CUSTOMARY PRACTICES AFFECTING WOMEN’S HEALTH LINKED TO POVERTY, THIRD COMMITTEE TOLD AS IT CONCLUDES DEBATE ON WOMEN’S ISSUES

22 October 2001
GA/SHC/3641

CUSTOMARY PRACTICES AFFECTING WOMEN’S HEALTH LINKED TO POVERTY, THIRD COMMITTEE TOLD AS IT CONCLUDES DEBATE ON WOMEN’S ISSUES

22/10/2001
Press ReleaseGA/SHC/3641

Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Third Committee

17th Meeting (AM)

CUSTOMARY PRACTICES AFFECTING WOMEN’S HEALTH LINKED TO POVERTY, THIRD

COMMITTEE TOLD AS IT CONCLUDES DEBATE ON WOMEN’S ISSUES

Women under Taliban Regime Banned

From Working, Attending School, among Other Things

As the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) wrapped up its comprehensive debate on the advancement of women and the implementation of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women, and its five-year follow-up, delegates from Member States also took the floor to speak about myriad issues, among them traditional and cultural practices, and violence against women.

The delegate from India warned that customary practices often affected the health of women and girls.  It was a social problem that required not only legislative measures, but also a fundamental social transformation.  Linking it to poverty, he said, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women had clearly shown that a low-income status hindered women's social status, and contributed to the prevalence and persistence of harmful traditional or customary practices.  The eradication of poverty, therefore, was crucial and needed to be addressed urgently in order to eradicate such practices.

The representative of Myanmar, however, said her country had several traditions which actually benefited women.  People's names, she said, stayed with them for life, and did not necessarily include the name of the mother or father.  Further, women did not change their names when they married.  These practices eliminated pressure on women to bear a son to carry on the family name.  Further, she said, there was no dowry system in Myanmar, but there was a tradition in which a groom would provide cash or gifts to the bride's parents when asking for her hand in marriage.  This, she said, was another example why boys were not favoured over girls.

Referring to the situation of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime, the representative of the United States pointed out that they were banned from working, prohibited from attending schools, forbidden from leaving their homes without being accompanied by a close male relative and covered head-to-toe.  For violating those decrees, they could be killed.  A society that abused women and violated their human rights was flawed.  A society that denied women education, health care, freedom of movement, and employment would also deny others their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Debate Highlights

Angela King, the Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, said that

75 countries and agencies participated in the four-day debate.  They shed light on the very important building blocks that were taking place at the national level, whether it was human rights legislation, the establishment of quotas of women in Parliament or the implementation of national mechanisms.

Throughout the deliberations, many speakers addressed the issues related to women's advancement within the framework of the critical areas of concern outlined in the Beijing Declaration and Programme of Action.  Among them were the eradication of poverty; the eradication of violence against women, particularly migrant women and women in armed conflict; and implementing efforts to increase participation of women in the decision-making processes.

Several speakers called on the Committee to remember the unique situation of rural women, saying such women were shining examples of the ability to overcome adversity -- in this case poverty, disease and traditional cultural practices -- and transform it for the common good of society.  Still, they felt that recognizing all that did not mean that the overall situation for rural women, or all women, for that matter, could remain as it was today.  Rural women must be trained with the necessary skills to enable them to reduce the load they carried.

Crystallizing the concerns of many speakers, the representative of the Dominican Republic said it was urgent that the entities that established the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women in 1979 seriously deliberate what had led that important institution to its current financially precarious situation.  As the Institute's host country, the Dominican Republic felt that necessary structural changes must be made that would ensure its financial and institutional sustainability. 

The delegate from Liechtenstein hailed the most recent Assembly special session, devoted to HIV/AIDS, as perhaps the most important United Nations event for women this year.  She expressed particular satisfaction that the participants at that conference had agreed on the need to empower women to make decisions on their sexuality freely and in a responsible manner.  That notion was at the core of a truly successful response to the AIDS pandemic, she said.  While there were other encouraging developments, particularly in international law, it was important to remember that with the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention’s monitoring must be strengthened.

