WELL-BEING OF GIRLS SHOULD BE UNDERPINNED BY ROBUST SET OF LAWS, COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN TOLD

1 March 2007
WOM/1612

WELL-BEING OF GIRLS SHOULD BE UNDERPINNED BY ROBUST SET OF LAWS, COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN TOLD

1 March 2007
Economic and Social Council
WOM/1612
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on the Status of Women

Fifty-first Session

7th & 8th Meetings (AM & PM)

Well-Being of Girls Should Be underpinned by Robust Set of Laws,

Commission on Status of women told

 

Over 30 Speakers Continue Discussion of Ways

To Eliminate Violence, Discrimination against Girl Child

One of the surest ways to combat discrimination and violence against girls was through their empowerment, said representatives of over 30 Member States and civil society organizations today, as the Commission on the Status of Women continued its general debate on the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child.  Participants also agreed that the well-being of girls in society should be underpinned by a robust set of laws that safeguarded the rights of all children and punished violators without exception.

South Africa’s representative, a girl child herself, said that efforts undertaken by her country’s justice system had demonstrated an increased access to justice for women and girls.  The Thuthuzela Care Centre and Dedicated Court -- an experimental, multisectoral justice institution -- had shown high conviction rates.  Several other laws had been enacted to protect girls, such as the Child Care Act, which would oblige the Government to prosecute those who trafficked in persons, and to keep track of convicted offenders through an offender register.  A child justice bill, with a focus on restorative justice, sought to address matters relating to children forced into crimes of need.  A Films and Publications Act would criminalize the use of the Internet for the exchange of exploitative images of children.

As many participants said, discrimination and violence against girls -- a special focus of the Commission at its fifty-first session -- could take many forms:  from traditional practices that posed bodily harm, such as female genital mutilation, or customs that curbed their right to choose, such as with forced or early marriage.  Indeed, several speakers noted that girls were the most vulnerable to sexual exploitation and to trafficking for sex.

A representative of Human Rights Advocates, a non-governmental organization, asked Governments to consider creating a global strategy for combating trafficking in persons.  For instance, it was suggested that entities dealing regularly with migrant girls, such as marriage brokers and talent agencies, be regulated.  Governments were also encouraged to screen migrant communities for children, as well as communities of asylum-seekers and sex workers, and to rescue them, if needed.  The Economic and Social Council, the Commission’s parent body, was urged to create a working group that would allow the Commission to coordinate with the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons.

As for combating the sexual exploitation of girls, Human Rights Advocates recommended that the Commission give specific recognition in its agreed conclusions to the following practices:  incest, sexual abuse by those charged with the care of children, child pornography, child prostitution, female genital mutilation, virginity exams and child marriage.

Many speakers noted that breaking the cycle of violence against girls required the active engagement of men and boys, as well as a change in thinking among families, communities and societies.  At a panel discussion following the general debate -- on the elimination of all forms of violence against women:  follow-up to the Secretary-General’s in-depth study at national and international levels -- the representatives of Fiji and Norway discussed how best to sensitize boys and men on the subject.

Speaking at the general debate earlier in the day, Switzerland’s delegate estimated that 7,000 victims of genital mutilation were currently living in his country, most of them female migrants or daughters of migrants, despite the fact that genital mutilation was a punishable crime.  But because the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality was thought to be crucial, the country had created a three-way partnership involving the Swiss Conference of Gender Equality Delegates, the Women’s Association and the Men’s Network.  Their joint efforts had resulted in a national congress on responsible parenting, highlighting the shared responsibility of both parents in raising their children.

At the same meeting, New Zealand’s representative said a task force of seven ministers had been set up there, to oversee the launch of a nationwide campaign to change attitudes and behaviours with respect to family violence.  A “Working for Families” financial package was targeted at reducing family poverty, while an “Early Years Programme” provided timely intervention in support of vulnerable young children.

Participants at the panel discussion also discussed regional cooperation mechanisms to combat violence against women, such as Venezuela’s representative, who said her country had adopted an outcome document of the Meeting on National Authorities on Trafficking in Persons.  One of five panellist addressing the Commission in the afternoon said that Latin American countries were increasingly enacting legislation to:  protect women from gender-based violence; expand the definition of violence against women; punish perpetrators; and develop victims’ assistance and prevention schemes.  Peru and Chile had adopted progressive legislation, and Argentina was discussing legislative reform with academics, Government ministries and non-governmental organizations.  Last year, Brazil had approved the Maria Da Penha Law, a legislative model on gender-based violence.  Venezuela’s law listed 19 types of sex-related violence and had been drafted by legislators, as well as academics and non-governmental organizations.

Participating in the general debate this morning was Burundi’s Minister of National Solidarity and of Human Rights and Gender, and Nigeria’s Minister of Women’s Affairs and Social Development.

Also speaking were the representatives of Thailand, Turkey, Ireland, Iran, Syria, Dominican Republic, India, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Yemen, Cuba, Costa Rica, Myanmar, San Marino, Colombia, Slovenia, Finland, Papua New Guinea, Zambia, Lichtenstein, United Arab Emirates and Malawi.

Representatives of the Observer of Palestine and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) made statements.

Also speaking were non-governmental representatives from the Coalition of Islamic Organizations and the To Love Children Foundation.

The five panellists who addressed the Commission in the afternoon included: Yakin Ertürk, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Carol Hagemann-White, Chair of Educational Theory and Feminist Studies, University of Osnabrueck, Germany; Susana Chiarotti, a lawyer with the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights and Director of the Institute for Gender, Law and Development; Aminata Toure, Officer-in-Charge for the Culture, Gender and Human Rights Branch of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); and Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

The Commission will meet again Friday, 2 March, at 10 a.m., to conduct an interactive dialogue to evaluate progress in the implementation of the agreed conclusions on “The role of men and boys in achieving gender equality”.  It is also expected to continue its general debate in the afternoon.

