WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT CRUCIAL TO ERASING PERSISTENT POVERTY, DISEASE, DISCRIMINATION WORLDWIDE, COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN TOLD

28 February 2007
WOM/1611

WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT CRUCIAL TO ERASING PERSISTENT POVERTY, DISEASE, DISCRIMINATION WORLDWIDE, COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN TOLD

28 February 2007
Economic and Social Council
WOM/1611
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on the Status of Women

Fifty-first Session

5th & 6th Meetings (AM & PM)

WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT CRUCIAL TO ERASING PERSISTENT POVERTY, DISEASE,

DISCRIMINATION WORLDWIDE, COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN TOLD

Day-Long Meeting Hears Statements by 49 Speakers

Gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment in the field were crucial to erasing the persistent poverty, discrimination and disease afflicting women worldwide, Rachel N. Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, told the Commission on the Status of Women, as it continued its fifty-first session.

The 2006 Millennium Development Goals Report showed that women living in poverty and with HIV/AIDS, persisting gender educational gaps, underrepresentation of women and girls in decision-making, gender wage gaps and high maternal mortality rates were common around the globe.  The Secretary-General’s in-depth study revealed that violence against women and girls was on the rise, and recent data by the Inter-Parliamentary Union showed that women’s political representation remained low, with women currently filling just 16.8 per cent of parliamentary seats, a modest 4 per cent increase since 1999. 

More and more States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women were taking steps to change that, she said.  In recent years, many comprehensive laws on gender equality, equal treatment and domestic violence had been adopted.  During last year’s Global Microcredit Summit, States had agreed to provide 175 million of the world’s poorest families, particularly women, with microcredit.  But, despite those advances, challenges remained to women’s empowerment.  She called on the Commission to address the sad plight of women widowed by HIV/AIDS, conflicts and natural disasters, and the plight of their children, as well as to review women’s continued limited access to information and communication technology.

Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), agreed, saying that normative standards for gender equality and women’s human rights were a step forward, but, alone, they were not enough to empower women.  They must be implemented and monitored.  The United Nations Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict, an inter-agency initiative, was an encouraging first step to eliminate all forms of violence against women, she said, stressing the need for institutional support and resources to make it successful and keep it going.

Carmen Moreno, Director of the United Nations International Research and Training Institute of Women (INSTRAW), said girls and young women must be empowered to find their voice in politics and decision-making, and women must have access to education and financial resources, which, inevitably, enabled them to make better decisions for the health and welfare of their households.  INSTRAW’s research had showed that, when women were included in decision-making, particularly at the local level, Governments were more responsive to household needs and community development. More research was needed in myriad areas, she said, including data on cultural attitudes and practices that negatively affected girls; life expectancy and child mortality; household status; and access to education, health care, social services and employment, as well as barriers to girls’ participation in politics and decision-making.

Merike Kokajev, speaking on behalf of the Chairperson of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, agreed on the need for more disaggregated data, particularly on violence and discrimination against indigenous girls.  The international community must step up resources and efforts to protect the human rights of those girls and raise awareness among Governments and civil society of their plight.  The Commission on the Status of Women had shown interest in the Forum’s work, she said, expressing hope that it would continue to work to ensure indigenous women’s full participation in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action.

Carolyn Hannan, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and Dubravka Šimonović, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, also made statements.

Also addressing the Commission today were Ministers and senior officials from Congo, Iceland, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Norway, Gabon, Barbados, Mauritius, United Republic of Tanzania, Namibia, Ghana, Kenya, Niger, Tuvalu (on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum), Hungary and Republic of Korea.

Deputy Ministers and Vice-Ministers from the Russian Federation, Angola and Liberia also delivered statements.

Also speaking were senior officials and representatives of Lesotho (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community), Mexico, Morocco, United States, Australia, Canada, Philippines, Armenia, Israel, Egypt, Chile, Spain, Japan, Argentina, Ecuador, Jamaica, Greece, Kazakhstan, Sudan, Algeria, Bahamas, Botswana and Malaysia.

The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 1 March, to continue its debate on follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and to the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly entitled “Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century”.

Background

The Commission on the Status of Women met today to continue its debate on follow-up to the Fourth World Conference entitled “Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century”.  (For more details, please see Press Release WOM/1607 of 23 February.)

Statements

RACHEL N. MAYANJA, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, said the 2006 Millennium Development Goals Report showed that poverty, persisting educational gaps, underrepresentation of women and girls in decision-making, gender wage gaps, unacceptably high maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS were common problems worldwide.  Gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment in the field were needed to tackle those challenges.  The strategy adopted by the 2006 Global Microcredit Summit to lift 500 million people out of extreme poverty by providing 175 million of the world’s poorest families, particularly women, with microcredit, was a good step.  Recently, several States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women had adopted a significant number of comprehensive laws on gender equality, equal treatment and domestic violence.

Still, challenges remained, she said, noting continued discrimination against the girl child, violence against girls and women, and low representation of women in decision-making.  According to the Secretary-General’s in-depth study, violence against women and girls persisted and had deepened in most countries worldwide.  The Security Council had expressed similar concerns during its October 2006 open debate.  The Special Adviser’s office was focusing on national implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women’s role in peace consolidation.  Increasing women’s political empowerment was needed, as recent data by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) showed that women comprised just 16.8 per cent of parliamentarians, a modest 4 per cent increase since 1999.  The appointment of Asha-Rose Migiro as Deputy Secretary-General was a testament to the United Nations commitment to women’s high-level representation.

She called on the Commission to review the plight of women widowed by HIV/AIDS, conflicts and natural disasters, and the plight of their children.  Abducted girls forced into sexual slavery gave birth to “fatherless” children.  Many widows never remarried, never held a job, rarely received assistance and were often banished by society or confined to isolation.  The result was heightened feminization of poverty and deeper burdens on already stretched national security systems.  The Commission should also review women’s access to information and communication technology, as the gender digital divide remained wide.

CAROLYN HANNAN, Director, Division for the Advancement of Women, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said that the Commission’s new working methods had placed strong emphasis on implementation, leading it to consider one priority theme each session from now on.  Interactive dialogues on national-level experiences relating to the theme were thought to allow time for in-depth discussions and the development of action-oriented recommendations.  As such, the Commission had before it the Secretary-General’s report on the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child (document E/CN.6/2007/3), focused on gender mainstreaming, as per its priority theme.

In addition, she said, an expert group meeting had been convened from 25 to 28 September 2006 in Florence, Italy, hosted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and organized jointly with her Division.  That meeting’s report was available on the Division’s website, and a child-friendly version of it had been prepared by UNICEF, called “Listen to us”.  The Division had also held a four-week discussion on the Internet, with more than 500 registered participants, for which a report was available online.

She said that, in response to a General Assembly resolution to eliminate all forms of violence against women, an expert panel on the topic had been convened by the Commission on the Status of Women for its current session.  It would also review progress in the implementation of its agreed conclusions from the forty-eighth session, whose priority theme had been “the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality”.  In preparation of its priority theme for the next session, it was expected to hold a panel on financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women.

She drew attention, as well, to several related reports and notes of the Secretary-General: on progress in mainstreaming a gender perspective in the development, implementation and evaluation of national policies and programmes, with a focus on the priority theme of the Commission’s fifty-first session (document E/CN.6/2007/2); on the joint work plan of the Division for the Advancement of Women and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (document E/CN.6/2007/5); on the situation of, and assistance to, Palestinian women (document E/CN.6/2007/4); on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for peace and security and the situation of women and girls (document E/CN.6/2007/9); and on the list of confidential communications concerning the Status of Women (Communications List No. 41) (document E/CN.6/2007/SW/41); and on the advisability of the appointment of a special rapporteur on laws that discriminate against women (document E/CN.6/2007/8). 

She said the Secretariat had also prepared a note on its draft programme of work in the field of gender issues and advancement of women for the biennium 2008-2009 (document E/CN.6/2007/CRP.2).  The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s report on its thirty-seventh session was also before the Commission, as was a letter from the President of Economic and Social Council (document E/CN.6/2007/7).