The delegate from Malaysia, meanwhile, said that the 12 critical provisions detailed in the Beijing document were not just women’s issues -- they were development issues.  Six years after the Conference, he said, although some progress had been achieved, inequality between men and women, and prejudicial attitudes towards women and girls, remained.  Women continued to be marginalized from mainstream development and, therefore, a large majority of them were living in poverty.  Recognizing that the empowerment of women was critical to the overall

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development of society and eradication of poverty, Malaysia had focused its efforts on creating effective micro-credit programmes.  Those programmes, in Malaysia and around the world, had shown that when provided with even small loans, poor women had been able to pursue creative ways to use their skills, or even develop new skills, to earn income.  Impact studies showed that after two or three successful loan cycles, a majority of those women were able to move their family members out of the grip of poverty.

Today, the representatives of Nepal, Turkey, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Algeria, Bahrain, Haiti, Croatia, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Cameroon, Venezuela, Fiji, Suriname, Kazakhstan, Syria, Maldives and Ghana also participated in the debate.

When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m., it will begin its consideration on the item on promotion and protection of the rights of children.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to conclude consideration of items related to the advancement of women, including implementation of the Fourth World Conference on Women and of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, “Women 2000: gender, equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century”.  For details, see Press Release GA/SHC/3647 of 17 October.

Statements

BHARAT KUMAR REGMI (Nepal) said women were the glue that held the family together.  They took care of the home, raised the children, and worked in the fields.  Still, in poor families, girls were considered a burden, and they faced discrimination and marginalization.  In some developing countries, women were beginning to assert their rights and, in developed countries, the situation was better.  But the situation was far from satisfactory.  A concerted international effort was needed to effectively address all issues concerning equality for women.  There needed to be adequate legal protection for women in all countries of the world.  The role of national and international media was crucial for the promotion of women's causes.  It was important that they did not stereotype women in their traditional roles.  Women needed to be given bigger roles that projected their image in the media as leaders of society at large.

He said Nepal was a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  Nepal had enacted and revised several laws in conformity with the provisions of the Convention, although the process was still ongoing.  Various programmes that had been implemented aimed to ensure universal primary education, which would lead to an increase in the enrolment of girls in schools.  Also launched were a number of women-specific programmes in areas like health, education and income generation.  Because of such initiatives, Nepal was moving towards improving the overall status of women, and seeing progress in several areas.

It could not be denied, however, that overall the status of women in Nepal was not satisfactory, he said.  Like many in other developing countries, the gender gap in education persisted in both qualitative and quantitative terms, as was the case concerning the representation of women in politics, in public services, and in decision-making positions.  Mindful of those realities, Nepal was committed to creating a balanced society where women were empowered and gender equality was achieved through mainstreaming women in each and every aspect of national development.

HAKAN TEKIN (Turkey) said women in his country had embraced their true identity with the help of a series of comprehensive reforms that had radically transformed and enhanced their status.  The Civil Code enacted in 1926 contained significantly progressive provisions on gender equality and, by 1934, Turkey was among only a handful of countries in the world where women were allowed to vote or stand for election.  Today, Turkey was building on its legacy, pursuing its goal to enhance the rights of women in order to ensure their active participation in all walks of life.

Along with the implementation of traditional gender-equal policies, he continued, the Government had initiated many strategies devised to make institutions more receptive and accountable in that regard.  An inter-agency policy dialogue had been initiated to translate policy statements into concrete action.  One substantive result had been the establishment of gender focal points at government offices in 13 provinces.  Another important development was the increasing awareness of gender issues nationwide.  The media was playing an instrumental role in that regard.  The Government had also worked hard to ensure the participation of non-governmental organizations.  Those organizations worked closely with national agencies at all levels, particularly with four commissions established after Beijing in the fields of education, health, employment and law.

A.K. BHATTACHARJEE (India) said in India there had been long-recognized policies and programmes for the advancement and empowerment of women, and they were action-oriented and targeted.  One third of the seats for elected village councils were reserved for women.  Numerous institutions and mechanisms for the delivery of social services targeted at children and women of all ages were in place.  More recently, laws had been enacted to prevent sexual harassment in the work place.  The national human rights machinery focused on gender issues and gender mainstreaming.  India's report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, examined in January 2000, demonstrated the seriousness that India accorded to the implementation of the recommendations of the Fourth World Conference on Women.

He said that traditional or customary practices affecting the health of women and girls was a social problem that required not only legislative measures, but also a fundamental social transformation.  Poverty discouraged social change.  The Special Rapporteur on violence against women had clearly shown that low income status had consequences, particularly for women in terms of their social status, and contributed to the prevalence and persistence of harmful traditional or customary practices.  The eradication of poverty, therefore, was crucial and needed to be addressed urgently. 

