3 March 2004


Press Release

Commission on the Status of Women                          

Forty-eighth Session                                       

6th & 7th Meetings (AM & PM)



Hears from More Than 50 Speakers in Continued Debate

It was not possible to achieve development targets or for peace processes to succeed without the equal participation and full involvement of women, the Commission on the Status of Women was told today as it continued its forty-eighth session, hearing from than 50 speakers.

Among the lessons the World Bank had learned about how and why it needed to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment was that a comprehensive approach to gender issues and development issues went hand in hand, its representative said.  In addition, true development could not occur unless women enjoyed equal rights, resources and voice with men.  Achieving gender equality was important not only as a goal in itself, but also as a path to achieving a better life for all.

She added that United Nations agencies, development banks, bilateral donors and civil society groups needed to collaborate actively if they were to effectively communicate to the global community the importance of raising women’s status as part of achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Several delegations decried the fact that women were excluded from all phases of peace processes.  Women’s rights were rarely integrated into peace agreements and in the structures supporting post-conflict reconstruction, stated Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Namibia’s Minister for Women Affairs and Child Welfare.  “When we fail to build upon women’s strengths, the whole peace process suffers.”

Despite the disproportionate impact of conflict on women, she said, they continued to hold their families and communities together.  In some cases, they had managed to bring their experiences into formal peace processes.  However, those efforts were insufficiently recognized and supported, both politically and financially.

Filomena Delgado, Vice-Minister for Family and the Promotion of Women of Angola, said that during the period of conflict in her country, women had mobilized communities and developed peace-building strategies, and had asked to take part in peace negotiations.  However, despite recognition for their efforts to promote peace, women seldom had equal participation in decisions to negotiate peace and resolve conflicts.  The participation of women and inclusion of the gender perspective in both formal and informal peace processes was vital in establishing sustainable peace.

Speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Asha Rose Migiro, Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children of the United Republic of Tanzania, said that for centuries women had been leading peace advocates, both in their families and communities.  They played a key role in organizing peace and reconciliation efforts, and rebuilding war-torn communities.  Yet, they were excluded and grossly underrepresented in formal negotiations for peace, and their involvement in reconstruction after war was hardly noticeable.

Women’s initiatives in peace processes were mainly limited by a lack of decision-making powers and resources, she added.  Funds were crucial in sustaining women’s involvement during peace processes to help build their capacities and ensure gender mainstreaming during implementation of peace agreements.

During the morning session, Angela E.V. King, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, presented an oral update to the Secretary-General’s report on the improvement of the status of women in the United Nations system, covering the period 1 July 2003 to 31 December 2003.  In the larger group of professional staff with appointments of one year or more, the overall proportion of women in the Secretariat had increased from 35.6 to 36.4 per cent. 

She added that there were six women at the Under-Secretary-General level out of 37, the highest ever.  Among the reasons cited for the slow pace of progress was that, at the entry level, the current staffing system was not proactive or targeted enough and relied too much on Web-based vacancy announcements.

Statements were also made today by ministers and representatives of Algeria, Norway, Israel, Canada, Kenya, China, Denmark, Japan, Bolivia, Mexico, Venezuela, Pakistan, Iraq, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Fiji, Argentina, New Zealand, Guatemala, Botswana, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Ghana, United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Kuwait, Congo, Guyana, Myanmar, Iceland, Sweden, South Africa, India, Liechtenstein, Iran, Croatia, Benin, Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation.

The Observer for Palestine and the representatives of the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) (on behalf of the five United Nations regional commissions), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization also spoke.

In addition, representatives of Socialist International Women, the Colombian Commission of Jurists and Asia Pacific Women’s Watch addressed the Commission.

Statements in right of reply were made by the representative of Israel and the Observer for Palestine.

The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 4 March, to continue its general debate.


The Commission on the Status of Women met today to continue the general debate of its forty-eighth session.  For information on the current session, see Press Release WOM/1435 of 1 March.


ANGELA E.V. KING, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, presented an oral update to the Secretary-General’s report on the improvement of the status of women in the United Nations system, covering the period 1 July 2003 to 31 December 2003.  The report covered the status of women in both the Secretariat and the rest of the United Nations system.  In the Secretariat, in the last six-month period, in the larger group of professional staff with appointments of one year or more, the overall proportion of women had increased from 35.6 to 36.4 per cent.  At the D-1 level and above, there had been an increase to 26.8 per cent compared to 25.6 per cent six months earlier.  There were six women at the Under-Secretary-General level out of 37, the highest ever.

Regarding the achievement of gender targets in individual departments, she stated that four departments with 20 or more professional staff had met or exceeded the target of 50/50 gender distribution.  Only three departments/offices had met or exceeded the target of gender parity at the D-1 level and above -– the Department of Management, the Department of Public Information (DPI) and the Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator (UNSECOORD).

In terms of the United Nations system, a number of United Nations entities had made advances regarding strategies for attracting more women to their staff and promoting women.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had included the reduction of seniority requirements at the P-3 level and above until gender parity was achieved and was focusing on the retention of women by introducing more flexible and family-friendly policies.

Her office and the Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM) had continued their discussions on how to better integrate special measures, including the system of the departmental focal points in the current staff selection system.  Regarding the actual selection process, focal points could be more involved in a number of areas.

Turning to the reasons for the slow pace of progress, she said that, at the entry level, the current staffing system was not proactive or targeted enough and relied too much on Web-based vacancy announcements.  Also, among the female staff in the General Service category, there were significant numbers with advanced academic qualifications, international experience and language skills.  Progression for that category of staff, however, was severely restricted due to the need to pass the G to P exam and the limit of only 10 per cent of vacant P-2 posts allotted to them.  The study containing those and other reasons would be discussed and presented to the Assembly at its fifty-ninth session.

ASHA ROSE MIGIRO, Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children of the United Republic of Tanzania, speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), noted that women held the social fabric together in times of conflict and war, defending life, freedom and justice with heroic resolve.  For centuries they had been leading peace advocates, both in their families and communities.  Women played a key role in organizing peace and reconciliation efforts, and rebuilding war-torn communities.  Yet, they were excluded and grossly underrepresented in formal negotiations for peace, and their involvement in reconstruction after war was hardly noticeable.

Women’s initiatives in peace processes were mainly limited by a lack of decision-making powers and resources, she said.  They rarely found themselves in leadership positions in different parties to a conflict, and had no leverage to influence support for funding of women’s initiatives.  Funds were crucial in sustaining women’s involvement during peace processes to help build women’s capacities and ensure gender mainstreaming during implementation of peace agreements.  The goal should be to empower women politically to increase their control over decisions affecting their lives.

The SADC had continued to create strategic policies to empower women, mainly through education, affirmative action, gender mainstreaming, and advocacy on the importance of gender equality and the need to live in a gender equitable world.  Its members were committed to ensuring equal representation in decision-making positions, and achieving at least a 30 per cent target of women in political and decision-making positions by the year 2005.  As of December 2003, the proportion of women in parliament in the region stood at 19.7 per cent, and in cabinets,
16 per cent.  In amendments to the SADC Parliamentary Forum Constitution, the target was to ensure 50 per cent representation of women in the Forum.

