GENDER DISCRIMINATION STILL PERVASIVE DESPITE UNITED NATIONS GUIDELINES, WOMEN’S COMMISSION TOLD AS IT BEGINS CURRENT SESSION

26 February 2007
WOM/1608

GENDER DISCRIMINATION STILL PERVASIVE DESPITE UNITED NATIONS GUIDELINES, WOMEN’S COMMISSION TOLD AS IT BEGINS CURRENT SESSION

26 February 2007
Economic and Social Council
WOM/1608
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on the Status of Women

Fifty-first Session

1st & 2nd Meetings (AM & PM)

Gender discrimination still pervasive despite United Nations guidelines,

women’s commission told as it begins current Session

 

Sufficient Resources, Full Involvement of Men Key

To Implementing Policies for Women’s Empowerment, Deputy Secretary-General says

Addressing the Commission on the Status of Women this morning as it began its fifty-first session, Asha-Rose Migiro, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations pledged to work for collective action to eliminate violence against women and girls -- the most egregious form of gender discrimination -- and to support Member States’ efforts to close the gender gap.

She said the United Nations had set clear guidelines to erase unfair treatment of women and girls but, despite those good intentions, gender discrimination was pervasive in all areas of public and private life and during times of war and peace.  Sufficient resources and the full involvement of men and boys were key to fully implementing the United Nations norms and policies for female empowerment.  Ms. Migiro supported the suggestion of the High-Level Panel of United Nations System-Wide Coherence to create an entity focused on gender equality and women’s empowerment, and said she would work in earnest with the Secretary-General to meet the goal of a 50-50 gender balance in all spheres of life.

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said discrimination against girls was a serious human rights violation.  Notwithstanding the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other pro-child legislation, the ideal of every girl living in dignity, in freedom from fear and want, and with equal opportunities and equal rights remained out of reach for millions of girls worldwide.  An estimated 40 per cent of child soldiers were girls who had been forcibly recruited.  Rape as a war weapon and other forms of violence against women and girls occurred on a massive and devastating scale in conflict and post-conflict situations worldwide.

Ms. Obaid appealed to countries to vigorously enact and enforce laws and regulations that addressed discrimination and to advance gender equality and human rights, including the right to sexual and reproductive health.  She also stressed the importance of empowering girls through education, noting that as many as 55 million girls worldwide received no formal schooling.  Closing the gender gap in schools would reduce poverty and promote gender equality.

Similarly, Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a video message that educated girls were better equipped to protect themselves against disease, were more likely to give birth to healthy babies and tended to delay marriage and have fewer children.  The United Nations Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI) was intended to build broad-based partnerships to develop clean facilities, abolish school fees and ensure that girls felt safe on their way to school.  Women’s empowerment would help break the cycle of poverty and disease, she said, stressing that the latest report on the state of women underscored that society prospered when women were empowered.

Rape and other forms of sexual violence during war, honour crimes, female genital cutting and early marriage needed urgent attention, Ms. Veneman said.  Millions of women were victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, especially in developing countries, but such cases were often off of society’s radar, and its victims devalued and treated as second-class citizens.  To better understand these and other issues of women and girls, the world needed better data, she said, stressing that such work must be conducted in collaboration with non-governmental organizations, faith-based groups and other community organization.

Qulinta Nepaul, a girl speaker from South Africa, drawing on the results of the “It’s time to listen to us!” survey of more than 1,300 young people from 59 countries, said unwritten laws held incredible power.  Cultural practices such as forced marriages, dowries, son preference or machismo were responsible for girls’ rights violations, and girls’ lack of awareness of their rights exacerbated discrimination.  Education was the key to overcoming such obstacles, she said, noting that the report recommended that Governments step up investment in education and enforce girls’ protection laws in accordance with international conventions.  Government agencies must ensure those laws were followed, especially in rural areas and that violators were more severely punished.  Marginalized areas must have access to awareness-raising on girls’ concerns.  And local leaders, parents and teachers must give special attention and support to “invisible girls”.

In the afternoon, delegates, United Nations officials and non-governmental organizations participated in high-level round-table discussions on the session’s theme.  Speakers highlighted the need to harmonize laws to combat violence against women and girls, protect girls during periods of armed conflict and encourage girls’ education and women’s empowerment in the labour force.  They also discussed the continued sexual exploitation of women and girls, the relationship between early marriage and girls’ vulnerability to domestic violence, the need to end cultural practices that impeded girls’ well-being, such as female genital mutilation and honour killings, and the importance of data disaggregated by sex and age for effective policymaking.

