by armed conflict and by the global HIV/AIDS catastrophe. Girls did not have the power to negotiate their own protection in the face of male- power structures, a key element in the expansion of the AIDS pandemic.

Reflecting the serious concern expressed throughout the session about the effect of HIV/AIDS on women, a representative of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said that the world was now faced with the painful and compelling evidence that the Platform should more strongly spell out imperatives to enable women and men to protect themselves and cope with the impact of AIDS. Although the spectre of AIDS had been recognized at Beijing, the outcome had not completely captured the scope of the epidemic. Indeed, the very populations that the Platform sought to uplift were the most vulnerable to AIDS.

Noting with great concern the growing proportion of women becoming infected with the virus, the Commission adopted a resolution on women, the girl child and HIV/AIDS urging governments to take all necessary measures to strengthen women’s economic independence and to protect and promote their human rights and freedoms in order to allow them better protection from HIV infection. The Commission also designated, as a major theme of its next session, the issue of HIV/AIDS, women and the girl child.

A number of other issues were identified as challenges to implementation of the Platform, including the lack of human and financial resources, the negative effects of globalization, and unequal access to improved communications technology, particularly among women in developing countries. The trafficking of women and girls and the increasing violent trend against them was also worthy of examination.

The Commission also held a panel discussion on women’s rights in relation to their access to resources, the workplace, and new information and technological advances. The dialogue provided an opportunity for reflection on the obstacles and issues relevant to gender equality and women’s empowerment defined at Beijing. On the issue of gender equality in the workplace, it was felt that societal inequities and stereotypical attitudes had still made it difficult for women to balance their homelife with their professional aspirations.

In introductory remarks at the opening of the Preparatory Committee, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette expressed concern about the limited progress achieved since Beijing. The special session would indeed provide an opportunity to determine how to travel farther and faster along the road towards true gender equality. The challenge ahead for the Committee was twofold: to reiterate and strengthen the platform; and to ensure that “Beijing + 5” had not been a “water-tight” process but one which had permeated other areas for action.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said that, although governments had repeatedly reaffirmed the fundamental right to equality, in an overwhelming number of countries, laws had remained in force that perpetuated discrimination with regard to personal and economic status, marital status and recourse against violence. Failure to respect the economic and social rights of women had caused profound inequality in terms of economic independence and health. At the special session, the agenda must be moved in practical ways through clear benchmarks and monitoring mechanisms by which to rigorously assess whether governments had lived up to their promises.

Similarly, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Nitin Desai, warned that legislation was not enough. Laws and policies in the field of gender equality must lead to progressive action. More affirmative action, for example, would enable women to take their proper place in the development of the communities in which they lived. Of equal importance was placing the Committee's work in the broader context of United Nations work in the area of development.

The Preparatory Committee also convened a second panel discussion on the outlook on gender equality, development and peace beyond the year 2000. It was generally felt that, despite the enactment of gender equality laws, their enforcement was lagging. Equal participation among women and men had tended to be more nominal than substantial, and in most societies women were still trapped in gender-specific activities.

Several speakers drew attention to the innovative and valued participation of NGOs, which had driven the global gender equality agenda as much as the United Nations agencies themselves. Many NGOs had underscored the need for further attention to the concerns of girl children and adolescent women, including their sexual and reproductive health rights, and more careful study of the negative affects of globalization on women. They urged more concerted political will and commitment of resources that would further the implementation of the Platform.

Officers, Membership

The officers of the Commission on the Status of Women are: Dubravka Simonovic (Croatia), Chairperson; Kirsten Geelan (Denmark), Misako Kaji (Japan), Loreto Leyton (Chile), and Mankeur Ndiaye (Senegal), Vice-Chairpersons. The officers of the Preparatory Committee are: Roselyn Ruth Asumwa Odera (Kenya), Chairperson; and Asit Bhattacharjee (India), Patricia Flor (Germany), Misako Kaji (Japan), Christine Kapalata (United Republic of Tanzania), Sonia R. Leonce-Carryl (Saint Lucia), Monica Martinez (Ecuador), Kirsten Mlacak (Canada), Rasa Ostrauskaite (Lithuania), and Dubravka Simonovic (Croatia), Vice-Chairmen.

The 45 members of the Commission on the Status of Women are elected for four-year terms on the following basis: 13 from African States; 11 from Asian States; four from Eastern European States; nine from Latin America and the Caribbean States; and eight from Western European and Other States.

The 2000 membership of the Commission is as follows: Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Burundi, Chile, China, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Lesotho, Lithuania, Malawi, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.