COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN OPENS THREE-WEEK SESSION

12 January 2004
WOM/1422

COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN OPENS THREE-WEEK SESSION

12/01/2004
Press Release
WOM/1422


Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

629th Meeting (AM)


COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN OPENS THREE-WEEK SESSION


Economic, Social Policies Needed to Achieve Convention’s Aims

Also Critical to Realizing Millennium Development Goals, Committee Told


Linking implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women to fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Jose Antonio Ocampo, told the opening meeting of the Committee mandated to monitor the Convention’s implementation that the economic and social policies necessary for achieving its goals were also critical to reaching the Millennium Development Goals.


Addressing the 23-member Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Mr. Ocampo said he wished to start a dialogue with the Committee early on in the assumption of his post.  By legally binding those States that had acceded to it, the 1981 Convention had created entitlements for women, as well as obligations for ratifying States, to give full effect to its provisions. 


Noting that the persistence of discriminatory legislation constituted a failure of implementation of the Convention and that the Committee regularly found persistent discrimination against women in all reporting States, he said that reporting countries had nevertheless engaged in a constructive dialogue with the experts -- and that was an essential aspect of protecting women’s rights.  That dialogue identified positive developments and addressed gaps in implementation as States’ efforts fell short of Convention requirements.


Agreeing that the Convention and the Committee were instrumental for progress in achieving the Millennium Goals, the Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, Angela King, said she placed the Committee’s mandate in the larger context of the work of the United Nations and the increasingly systematic attention given to gender equality in its policy discussions.  She added that the Millennium Declaration had recognized that gender equality was essential to combating poverty, hunger and disease, as well as for sustaining development.


Carolyn Hannan, Director, Division for the Advancement of Women, said that since the Committee last met in June, San Marino had ratified the Convention, bringing to 175 the total number of States parties.  In 2003, five States had ratified or acceded to the Convention, and there were now 59 States parties to the Optional Protocol, which allowed individual women or groups of women to petition the Committee.  Such progress confirmed States’ commitment to the protection and promotion of women’s human rights through international human rights standards and confirmed their commitment to complement national remedies with international avenues of redress.  Still, a large number of States had not yet submitted initial reports, she said.


The Committee Chairperson, Feride Acar, updated the Committee on her activities since the last session and noted that 2004 would mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Assembly’s adoption of the Convention.  That was an occasion to celebrate the distance the international community had travelled in protecting and promoting women’s human rights.  It should be used to enhance the voice and visibility of the Convention as the legally mandated international “watchdog” of women’s human rights, she urged.


In other business, a new member, Dorcas Ama Frema Coker-Appiah, was welcomed.  She would complete the term of office of Professor Akua Kuenyehia in accordance with article 17 of the Convention.  Also, expert Aida Gonzalez Martinez introduced the report of the pre-session working group.  Christina Brautigam, Chief of the Women’s Rights Section of the Division for the Advancement of Women, introduced two items:  implementation of article 21 of the Convention, which concerns the Committee’s reporting to the General Assembly, as well as an item on ways and means of expediting the Committee’s work.


The Committee will meet at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 13 January, to begin its consideration of country reports.


Background


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women opened its thirtieth session this morning.  For background, see Press Release WOM/1421 of 8 January.


Statements


JOSE ANTONIO OCAMPO, Under-Secretary-General, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said he wished to start a dialogue with the Committee early on in the assumption of his new post.  Both the United Nations system and Member States had placed great emphasis on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  Progress towards achieving them required that everyone seek growth that was equitable, inclusive and supportive of gender equality.  The Millennium Declaration had called for the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment as effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease, and to stimulate development that was truly sustainable.  Towards that goal, DESA advocated the full and effective integration of social development goals into economic development policies.


He said social policies should not be regarded merely as mechanisms to compensate for the adverse social effects that an economic system might generate.  Outcomes and agreed conclusions of intergovernmental bodies were road maps at national and international levels for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  Many policy instruments addressed gender equality, either as a goal in itself or as a means to achieving other goals.  The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, on the other hand, created legal obligations for States parties to fulfil and promote and respect women’s rights.  In that regard, it differed qualitatively from the instruments adopted by governments.  As a Treaty that legally bound those States that acceded to it, it created entitlements for women and obligations for ratifying States to give full effect to its provisions.


Further, the Convention encompassed a full range of civil, political and cultural rights in its comprehensive scope, he continued.  During its consideration of legislative advances, the Committee consistently emphasized the economic and social policies necessary for progress towards achieving the Convention’s goals, which were critical to reaching the Millennium Development Goals.  It regularly found the persistence of discrimination against women in basically all reporting States.  For example, discriminatory laws governing marriage, divorce and property division persisted, and penal law was often especially discriminatory.  Practices governing ownership and land inheritance likewise continued to be discriminatory.  The creation of multiple legal systems also often resulted in discrimination against women.


