WOMEN’S ACCESS TO INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES NEEDED TO ERADICATE POVERTY, CREATE ECONOMICALLY JUST, DEMOCRATIC SOCIETIES, WOMEN’S COMMISSION TOLD

6 March 2003
WOM/1391

WOMEN’S ACCESS TO INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES NEEDED TO ERADICATE POVERTY, CREATE ECONOMICALLY JUST, DEMOCRATIC SOCIETIES, WOMEN’S COMMISSION TOLD

06/03/2003
Press ReleaseWOM/1391

Commission on Status of Women

Forty-seventh Session

7th Meeting (AM & PM)

WOMEN’S ACCESS TO INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES NEEDED TO ERADICATE POVERTY, CREATE

ECONOMICALLY JUST, DEMOCRATIC SOCIETIES, WOMEN’S COMMISSION TOLD

Speakers Also Raise Issues of HIV/AIDS Impact,

Vulnerability of Women to Trafficking, Legislation to Advance Rights

The world could not eradicate poverty or create democratic and economically just societies unless women gained full access to the information society, a representative of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) told the Commission on the Status of Women today, as it concluded its general debate by hearing from more than 40 more speakers.

She stressed that gender-specific inequalities, lack of access to resources and high levels of illiteracy had deprived women of equal access to information and communication technologies.  Denying women access to such technologies limited national production and barred nations from enjoying true competition in the global market, she added.

The critical issue of women’s access to media and information technology was raised by nearly all of today’s speakers.  Such access -– and violence against women -- are the two themes for this year’s Commission session, which began on Monday and heard from more than 100 speakers in three days of general debate. Other issues raised included the devastating effect of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on women, the vulnerability of women to trafficking and other forms of violence, particularly that arising from armed conflict, and new legislation that further advanced the rights of women.

On the theme of information technology, Fiji’s representative told the Commission today that women’s access to such technologies could expand educational opportunities and lead to women’s economic empowerment, as well as enhanced gender-sensitive policies.  Those technologies, she said, could narrow development and gender gaps, serving as tools for tackling the negative effects of such things as “cybersex discrimination”, which degraded women and children.

A representative of the African Women’s Caucus noted that most African women’s organizations lacked the infrastructure and technology to work effectively in assisting their populations.  Stressing the importance of addressing the needs of African women and their role in society, she urged the United Nations system to ratify treaties and protocols with provisions on gender advancement and women’s access to information.  She deplored the use of the Internet to exploit women and

incite words of hate.  Privacy, security and Internet rights were vital concerns of African women, who needed a safe place to train, learn and benefit from information and communication technologies.

Chile’s representative said that, although her country had set up some Web sites offering information on women’s issues, the Internet was used mainly by young people, and only by a minority of women.  Women in management positions, generally between 40 and 50 years of age, often viewed technology as alien or contacted it only through tips from their children.

Similarly, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said women must be encouraged to become familiar with information and communication technologies. With support from society and the international community, women could play a pioneering role in reducing so-called “gender computer illiteracy”, he said.

Botswana’s representative said her country was still struggling to build the proper infrastructure for information and communication technologies, which were particularly lacking in rural areas.  However, it had recognized the benefits of such technology, and had recently created a new Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology.  The Ministry was responsible for enhancing research in science and technology, setting up the national infrastructure and improving the quality of and access to mass media.  Women in Botswana were increasingly taking advantage of opportunities created through such technologies and those women had improved their economic livelihoods by opening up their access to better-paying jobs, education, training and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Also speaking today were the representatives of the Netherlands (on behalf of the Consultative Committee of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)), Burundi, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Syria, Congo, Kyrgyzstan, Russian Federation, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Malawi, Italy, Benin, Afghanistan, Iraq, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Zambia, Guinea, India, Rwanda, and Grenada.

The representative of Israel and the observer for Palestine exercised their right of reply.  

International organizations also participated in the general discussion.  Speaking today were representatives of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS); United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The following non-governmental organizations also addressed the Commission: Equality Now; NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security; Human Rights Advocates; Women’s International Coalition for Economic Justice; International Confederation of Free Trade Unions; French Coordination for the European Women’s Lobby; and Womenspace Canada.

International Women’s Day will be observed at 10 a.m. Friday, 7 March, in Conference Room 2.

Background

The Commission on the Status of Women met today to conclude its general discussion.

Statements

GLADYS ZALAQUETT (Chile) said the country’s Domestic Violence Act had been passed in Chile in 1994.  Since the adoption of that Act, which provided punishment for such violence, the number of complaints by women who suffered abuse at the hands of their partners or spouses had practically doubled.  The same was true for the number of complaints for rape and sexual assault.  In 2001,

96 per cent of women and 92 per cent of men in the country had expressed the view that violence within couples was a major problem in Chile.  Another study during the same year showed that 50.3 per cent of women currently or previously married or living together in the metropolitan region had experienced some form of violence against them by their partners.

Since the Act was passed, she said, the country had made progress in combating violence against women, which included:  identifying violence as a sociocultural and multidimensional problem that required comprehensive solutions; placing the problem of domestic violence on the public agenda; promoting education through a programme of training in conflict resolution; and creating a network of 25 centres and programmes to treat and prevent domestic violence.

Access to the media and new information technologies was closely linked to respect for human rights and the elimination of violence against women, she continued.  Chile’s web portal Mujerschile.cl seeks to satisfy demands for various types of information –- on health, legal, miscellaneous and cultural matters – and for contact by women.  The portal offers information on laws, with emphasis on family law, and databases containing gender statistics.  However, the Internet was used mainly by young people, a minority of them being young women.  Women in management positions, generally between forty and fifty years of age, usually viewed technology as something alien, or they come into contact with it through tips from their children.