NETUMBO NANDI-NDAITWAH, Minister for Women Affairs and Child Welfare of Namibia, said that, despite the disproportionate impact of conflict on women, they continued to hold their families and communities together.  In some cases, they had managed to bring their experiences into formal peace processes.  However, those efforts were insufficiently recognized and supported, both politically and financially.  As a result, women’s rights were rarely integrated into peace agreements and in the structures supporting post-conflict reconstruction.  “When we fail to build upon women’s strengths, the whole peace process suffers”, she said.  Without women’s equal participation and full involvement in peace processes, it was not possible to attain justice or development, or protect women from the violence and suffering unleashed during conflict.

In reaffirming its commitment to Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), all Namibian delegations participating in negotiations and peacekeeping missions should always consist of both men and women, she said.  Her country believed that involving women in peace processes brought a positive dimension to the promotion of peace and security.  Furthermore, as a troop-contributing country, Namibia had incorporated gender perspectives and HIV/AIDS awareness training in its training manuals for all its uniformed personnel, and ensured that women were part of the Namibian contingent participating in United Nations peacekeeping operations.

Her Government had also taken a number of measures to involve men and boys in the promotion of gender equality, she added.  For example, men were serving in the Ministry of Women Affairs and Child Welfare, including at the managerial level.  A major development was the formation of a non-governmental organization by Namibian men called Namibian Men for Change, which encouraged men to take part in activities leading to gender equality.  The organization had a special programme focusing on gender-based violence.

Ms. Kerkeb (Algeria) lauded the Commission for heightening awareness of women’s problems and recommending actions for resolving them.  Africa, in particular, was faced with multidimensional challenges, including poverty, illiteracy, HIV/AIDS and conflict.  Algeria had striven to realize the Beijing commitments by setting up policies and programmes to mainstream the gender perspective, and offer women opportunities in all areas.  It had developed a vast national plan and made additional resources available in education and health.  The Government had also set up a Ministry on the Status of Women and a commission for the revision of the family code.  The country was firmly committed to emancipating Algerian women, believing that no future was possible if women could not exercise their rights with freedom and dignity.

LAILA DAVOY, Minister for Children and Family Affairs of Norway, said gender equality should not mean giving less priority to men, but new possibilities for them to live a different life from the traditional one.  Her country had decided in 1993 that four weeks of the total parental leave would be reserved exclusively for fathers.  Today, 85 per cent of Norwegian fathers used that right.  However, despite achievements in her country, there were still some challenges ahead.  One of them was that the Norwegian business sector was still dominated by men.  Women make up only 8.5 per cent of public limited companies’ boards in Norway, although women make up 42 per cent of cabinet positions and 37 per cent of members of Parliament.

Another serious challenge, she said, was men’s violence against women and children.  Men needed to discuss the causes for male violence against women and children, both in private life and in situations of war and conflict, and address men’s responsibility on the matter.  From a donor perspective, her country would continue to support activities that took due account of gender balance in peace negotiations, in reconciliation teams and in constitutional, legal and electoral commissions.  It would also support inclusion of gender units in peacekeeping operations and training on codes of conduct, gender sensitivity and awareness.

In conclusion, she said women’s equal and active participation was essential for democracy, whether in peaceful or in conflict situations.  In post-conflict situations, greater participation by women would give more legitimacy to transformation processes and could, thereby, promote stability and lasting peace.  Women’s participation was also crucial to good policy-making and implementation.

MICHAL MODAI (Israel) said that only in the last decade had her country realized that without the involvement and influence of males, it would not be possible to progress as much as it would like, and achieve the equality for which it was striving.  Women’s organizations in Israel had invested a great deal of effort to empower women and help them advance in the different fields of life.  She hoped to see more women in leadership positions in every sphere of life in the country.  The goal was to increase the political representation of women from all sectors in the municipal and national levels in order to strengthen the status of women within Israeli society, to support social integration and to advance democracy and equality.

There were different tools to promote those goals, she noted, including leadership workshops for women and girls.  She believed that education towards the empowerment of women should start at an early age, preferably in day-care centres.  The day-care centres played a pivotal role in building up the self-image and self-confidence of the child.  In certain schools, the subject of the status of women had been included in the matriculation examinations taken in the subject of social science.  Youngsters must be made aware of the issue of gender equality, and that would influence their behaviour in the future.

JEAN AUGUSTINE, Minister of State (Multiculturalism and the Status of Women) of Canada, said the vast majority of social and economic indicators showed that women still did not fare as well as men.  It was, therefore, essential that support for women’s empowerment and women’s organizations continued and that women and men worked together in partnership.  The greater involvement of men and boys as agents for change was especially important in correcting unequal gender-power relations, which hindered the achievement of gender equality, as well as such other global goals as reducing poverty and combating HIV/AIDS.

Persistent gender imbalance also hindered successful conflict prevention and resolution, as well as post-conflict reconstruction.  During its tenure in the Security Council, Canada had played a catalytic role in the development and adoption of resolution 1325 (2000), and had actively promoted its implementation, both at home and abroad, she said.

She said there should be an opportunity for ministers with responsibilities for the promotion of gender equality to meet, as well as others who were directly charged with finding the right mix of policies, training and mainstreaming initiatives that would empower women and girls and result in the achievement of gender equality.  She stressed the need to keep focused on achieving results, as well as the need to talk to one another, as well as to non-governmental counterparts, as creatively, candidly and informally as the United Nations system could manage.

ALICEN RONO CHELAITE (Kenya) said her country’s constitution sought to empower women in areas of previous discrimination.  It addressed such issues as equality before the law, protection of matrimonial property, legal aid, and included a Government commitment to fulfil international obligations.  The country’s Transnational Policy on Gender and Development, approved in 2002, aimed to transform international instruments into a domestic context.  The Government had also outlined strategies for removing gender inequalities, had analyzed socio-economic and political factors that hindered equitable development, and was encouraging men to promote gender issues.  In March 2003, it had established a subcommittee to coordinate the fight against AIDS, recognizing that women were more vulnerable to the disease and comprised the largest proportion of carriers.

She concluded that significant progress had been made to advance gender equity, but added that cultural practices still restricted the lives of women and girls in several areas.

ZHANG YISHAN (China) said that the inclusion by the Commission of the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality indicated that important progress had been made on the issue.  Supporting the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s report, he said the focus should be on helping men to change gender stereotypical perceptions and encouraging them to share family responsibility.

He also expressed satisfaction that women’s equal participation in peace processes had become a worldwide concern and there had been some progress.  Such progress, in both women’s rights and participation in peace processes, should continue. 

China, he said, continued to encourage women’s active participation in peace processes and had been earnestly implementing the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action through its National Program for Development of Women 2001-2010.  Conditions for women’s employment and entrepreneurship had been strengthened and the average school enrolment rate of girls had reached over 90 per cent, while legal protections for women’s rights had also been reinforced.

NANCY SPENCE, of the Commonwealth Secretariat, said the Commonwealth had continued to play a major global advocacy role for gender mainstreaming in such key development areas as poverty eradication, the Millennium Goals, the multilateral trading system, HIV/AIDS, and gender-based violence.  The Secretariat’s strategy was based on working closely with national women’s machineries in their efforts to promote gender mainstreaming and provide technical assistance in capacity-building, strengthening institutions and sharing good practices across the Commonwealth.  The Secretariat and other Commonwealth associations were also working with key constituencies in mainstreaming gender, focusing on parliamentarians, local government, the private sector, trade unions, young people, the media, and the education and health sectors.