The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) had contributed to their economic empowerment and freedom, and had strengthened women's capacity to achieve sustainable livelihoods, not only for themselves, but for their households as well.  It also strongly advocated women's equal access to economic resources, he said.  It was hoped that there would be no slackening of the work in the economic empowerment of women, in which UNIFEM had considerable strength, experience and capability, and where the real challenge continued to lie for the vast majority of developing countries.

OUNSENG VIXAY (Lao People's Democratic Republic) said that although some governments, including his own, had adopted progressive policies for women, particularly in the wake of Beijing, negative conditions and practices still persisted.  Women, particularly those living in remote and rural areas still needed adequate education, health services and political rights.  Moreover, millions of such women were living below the poverty line.  To remedy that situation, attention should be given to initiatives aimed at real and sustainable rural development and poverty eradication, two important issues that were really at the heart of all gender issues, particularly for developing nations.

As for women in the Lao People's Democratic Republic, he continued, the Government had taken significant steps and measures to integrate women by formulating policies that would ensure their involvement at all levels, upgrade their training and skills, and improve their employment opportunities.  The Lao Women’s Union had been convened, and at its recent Congress, women from all over the country gathered to map out their course in the new century and beyond.  The Union had adopted a plan of action for 2001-2005 comprised of four programmes, including promoting women’s participation in socio-economic development; institution strengthening; promoting advancement and rights of women and children; and improving women’s knowledge of government policies and cultural heritage.

DALILA SAMAH (Algeria) said the international community had continued over recent years to abolish constraints against women, so they could further enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights.  That allowed women to recapture their place in society, and with their dignity intact.  Still, efforts should be stepped up to address the issues that led to inequality and discrimination against women.  The HIV/AIDS, armed internal conflict, and trafficking in women were among the subjects that needed immediate attention.  Algeria welcomed the work of Angela King, the Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General for gender affairs, and the other high-ranking officials who provided valuable information.

She said Algeria had been involved in the Fourth World Conference on Women, and its five-year follow-up.  Programmes and policies were being implemented to increase employment opportunities for women; to increase their access to education and health care; and to make contraception available to them.  Efforts had been undertaken to reduce maternal mortality rates and infant mortality rates.  Public authorities who gave great attention to women and girls in rural areas had strengthened their actions to support them with access to technology, and to allow them to get micro-credits more easily.  That would allow them to gain the skills they needed to participate in community economic activities.  Women were also allowed to join trade unions. 

The international community pledged to build societies in which equality was enjoyed by men and women, she said.  To achieve that, specific dialogue had to be joined with thorough implementation of the promises that had been made.

ZEINA AL-KHALIFA (Bahrain) said the advancement of women meant the advancement of communities as a whole.  The important role women played in nurturing future generations should be universally recognized, and that recognition should result in concrete policies to enhance and ensure their rights.  In Bahrain, women had long worked alongside men.  Strategies and mechanisms had been created in line with the commitments made at Beijing.  The Constitution guaranteed equality.  Parliament had also given impetus to broad efforts aimed at ensuring equality for men and women.  Women in her country also enjoyed political rights and participated widely in decision-making processes.

The High Council on Women’s Affairs had also been established.  Women had now become actively involved in commerce and trade and were also, in recent decades, increasingly owners of small businesses.  She said she could not

overemphasize the role of women’s associations in efforts to ensure the advancement of women in the country.  Since the 1950s such organizations had been active in initiatives in education and the health sphere.  However, the situation of women as a whole could not be discussed without mentioning the grave situation of Palestinian women.  She called on the international community to take greater interest in their plight.

DAW KHIN THANDAR (Myanmar) said Myanmar women enjoyed equal rights with men.  According to tradition, Myanmar did not have the practice of using family names.  Every person was given a name, by which he or she would be known throughout life.  That name did not need to include either the name of the father or the mother.  Also, a woman would not change her name when she married.  Therefore, there was no pressure on women to bear a son, which was needed to carry on the family name.  It was worth mentioning that a dowry system where the bride paid large amounts of money to the family of the groom did not exist in Myanmar.  There was, however, a general tradition where the groom was expected to give either cash or gifts to the bride's parents when asking for her hand in marriage as a token of his sincerity.  That was also another reason why a boy was not favoured over a girl.  The right to inherit, and the right to half of all assets in case of divorce, were also rights that Myanmar women long enjoyed.