In other business, the Commission elected Csuday Balalazs of Hungary as Vice-Chairperson, adopted its provisional agenda, approved its programme of work as contained in document E/CN.6/2007/1, and appointed post facto Ivana Kozar of Croatia to the Working Group on Communications.

Dubravka Šimonović, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and Dalius Čekuolis, President of the Economic and Social Council, also made statements this morning, as did Commission Chairperson Carmen María Gallardo Hernández.

Also speaking this morning were the representatives of Pakistan (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Germany (on behalf of the European Union), Sweden, Burkina Faso, Indonesia, Dominican Republic (on behalf of the Rio Group), Antigua and Barbuda, Uganda, Sri Lanka and El Salvador.

The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 28 February, to continue its round-table discussions.

Background

The Commission on the Status of Women met this morning to open its fifty-first session.  (For more details, please see Press Release WOM/1607 of 23 February.)

Statement by Chairperson

At the outset, CARMEN MARÍA GALLARDO HERNÁNDEZ ( El Salvador), Chairperson of the Commission, paid tribute to the former Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, Angela King, who passed away on 5 February.  In the words of the Secretary-General, Ms. King had led “the United Nations efforts for the empowerment of women with knowledge, passion and courage”, and had spared no effort to promote the Beijing Platform goals.  Having consistently called attention to discrimination and inequalities against women and girls, she had been a “pillar” of the Commission on the Status of Women.

The Chairperson asked that a minute of silence be observed for Ms. King, who had served 38 years with the United Nations.

Ms. Gallardo Hernández then began the meeting by noting that the current session would focus on the priority theme “The elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child”, and that participants would review progress in the implementation of agreed conclusions on a priority theme from an earlier session, “The role of men and boys in promoting gender equality”.  An emerging issue -- “Elimination of all forms of violence against women:  Follow-up to the Secretary-General’s in-depth study at national and international levels” -- would also be considered.

She called attention to the Secretary-General’s report on gender mainstreaming (document E/CN.6/2007/3), which was before the Commission.  The report was based on a review of information received from Member States as they prepared for the 10-year review of the Beijing Platform, as well as updates received in response to a note verbale by the Secretariat.  Attention is paid in the report to progress on women-related goals in poverty reduction strategy papers and national Millennium Development Goal reports, as well as progress made on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

She said that stereotypical attitudes and discriminatory practices continued to obstruct the full implementation of laws and normative frameworks, but she was confident that the Commission would reach consensus on key policy recommendations to improve the situation of girls worldwide.

In addition, she said the theme on the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child would allow the Commission to contribute to the follow-up of the twenty-seventh special session of the General Assembly on children, in 2007.  It would also allow for follow-up on the in-depth study on violence against children, submitted to the Assembly’s sixty-first session.  Presentations on the subject were expected to be made by the Secretariat and other United Nations entities on Wednesday morning, but the general debate would begin immediately after the opening, to ensure a strong focus.

She said that General Assembly resolution A/RES/61/143 on the intensification of efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women had invited the Economic and Social Council and its commissions to begin discussing the question, by 2008.  The Commission on the Status of Women was in a position to take the lead in that effort, by drawing attention to the scourge of violence and providing guidance on actions that should be taken against it.

Through high-level round tables and interactive expert panels, the Commission would serve as a forum for exchange on national experiences, lessons learned and good practices, she said.  In addition, its close working relationship with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women would ensure a strong synergy between the two bodies.

Statement by Deputy Secretary-General

ASHA-ROSE MIGIRO, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the Organization had developed an important normative policy and framework for women’s empowerment.  It had clear guidelines and a road map to end discrimination against women and girls.  At the 2005 World Summit, global leaders had decided that the elimination of discrimination against women and girls was a priority.  Despite progress, much more needed to be done to ensure full implementation.  Violence against women and girls -- the most egregious form of discrimination against them -- remained pervasive in all areas of public and private life and during times of peace and armed conflict.

She applauded the decision of the Commission on the Status of Women to focus its session on the elimination of violence against the girl child.  That goal would require a collective commitment to work for full implementation of existing norms and policies.  It required sufficient resources and the full involvement of men and boys.  She welcomed the girls at today’s session, saying it was highly fitting that they had a place at the table.  She also pledged to work for a collaborated and coordinated approach and to support Member States’ work in gender equality.  She and the Secretary-General agreed with the suggestions of the High-Level Panel of United Nations System-Wide Coherence to create an entity focused on gender equality and women’s empowerment.  It should mobilize forces of change at the global level.  Gender equality must and would remain a mandate of the entire family.  She pledged to do all she could within her capacity to help the Secretary-General meet the goal of a 50-50 gender balance in all spheres of life.