Background

The Commission on the Status of Women met to continue its general 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”.  It was expected to hold an expert panel following the debate, on “Elimination of all forms of violence against women:  follow-up to the Secretary-General’s in-depth study at national and international levels”.

Statements

KANDA VAJRABHAYA, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security of Thailand, said her country had taken steps to harmonize its national laws with the principles enshrined in the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of Children.  Forums had been established for children to express their opinions, including youth councils where girls throughout the nation could express their opinions and suggest what to do to elevate their status and well-being.

The country had also succeeded in eliminating disparities among boys and girls in schools, as well as at the tertiary level, she said.  Finally, campaigns had been launch to strengthen relationships among family members, with the aim of preventing violence in the domestic sphere.  One-stop crisis centres in public hospitals exist to provide counselling, treatment, home visits, legal assistance and sheltering, and 5,800 children had so far received help from such centres.

ELIDA APONTE SANCHEZ, General Coordinator of Women’s Studies and Assistant Permanent Expert to the National Institute for Women of Venezuela, said the National Institute had been undertaking actions to achieve material equality and justice for all women.  Equality was a core goal and was guaranteed by the National Constitution, juridical order and international laws.  Women must play a key and leading role in creating popular support for democracy.  The Law on Communal Councils mandated women’s and adolescents’ participation in communal councils, from age 15 on up, including in the Indigenous Community Councils.  There were 17,000 communal councils in Venezuela.  Most of their members were women.

In March 2006, Venezuela had adopted an outcome document of the Meeting on National Authorities on Trafficking in Persons, which aimed to forge integral cooperation mechanisms to combat crimes against women and children through prevention and prosecution, she said.   Venezuela rejected the use of coercive measures as an instrument for political and economic pressure against any country.  Such measures were incompatible with international law and inhibited socio-economic development.  The enactment of the Organic Law on Women’s Right to Live a Life Free from Violence was a step forward, complementing the 1998 Law on Violence against Women and Family.  The National Institute for Women ran safe shelters for women, had a toll-free hotline for victims, and was developing a three-year project to provide care for the families of victims of gender and set up training programmes to combat gender-based violence and gender study programmes at universities.

ŞENGÜL ALTAN ARSLAN ( Turkey), Head of the General Directorate on the Status of Women, said her country aligned itself with a statement made by the European Union.  It had made considerable efforts to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against women and the girl child and had taken the necessary legal and administrative measures.  For one, the new Penal Code considered sexual crimes as crimes committed against the individual and envisaged life imprisonment for honour killings.  A new legal arrangement, defining the legal minimum as completion of the age of 17, had also been made to prevent early and forced marriages.  In addition, the General Directorate on the Status of Women and the General Directorate of National Police had signed a protocol to raise awareness among the security forces, who were the first to be contacted by the victims.

In terms of protective measures, she said that the number of shelters for victims of violence was not sufficient in Turkey.  That would be rectified.  On the subject of education, Turkey paid particular attention to that because of its unique role in empowering women.  Two campaigns were already ongoing, in cooperation with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).  In fact, the “Let’s Go to School, Girls!” campaign had succeeded in enabling an additional 220,000 girls to attend school.

MARIA MOLOKOMME, a girl child representative from South Africa, said it was important to create opportunities for girls to participate in international forums that impacted their lives.  The implementation of binding human rights instruments like the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was critical to enable girls to enjoy their full and equal rights.  The country was pleased that a Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would soon come into force.

She said the empowerment of girls was essential to break the cycle of violence against them, an effort that required the engagement of men and boys.  Several laws had been enacted to protect girls, such as the Child Care Act, which would oblige Government to prosecute those who trafficked in persons, and to keep track of convicted offenders through an offender register.  A child justice bill, with a focus on restorative justice, sought to address matters relating to children forced into crimes of need.  A Films and Publications Act would criminalize the use of the Internet for the exchange of exploitative images of children.  High conviction rates at South Africa’s Thuthuzela Care Centre and Dedicate Court -- a multisectoral justice institution -- demonstrated an increased access to justice for women and girls and had received the Secretary-General’s recognition in his 2006 report on the Study of Violence against Children.

FRANÇOISE NGENDAHAYO, Minister of National Solidarity, Human Rights and Gender of Burundi, said the 12-year armed conflict had demobilized and destabilized her country.  At present, 21 per cent of the female population had been widowed and left as heads of household, and 60 per cent of the population had been displaced.   Burundi was in the process of recovering from years of war.  It had new laws on succession, marriage and fundamental freedoms and a new perspective on gender equality.  Political leaders were seeking to institute gender equality in policies and programmes and to expand the role of women in decision-making.  Eight of the 20 cabinet ministers in Burundi were women, and 33 per cent of parliamentarians were women.  National policies aimed to promote women and gender equality in foreign policy, justice and finance, transport, telecommunications, the environment, public health and information technology.  At the local level, women held 50 per cent of administrative posts.

Burundi’s Constitution enshrined the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, she continued.   Burundi was seeking to implement socio-economic measures to improve the status of women and children.  Those included steps to ensure free primary education, and programmes to provide free public heath services for children under age 5 and pregnant women in a bid to reduce maternal mortality.   Burundi was in the process of revising its Penal Code, and rape was considered a crime punishable by law.  Women’s access to decision-making was not an end in itself.  In the past, violence in society was a result of armed conflict.  Now sexual violence was a big problem.  Burundi’s Government was determined to go far beyond legal reforms to erase gender inequality and discrimination against women and children in its society.