Myanmar treasured its women, and was doing its utmost to fight the global phenomenon of trafficking in women, she said.  Innocent young ladies, hoping to find high-paying jobs abroad, often became victims of trafficking gangs.  Therefore, a National Task Force had been formed to combat the trafficking of women and children.  Since the most popular route for trafficking was through the border areas, the Government had imposed procedures forbidding ladies under

25 years of age from crossing the border without being accompanied by parents or legal guardians.  Further, the Ministry of Progress of Border Areas and National Races had established eight vocational training centres for girls and women in the border areas.  Myanmar was trying its best to improve the lives of its people by improving the lives of the mothers of the nation.  There were limited resources, but considerable achievements had been realized.

NICOLE ROMULUS (Haiti) said efforts must be aimed at creating a world in which the discrepancy in equality between full and partial citizens was

non-existent.  Unequal division, particularly in domestic work, was a great hindrance to the social welfare of women.  Women in Haiti also faced certain cultural values that hindered their advancement.  To address that issue, there was a need to rethink the Haitian civil code, which basically overlooked the needs of women.

In recent years, however, there had been some progress.  Most importantly, regional campaigns aimed at addressing the serious issue of violence against women had been initiated.  In an effort to increase national production, Haiti had introduced micro-credit schemes aimed at mainstreaming women.  There was also a clear indication that school enrolment for girls had increased.  A great deal remained to be done, however.  It would be an error to consider equality an end to itself.  Equality must go hand in hand with full recognition of women’s rights, as well as a recognition of women as human beings with specific needs, considerations and the capacity to make important, creative contributions to society as a whole.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIC (Croatia) said gender equality had been and was still accepted as a fundamental value and goal of the twenty-first century.  Gender equality had enriched the understanding of human rights, and had moved societies forward in living up to the United Nations Charter's promise of equal rights for women and men.  With the adoption of the Outcome Document at Beijing+5, the Millennium Declaration and the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms Discrimination against Women, the international community had strengthened its gender-equality policies contained in the Beijing Platform for Action, which was adopted in 1995.  Croatia was fully aware that the advancement of women and gender equality could not be achieved in a short amount of time, and that while significant progress had been made, the persistent gap between words and actions remained.  The United Nations was needed to lead the global pursuit of the commitments, targets and goals that had been established.

Since the parliamentary elections in January 2000, the number of women members of Parliament had increased to 23.5 per cent -- as compared to

5.5 per cent prior to 2000, she said.  That had resulted in the recent establishment of a new parliamentary Committee for Gender Equality in January.  Women made up the majority of employees in executive bodies, the judiciary and local self-government bodies, although the number of women in high political positions remained unsatisfactory.  The process of globalization raised a number of issues related to unemployment.  In Croatia, women represented 46.2 per cent of the formal employment sector, and 52.4 per cent in informal sectors.  That resulted in the heavy marginalization of women.  Therefore, the Government considered economic empowerment for women as one of its most important challenges.

MUN JONG CHOL (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) said though much progress had been made in the years following Beijing, the feminization of poverty, discrimination, violence against women and trafficking continued to persist and required immediate attention.  To make matters worse, the widening gap between the rich and the poor and the deteriorating economic situation in developing countries further hampered efforts to find a global solution to the problems facing women.  It was imperative for the international community to enhance and ensure equality for women in order to realize goals for peace, security and sustainable development for all in the new century.

To comprehensively address women’s issues, the proper perspective was necessary, and particular attention should be paid to domestic and cultural issues specific to the countries in which they lived.  Opportunities and conditions should be provided so that women could fully demonstrate their skills and capabilities and be actively involved in decision-making processes, he said.  It was also important to further strengthen legal and institutional mechanisms for eliminating all forms of discrimination against women, particularly violence rooted in past crimes against humanity.

In that regard, he drew the Committee’s attention to the fact that Japan fell far short of addressing such past crimes.  During its colonial rule of Korea, Japan had committed intolerable crimes, including forcing over 200,000 Korean women into sexual slavery for its army.  Those acts, among others, had been widely denounced as crimes against humanity.  Today, the Japanese Government continued to be evasive on the issue, and its establishment of an Asian Women’s Fund was only an attempt to appease the international community.  Japan still refused to offer a sincere apology and full compensation for its violent acts.  He strongly urged Japan to face up to its past crimes and to discharge its international responsibility by formally apologizing and providing full State compensation to the victims.