FLORA VAN HOUWELINGEN (Netherlands), speaking on behalf of the Consultative Committee of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), representing the five regional groups, said the Consultative Committee had held its forty-third session from 18 to 20 February.  It recommended that UNIFEM, being guided both by a rights-based approach and a development-dividend approach, should aim to help engender the instruments that were now commonly used to further development.  In that effort, UNIFEM would have to be selective, intervening when its contribution was most likely to have a catalytic impact.

In the field of violence against women, the Consultative Committee concluded that, given UNIFEM’s increasing involvement in crises such as HIV/AIDS and

post-conflict, a wider interpretation of the violence against women focus appeared warranted.  The Committee invited UNIFEM to consider expanding the scope of the existing Trust Fund on violence against women.  The Committee also encouraged UNIFEM to continue its important work in the field of peace and security by ensuring follow-up to the recommendations contained in the independent experts’ assessment and the Secretary-General’s report.  The UNIFEM was invited to collaborate with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the Division for the Advancement of Women, and the Department of Political Affairs to devise a joint strategy on implementation of Security Council resolution 1325.

The Committee also encouraged UNIFEM to continue to utilize the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women as a basis for programming.  It strongly encouraged donors to consider devoting a greater share of their contributions to UNIFEM’s core budget, and to adopt multi-year funding frameworks.  The thematic approach taken in UNIFEM’s strategy and business plan for 2000-2003 provided a good basis for future work.  In the remainder of 2003, UNIFEM would elaborate its new plan for 2004-2007.

ISIKIA R. SAVUA (Fiji), speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum Group, said the interactive exchange of best practices and experience on institutional capacity-building at the national level had been very helpful.  He suggested that in the future the Commission could improve the approach by including regional and subregional appraisals of the Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) and Beijing + 5 outcomes and commitments.  National reporting constraints on developing countries were greatly eased by regional coordination and networking.  

The Commission was told about a very vibrant process taking place in the region, in implementing gender policies and strategy in the various entities that served the Pacific Islands Forum Group.  Gender policies were in place in six of 10 council regional organizations in the Pacific.  All had committed to developing gender strategies to implement gender analysis and gender equality outcomes, he said.

With respect to the media theme, he said the question of women’s access to the media and to information and communication technologies was subject to greater and complex factors, such as media ownership, appropriate training and media sensitivity to gender analysis.  Properly managed and applied, media and information and communication technologies could be a lever to expand access for the advancement of initiatives and education opportunities, and have potential for economic empowerment enhancing women’s development and gender sensitive policies and programmes.  Information and communication technologies could help overcome access and infrastructure constraints, and social and cultural impediments.  They could also narrow development and gender divides and serve as tools for addressing negative impacts, such as “cyber-sex discrimination”, which degraded women and children. 

MARIA GOODELL, of the non-governmental organization Equality Now, noted that Member States had agreed almost 10 years ago in the Beijing Platform for Action that discriminatory laws should be eliminated.  However, even a small sampling of laws indicated that many advocating inequality had not been vanquished.  Equality Now had set a target date of 2005 to eliminate discriminatory laws, and that day was fast approaching.

Several members of the Commission had eliminated discriminatory laws, demonstrating a commitment to the human rights for women and fulfilling obligations laid down in Beijing.  However, some 36 countries had continued to retain discriminatory laws.  She urged all States to examine their laws and attempt to eliminate those that were discriminatory.

EDITH NKUNDUWIGA (Burundi) said that historically, women in Burundi had only been viewed in the terms of the domestic role.  Women had been and were still generally considered minors in Burundi, unable to make decisions affecting their lives.  It was true that the entire country was suffering from poverty, conflict and the lack of opportunities.  However, the poorest of the poor were most often women.  Fortunately, there had been some changes in recent years.  One example was the Constitution of Burundi that now defined all people as equal.  One other notable improvement was the increase in women’s participation in the management of the nation.

The legal situation was also moving forward, she continued.  However, certain posts were still exclusively for men and discrimination remained in legislative texts.  Given that situation, the Government had undertaken corrective legislative actions, in cooperation with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and UNIFEM, identifying discriminatory texts and changing them.  She hoped that, as awareness was rising, the laws on succession and matrimonial affairs would eventually change, as well.  In conclusion, she explained that, given the political situation in the country and the social unrest, women were unfortunately vulnerable to violence and sexual abuse.  The elaboration of a national gender policy gave hope for the future.

CLAUDIA BLOEM (Switzerland) said her Government had just begun to revise a law stating that violence against a spouse or partner could be prosecuted automatically without a suit.  As for trafficking in migrants, a federal service had been set up to combat that crime.  As part of the service, victims would be given a temporary residence permit, and assisted to return to their countries of origin.  Switzerland was also ratifying the trafficking Protocol to the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

She noted that there had been little decline in violence against women, which was alarming.  However, the General Assembly had adopted many resolutions in the field, which provided a basis for clear action.  The Commission should avoid duplication of those texts, but highlight effective measures to combat such violence.

She drew attention to the information and communication technologies for development platform, which would take place in concert with the World Summit on the Information Society.  All stakeholders to that platform would present their activities and exchange their experiences on how information technologies could help achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein) said violence against women took many forms, all of which must be addressed in the conclusions the Commission was determined to reach.  The Commission had before it a report that focused solely, and in a detailed manner, on the issue of trafficking.  The set of recommendations on the issue in particular were most helpful, but the agreed conclusions must obviously address all facets of the phenomenon.