The Division for the Advancement of Women had itself submitted a report to the General Assembly on violence against women (document A/61/122/Add.1), she added.  Other achievements by the Division since the last session included its continued assistance to Member States meeting their obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  Through its “e-network” of national machineries for the advancement of women in Africa, it had helped disseminate information and facilitated the exchange of best practices among participating countries.  Workshops had also been held, in 2006, in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Afghanistan to support the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in those post-conflict countries.  Workshops had also been held in Cambodia and Thailand in 2006.

NOELEEN HEYZER, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), said that, since its inception 10 years ago, the United Nations Trust Fund to end violence against women had awarded more than $13 million to 226 initiatives in more than 100 countries.  Trust Fund grantees, among them non-governmental organizations, Governments and United Nations partners, addressed violence against women in the home, harmful practices such as early and forced marriage, violence in conflict and crisis and violence related to trafficking and HIV/AIDS.  They focused on prevention and protection, strengthening systems of criminal justice, health care and social services to respond to women survivors and provided essential support. However, a holistic approach was needed to institutionalize the strategic, practical actions needed for change on a larger, deeper scale.  That entailed revising legal and policy frameworks, strengthening institutional accountability, changing public awareness through advocacy campaigns, working with community leaders and partnering with men and youth, strengthening social support services and supporting research and data to empower women advocates.

The United Nations inter-agency initiative to address the widespread, severe sexual violence against women in conflict and crisis situations -- the United Nations Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict -- was an encouraging first step to eliminate all forms of violence against women, she said.  Institutional support and resources were critical to such initiatives’ success.  States must take comprehensive, sustained action and use and finance the Trust Fund.  There had been significant progress in creating normative standards for gender equality and women’s human rights.  System-wide action was needed to ensure implementation and accountability.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, Chairperson, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, began by paying tribute to the late Angela King, who had been a “staunch supporter, friend and advocate” of the Committee, which oversaw implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  Brunei Darussalam, the Cook Islands, the Marshall Islands, Montenegro and Oman were among the newest States parties to the Convention, bringing to total to 185.  Some 85 of those had also ratified its Optional Protocol.

She said the Committee had now met twice in parallel chambers, and would do so again in July.  Working in that mode, the Committee had considered 31 States parties’ reports -- double the number of previous years.  To increase the efficiency of its work methods even further, the Committee aimed to enhance coordination among experts in preparing constructive dialogues with Member States and its country-specific “concluding comments”.  Effective and timely implementation of its responsibilities would require extended meeting times in 2008 and beyond, requiring three annual sessions.

She urged timely reporting by States parties.  Those that were more than 20 years overdue -- Dominica, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti and Liberia -- had been requested to submit all overdue reports in a combined report by March 2008.  However, the Committee planned to consider implementation of the Convention even if the combined reports were not received by then.  Meanwhile, the United Nations and other donors were encouraged to offer their support to those States parties in fulfilling their obligations.  The Committee actively participated in discussions with other treaty bodies towards a harmonized and integrated treaty bodies system.

She added that, at the Committee’s thirty-sixth session, it had adopted views on two communications submitted under its Optional Protocol, involving the cases of Ms. Dung Thi Thy Nguyen v. The Netherlands and Ms. A. S. v. Hungary.  In the latter case, concerning forced sterilization, the Committee had found violations of several articles of the Convention.  At its thirty-seventh session, the Committee had declared “inadmissible” one communication, Constance Ragan Salgado v. the United Kingdom.  So far, 14 communications had been registered since the Optional Protocol had entered into force.

As for the Secretary-General’s request that arrangements for supporting the Committee be transferred to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, she said the Committee had recommended that the proposed change be implemented in 2008.  The Committee looked forward to maintaining effective linkages with the Commission on the Status of Women, Secretariat offices of the United Nations and the Organization’s other entities.

CARMEN MORENO, Director of the United Nations International Research and Training Institute of Women (INSTRAW), said studies showed that, when mothers had access to education and financial resources, they made better decisions for the health and welfare of their households.  INSTRAW’s groundbreaking research on the gender dimensions of migration and remittances had revealed that, when women migrated as the main economic providers for their households, the money sent home was used to keep their daughters in school, including in university.  Girls and young women must be empowered to find their voice in politics and decision-making.  INSTRAW’s research on gender, governance and women’s political participation had showed that, when women were included in decision-making, particularly at the local level, Governments were more responsive to household needs and community development.  Women’s integration into politics began by involving girls in political processes and creating political consciousness among youth.

Girls were key actors for questioning gender identities and changing traditional social roles, she continued.  INSTRAW’s security programme was working with youth to empower them to take control of their identities, challenge traditional norms and find alternatives to resolving conflict.  INSTRAW had just finished a two-year project in the Dominican Republic to explore links among youth, gender and violence.  The project would result in a guide for working with youth to address identities and foster discussion and change.

She said, however, that more research and data collection was needed on cultural attitudes, stereotypes and practices that negatively affected girls; the nature and scope of violence against girls; life expectancy and child mortality; household status; access to education and educational achievement; access to health care and other social services; access to employment; and barriers to girls’ participation in politics and decision-making.  INSTRAW was committed to improving research to girls and young women, and was building partnerships with different stakeholders and using information and communication technology to reach more than 1 million visitors to its website per month.

MERIKE KOKAJEV, speaking on behalf of the Chairperson of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said that the Forum had recognized the contributions of indigenous women internationally and to their families, communities and nations at its third session in 2004.  Concern had been expressed over the multiple forms of discrimination experienced by those women.  In addition, they faced problems compounded by globalization, which were compounded by depletion of the ecosystem, their involvement with cash economies, changes in decision-making structures and lack of political status.  The Forum’s recommendations regarding indigenous women and girls focused on their health and education.

She said the Forum called on the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to fully incorporate a cultural perspective into health policies, programmes and reproductive health services aimed at helping indigenous women.  As for education, the Forum called on Governments to take account of indigenous peoples’ situations, while safeguarding their rights and moving towards equitable educational outcomes. 

Regarding violence and discrimination against indigenous girls, she said four points needed addressing: the need to collect more disaggregated data about them; protecting their human rights; allocating more resources specifically to helping indigenous girls;  and raising awareness among Government and civil society organizations regarding their plight.  Hopefully, the Commission on the Status of Women would show continued interest in the Forum’s work, to ensure the full and effective participation of indigenous women in the implementation of the Beijing Platform, as recommended in the Commission’s 2005 resolution, on indigenous women beyond the ten-year review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

LEBOHANG MAEMA (Lesotho), speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said SADC had a long-standing commitment of preventing and addressing discrimination and the increasing levels of violence against women and girls, as called for in the 1997 SADC Declaration on Gender and Development and its 1998 Addendum on the Prevention and Eradication of Violence against Women and Children.  The Declaration committed SADC members to repeal and reform all laws and amend national Constitutions that had provisions which subjected women to discrimination.  By the Addendum, States resolved to adopt legal, educational, training and awareness-building measures that would contribute, prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls.  The 2006-2011 Strategic Implementation Framework on Gender and Discrimination was another step in the right direction.

SADC had set up a gender unit in its secretariat, he continued, as part of institutional framework to facilitate, institute, monitor, evaluate and implement the Declaration’s and the Addendum’s objectives.  SADC would present for adoption at the August 2007 Summit of Heads of States and Government a draft gender protocol that established specific actions, targets and time frames to combat gender-based violence.  This year, all SADC members had to consider incorporating the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women into national law, as well ratify the African Protocol on Women’s Rights.  The 2006-2011 Strategic Framework also affirmed that gender equality be enshrined the national Constitutions of all SADC members by 2010, and that all members must repeal discriminatory legislation.  A study of the Secretary-General’s Task Force on Women, Girls and HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa had revealed that addressing six focal areas, including violence against women and girls, was critical to preventing and eradication the impact of HIV/AIDS.  SADC had since set up a HIV/AIDS unit to facilitate the 2003 Maseru Declaration on HIV/AIDS and the 2003-2007 SADC HIV/AIDS Strategic Framework and Programme of Action.