NANCY CAIN MARCUS (United States) said that among the most egregious examples of gross violations of women's human rights were the atrocities committed by the Taliban.  Women who violated the Taliban decrees were beaten, imprisoned or even killed.  Their offences?  They were banned from working, prohibited from attending schools, forbidden from leaving their homes without being accompanied by a close male relative and being covered head-to-toe.  The women, and all the people of Afghanistan, deserved to be free from that oppression.  They deserved a government that was broadly-based, representative and respectful of their rights.  A society that abused women and violated their human rights was flawed.  A society that denied women education, health care, freedom of movement, and employment would also deny others their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

She said combating trafficking in persons was a fundamental and important challenge worldwide.  Each year, it was estimated that more than 700,000 persons, especially women and children, were trafficked across international borders, where they were ruthlessly exploited in factories and on farms, in domestic servitude and in the sex industry.  Victims of trafficking were deprived of the enjoyment of their human rights.  Trafficking in persons was not new -- in many ways, it was a modern day form of slavery.  Yet, it was only in the past few years that it had captured international attention, and that governments had begun to address it systematically.  Even some of the countries that were pro-active in combating trafficking had significant trafficking problems -- a reminder that the world had a long way to go in eliminating that crime.  Governments needed strong individual and collective action to combat trafficking, to bring those responsible to justice, and to ensure humanitarian treatment of victims.  Since the immensity of the problem could overwhelm a country's capabilities, collective action by origin, transit and destination countries was crucial.

ISHTIAQ HUSSAIN ANDRABI (Pakistan) said the optimism generated by the many positive developments for women following various United Nations meetings and conferences during the past years, particularly the June special session “Women 2000”, should not dilute international efforts to identify and address the challenges ahead.  Globalization, while providing unprecedented opportunities had adversely affected underprivileged societies, making women more vulnerable to exploitation.  Such exploitation needed to be addressed as a matter of priority in the spirit of international cooperation without finger pointing.

He said Pakistan remained committed to the lofty goals of gender equality and empowerment of women laid out in the Beijing Declaration.  Pakistan had established a National Commission on the Status of Women, a high-level statutory body mandated to review government policies and programmes affecting women’s development and implementation of the National Action Plan on Women.  That Commission was constituted of four committees which dealt with health, education, the judicial system and violence against women.

He said Pakistan had also established exclusive Women Police Stations operated by female officers in nine cities, and, among other initiatives, had made available a credit line for women entrepreneurs, which had helped create employment for some 21,000 women.  Despite its economic problems, Pakistan would remain devoted to the cause for women.  Its Constitution guaranteed equality for both men and women, and contained special provisions for affirmative action towards equality and opportunity for women.

CATHERINE MAHOUVE SAME (Cameroon) said the problems of the world, including economic and environmental ones, could not be solved without taking into account the perspective of women and including them in the solutions.  Women faced discrimination daily in every country.  Their choices in many sectors of society had been limited, and they were often the victims of crimes  Governments and international bodies had begun to review discriminatory laws, and attempted to ensure liberty and equality for women.  But where legal reforms had been achieved, the real practice lagged far behind.  There had been movements for women’s equality the world over, and they had had some influence on domestic laws.  It was regrettable, however, that most decisions that affected the future of this planet did not include the consultation of women.  Women still did not have equal pay for equal work.  All those inequities were even more harmful because of the inequities women suffered in raising children and keeping the family together.

She said in many countries women did not have inheritance rights or any rights in the case of divorce, which led to the prevalence of women in poverty.  Women's issues lay at the heart of development.  Cameroon welcomed the recent legal instruments developed by the United Nations, including the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on Transnational Organized Crime and its Option Protocol.  Cameroon cooperated with the United Nations on the promotion of gender equality, especially UNIFEM and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 

Despite poor economic circumstances, Cameroon developed several policies to raise awareness and improve the general situation of gender equality, she continued.  School attendance was increasing for girls, and school textbooks were free of stereotypes.  The involvement of women in decision-making processes was growing in Cameroon, as well.  Rural women in Cameroon played a crucial role in food security.  They represented 50 per cent of the population, but were responsible for producing 90 per cent of the foodstuffs.  The Government had tried to help the situation by implementing several programmes and policies to help women in the agricultural sector.