He said the broad area of women, peace and security had been given particular and noteworthy attention in the recent past, an important process that was initiated through Security Council resolution 1325.  He found it essential to view women in those contexts not merely as victims –- even though they were disproportionately victimized and therefore needed better protection -– but also as valuable and indeed indispensable players and contributors, especially in situations of peacemaking and post-conflict peace-building. 

He concluded by saying that, as had been the case in the past on the issues of HIV/AIDS and racism, the Commission had an opportunity to contribute by sending a clear message to the World Summit on the Information Society.  The preparatory process so far made it clear that such a contribution was necessary.  There was a dramatic gap in access between men and women to information and communication technologies and there was a clear risk of women being marginalized in yet another area crucial to development.  Education in and access to information was essential for the empowerment and active participation of women.  

RANIA AL-HAJ ALI (Syria) said her Government had reiterated in legislation the principle of equality and equal opportunities for all in every facet of life.  A recent forum her country hosted had focused on the importance of education for women, which would allow Arab women to take on their rightful role in society.  It had also highlighted the close link between education and development, noting the positive effects of education on development.  The forum submitted recommendations for national strategies to empower women and mainstream gender equality in the development process.  The recommendations also included school curricula, so that schools might rise to the challenges of the times.

Syria had ratified the women’s anti-discrimination convention, she continued.  Legislation in Syria protected women and children against all forms of exploitation and trafficking.  A new unit in the Ministry of Public Affairs and Work aimed at raising the awareness of women and enabling them to participate in the Ministry’s programmes.

Discussion of women’s human rights must include all violations of such rights, she stressed.  Israel had continued to violate human rights and international law in the occupied territories.  She urged the Commission to find justice for Palestinian women, using all means it had at its disposal.

JEANNE FRANCOISE LECKOMBA LOUMETO-POMBO (Congo) said women must play a greater role at a time when all of humankind was plagued by great challenges.  The rights of women, the fight against HIV/AIDS, poverty eradication, access to the media and new information and communication technologies were part of the policies for the advancement of women of the Congo.  The Government and civil society had made considerable efforts to ensure the role of women in Congolese society.  The return of peace to the Congo constituted an opportunity to guarantee the status and safety of women. 

Women of the Congo had already won several victories in the battle for the advancement of women.  The new Government had five women among the 35 Government members, positions previously reserved for men.  Other notable advances had been made within the Government and the judiciary.  Unfortunately, much remained to be done.  She had therefore appreciated the useful exchange of national experience in capacity-building and gender mainstreaming.  She thanked the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UNICEF for their support and assistance to Congo’s gender mainstreaming policies. 

KIM CHANG GUK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) said the increasing feminization of poverty resulted from the negative impact of globalization; unbalanced distribution of wealth and benefits from the rapid development of information and communication technologies; marginalization of women; and the violation of women’s rights through the abuse of information and communication technologies.  Those were new emerging challenges that caused concern and required urgent action.  It was both important and timely for the Commission to address those issues. 

Trafficking of women and girls had emerged as one of the most serious types of violence against women, he said.  In order to stop the trafficking in women, it was necessary to criminalize the sexual exploitation of women and engage in conscious and persistent efforts at the national, regional and international levels.  His country’s women and teenage girls had experienced a bitter history at the hands of Japan.  Women and teenagers had been forced to serve as sex slaves during the Second World War.  He, therefore, condemned in the strongest terms the sexual exploitation of and trafficking in women as one of the gravest violations of human rights.

Concerning information and communication technologies, he said they could be an effective tool for poverty reduction among women and for their advancement.  Women, therefore, needed to be encouraged to get familiarized with such technologies.  Women, with the support of society and the international community, must play a pioneering role in reducing the so-called “gender computer illiteracy”, he said.

ASTER ZAOUDE, Senior Gender Adviser, UNDP, said that “in an uneven but steady drive” to implement the commitments of United Nations conferences and the Millennium Development Goals, mainstreaming gender equality and empowerment of women must go hand in hand.  The measure of the UNDP’s work was at the country level, where much progress was reported and more challenges were identified both at the UNDP-supported programmes and in the inter-agency responses led by resident coordinators.

She said that UNDP’s programmes in support of women’s access to information and communication technologies ranged from distance learning for women farmers in Ukraine, to community health services in Egypt and rural marketing operations in Uruguay.  Women’s right to equal treatment and protection from violence and discrimination were fundamental human rights, and the UNDP’s governance programme focused on access to justice, legal reform and capacity development.  Specific programmes addressed women’s leadership skills for their effective participation in decision-making, as well as legal reforms in implementation of the anti-discrimination convention at the national level.

Playing a lead role in “score keeping” for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, she continued, the UNDP was currently reviewing

25 country reports from a gender perspective to identify areas where more support was required.  In crisis and post-conflict countries, the Programme strengthened women’s institutional capacities and provided valuable policy advice to relevant ministries.  It also brought together its partners to review issues of gender in crisis countries.  The UNDP made gender equality a core objective in all its work around the world, she added, not just because it was the right thing to do, but also because it was critical for the achievement of virtually all development goals.  Its approach to gender equality was inclusive of South-South exchanges and knowledge sharing.  In 2002, the Programme had brought together women parliamentarians from Africa and Asia to discuss common challenges on human security and women’s empowerment.  In 2003, the UNDP had adopted a corporate policy on the practice of gender equality and revised its internal policy on gender balance in management, making all managers responsible for promotion of women, including at senior levels of management.