LOUISE THERESE BOTAKA MENGHA, Director-General for the Advancement of Women of the Congo, said maintaining the rights of women and girls, ensuring their participation in the decision-making process and protecting them from HIV/AIDS and other diseases were among the top priorities for her country.  In addition, the Government fully endorsed the Beijing Platform and was working with civil society to guarantee equality between men and women.  It was currently finalizing a national gender policy, as well as amending texts in the Constitution to reflect gender equality.  Also, it was currently working on new policies to guarantee more participation by women in elected office.

In addition, she said the Government was working to raise the awareness of decision-makers regarding gender equality, so that gender-sensitive budgets were drawn up, including in Congo’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper.  It was also ensuring a wide dissemination of information on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and other laws dealing with the rights of women and girls.  At the moment, women were being prepared for participation in the upcoming legislative and political elections.  On the economic front, women were given assistance in income-generating projects.  Notably, Congo had recently signed an agreement with other countries of the Great Lakes region to promote stability among them, in which signatories agreed to prevent gender-based sexual violence.  Many obstacles still needed to be overcome, however, and Congo counted on bilateral and multilateral assistance to help maintain its momentum.

MAGNUS STEFANSSON, Minster for Social Affairs of Iceland, said the issue of trafficking in human beings, particularly women and girls, deserved priority attention.  He stressed the important role of regional organizations in combating trafficking, which was on the rise.  Also, Iceland was particularly concerned with the severe impact of armed conflict on children, and its Minister for Foreign Affairs had recently announced a financial contribution to a project of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Sierra Leone to reintegrate child soldiers and children affected by war.  In recent years, Iceland had taken steps to protect the rights of girls, including the adoption of a national action plan to combat domestic and sexual violence, developed through the cooperation of various ministries and non-governmental organizations.  The two-fold action plan focused on violence against women and children, emphasizing prevention and treatment for victims and perpetrators.  It also focused on education for health-care professionals, social workers, teachers, the police and the public concerning domestic and sexual violence.

By international standards, Icelandic children enjoyed good health care and education, he said.  Sixty-five per cent of women had university degrees.  In recent years, the Government had initiated various projects to achieve gender equality in schools and the labour market.  The Ministry of Social Affairs had translated and published materials for students, teachers and parents that intended to encourage young people to not allow gender to limit their occupational choices.  Education was essential to raising awareness about domestic and sexual violence, and boys and men must be involved in the struggle against violence, as they were most often the perpetrators.  Last year, the Ministry of Social Affairs had supported a project to provide treatment to male perpetrators and work towards prevention.

MEMOUNATOU IBRAHIMA, Minister for Social Affairs and the Advancement of Women of Togo, said that, in the effort to promote women, the economic sector of her country worked closely with bodies that oversaw women’s affairs on capacity-building activities.  The Family Code was currently being revised and laws protecting women and girls were being strengthened; for instance, those relating to female genital mutilation and the decriminalization of abortion.  Work was under way, as well, to prepare the country report on implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. 

Though much progress had been made, she said more needed to be done to combat gender discrimination.  Several policies and programmes needed revising, and stereotypes needed to be abolished.  In material terms, the country still needed to increase the number of shelters for victims of violence and to establish equality in the treatment of women during times of social conflicts.  As for the fight against all forms of violence, the country was working on laws punishing the trafficking of children and to promote school enrolment of the girl child.  However, work could not be done without resources, and she appealed to Member States for their support.

JEANNE PEUHMOND, Minister for Family and Social Affairs of C ôte d’Ivoire, said her country had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The country was currently striving to bring about the full participation of women in decision-making and the peace process.  In terms of new laws to protect women, the Government had passed laws punishing sexual harassment, as well as banned early or forced marriages.  Female genital mutilation was similarly banned.

She added that Côte d’Ivoire was working to end traditional practices with adverse health consequences for girls.  As for education, the country was doing much to advance girls’ rights.  When girls were enrolled in school, they often faced cultural and economic challenges that hindered them from furthering their studies.  A central administration had been set up to deal with equality and gender advancement.  A new national policy would soon tackle obstacles that hampered social cohesion.  The Ministry of Family and Social Affairs had recently proposed that the Ministry of Education make education mandatory for girls.  To step up its campaign against violence, it would expand a current study on gender-based violence.  Aware that conflict exacerbated the imbalance of power between men and women, the Government was also committed to integrating women in the peacebuilding process.

KJELL ERIK ØIE, State Secretary, Ministry of Children and Equality of Norway, said his country had submitted to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women its seventh report on Norway’s follow-up to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and looked forward to its examination.  The country had appointed an Equal Pay Commission that would submit its recommendation to the Government in March 2008.  The Commission investigated ways to narrow the gender wage gap.  He encouraged all Member States to take similar action.   Norway gave high priority to effectively addressing violence against women and children.  The international political community must join forces to openly discuss the fact that men everywhere used violence to control women and, thus, abused women’s human rights.  Violence in the family was not a private matter, it was a political issue.  Children were seriously affected by witnessing domestic violence, and the perpetrators in most cases were men.  Norway’s new action plan against violence in family relationships would include national treatment programmes to help perpetrators overcome their aggression.

Norway had banned forced marriage and female genital mutilation regardless of whether they took place in Norway or in other countries, he continued.  That issue needed stronger focus.  The right of women and girls to control their own body and sexuality was a universal right, which could not be limited or excused by culture or religion.  He praised the Pinheiro report on violence against children for how well it had integrated the gender perspective.  He fully supported its recommendations.  He also endorsed the report of the United Nations Reform Panel and its recommendations for stronger gender architecture in the United Nations.  A strong and independent entity for women, led by an Under-Secretary-General and represented in all relevant United Nations decision-making bodies must be adequately funded to be able to fulfil a strong operational mandate.

ANGELIQUE NGOMA, Minster for Family, Child Protection and the Advancement of Women of Gabon, said the country’s President had made the elimination of all forms of violence against children a top priority.  Gabon was taking steps to fight HIV/AIDS, had set up a national commission for family and the promotion of women and had prepared national action plans for the family and the elderly.  An inter-ministerial committee was charged with developing policies to end gender discrimination. Focal points on gender and parity had been established.  Preparation of a national gender policy took into account gender mainstreaming in Gabon’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers.  Further, Gabon had set up a national database on women and was a signatory to international instruments on human rights, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.   Gabon’s laws respected the fundamental principles of all peoples’ human rights and recognized equal rights for women and girls.

Gabon had set up nurseries in rural areas for poor young mothers with children aged 3 to 5, she continued.  It had adopted law 16/66 that set compulsory education for all children through age 16, as well as a law against trafficking and the exploitation of children.  Her country was introducing a law against female genital mutilation and had set up a database on trafficking.

Concerning HIV/AIDS, the global community must envisage better steps for more responsible sexual behaviour.  Girls affected by war, sexual mutilation and prostitution that rose above their plight must be models for the future.  A comprehensive, international approach was needed in that regard.

TREVOR PRESCOD, Minister of Social Transformation of Barbados, aligning himself with the statement made by Pakistan on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that the persistence of violence and discrimination against women and girls was largely due to cultural mindsets and the dependency syndrome.  That syndrome had placed many of Barbados’ women and girls in positions that made them vulnerable to both exploitation and cruelty.

He said his country’s specific achievements in eliminating all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child included the institution, in 1962, of universal primary and secondary education, with compulsory school attendance up to age 16.  Also, there was a school meals programme in primary schools, an educational assistance programme and EDUTECH –- a programme integrating information technology into the learning process.  Currently, about 16 per cent of those graduating from the secondary level pursued tertiary level education and, of those 16 per cent, 70 per cent were girls.