FRANK FAHEY, Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform of Ireland, noted that, while girls outperformed boys in school and university, gender inequalities emerged after they completed their education.  Irish women had made very significant advances over the past 10 years.  The number of women at work had increased by some 430,000 or nearly 90 per cent over the past 10 years.  Ireland now enjoyed one of the most prosperous economies in Europe, partly due to the availability of a well-educated female workforce.  Overall, the gender pay gap was only 11 per cent, but that masked wider gaps in some work sectors.  The gender pay gap had been influenced by the introduction in Ireland of a minimum wage, which had been periodically increased.

Ireland was not complacent about its achievements, he said.  Next week, the first National Women’s Strategy would be brought to the Government.  The strategy, an “all of Government” response to women’s needs, was based on three key themes:  equalizing women’s socio-economic opportunity, ensuring their well-being and engaging women as equal and active citizens.  That included an ongoing commitment to overcome gender-based violence, which was a significant problem in Ireland.  The Strategy also included comprehensive commitments in relation to Ireland’s official development assistance programme, Irish Aid, which linked a range of actions to the fostering of women’s roles across the developing world.

PAIMANEH HASTAIE ( Iran) expressed regret that the high-level delegate scheduled to speak at today’s meeting had not been able to attend because she was refused an entry visa; Iran considered it a breach of the host country’s obligations.  Indeed, the realization of the right to development, particularly for women in developing countries, required an enabling international environment.  Iran was concerned by the increasing number of incidents against Muslim women and girls in western societies, as indicated in recent reports of the Special Rapporteur against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Xenophobia.  Likewise, foreign occupation, threats to use force and attacking sovereign States had negative impacts on the rights and security of girls, such as in Iraq and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

She said Iran sought to empower girls and women through a family-based approach, involving a comprehensive set of policies governing education, physical and mental care, nutrition and the economic situation of women and children.  Awareness-raising campaigns had been conducted to increase knowledge on girls’ rights, while laws on pornography, sexual exploitation and trafficking existed to further protect girls.  Measures had also been taken to bridge the gender gap in education, training and access to health care.

Ms. GHANEM ( Syria) said her country had adopted its twentieth five-year action plan for women, which included a gender perspective in economic policy, health, education, anti-poverty programmes, good governance and citizenship.   Syria had strategic plans to promote and protect children, particularly from child labour, and to ensure children received basic services, including adequate housing.  The new national plan for the protection of children aimed at creating a labour law that protected them from abuse, neglect and exploitation and guaranteed their educational rights.  The national strategy also focused on training professionals who worked with children.  Also, Syria had set up family centres and services to assist orphans and disabled children.  The country’s national education strategy included revising school curricula and teaching methods with a focus on gender. The Syrian Government and UNICEF had partnered to develop new grade school curricula based on practical experience.

The number of girls enrolled in primary schools had risen from 45.9 per cent in 2002 to 47.1 in 2006, she said.  In 2007, Syria planned to remove certain reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and was increasing women’s representation in decision-making posts.  For the first time, the Deputy Minister for Cultural Affairs was a woman.  The Syrian Association of Family Affairs had partnered with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to conduct the first ever study on the impact of women parliamentarians and had also adopted a national plan to end violence against women.  With support from United Nations bodies, her country was addressing the issue of honour crimes.  More efforts were needed to change entrenched gender stereotypes.

SHENAGH GLEISNER, Chief Executive, Ministry of Women’s Affairs of New Zealand, said that, as noted by independent expert Sergio Pinheiro in his report on violence against children, “No violence against children is justifiable; all violence against children is preventable”.  New Zealand recognized the complexities surrounding the issue and was working hard to transform the thinking of families, communities and societies about the subject, as well as to address the underlying social and economic conditions associated with violence.

She said that, since girls made up most of the victims of sexual violence -- such as incest, female genital mutilation and early or forced marriage -- it was essential to provide them with the skills and means of self-protection.  A force for action on violence within families had been set up in New Zealand, made up of seven ministers, which oversaw the launch of a nationwide campaign to change attitudes and behaviours with respect to family violence.  A “Working for Families” financial package was targeted at reducing family poverty, while an “Early Years Programme” provided timely intervention in support of vulnerable young children.  Later in the month, New Zealand was expected to join a significant number of countries to sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which included specific provisions on the rights of the child.

ROSA DE LOS SANTOS ( Dominican Republic) said the Dominican Republic had designed and implemented a Programme to Prevent and Treat Domestic Violence and Violence against Women.  The Supreme Court of Justice, the Attorney General’s Office, the National Police and the Secretary of Public Health, among other Government entities, had worked together to implement the programme.  A new national standard instrument had been set up to assist victims of violence, with particular emphasis on assisting people in danger of becoming victims of violence.  In 2006, the post of Assistant Attorney General for Women had been created, enabling the Attorney General’s Office to expand guarantees for women’s access to justice and services nationwide.  The Dominican Republic had a national plan to combat trafficking in persons and had set up an Inter-institutional Committee to Protect Migrant Women to monitor compliance with the Law on Trafficking.  Seven local prevention networks had been set up to prevent trafficking and treat trafficking victims.

The Dominican Republic was promoting the right to health and good health care of all women in order to improve medical services, reduce maternal mortality and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, she said.  It had instituted programmes to prevent teen pregnancy, ensure safe pregnancies and good sexual and reproductive health services, and to prevent and treat cervical cancer.  Dominican officials had revised the National Gender Equality Plan and were focusing on gender mainstreaming in all public sectors in an effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  A gender perspective was being incorporated into the Civil Code, Political Parties Law, Family Code, Penal Code, Municipal Reform Law, Labour Code and Civil Service Law.  Officials were also in the process of developing a Quotas Law to promote women’s participation in politics and public life.