KAMIL BAIALINOV (Kyrgyzstan) said his country had adopted a national plan of action to achieve gender equality over the period 2002-2006.  The plan contained the following strategic areas:  enhancing institutional mechanisms to achieve gender equality; maintaining gender balance in all decision–taking; a gender-based component for economic development; gender aspects for health care; gender parity in culture and education; and a component to combat violence against women.  Upholding women’s rights and eliminating violence against women was reflected in the country’s legislation.  A bill had recently been drafted which defined the primary forms of domestic violence and provided for assistance to the victims of domestic violence.  A programme of action had also been drawn involving Governmental goodies to enhance the effectiveness of combating trafficking in persons.

Mass media in the country, she said, were seeking to set up a new information-based image of women consistent with today’s realities, which included television coverage of women in political processes.  It was also important to establish an information clearing house to link organizations dealing with women and information and communication technologies inside and outside the country, which could provide a good platform for generally moving towards an information society.

Mr. LINDBLAD, of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said at the heart of the global AIDS pandemic lay gender inequality.  At the end of 2002, women for the first time comprised 50 per cent of the 42 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide.  Women bore the brunt of the burden of care; they were often the last in line for treatment and were denied the power to negotiate their sexual safety.  A recent UNICEF study found that up to 50 per cent of young women in high prevalence countries did not know the basic facts about AIDS.  The point was that women needed more than advice.  They needed resources, education, and jobs -– real options to live safely and productively in a world with AIDS.

The interplay between gender inequality and AIDS was, therefore, central to the world’s pledges to do better.  Women’s empowerment -– the full realization of women’s human rights -– reduces their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.  Strategies to protect women from sexual aggression and violence were not only important in their own right, but would markedly increase women’s protection against HIV infection.  Conflict situations greatly increased the vulnerability of women and girls and the risk of contracting HIV.  The breakdown of social systems, lack of access to care and education services, and increased levels of sexual violence all contributed to that risk, he concluded. 

MARINA GORDEEVA (Russian Federation) said a new impetus had emerged to ensure gender equality in her country.  A new bill had been appraised by Government agencies and work was under way to prepare it for consideration by the parliament’s lower chamber.  Currently, the country was also considering ratifying the Optional Protocol to the women’s anti-discrimination Convention.

The mass media had rightfully been called the fourth estate, she continued, since they formed public opinion and helped overcome various stereotypes and perceptions.  Russia was currently assisting the media in covering gender problems.  Recently, more thematic journals and publications had emerged devoted to role of women in society.

Attention had also been given to the negative aspects of life for Russian women, such as trafficking, she said.  That problem had become a priority for Russian law enforcement.  A bill had been drafted on the prevention of trafficking in persons, which defined several concepts in connection with such trafficking, and goals and principles had been formulated to counter it.  However, the most robust decisions would remain on paper if the root causes were not dealt with, which included the demand for cheap labour in receiving countries and negative economic and social factors in countries of origin.

NISH MUTHONI MATENJIUA, of the African Women’s Caucus, said despite efforts to review international regulations of information and communication technologies, the African women’s situation had not been taken into consideration.  African women faced social, economic and cultural disadvantages that prevented their access to information and communication technologies.  The continent suffered from an increase in poverty, and African women represented the majority of the poverty-stricken.

She also raised another concern to her organization -- the use of the Internet to perpetuate the exploitation of women and the incitement of hate-speech.  She added that privacy, security and Internet rights were important factors to African women.  They needed a safe place to train, learn and benefit from information and communication technologies.  Unfortunately, most African women organizations lacked the infrastructure and technology they needed to carry out their work or to assist the population.  It was crucial to address the needs of African women and their role in society.  The United Nations system must continue to work towards ratifying treaties and protocols that included provisions on gender advancement and women’s access to information.

INGUNN YSSEN, of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), said information and communication technologies statistics had been gathered by means of a questionnaire.  Once sufficient data was available, it would be included in the Yearbook of Statistics.  One gender-specific indicator was the number of female Internet users as a percentage of total users.  The results had been published in the last report, but plans were to update that table in the next report.

Asking the ITU for more statistics on the gender issue was like asking each country for such data, she said.  Existing data was insufficient, but that should not be a paralysing fact.  Everyone recognized that the lack of women’s participation in information and communication technologies would negatively affect the formulation of economic and other policies that advocated justice for all. Information and communication technologies were a tool that could be used to that end.  Depriving women of that opportunity would limit national production and bar countries from being competitive in the global market.  Access to information and communication technologies could empower women.

ELIZABETA GJORGJIEVA (The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) said her Government attached great importance to gender equality and gender mainstreaming, both at a national and an international level.  The National Action Plan, which represented an all-inclusive developing document, addressed the problems that had been identified and defined the prime activities and strategic measures for improving the gender equality in the country.  One of the basic priorities in the National Action Plan was enhancing the institutional position of the governmental body for gender equality.  Guided by that policy, her country had hosted the fifth European Ministerial Conference on Equality between Women and Men in January 2003.

One of the biggest problems facing Europe was trafficking in human beings, she continued.  According to the Stability Pact’s Task Force on Trafficking, between 120,000 and 170,000 people were being trafficked each year in South-East Europe.  Many of them were women working in the sex trade.  It was time to face the fact that that odious phenomenon had reached dramatic intensity.  In that connection, it was of crucial importance that the Council of Europe draft an instrument to fight that shameful new form of slavery.