Other Statements

DALIUS ČEKUOLIS ( Lithuania), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the Commission’s significant contribution to the Council’s work was evident in the adoption, in 1997, of the agreed conclusions on gender mainstreaming, and its systematic follow-up of those conclusions since then.  It had also advocated that attention be given to gender perspectives in other intergovernmental bodies, including the Council and its functional commissions.  Since 2002, the Commission had also provided input to the Council’s high-level segment.

He said that, as the Council went through an important change in its architecture, new opportunities had been created to provide its functional commissions with a stronger, unified voice.  The Commission on the Status of Women, the principal policy organ within the United Nations on gender equality, should use the change to strengthen its own outreach.  Indeed, negotiations were under way to build an enhanced high-level segment of the Council’s substantive session, involving an annual ministerial review, global policy dialogue, Development Cooperation Forum and thematic debates.  Input from functional commissions was to be expected.

He said that in 2006, the Ministerial Declaration adopted at the Council’s high-level segment had recognized that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls were critical for achieving sustainable development and combating hunger, poverty and disease.  It should be the basis for the Council’s future work, whose new mandate emphasized national-level implementation.  Such a mandate was in line with the Commission’s own new methods of work, and its priority theme on the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child was sure to contribute significantly to the Council’s upcoming annual ministerial review.

Of those new working methods, he said that the decision to review the implementation of policy recommendations adopted by the Commission after the period of two to three years was encouraging.  In addition, a panel soon to be convened on “Financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women” would be of importance to the Council’s Development Cooperation Forum.  The continued collaboration between the Commission and the Statistical Commission, to develop indicators on the girl child, was noted with appreciation.  The committed participation of multi-stakeholders and non-governmental organizations to the Commission was also lauded.

THORAYA AHMED OBAID, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), applauded the report of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) titled “The State of the World’s Children 2007:  Women and Children -- The double dividend of gender equality”.  The report’s title said it all.  Investing in women and girls was one of the best investments a Government could make.  While girls’ rights had been elaborated over the years in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other declarations, plans of action and laws, the ideal of every girl living in dignity, in freedom from fear and want, and with equal opportunities and equal rights remained out of reach for millions of girls worldwide.  Discrimination against the girl child was a serious human rights violation, and empowering girls through education was a priority.  However, as many as 55 million girls continued to be left out of formal schooling.  More must be done to ensure universal access to primary education and to close the gender gap in secondary schools.  Doing so would reduce poverty and promote gender equality.

The global Education for All Campaign led by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was making progress, but all must work together to increase its momentum.  Countries leading the way forward were instituting free secondary education, subsidies for girls and incentives for households.  UNFPA was committed to promoting universal education and to education that promoted life skills, equality and human rights, including the right to sexual and reproductive health.  At least 2 million young women and girls in developing countries were affected by obstetric fistula -- a condition that had been eliminated in wealthy countries more than a century ago.  The number of countries active in UNFPA’s Global Campaign to End Fistula had grown from 12 in 2003 to 40 at present.  Together with its partners, UNFPA was also working to end female genital mutilation or cutting.

Violence against women and girls, including rape as a weapon of war, was occurring on a massive and devastating scale in conflict and post-conflict situations worldwide.  An urgent response was needed given the fact that an estimated 40 per cent of child solders were girls who had been forcibly recruited.  She appealed to countries to vigorously enact and enforce laws and regulations that addressed discrimination and violence against women and girls, and to advance gender equality and human rights, including the right to sexual and reproductive health.  At present, 89 countries had some legislative provisions specifically addressing domestic violence.  Marital rape had been prosecuted in at least 104 countries.  Ninety Governments had some form of legislative protection against sexual harassment and 93 nations had legal provisions against human trafficking.  She urged other Governments and parliaments to follow suit.

ANN M. VENEMAN, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), was not able to speak in person but delivered a message by video.  In it, she said that the empowerment of women was critical to the achievement of internationally agreed development goals.  Advancing the position of women would also help break the cycle of poverty and disease.  Indeed, when women were able to participate in the home, workplace, Government and communities on an equal level with men, the benefits to society were vast.  Unfortunately, despite increased school enrolment among girls, a narrowing gender gap in education, the labour force and leadership positions, the world continued to be a place where girls were, by and large, not in school, and where they remained vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation, HIV/AIDS and human trafficking.

She said that educated girls were better equipped to protect themselves against disease, were more likely to give birth to healthy babies and tended to delay marriage and have fewer children.  To encourage girls to go to school in safe environments, the United Nations Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI) hoped to build broad-based partnerships to develop clean facilities, abolishing school fees and ensuring that girls felt safe on their way to school.