On the topic of health care, a basic human right in Barbados, there was free access to medical care and prescription drugs.  Victims of sexual violence were given emergency contraceptive medication to prevent pregnancy and antiretroviral medication to safeguard against HIV/AIDS.  On trafficking, he said that, through partnership with civil society groups, his Government had formed a coalition that worked with regional and international organisations to fight the scourge.  Lastly, the challenge of increasing reports of child abuse, especially sexual abuse, remained.  Starting in April 2007, Childcare Officers would be based within the community as a proactive mechanism to protect the overall welfare of children.

INDRANEE SEEBUN, Minister of Women’s Rights, Child Development, Family Welfare and Consumer Protection of Mauritius, said her country had begun training redundant export processing zone female workers, with a view to facilitating their integration into the mainstream economy.  An entrepreneur/incubator centre and major national market centre would be launched next month to encourage women entrepreneurs to manufacture and market their products.  Women also had access to business counselling, product development and training for capacity-building.  A total of 847 women had benefited from such programmes from 2001 to 2005.

She said that an “empowerment fund” had been included in the 2006-2007 budget to promote entrepreneurship among vulnerable groups.  An agreement with the national airline provided discounted airfares to women entrepreneurs to facilitate their participation at trade fairs to explore new market niches.  As for education, girls outnumbered boys at the secondary and tertiary levels, and performed better at examinations.  Since the law made it a criminal offence to neglect sending children to school without reasonable cause, school drop-outs had been reduced.  Girls’ enrolment was progressively increasing at vocational schools, demonstrating a change in social attitudes regarding a girl’s career path.  In addition, more women were participating in decision-making positions, with 12 women in the National Assembly, and a similarly high number at high-level public sector positions.

SOPHIA SIMBA, Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children of the United Republic of Tanzania, said that, having ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the two Optional Protocols, as well as the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the International Labour Organization Convention No. 182, her Government was concerned about the persistent acts of discrimination and violence perpetuated against the girl child.  In many cases, discrimination against girls began at the earliest stages of life.  Girls were often subjected to various forms of exploitation, violence and harmful practices, such as female infanticide, prenatal sex selection, sexual abuse, rape, teenage pregnancies, child labour, female genital mutilation and early and arranged marriages.  Thus, an environment for girls must be created that would promote and protect them.

She said that the Government had taken several measures to protect girls, including legal reforms, in both the Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar, and a single piece of legislation was being drafted, which would protect children from abuse, neglect and other violations of their rights.  The 1998 Sexual Offences Act was in place, but, although it sought to protect the dignity of women and girls, it had not been very effective.  Having legislation in place was only one step; continuous advocacy, legal literacy and access to legal services and support were required for the laws to be effectively implemented.  In that regard, the collaboration of the Government with other stakeholders, such as development partners and civil society, was a necessary complement to the Government’s efforts.  Moreover, girls’ empowerment was key to elimination of discrimination and violence against them, and the Government was actively pursuing gender parity in education.  Tanzania had nearly reached gender parity in primary education, with 96 girls enrolled for every 100 boys.

MARLENE MUNGUNDA, Minister for Gender Equality and Child Welfare of Namibia said rape and domestic violence continued to be serious problems in her country.  In 2005, the police had received a total of 347 rape cases concerning girls and 12 cases of young boys who had been victims of sodomy.   Namibia had made the protection of women’s and girls’ rights a priority, as evidenced by the number of laws and policies put in place since gaining independence in 1990.  The 2000 Combating of Rape Act provided protection to victims of rape and sexual abuse and set stiffer sentences for perpetrators.  The 2003 Maintenance Act that conferred equal rights and obligations on couples with respect to child support was being implemented.  The 2006 Domestic Violence Act provided for protective measures against domestic violence.  In addition, the Ministry of Safety and Security had set up Women and Child Protection Units in all 13 political regions of the country to facilitate effective implementation of the acts on rape, maintenance and domestic violence.

The National Database on Gender-Based Violence aimed to strengthen efforts of all stakeholders to combat that scourge, by determining areas of concentration and root causes of violence, she continued.  The Ministry of Gender Equality had also set up a national gender-based violence committee comprising various stakeholders tasked to monitor and evaluate national intervention and devise strategies to combat it.  To address discrimination against girls in schools, Namibian education policy allowed pregnant girls to continue with their education at school and to be readmitted to the same school after giving birth.  That policy also provided that a social worker deemed that the newborn was properly cared for.  Statistics indicated that the school drop-out rate for girls had been 6.6 per cent in 2005.   Namibia’s Government was taking steps to involve men and boys in gender-equality promotion, and men were serving in the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, including in management.

ALIMA MAHAMA, Minister of Women and Children’s Affairs of Ghana, said significant progress had been in improving girls’ access to education since the country’s independence.  Girls’ rights had also been strengthened through laws to combat child labour and trafficking, sexual abuse and forced and early marriages.  In February, a domestic violence bill had been enacted into law, furthering the goal of eliminating gender-based violence.  A victim support unit with branches throughout the country had generated considerable data on violence against girls and women, and had helped in the prosecution of offenders.

Regarding the health of women and girls, she said advocacy and sensitizing programmes were being implemented at various Government agencies and ministries, including the Education Ministry, Population Council, statistical services, National Development Planning Commission and civil society organizations.  As a result, an early childhood care development policy and guidelines on orphans and other children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS had been developed.  Meanwhile, the entire country enjoyed free ante-natal and delivery services, of which prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS was an integral part, and infant mortality had been reduced by 50 per cent.  Measures were also being taken to protect girls from sexual exploitation and harmful cultural practices, to increase their enrolment in schools -- by providing bicycles to girls in rural areas, for example -- and to empower both women and girls overall. 

MAINA KAMANDA, Minister for Gender, Sports, Culture and Social Services of Kenya, said his country had instituted laws to prohibit female genital mutilation and early marriage, through the Children’s Act of 2001.  The enactment of the Sexual Offences Act in 2006 had further strengthened the country’s efforts to eliminate violence against women, providing stiffer sentences for sexual offenders and, together with the Criminal Amendment Act of 2003, removed the burden of corroboration as a requirement to prosecute and prove a sexual offence.  A domestic violence bill would soon be tabled in Parliament.

He said that roughly the same number of girls were enrolled in school as boys -- 3.7 million compared to 3.9 million in 2005.  But the Government recognized that the core problem facing girls in the education system was that of structural discrimination.  To reduce the vulnerability of women and girls to HIV/AIDS, the First Lady of Kenya was currently spearheading a campaign against the pandemic, while joint Government and civil society efforts were being undertaken to encourage delay in sexual activity, voluntary testing and counselling and dissemination of information about the disease.  Meanwhile, an inter-ministerial committee on female genital mutilation had been set up, and a draft paper to control child labour was being written.  Work was also being done on anti-trafficking, and efforts were under way to include women and girls in decision-making activities.

OUSMANE ZEINABOU MOULAYE, Minister for Promotion of Women and Protection of the Child of Niger, said her country had adhered to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and had ratified its Optional Protocol.  Its first and second periodic reports on implementation of the Convention would be considered at the next session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  The Council of Ministers had adopted an Optional Protocol to the African Charter on Human Rights and the Rights of Women and had begun to advocate its adoption by the National Assembly.   Niger had reformed its penal code to protect women against female genital mutilation, sexual harassment and slavery.  Further, it had implemented measures to ease the household chores of more than 2 million women by bringing water and agriculture resources closer to them.  Thanks to educational programmes and the construction of new classrooms, school enrolment had risen significantly.  A vast literacy programme had helped to eliminate illiteracy among women, particularly in rural areas. 

This year, the Government would create multifunctional centres to educate and assist girls who had dropped out of school, she said.  New health programmes were aimed at preventing HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.  A programme supported women’s groups with microcredit, making almost $3.6 million available to women.  A women’s development bank had been created and was in the final stages of becoming operational.  Steps had also been taken to strengthen the women’s political participation.  Civil society groups and the Ministry of the Promotion of Women and the Protection of Children were developing strategies to increase involvement in the municipal and legislative elections in 2008 and 2009.