Women’s full and equal participation in the frontline of democracy, peace and reconstruction efforts had also been given priority and recognition within the Commonwealth, she said.  In addition, many Commonwealth countries had signed and ratified the various human rights instruments and had taken steps to bring them in line with domestic legislation.  In the area of violence against women, the Commonwealth had adopted an integrated, rights-based approach, recognizing the norms, standards and principles of international treaties and declarations.  It also promoted a multi-sectoral approach to HIV/AIDS, focusing on effecting specific changes in areas having a direct impact on the lives of women and girls.

ELLEN MARGRETHE LOJ (Denmark) associated her statement with that of Ireland on behalf of the European Union.  She said that, while the status of women had improved in many ways, concrete action and a stronger political will at the national level was needed to ensure the realization of all human rights for women.  Commitments made in Cairo and Beijing, as well as in the complementary Millennium Declaration, should be carried through with perseverance.

She expressed concern about recent pressure on women’s reproductive and sexual rights.  For the empowerment of women and the fight against HIV/AIDS, it was of paramount importance to ensure access to information and a full range of reproductive health care services, as agreed upon in Cairo.  The Commission should also demand high standards in the implementation of Council resolution 1325 (2001) for protecting women and girls in armed conflict and thoroughly mainstreaming gender across the board, in a pragmatic, achievable manner.

Regarding the role of men and boys, she hoped that the current session would thoroughly discuss such important issues as their gender socialization, their combining working life with family life, and their involvement in combating HIV/AIDS.  Increasing research on the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality should also be discussed.

YORIKO MEGURO (Japan) said that a “gender-equal” society was a society where both women and men could reconcile work and family life and attain full self-realization, regardless of their gender.  Efforts to create such a society would lead to true gender equality.  Raising the awareness of men and boys was indispensable for the realization of such a society.

The Government was making efforts to develop an employment environment where working women could display their ability fully without facing any sex discrimination and realize real gender equality in the workplace.  However, there was still a de facto gap between male and female workers, based on persistent stereotyped perceptions of gender roles.  To dissolve the gap, the Government was encouraging companies to implement a benchmark project that helped a company measure its working environment for female workers by comparing it with that of other companies in the same industry, and by issuing a booklet presenting examples of positive actions taken by companies.

Human security was a concept Japan had been promoting as one of the pillars of its foreign policy, and the protection of women under armed conflict was regarded as one of the most important issues in human security, she said.  Also, Japan’s Official Development Assistance Charter stated that a gender equality perspective was particularly important in the formulation and implementation of aid policy and should always be taken into consideration.  Her country recognized women’s empowerment as indispensable for peace, security and nation building.

TERESA CANAVIRI SIRPA, Vice-Minister for Women’s Issues of Bolivia, said her Office had become more proactive in the struggle for gender equality.  It had made progress attempting to reduce the gaps between men and women, and was working on new ways to broaden the political representation of women.  The quota law currently set a 30 per cent goal for women’s representation in political parties.  In the legislature and judiciary, only 10 per cent were women, while in trade unions, women held 7 per cent of leadership positions.

Bolivia had set up networks to prevent domestic violence, which affected all ethnic groups and cultures, she said.  In education, teaching was now provided in indigenous languages, and gender criteria were included in the curriculum.  The Government was trying to increase the availability of education for children in rural areas, where fewer girls than boys attended school.  In the area of health, attempts were being made to reduce the high infant mortality rate, and the number of women getting prenatal care was steadily increasing.

AIDA CARRENO (Mexico) reiterated her country’s commitment to making progress on women’s rights.  Since Mexico’s ratification of the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention in 1981, it had submitted five national reports.  The recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had helped combat discrimination against women in her country.  Mexico was currently working on its sixth report, to be submitted in December 2004. 

With regard to national laws, she stated that last year the Government had adopted a federal law on the prevention and elimination of discrimination.  Also, work continued to combat gender-based violence and a body to coordinate work in that area had been established.  A hotline in that regard was set up in 2003.  To ensure equal opportunity and equal rights for women, it was essential to include men and boys in the design and implementation of programmes.  More discussions like the one held yesterday on the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality were needed. 

Her Government was trying to enhance campaigns against stereotypes and to promote women’s rights.  In 2003, it conducted campaigns against violence and preventing HIV/AIDS, which were done in indigenous languages.  Through its national mechanism for the advancement of women, Mexico was providing training to civil servants at the federal and state levels and to those in the legislature and judiciary, as well as civil society leaders.  In the area of education, it was developing projects on gender equality and had courses on building gender equality in primary schools.

FILOMENA DELGADO, Vice-Minister of Family and the Promotion of Women of Angola, said that her country had faced a long period of armed conflict after its independence.  Women had organized peace marches, protests, and activities aimed at promoting a culture of tolerance and understanding.  They had mobilized communities and developed other peace building strategies and had asked to take part in peace negotiations.  However, despite recognition for their efforts to promote peace, women seldom had equal participation in decisions to negotiate peace and resolve conflicts.  The participation of women and inclusion of the gender perspective in both formal and informal peace processes was vital in establishing sustainable peace.

Women could not voice their concerns if they were not consulted or involved in peace negotiations, she continued.  United Nations resolution 1325 (2000) recognized the impact of conflicts on women and called on governments to ensure measures to protect and respect women’s human rights.  The denial of that equality was an injustice against more than half of the world’s population, and promoted harmful attitudes among men.  Only when women were accepted in all fields of human activity would they be in a position to talk about creating adequate moral and psychological environments for international peace.

DORIS ACEVEDO (Venezuela) said that her Government’s policies for women were designed with due regard for their diversity, with particular emphasis on rural, indigenous and afro-descendent women.  Venezuela continued to focus on strengthening governmental mechanisms for the advancement of women by reinforcing the National Institute for Women and enhancing its efforts to support the creation of regional and municipal institutes to provide assistance on women’s issues.  Some 10,036 community centres had been established in the country, in which approximately 100,360 women participated, thus contributing to the democratization of women’s participation in public life.

Among the efforts to promote gender equality in the economic sphere, she noted the creation in 2001 of the Women’s Development Bank, which aimed to advance the situation of women with low incomes and those living in extreme poverty, and programmes to provide micro-credit to women entrepreneurs.  The Women’s Institute also provided job training in non-traditional areas in order to overcome employment segmentation.  Through a recently implemented programme, almost
2 million people had overcome illiteracy in 2003.  The Government was trying to improve access to basic and higher education for the marginalized sectors of the population; and the Institute was implementing a programme on sexual and reproductive health in the public sector. 

Efforts were being made to ensure greater access to health programmes for communities with low incomes, she continued.  Another important achievement had been the promulgation of the 1999 Law on Domestic Violence.  However, there had been only limited progress in the promotion of the political participation of women.  In 1999 and 2000, some 14 per cent of women had been elected to positions in local municipalities, state assemblies and the National Assembly.  The Institute had developed a plan for the participation of women in high-level government positions, achieving an importance increase in the last years.  The Government was committed to overcoming the social divide, but it was necessary to develop a political culture that would integrate gender equality into the political and governmental agenda.