She said that rape and other forms of sexual violence during times of war, honour crimes, female genital cutting and other deplorable acts against women were among the issues needing urgent attention, as was early marriage.  Women who married young were often less able to protect themselves from disease and were more likely to become victims of violence within marriage.  Meanwhile, millions of women had become victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, especially in developing countries.  Those cases were often off of society’s radar, and its victims devalued and treated as second class citizens.  As the latest report on the state of women underscored, when women are empowered, society prospered -- both girls and boys.  It was, therefore, in society’s best interest to treat women as equals.

To better understand the issues of women and girls, the world also needed better data, she said.  Such work must be conducted in collaboration with non-governmental organizations, faith-based organizations and other community organizations.  The empowerment of women not just an issue for women, but an issue for everyone.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women had been ratified or acceded to by 185 States, and there were 85 States parties to its Optional Protocol.  All States parties were obliged to pursue without delay a policy of elimination of all forms of discrimination against women by all appropriate means and to ensure the practical realization of the principle of equality of women and men, as stated in article 2 of the Convention.  States parties were also required to take legislative, policy and other appropriate measures to ensure compliance with their treaty obligations.

She highlighted the Committee’s work in monitoring States’ compliance with the Convention.  In general recommendation 24 on article 12, the Committee clarified that women’s health must be addressed throughout their lifespan and, thus, must focus also on girls and young women.  It highlighted particular vulnerabilities faced by girls and adolescents, and drew attention to unequal power relations and their impact on women’s and girls’ ability to enjoy health-related rights.  Paragraph 2 of article 16 of the Convention specifically prohibited child marriage and required a minimum marriage age, including in legislation.  In general recommendation 21, the Committee had widened the scope of article 16 on equality in marriage and family relations.  It considered that the minimum marriage age should be 18 for both sexes. The Committee without exception requested that States raise the minimum legal marriage age for girls in order to bring it in line with article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and with paragraph 2 of article 16 of the Convention and the Committee’s recommendation 21.

Violence against women and girls was a violation of human rights that persisted worldwide.  The Secretary-General’s recent in-depth study on violence clearly highlighted the different forms of such violence.  The study on violence against children further enhanced knowledge about the plight of millions of children.  The Committee had raised that issue consistently with each reporting State.  The Committee’s general recommendation 19 of 1992 clarified that violence against women was covered by the Convention.  It provided detailed guidance on States’ obligations to act with due diligence to prevent violence against women, to protect its victims and to prosecute and punish perpetrators.

QULINTA NEPAUL, a girl speaker from South Africa, delivered a statement on behalf of all young people, in which she shared the views of over 1,300 young people from 59 countries, contained in the report “It’s time to listen to us!”  Those views had been collected through surveys and focus groups involving people below 20 years of age, of which more than half were girls of varied background.  Many of those surveyed were from the marginalized population.

She said the report’s key finding was that unwritten laws held incredible power, and that many cultural practices were responsible for violation of girls’ rights.  Those included enforcing a dowry and bride price, forced marriages, son preference or machismo, and the female work burden.  A lack of awareness of girls’ rights contributed to the discrimination they faced; better education was thought to be the most powerful method of combating that discrimination.  The primary responsibility for protecting girls was thought to fall on Governments, although families, community organizations and non-governmental organizations needed to realize their full role in empowering and safeguarding girls.

She said the report recommended that Governments increase their investment in education.  In addition, they must enforce the laws that protected girls, while ensuring that those laws were clear and consistent with international conventions with little room for different interpretations.  Government agencies must ensure those laws were followed, especially in rural areas and that those who broke the law were more severely punished.  Awareness-raising on issues relating to girls should reach marginalized areas, and “invisible girls” should be given special attention by local leaders, parents, teachers and others.  Government should provide resources to youth and community-based organizations, which, with their local knowledge, could best engage in effective peer-to-peer and non-formal education.  “Visible” girls should be encouraged to connect with “invisible” ones with the help of support groups.

She also said that confidence-building workshops should be organized, where girls could gain the skills and knowledge needed for their economic advancement.  To help change cultural practices, evidence-based campaigns on harmful practices and traditions should be conducted.  Governments were called on to hear the ideas contained in the report, which reflected the thoughts of girls and boys themselves.  The Commission was invited to read the group’s report and to act upon it.