WILLY TELAVI, Minister for Home Affairs of Tuvalu, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, said most of the women’s machineries in his country were underresourced and unable to exert significant policy influence.  But, increased collaboration between development partners had helped to further the goal of gender equality.  For example, work to examine the barriers to women’s political representation in the Pacific was continuing through region-wide research and dialogue.  A regional gender-policy review would be undertaken as part of the Council of Regional Organizations of the Pacific, and consideration of research findings would take place at the upcoming Conference of Pacific Women and Pacific Ministers Meeting on Women, to take place in May.

As for the Pacific girls, he said there was a growing incidence of their involvement in child labour.  They also faced higher health risks, such as that posed by HIV/AIDS, and the number of teen pregnancies was growing.  Low self-esteem and psychological damage was high among girls, and they were susceptible to sexual abuse and commercial sexual exploitation.  With the help of development partners, regional bodies and non-governmental organizations, the country had embarked on surveys on gender-based violence and child abuse, the development of gender-sensitive indicators and research to document the profile of women and girls with disabilities.  Research had been proposed to document cultural barriers to gender equality, particularly within indigenous cultures.

EDIT RAUH, State Secretary, Ministry for Social Affairs of Hungary, said her country adhered to the goals set forth in the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action.  The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was an integral part of the Hungarian legal system.  However, gender differences existed in education, the labour market and domestic life.  The 2003 Act on Equal Treatment and Creating Equal Opportunities was a general anti-discrimination act that provided for sanctions against discriminatory acts.  An ombudsman addressed discrimination in education.  The working groups of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour aimed to eliminate stereotypes in education and employment.  In preventing violence against girls in Hungary, special attention must be paid to Roma girls, since they were the most vulnerable due to their low social status.

Health-care legislation required that local Governments provide district nurse services throughout the country, she continued.  That legislation also regulated management of shelters for battered women and their children, including temporary housing and secret shelters.  A ministerial decree aimed to change and regulate police behaviour, and stated that domestic violence and violence against girls was a public, not private, affair.  Under the decree, proactive action was required with a focus on the victims’ best interests.  Training would be mandated to implement the decree.   Hungary condemned all forms of sexual exploitation of girls and adhered to international conventions.  It participated in the American-Hungarian Task Force to combat trafficking in humans.  A tripartite Council -- comprising non-governmental groups, Government organizations and scientific entities -- also worked to achieve gender equality in Hungary.

JANG HAJIN, Minister for Gender Equality and Family, Republic of Korea, said education was the most effective tool to empower the girl child.  Having ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, the Republic of Korea sought to provide equal opportunities for girls and boys.  Indeed, in 2006, university enrolment rates of female students stood at 81 per cent, only slightly lower than that of male students, which stood at nearly 83 per cent.  High school enrolment rates were higher for girls, however.  The Government had been encouraging women to pursue law, science and technology, traditionally dominated by male students.  As a result, there were more successful women bar candidates, leading to an expansion of women’s participation in the legal field.  Special centres had been set up to promote women’s participation in science and engineering to nurture women scientists, involving a mentoring system between female students and female scientists. 

As for sexual violence, she said the Ministry of Gender Equality was working closely with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and the National Youth Commission to tackle child prostitution.  A juvenile sex protection act prevented sexual exploitation of children, and special centres had been set up to provide counselling and medical care.  Sociocultural changes and awareness of women’s human rights were needed, however, and the Government had developed women’s human rights educational programmes and was in the process of revising laws related to cyber violence, to better track harmful content on the Internet.

ROCIO GARCIA GAYTAN ( Mexico) said the Mexican President had reaffirmed his responsibility for ensuring dignity and security for women and his commitment to end discrimination and violence through the federal “Women’s Access to a Life Free of Violence” law.  A new health-care initiative guaranteed medical insurance for all children in Mexico born 1 December 2006 and later.  Programmes were being implemented to provide childcare centres and nurseries to support working mothers.  Institutional structures were in place to reduce inequality between women and men.  For the first time, the Government had approved a $20 million budget to support the National Women’s Institute and to foster public policies for women’s empowerment at the local and national levels.

The federal law on equality between men and women had been enacted in August 2006, and the National Women’s Institute was charged with enforcing it, she continued.  The Mexican Government had approved a budget to elaborate a national assessment on all forms of violence against girls and women, and 22 of Mexico’s 32 federal entities had laws to penalize domestic violence.  As part of its follow-up to the 2002 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children, Mexico had launched children’s rights programmes in the private and public sphere.  The National System for the Comprehensive Development of Families operated programmes to prevent social vulnerability, monitor implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and set up areas for children’s participation through a national network.  She also supported creation of a new United Nations gender architecture to address women’s issues.

LYUBOV GLEBOVA, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Development, Russian Federation, said increased involvement of men and boys in achieving gender equality was needed to overcome gender stereotypes and create the values of equality and tolerance.  That was accomplished through gender-oriented education.  Also, stiffer punishments had been enacted to help stem violence against women, and persons seeking help at social institutions were monitored to help assess the scale of the problem.  Unfortunately, it was still necessary to overcome the false perception that home violence was a private affair and not a criminal offence.

She said that the number of family and childcare facilities had grown 20 times in the past five years.  Some 300 crisis-counselling lines had also been established by women-focused non-governmental organizations, in consultation with qualified psychologists, lawyers and other specialists.  Russia had offered its candidacy for election in the Commission on the Status of Women, to be held during the resumed session of the Economic and Social Council in April and May.  If elected, the country planned to promote dialogue in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

ANA PAULA SACRAMENTO, Vice-Minister for Family and the Promotion of Women, Angola, said the main Government strategy to increase women’s inclusiveness in society was through education.  Angolan traditions and customs often prevented girls’ access to school, particularly in rural areas, and the Government planned to carry out an action plan: “Education for All by 2015”, as part of its post-conflict rebuilding strategy.  Enrolment rates of girls and boys were not equal, and it was estimated that, of the 65 per cent of illiterate citizens, half were women.  As such, it was hoped that girls would benefit from the national literacy program.

She said that life was quickly normalizing after long years of war.  New schools and professional training centres had been built throughout the country, and it was hoped that more girls would be willing to attend.  However, it was recognized that violence against girls was prevalent in Angola.  A failure to meet their basic needs had also resulted in their frustration.  Intent on creating an atmosphere conducive to implementation of the Beijing Platform, the Government had begun revising its Criminal Code, with the intention of creating a new domestic violence law.

HAMID CHABAR ( Morocco) said his country had taken many steps to enforce the principles of equality and justice and to promote the status of women and women’s participation in society and the democratic process.  Human development was at the centre of national development.  The Council of Human Rights, Commission on Reconciliation and other bodies worked to institute democratic reform, justice and achieve gender equality, among other aims.  Women were better represented in Parliament, filling some 50 seats at present.  Also, Morocco had adopted a family law that promoted equality between men and women, and had amended the Penal Code and Labour Code to work towards gender equality.  Under the new nationality law, children were able to have same nationality of their mothers.  A new initiative was in place to fight stereotypes, particularly in schools.

Morocco had begun gender-sensitization and awareness campaigns and other initiatives to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and other international conventions, he said.  A national pact aimed to improve the image of women in mass media.  Violence against women was an obstacle to development, and many programmes had been set up to enable women to voice complaints of abuse and discrimination at commissions and councils, particularly in rural areas.  In addition, a national observer centre to combat violence against women had been set up, and Morocco’s Labour Code banned child labour.  The special needs of girls and women were taken into account when creating national action plans for development, and a national statistics database on violence against women had been set up to better track abuse of women.