INNA MARYAM CIROMA, Minister of Women’s Affairs and Social Development, Nigeria, said a national gender policy had just been formulated to bring the nation’s laws and policies in line with regional and international protocols and instruments, including the Beijing Platform, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, among others.  For instance, in August 2006, the Nigerian Senate had had its first reading of an executive bill for the domestication of the Convention, which would guarantee its enforcement.  A bill that would prohibit all forms of violence against women and girls was under consideration in the National Assembly.

She said that, similarly, Nigeria had mainstreamed the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child through the Child’s Rights Act of 2003.  Under it, stiff penalties would be provided for the sexual exploitation of girls, unlawful sexual intercourse and other forms of violence against the girl child.  It also outlawed traditional practices such as early marriage, female genital mutilation and others.  The Act had been passed in 11 out of 36 states, but another 12 states had enacted laws that specifically addressed violence against girls.  Among other areas recognized by the Government as needing attention were the education of women and girls; human trafficking; and girls in situations of armed conflict.

MANJULA KRISHNAN, Economic Adviser, India, said the persistent invisibility of the girl child must be addressed, using existing frameworks resulting from the World Summit for Children, Fourth World Summit for Women, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The international community should advocate for equality, education, enabling environments and the empowerment of girls -- the so-called “four E’s”.  India’s Tenth Plan (2002-2007) had taken the life-cycle approach for the betterment of girl child, focusing on improvements in sex-ratio, education, nutrition, health, and the elimination of violence and discrimination.

She said a commission had been established to oversee proper enforcement of children’s rights and effective implementation of laws relating to children.  The new “Prohibition of Child Marriage Act”, which had come into effect in January, was designed to provide relief to victims of child marriage and enhanced punishment for offenders.  Another act prohibited sex selection and made it a criminal offence to engage in action to determine the sex of unborn children.  A programme was in the works to integrate child protection programmes under one umbrella, while another scheme would soon provide cash to families that agreed to delay the marriage of daughters up to 18 years.  Other measures to benefit girls included:  an amendment to the Hindu Succession Act to allow daughters and widows equal rights to ancestral property; education policies with emphasis on girls; and programmes targeted at mothers.

JESSE MACIAS, a representative of the non-governmental organization Human Rights Advocates, asked Governments to consider creating a global strategy for combating trafficking in persons.  The Commission should ensure that the girl child was given prominence in such a strategy, by using strong language and developing recommendations that specifically addressed that issue.  For example, agencies that assisted in the migration of girl children must be regulated, particularly marriage brokers and talent agencies; and Governments should be encouraged to undertake rescue operations and the screening of communities made up of migrants, asylum-seekers and sex workers for children vulnerable to trafficking.  The Economic and Social Council should be urged to create a working group within the Commission on the Status of Women to coordinate with the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons.

As for combating the sexual exploitation of girls, Human Rights Advocates recommended that the Commission give specific recognition in its agreed conclusions to the following practices:  incest; sexual abuse by those charged with the care of children; child pornography; child prostitution; female genital mutilation; virginity exams; and child marriage.  There should also be legal recognition of children’s rights, effective detection of child sexual abuse and exploitation and comprehensive welfare programmes.

NIWEMFURA AQUILINE, Executive Secretary for Follow-up to the Beijing Platform of Action of Rwanda, said recent armed conflict had devastated the country.  Even today, rape, marital rape, sexual violence, sexual harassment and other crimes against women and girls occurred, as girls and women were harassed in school and at work.  Rwandan officials had devised strategies and programmes to halt that trend, particularly through education and prevention.  The country’s President had set up programmes to promote the right of girls to education and strategies to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and treat victims of the disease.  Further, Rwanda had enacted legislation to promote women’s and children’s rights, and perpetrators of violence against women and girls were brought to justice.  A gender perspective had been integration into the national Constitution, and article 185 provided for creation of an Office on Gender Issues to monitor and assess indicators to achieve gender equality and equal opportunity in all sectors.

With support from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), Rwanda had set up a National Gender Unit within the National Police Force to assist battered women, she said.  A policy adopted in January 2004 guaranteed equal access to goods and services for adults and children.   Rwanda was incorporating the principles and guidelines of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women into national policy.  Also, it was reviewing the Civil Code and the Family Code to bring its provisions in line with those of the Convention.  The Ministry of the Advancement of the Family was also involved in strategies and programmes to improve the lot of Rwandan women and children, and discriminatory laws must be revised to ensure gender equality.  She strongly supported the recommendations of the women’s conference in February in Mali.

CELIA CHRISTOPHER, Senior Field Officer, Ministry of Social and Community Development and Gender Affairs of Saint Kitts and Nevis, said his country aligned itself with the statement made by Pakistan on behalf of the Group of 77 and China.  He noted that the international community had experienced a profound loss with the passing of Angela King, former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, responsible for gender issues.

Saint Kitts and Nevis had put several measures in place to ensure that girls were able to realize a smooth transition into womanhood.  She said that those measures included, among others, the amendment of the Offences against the Person Legislation and the Child Welfare Act.  There was also a State-run foster care programme and a State-subsidized residential care programme for children in need of care and protection.  Support programmes such as the School Feeding Programme and the Student Education and Learning Fund had likewise been established to facilitate educational development.

The Department of Gender Affairs continued to be the lead agency in the economic empowerment of women.  The closure of the sugar industry in 2005 had made over 300 women redundant, she said.  A programme to train 36 women in non-traditional skills would be implemented later in the year, with partial funding provided by the Organization of American States.  On the topic of violence against women, there continued to be enhanced collaboration between the Police Service and the Department of Gender Affairs.  She then thanked UNICEF, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UNIFEM, the Organization of American States and the Australian Government Direct Aid Programme, for their assistance.