ISAAC C. LAMBA (Malawi) said gender equality and the advancement of women constituted two critical issues on his country’s development agenda.  In collaboration with non-governmental organizations, the private sector and women’s organizations, his Government continued with the active implementation of the 1997 National Platform for Action, including such priority areas as poverty alleviation and empowerment, the girl child, violence against women and peace.  Guidelines for gender mainstreaming had been developed and implemented.  The budgetary allocation for the Ministry of Gender had been increased.  Malawi’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper addressed gender mainstreaming as one of its priority areas.

He said his country’s Constitution acknowledged that violence against women was an evil that needed to be eradicated in society.  Legislation aimed at elimination of customs and practices that discriminate against women was considered to be of paramount importance.  His Government opposed any tolerance of those who trafficked in women and girls, or sexually exploited women or girls in any manner.  With a broad variety of initiatives, the culture of silence was being broken and there was a marked increase in the number of reported cases of violence against women.

Turning to the matter of information and communication technologies, he said the potential that technology could have for the advancement of women had not been fully exploited at the national level, due to poverty, lack of access, illiteracy, computer illiteracy and language barriers.  Education was needed for successful utilization of information and communication technologies, and some initiatives in that regard had been undertaken at the national level.  It was important that all information and communication technologies policies embrace the gender dimensions of the digital divide.  Without proper attention, persistent gender-based inequalities in access to and use of information and communication technologies would widen.

STEFANO LAPORTA (Italy) announced that a few days ago the Italian Parliament had unanimously approved an amendment to the Constitution allowing the Government to take practical measures towards achieving a more equitable gender balance in the political positions.  Italian women enjoyed improved socio-economic and health conditions, as well as greater freedom to make independent choices, but there existed a major contradiction between that situation and women’s situation in political institutions.  The percentage of women in Parliament was at its lowest level in post-war years.  The new law provided a practical tool to redress the present imbalance.

He said during the last decade women had become more present in the Italian media, which had led to a gradual shift towards content and presentation without gender bias.  Last year, the Minister for Equal Opportunities had established a commission of women working in the media.  There had also been an important increase in the employment of women in high-tech industries, as well as in other information and communication technologies-intensive services.  There was a higher proportion of university-educated women, as compared to men, employed in the science and technology sectors.  That was the result of public school campaigns encouraging students to use computers.

His Government’s activities to promote and protect women’s human rights were focused on the fight against all forms of discrimination on the basis of gender, race or ethnic origin, religion or personal belief.  Actions to protect women and children victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking had been a priority at the national and international levels.  Important initiatives included, at the national level, the implementation of an urban network to fight violence against women, aimed at supporting efforts of local authorities.  At the international level, the Government supported, through the International Organization for Migration (IOM), programmes against trafficking in women.  At the national level, the Government had introduced a draft on measures against trafficking in human beings, aiming to implement the provisions of the relevant Palermo Protocol of the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

NICOLE ELISHA (Benin) said in her country women had the lowest school attendance and access to health care and continued to be marginalized, especially from decision-making bodies.  A recent governmental initiative would include rural women in a risk analysis, in order to address their vulnerability.  The country had also drawn up an action plan to reduce and eventually eradicate gender disparities in the development process.

Many families in large cities did not have television or even radio, she continued.  The so-called “sidewalk radio”, or word of mouth, was the most effective means of communication.  Other means of communications included non-governmental organizations, religious associations and political parties.  New technologies existed, but there was a general lack of access to the Internet and services.  Access by women to those technologies was quite limited, and they were forced to pay high rates to private networks.  Enlarging access for women would require information courses in the national languages, and electrifying rural areas.

INDIRA KAJOSEVIC, of the non-governmental organization Working Group for Women, Peace and Security, said that her organization shared the opinion that a pre-emptive strike on Iraq would lead to further violence and suffering in that country.  Her organization supported non-violent negotiations towards a peaceful solution to the current crisis in Iraq.  She added that civilians, particularly women, had suffered greatly as a result of the Gulf War and the ensuing sanctions.  As a concluding remark, she welcomed the Commission’s decision to consider the issue of women, peace and security next year.

LESEGO MOTSUMI (Botswana) said her country recognized the potential advantages of information and communication technologies, and had created a new Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology in 2002, which was responsible for enhancing research in science and technology, setting up the national infrastructure for such technologies and improving the quality of and access to mass media.  Women in Botswana were increasingly taking advantage of opportunities created through information and communication technologies, and several had completed studies in the field.  That had improved their economic livelihoods by increasing their access to better-paying jobs, education and training and entrepreneurial opportunities.  Like most developing countries, Benin was still struggling to build proper infrastructure suitable for developing such technologies, which was particularly lacking in rural areas.

Botswana had recently witnessed an increase in cases of violence against women and children, she continued.  It was estimated that over half of the country’s women and children were survivors of violence, perpetrated by male partners or relatives.  Among measures taken to counter that increase, the country had:  ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1996; signed the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Addendum on the Prevention and Eradication of Violence against Women and Children in 1998; and amended the Penal Code Act to improve laws relating to rape, defilement and incest.  It had also set up a shelter for battered women and established the Botswana Police and NGO Task Force on domestic violence.

SAHIR ABDUL-HADI, of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said violence against women was recognized as a violation of human rights.  Violence against women and gender inequality could not be addressed without having reproductive and sexual rights being mainstreamed in all gender work.  Violence against women could take place and manifest itself in many forms.  She stressed that female genital mutilation was being successfully addressed in several countries, including Uganda, Sudan and Mali.  Some of the progress had been achieved through adjusting legislation according to international commitments. 