ANNIE JONES-DEMEN, Deputy Minister for Gender and Development of Liberia, said the dismal situation of women in her country was of serious concern.  The Government of the first female President in Africa had celebrated its first anniversary a month ago, and the Ministry for Gender and Development and its partners had played a pivotal role in the 2005 general and presidential elections.  Since her election, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had been doing all within her power to fulfil her promise to give Liberian women prominence in all affairs of the country.

She said that over 85 per cent of women in Liberia were illiterate, and only 27 per cent of girls -- as compared to 30 per cent of boys -- reached fifth grade.  To encourage higher enrolment of girls in schools, the Government had removed all fees at the elementary level and had begun providing hot meals and food rations to female students.  The Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Market Women Fund had been established to rehabilitate market buildings where women could conduct business.  Women were also encouraged to enter the security sector and to participate in Government.  A forum was conducted, with the help of UNIFEM, on women in governance.  To combat gender violence, a plan of action had been developed as part of Liberia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.

PATRICIA BRISTER, Representative to the Commission on the Status of Women, United States, said that, as part of a wide array of programmes to help the girl child abroad, the United States was supporting a $15 million initiative to combat violence against women in Darfur.  A panel had been held on sexual violence as a political weapon in the Sudan and Burma, and some $20 million had been provided to address gender-based violence among refugee populations.  A $15 billion emergency plan for AIDS relief would serve victims of sex trafficking, rape, abuse and exploitation.  An education initiative in Africa would provide 550,000 scholarships to girls in 40 countries at the primary and secondary levels.

She said that, within the United States, President George W. Bush had succeeded in securing “historic levels of funding” for the Violence against Women programme at the Department of Justice, which oversaw implementation of the Violence against Women act.  That law was designed to help respond to complaints of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.  New funding would enable prevention efforts and assist in holding perpetrators accountable.  Some $20 million had been awarded to 15 communities in 2004 to establish one-stop service centres for victims of domestic violence, to address an often fragmented system.  The United States planned to introduce two resolutions to coincide with the current year’s focus on the girl child: on forced and early marriage; and prenatal sex selection.

JULIA BURNS, Executive Director of Australia’s Office for Women, reported that her country was performing well according to international gender indicators.  The 2006 United Nations Human Development Report had ranked Australia third in the world on the Gender Related Development Index and eighth on the Gender Empowerment Measure.

In connection with the theme of the session, she said that Australia had recently ratified two optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and had been working towards a national agenda for early childhood. The Government was also conducting a study to examine the impact of the country’s social and cultural environment on girls and boys and further its understanding of early childhood development. School attendance was compulsory throughout the country, and girls were making good progress in relation to national and international benchmarks.  In 2005, women had accounted for 57 per cent of all higher education students in Australia.  Girls also benefited from a “world-class” health system.

The country was taking strong action to protect children from violence, child abuse, neglect and exploitation, she continued.  New Internet child pornography offences had been introduced in 2005, and strong legislation was in place regarding to sex trafficking, sex tourism and female genital mutilation.  In 2006, local governments had agreed to establish a national indigenous violence and child abuse intelligence task force and to address low rates of school attendance in indigenous communities.  Beyond its national borders, Australia was committed to ensuring that its aid programme made a real contribution to achieving gender equality in development.  There were also a number of initiatives to involve men and boys in the efforts to achieve gender equality, and family-based programmes in Australia played a significant role in nurturing it.  There was strong support in Australia for International White Ribbon Day, and its message to men about their role in eliminating violence against women.  That message was also reflected in the national media campaign: Violence against Women. Australia says NO.

FLORENCE IEVERS ( Canada) said her Government was strongly committed to the well-being of children through the “A Canada Fit for Children” action plan, prepared and published in response to “A World Fit for Children”.  The plan emphasized marginalized children, including indigenous children, minority children, children in conflict areas, working children and children with special needs and disabilities.  Further, it was committed to achieving gender equality, with a focus on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to, and achievement in, basic education by eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education.  Public education was free in Canada.  Recent academic achievement assessments showed that Canadian girls were performing very well.  Canada had given additional support to projects to improve gender equality in vocational training, including activities to increase interest in non-traditional careers for girls, and continued to support developing country partners in achieving the third millennium target.

In September 2006, Canada had released a key document addressing violence against women, entitled “Measuring Violence against Women: Statistical Trends 2006”, she continued.  It shed light on the prevalence and manifestations of violence against women and girls in Canada, provided new data about criminal harassment, sentencing of perpetrators and the availability of victim services.  Statistics had been gathered on violence against women in Canada’s north for the first time, revealing that, despite positive change, women and girls, particularly aborigines, were victims of spousal and family violence.  Canada had recently implemented a national strategy to promote protection for children from sexual exploitation on the Internet, and other innovative measures to address gender-based violence.

MYRNA YAO, Chairperson of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, Philippines, said her country had enacted several laws and policies in line with the Convention of the Rights and the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  Specially trained officers had been stationed in every police precinct nationwide, and inter-agency councils existed to deal with issues of violence against women and trafficking at the local level.  The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council acted as a policy-making body for children at risk and in conflict with the law, and a youth council had been created within every local government body to give children an opportunity to present their agenda.

She said the Government had long involved men and boys in the effort to protect women and girls, through programmes that reaffirmed paternal abilities in men and created gender-sensitive men in both the public and private sectors.  To sustain those programmes, incentives had been created through an annual award system for child-friendly local government units.  Scaling up those initiatives might be a challenge, however, as was the need to adequately monitor the enforcement of the myriad of laws, policies and programmes in place, for example, to monitor the law that mandated the allocation of at least 5 per cent of the total budget of national and local governments to gender and development issues.  Collecting sex-disaggregated data, halting the mortality rate of girls, providing greater protection for domestic workers and the lack of a law against child pornography were among the other areas needing attention.

ANNA AGHADJANIAN ( Armenia) said the previous decade in her country had been mostly about survival and the ability to cope with natural disasters and other difficult circumstances.  But, the rights of the girl child had never been sacrificed.  Throughout the 1990s, girls’ education had been maintained from primary school through university.  Girls were not on par with male students in information and communication technology and science; however, that was a global phenomenon and not specific to Armenia.  With the recent national economic upswing, Armenia had been able to focus more on comprehensive national programmes and policies, particularly concerning poverty eradication.  The 2004-2010 programmes to improve the situation of women and empowerment of women and children were based on the goals set by the Beijing Declaration and the Council of Europe.

Armenia was undergoing comprehensive legal reform, and some results of that reform were not yet evident, she said.  The right of women to work was fully protected.  Women and children had full access to social and health services, so much so, that there was a greater focus on their health than that of men’s.  Armenia had not taken enough action to address family violence, which was a taboo, and victims often suffered in silence.  Last year, however, the police had taken a good first step by creating a special unit and programme to fight domestic violence.   Armenia had a strong non-governmental organization community.  The new Electoral Code had raised the quota of women in political parties from 5 to 15 per cent.  Ten per cent of all candidates on political party lists must be women. Still, few women had reached high-level political posts.  Only one woman held a cabinet position.

MARIT DANON, Director, Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Womenof Israel, said that the number of women in senior roles, particularly in Government ministries and Parliament, was increasing in Israel.  Women now served as Speaker of the Knesset and as President of the Supreme Court.

While welcoming the recent report on violence against the girl child, she said the fact that girls continued to be marginalized and victimized was utterly disheartening.  The report detailed shortfalls often existing in gender- and age-related policy and legislation, as well as customs that curtailed the rights of women of all ages.  As Israel had successfully demonstrated, States could play a powerful role in creating an atmosphere promoting equality.  There, the Ministry of Education, which included a Department for Gender Equality, had encouraged girls to study science and technology, with the intent of narrowing future wage gaps.

Finally, as Israel had been subject to much conflict, women were the primary victims in times of war, she said.  To that end, Israel was implementing various provisions of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), which called for advancing the role of women in peacebuilding and negotiations.  Israel was hopeful that an enhanced role for women would build lasting bridges of understanding with its neighbours and allow for reopening of dialogue.