HOORIA MASHHOUR A. KAID, Vice-Chairperson of the Women’s National Committee, Yemen, said her country had begun implementing a strategy for women, which focused on their personal development.  Poverty alleviation programmes had also been subject to gender mainstreaming, leading to the creation of a specific module that addressed women’s issues, such as their participation in politics.  Steps had also been undertaken to reform the laws that protected women from violence.

As for education, she said the level of girls in schools had gone up from 37 per cent of the population in 2000 to 55 per cent at present.  Hopefully, all boys and girls would be enrolled in schools by 2015.  In addition, the Government hoped to reduce early marriages through a new law setting the legal age of marriage at 18 years, coupled with laws to guarantee education for girls.  Other priorities included reducing maternal and child mortality and eliminating traditional practices such as female genital mutilation.  It was hoped that the number of women in the labour force would continue to rise, above all in health and education fields.  Due to cultural norms, women faced several obstacles in terms of running for elected office.  Nevertheless, a few women were candidates in the 2006 presidential and local elections, and a large number of women had voted.  Yemen planned to implement a quota system to improve women’s representation in elected office.

RODRIGO MALMIERCA DÍAZ ( Cuba) said that, despite the adoption of the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 1990 World Summit on Children, little change had been made in favour of children.   Cuba had made advances in children’s rights thanks to national strategies and programmes that created positive conditions for children’s development.  Significant resources had been devoted to education, health and the creation of specialized institutions for children regardless of their race or sex.  At 5.3 per cent, Cuba’s infant mortality rate was one of the lowest in the world, thanks to a comprehensive health-care systems.  All children were guaranteed free education, which was mandatory through the ninth grade.   Cuba had a 99.6 per cent literacy rate and the Revolution’s educational programmes guaranteed that schools were available in remote locations.  Such achievements had been made despite the grave consequences of the economic, commercial and financial blockade illegally imposed on Cuba by the United States Government.

Denying girls the right to a secure future, health care, education, food and healthy recreation was the greatest form of violence against girls, he said.  He called for an end to child abuse, the child sex trade, the smuggling of children, child labour and children’s participation in armed conflict.  The international community could not afford to rest when thousands of children wandered the streets; died from starvation, neglect and impunity; and were victims of bombings, murders, attacks and poverty.  It must put an end to environmental degradation, which threatened the future of the planet and the survival of future generations.

PETER MAURER ( Switzerland) said an estimated 7,000 victims of genital mutilation were currently living in Switzerland, most of them female migrants or daughters of migrants, despite the fact that genital mutilation was a punishable crime.  A combination of measures existed to combat that practice, including reproductive health, education and human rights components.

He said the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality was crucial, and for that reason, Switzerland had created a three-way partnership involving the Swiss Conference of Gender Equality Delegates, the Women’s Association and the Men’s Network.  Their joint efforts had resulted in a national congress on responsible parenting, highlighting the shared responsibility of both parents in raising their children.  Also, to implement the provisions contained in Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security, Switzerland had drafted a national action plan to be published in March.  Under that plan, peacebuilding efforts would take account of gender and the participation of women at all levels.

JORGE URBINA ORTEGA ( Costa Rica) said the majority of the 1.5 billion people in the world living on less than one dollar a day were women, and the feminization of poverty in the world was a serious concern.  The Costa Rican Government was taking significant steps to combat and eradicate poverty, particularly among women, through the promotion of education and social services.  The country’s Constitution guaranteed free education for all children.  Fifty-seven years ago, Costa Rica had abolished its army, deciding at the time that opening schools was a better idea.  Six per cent of the Gross Domestic Product was earmarked for education.  The Costa Rican Government was working to increase that percentage to 8.  Despite such successes, challenges to sustainable development remained.  That was common in developing countries where political will existed, but adequate financial resources to turn goals into reality did not.  He supported creation of an international mechanism to erase debts, promote environmental conservation and adequate housing, and discourage armed conflict.

Adequate support for women and children was essential to erasing world poverty, he said.  The international community must work together to realize the goals of the Beijing Platform of Action and the Millennium Development Goals.  Social investment in women and girls would benefit society at large in myriad ways.  Women were agents of change.  Additional resources were needed and must be applied transparently, effectively and ethically.  He called for international solidarity and responsibility to effectively combat poverty and inequality.

MAUNG WAI ( Myanmar) said that the Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation, a voluntary non-governmental organization with a membership of 2.6 million, oversaw the implementation of the 12 points contained in the Beijing Platform.  Other women’s organizations included the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association, the Myanmar Women Entrepreneurs Association and the Myanmar Women’s Sport Federation.  Girls were free to choose the type of education they wished to undergo, whether general or professional, and the literacy rate was 92.9 per cent.  Also, female civil servants outnumbered male civil servants, and a majority of professors at Myanmar’s universities were women.  About half of the country’s health professionals were women.

Human trafficking, however, did pose problems, he said.  An anti-trafficking-in-persons law had been launched in 2005, which carried a minimum punishment of 10 years in prison, and a maximum of lifetime imprisonment, for traffickers.  The country took part in various regional cooperatives, such as the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Bali Process on human trafficking, among others.  Allegations of sexual violence against women of ethnic groups within Myanmar were baseless; the law was always rigorously applied against perpetrators.

DANIELE BODINI ( San Marino) expressed concern over the spread of violence against women, particularly in the family.  A campaign to end domestic violence must promote collective commitment from individuals, families, States and public institutions.   San Marino’s Parliament had promoted legislative initiatives, as called for by the Council of Europe, to gather data and statistics, raise awareness in public and civil society, disseminate information, promote a culture based on respect for human rights, and provide training for health care and social workers, police and teachers.  The Parliament had enacted legislative changes to protect and support victims of violence, as well as bring perpetrators to justice.  He supported the Council of Europe’s campaign titled “Building a Europe for and with the Children” that aimed to defend children’s rights and protect children from violence.  The campaign underscored children’s rights as fundamental human rights and education in that regard was essential.  A strong family, built on solid moral and religious values, was a good base for children’s growth.