KAREN MASON, Director, Gender and Development, World Bank, said that achieving gender equality was important not only as a goal in itself, but also as a path to achieving a better life for all.  Today, taking women’s and men’s different needs, constraints and opportunities into account was increasingly at the centre of the way the Bank did business.  In the years since Beijing, the Bank had learned important lessons about how and why it needed to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in its assistance to partner countries.  The first lesson was that United Nations agencies, development banks, bilateral donors and civil society groups needed to collaborate actively if they were to effectively communicate to the global community the importance of raising women’s status as part of achieving the Millennium Development Goals. 

A second lesson, she continued, was that a comprehensive approach to gender issues and development issues went hand in hand, and that true development could not occur unless women enjoyed equal rights, resources and voice with men.  Also, raising the status of women required a change in the attitudes and behaviour of all citizens –- men and boys, as well as women and girls -– because it was only when all citizens agree that women deserved equal rights that their status and empowerment would increase.  The Bank was looking forward to working with its partners to help achieve a world in which women and men lived on equal terms.

NILOFAR BAKHTIAR (Pakistan) said 20 per cent of Pakistani parliamentarians were women, as were 33 per cent of representatives in local bodies.  27,000 women councillors had been trained under the women’s Political Participation Programme (W3P), which had been selected by the United Nations as a best practice.  The Pakistan National Commission on the Status of Women had examined honour killings and hadood laws and had recommended their repeal.  There was also legislation ready against honour killings.

Highlighting other achievements in her country, she said this year Pakistan had hosted the third Summit of the First ladies of the Regional Steering Committee on Advancement of Rural and Island Women of the Asia Pacific Region (RSCAP), attended by 13 countries, which had adopted a set of recommendations, the “Islamabad Declaration”, that would guide actions for the next three years.

Turning to the issue of peace, she said at present, South Asia was experiencing a thaw.  Two weeks ago, the foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India had met in Islamabad, and cultural exchanges had taken place.  It was time for the women of Pakistan and India to take the lead, “for if the men at some stage may refuse to get out of the past, then it is up to us, women, to choose a future”.

Ms. BARWARI, Minister of Municipalities and Public Works of Iraq, said Iraqi women had had no rights or privileges that had been endorsed by the law over the past decade.  They had suffered from poverty, low living standards, malnutrition, and illiteracy.  The participation of women in political and social life with men -- a requirement of international justice and democracy -- would have a tremendous effect on the country’s development.  Over the past year, women had returned to work in the diplomatic core and had participated in political parties, associations and professional unions.  In the midst of a new revival, the country was establishing institutions to build democracy and human rights.

The country’s current administration was attempting to remedy the position of women along with various other social and economic problems, she said.  The temporary state administration law would include a quota for women’s participation in political parties and public life.  Despite the challenges it was now facing, Iraq had adopted a new strategy based on dialogue and the abandonment of violence and intolerance.  It was now progressing through a critical stage, when all laws pertaining to women were being revised in an attempt to eradicate gender stereotypes and negative attitudes.

GONÇALO AIRES DE SANTA CLARA GOMES (Portugal) said that the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome document of the special session of the General Assembly had provided the guiding principles for his Government’s actions to achieve gender equality.  The elimination of discrimination based on sex and the achievement of gender equality was fundamental for the protection of human rights and the promotion of democracy.  At all levels, the gender perspective must be a prerequisite for the full implementation of the Government’s commitments.  The Government had recently adopted two national plans of action, one on equality and one on violence against women.

The second national plan for equality for 2003-2006 was the subject of wide debate in the country, he said.  Gender mainstreaming was the main strategic approach of the plan.  In addition, a database was being created in view of follow-up to Beijing and the special session of the Assembly.  There were four broad areas of intervention regarding the national plan -- professional activities and family life, education and training, citizenship, and cooperation with all Portuguese-speaking countries.  The goal of the national plan for equality was a structural change regarding men’s and women’s roles.

With the second national plan on violence against women, the Government wanted to adopt measures to prevent violence against women, provide support to victims and punish perpetrators.  At same time, it wanted to change traditional cultural attitudes and values leading to violence, particularly violence in the home.  A qualitative change for gender equality would never occur without the full participation of men, he stressed.

CHI EUN-HEE, Minister for Gender Equality of the Republic of Korea expressed hope that the session would help to strengthen the partnership between women and men, and girls and boys, towards gender equality.  Her country was actively encouraging such partnership through its “Gender-Equal Society” goals, and through legal action to abolish the family-head system of the civil code, and to pass a new set of laws against trafficking in persons.  Her Ministry has also spearheaded efforts to change ingrained attitudes about men’s and women’s roles in all spheres of life.

She expressed appreciation for the recommendations of the Secretary-General for mainstreaming gender in peace processes.  Women were the greatest victims of the Korean War, and had shown great resilience in rebuilding a foundation for the future out of the ashes.  Her Government was, therefore, actively seeking the involvement of women in any expanded inter-Korean dialogue.  There had been much progress since the first conference on women in Mexico in 1975, but much work remained before women everywhere were able to live as equal partners with men in all areas of life.

ISIKIA SAVUA (Fiji), after highlighting his country’s efforts to implement the outcome of the Beijing Conference, addressed the session’s themes, saying that current and emerging global trends resonated well with the theme that delved into the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality.  Regarding HIV/AIDS, a public health and developmental issue of national concern, he said efforts were being made for screening and testing of the virus in order to reduce the vulnerability and improve the resilience of girls, women and children.  However, his country and the region still needed a lot of assistance in screening and testing.

Regarding peace and security, he said the gender dimension of that issue was keenly felt by women and children.  Peace, security and stability in the region could only be sustained by good governance and sustainable development, two principles of the Millennium Development Goals.  One of the Goals was achievement of gender equality and equity, particularly in the eradication of poverty, by 2015.  The current meeting should, therefore, avoid detailed negotiations, but constructively map the road ahead on how the Commission’s multi-year programme of work until 2006 could be aligned with the Millennium Development Goals.

JULIANA DI TULLIO (Argentina) recounted that hundreds of women, many of them pregnant, had been kidnapped with their children, who were then illegally stolen from their mothers by their captors.  The number of kidnappings, the operation of clandestine maternity centres and statements by the military had proved the existence of a clandestine plan to kidnap adults and children.  Mothers rose up in protest and their persistence and tenacity won them recognition throughout the world as champions of human rights.  They were working to get their children back for the benefit of future generations, recognizing that stable and lasting democracies could only be established on the basis of justice.

DAIRNE GRANT (New Zealand) said that in recent years, the Commission had been characterized by too much negotiation and too little dialogue.  The format of its working methods allowed it to do little more than repeat what had been said many times before.  She hoped the Commission would seize the opportunity provided this year to examine its working methods in order to realize its potential.  The Commission also had an opportunity to revitalize the working group on communications.  If the procedure was to be effective, it needed to have access to a wide range of information, as envisaged in its original mandate.

Men and boys, she noted, had a critical role to play in bringing about change in attitudes, relationships and access to resources and decision-making.  For that reason, her country was focusing on changing workplace and organizational culture and attitudes, and encouraging best practices.  The Government had initiated new policy work on improving the work/life balance for all New Zealanders, a task force for pay equity and new provisions for paid parental leave.  She appreciated the continued progress towards ensuring that consideration of gender issues was incorporated into all of the policies and programmes of the United Nations.  To address the outstanding challenges to gender equality, her Government this year approved an Action Plan for New Zealand Women, to be released on International Women’s Day.  The Plan’s three key themes were economic sustainability, work/life balance and well-being.