MOUSHIRA KHATTAB, Secretary-General of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood of Egypt, said a National Council for Women had been founded in 2000 to collect data and prepare national reports for submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child.  In recent years, efforts had been made to provide women with the right to seek an end to their marriages and to transfer their nationality to their children.  New family courts had had a great impact on the consolidation of those and other rights.

She said the girl child had become the focus of national attention, beginning in 2001, when First Lady Suzanne Mubarak had initiated a social movement in support of girls’ rights.  Amendments were being made to laws, so as to provide better protection for children at risk or in conflict with the law.  They would also criminalize all forms of violence against children, such as female genital mutilation; raise the minimum-age of marriage of girls to 18 years; and protect the rights of children born out of wedlock.  Girl-friendly schools had been established, targeted at girls from deprived areas.  Media campaigns had also been developed to spread messages promoting the value of girls and discouraging the tendency to deprive girls of an education.  Egypt agreed with the interventions of Lebanon, Syria and Iran regarding violence against girls in armed conflict and foreign occupation, such as in Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon.

ANDREA REYES ( Chile) said her Government firmly believed in the need to continue working to ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Chile’s Government was fully committed to gender equality and had formed the 2006-2010 Government Gender Strategy, a political and technical instrument that embraced the political will of various ministries and public sectors.  The Council of Ministers for Gender Equality was charged with carrying out the strategy.  Provisional reform was under way to improve social security services for women, including the doubling of pensions for women, who on average earned less than $600, enabling them to improve their standards of living and ensure that retired women lived above the poverty line.  All women were guaranteed a pension, including women who had been employed sporadically, in precarious situations or who had not been paid.

While legal reform was necessary to protect women, cultural changes were also important to eliminate discriminatory practices for women in the labour market, she continued.   Chile’s Government had designed the “Code of Good Labour Practices and Non-Discrimination for Central State Administration”.  It aimed to reaffirm the Government’s political will to end discriminatory practices against women.  In 2007, Chile had launched the “Improving the Employability and Conditions of Employment of Women Homemakers” campaign, in order to erase gender barriers that impeded poor women’s access to employment.   Chile was also concerned with women’s ability to balance work and family responsibilities.  This year, a new breastfeeding law had been enacted to enable working women to breastfeed infants during work hours.  The food pension law increased sanctions, including jail terms, for fathers who failed to pay food support for their children.  To address the high rate of femicide in recent years, the Government had set up telephone hotlines for victims and created safe houses in all regions.

SOLEDAD MURILLO, Secretary-General for Gender Equality Policies of Spain, said that the quest for gender equality should not be viewed as a question of male versus female, but rather as one that sought to bring about true, representative democracy.  It was important to be rid of the notion that women were the property of men.  As such, the comprehensive law on violence against women, recently enacted by members of the European Union, had sought to return dignity back to women victims.  In Spain, men were made to reflect and question the idea that masculinity was equated to power.  As the President had said: when violence could be justified in the name of love, it would seem that the relationship between men and women was grounded on possession of one over the other.  That kind of thinking must change.

In terms of labour laws, she said that the country had sought to ensure that maternity was not an obstacle to women’s work.  Discrimination against female workers because of their maternity was a punishable offence.  To encourage co-responsibility among parents, fathers were given paternity leave of 15 days.  Participation and well-balanced representation of men and women at all walks of life was a constant goal, since women formed a majority of the population.  Meanwhile, Spain was endeavouring to collect more sex-disaggregated data, to bring about gender-mainstreaming within Government and to continue its alliance with Africa and Iber-American nations to pursue the equality agenda.

YORIKO MEGURO, Professor at Sofia University and representative of Japan, said her country recognized the importance of international partnerships to promote the empowerment of women and to create gender-equal societies.  In 2006, Japan had hosted a ministerial meeting, in cooperation with 16 Asian neighbours and 2 international organizations, to exchange views on gender-equality policies.  The resulting communiqué acknowledged the importance of achieving a work-life balance and of strengthening national machineries in that area.  The next meeting was expected to take place in India, followed by a third meeting in the Republic of Korea.

She said that, domestically, Japan sought to move away from stereotyped gender roles by encouraging young women to enter the fields of science and technology, where their participation remained low.  Educational campaigns were being undertaken to eliminate violence against the girl child.  Through the “Initiative on Gender and Development” programme, Japan would improve schools in Ethiopia by installing restrooms for girls, so that it was easier for them to attend school.  In Yemen, groups of fathers and mothers were being organized to promote girls’ education.  Reproductive health services were being provided in Eritrea.  Finally, an inter-ministerial task force had been established to address trafficking in persons, and to make child prostitution a punishable offence.

MAGDALENA FAILACE (Argentina), aligning herself with the statement by the Dominican Republic on behalf of the Rio Group, said that the elimination of violence against women and girls, and the modification of traditional stereotypes that had been the foundation of that kind of violence were the focus of actions of different Government bodies.  The importance that Argentina attached to the scourge of violence against women and girls was also demonstrated by the fact that it would in June host an expert meeting on the mechanism of the follow-up of the inter-American convention to prevent, sanction and eradicate violence against women.

Regarding a book edited under the auspices of the United Nations Population Fund entitled Woman: against discrimination and violence for social development, which would be presented officially next week, she said that much remained to be done, including having more and better statistics disaggregated by sex or age groups.

She said that her Government was developing a series of actions geared towards modifying cultural stereotypes in favour of equality of women and men, and the empowerment of women.  Such initiatives and public policies showed Argentina’s commitment to prevent and eradicate violence against women and children in all its forms.

ROCIO ROSERO GARCES (Ecuador) said the National Women’s Council, created 10 years ago, had consolidated public policy on women’s issues through the 2005-2009 Equal Opportunity Plan, which aimed to ensure women’s, children’s and adolescent’s rights.  The Plan focused on political and social participation of women and girls; their right to a life free of violence and a life of peace, health, sexual and reproductive rights and access to justice; their cultural rights and right to education, autonomy and quality of life; and their economic, work and financial rights.  The Plan aimed to create local mechanisms to achieve gender equality through service networks and gender-sensitive budgets, as well as national economic and social policies and budgets that took gender issues into account.

Ecuador had adopted several national plans to eliminate discrimination against women and children, she continued.  They included a national health plan for sexual and reproductive rights, a national plan to prevent and eradicate trafficking and sexual exploitation and a national plan to prevent and eradicate sexual delinquency and promote sexual education, as well as awareness-raising activities concerning problems related to violence.  The Penal Code had been reformed to expand sanctions for trafficking and sexual exploitation.  Ecuadorian legislators had improved the maternity leave and infant assistance law, as well as the provisions in the organic health law concerning sexual and reproductive rights and the right to live free of violence.   Ecuador had strengthened its gender-equity programmes in 24 local governments and 5 provincial governments through capacity-building and gender-sensitive policies.

FAITH WEBSTER, Executive Director, Bureau of Women’s Affairs, Jamaica, said a national gender-advisory committee had been set up in 2004 to advise the Government on its gender portfolio.  A national policy to address violence against women and girls would soon be developed that would remove deeply entrenched stereotypes regarding power relations between men and women.  Human trafficking and pornography laws were expected to be tabled in Parliament soon, while the question of incest was currently being passionately debated.  Other laws were in the process of being created to allow for greater protection of vulnerable witnesses and victims in cases of sexual abuse.

Turning to the question of AIDS, she said that the disease continued to be of concern, especially since females in the 15-29 age group were found to be three times as susceptible as their male counterparts.  Among other things, the Government was currently engaged in sex education of adolescent females and was advocating aggressively to eliminate discrimination and stigma surrounding the illness.  Tribute was paid to Angela King for her “sterling contribution” to Jamaica.

EUGENIA TSOUMANI ( Greece) said her country was implementing an integrated and cohesive strategy during the 2004-2008 period to achieve gender equality and to incorporate gender issues into national development, employment and social policies.  That strategy focused on ending gender inequality in the labour market; preventing and ending domestic violence and trafficking in women; combating gender stereotypes through education, particularly elementary education; and enhancing women’s participation in decision-making.