In that context, San Marino organized charity events, he said, in cooperation with its National Committee for UNICEF and the Italian non-governmental organization Telefono Azzurro.   San Marino was involved in a transnational project to protect victims of the trade in Eastern Europe, spearheaded by the Associazione communita Papa Giovanni XXII, which provided concrete support to hundreds of victims, many of them minors.  Also, his country had signed the European Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings promoted by the Council of Europe.

CLAUDIA BLUM ( Colombia) said the Democratic Security Policy had helped create stability in the country during the past four and a half years.  More than 42,000 former members of violent groups had been demobilized, leading to a great reduction in annual cases of homicides, kidnappings, forced displacements, terrorist attacks and other forms of criminality.  A national reparations commission, whose members include women representatives from civil society, had helped provide redress to victims.

She said girls in Colombia were targeted for social programmes such as “school restaurants” and child breakfasts, as well as health care and institutional protection for those in vulnerable situations.  Such support programmes were thought to foster feelings of empowerment.  Challenges still remained to be tackled, however, such as child labour, human trafficking and gender issues concerning migration.

KAMELIA HELMY, Coalition of Islamic Organizations, said there was no one-size-fits-all solution to the problems facing discrimination against women and girls.  Such a solution was unrealistic.  The prevalence of spiritual ethics in any society led to the overall enhancement of that society.  Men were biologically, psychologically and emotionally different than women.  Each sex had unique characteristics.  Although men and women were built differently, one sex could not be considered superior or placed above the other.  The principles of Islam viewed men and women as equal, but not identical.  Human rights approaches should maintain basic rights for all.  She supported United Nations resolutions and programmes to erase violence against women and children.  The Coalition of Islamic Organizations had issues a charter about children’s rights from the Islamic point of view that stated that the child was valued and the most precious was the gift of the Creator.

SANJA STIGLIC ( Slovenia) said that, although the responsibility for achieving gender equality lay primarily with the State, its pursuit should involve individuals as well -- both women and men.  To overcome the burden of accumulated inequalities from the past, laws needed to be in place to suppress conditions that perpetuate the underrepresentation of women in political decision-making.

There was also a need to overcome imbalances in the sharing of tasks between women and men in their private lives, she said.  Legal, financial and institutional instruments were needed to promote more equal sharing of caretaking responsibilities among the sexes, including through the institutionalization of paternal leave and similar incentives.  Children required more role models that portrayed the values of a gender-balanced society.

KIRSTI LINTONEN ( Finland) said the gravest manifestation of discrimination was the increasing feminization of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  More than 60 per cent of all new infections were among young women aged 15 to 24.  In some countries, young women were six times more likely to become infected than men.  Reducing the high number of young women infected by HIV required urgent attention.  Girls and young women were biologically more vulnerable to HIV infection and also more vulnerable to the disease due to harmful traditional practices, neglect and denial of their rights.  They suffered from unplanned pregnancy, unsafe abortions, stigma and discrimination.

The empowerment of girls and young women and ensuring their access to sexual and reproductive health must be at the centre of the international community’s response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, she said.  Harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, early and forced marriages and trafficking were examples of serious forms of violence that hampered girls’ ability to participate in and benefit from development.  There was no excuse for harmful traditional practices.  The international community should seek to change attitudes and customs that perpetrated abuse, applying a human rights-based approach.

Girls were particularly vulnerable in emergencies and conflict situations due to their age and gender, she said.  Adolescent girls faced significant risks of gender-based violence, HIV infection, abduction and recruitment by military forces and armed groups.  In some cases the magnitude of sexual violence in conflict situations had reached catastrophic proportions while measures to prevent and respond to gender-based violence had been grossly inadequate.  Impunity could not be tolerated, and effective prevention and assistance must be scaled up.  Men could perform a key role for change in critical areas for empowering women and improving the situation of girls.

MATHILDA TAKAKU ( Papua New Guinea) said that traditional practices deemed “repugnant to general principles of humanity” or which were “contrary to the best interests of a child under the age of 16 years” could be overruled in cases of abuse and discrimination involving adopted girls.  Unfortunately, such cases were rarely taken to the National or Supreme Courts for ruling.  In addition, girls tended not to report cases of rape for fear of being stigmatized.  Those same girls were the most vulnerable to HIV infection, and indeed more girls between the ages of 10 to 16 were infected as compared to boys of the same age group.

She said that, as a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Papua New Guinea would soon implement a revised Child Welfare Act.  In addition, a national policy governing early childhood care and development would address health and nutrition issues, education and the proper roles and obligations of parents, among other things.  A semi-governmental organization, the Child Welfare Council, would monitor implementation of child-related policies, while the “Gender Equity in Education” policy of 2002 would oversee an improvement in the quality of education for girls.

TENS KAPOMA (Zambia) said his country had made strides to implement the goals of the Beijing Platform of Action and the General Assembly’s special session on children.   Zambia’s 2006-2011 National Development Plan promoted the rights of girls and youth to enhance their survival, protection and development.  That included protection from all forms of exploitation and abuse, full access to education, the creation of safety and rehabilitation centres for abused women and children, and implementation of a gender communications strategy to combat negative gender stereotypes and harmful cultural practices.   Zambia was preparing and would soon present to Parliament a children’s rights bill in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The bill sought to, among other things, provide a comprehensive framework for the protection of the rights of the child and to protect girls from sexual abuse, early marriages, trafficking, sexual exploitation and forced labour.   Zambia had also developed a road map to expedite incorporation of the provisions of the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women into domestic legislation.