LILI CARAVANTES TOBIAS, of the Secretariat for Women’s Affairs of the Presidency of Guatemala, noted that her country now had a Presidential Secretariat for Women, a high-level agency that was part of the cabinet.  Stressing that the specific needs of women must be central, not marginal, to development plans, she said the Government had started a programme to mainstream the gender perspective into the public sector’s budget rules.  It was necessary to identify the proportion of public expenditures directed towards programmes for the benefit of women, and discover whether priority was being given to the female population in sectoral policy.

An initial phase of that programme sought to direct the State budget towards the most vulnerable population, which included a wide range of women’s and indigenous groups.  That phase was necessary, but insufficient to promote any permanent change in women’s condition or position.  In the field of education, for example, more girls now had access to education, mainly at the lower grades, but those who ended their professional education had no guarantee of earning higher salaries, compared with male students.  Must educational content be radically changed to guarantee the true empowerment of women?  Was the labour law inadequate in ensuring equality between men and women?  Many questions must be answered to identify existing gaps in public policy.  Assessment would then have to be made to guarantee that women had indeed progressed.

MOENG R. PHETO, Assistant Minister for Labour and Home Affairs of Botswana, said his country was committed to gender equality and true partnership in carrying out its social development programmes.  Botswana had achieved 35 per cent for females serving at senior levels, including legislators and judges.  In order to strengthen women’s participation in peace processes, it was important to enhance their capacities through comprehensive educational programmes.  His Government had also put in place poverty-eradication strategies which aimed to reduce poverty, promote sustainable livelihoods and stimulate rural employment.  In addition, his country would host the Women in Business SADC Fair from 21 to 27 June, aimed at promoting women entrepreneurs access to markets and in sharing experiences.

Coming from a country which was amongst the most affected by HIV/AIDS, he strongly believed that the disease was a major threat to peace, security and development worldwide, he said.  The fight against HIV/AIDS could never be effectively won without the full partnership of both women and men, boys and girls.  Botswana had instituted programmes aimed at educating boys and girls in schools on gender and HIV/AIDS.  It was hoped that that would change their attitudes and perceptions towards gender issues and work towards eliminating the gender stereotypes prevalent in his culture.

DEWI SAVITRI WAHAB (Indonesia) said the challenge to gender equality in her country continued to come from the attitudes and behaviour of men and boys, who had been socialized to accept the notion of male superiority.  In modifying those attitudes, men and boys must be mobilized to take an active role in bringing about changes that were deemed socially desirable.  That transformation must be accomplished on all fronts -– economic, social and political.  School curricula must encompass wholesome ideas and values that stressed equality of the sexes and the importance of female social and economic contributions to the development of society.  Women’s horizons must also be expanded beyond the function of caregivers, unrestricted by negative attitudes and behaviour patterns.

Indonesia would continue to implement legislation to eliminate discrimination against women, she continued.  An election law urged political parties to consider presenting slates with about 30 per cent of the candidates nominated for national, provincial and local representative councils being women.  Another example was the “Alert Husband Campaign”, begun in 1996, to make husbands more sensitive to the reproductive health of their wives.  In addition, the Government and several civil society organizations had signed a joint declaration in 1999 to eliminate violence against women through implementation of a zero tolerance policy.

ARIA SELJUKI (Afghanistan) informed the Commission that her country had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women last year.  Since then, a number of positive changes had taken place in the area of women’s rights.  Women had taken part in the consultative process leading to the adoption of Afghanistan’s new Constitution.  Also, there were 102 women taking part in the Constitutional Loya Jirga.  The new Constitution had granted equal rights for women with men under the law; obliged the State to provide free education, preventive health care and medical treatment; and accorded women 25 per cent of the seats in Parliament.  A new human rights commission, headed by a woman, would be responsible for monitoring the implementation of Afghanistan’s obligations under international legal instruments.  In addition, women could run for president.

Afghanistan was busy preparing for presidential elections, she said.  In that context, nearly half of the electoral employees were women.  Also, a woman was officially running for the post of president.  Women were also joining the police force in record numbers.  It must be noted that the new Constitution did not give rights to Afghan women, but restored the rights taken from them during the period of Taliban rule.  While much had been achieved in the two years of recovery since the war in Afghanistan, there were still many unmet goals.

GLADYS ASMAH, Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs of Ghana, associating herself with the statement on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said her Ministry, recognizing the importance of the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality, had implemented male involvement programmes.  Her country also attached great importance to the mainstreaming of a gender perspective in all policy areas, especially in population growth and family planning, reproductive health, and control and management of sexually transmitted infections.  It fully supported women’s involvement in peacekeeping missions and mediation efforts and had organized sensitization seminars to promote women’s participation in policy and decision-making processes.

Quoting the Ghanaian statesman Dr. J.K. Aggrey that “if you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a nation”, she said a Girl-child Education division had been created.  The boy child was also being sensitized and socially reoriented to appreciate girls and women as equal partners in society.  As women’s lack of access to resources was a major cause of disempowerment, her Ministry had established the Women’s Development fund that, over two years, had disbursed $8,750,000 to over 110,000 women.  The successful implementation of that Fund would also contribute to solving issues of child trafficking, health and gender-related violence.

In conclusion, she said the goals of Beijing and Beijing + 5 were realistic and could be achieved.  It must, however, be emphasized that the international community must reinforce its strategies to reduce poverty, which was a major factor impeding efforts to achieve gender equality.

ABDULAZIZ NASSER AL-SHAMSI (United Arab Emirates) commended the Secretary-General and relevant United Nations agencies on the reports before the Commission and, reaffirming his delegation’s support for the recommendations contained therein, stressed the need to further enhance the international community’s political and financial support to help ease the suffering of millions of women in developing countries who were deprived of their basic rights.  Those women, plagued by poverty, armed conflict, wars and foreign occupation should be able to live with dignity in accordance with the principles of human rights.

Since its establishment in 1971, the United Arab Emirates had adopted a national development policy -- derived from the vision of its President, as well as Islamic religion -- which called for creating a human-centred society, where women and men enjoyed equal rights and duties.  With that in mind, and with the conviction that women were major partners in the effective development of the country, the Government had issued laws to promote and ensure gender equality and to secure the human rights of women, including social justice and equal opportunities for education and work.

In line with its commitment to implement the outcomes of Beijing and “Women 2000”, the United Arab Emirates had established six national agencies geared towards the advancement of women, led by the General Women’s Union of the United Arab Emirates.  That agency, headed by Her Highness, Sheikha Fatma Bint Mubarak, wife of the President, had just this past year launched the “New National Strategy for the Advancement of Women”, which aimed to provide new opportunities for women and equip them with qualifications they need to cope with new changes and developments locally and internationally.  He added that the Cabinet had agreed to become party to the Anti-Discrimination Convention and was in the process of taking measures to ratify that important instrument in the very near future.

CLAUDIA BLOEM (Switzerland) noted that women had a higher life expectancy than men and were less often the subject of penal sentences, but in most other cases conditions were better for men.  The Swiss Government was committed to gender equality and the goals of the Beijing plan of action.  As proof of that, the country had recently adopted a penal law allowing prosecution for acts of domestic violence.  Such legislation demonstrated changed gender attitudes, since it would have been impossible a few decades ago.

Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) had guided Switzerland in the promotion of peace, she continued.  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, the country had supported several peace efforts involving women.  It had also deployed units to assist with the civil management of police in missions, and was trying to encourage more women candidates.

NADYA RASHEED, Observer for Palestine, said that the living conditions of Palestinian women had drastically declined and the humanitarian and socio-economic crisis had reached unprecedented levels.  Like many women throughout the world, Palestinian women were fighting inequality and discrimination within their own society in order to advance their standing.  However, Palestinian women must also struggle to achieve even the most basic levels of freedom, peace and prosperity in the face of the harsh reality of the ongoing Israeli occupation.  When Israel’s oppressive policies continued to deliberately deny Palestinian women of their most basic rights, the advancement of women was not only difficult, but virtually impossible.

It was Palestinian women and children who had borne a special and enduring burden resulting from the occupation, she said.  The tragic and unique situation of Palestinian women required that concrete steps be taken by the international community, particularly the Commission, to appropriately address its main cause -– Israel’s oppressive actions and policies.  It was her hope that the next time she came before the Commission, she would be able to speak of positive developments -– real improvement, real advancement and real empowerment for all Palestinian women.  For that to occur, the Israeli crimes and actions being committed against the Palestinian people must end.  The establishment of a PalestinianState, with East Jerusalem as its capital, would surely grant Palestinian women the rights that they had yearned for throughout the long years of oppression and subjugation.

NAWAF ALENEZI (Kuwait) said his country’s commitment to women’s rights was based on its belief in the Beijing Platform for Action and the objectives of the Committee on the Elimination for Discrimination against Women.  In proof of that, Kuwait had recently seen an increase in the ratio of women in universities and other professional institutions.  Its commitment to women’s organizations affirmed its concern for women’s equality and empowerment.

Concluding, he noted that Israel was still oppressing civilians, including women and children, in the occupied territories, ignoring international conventions and legal instruments.

JEANNE FRANCOISE LECKOMBA LOUMETO (Congo) said that her Government and civil society were doing their utmost to ensure that the principle of equality would not simply be a slogan, but become a daily reality. The Congolese Constitution had always enshrined the principle of gender equality.  However, in practice, women’s access to decision-making posts had not improved much since Beijing.  Currently, consideration was being given to the adoption of a law for a quota on women’s access to decision-making positions.  Activities to raise awareness had prompted some ministries to revise their policies based on gender considerations.

Her country was adhering to gender policy drafted at the subregional level in Central Africa, she noted.  Parity was far from having been achieved in all national entities charged with conflict prevention and settlement.  There had been only one woman on the National Committee for Mediation from 1993 to 1997.  On HIV/AIDS, she said that the personal commitment of her President had led to the establishment of a National Council to Combat HIV/AIDS, which he chaired.  Major challenges could only be addressed if there were commitment to equality between men and women at all levels.

GEORGE TALBOT (Guyana) said Guyana had intensified measures to ensure women’s empowerment through such initiatives as the Regional Women’s Desks in the 10 administrative regions of the country, the reappointment of the National Commission on Women and the strengthening of collaboration with the Guyana Women’s Leadership Institute, which assisted with capacity-building, skills training and promoting gender awareness.  It had also maintained a strong tradition of women’s participation in politics and public life.  Women now accounted for 31 per cent of parliamentarians, as well as magistrates.

Despite achievements globally, gaps continued to exist between articulation and implementation of legal and other measures aimed at gender equality, he continued.  Further, there was still persistent behaviour and attitudes in many societies that supported male superiority.  Those attitudes were detrimental to the full enjoyment by women of their human rights and could only be changed through dialogue, public education, and development of partnerships with men and boys.  For that reason, Guyana had supported such partnerships in empowerment programmes concerning the family, sexual and reproductive health, HIV/AIDS and the elimination of domestic violence.

KHIN THANDAR (Myanmar) said her country had established the Myanmar National Committee for Women’s Affairs in July 1996, to carry out activities for the advancement of women.  The Myanmar National Working Committee for Women’s Affairs was formed in October of the same year, followed by the setting up of State, division, district and township level working committees for women’s affairs. The National Committee had played a vital role in implementing critical areas of concern identified by the Beijing Platform for Action.

As a country with 3,805 miles of land boundary with five countries, Myanmar had taken measures to combat trafficking in persons.  It had put in place a National Action Plan for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons with four strategies –- prevention, protection and enforcement, prosecution and reintegration.  The Myanmar Penal Code contained provisions for heavy sentences for human traffickers and the Government was taking strong enforcement measures.  In addition, a Multi-sectoral Mobile Team to Combat Trafficking in Women and Children had carried out training courses throughout the country.  Its experiences and good practices had led to a handbook on trafficking, which had attracted interest from other countries.

HJÁLMAR W. HANNESSON (Iceland), associating himself with the statement on behalf of the European Union, said with 80 per cent of women now participating in the Icelandic work force, attitudes regarding the roles played by men and women had changed.  Men would like to participate more in their children’s upbringing.  Since 2001, mothers and fathers had had an equal, non-transferable right to maternity/paternity leave.  As a consequence, employers who used to employ mainly men now had to take into account their employees’ paternity leave when organizing work.

He said the increase in total disrespect for the lives and dignity of women during armed conflicts was appalling.  The international community had to renew its efforts to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and human rights.  Increased accountability was necessary, and the International Criminal Court would be an important tool in that regard.  It was also crucial to secure respect for women’s human rights in post-conflict situations, he said, emphasizing the plight of women in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It was important that the high-level panel on global security threats and reform of the international system, established by the Secretary-General, make recommendations on women, peace and security.

LISE BERGH (Sweden) noted that women carried out social responsibilities and performed work during armed conflict that they may previously have been excluded from, while men were mainly involved in the fighting.  Women must be allowed to continue to take an active part in society after the conflict -- in peace negotiations and the drawing-up of peace agreements, in constitutional processes, and in rebuilding society.  The experiences women had from wars should be recognized, as should the fact that both women’s and men’s participation in post-war reconstruction was vital for sustainable peace.

Women and girls were also the victims of warfare, and were systematically subjected to physical and mental abuse, including sexual abuse, and other violations of human rights or breaches of international law.  The right to, and control over, their bodies was something men had always taken for granted, while women’s bodies had almost always been under the control of someone else –- or the object of another’s actions.  In many countries, the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls were not respected, and they lacked access to reproductive health services.  Those issues must be addressed politically, as well as in society at large.

NOSIVIWE MAPISA-NQAKULA, Deputy Minister for Home Affairs of South Africa, said that the South African Constitution stipulated as a core value the achievement of a society free of racism and sexism.  The Constitution was unique in that it specified the achievement of gender equality as a prerequisite for real transformation and change.  It further recognized the context from which it emerged and called for recognition of the indigenous and traditional values that had held sway in her country since time immemorial.  In response to the call by South African women, she announced that the National House of Traditional Leaders had agreed to hold a dialogue, during 2004, with the nation’s women, focusing on the impact of traditional and customary practices on the lives of women.

To ensure the realization of gender equality, South Africa had put in place an enabling institutional framework that enjoyed both national and provincial prominence, she said.  The Office on the Status of Women was located in the Presidency at the national level, and in the provincial context they resided in the offices of the premiers.  Those offices were supported by gender focal points located in both national and provincial departments.  In addition, the establishment of specialized courts dealing with sexual offences had resulted in improved prosecution rates, reduced case cycle times and a significant reduction in the secondary victimization that typically characterized such court proceedings.