FARUKH AMIL (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, commended bodies such as the Office of the Special Adviser of Gender Issues and Advancement of Women and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) for their work in promoting women, and noted, with appreciation, the newly strengthened International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW).  Member States were encouraged to commit sufficient resources to that body to allow it to comply with its mandates.  Two recent studies submitted to the General Assembly’s sixty-first session -- the report of the independent expert for the United Nations on violence against children and the Secretary-General’s in-depth study on violence against women -- had rightly pointed out that, despite progress, discrimination and violence against girls still persisted.

The Group of 77 and China believed that parents, teachers and community leaders must take up an active role in protecting the rights of girls, he said.  Men and boys must also be actively engaged in that effort, beginning with the sensitization of boys at an early age within families and schools.  In addition, since the reduction of poverty could not be realized without the empowerment of girls and women, the Group of 77 and China believed that gender sensitivity should be promoted through schools.  Women and girls also needed to be given wider access to education in science and technology.  Finally, the international community must pay special attention to the plight of women and their families living under foreign occupation.  Indeed, the resolution of disputes was a prerequisite for the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.  Nations should also honour their official development assistance (ODA) commitments, and provide debt relief and open markets to give opportunities to women entrepreneurs.

URSULA VON DER LEYEN (Germany), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the human rights of women were an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights.  Women’s rights included their right to control and decide freely and responsibly on sexuality matters, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence, in accordance with the agreements made in Beijing.  In the European Union, girls enjoyed equality with boys in legal terms.  However the social reality required special attention.  Discrimination was evident in many different ways and had changed in recent years throughout Europe.

A European Union report under preparation showed that girls’ schooling was largely on par with that of boys.  However, in all countries, there was a marked gender-specific segregation in educational choices, vocational training and on the labour market due to persisting gender stereotypes, including in textbooks and curricula.  Women continued to concentrate on a few, low-paying professions, particularly health care, education and social services, and were underrepresented in technical and engineering jobs.  The Council of the European Union would adopt conclusions on indicators to monitor gender equality in employment in the European Union, in compliance with the Beijing commitments.

She expressed deep concern over violence against girls and welcomed the Secretary-General’s study on all forms of violence against women.  The 1997 introduction of the European Union Daphne Programme had improved partnership and cross-border coordination to combat violence against children, young people and women.  The Council of Europe had launched a Campaign to Combat Violence against Women, Including Domestic Violence.  The European Union had declared 2007 the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All.  The European Commission’s Road Map for Equality between Women and Men 2006 to 2010 aimed to better reconcile work, private and family life for both women and men.  She called for all partners to focus on implementing Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security.

NYAMKO SABUNI, Minister for Integration and Gender Equality of Sweden, said that corporal punishment had been prohibited in her country since 1979, in line with its fight against violence and discrimination.  Efforts were also being undertaken to boost girls’ self-confidence, to reduce gender-stereotyping and to develop a national action plan against female genital mutilation.  Notably in Sweden, women were gainfully employed to the same extent as men, and were present in Parliament, Government and other areas of public and political life in about the same number as men.  More women held university degrees.  Yet, cracks still existed:  the chances of participating fully in society depended on background and income group, for instance.

She said that her main priorities as Minister for Gender Equality included a focus on eliminating patriarchal violence against girls and women, such as violence in the name of honour.  Indeed, some men in Sweden did beat and abuse women, despite all the laws and programmes in place to discourage such acts.  Some men and women were denied the right to decide who and when to marry, or whether they ought to marry at all.  Genital mutilation and physical and psychological abuse of girls still took place at the hands of parents and family members.  The world should not keep quiet about such damaging and demeaning acts, and it was time to agree to guarantee the fundamental freedoms and rights of women and girls, even if it meant going against traditional customs and practices.  States had the responsibility to abolish laws that discriminated, and both men and women must take part in that endeavour.

MARIE GISELE GUIGMA ( Burkina Faso) said violence against the girl child was a serious phenomenon that must be addressed in all societies.  That included physical, moral and psychological, and sexual violence.  Girls as young as 7 years old were subjected to genital cutting and mutilation, and violence against girls taught them to be timid and obedient.  Preferences were given to boys over girls.  Girls in forced marriages often were victims of maternal mortality and obstetric fistula.  All forms of sexual violence, including incest, paedophilia and sexual harassment, must be combated.  Collaborative efforts were needed to deal with these ills.

Burkina Faso had signed all conventions to protect women and children, she said.  It regularly reported on progress made and followed up on recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  In 2002, it had ratified Convention 182 against the elimination of all forms of child labour.  Article 2 of Burkina Faso’s Constitution guaranteed the right to security.   Burkina Faso banned slavery and had many laws that outlawed violence and provided for penalties against perpetrators.  Her country had competent jurisdictions that dealt with sexual violence, including forced prostitution and paedophilia.  Law 38 of 2003 addressed trafficking of children.   Burkina Faso had translated into a 10-year plan the goals of economic security, basic social services, food security, environmental security and political security for children.  She called on all States to support plans to put an end to genital mutilation.