She said that media could be a powerful agent of change for women.  Radio, television, theatre and the Internet were important channels of advocacy for gender equality and the empowerment of women.  Participation of women in the media and their access to them were widely encouraged in UNFPA-assisted programmes.  Traditional media, such as dance and theatre, were also used in support of advocacy for women’s human rights.

ARIA SELJUKI (Afghanistan) announced that her Government had recently ratified the women’s anti-discrimination Convention.  She highlighted some of the positive changes concerning women’s rights in Afghanistan:  women were going back to work; academic institutions had opened their doors to women and girls; the Independent Commission for the convening of the Loya Jirga, the electoral process, included three women out of 21 commissioners; and there were three female cabinet members. 

She said that the Secretary-General’s report on the situation of women in Afghanistan highlighted the forced and routine gynaecological exams that determined the chastity of girls.  That practice was alien to Afghan society, she said.  The report also noted the problems facing women in Herat -- that they were not allowed to travel without a male companion and not allowed to work.  Contrary to the report, however, women were working and both women and girls were seeking and getting educated.

The report also compared the Department of Islamic Teaching to the Taliban-era Department of Vice and Virtue, she said.  In fact, it worked strictly as an advisory body to the Government, giving advice on issues relating to Islamic jurisprudence.  It was important to remember that Afghanistan had a legacy of 24 years of war.  As a post-conflict country, it had a collapsed national infrastructure.  Women’s progress must be measured by post-conflict characteristics and complexities.  She was hopeful that the injustices of the past could slowly be remedied by providing the people with their basic right to education.  An educated public could better discern the values of rights, whether they be for men of women.

SAID SHIHAB AHMAD (Iraq) said that challenges to the empowerment of women included globalization, economic sanctions, armed conflict and terrorism, which were perpetrated by countries pretending to be furthering the forces of democracy. The cornerstone of promoting human rights was the recognition of the quality of humankind.  All were entitled to live in peace in their communities and in society as a whole.  The political approach of her country towards gender equality was an important turning point for Iraqi women.  It included eliminating all forms of discrimination against women and guaranteeing the participation of women in all fields.

Iraqi women looked forward to a safe life, in which justice and prosperity prevailed.  How could she do that, however, under the unjust embargo placed on Iraq?  The threat of aggression on Iraq was just as lethal as the threat of weapons of mass destruction.  Humanity could not achieve a safe world without the rule of law and the respect of the self-determination of peoples and the respect of the United Nations Charter.

ERIC MORRIS, of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), focused on the plight of refugee women and girls.  They made up the majority of the world’s refugee population.  From the very moment they were forced from their homes, refugee women had to make many difficult choices and were often put at extreme risk.  That was particularly true of women who belonged to specific demographic groups that were being targeted by one party to the conflict or another, he continued.  Upon arrival in the refugee camp, the struggle was not over.  Despite efforts, refugee camps were inherently not very nice places for women and children, nor anyone for that matter.

The High Commissioner had proposed the following five commitments to refugee and displaced women:  facilitating training and other activities that encouraged the active participation of women in the management and leadership of refugee camps; conducting the individual registration of all refugees, including men and women, and providing them with proper documentation that ensured their individual security; recognizing that sexual and gender-based violence continued to be a severe impediment to the advancement of women; ensuring that refugee women participate directly and indirectly in the management and distribution of humanitarian assistance; and focusing on the specific needs of women and girls.

ZOFIA OLSZOWSKA, of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said UNESCO continued to support women’s participation in the media at all levels, as well as their ability to use information and communication technologies for their individual and collective empowerment.  It also considered innovations in such technologies as an opening to promote equal access for all women and men to “knowledge societies”.

The Millennium Development Goals could not be realized without addressing gender issues, she continued.  The Goals were mutually reinforcing and progress towards one would affect progress towards the others.  UNESCO’s principal efforts towards the promotion of gender equality were invested in meeting the six goals agreed to at the World Education Forum in Dakar in the year 2000, three of which specifically targeted the education of girls and young and adult women.

Despite the documented correlations between literacy and human development, the situation continued to be alarming.  Today, one in five adults could not communicate through literacy; two thirds of them were women.  The 2005 goal of eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education was particularly challenging.  Following current trends, the goal would not be met.  Reaching it would require concerted action coupled with significant budgetary commitments, both at the national and international levels.

CONSTANZA CABELLO, of Human Rights Advocates, told the Commission about situations where young girls and women had been killed, sexually exploited and forced into prostitution.  In order to deal with issues related to trafficking, it was crucial to attack the demand side of the problem.  Unfortunately, most government and law enforcement strategies focused on the supply side, instead.  It was time for governments to recognize the real perpetrators of trafficking, the people who sought out domestic and sexual slaves. 

Last year, the Commission on Human Rights had urged the Economic and Social Council to include the demand side of trafficking in its considerations.  Her organization also urged the Council to do so.  She stressed the importance of the educational component.  In San Francisco, there was a pilot education model to change the thinking and behaviour of brothel customers, she said. 

IYA TIDJANI (Cameroon), speaking on behalf of Ms. Bakang Mbock of the Ministry on the Status of Women, said the Government of Cameroon was committed to the advancement of women and had undertaken policies that looked to the integration of women in the development process.  The Government had identified nine areas of priority:  poverty; education; health; violence; advancement of women; human rights of women; communication; decision-making processes; and the environment. 

In order to empower women, the Government was attempting to eliminate the recurring causes of women’s poverty.  Unfortunately, the causes of women’s poverty were many.  Several initiatives were under way in leading sectors, such as agriculture and commerce, to advance gender equality.  Credit had also been made available with a view to support women’s groups and their community programmes.  In addition, primary education had been made free in 2001 and school enrolment was continually on the rise. 

