IN WOMEN’S COMMISSION, DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL LAUNCHES PLEDGE TO END FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION, SAYS PRACTICE UNACCEPTABLE BY ANY MORAL, ETHICAL STANDARD

27 February 2008
WOM/1667

IN WOMEN’S COMMISSION, DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL LAUNCHES PLEDGE TO END FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION, SAYS PRACTICE UNACCEPTABLE BY ANY MORAL, ETHICAL STANDARD

27 February 2008
Economic and Social Council
WOM/1667
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on the Status of Women

Fifty-second Session

6th & 7th Meetings (AM & PM)

IN WOMEN’S COMMISSION, DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL LAUNCHES PLEDGE TO END FEMALE

GENITAL MUTILATION, SAYS PRACTICE UNACCEPTABLE BY ANY MORAL, ETHICAL STANDARD

Commission Also Hears from Nearly 50 Speakers in Continued Debate,

With Focus on National Programmes, Budgets Aimed at Empowering Women

Launching an appeal by 10 United Nations agencies to eliminate female genital mutilation, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro called on Member States to join the Organization as full partners in the fight to end the practice, respond to its consequences and hold those who perpetrated it criminally responsible for inflicting harm on girls and women.

Speaking during the third day of the Commission on the Status of Women’s fifty-second session, she said:  “The consequences of genital mutilation are unacceptable anywhere, anytime and by any moral and ethical standard.”  An estimated 3 million girls were at risk of being forced to undergo the procedure this year, and some 140 million women, mostly in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, have already endured it.

“If we can come together for a sustained push, female genital mutilation can vanish within a generation.  This goal demands both increased resources and strengthened coordination and cooperation among all of us,” she said.

Female genital mutilation was deeply rooted in social and cultural traditions and was difficult for families to abandon without support from the wider community, she said.  But the values that underpinned those social mores had outlived their purpose.  On the contrary, they clashed with core universal values and were obstacles to human dignity and health.  What’s more, women who had undergone mutilation were, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), at significantly higher risk for complications and danger during childbirth.

The United Nations had made many efforts to end female genital mutilation since three of its agencies first issued a joint statement on the subject in 1997 to draw attention to its grave human rights and public health implications, she said.  Human rights treaty monitoring bodies and international resolutions had since condemned the practice, several Governments had passed laws against it and the Commission agreed for the first time to a resolution to end the practice.  While its prevalence in some countries had declined thanks to international public pressure, female genital mutilation remained high in far too many countries.  Efforts must indeed be stepped up to eliminate it.

In support of those sentiments, African reggae singer Tiken Jah Fakoly, wrote the song “Non à l’excision”, or “No to cutting” for the International Day on Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation.  A short video featuring the singer was shown to participants prior to the Deputy Secretary-General’s launch.

Several speakers from African countries -- who addressed the Commission as it heard from nearly 50 speakers in its continued general debate today -- also threw their support behind abandoning the practice.  For example, Saudatu Usman Bungudu, Minister of Women’s Affairs and Social Development of Nigeria, said Nigeria’s Government had developed a national policy and action plan that expected to drastically reduce its prevalence and incidence in the country.  Some States had enacted laws to prohibit the practice, but it still persisted in others as some “practitioners” considered it a “means of livelihood”.

Ms. Usman Bungudu was one of a host of senior women’s affairs ministers from countries across the African continent sharing their Governments’ efforts to stretch limited resources and development aid to support policies aimed at empowering women, financing gender equality and combating violence against women.

Angelika Muharukua, Deputy Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare of Namibia, said that her country had a small population -- barely 2 million people -- of which 51 per cent were women.  Though they contributed enormously to the country’s agricultural production through subsistence farming, and headed up 39 per cent of all Namibia’s households, their contributions were rarely acknowledged.  For instance, huge numbers of women were employed in the informal sector, but that went largely unrecognized and was not even factored into the country’s gross domestic product.

To address those and other inequalities, the Government had put in place various legislation, policies and programmes.  She highlighted the work of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, which each year provided grants to support income-generating activities for women to help them come up with projects to support their families.  Project recipients received training in basic financial management to equip them with skills to manage their ventures profitably.  They also participated in exchange visits to other countries to learn from best practices.  She stressed, however, that limited resources had restricted this programme to only a few women thus far.

Turning to the issue of funding for gender equality and women’s empowerment, Joanne Sandler, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), pointed to the vast gap between funding for United Nations activities to end violence against women and other areas.  Since its inception in 1997, the United Nations Trust to End Violence against Women had received just over $33 million, nearly half of that in 2007.  And while it awarded grants based on an open, competitive process totalling $5 million in 2007, they represented just 5 per cent of its total funding requests.  By contrast, other sectoral or special purpose funds in the United Nations -- such as the Peacebuilding Fund and the United Nations Democracy Fund -- had had far more generous beginnings.  Since its creation in 2002, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria raised $10 billion for grants in 136 countries.

A 2006 analysis of the United Nations Consolidated Appeals demonstrated that it was also difficult to secure funding to protect women from sexual and gender-based violence in fragile States, she said.  For example, zero per cent of the 2006 appeal of $1.7 million for Burundi to help survivors of sexual and gender-based violence was met.  Requests for Nepal to support gender-based violence projects received only half of the funding requested.  By contrast, all other projects on average received 90 per cent of the funding requested.  Still, positive change was evident.  Last year, Brazil and Ecuador announced budget allocations for their national laws or plans to end violence against women, while others had integrated national plans into poverty reduction strategies with budget allocations.

Introducing the reports before the Commission and detailing its work for the session, Carolyn Hannan, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, said the Commission had convened an expert meeting group in Norway in September and a four-week online discussion in June and July on financing for gender equality and women’s empowerment, in which some 1,300 registrants participated from 145 countries.  The Commission, she said, would develop recommendations to expedite national, regional and international action in that regard.  It had also just published the agreed conclusions from its fifty-first session on “elimination of all forms of violence against the girl child”.  And together with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and the United Nations Statistical Division, and in collaboration with the four other regional commissions, Ms. Hannan’s Division had organized an expert group meeting in October on violence against women, which proposed a set of international indicators on the prevalence of violence against women.

Dubravka Simonovic, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that, in frank and constructive dialogues during its past three sessions, several delegations of States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women discussed their steps to redress violence against women, including domestic violence, and to strengthen support services for female violence victims.  They also highlighted efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention, including through revisions of marriage and family laws, measures to protect women’s rights in employment, and new initiatives to enhance women’s and girls’ educational opportunities, eliminate discrimination and stereotypes, and enhance the participation of women in public life.

Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, and Carmen Moreno, Director, International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) also made introductory statements.

Also participating in the general discussion were the ministers for gender and women’s affairs of Zambia (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)), Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa, Finland, Botswana, Ghana, Brazil, Tuvalu, Bahamas, Czech Republic, Liberia, Suriname, United Republic of Tanzania, Indonesia, Mauritius, Russian Federation, Iceland, Paraguay, Niger, Mali, Honduras, Senegal, Chile, Yemen, Argentina and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

The vice-ministers of Poland and Ecuador also spoke, as did the deputy ministers of Hungary, Angola and Ukraine.

The discussion also included interventions from senior Government officials of Egypt, United States, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Costa Rica and Australia, as well as statements by the representatives Norway and Tonga (on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum).

The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 28 February, to continue its general discussion.

Background

The Commission on the Status of Women met this morning to continue its discussion of follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and to the special session of the General Assembly entitled “Women 2000:  gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century”.