MEUTIA HATTA SWASONO ( Indonesia) said Indonesia had put into place several normative measures to allow Indonesian women to realize their full potential.  Article 27 of the 1945 Indonesian Constitution guaranteed equal rights for all citizens before the law.  Presidential Decree 9 of 2000 mainstreamed gender into all aspects of national development.   Indonesia also had relevant laws on political parties and general elections.  Still, the country fell short in realizing the vision of the Beijing Platform of Action.  Women were reaching the highest level of political authority, including the Presidency, but in general they still lagged well behind their male counterparts.  Improving the lot of women was difficult as they comprised a low percentage -- just 13 per cent -- of Indonesian parliamentarians.  Efforts were under way to change that.

Law 31 of 2002 on Political Parties, Law 12 of 2003 on General Elections, and Law 22 of 2003 on the Format and Status of National and Provincial Parliaments had not proven sufficient to enhance women’s participation in decision-making at various levels during elections.   Indonesia’s President had proposed improvements to those laws.  He had called for an open electoral system based on proportional representation.  The aim was to enable political parties to compile candidates’ lists based on popular support and not political patronage.  The proposal would enable more women candidates to be elected to the national Parliament.  In 2006, Indonesia’s Government had passed the Regulation on the Organization and Management of Victims Rehabilitation and the Protection of Witnesses and Victims Act.  It had also set up hospital-based integrated centres with early warning and detection capabilities at the national and district levels.  The police had installed 238 Special Treatment Units throughout the country to provide assistance and protection to women and girl victims of violence.  Work was under way to finalize the Act on the Elimination of People Trafficking.

ROSA DE LOS SANTOS, Director for Planning and Programming, Ministry for Women, Dominican Republic, spoke on behalf of the Rio Group, saying that millions of children went through life impoverished, lacking access to education and quality health care.  Girls were a specific target of some of the worst manifestations of exploitation and violence, such as trafficking for purposes of sexual and labour exploitation, which left them vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and systematic abuse.  Cultural practices and stereotypes sometimes had a discriminatory impact on girls in a way that was not always visible:  early pregnancies, forced marriage, lack of access to reproductive and sexual information, illiteracy and denial of proper education.

She said the Rio Group believed that boys and girls needed guaranteed access to a quality education.  Gender-sensitive textbooks and awareness campaigns were needed to change discriminatory practices and stereotypes, and society must be assured that perpetrators of violence against girls were prosecuted and punished.  Medical and psychological care must be given to victims of violence, and joint strategies must be developed between Government and civil society to promote the full implementation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  It was important for men and boys to be engaged in bringing about gender equality and the advancement of women.

JACQUI QUINN-LEANDRO, Minister of Labour, Public Administration and Empowerment of Antigua and Barbuda, said that her country had signed and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 1989 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1993.  Its unwavering commitment to eliminating discrimination against women was shown through its ratification in 2006 of the Optional Protocol to the Women’s Convention.  The country had also enacted the Sexual Offences Act of 1995 and a Domestic Violence Summary Proceedings Act in 1999.  With the support of UNIFEM, Antigua and Barbuda had also succeeded in stimulating awareness on the relationship between violence against women and HIV/AIDS.

She said scholarships, uniforms, books, free transportation and meals had been useful in increasing the enrolment and retention of girls in schools.  The Board of Education also provided scholarships and textbook assistance schemes to children at primary and secondary levels, where books were lent to students at no cost to them.  A school meals programme had also been developed, since studies had shown a positive correlation between having a balanced meal and academic success.  A recently completed youth policy by the Ministry of Youth Affairs had established a formula for meeting the needs and aspirations of young men and women, and had addressed the concerns of pregnant girls and teen mothers, among other social groups.

SYDA BBUMBA ( Uganda) said that, as a developing country with most of its population under 30 years of age, Uganda emphasized protecting and promoting the rights of young people, particularly girls.  Education was a key strategy in tackling violence against girls, and Uganda had started universal primary education in 1997, resulting in gender parity in primary school enrolment.  Affirmative action had also caused girls’ school enrolment to rise to 49 per cent.  Strategies to reduce adolescent reproductive health problems and prevent HIV/AIDS had been fruitful.  Teen pregnancy had dropped from 34 per cent in 1995 to 31 per cent in 2005.  Over the same period, HIV/AIDS prevalence rates had dropped from 18 per cent to 6.5 per cent and the age of girls’ first sexual contact had risen from 16 years to about 18 years.   Uganda was also working to end child labour, criminalize defilement, address stereotypes in school curricula and give preferential assistance to orphaned girls and girls from poor socio-economic backgrounds.