MARLY CEDENO REYES (Venezuela) said in recent years, it had become clear that debates on sustainable development must include discussions on women, gender equality and harmonious social development between men and women.  Authentic citizenship that would guarantee the fair exercise of power for all men and women must be the ultimate goal.  Venezuela’s Constitution guaranteed equality, and the National Institute for Women had undertaken several progressive initiatives, including the establishment of a women’s bank and banking network, and enhanced training programmes that would allow women to participate more effectively in the economic sphere.

        She said that coordinated government programmes throughout the country had promoted a 'Fifty-Fifty’ campaign that aimed at increasing and maintaining gender equality at all levels and in all spheres, particularly health and education.  It was also important to consider policies that affected rural and indigenous populations.  To that end, the National Institute had appointed a commission on the rights of rural women in order to ensure participation at regional and local levels.  The Government had also approved legislation on violence against women and the family.  The main objective was to coordinate efforts to identify and punish those who committed violent acts.  That agency had also created programmes that treated victims of violence.  The Constitution’s legal framework also included the fundamental right to health.  Venezuela’s commitment of the advancement of women was firm at national and international levels, and its efforts were broadly reflective of the outcomes of the Fourth World Conference on Women and “Women 2000”.

ASENACA ULUIVITI (Fiji) said working women in Fiji, including in rural areas, were still concentrated in relatively low-skilled, gender stereotyped occupations.  Her country had not seen a reflection of the positive trends that had been highlighted in the Secretary-General's report.  It did not, however, agree with the report's observation that women workers still often were exposed to unhealthy or hostile working conditions in all sectors.  The new phenomenon of women migrant workers in Fiji highlighted weaknesses and vulnerabilities for both sides.  As the receiving country, Fiji was ill prepared for the needs and vulnerabilities of those women.  No infrastructure was in place to guard their specific concerns.  Fiji faced great difficulty in compiling relevant information due to the women migrant workers' own reluctance to share needed information.

Current labour reforms, she said, aimed to raise working conditions and equal opportunities for women and men.  Work had begun by Ministries to explore ways to encourage women's entry into male stereotyped professions or vocations.  There had been many gains for women, some profound and some superficial.  All gains made a difference.  Yet the patterns of marginalization and victimization of women continued because of entrenched structural and attitudinal barriers.  Fiji women were greatly affected by the political crisis in 2000.  Fiji women were also instrumental in maintaining peaceful vigils, non-violent and conciliatory initiatives in a crisis that divided the nation.

IRMA TOBING-KLEIN (Suriname) said it was the duty of the international community to develop concrete strategies to ensure decent lives and the realization of human rights, including the right to development, for all persons. Suriname, she said, had made great strides in the area of gender equality.  Those advances had been made partly because of the broad participation of women in the central government.  Suriname had created a National Centre for Gender Policy, which had been tasked with the duty to engage women’s organizations and to coordinate gender-related activities.

She went on to say that other efforts to improve the situation of women in her country had already showed significant gains.  Among those was a gender mainstreaming programme, established in collaboration with UNIFEM, which had been developed for training programmes on gender and gender mainstreaming and skills for civil servants. 

Arrangements had also been made for a regional programme with Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles, which included workshops on women in leadership, women and education and women and the media, among others.  She said that one category of women that deserved special attention was that of older women.  It was essential to realize that since there was a greater risk for women to fall into poverty than men, elderly women would be particularly vulnerable.  In that regard, her delegation was preparing a draft resolution on “the need for special consideration of the situation of older women.”

MADINA JARBUSSYNOVA (Kazakhstan) said the advancement of women had always been a priority for her Government.  Kazakhstan joined more than 20 international conventions and agreements, including the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on Political Rights of Women.  Her Government was committed to observing all the principles and commitments in those documents.  In accordance with the long-term strategy of the country, effective mechanisms were being developed to increase women's integration in social and political life, and to expand their representation at decision-making levels.  The mandate of the National Commission on Family and Women's Affairs was to adopt a National Action Plan for Improving the Status of Women.  The provisions adopted in the plan were drafted with the help of non-governmental organizations.