Introductory Statements

RACHEL MAYANJA, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said that as of 31 December 2006, the representation of women in the United Nations Secretariat at the professional and higher categories remained virtually the same as the previous year, standing at 37.7 per cent in the professional and higher categories and at 24.7 per cent at the D-1 level and above.  At the current rate of progress -- increasing 1.13 per cent on average between 1998 and 2006 -- gender balance would be reached in 2027 at the D-1 level.  Gender balance was achieved in the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).  Forty-seven per cent of both the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) were staffed with women.

A cursory review in January 2008 of some intergovernmental bodies of the United Nations with members appointed by the Member States revealed that women were without exception underrepresented, she said.  Of the General Assembly’s six Committees, only the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) was headed by a woman.  The latest of the Secretary-General’s biannual reports on the improvement in the status of women in the United Nations system, which monitored the progress towards the General Assembly mandated goal of gender parity, analysed the reasons for the slow advancement of women’s status in the Secretariat and the United Nations system as a whole.  The reports included about 30 recommendations in gender strategy, gender planning statistics, recruitment, selection, career planning, mobility, working climate and culture and accountability.  In addition to reporting, the system-wide work on gender balance was considered a good example of United Nations reform and harmonization.

Last year, Ms. Mayanja’s office organized an expert group meeting on measures to expedite progress that gathered practices and recommendations from academia and the private and public sectors.  The experts concluded that stepped-up special measures and policies that facilitated flexibility and a more gender-sensitive work environment were needed to achieve and sustain gender balance.  The Secretary-General was expected to soon convey a personal and strong message to all heads of United Nations departments that urgent, substantial progress was necessary to expedite progress in gender balance and that he expects them to be held accountable.

Also this year, the Deputy Secretary-General would lead an effort to design a forceful and forward-looking strategy that would articulate policy and measures to make more effective the Organization’s commitment to achieving gender balance, she added.  Revised, updated terms of reference for the department gender focal points to ensure adequate access to senior management and suitable participation in all gender-balance processes would also be promulgated soon.  Further, the Secretariat was expected to institute a gender score for each department and office as part of a twice yearly reporting to the Management Committee.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support had taken steps in the past year to enhance efforts to identify suitable qualified women.

Introducing the reports before the Commission and detailing its work for the session, CAROLYN HANNAN, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, said the Commission’s new working methods had been successfully implemented during its previous session and had increased the focus on the implementation of policy outcomes at national levels.  The Commission also provided an important global forum for enhanced exchange of national experiences, lessons learned and good practices.

In line with its new working methods, the Commission this year planned to consider the priority theme “financing for gender equality and empowerment of women”, and would develop recommendations to accelerate action in that area at the global, regional and national levels.  She noted the relevant Secretary-General’s report (document E/CN.6/2008/2), as well as the report regarding implementation of the gender mainstreaming strategy on the priority themes (document E/CN.6/2008/2), and added that to contribute to consideration of that topic, the Division had convened an expert meeting group in Oslo, Norway, from 4 to 7 September.  The Division had also held a four-week online discussion on financing gender equality this past June and July, in which some 1,300 registrants participated from 145 countries.

She went on to say that, on emerging issues, trends and new approaches, the Commission planned to convene an expert panel discussion tomorrow afternoon to explore the gender perspectives in all aspects of climate change.  The Commission aimed to build on the momentum of the Bali Climate Change Conference held this past December, which had signalled Member States’ commitment to addressing climate change, including through the Bali action plan, which launched negotiations for the achievement of a comprehensive global agreement by the end of 2009.  She added that an issues paper was available to guide the Commission’s discussions.

The Commission also planned to review progress in national level implementation of agreed conclusions adopted at a previous session, in this case on “women’s participation in conflict prevention, management and conflict resolution and post-conflict peacebuilding”, adopted at its 2004 session.  An interactive dialogue was planned for Friday morning, 29 February.  She noted that the agreed conclusions from the Commission’s fifty-first session on “elimination of all forms of violence against the girl child” had just been published in English.  Those conclusions would be available in all languages in the near future, and the hope that their wider availability in brochure format would enhance their use at national levels and facilitate the review process to be undertaken by the Commission in the next two or three years.

She said that, in preparation for consideration of the Commission’s priority theme for its upcoming fifty-third session, a lunchtime panel would be held today in Conference Room 2 on the “equal sharing of responsibilities between men and women, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS”.  After noting the other reports before the Commission, she briefed delegations on a number of activities the Division had carried out in the past year, including its follow-up to the General Assembly’s request to undertake work on indicators on the scope, prevalence and incidence of violence against women.

Together with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and the United Nations Statistical Division, and in collaboration with the four other regional commissions, the Division had organized an expert group meeting this past October on the issue.  The experts had been joined by a significant number of observers, which testified to the interest in the issue.  The meeting proposed a set of international indicators on the prevalence of violence against women.  The report of the meeting was now available.  Among other things, she also noted that the Commission last year had continued to support countries in their implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and had held relevant workshops in Haiti and Liberia.

JOANNE SANDLER, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), said a world free of violence against women and girls was possible and required, as called for by the Secretary-General, broad-based partnerships, committed leadership, multisectoral strategies, the strong involvement of men and boys, and support for women and women’s organizations.  It also required financing.  An analysis of the United Nations Consolidated Appeals for 2006 demonstrated that securing funding to protect women from sexual and gender-based violence in fragile States was difficult.  For example, zero per cent of the 2006 appeal of $1.7 million for Burundi to help survivors of sexual and gender-based violence was met.  Requests for Nepal to support gender-based violence projects received only half of the funding requested.  By contrast, all other projects on average received 90 per cent of the funding requested.

The funding level for the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women was an indicator of the vast financial distance that had to be covered to end violence against women, she said.  Other sectoral or special purpose funds in the United Nations -- such as the Peacebuilding Fund and the United Nations Democracy Fund -- had had far more generous beginnings.  Since it began operating in 1997, the United Nations Trust to End Violence against Women had received just over $33 million, nearly half of that in 2007.  And while it awarded grants based on an open, competitive process totalling $5 million in 2007 -- more than in any other year -- that represented just 5 per cent of its total funding requests.  By comparison, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, since its creation in 2002, raised $10 billion for grants in 136 countries.

Still, there were positive changes, she said.  Several countries, including Brazil and Ecuador in 2007, had recently announced budget allocations for their national laws or plans to end violence against women.  In some countries, national action plans to end violence against women had been integrated into Poverty Reduction Strategies with budget allocations.  A UNIFEM analysis of the United Nations Resident Coordinators’ annual reports indicated that the number of United Nations coordinated programmes that supported national efforts to end violence against women increased from 26 in 2005 to 35 in 2006.  The Spanish Millennium Development Goals Achievement Fund made multimillion dollar grants to at least 10 countries to support multisectoral approaches to end violence against women.

CARMEN MORENO, Director, International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), said that, in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, investment in women and girls was a priority.  Even though there had been numerous agreements and commitments made since the 1975 First World Conference on Women, women remained the most adversely affected by poverty, violence, disease and poor access to education and health.  It was now time to press Governments about their expenditures for development goals.  Indeed, it would take only a small percentage of worldwide expenditures to ensure that the Millennium Declaration targets on poverty eradication and gender were met.