Reducing poverty among women was critical to protect the rights of girls, she continued.  Economically independent women were able to provide for their children’s education, health, welfare, and nutritional needs.   Uganda’s poverty eradication strategies emphasized increasing household incomes and accessibility to, and control of, productive resources by women.  In situations of armed conflict, girls and women were subjected to rape, defilement, forced abduction and early marriages and total loss of livelihood support systems.  Protecting them in those situations was a moral responsibility for Governments and the international community.  The challenges ahead included combating the increasing school drop-out rates of girls, making services and facilities available for adolescent reproductive health, providing HIV/AID prevention and mitigation, eliminating armed conflict, addressing persistent poverty levels and enforcing existing legal frameworks.

SUMEDHA B. JAYASENA, Minister of Child Development and Women’s Empowerment of Sri Lanka, said the Sri Lankan Government’s 10-year plan contained strategies for women’s empowerment, which envisaged halving the unemployment of women and “reducing it to a minimum” by 2016.  Meanwhile, the National Plan of Action for Women had been updated to cover all areas indicated in the Beijing Platform for Action:  eliminating gender discriminatory provisions in personal laws; removing discriminatory provisions in the Land Development Ordinance; taking measures to combat trafficking in women and child prostitution; and making proposals for the establishment of a National Commission on Women to protect and promote women’s rights.

She said labour participation for women had increased as a result of better educational opportunities for women, and women contributed to around 60 per cent of the national economy.  Women’s representation at higher professional levels had increased fourfold in the last 25 years, while women in the informal sector contributed to the rural economy through microenterprises, introduced by State-sponsored poverty alleviation programmes.  Women also played a role in the “Village Upliftment Programme”, participating and contributing equally to development at the village level.  However, underrepresentation of women at political decision-making levels was a critical issue, despite having had a female Head of Government as far back as the 1960s.  Political parties were encouraged to nominate more women for elections, and a caucus of women parliamentarians had been formed in 2006 to lobby for more female representation.  Armed conflict also contributed to an increase in female-headed households, and the Government was committed to finding a negotiated settlement to current conflict.

Ms. GALLARDO HERNÁNDEZ ( El Salvador) said El Salvador was committed to the Beijing Platform of Action.  Within the framework of the United Nations reform process, there was an opportunity to improve the promotion and protection of women’s and children’s rights.  Many gaps must be filled in accordance with the General Assembly’s consideration of questions of gender equality.  Obstacles and challenges faced by women and girls in post-conflict situations must be addressed.  She stressed the importance of women’s role in peacebuilding, national reconciliation and development.  The General Assembly should tackle those questions in a comprehensive fashion.

She noted the progress achieved by INSTRAW and said the profound changes in that Institute had directly impacted women and girls in a positive way.  Women’s empowerment must begin at an early age.   El Salvador recognized that fact and had made efforts to empower women through legislation.  For example, it had eradicated child labour and instituted programmes to assist sugar cane cutters and their families.  Various initiatives had been instituted in Central America to assist women migrants.   EL Salvador’s national policy of women addressed health care and violence against women and girls.  National and regional programmes aimed to protect their rights and dignity.  She reiterated El Salvador’s political will to strengthen initiatives to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment, noting that they were a prerequisite to ending poverty and achieving lasting peace.

High-Level Round Table 1

Moderator EMYR JONES PARRY ( United Kingdom), while welcoming participants to one of two parallel high-level round tables on the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child, noted that the needs and priorities of girls were often subsumed at the policy and programmatic levels under the categories of “women” or “children”.  Effective policymaking was further constrained by lack of data disaggregated by sex and age.

A discussion then ensued between high-level representatives from capitals, where several participants discussed the relationship between early marriage among girls and their vulnerability to domestic violence, explaining that their countries had developed laws to curtail both.  Other nations said they had initiated training and awareness-raising among legal professional to increase the effectiveness of laws designed to combat violence against women.

Another common area of concern was the continued sexual exploitation of women and girls, including that resulting from trafficking.  Working with community-based organizations, some Governments were able to set up shelters for pregnant or HIV-infected trafficking victims, where they were given medical or psychological assistance.  Many countries said they had established telephone hotlines for affected women and girls to lodge complaints or obtain assistance.