The Government had recently revised the Penal Code to expressly provide for the protection of women and children from indecent assault, sexual harassment, defilement and trafficking in persons, he said.  Further, prison terms for perpetrators of such crimes had been increased to a minimum of seven years.  Egregious violations were given stiffer sentences, as much as life imprisonment.  Certain cultural practices put girls at a disadvantage, subjecting girls to early and forced marriages, sexual abuse and defilement, which increased their risk for HIV infection.   Zambia’s 2003 National Cultural Practice Act aimed to sensitize traditional leaders and communities about the need to value and protect the rights of the child.  The Government was implementing advocacy programmes during cultural ceremonies to sensitive traditional leadership and communities on that issue.

CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Lichtenstein) said his country’s criminal procedure code had been revised to ensure the respectful treatment and protection of victims of sexual offences.  For example, witnesses would be questioned in a separate room from perpetrators, and victims of particular need of protection would only need to appear before court once.  The privacy of witnesses would be protected and could be privy to information about the release of suspects from detention.  Other relevant legislative amendments included detailed provisions on the exclusion of the public, as well as the inadmissibility of the media, radio and film recordings in court.

He went on to say that appropriate care of victims and their families was the most important objective of Liechtenstein’s victims’ assistance programme, and a victims’ counselling office was being created for that purpose.  That office would provide the necessary assistance -– medical, psychological, social, legal or material -- in individual cases.  If it was unable to provide such assistance, it would locate the appropriate services or provide necessary information.  Turning to financial assistance, he said both comprehensive legal aid and compensation were provided.  Legal aid covered the actual costs of proceedings, including such court expenses as expert fees.  Legal counsel was free, depending on the victim’s financial situation.

NADYA RASHEED, Observer for Palestine, said it could not be overemphasized how severely Palestinian girls had been affected by the ongoing aggression and violence perpetrated by Israel, the occupying Power.  They had been killed, injured, maimed, arrested and detained, and left homeless and orphaned.  Palestinian girls had no refuge.  Even their homes, classrooms and hospitals were not protected from the violence committed by the occupying Power.  From June to November 2006, more than 400 Palestinians had been killed, including 90 children.  The international community had allowed such horrendous attacks to be committed by the occupying Power -- attacks that resulted in the wholesale killing of entire families -- with complete impunity and without real consequence.  Palestinian girls and their families living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory endured harassment and humiliation.  Violence against Palestinian girls on their way to school by gun-toting illegal settlers went unpunished and, in many cases, was encouraged by the occupying forces.

Poverty in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was rampant and food insecurity plagued almost half the population, she said.  The high rates of malnutrition and anaemia among girls were shocking.  Palestinian mental health was deteriorating due to the psychological trauma of violence.  The international community must take all measure to ensure that Israel complied with its obligations and brought its regimes of occupation, colonization and apartheid to an end.  The international community must go beyond assistance and reporting, and must seriously consider the recommendations of the recent report by the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices against the Palestinian People and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (document A/61/500) to impose sanctions against Israel if it continued to violate its international obligations.

SAEED RASHED ALHEBSI (United Arab Emirates), associating himself with the statement of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that, during the past 35 years, his country had devoted special attention to the advancement of women, which was reflected in legislations governing such areas as work, social security, ownership, equalization of opportunities, education, health and social care services.  Women had achieved unprecedented gains by being represented in the legislative and executive authorities.  Last month, women had gained 9 out of 40 seats in the Federal National Council, the highest legislative and supervisory authority in the country.

He said children under 18 years of age constituted 35 per cent of the population.  Necessary resources had been allocated for youth development in all areas with special attention to girls in order to ensure their full participation in the overall development process.  The country was proud to have eliminated successfully all forms of discrimination against the girl child.  Although violence against children was not a disturbing phenomenon in the country, special care centres had been established for the rehabilitation of adolescent girls who suffered from family violence.  He expressed concern at the suffering of the Palestinian women and children resulting from the poor economic and humanitarian conditions and the violence caused by the Israeli occupation.

STEVE MATENJE ( Malawi) said his country’s 1994 Constitution prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sex or gender, and it guaranteed equal and effective protection to all people against all forms of discrimination.  It also required the State to actively promote the welfare and development of Malawians by progressively adopting and implementing policies and legislation aimed at achieving gender equality, the full participation of women in all spheres of society and the elimination of gender-based violence.  Malawi had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Beijing Platform of Action, African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Protocol to the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Declaration on Gender and Development and its Addendum on preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls.

His country’s National Platform of Action; Gender Policy; Gender Programme; Strategy to Combat Gender-based Violence; Programme and Plan of Action on Women, Girls and HIV/AIDS; and the 2006 Prevention of Domestic Violence Act had incorporated the principles and aims of international policy, he said.  Malawi’s Government was determined to improve free primary education, and education for women and girls in general.  The National Education Policy had abolished the requirement of school uniforms in public primary schools, set a gender-balanced admission policy for community day secondary schools, and reviewed the educational curricula for gender responsiveness.  Further, it abolished discrimination against pregnant girls, paving the way for them to be readmitted to school after giving birth.

DAVID KENNETH WALDMAN, founder of the non-governmental organization To Love Children, said his organization took a human rights approach to protecting the girl child, with an emphasis on sustainable educational development and opportunities to break the cycle of poverty.  The Commission was encouraged to pursue its work while stressing a multisector collaborative approach, underpinned by research and evidence-based theory and practice.

AMINATTA DIBBA, Acting Director of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Gender Development Centre, said the protection and promotion of the rights of the girl child had been internationally recognized as a prerequisite for achieving sustainable development, political stability and peace.  For its part, ECOWAS had put in place mechanisms to enhance the role of women in peacebuilding, peacemaking, peacekeeping, conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction.  The ECOWAS Gender Development Centre had been established as a specialized technical institution, following a decision by the Authority of Heads of State and Government.