With that in mind, and in light of the current preparations for the upcoming review of the Monterrey International Conference on Financing for Development, the Institute had completed a gender analysis of the Monterrey Consensus.  As the leading United Nations entity devoted to research, training and knowledge management to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment, INSTRAW had also carried out other studies, including on remittances.  That survey had examined how those resources were used and the differences on sending and receiving ends when either males and females were involved.

She said that, in 2003, INSTRAW initiated a process of revitalization and strengthening designed to focus the Institute’s work on certain key areas and re-establish its position as a recognized and respected body within the fields of research and training on women’s and gender issues, and as a central component of the United Nations’ gender equality architecture.  That process was guided by the Institute’s Strategic Framework 2004-2007, which set out the vision, mission and guiding principles of INSTRAW.  In 2004 the General Assembly reaffirmed its commitment to eliminating gender inequalities by approving the Strategic Framework 2004-2007.

By 2007, the Institute had undergone a wholesale change, including in leadership and general staff.  That successful change during the first phase of INSTRAW’s revitalization had shown how the Institute could “move from confrontation to consensus”, she said, and now it was again on “solid ground” and had recaptured its capacity to contribute effectively to the wider Organization’s work on gender equality and the empowerment of women.  She thanked those that had supported and trusted the Institute throughout the years, and announced that the post of Director would be open as of 1 July.  She encouraged Member States to recommend candidates to fill that important position.

DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said there were 185 States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and 90 States parties to the Optional Protocol.  There were only 50 acceptances of the amendment to paragraph 1 of article 20 of the Convention concerning the Committee’s meeting time.  The acceptance of a two-thirds majority of States parties was required before the amendment entered into force.  She encouraged those States that had not ratified the Convention and its Optional Protocol, or who had not accepted the amendment to paragraph 1 of article 20, to do so without delay.  In the last two years, the Committee had made significant progress in clearing the backlog in States parties’ reports awaiting review.  The Committee intended to continue its efforts to ensure that incoming reports were considered in a timely manner and to encourage States parties with long overdue reports to submit them without further delay.  The Committee expected the timely submission of reports by all States parties.

During its most recent three sessions, the Committee noted with appreciation that a number of States parties had withdrawn reservations to the Convention, or expressed their intention to do so, she continued.  That positive trend was a clear indication of changing attitudes towards the Convention and of the growing acceptance of the principle of the equality of men and women as a universal human rights principle.  She expressed the importance of fully incorporating the Convention into domestic legislation and of linking implementation of the Convention to implementation of other human rights treaties, as well as policy documents, such as the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Declaration and Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).

She said that, during frank and constructive dialogues with States parties’ delegations, the Committee was informed about efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention, including through revisions of marriage and family laws, measures to protect women’s rights in employment, and new initiatives to enhance women’s and girls’ educational opportunities, eliminate discrimination and stereotypes, and enhance the participation of women in public life.  It was also informed about steps in some States to redress violence against women, including domestic violence, and strengthen support services for women victims of violence.  At the same time, the Committee found continuing discrimination against women in relation to many substantive provisions of the Convention, including the lack of sufficient resources for national enforcement, monitoring and implementation of the Convention.  As always, the Committee paid attention to each country’s specific situation and offered concluding observations that included concerns and recommendations for narrowing and closing gender equality gaps.

General Statements

PATRICIA MULASIKWANSA, Minister of Gender and Women in Development of Zambia, speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said that her delegation was committed to allocating the necessary financial resources to ensure the implementation of its commitments to gender equity and equality.  To that end, SADC’s member countries had already begun implementing gender budgeting initiatives, with about half of the 14 SADC States having taken “bold steps” in the area of budgeting.  SADC was determined to ensure that its remaining members institutionalized gender budgeting and put in place mechanisms to track resources, with an emphasis on gender equality and the economic empowerment of women.

She went on to say that SADC was also in the process of developing a regional gender policy, which would be the guiding tool to improve synergies between relevant national and regional structures and mechanisms.  Further, that policy would provide a framework for mainstreaming gender in SADC’s sector specific policies, programmes and actions.  SADC had also continued to consult on its draft protocol, which, when adopted, would accelerate the implementation of gender programmes in the region.  She expected that the instrument would be adopted by Heads of State and Government at a regional summit set for the end of the year.

Turning to the situation of women and girls in the region, she said that Southern Africa still had the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in Africa, although infection rates were slowing down.  She commended the United Nations for giving that matter high-level focus and attention by ensuring that an African woman headed the Office of the United Nations Special Envoy for HIV and Aids in Africa.  On the emerging issue of climate change, she said that region was already experiencing the effects of global warming.  It had recorded frequent droughts and floods, whose intensity had increased over the last decade.

This year in particular, a number of SADC member countries had been ravaged by floods, which had resulted in the loss of human life, massive population displacements, and the loss of crops and livestock.  The floods had also severely damaged the infrastructure of some countries, forcing those respective Governments to redirect precious development resources into repair work.  SADC members had noted that the current mechanisms under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) had not adequately addressed gender concerns and, to that end, would call for mainstreaming gender in relevant international instruments aimed at combating global warming.  Finally, she said that SADC also called on the international community to consider establishing a global fund for women’s empowerment to increase financing for gender equality.

Speaking briefly in her national capacity, she said that her Government had undertaken a number of measures to realize the goals of gender equality and women’s empowerment, including through the development and implementation of its Fifth National Development Plan, which had made women’s advancement a top priority.  In addition, it had developed a National Gender Support Programme (2008-2011), in line with the principles of the Paris Declaration, which aimed to provide coordinated resource mobilization and effective implementation of the country’s gender mainstreaming strategy.  She noted, however, that while Zambia had made progress, it continued to face challenges, especially in the health sector, where its maternal mortality goals might not be met, due to the limited availability of medical personnel, especially in rural areas.

PHILOMENE OMATUKU, Minister of Gender, Family and Children of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said in her country 50 per cent of the victims of sexual violence used as a weapon of war were children.  Sexual violence stigmatized the victims and spread HIV/AIDS.  AIDS was becoming more prevalent among women in her country, diminishing their morale and health.  The Government had committed to a multi-sectoral approach to combating that scourge that involved multi-stakeholders.  The 2003 verdict of the military tribunal in the Songombojo case was a good step.  In July 2006, the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo promulgated a law against sexual violence that established a new definition of rape as any kind of sex with a child less than 18 years old.  The Major General of the Congolese armed forces had pledged that the army would be a more effective shield against violence against women.

Statistics were changing, she said.  In the short term, several measures had been adopted and must be intensified.  That included psychological support and medical care to victims, social support and the reintegration of victims that had been rejected by their spouses, free legal services for victims, damages paid for harm done to victims and the ability of girls to return to school.  She stressed the importance to fight against impunity and the decision by the Democratic Republic of the Congo to make public the verdicts of men accused of sexual violence against women.  Legislative action to end corruption among magistrates and the effective arrest of those accused of rape were crucial, as was special support for women who had been egregiously assaulted -– for example, being raped by more than 20 men a day in areas of armed conflict.  A firm political commitment had been expressed in order to rescue women not only from sexual violence, but also from poverty and social exclusion.

GERALDINE FRASER-MOLEKETI, Minister of Public Service and Administration of South Africa, said gender equality could not be achieved without substantive and sustainable improvements to the status of women through their full inclusion in political life and decision-making at all levels, which created economic opportunities for women.  South Africa was committed to the African Union parity target of having women fill half of all decision-making posts.  In implementing “the people contract”, the President of South Africa had set up a Presidential Working Group for Women -- comprising women from all sectors of society -- which reported periodically on progress, achievements and challenges still facing women in South Africa.  That had led to the creation of the Women’s Economic Empowerment Fund that aimed to improve access to finance for women.