Indeed, he said, the persistence of those types of discriminatory legislation constituted a failure of implementation of the Convention.  It also posed a challenge for achieving the targets contained in the outcome document of the session on women in 2000.  The persistence of stereotypical attitudes created and sustained a pervasive climate against women and presented a critical challenge to achieving gender equality.  Legislative gaps left women in many countries without rights or effective recourse to redress grievances.  The Optional Protocol, which so far had been ratified by 59 States parties, was an essential new tool for women to remedy discrimination and should also spur States parties to prevent discrimination nationally, in law and in practice, and ensure women’s access to justice.  The Optional Protocol, which had entered into force at the end of 2000 and entitled the Committee to consider petitions from individual women or groups of women who had exhausted national remedies, would spark progress for women worldwide.


He said he was aware of the Committee’s concerns about outstanding country reports.  At the same time, those that had reported had engaged in a constructive dialogue with the experts.  That was an essential aspect of protecting women’s rights.  That dialogue identified positive developments, but more importantly, addressed gaps in implementation as States’ efforts fell short of Convention requirements.  While global implementation strategies could complement national efforts, governments’ commitments and actions resulting from global conferences did not reduce States parties’ obligations under the Convention.  He attributed great importance to the Convention and to the work of the Committee, including for the work of his Department.  He assured members of DESA’s continuing full support, as well as his personal support.


Placing the Committee’s mandate in the larger context of the work of the United Nations and the increasingly systematic attention given to gender equality in its policy discussions, ANGELA KING, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said the Convention and the Committee were instrumental for progress in achieving the Millennium Goals.  The Millennium Declaration recognized that gender equality was essential to combating poverty, hunger and disease, as well as for sustaining development.  Her Office and the Division for the Advancement of Women continued to monitor the degree of attention given to gender perspectives in efforts aimed at achieving the package of goals, along with Goal 3, which specifically concerned gender equality and women’s empowerment.


She said that the Committee, in its constructive dialogue with States parties, had identified key areas of discrimination against women, including in the fields of education, health, and poverty eradication.  It also provided clear recommendations for action by individual States parties to eliminate such discrimination and ensure gender equality.  In 2005, Member States would convene a major event to review progress made in implementing all of the commitments made in the Millennium Declaration and its Goals.  The Committee might wish to start thinking about its contribution to ensure a gender dimension in that review -– especially as that coincided with the implementation of the 10-year review and appraisal of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Outcome Document of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly.


Updating the activities of the General Assembly with respect to the issues before the Committee, she noted that the Convention and gender equality were important aspects of attention in the statements of many delegations during the general debate.  The Assembly had adopted a resolution on the Convention, which welcomed the Committee’s efforts to enhance its effectiveness and working methods.  It was also deeply involved with a major new initiative to adopt a comprehensive resolution on violence against women.  While the original draft, which covered a broad range of types of violence against women, was not adopted, it gave rise to long and intense discussion on the subject.  The Assembly, however, did adopt by consensus a resolution on the elimination of domestic violence against women.  That was the first time an intergovernmental body had specifically addressed the issue.


The resolution called on States parties to the Convention to include in their reports to the Committee information on legal and policy measures adopted and implemented in their efforts to prevent and eliminate domestic violence against women, she said.  A second text requested the Secretary-General to conduct an in-depth study on all forms of violence against women, in close cooperation with all relevant United Nations bodies and the Special Rapporteur on violence against women.  The study should be completed within two years.


She also provided updates on the work of the Commission on the Status of Women and on the Division’s convening of two expert group meetings to assist that body.  She said her Office was presently organizing an expert group meeting on enhancing women’s participation in electoral processes in post-conflict countries, to be held in Glen Cove, New York from 19 to 22 January.


Following further updates on related activities since the Committee last met in June and July, she wished members well in their deliberations during the next three weeks and pledged the Secretariat’s full support in facilitating their task in every possible way.


CAROLYN HANNAN, Director, Division for the Advancement of Women, welcomed the Committee’s new member, Dorcas Ama Frema Coker-Appiah, who was completing the term of office of Professor Akua Kuenyehia in accordance with article 17 of the Convention.  Since the Committee’s last meeting, San Marino had ratified the Convention, bringing the total number of States parties to 175.  In 2003, five States had ratified or acceded to the Convention.  There were now some 59 States parties to the Convention’s Optional Protocol, an additional six ratifications since the last session, namely, Poland, Philippines, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia and Montenegro.  There had also been two additional acceptances of the amendment to article 20.1 on the Committee’s meeting time, namely, the Philippines and Croatia, bringing the total number of acceptances to 42.  Also, on 22 December 2003, France’s Government had informed the Secretary-General that it had decided to lift its reservation to article 5 (b) and 16 1(d) of the Convention.