Key reforms in recent years had been largely linked to the Beijing Platform of Action, she said.  The Greek Constitution had been revised to mandate that the State adopt positive measures to achieve real equality between men and women.  A special law had been adopted to prevent and repress domestic violence, and a new mechanism provided consultative services for victims.  Since 2004, Greece had implemented an integrated national plan of action against trafficking in human beings, aimed at screening, identifying, protecting and assisting victims, as well as giving relevant support to countries of origin through prevention and reintegration programmes.  Trafficking victims were granted residence and work permits and a waiting period.

A recent law on equal treatment for men and women in employment and labour addressed sexual harassment as a form of gender discrimination, she continued.  Greece had set quotas mandating that women comprised one third of people on local election lists and collective bodies of all Government agencies.  New mechanisms for promoting gender equality had been established and existing ones reinforced.  The new National Committee for Equality between Men and Women was the official forum for dialogue between the State, social partners and non-governmental organizations, and for drafting national gender-equality and gender-mainstreaming strategy.  The Greek ombudsman was charged with monitoring implementation of equal treatment between men and women in employment, in the public and private sectors.

MADINA JARBUSSYNOVA ( Kazakhstan) said an ombudsman for children would soon be launched in Almaty, with the help of UNICEF.  In addition, 45 measures had been taken to promote the political and economic advancement of women; protect the reproductive health of women, men and adolescents; combat violence against women and children; and achieve gender equality in families.  A parliamentary group called Otbasy -- which in Kazakh means family -- had introduced a draft a law on the equal rights and opportunities for women and men, which contained provisions guaranteeing gender equality in areas such as public administration, health care, education, culture, labour relations, family relations and raising children.

As for violence against, and the trafficking of, women, she said a draft domestic violence law was currently being prepared with the participation of non-governmental organizations and gender experts.  An amendment to the Code of Administrative Offences was being planned, so as to criminalize illegal and wrongful actions within the family.  Shelters would be provided for the victims of trafficking, and be staffed by psychologists.  Lectures and discussions would be convened to inform university students of the real dangers of human trafficking.  Regional consultations for the heads of the national women’s machineries of countries within the Commonwealth of Independent States would be held in Astana, Kazakhstan, in May.

KHADIGA ABU EL-GASSIM HAJ HAMED, Director-General, Ministry for Social Welfare for Women and Child Affairs of the Sudan, said current levels of interest in girls augured well for their future.  The role of parents in girls’ lives must be strengthened, particularly regarding the education of daughters.  Sudan was in complete agreement with the resolution adopted by the General Assembly at its twenty-third special session.  The elimination of violence against the girl child was an important issue and the Sudan believed that children’s rights were an important aspect of human rights; for that reason, it had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Protocols.

In addition, she said the Sudan had set up a national body to deal with the problems of children, while a plan under the purview of the Justice Ministry provided the appropriate framework to combat rape.  Centres for the psychological rehabilitation of child victims, in particular those from areas of conflict, had been established.  The State also sought to decrease the rate of maternal mortality and to abolish female genital mutilation.  By signing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and a corresponding Peace Agreement on Darfur, the Government hoped to improve the humanitarian situation in war-torn areas.  Member States were asked for their support in that regard.

HASSIBA HOUACINE, Chef de Cabinet of the Minister for Family and Status of Women of Algeria, said gender equality was a top priority of her Government.  Since 2002, the National Council of Family had worked closely with the Ministry of Gender and Family Affairs.  Algeria also had a National Council for the Protection of Women and Human Rights.  For the first time in the country’s history, the Criminal Code penalized sexual harassment.  Awareness-raising efforts had also been instrumental in addressing violence and sexual harassment.  The Ministry of Justice was striving to encourage women to bring charges against perpetrators in court and to ensure they had the courage to do so.  The citizenship law had been amended so that women could pass on their nationalities to their children or a foreign spouse.  Under the family law, gender equality was guaranteed in marriage. Early marriage was banned.

Algeria had partnered with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to improve national programmes and policies to assist girls, she continued.  Algerian officials were working to assess the impact on girls of social and sexual violence, particularly cases requiring emergency medical assistance, and were creating programmes to end sexual violence.  The aim was to change patterns of violent behaviour directed at girls and to educate people early on.  The Ministry of Justice had instituted training programmes to ensure greater equality and reduce the gap between boys and girls.  Studies were under way to ensure social and economic betterment of women and to provide social and legal support to women victims of violence so that they could be reintegrated into society.  The National Centre for Women also treated victims of violence.  Penalties for violators of sexual violence were stiff.  Algerian officials were also working to eliminate child pornography.

ALLISON P. BOOKER ( Bahamas) said her country recognized the fact that the persistence of gender inequalities and violence against women and girls increased their susceptibility to HIV/AIDS.  As a way to correct the situation, an evidence-based intervention programme called “Focus on Youth”, had been developed to focus on building life skills, and included the participation of males.

Meanwhile, laws had been enacted to combat violence against children, making provisions for a minor’s advocate, she said.  As for domestic violence, the National Task Force would review existing laws, with the aim of providing recommendations to the Government in that area.  It would expand the definitions of a spouse, types of harassment and ensure mandated counselling for the batterer.  However, a global policy framework was necessary to accelerate many of the recommendations and outcomes on the issue that had been generated to date.

MARTY ISABEL LEGWAILA, Director of the Women’s Department of the Ministry for Labour and Home Affairs of Botswana, said that her country sought to improve the livelihood of the girl child through the review of laws and policies, continued support and resource-based intervention, and strategies and mechanisms to address the issues of sexual violence; HIV/AIDS; enrolment in science, math and technology subjects; and promotion of readmission of girls who dropped out of school due to pregnancy.  Implemented in collaboration with civil society and UNICEF, the country’s life-skills programme focused on the development of mentoring skills for girls and promoted assertiveness, self-esteem and confidence.

Botswana had instituted zero tolerance for practices that were harmful to the well-being and development of girls, she continued.  In the last couple of years, the country had intensified education and awareness campaigns to educate members of the community in that regard.  Botswana fervently believed that girls’ education was a key instrument to the elimination of discrimination against the girl child and improving her chances of success.  It also believed that a first step towards the elimination of violence against the girl child was through the promotion and protection of her human rights and fundamental freedoms.  However, the country continued to encounter some challenges that it was struggling to overcome.  One paramount challenge related to ensuring provisions of targeted services to girls with disabilities.  To address that problem, the Government had put in place measures aiming at integrating special education into the national curriculum.

In conclusion, she said it was imperative to acknowledge that all programmes geared towards the empowerment of girls did not leave boys out.  Moreover, it was important to fulfil the commitments and objectives of the empowerment of girls and the elimination of all forms of discrimination against girls as a matter of urgency.

SHARIFAH ZARAH SYED AHMAD, Director-General, Department of Women and Development, Malaysia, said the country’s Constitution contained explicit provisions prohibiting discrimination against women.  But, the empowerment of women began by ensuring the survival, protection and growth of the girl child.  Early childhood childcare centres for children below 4 years had been established under the Childcare Centres Act in 1984, while the Malaysian Education Development Plan (2001-2010) aimed to ensure that all citizens could benefit from 12 years of education.  Data showed that girls’ enrolment in public schools was higher than that of boys, and drop-out rates were lower.

Turning to health, she said a comprehensive family health service was offered without discrimination, and reproductive health education had been introduced in both primary and secondary schools.  The Child Act of 2001 and Domestic Violence Act of 1994 had been enforced to prevent child abuse and exploitation and to protect abandoned children.  The Child Act had also incorporated some of the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child that made trafficking an offence.  Activities had also been introduced to prevent AIDS and reduce the stigma associated with the disease.  Finally, attention was drawn to the situation of children in developing countries, through a report of the Organization of Islamic Conference countries called “Investing in Children in the Islamic World”.

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