She stressed the need to help socially excluded women.  She highlighted the plight of the girl child who was burdened with heading a household ravaged by HIV/AIDS, sacrificing her youth and education.  Women working in the informal sector still sold wares on street pavements.  Women who toiled in family fields in the blazing sun did not receive any economic benefits for their efforts.  The South African Government was providing running water and electricity to women in rural areas to decrease the long lines of women and young girls drawing water and collecting wood for fuel, particularly in rural areas.  Social justice and social mobilization could only be achieved through critical partnerships among Government, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and civil society.

STEFAN WALLIN, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health of Finland, said that the United Nations played an important role in the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment and his Government, together with other Nordic countries, supported the recommendations of the High-Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence on strengthening the Organization’s gender machinery.  The United Nations needed to be more responsive, coherent and accountable at all levels and, to that end, gaps in country-level delivery of service and assistance needed to be identified and corrected.  He went on to say that men as well as women must have equal opportunities in all spheres of life and gender mainstreaming was one of the keys to achieving that equality.

The Finnish Government was committed to promoting equality in all its decision-making, he continued.  The Government had also established relevant resource allocation programmes to finance agencies and women’s organizations engaged in promoting gender issues.  Last year, the Parliament had also approved a law that provided the country’s largest women’s organizations with a yearly subsidy.  Further, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health was now cooperating with the Ministry of Finance to press ahead with gender budgeting measures.  He also stressed that women’s advancement was a priority in all Finnish development cooperation initiatives, and stressed that all donors needed to be aware of the impact of their contributions, which needed to target men as well as women, in order to promote broad sustainable development for all.

GAOTLHAETSE MATLHABAPHIRI, Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs of Botswana, said Botswana was a signatory to the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and strongly believed in the Declaration’s principles, particularly as they related to promotion of national ownership of development processes and outcomes.  Botswana recognized the need to develop tools and capacities to effectively implement those principles.  Botswana had launched gender-responsive budget initiatives as an important strategic tool for gender mainstreaming within the public sector.  The gender mainstreaming strategy had been carried out in six ministries and it would be extended to five more in fiscal 2008-2009.  The Government had also commissioned a gender audit of the national monitoring and evaluation system.  The Government’s commitment to gender equality promotion was also illustrated by the six-fold increase in the budget of the Women’s Affairs Department, from $200,000 to $1.2 million in fiscal 2008-2009.

He said the budget was allocated to cover specific women’s projects in six critical areas of concern:  women and poverty, including economic empowerment; women in power and decision-making; education and training of women; women and health; girls; and violence against women, including human rights.  The Government was collaborating with other development partners to continue to mobilize funds to supplement the budget.  Many challenges remained to make financing for gender equality and women’s empowerment a reality.  More funding and human resources were needed to change negative public perceptions at all levels.  Botswana’s Parliament recently passed the Domestic Violence Bill –- which was a positive step towards achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.

ALIMA MAHAMA, Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs of Ghana, said that her Government, through the collaborative efforts of various ministries and agencies, continued to finance gender equality programmes, including in:  the health sector, with an emphasis on reproductive health and family planning; the education sector, towards the achievement of gender parity in primary and secondary education; the area of economic empowerment and microfinance; and by providing social welfare services, including legal aid and support for domestic violence and victims’ support units.  But, despite those and other plans and programmes, much remained to be done, she said, noting that a recent study carried out with the help of UNFPA and the United Nations Development Programme had revealed that financial allocations were not sufficient to cover all gender gaps.

As a result, her ministry had begun to take steps last year to translate the Government’s relevant commitments into gender-responsive budgeting initiatives within the broader national budget system.  That move had led the Government to provide policy directives to all sector ministries to take up the gender budgeting approach.  Now, the Women’s Affairs Ministry was set to begin the initiative with three pilot ministries –- health; food and agriculture; and local government, rural development and environment.  In addition, she said that her ministry had established a core group of experts to help with gender sensitive training across all sectors and to facilitate the Government’s broader mainstreaming objectives.  A road map for the full roll out of the initiative included strategies on, among other things, securing ministerial commitments from all sectors, and securing technical assistance to develop gender-responsive budgeting tools and training.

NILCEA FREIRE, Minister of the Special Secretariat of Policies for Women of Brazil, said Brazil was doing its part to give women the same equal rights under the law as men.  It had set up a Special Secretariat of Policies for Women at the ministerial level and had reformulated its National Council of Women’s Rights to include greater participation of civil society.  It held national conferences in 2004 and 2007, which led to the creation of the First National Plan for Women’s Policy in 2004 and the second plan, to be implemented in March.  The 2004-2007 multi-year plan defined the reduction of gender, race and ethnicity inequalities as the main challenges.  The 2008-2011 multi-year plan represented a step forward in relation to the previous plan, as it proposed, as one of the 10 strategic objectives of the Government, the promotion of gender, race and equality, with immediate consequences as part of each ministry’s budget in the next four years.

She said the Government’s social agenda aimed to expand and improve the Bolsa Familia income transfer programme and improve and expand universal access to health care, as well as launch a national citizenship programme, and a national pact to address violence against women.  The national pact was launched in August 2007 and was funded with $500 million.  It aimed to:  strengthen networks that provided care for women victims of violence and fully implement the Maria da Penha law; promote the sexual and reproductive rights of women; implement an integrated plan to address the feminization of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases; fight the sexual exploitation of girls and young women, as well as trafficking in women; and promote the human rights of women in detention and in prisons.

WILLY TELAVI, Minister for Home Affairs and Rural Development of Tuvalu, said that, despite development partners’ and donor’s stated commitment to supporting programmes for gender mainstreaming, insufficient funding and human resources had been allocated for implementation at the national level.  Obviously, that posed a challenge for small islands like Tuvalu, which had limited resources.  He said that financing for gender equality was a new concept that had been incorporated into Tuvalu’s overall budget process.  Following several years of overall budget reform, the Government had adopted performance-based budgeting plans focused mainly on achieving the objectives of targeted programmes.  The gender-responsive programmes were being coordinated by the Department of Women’s Affairs, in close coordination with the Tuvalu National Council of Women, among other groups.

Reiterating that the Government’s efforts to fully implement its gender equality programmes were being hampered by a lack of resources, he also stressed that those efforts also suffered because of competition for limited resources from other development sectors. Nevertheless, the Government remained committed to the development of women and the continued implementation of the Tuvalu National Women’s Policy, which aimed to achieve gender equality and eliminate discrimination against women.  At the same time, full support for that policy required strong political commitments and substantial resources for all stakeholders.  To that end, continued donor support was critical for implementation of all Tuvalu’s development plans, including those targeted for women’s empowerment.  Such support was also important to help Tuvalu integrate the impact of climate change as part of its gender programme initiatives.

LORETTA BUTLER-TURNER, Minister of State for Social Development of the Bahamas, said the Bahamas had made every effort to pledge resources to further promote gender equity and empower women by increasing human and financial resources for the national women’s machinery.  The Bureau of Women’s Affairs now had a line item and that would enable it to play a critical role in implementing the Beijing Platform of Action.  The Government had also created a $2 million Poverty Alleviation Fund that would benefit women.  Other line ministries and departments continued to make provisions for programmes and services that directly benefited women.  She said she aimed to increase dialogue and to actively promote collaboration among all stakeholders, including the Ministry of Finance and Planning, to ensure that the Bahamas moved closer to the goal of creating a truly gender-responsive budget.