FATIMA SBAITY KASSEM, speaking on behalf of the five United Nations Regional Commissions, said the Commissions had built regional consensus on several contentious issues, and developed regional indicators to monitor progress achieved in implementing the Beijing Conference.  National machineries for women had been established in most countries, in the form of ministries, commissions, autonomous bureaus, councils or committees, and as gender units within line ministries.  The setting up of those mechanisms was largely due to heightened gender awareness worldwide and stronger commitment by some governments to gender equality and gender mainstreaming.  At the regional level, intergovernmental machineries for women had also been established, including the Arab Women Organization in 2003 as a specialized agency of the League of Arab States.

She noted that the number of Arab countries who had signed the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had more than doubled to 16, out of a total of 22 belonging to the League of Arab States.  Political participation of women in more conservative countries had taken a quantum leap.  For example, in some Gulf countries women for the first time had become ministers, members of Shura Councils, ambassadors, presidents of universities, or were granted suffrage rights.  In other countries, women could now pass their nationality to their children, request divorce, or bridge gender gaps by joining the judiciary, legislative and executive branches of government.  Improvements had been recorded in the areas of education, health and employment, and new indicators were being developed to measure the status of women in Africa and Arab countries.

SAHIR ABDUL-HADI, Technical Specialist in the Culture, Gender and Human Rights Branch of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that the Fund was fully committed to the equal participation of women in peacemaking and promotion of the role of men and boys in advancing gender equality.  The UNFPA supported women’s groups to increase their participation in peace processes and post-conflict reconstruction, and to ensure that women’s health needs in crises were addressed.

The use of rape as a weapon of war, in particular, had shown the urgent need for medical treatment, psychosocial support and prevention, he said.  Much has been achieved in that area, but much remains to be done.  In regard to men’s roles in gender equality, a field inquiry by the UNFPA showed that, since the Cairo Conference, 130 countries had taken action to promote male responsibility in reproductive health.  Working in many ways to encourage healthier partnerships between men and women, the UNFPA had identified key interventions in that area, involving community leaders and the media, and addressing such issues as reproductive health, greater roles for men in raising children and measures against violence.

PARUL DEBI DAS, Joint Secretary, Department of Women and Child Development of India, said that men and boys naturally had a crucial role in the achievement of gender equality and in the empowerment of women.  The shift in focus in government policy and planning from women per se to gender relations had led to increased attention to the vital role of men and boys.  Government actions and civil society involvement in the area of gender relations had now developed a stronger focus on the positive role men and boys could play in promoting women’s empowerment in the home, in the community and in the workplace.  The established role of men in taking decisions related to education, health and marriage of their daughters was now, increasingly, being shared by the women of the household.

Turning to women and conflict, she said that it was important to move away from the stereotype of viewing women solely as victims of conflict.  Women were required to take on the principal role of providers in the family during conflicts, and were particularly active in the peace movements at the grass-roots level and cultivating peace within their communities.  Yet, the absence of women at the negotiating table was noticeable.  Peace-building could not be realized without their participation.  Their role in reconstruction and nation-building was a vital one.

CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein) said that equality for women was not possible without the active involvement of men.  For that reason, Liechtenstein’s Office for the Promotion of Equal Rights for Women and Men launched, in 2002, a campaign targeted to men and boys, with a focus on the reconciliation of work and family life.  In recent years, legislation had made such reconciliation easier.

Concerning gender equality in peacemaking, he said that women’s participation in peace processes was not enough.  Women needed to be given not only equal opportunities in acquiring decision-making positions in peace negotiations, they needed to be empowered in those positions and encouraged to further a women’s agenda.  For those purposes, the appointment of women as special representatives and envoys of the Secretary-General could play a catalytic role.

PAIMANEH HASTAIE (Iran) noted that globalization, the information and communication evolution and the restructuring and transformation of political, social and economic systems had changed the national and international environments in which women strove to fully enjoy human rights and gender equality.  Women and men should equally exploit the positive opportunities of globalization, while trying to avoid the negative impacts it could have on them in developing countries.  To that end, Iran was trying to increase public awareness and sensitivity about discrimination by promoting public understanding and changing incorrect cultural and traditional attitudes.  It was also holding national workshops on men’s role in gender mainstreaming; arranging gender-based sensitive education programmes for government employees; and increasing the number of non-governmental organizations working with family issues.

Women were more affected by poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, and lack of access to opportunities in times of peace, she continued.  Likewise, they were subject to more suffering and adverse consequences in wartime, when massive violations of women’s rights led to waves of refugees and displaced persons.  Under such conditions, it was vital to adopt and implement conflict resolution strategies allowing women to take full part in conflict management.  The needs and interests of women, as frequent victims of armed conflicts, had almost always been overlooked in conflict and post-conflict reconstruction phases, and it was crucial that they actively participate in them.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMINOVIĆ (Croatia), aligning herself with the statement on behalf of the European Union, said to a large extent, gender equality was still regarded as a women’s issue.  In that light, it was significant that the current year’s theme addressing the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality shifted focus from women to the perspective of gender relations.  Full democratization required gender equality as a fair relationship between women and men.  Due to her country’s recent past, she was supportive of the Secretary-General’s recommendations and women’s equal participation in conflict prevention, management and resolution, and in post-conflict peace-building.  In that regard, she stressed the importance of establishing national machineries for gender equality based on resolution 1325 (2000), the Beijing Platform for Action and the Anti-Discrimination Convention.

Describing recent developments in the field of gender equality in her country, she said special attention was being given to the suppression of trafficking in women and girls, perceived as a form of modern slavery.  Strong international cooperation and national actions, such as the Croatian 2002 National Plan for Suppression of Trafficking in Persons, were needed for its suppression.  In the context of globalization, a number of policy issues still had to be resolved in order to eradicate poverty and avoid marginalization of women in the economy.

SISSEL EKAAS, Director, Gender and Population Division, of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said gender inequality fuelled the spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in rural areas with a devastating impact on food production and rural livelihoods.  Not only were women more susceptible to infection biologically, but economic and cultural practices reinforced their vulnerability.  Widows, stripped of property, such as land, livestock and agricultural equipment by the relatives of the dead husband, for example, were left destitute without any means of production to feed themselves or their children.

She said the conference last December had specifically asked FAO to address the gender-based concerns that arose from the HIV/AIDS epidemic in rural areas.  The epidemic’s impact could present rural communities, and in particular their male leaders, with the opportunity to reappraise the cultural and societal norms that disempowered women and girls within their communities.  The organization was using data collected during recent household surveys to raise awareness among male traditional and religious local leaders and policy makers on the problem of asset stripping of widows.  Continuing, she said rural women and women farmers should be given an equal say and participation in conflict resolution, and planning and implementation of post-conflict peace-building and reconstruction efforts.  They possessed crucial knowledge for the rehabilitation of local farming systems.  With the male populations decimated by war and conflict, women and the elderly were often the only ones left to take up farming to feed their families and nations.