Several participants, mostly from Africa, focused on improved access to education for girls -- to strengthen their understanding of girls’ rights, and, in cases of teen pregnancy, to ensure that being pregnant did not become a reason to drop out of school.  Participants also touched on the need to control cultural practices that impinged on the well-being of girls, such as female genital mutilation and honour killings.

The importance of the joint involvement of men and women in carrying out girl-friendly policies was strongly emphasized by many.  Better data was thought to be critical in ensuring that sound policies were put in place to combat violence and discrimination.  International conventions were seen as important, since they provided a framework to develop national laws to protect girls, and to encourage the creation of reliable databases to monitor progress.  Emerging issues, such as the exploitation of women through the Internet, must be carefully tracked.

France’s delegate raised the issue of girls in armed conflict, a topic also taken up by three invited guests to the discussion -- Carmen Moreno, Director of International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), Evy Messel from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Hourig Babikian from the United Nations Children’s Fund NGO Committee.  INSTRAW was currently trying to engage public security institutions to provide an adequate response to violence against women in situations of conflict.  The ILO estimated that 30 per cent of girls in West Africa acted as child soldiers, simultaneously fulfilling the roles of mother, domestic aid and combatant.

Three other invited guests included:  Cheryl Morden, of the International Fund for Agricultural Development; Siv Mjaaland of CARE International and Vanessa Juarez Arevalo, a 15-year-old speaker from Peru.  They emphasized the need to lessen women’s work burdens, so as to allow them more time for personal development, engaging in income-generating activities and to become empowered.

High-Level Round Table 2

In the afternoon, Member States’ delegates, United Nations officials and non-governmental organization representatives participated in a round-table discussion on the elimination on all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child.  Opening the discussion, Committee Chairperson CARMEN MARÍA GALLARDO HERNÁNDEZ ( El Salvador) noted that the lack of sex-disaggregated data inhibited the global community’s ability to effectively target girls’ issues.

The representative of Germany, speaking on behalf of the European Union, stressed the need to harmonize national laws throughout the European Union to combat violence against women and girls and to step up a broad-based approach to girls’ education.  Women had not reached parity with men in the labour force despite higher education levels.  Similarly, the United Kingdom’s representative noted that women were not achieving gender parity in pay even when they had the same education as men.  That was due to the occupational segregation of women and men.  Women received different training at work than men.  Gender stereotypes must be broken down to correct that imbalance.

Several representatives of African nations discussed the need to address violence against girls, particularly during armed conflict.  The representative of the Congo said girls were particularly vulnerable during war time and that the Congo was working to protect them through legislation.  The representative of Côte d’Ivoire said customary violence against women and girls was exacerbated during war, and children were recruited and forced to serve as soldiers.  Domestic violence also needed special attention in the context of culture.

Denmark’s representative stressed the need for sex-disaggregated data on violence and other gender-related issues presented in language that girls and boys could understand and discuss.

The representative of the Philippines expressed alarm over the growing availability of girl child pornography on the Internet.  Children exploited through pornography were permanently damaged.  Violence often began at home.  Children needed better access to justice, particularly in poor, marginalized areas.

The representative of UNESCO noted that 40 per cent of countries were at risk of not achieving gender parity as called for in internationally agreed goals.  She noted the alarming rates of violence against women and girls, while the representative of the World Health Organization said the Secretary-General’s studies on violence against children and violence against women showed that discrimination and violence could disrupt girls’ development and impair their physical and mental health well into adulthood.  In many countries, unsafe abortions and female infanticide were occurring at an alarming rate, and girls were less likely than boys to be brought to hospitals and health-care centres for treatment.

The representative of the Population Council noted that the global focus on reducing high levels of infant mortality had substantially improved the well-being of children under age 5.  More efforts were needed to improve the transition of pre-adolescent girls to adulthood, he said, stressing the importance of collecting, analysing and disseminating data on girls age 6 through 9.  Raising the status of girls that age could reduce discrimination and violence against them when they become teenagers.

The representative of UNAIDS said 18 million women and girls were infected with HIV worldwide, and women and girls accounted for 59 per cent of all HIV-infected people in sub-Saharan Africa.  The rate of infection in some places was between 4 to 13 times higher for women and girls than men and boys.  HIV was single-handedly undoing all the gains made for girls in the last 50 years.  But many countries were still in denial about the HIV phenomenon.

Representatives of Mali, Norway, Venezuela, Cameroon, Indonesia, Ecuador, Greece, Israel, Argentina, Republic of Korea, Chile, Lebanon, Belgium, Sweden, Malaysia, Japan, Zambia, Ghana, Spain, Thailand, United Republic of Tanzania, Kazakhstan, Girl Child Network in Zimbabwe and UNICEF also participated in the discussion.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.