In January 2006, the Bahamas unveiled its micro-loan programme, she said.  Its target market was owners of labour-intensive small and medium-sized enterprises that were eligible to borrow a maximum of $10,000 to purchase raw materials, supplies and equipment.  Most loan holders were women, thus enhancing their entry into the workforce and ultimately their socio-economic status.  Her Government was consulting with several United Nations entities -- including UNFPA, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and UNIFEM -- to help the Bahamas develop a gender policy and a new structure for its national women’s machinery, as well as provide much-need technical assistance so that the country could meet its reporting obligations to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

DZAMILA STEHLIKOVA, Minister of Human Rights, Ethnic Minorities and Gender Equality, and President of the Government Council on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men of the Czech Republic, said that ensuring gender equality and human rights were high priorities for his Government and, in 1998, the National Action Plan on Gender Equality had been approved, based on the Beijing Platform for Action.  Implementation of that plan was evaluated annually, he said, adding that, to strengthen its efforts, the Government had, in 2001, established the Council for Equal Opportunities.

The Council was an advisory body that served as a platform for the design of gender policy.  The body consisted of high-level decision makers (deputy ministers), representatives of civil society groups and other partners.  He also noted that, in January 2007, the Government had established his ministerial post. On gender budgeting, he said the Government had written up a non-binding methodology -- the manual “Gender Budgeting” -- in 2004, with the aim of encouraging people to accept the idea.  It was also intended for authorities, especially at the local and regional level, to guide them in the use of public finances.  In all this, the Government wanted gender budgeting to become a regular tool in compiling budgets at all levels.

VABAH KAZAKU GAYFLOR, Minister of Gender and Development of Liberia, said in the last two years, under the leadership of Liberia’s first female President, the nascent democracy had significantly increased women’s participation in political processes and reconstruction efforts.  Ten per cent of the country’s police officers were women and more were being trained.  Twenty-three top police posts were held by women -- including the Inspector General of Police.  A women and children’s protection division was set up within the police department.  Fourteen of the country’s 94 parliamentarians were women, as were two of the five Supreme Court judges.  Women headed key ministries, including the Ministry of Finance, Commerce and Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Ministry of Gender and Development.  She expressed optimism that, in the next two years, Liberia would be able to reach the minimum benchmark of having women fill 33 per cent of political and public posts.  Liberia had also undertaken critical legal reforms to protect and empower women, including in the December 2005 Rape Law that criminalized gang rape and the Inheritance Law.

The Government also ensured that the Ministry of Gender had been actively engaged in the land reform process, as well as other reform processes, by working closely with the Governance Reform Commission, she said.  The country had also conducted assessments and studies to identify key issues that must be addressed to promote gender equality and fill in the gaps in current reconstruction and development efforts.   Liberia was in the process of finalizing a national gender policy framework.  To reduce rape -- the prevalence of which was a consequence of two decades of conflict -- the Government had created a National Plan of Action for the Prevention and Management of Gender-based Violence.  Further, the 2008-2010 National Reproductive Commodity Security Strategy and Operational Plan would provide quality contraceptives and other reproductive health commodities.

MAURITS HASSANKHAN, Minister of Home Affairs of Suriname, said that many women around the world had yet to reap the benefits of improved access to education and health care, including sexual reproductive health, access to microcredit and finance, employment generation and adequate representation in decision-making.   Suriname’s Government, in close cooperation with civil society, was implementing its second Integral Gender Action Plan, which identified several policy interventions in areas such as poverty eradication, human rights, decision-making and education, among others.

He said that, for its part, the Home Affairs Ministry had acknowledged that many challenges remained in the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Besides insufficient financial resources, Suriname also faced challenges in lack of capacity within both the Government and civil society.  The lack of sex-disaggregated data and analysis constrained the formulation, implementation and evaluation of policies geared towards improving the situation of women.  To that end, Suriname was participating in a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) regional statistical programme aimed at integrating such data from different sources, which could guide the country in its analysis of information in relevant social sectors.

MARGARET SIMWANZA SITTA, Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children of the United Republic of Tanzania, stressed the importance of women’s contributions in economic development and poverty eradication through paid and unpaid employment.  The Government had created, in 2006, the National Empowerment Policy.  Women were encouraged to form productive economic groups and to join savings and credit cooperatives.  The Government had also set up credit schemes and training programmes for women entrepreneurs.  Officials were in the process of creating a women’s bank and, in recognition of women’s unpaid labour, a time-use model that provided gender disaggregated data on unpaid work, which could then be used to guide policy decisions that had been developed.  Gender had been institutionalized into the country’s budget and planning processes through public finance reforms and the gender-budget initiative.  Budget guidelines called for Government sectors to budget for gender mainstreaming and strengthening of gender focal points.

A checklist on gender budgeting to assist budget officers had also been developed, she said.  Public expenditure reviews monitored progress in financing for gender equality and involved various stakeholders from Government and civil society.  A gender working group comprised of gender experts from Government, civil society and development partners provided further inputs into gender mainstreaming in the planning and budgeting process, she said.  Violence against women must be stopped.  Her Government was reviewing laws and regulations to provide a better legal framework to combat gender-based violence and child abuse.  She supported the Secretary-General’s campaign to end violence against women.

MEUTIA HATTA SWASONO, Minister for Women Empowerment of Indonesia, said that, with efforts lagging to fully promote women’s empowerment, the time had come for action.   Indonesia agreed that increased attention must be given to addressing the gender perspectives of all six action areas of the Monterrey Consensus, with a view to providing input to the upcoming review of the 2002 International Conference on Financing for Development.  In addition, donors should be encouraged to provide multilateral agencies with additional funding for gender equality projects and programmes.  She added that the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) review of national trade policies should seek to identify and address relevant gender impacts.

She went on to say that Indonesia agreed that national policymaking should be gender responsive, reflecting the differentiated needs of women and men.  At the same time, resource allocations should match commitments, and those expenditures should be monitored and their impact evaluated with appropriate tracking mechanisms.  To that end, Indonesia’s new budgetary and planning system provided a platform for gender equality in central, as well as regional, policymaking and programme implementation.  It required that regional and central governments prepared performance-based budgets in which programmes, activities and budget expenditures were aligned with specified gender performance indicators.  On gender mainstreaming, she added that a draft presidential regulation on the National Plan of Action on Gender Mainstreaming was in the process of being completed.

INDRANEE SEEBUN, Minister of Women’s Rights, Child Development, Family Welfare and Consumer Protection of Mauritius, said in accordance with the outcomes of the 1994 landmark International Conference on Population and Development, a Network of African Women Ministers and Parliamentarians was set up to accelerate women’s empowerment in the context of sustainable development.  To that end, her ministry hosted in October the Network’s eighth regional workshop, during which parliamentarians pledged to mobilize political support and Government resources in partnership with development agencies, regional bodies, the private sector and civil society aimed at building on achievements in women’s sexual and reproductive health.  Her Ministry had intensified its campaign related to cervical and breast cancer and she stressed the need to incorporate gender mainstreaming into all sectors.