She further noted that during conflict rural women and girls were also at risk of sexual assault when fetching fuel wood and water at a distance from their village.  After conflict, there were exposed to landmines concealed in agricultural fields.  Thus, to help in ensuring that their needs and interests were not overlooked in any stage of an emergency or conflict, the FAO, in collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP), had developed guidelines for socio-economic and gender analysis throughout the seven stages of emergency, from early detection to rehabilitation.

SARAFATOU INOUSSA OLODO (Benin) said that Benin had undertaken various initiatives to implement the Beijing Platform for Action, achieve gender equality and promote the empowerment of women.  It had adopted a national policy on the advancement of women in the agricultural sector and passed laws on reproductive health and the punishment of female genital mutilation.  In the area of education, the gross percentage of schooling had increased from 61.15 per cent in 1999 to 78.10 per cent in 2002 at the primary level.  The Government had launched a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) based on four major areas, one of which was devoted to access of women to credit.

The participation of women in decision-making was still limited, both in elected positions and appointments, she said.  Despite political will, the involvement of women in decision-making was not seen as a priority for development.  Out of 21 ministers, four were women.  Benin would host the African regional conference to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the International Year of the Family later this year.  That meeting would allow for the review of the situation of the African family from 1994-2004.  She congratulated the Commission on opening the debate on the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality.  She added that much remained to be done to follow up on Beijing and the special session of the General Assembly.

YERZHAN KH. KAZYKHANOV (Kazakhstan) expressed satisfaction over the Commission’s increased interaction with other United Nations bodies, especially the Economic and Social Council, saying that extensive cooperation with that body and its functional commissions was extremely important for facilitating and monitoring gender mainstreaming within the system.

Regarding the main themes of the current session, he said that increasing attention to the role of men and boys in the context of their involvement in the promotion of gender equality was highly relevant when it came to building a just society and deserved support from national governments.  It was also gratifying to note that the understanding of women’s role in the establishment and maintenance of peace had increased significantly in recent years.  Women’s equal and full participation in the peace process at all levels of decision-making was an integral part of peacekeeping operations and post-conflict reconstruction.  However, it was necessary to continue enhancing the capacity of all actors, including gender advisers, to work in harmony in order to achieve the main goal of a world free of conflict.

Describing his country’s efforts to promote gender equality, he said that the national policy was based on the political promotion of women; their wide involvement in economic life; improvement of the health of women and their families; and elimination of violence against women.  Effective mechanisms were being developed in Kazakhstan to increase women’s integration into social and political life and expand their representation at all decision-making levels.

GALINA KHVAN (Russian Federation) noted that 2004 was an election year for her country, and that women had always been active in the country’s electorate.  The total number of women in the lower house of the Duma had increased considerably over the past few years.  Russia’s economic situation had also changed considerably during that time, the country enjoying a growth in gross domestic product of 30 per cent per year since 1999.  In addition, the country’s national currency had stabilized, which had fostered investment interest.  Economic growth and stability had had a positive effect on social problems and increased employment opportunities, including for women.  Taking advantage of that outcome, the Government had put in place job placement assistance measures for women.

She said her country had developed the Strategy Document of the Russian Federation, which contained a strategy and criteria for gender equality.  Since one of its aims was to tackle violence against women, it would include education campaigns to better inform the public.  The country’s Criminal Code now contained articles directed against trafficking in persons, including measures against individuals involving women in prostitution.  In addition, criminal charges could be brought against all intermediaries involved in trafficking in persons, and prison terms could range from eight to 15 years.

PIA LOCATELLI, a representative of Socialist International Women, said that the most important body of her organization was the Congress, which convened every three years.  The last Congress, which met in Brazil last year, had addressed human security and the role of women in conflict resolution and post-conflict peace-building.  In light of the new nature of conflict, whereby civilians and particularly women and children were targeted, there were few mechanisms to protect women and girls in conflict.  It was imperative to strengthen conflict prevention, which meant understanding and addressing its causes, as well as creating a culture of prevention through a system of early warnings and responses. Gender violations could be indicators of the onset of conflict.

She drew the Commission’s attention to the situation in Colombia, particularly the problem of kidnapping.  The number of those kidnapped in that country was up to 3,000.  She supported humanitarian means to address the hostage crises rather than military means.

ANA MARIA JIMENEZ, of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, said the situation of human rights and humanitarian law in Colombia had continued to deteriorate.  Security measures taken by the Government violated humanitarian international law, and three laws about to be adopted would complicate women’s civil rights.  The armed forces and police would have certain powers conflicting with human rights.  The Government was looking for a military situation in answer to its problems, rather than negotiation.  It had proposed a bill on alternative penal methods, which would guarantee impunity for the military.

She said that discussions had taken place with paramilitary groups, which did not take into account the interests of victims, including women.  To protect the population from these violations, the international community must become aware of the situation, its gravity and its causes.  The Government must comply with the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

YOUNGHAIPARK, representative of Asia Pacific Women’s Watch, said that for many women across the Asia Pacific region substantial implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action was not yet a reality.  The challenge for the Commission’s session was how to bring improvement in those countries dominated by an entrenched male culture where resort to arms was viewed as the best approach to power building.  The Commission had just two weeks to set a framework for a process of identifying experienced women peace advocates who would be peace negotiators at the highest international level and peace brokers at the national level.  The two themes at the session called attention to wide gaps for women of Asia and the Pacific in gender equality and peace resolution.  The Commission must not fail to agree on some concrete progress for closing the gaps.

Rights of Reply

Israel’s representative said he was sorry that the Observer for Palestine had wasted the Commission’s time to focus on narrow political concerns relating to women, for which they placed the total blame on Israel.  He also regretted that the Secretary-General’s report had failed to mention the many Israeli women who had been killed or wounded in terrorist attacks over the past year.  Terrorists had wreaked havoc on the fabric of Israeli society, but the country’s right to life did not seem to warrant mention.

Referring to specific individuals who had died terrible deaths in terrorist attacks, he noted that those individuals had also rated no mention in the Secretary-General’s report.  Because of those attacks, Israel had been forced to adopt cautionary security measures to defend its citizens.  The Palestinian territories had deliberately targeted women, children and other vulnerable people.  Palestinian women had been forced to become suicide bombers to repent for their sins or to increase their status in society.  Did Israeli women have no right to live out their lives without threat from such terrorists?

The Observer for Palestine said that the question of Palestine had been on the agenda of the United Nations since its inception.  Also, the issue of Palestinian women had been on the agenda of the Commission for the past 20 years.  The statement she had delivered this afternoon was not an exaggeration of the situation, but rather an understatement.  It was true that Palestinian women had suffered under Israeli occupation.  She had only conveyed the hard facts, the unfortunate reality of the situation of Palestinian women under Israeli occupation.  Why was the concept of security only applicable to Israel?  Did not Palestinians also have the right to human security?  For 36 years, the Palestinian people, especially women, had been oppressed by the occupying Power.  The Palestinian leadership had repeatedly condemned suicide bombings and violent acts that inflicted suffering on innocent civilians.

The representative of Israel said it was important to note that when Israel took action to relieve the economic situation of the Palestinians, it was met by another suicide attack.  Moreover, the number of Palestinian women mobilized by different organizations was constantly growing due to the widespread belief that Israel showed more leniency towards women.  How long would preposterous allegations be presented to the Commission?  How many more innocent Israelis must die before the international community condemned Palestinian terrorism?

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For information media. Not an official record.