LULIT ZEWDIE MARIAM (Ethiopia) said that the power of information and communication technologies to help foster sustainable development, empower women, build capacities and skills, reduce poverty and enhance decision-making was considerable.  Information technologies were improving women’s economic livelihoods by expanding access to local and international markets, jobs, education, training and entrepreneurial opportunities.  Access to women’s health, nutrition, education and other human development opportunities, such as political participation, through information and communication technologies mediated delivery channels were among the many benefits of the technologies.  It was unfortunate, however, that low educational levels and lack of infrastructure, resources and investment had caused disparities among and between countries, which had hindered women’s access to the use of existing information and communication technologies and media facilities.

Women in Ethiopia, as in many developing countries, had been subjected to different types of violence, she continued, which had mainly emanated from

deep-rooted cultural beliefs and the stereotyping of women.  Stigma and alienation kept such violence as rape, sexual abuses and harassment from being discussed in public and from being reported to police or hospitals.  Several measures had been introduced to create an enabling environment to promote and protect women’s rights.  Provisions of the international human rights conventions had been incorporated into the country’s constitution.  Reforms had also been made to review the discriminatory provision of the civil and criminal codes of the country.  Relentless efforts were being made through the media to raise public awareness about the adverse effects of harmful traditional practices.

GERTRUDE EIGELSREITER-JASHARI, of the Women’s International Coalition for Justice, said it was not possible to explore women’s access to media and violence against women without an integrated analysis of the impact of such issues on different groups of women in multiple aspects of their lives.  An integrated analysis helped in understanding the existing economic system, which reinforced gender, racial, ethnic and class inequalities, violence and the denial of human rights.  Such an analysis allowed the exploration of power relations at all levels and the differential impact on particular groups of women.  It also highlighted how media affected violence and how violence shaped media.

She stressed that the global economic order and current macroeconomic policies, transmitted through international financial and trade institutions, transnational corporations and the interests of powerful nations, shaped a dominant media message and exacerbated violence. 

MWELWA MUSAMBACHIME (Zambia) said violence against women was difficult to eradicate for several reasons.  One of the biggest impediments had been a lack of acceptance and attention to women’s human rights.  That had been exacerbated by traditional and customary beliefs and practices, which had continued to subjugate women’s rights to those of men.  Society still did not place the same value on a woman’s life, and violence against women had continued to impair or nullify the enjoyment by women of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In combating violence against women, a concerted and multifaceted approach was needed, which included raising awareness in human rights of women, coupled with affirmative action in women’s education.  Education was an extremely important prerequisite to empowerment, and would also ensure capacity-building both in terms of enhancing the skills of individuals, and enhancing the ability of organizations and institutions to effectively realize the goal of eliminating violence.

To succeed in combating violence against women, Zambia believed it had to forge viable partnerships.  Legislative reforms were extremely difficult and would no doubt require investment of sizeable resources.  The United Nations had a role to play in supplementing the efforts of national governments, and could also assist in training judges and magistrates in international human rights law.  The United Nations could consider joint action with the Commonwealth Secretariat, which had already begun to provide technical assistance in legislative reform dealing with violence against women.

FATOU SALIOU SYLLA (Guinea) said in her country the advancement of women was very much part of the priority concerns of the Government.  That was clearly reflected in the setting up of its national mechanism on the advancement of women, which was the basic policy source for all actions taken within the field.  Priority areas included:  gender rights and power; combating poverty; education and illiteracy; and strengthening national mechanisms. 

In addition, each year the Government undertook a broad campaign that raised awareness among women about their rights and their important role in society.  In recent years, there had also been a considerable increase in women’s turnout for elections.  Currently, the Government was initiating plans with regard to women and HIV/AIDS, as well as women and education.  The latter was part of the framework to combat poverty.  She informed the Commission that serious headway had been achieved with regard to female genital mutilation. 

MARTA SCARPATO, of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, said the increasing digital divide in information and communication technologies was part of a larger picture reflecting the down side of globalization, which was allocating global resources in a highly unequal fashion.  Poor women often found their gender, class, ethnicity, and migrant status placed them even further away from access to the means for escaping the poverty trap.  In general, poor women found themselves ill-equipped to profit from the potential offered by information and communication technologies to secure jobs and raise living standards.  A shift was needed on the global, macroeconomic level to link achievement of the Millennium Goals to economic, trade, financial and information technology policies.

She was convinced that education was the single most important factor for increasing the ability of women and girls to participate fully in the new information society at all levels, including top decision-making and managerial levels.  That required a comprehensive set of interventions, ranging from quality public education for all, through scientific and technological education and research.  Education International, the global union federation in the teaching sector, drew attention to the fact that teachers and trade unions in that sector were making a substantial contribution to efforts to bridge the digital divide by developing relevant education curricula.  That contribution needed to be recognized and facilitated by governments, and shared with other civil society organizations.

A. GOPINATHAN (India) said violence against women was an issue that affected people in every region of the world, albeit to varying degrees.  The Government of India had been strengthening the existing legislative framework through review and amendments and putting in place new institutional mechanisms, wherever required.  It had also strengthened the developmental machinery to provide support to women considered to be more vulnerable, and help victims of violence rehabilitate. 

He said mention had been made in one of the statements during the general discussion of the incidents in the State of Gujarat last year.  The Government of India and the State governments had condemned those incidents unequivocally and taken prompt action to bring such incidents under check and the guilty to book.  In dealing with violence against women, India believed the essential area for the international community to focus its attention on was the removal of constitutionally guaranteed discrimination wherever it existed. 