Her ministry had incorporated the 2005 National Gender Policy into an overarching framework that set guidelines for other ministries to develop their own gender policies.  That framework was also compatible with the Government’s programme-based budgeting initiative and the performance management system.  Each ministry also had a focal point to promote gender equality.  Mauritius’ 2006-2007 budget included several measures for women’s empowerment, including an Empowerment Fund of 5 billion Mauritian rupees for the next five years to encourage women’s entrepreneurship, by giving them access to land, training, leadership skills and finance.  In November, legislators amended the Protection from Domestic Violence Act to provide better services for victims of domestic violence and strengthen the Act’s enforcement mechanisms.  However, legislation was not enough to combat violence.  A commitment was needed by all stakeholders.  On 27 December, her ministry launched a campaign against violence, in collaboration with non-governmental organizations, and proclaimed 2008 “a year of non-violence”.

L. GLEBOVA, State Secretary, Deputy Minister of Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation, said that, despite the fact that Member States had not been able to make a decision on ways to improve the United Nations gender architecture, it was inappropriate for some to try to change the exiting practices of the Commission or the Organization’s other gender-focused bodies.  The reports before the Commission provided a balanced view of the situation of women and would, therefore, allow delegations to study the situation thoroughly.  She said that the Russian Federation had implemented its own project on gender-responsive budgeting.  That plan had been part of a wider legislative overhaul of taxation and budgeting structures.

She went on to say that the Government also supported women’s participation in political decision-making.  Indeed, they had always been active participants, and the Russian Public Chamber was now made up of 35 per cent women working with the Government on key policy initiatives.  The Russian Federation supported the Commission and looked positively on its efforts to implement the outcomes of the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women and “Women 2000”.

Launch by Deputy Secretary-General of Inter-Agency Appeal to Eliminate Female Genital Mutilation

ASHA ROSE MIGIRO, Deputy Secretary-General, said she was proud to stand before the participants on behalf of 10 United Nations agencies to reaffirm the Organization’s collective commitment to stop the archaic practice of female genital mutilation.  An estimated 3 million girls were at risk of undergoing the procedure this year.  Some 140 million women, mostly in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, have already endured it.  Genital mutilation was a practice deeply rooted in social and cultural traditions and was an integral part of the identity of its proponents, which continued to structure and influence intergenerational relationships.  It was a powerful social convention that was difficult for families to abandon without support from the wider community.

“I wish to unequivocally underscore that the values that underpin female genital mutilation have outlived their purpose,” she said.  “Today, we must stand and firmly oppose this practice because it clashes with core universal values and constitutes a challenge to human dignity and health.”

There were no health benefits, but the practice did cause harm, she said, noting that the World Health Organization (WHO) had concluded recently that women who had undergone genital mutilation had significantly increased risks for adverse events during childbirth.

“The consequences of genital mutilation are unacceptable anywhere, anytime and by any moral and ethical standard,” she said.  Often it was carried out on minors, violating the rights of a child to free and full consent on matters concerning their bodies and bodily functions.  However, there were no quick or easy solutions to bringing an end to female genital mutilation.  Collective behaviour must be changed.  Core values and mechanisms that had supported it for generations must be targeted.  “If we can come together for a sustained push, female genital mutilation can vanish within a generation.  This goal demands both increased resources and strengthened coordination and cooperation among all of us.  That is the purpose of today’s landmark statement issued by 10 United Nations agencies.”

In 1997, three United Nations agencies first issued a joint statement on the subject, she said.  It drew attention to the grave human rights and public health implications of that practice, and publicly called for its abandonment.  In the decade since, many efforts had been made to counteract the practice.  More and more United Nations agencies had become involved.  Human rights treaty monitoring bodies and international resolutions had condemned the practice.  Several Governments had passed laws against it and political support for ending the practice was growing.  For example, the Commission agreed for the first time to a resolution on ending the practice.  The prevention efforts of Governments, national and international organizations and local communities had begun to bear fruit.  As public support to abandon the practice had grown, its prevalence in some countries had declined.  Communities that had employed a collective decision-making process had been particularly successful.

Despite those laudable gains, the rate of decline left much to be desired.  In far too many countries the rate of prevalence remained high.  Efforts must be redoubled to eliminate it.  The inter-agency statement reaffirmed the Organization’s collective commitment to that issue, while incorporating new evidence and lessons learned over the past decade.  It highlighted the human rights and legal dimensions of the problem.  She confirmed the United Nations commitment to support Governments, communities and the female victims in abandoning the procedure and called on Member States to join the Organization as full partners in the fight to end the practice, respond to its consequences and hold those who perpetrated it criminally responsible for inflicting harm on girls and women.

Statements

SEAN POWER, Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform of Ireland, with special responsibility for equality issues, said that in accordance with commitments made at Beijing and elsewhere, his Government had published its National Women’s Strategy (2000-2016) in April 2007.  That broad cross-departmental programme covered more than 20 objectives and more than 200 activities under three key thematic areas:  equalizing socio-economic opportunity; ensuring the well-being of women; and engaging women as equal and active citizens.  He added that a cross-sectoral high-level committee would monitor progress in implementing the strategy.

On Irish aid to gender-related programmes, he said that the Government was well on its way to providing the required 0.7 per cent gross domestic product in official development assistance, and had this year allocated a record €914 million to that end.  The development aid structure fully recognized that the achievement of gender equality was an essential component of sustainable development. He also highlighted his Government’s increased support for the National Women’s Council, which worked on behalf of Ireland’s 2.2 million women.

MARIA JOSE ARGANA, Minister of Women’s Affairs of Paraguay, said that since 2003, the Government had strongly backed the implementation of its second integrated national plan to promote equality between men and women.  That plan covered areas such as women’s education, training, and health care, among other sectors.  In addition, the Secretariat for women had launched an unprecedented campaign to raise awareness about key women’s issues, including violence against women, and reproductive heath.  A centre for women’s leadership had also been set up, with the help of UNIFEM.  The Government had also placed special focus on indigenous women and had undertaken innovative initiatives to support children and families, especially in rural areas.

She noted, however, that despite those gains, participation of women in decision-making continued to be inadequate.  With that in mind, the Government had increased its support to several programmes that would help women participate directly in electoral campaigns, largely through initiatives that provided the requisite resources for training.   Paraguay had also recognized that microcredit and financing were vital to women’s empowerment and had taken steps to increase investments sectors that would improve their access to employment, especially self-employment opportunities.  At the same time, the Government was aware that it needed to establish mechanisms to monitor implementation of those plans, as well as to improve its statistical and analytical data on the situation of women.

SAUDATU USMAN BUNGUDU, Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development of Nigeria, said Nigeria’s Government had made tremendous efforts to eliminate the harmful practice of female genital mutilation, including by developing a national policy and action plan that expected to drastically reduce the practice’s prevalence and incidence in the country.  Some States had enacted laws to prohibit the practice, but it still persisted in others, as some “practitioners” considered it a “means of livelihood”.  Nigeria had made strenuous efforts to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment by acceding to the Beijing Platform for Action, the Paris Declaration, the Millennium Development Goals the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, the Gender Policy of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Nigerian National Gender Policy developed in 2007.

In line with conditions of Nigeria’s debt relief gains, since 2005 federal funds had been given to several sectors that directly impacted women’s empowerment:  health; youth; education; agriculture and water resources; housing and environment; women’s affairs; and social development.  Areas targeted for financing gender equality included integrated maternal and child health care, microcredit for rural women farmers, women’s empowerment and skills acquisition, HIV/AIDS and women’s political empowerment.  Nigeria had trained national legislators and budget officers of line ministries on gender-sensitive budgeting.  At the institutional level, the Government had disbursed grants to women-focused non-governmental organizations in a bid to fund programmes aimed at gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Women’s empowerment offices had been set up in the country’s six geopolitical zones to facilitate greater women’s participation in decision-making.  Nigeria was one of four pilot countries selected to spearhead a process on gender and peacekeeping, and it had set up an inter-ministerial task force to meet with women’s groups to carry out related activities.