But, she said, one of the serious concerns of her Government was women's health.  In Kazakhstan, the health index for women was only 30 per cent, and in some regions, it was only 20 per cent or less.  Two-thirds of women were suffering from anemia.  There was an increase in  breast cancer rates, which resulted in a significant increase in women's mortality rates from the disease.  That was to a great degree attributed to the nuclear tests on the Semipalatinsk site, and the Aral ecological catastrophe.  Her Government was taking all possible measures to improve the situation in health care, but there were difficulties.  Kazakhstan expressed its gratitude and appreciation to all organizations and programmes of the United Nations system for the assistance provided to her country.  But, at the same time, a widening of the activities were expected, and new projects would have to be elaborated and implemented.

RANIA AL HAJ ALI (Syria) said the advancement of women was key to the prosperity of society as a whole.  Syria’s national strategy for women through 2005 had been integrated with the country’s broader development plans.  At present women had the same opportunities as men.  Education was free for all in the country.  Further, laws had been drafted addressing all forms of violence against women.

She called on the international community to implement all the commitments laid down by the Beijing Platform for Action.  However, that equality must be for all women, not just a few.  A solution must be found to the situation of women living under foreign occupation.  Such occupation was incompatible with international law.  There were Palestinian and Lebanese women living under the yoke of Israeli occupation in the Syrian Golan Heights.  They lived under oppressive Israeli policies that adversely affected basic health care, among other rights.  The international community must work to re-establish the human rights of those women and support efforts at finding a just and peaceful end to conflict in the region.

HUSSAIN SHIHAB (Maldives) said the Maldives was not immune to the challenges of gender equality as it grappled with the task of nation building and socio-economic development.  However, his Government had been steadfast in its commitment to protecting the rights of women and integrating them into the mainstream.  Efforts were being made by his Government, in collaboration with the civil society, to change long-held attitudes and practices that perpetuated inequality and discrimination against women.  Constitutional and legislative measures guaranteeing women's rights were also being strengthened.  The new family bill introduced by his Government last year, which came into force this year, aimed to enhance the protection of the women’s rights to uplift their status within the family and society.

He said in recent years, his Government had been paying particular attention to increasing the political awareness and legal literacy of women, with positive

 results.  The percentage of women in the current People's Majils -- Parliament -- had increased to 10 per cent this term, as opposed to 6 per cent last term.  Women were increasingly being appointed to senior decision-making positions in the Government as well.  Those were only some of the measures undertaken by the Government to raise the status of women.  His country was making headway, but the pace was much slower than desired.  It’s ability to accelerate the advancement of women was restricted by financial and human resources.  His Government called upon the United Nations system and the donor community to support Maldives, and other countries in the same position, in their pursuit of the noble goal of integrating women into the mainstream of society.

MAVIS KUSORGBOR (Ghana) said economic policy initiatives in her country were reflective of its population, nearly 51 percent women.  Therefore, gender concerns had over the years been gradually and systematically mainstreamed into national programmes aimed at enhancing overall social and economic development.  Ghana’s firm commitment to the cause of women and children was also at the heart of the Government’s decision to elevate its national machinery on women to a full fledged Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs.  Further, her Government had recognized the role formal education played in the empowerment of women by appointing a minister whose main responsibility was overseeing primary and secondary education of the girl-child, as well as facilitating basic level education for both girls and boys.

She went on to say that deepening poverty in the region had been the main obstacle to the country’s efforts to achieve the objectives outlined at Beijing.  That situation had been compounded by the impact of age-old cultural practices, stereotypical attitudes towards women, and the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus.  To address the root causes of those problems, her Government was reviewing policies on gender micro-financing for investment and other initiatives aimed at economic empowerment.  In the short term, however, opportunities for non-formal education as well as vocational training facilities were being made available to equip rural women with the basic tools to enhance their capacity to overcome poverty.

ANGELA KING, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues, said 75 countries and agencies had participated in the debate.  They had shed light on the very important building blocks that were seen at the national level, whether it was human rights legislation, the establishment of quotas of women in Parliament, or the implementation of national mechanisms.  There was great stress on the elimination of violence against women, particularly in times of conflict.  Many delegations referred to the plight of Afghan women.  There were also many statements about the problem of trafficking of women and the new Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.  Several references had been made to the importance of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the importance of implementing that Convention.

Ms. King said progress had been seen in gender perspectives in macro-economics, and in the empowerment of women through micro-credits, which helped them contribute to society and escape poverty.  Many delegations had raised concerns about the situation of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW).  Her office was ready to participate in informal consultations on resolutions in the next few days and weeks.

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For information media. Not an official record.