Progress in the ratification of the Convention and its Optional Protocol was a significant confirmation of State’s commitment to the protection and promotion of the human rights of women through international human rights standards, she said.  It also confirmed States’ commitment to complement national remedies with international avenues of redress for alleged violations of the rights protected by the Convention.  However, the expanding number of States parties to the Optional Protocol also posed new challenges to the Committee to ensure full attention to its mandate under both the Convention and the Optional Protocol within the limited meeting time currently allocated to the Committee.


While the growing number of ratifications was a positive development, the large number of States which had not yet submitted initial reports remained a cause of concern, she added.  The Division’s technical assistance activities remained a critical part of its overall efforts in support of the protection and promotion of women’s human rights.  Since the last session, the Division had implemented a subregional workshop on reporting for 13 African countries hosted by the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania from 11 to 13 September.  A judicial colloquium had been held from 9 to 11 September, also in Arusha, for judicial practitioners from 11 countries on the Convention’s use in domestic courts.


The Division had received a financial contribution from the Government of New Zealand for technical cooperation activities in support of the Convention implementation in countries emerging from conflict, she noted.  As a result, the Division was working with Afghanistan and Sierra Leone in designing a series of activities to raise awareness of the Convention.  The Division had also received a financial contribution from the Swedish International Development Agency for the preparation of a Convention implementation kit which would consist of an implementation manual and a training kit.


The Division had also assisted the Government of Mali, at its request, in the preparation of its combined second to fifth periodic reports, she said.  The Division’s technical assistance activities over the last months should make a significant contribution to States parties’ capacity to implement the Convention, follow-up to the Committee’s concluding comments and expand use of the Optional Protocol.  Timely reporting and consideration of reports was one aspect of that commitment.  A second aspect was the common efforts by all treaty bodies to ensure that reporting did fulfil its purpose of enhanced treaty implementation at the national level.  Work had begun regarding the recommendation that the Secretariat examine the possibilities of greater harmonization of the reporting guidelines for each of the treaty bodies.


During the current session, two States parties, Bhutan and Kuwait, would present reports for the first time, she said.  Belarus, Ethiopia, Germany, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria and Nepal would present periodic reports.  The Committee would also continue its work under the Optional Protocol, including considering the report of its Working Group on Communications under the Optional Protocol.  She assured the Committee of the Division’s full support in the discharge of its responsibilities under the Convention and its Optional Protocol.


FERIDE ACAR, Committee Chairperson and expert from Turkey, reporting on her activities since the Committee’s last session, said she had addressed the General Assembly’s Third Committee in October.  Participation in the Assembly’s work constituted an important element in linking the work of the treaty Committee with the political processes of the United Nations.  It was an important reaffirmation that policy and treaty-based approaches to gender equality and the advancement of women must go hand in hand in order to achieve true and sustainable progress.  In her statement to the Third Committee, she had referred to the Committee’s concern about the status of women’s human rights in the post-war era Iraq, a State party to the Convention.  She had briefed on non-reporting by States parties and steps taken to address those delays.


She said a total of 33 States parties now awaited consideration of their reports, and since the last session, 14 States had submitted their reports.  Given that number, if eight reports were considered per session, the Committee had enough reports to fill sessions until January 2006.  Reporting States parties would, therefore, have to wait some two years for their reports to be considered.


Among her other activities, she said she had briefed Parliamentarians during a day-long session on the Convention and its reporting process in October 2003.  In her personal capacity, she had delivered a keynote address at a symposium organized by the Gender Equality, Cabinet Office of Japan.  She had also participated in a two-day brainstorming session convened by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Yakin Erturk, in Istanbul.  She had brought to the discussion the Committee’s critical work in relation to violence against women, and the Special Rapporteur had accepted her invitation to meet with the Committee during the session.  At the adoption of the new Constitution by the Loya Jirga in Afghanistan, which included an explicit guarantee of the equal rights of women and men, she had issued a press statement applauding that historic achievement, she added.


The year 2004 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Assembly’s adoption of the Convention, she said.  As such, it called for an occasion to celebrate the Committee’s achievements and the distance the international community had travelled in protecting and promoting women’s human rights.  The anniversary was also a reminder of the work and obstacles that still remained to reach the goal of the Convention’s full implementation.  She strongly believed that the occasion should be used to convey those messages to wider segments of the international community as well as to enhance the voice and visibility of the Convention as the legally mandated international “watchdog” concerning women’s human rights.  She looked forward to an international event to commemorate the anniversary during the Assembly’s session in October 2004.


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For information media. Not an official record.