She said the Centre was currently seeking to build strategic alliances with other groups, and had recently organized a regional consultative meeting on the rights of women and the girl child, in Banjul, Gambia.  The meeting involved the Association of African Women Lawyers from the subregion, in collaboration with UNIFEM.  The Centre was proud that the first female President in Africa, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, had been elected, and called on the Commission to provide her with support and encouragement in the conduct of her work.

Afternoon Panel Discussion

ADEKUNBI ABIBAT SONAIKE (Nigeria), Vice Chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women, welcomed participants to the afternoon panel discussion, on “Elimination of all forms of violence against women:  follow-up to the Secretary-General’s in-depth study at national and international levels”.  She expressed hope that the Commission’s catalytic role in promoting gender equality and eliminating discrimination and violence against women would spur the development of innovative approaches to address that issue.

The five panellists included:  Yakin Ertürk, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Carol Hagemann-White, Chair of Educational Theory and Feminist Studies, University of Osnabrueck, Germany; Susana Chiarotti, a lawyer with the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights and Director of the Institute for Gender, Law and Development; Aminata Toure, Officer-in-Charge for the Culture, Gender and Human Rights Branch of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); and Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

Ms. ERTÜRK noted that societies condemned the use of violence in principle, but such condemnation did not necessarily translate into action.  In cases such as those, empirical research was often useful in bringing to light the brutal realities faced by women, and in guiding informed policymaking.  For example, once the harmful health effects of female genital mutilation had been demonstrated through research, a group of distinguished Islamic scholars at Al-Azhar University in Cairo had felt compelled to issue a set of recommendations in November 2006 demanding that the practice “be stopped in support of one of the highest values of Islam, namely to do no harm to another”.

Ms. HAGEMANN-WHITE spoke of her experience in monitoring a recommendation adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, in April 2002, on the protection of women against violence.  As a result of that recommendation, the Council of Europe now penalized rape within marriage, although individual States tended to view rape differently.  For example, few States had made “lack of consent” the measure of rape, unlike in the United Kingdom, where it would be a sexual offence if the perpetrator knew that the other had not consented or was reckless regarding consent.  Laws governing domestic violence had undergone a dynamic process of legislative reform -- in Spain, for example, the justice system was able to address several issues simultaneously:  prevention; the need to decide cases quickly; and the need to ensure that punishments did not burden victims in addition to perpetrators (for example, fines would burden wives, as well as husbands).

Focusing on the experience of Latin America, Ms. CHIAROTTI said that countries of that region were beginning to expand the definition of violence against women, punishment for perpetrators, and victims’ assistance and prevention schemes.  Peru and Chile had adopted progressive legislation.  Argentina was discussing legislative reform with academics, Government ministries and non-governmental organizations.  Last year, Brazil had approved the Maria Da Penha Law, a legislative model on gender-based violence.  Venezuela’s law listed 19 types of sex-related violence and had been drafted by legislators, as well as academics and non-governmental organizations.

Meanwhile, Ms. TOURE of the United Nations Population Fund recalled that the Secretary-General had recommended -- in his report on the in-depth study on violence against women -- that States should strive to close the gap between international standards and national laws, policies and practices.  They should also deepen their knowledge on violence against women, so as to better inform policy and strategy development.  The Task Force on Violence against Women, which had met in February 2006 and had been convened by the Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality of the United Nations, had decided to create an inventory of United Nations resources, good practices and technical tools.  It also analysed the flow of resources dedicated to eradicating violence against women; reviewed the effectiveness of the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, as mandated by General Assembly resolution 58/18; and provided technical assistance to Member States in the field.

The Executive Director of UNIFEM, Ms. HEYZER, rounding up the list of panellists, focused her presentation on the United Nations Trust Fund, which had granted more than $13 million to 226 initiatives in more than 100 countries.  Multiple strategies were needed to end violence against women, including revising legal and policy frameworks, strengthening institutional accountability, changing public awareness through advocacy campaigns, working with community leaders and partnership with men and youth, strengthening social support services, and supporting research and data to empower women to bring about needed change.  Four years ago, only 45 countries had specific laws on domestic violence.  Today, 89 States had them, a testament to the commitment of Governments and the success of women’s rights activists in advancing formal legal protection of women’s rights.

In the ensuing discussion, some speakers offered examples from their own countries of innovative mechanisms.  In the Netherlands, for example, a new law would authorize mayors to place a restraining order of up to four weeks against those guilty of domestic violence.  Counselling would be offered to both victim and offender, and the names of offenders would be entered into a register.  Emergency shelters for victims of honour crimes would be set up under a pilot programme, and a register of victims of honour crimes would also be created.

The representative of Morocco discussed the campaign in her country to break the silence on domestic violence, noting that civil society had been instrumental in kick-starting that effort.  As a result of that campaign, the police had begun creating safe havens for victims of domestic violence, as did courts and hospitals.

Other speakers, such as the representative of Fiji, asked how they could involve boys and men in the effort.  Norway’s delegate suggested that men who were already active in the fight would be effective allies, and asked if any studies had been done on the best ways to develop gender-sensitive curricula in schools for boys and girls.  A representative from the Native Women’s Association of Canada asked about best practices to end violence against indigenous women and girls, and whether disaggregated data existed on violence against indigenous women and girls.

Summing up the discussion, Ms. HEYZER talked of the dual “institutional and resource deficit” in the fight to eliminate violence against women.  The United Nations Trust Fund had a demand for $119 million, but could only respond with $2.5 million for programmes to end violence against women, indicating that gender budgets must be increased.  This particular fight could not be undertaken “on the cheap”.

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