In conclusion, he said that the rapid strides made in India in software development in information and communication technologies had had a significant impact on socio-economic growth and development.  However, the full benefits had yet to reach the entire population of India.  The challenges that confronted women were numerous and needed to be overcome, and information and communication technologies could play a useful and important role. 

BERNICE DUBOIS, of French Coordination for the European Women’s Lobby, said that when religious extremists replaced State authority, women suffered various adverse consequences.  Those included social and psychological violence, limitations on their rights to divorce and custody of their children, and submission to the authority of husbands, brothers or even sons.  In such States, collective rape, mutilation, maiming and other brutal punishments took place in the context of indifference.

The United Nations and Member States must act urgently to end such horrors, which had nothing to do with religion, but stemmed from men’s thirst for domination.  Total separation between religion and Government was essential for healthy societies, and represented the best protection for women and girls from such brutal acts.

ANNE GAHONGAYIRE (Rwanda) said the new approach to the long-term development of the country was focused on the following policies:  vision 2020 setting out the political vision for change until year 2020; the poverty-reduction strategy paper, guiding the Government and its development partners towards poverty reduction; the elaboration of a new Constitution; the decentralization policy, aiming at promoting the participation of the population in the national development process; and national information and communication technologies. 

Although tremendous actions had been undertaken, there was still a long way to go, she said.  The institutional mechanisms had been laid out and there was a very high political will, but the effects of genocide and war still weighed heavily on the population.  In addition, the level of poverty was still very high.  Rwanda appreciated and continued to welcome support and understanding from development partners.  In conclusion, she reiterated her country’s strong and consistent political will to increasingly address all aspects of discrimination, including discrimination and violence against women.

LAMUEL STANISLAUS (Grenada) said that access of women to the media and information and communication technologies could have the greatest impact as an instrument for advancing and empowering women generally, and especially women in the least developed countries.  Women’s domestic role as wife and mother, which was so vital to the well-being of society, was undervalued and underpaid.  Unpaid domestic work everywhere was seen as the woman’s responsibility and part of the woman’s condition.  In many ways, they were the caregivers, as well as the tillers of the soil who eked out the barest existence in supplying food for the family, while growing some cash crops to provide other necessary, minimal requirements, such as clothing and shelter.

Violence against women was a manifestation of a despicable form of male superiority complex, he continued, which was cruel and degrading to womanhood, very unlike behaviour in the animal kingdom, where males did not beat up on females.  He recalled Aristophanes’ Greek masterpiece entitled Lysistrata, which took place during the Peloponnesian war in 411 B.C. between the city-states of Athens and Sparta.  In the play, women used their resourcefulness and common sense to end the war -- that silly and unnecessary madness on the part of men.  First they seized the Acropolis, which contained the treasury, and next they refused to have sex with their returning husbands, a form of violence in reverse.  Thus, by seizure of the treasury and through their sex strike, they were able to end the war, and to show their husbands, fathers and sons the futility of war then -- as it is now.

JO SUTTON, of Womenspace Canada, said information and communication technologies and the knowledge society offered great opportunities and challenges.  The first challenge was access -– to computers and software and to content appropriate to women, in their own language and relevant to their culture.  Online education was of great value to women, allowing them to learn at a time they could select, rather than travelling to institutions at set times.  There were many barriers to women using information and communication technologies, including lack of spare time and fewer resources to both access and apply such technologies.  An additional barrier was the large amount of pornography that arrived in e-mails daily.

The technology now pushed pornography onto society.  That facilitated trafficking, including mail-order brides, sex tourism and prostitution.  The discussion of women, empowerment and information and communication technologies must take international legislation into account, such as the European Convention on Cybercrime, which addressed online hate speech, and child exploitation. 

Rights of Reply

The representative of Israel, speaking in right of reply, said he deeply regretted statements during the general debate that had revealed contempt for the objectives delegations were collectively seeking to advance in the Commission.  Those delegates motivated by humanitarian concerns should probably redirect their criticisms towards those who had continued to obstruct peace efforts through terrorist acts.  Israel had consistently shown its readiness to pursue peace, while the Palestinian side had continued a path of violence, which often affected women and children.  He urged the Palestinians to advance the rights of women through peaceful dialogue with Israel.

The observer of Palestine, exercising her right of reply, highlighted two points that she believed important, since the Israeli delegation seemed to have a short memory.  First of all, the Palestinian leadership had condemned all recent bombings.  At the same time, Israel was occupying entire regions and was systematically violating human rights.  She wanted to hear, if only once, Israel condemning its own systematic violations of human rights.  Second, the issue of the plight of the Palestinian women had been on the agenda of the Commission for 20 years.  It was the United Nations responsibility to solve the situation of Palestinian women.  Therefore, talking about their situation was in no way politicizing the work of the Commission.

The representative of Israel said he regretted the loss of lives, whether they were Israeli or Palestinian.  The idea that they had been premeditated or planned was an audacity.  Israel had an urgent need to protect its citizens.  Palestinian terrorists were nurtured by the current leadership.  Those individuals who had expressed regret for Israeli lives were the same ones who gave orders causing the loss of Israeli lives.  Israel must attempt to ensure that its citizens had the greatest right of all –- the right to life.  Its efforts had been severely hindered by Palestinian terrorists who had launched attacks against Israel.  He urged Palestinians to fight terrorists, rather than engaging in the

time-consuming and fruitless endeavour of attacking Israel in a United Nations forum.

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For information media. Not an official record.