BARRY BIBATA GNANDOU, Minister of Promotion of Women and Protection of Children of Niger, said that her delegation would join those that applauded the Commission’s work to ensure an environment of equality for both men and women, which was a key for sustainable development for all. That issue was priority for Niger, because even though women made up 51 per cent of its population, women’s development and social integration continued to lag.  Aware of that worrying trend, the Government had increased its funding for women’s development by some 40 per cent and it had devoted more resources and energy to improving school enrolment among girls.

She said that the Government had also adopted a law on HIV/AIDS and had taken steps to introduce laws on violence against women into the Penal Code.  Further, the President had called for extension of credit lines exclusively for women and had ordered the creation of a bank exclusively for women.  Despite those improvements, there were still problems, especially regarding women’s participation in decision-making.  Aware of that issue, the Government was taking steps to boost women’s participation, including through efforts to eradicate poverty and improve health care.

MAIGA SINA DAMBA Minister for the Advancement of Women, Children and Family of Mali, said the Commission’s priority theme on financing for gender equality and women’s empowerment was particularly important to her country.  Recognizing the vital role of women in ensuring sustainable development, the country’s Strategic Framework for Growth and Development placed special focus on women’s health and education.   Mali believed that women’s empowerment was a genuine way to fight hunger, poverty, social marginalization and disease.

To that end, the Government had been successful in improving women’s health, as well as their representation in high-ranking government posts, she continued.  The National Programme for the Promotion of Women’s Entrepreneurship and a similar programme on micro-projects for women and youth both targeted women’s economic empowerment.  Still, she said that, in spite of those achievements, Mali, like other least developed countries, faced challenges with implementation, largely because of the adverse impact of globalization, which had resulted in lagging development and unpredictable donor assistance and resource distribution.  She, therefore, appealed to all States and development partners to live up to the commitments that had been made at the Millennium Summit and the United Nations 2005 World Summit, among others.   Mali, for its part, would continue to do the best it could to promote gender equality and women’s advancement.

SELMA ESTRADA, Minister for the Status of the Rights of Women of Honduras, said in combating violence against women it was important to deal with the subject of safe houses for victims and their children.  In many courts, judges often made decisions to remove women from the abusers’ home.  But at times, there was no place to house women and their children.  Taking care of such women was the responsibility of the State, but it would also be good idea to include guidelines and rules in international agreements.  Honduras had a national entity to address that and related concerns, but there were no strong institutions in Latin America, in general, that dealt with gender issues.  The President of Honduras had put forward a monitoring and assessment programme on work being done year-round.  Honduras was one of the few Latin American countries that had a gender perspective in its national monitoring.

It was part of the mandates of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank to address gender in their programming, she said.  In terms of assessing results of various programmes, it was necessary to ensure that those programmes reached villages and women’s homes.  Unfortunately, there was often a lack of gender-disaggregated data to assess the impact of programmes.  The Council of Ministers of Central America were promoting a gender economy through UNIFEM.  Women were an important source of human capital today in Honduras, she said, noting that there were some 1.5 million women heads of household in Honduras.  The Government was working to promote women entrepreneurship and had been training entire teams in that regard.

AWA NDIAYE, Minister for Family, Women Entrepreneurs and Microfinance of Senegal, said that her Government had initiated several social and economic reforms and initiatives to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.   Senegal was striving to promote broader advancement throughout society towards the achievement of sustainable development for all.  To that end, the Constitution had been amended to ensure equal access by men and women to the political process.  The Government had also set up a National Fund for Women in Business and a similar programme on youth entrepreneurship.

She went on to say that the Government had stepped up its efforts to improve school enrolment for girls and young women.   Senegal was certain that it would be able to tackle the remaining obstacles to women’s development.  At the same time, the Government was aware that many efforts would be hampered by the country’s low level of internal resource generation.  Overall, the capacity of stakeholders would have to be strengthened, especially to ensure the financing of gender equality.  Finally, she stressed that the drive to achieve gender equality was not a “passing fancy”.  Rather, it was the serious pursuit of an authentic development objective, which, if achieved, could improve everyone’s lives and livelihoods.

LAURA ALBORNOZ POLLMANN, Minster of the National Service for Women of Chile, lauded the recent adoption by the Human Rights Council of the resolution sponsored by Chile and supported by 75 countries on the integration of the human rights of women to the United Nations system.  That resolution, which aimed to achieve equality and dignity and the enjoyment of human rights for all women and children, was based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Initiatives such as the High-level Political Dialogue for the National Implementation of Resolution 1325 in Latin America and the Caribbean, hosted by Chile last November, and the recent incorporation of Chile into the Consultative Committee of UNIFEM were examples of ways to work towards gender equality.  Chile was one of 10 pilot countries that formed the working group on violence against women of the United Nations Inter-sectoral Network of Women and Gender Equality, which was elaborating a manual of directives for the entire Organization to end violence against women.

Chile was in the process of setting up its fifty-ninth centre to assist women victims of violence and had created 25 safe houses staffed by professionals that offered confidential counselling and support to women at risk and their children, she said.  Almost 400 women and 600 children had sought shelter and support at the safe houses.  As part of its universal free health-care system, Chile was providing free anaesthesia to pregnant women during delivery and care services to treat breast and cervical cancer, depression and oral health.  Chile had provided almost 200,000 free mammograms for women at high risk and had increased to 25 the number of treatment rooms and centres for sexual violence victims.  Chile was redoubling efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of reducing infant mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by 75 per cent by 2015.

HODA ABDELATIF ALBAN, Minister for Human Rights of Yemen, said the situation of women had changed radically in recent years.  Those changes, which would have been unthinkable in the past, now ensured that women were recognized as key partners in the country’s development.  They now contributed in all walks of social, economic and political life.  The women of Yemen participated in the political process and, as the Government continued to review its laws, the principles of gender mainstreaming and integration were becoming more widespread.

From the mid-1990s, a host of bodies and groups working on behalf of women had been set up, including civil society groups.  Women participated actively in the judiciary and a move had been made recently to ensure that 50 per cent of the seats in Parliament were allocated to women.  She said that women were also now being trained to take charge of gender-responsive budgeting matters.   Yemen had also conducted three field studies on girls’ education and had set up health-care centers to provide free care to pregnant women.

MONA JUUL ( Norway) said that her Government had recently presented a white paper on women’s rights and gender equality in international development policy, the first of its kind.  It would mean more attention and money to women in the development area.  An important opportunity would be the Financing for Development Conference in Doha later this year.  Gender equality must be at the centre stage in preparations for that event.  Governments needed to create the economic space needed to fulfil gender equality commitments.  Economic growth should lead to job creation and welfare for both women and men, and public funds must be used to meet the needs of the poor.  It was necessary to secure gender-responsive budgeting at all levels.  Donors needed to enhance their efforts and ensure that development assistance promoted gender equality and empowered women.  Women’s ministries and organizations needed to be fully resourced and included as equal partners for development.

The economic independence of Norwegian women was at the heart of the country’s gender policy, she said.  Both men and women should be able to combine paid work and family life, and that had been a major factor in Norway’s economic success.  Believing that it was imperative to stand up for those who were most vulnerable, Norway supported the rights of sexual minorities.  It also defended women’s right to safe and self-determined abortion.  The Government wanted to change the male bias on the bastions of power.  Having come a long way towards gender parity in political life, the country had also made an important step towards even distribution of economic power.  Since January 2008, it had fully enforced legislation obliging all State-owned and public limited company boards to have a minimum of 40 per cent women.

Turning to the United Nations reforms, she advocated the establishment of a stronger, consolidated and independent gender entity.  The new unit should combine normative and operational responsibilities and should have sufficient resources to ensure a real difference in women’s lives.

RADOSŁAW MLECZKO, Under-Secretary of State in the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy of Poland, said that his country’s legal efforts focused on the adjustment of Polish law to the requirements of the European Union.  Among other things, Poland had passed a bill against gender discrimination and amended the Labour Code to protect women’s participation and protect the rights of pregnant employees and mothers.   Poland’s major economic goal was to safeguard gender equality in the new retirement and pension programmes.  The fundamental concept underlying the reform was that security came from a diversification of pension sources.  That was why security through diversity had become the main message of the transition.  With women’s retirement age at 56 and men’s at 58, Poland belonged to a group of countries where the retirement age was the lowest.

Continuing, he emphasized the need to give women a much stronger position in the labour market, both in terms of finding jobs and satisfactory wages for their work.  To create an atmosphere conducive to gender equality and involve all relevant players, his ministry had been actively advocating corporate social responsibility, encouraging non-governmental organizations working in that area and implementing many programmes to raise awareness of the problems of inequality.  Among those, he mentioned a project that addressed stereotypes and equal opportunities in rural areas; a “Wanted at 45+” programme; a “Fulfilled as an Entrepreneur” programme; and a “Between Family and Work” project.

MAGDALENA FAILLACE, International Special Representative on Women’s Issues of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Worship of Argentina, noted that, since the 1991 Parliamentary Quota Act was established in her country, the participation of women had grown to 38.89 per cent in the Senate and 39.61 in the House of Representatives.  Further, in 2007 a female President had been elected for the first time ever by popular vote.  Women also held Governorships in provinces and had a strong say in collective bargaining on labour conditions due to a 2002 law that had established a female unions quota.  Six of Argentina’s representatives, or 30 per cent, to the recently created Parliament of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) were women.

Outlining steps that had been taken at a domestic level to promote the incorporation of women into the labour market under equal conditions with men, she said a recent creation was an Environment, Gender and Development Programme under the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development.  A main concern of the Programme was to incorporate the gender perspective in an overarching way in public policies and environment management with a special emphasis on contamination and access to drinkable water.

However, she said, the efficiency of all the numerous programmes being put into place was hampered by violence against women, the scourge that had women as its main victim, but also had a direct impact on families and society in general.  A national plan had been put in place to eradicate violence against women, with agencies and programmes created to involve ministries and the executive branch of government.  Much remained to be done, in that regard.  The United Nations should produce indicators and statistics on gender violence that would allow for taking stock and comparing the realities of all countries in a unified manner.  Finally, in the area of involving women in peacekeeping, her country had agreed to host a pilot programme that would allow for the documentation and systematic sharing of good practices and acquired knowledge on the gender focus in peacekeeping operations.

FEKITAMOELOA ‘UTOKAMANU (Tonga), speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, said that the Forum’s leadership had acknowledged the importance of ensuring gender equality in the region with their adoption in 2005 of the Pacific Plan, a road map to equality based on economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security.  That Plan was now in its initial implementation phase and relevant activities were being undertaken in partnership with other regional agencies and institutions, as well as development partners.  The Forum’s member Governments were actively trying to integrate gender into all aspects of the Plan, in line with the Beijing Platform for Action.

She said that financing gender equality was a challenging concept for Pacific island States, where Governments faced, among other challenges, competing demands for limited resources, persistent budget deficits and dependency on external assistance.  In addition, specific data on national-level gender equality financing was relatively poor.  Anecdotal evidence placed the domestic budgetary financing of gender activities at 1 per cent or less of total budgets.  Most of those domestic resources were deployed for core operational costs of national women’s machineries, and left little or no resources for critical programmes such as gender-based violence and gender and HIV.

She went on to say that Government agencies responsible for gender equality had struggled to achieve adequate sustainable levels of domestic resources.  Overseas development assistance was, therefore, a critical source of financing for development and capital budgets.  Further research and analysis was needed to determine the full range and quality of financial resources dedicated to gender equality following into the Pacific region.  She also said that development partners had become increasingly active in the development of national gender policies, including innovative resource allocation approaches and systems to better integrate gender initiatives and planning and budgeting.

However, efforts to implement those on a sustainable basis were severely hampered by limited technical capacity in both national women’s machineries and other relevant government agencies.  She urged development partners to recognize, among other things, that the need to raise awareness and understanding of gender financing concepts and approaches was just as critical as ensuring that frameworks were set up to ensure their implementation.  That should include having gender focal points within the agencies responsible for making decisions on financing, not just in national machineries for women.

MICHAEL BROWNE, Minister of Gender Affairs of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said the country’s programme for gender equality and women’s empowerment was guided by the philosophy that human dignity must be centre stage and involve efforts to strive for maximum development of all human potential.  Half of the country’s magistrates were women.  The Family Court was headed by a woman and one of the country’s two high court judges was a woman.  There were no women parliamentarians prior to 2001.  Now, under the current federal administration, women accounted for 24 per cent of parliamentarians, one of whom was the Attorney General, one the Deputy Speaker and one a senior Minister.

In 2005, universal access to secondary education was established for the first time in the country, he said.  The education budget was sizeably increased, including support for lower-income families, as had student loans for university education and scholarships.  The federal Government also financed the return of teen mothers to school by paying their school fees, books, transport and day-care services.  Women comprised 56 per cent of the recipients of Government-financed loans for small and micro-enterprises and 67 per cent of recipients of low-income housing.  Overall crime was declining, but not crimes against women.  That remained a major concern for the Government.  Participants must address the fact that many developed countries were failing in their commitment to provide 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product for official development assistance.

XIMENA ABRACA, Vice-Minister on Women’s Issues of Ecuador, said the analysis of budgets had become an important tool to measure the implementation of policies and programmes aimed at ensuring women’s empowerment.  Ecuador had also discovered that working with gender-sensitive budgets had made its actions in that area more transparent.  The National Council for women was the organization entrusted with ensuring women’s rights and linking women’s organizations with their government counterparts.  That Council had also guided Ecuador’s efforts to integrate gender into national and local policy planning.  The Council had also led inter-agency cooperation initiatives.

She said that the Government, for its part, had been strengthening national capacity for planning to improve the quality of expenditures directed to gender sectors and ensure they addressed national imperatives.  The Government was aware that follow-up in national budget planning was necessary.  It was also aware that, with all plans in place, the main challenge now was institutionalization and long-term sustainability.  She, therefore, appealed to the international community to enhance its efforts to support gender machinery financing and international cooperation in that area.

FARKHONDA HASSAN, Secretary-General of the National Council for Women of Egypt, said her National Council recently held a meeting in Cairo, in collaboration with UNIFEM, which brought together representatives of the Arab world and concluded with the formulation of a vision for women in the region that affirmed the importance of mainstreaming women’s issues in every aspect of financing for development in order to achieve gender equality.  She recommended that the vision be included on the agenda of the Doha Summit, since gender equality was the backbone of development.  Women’s participation in decision-making at the national level was limited in many countries and created gender imbalances in decision-making at the international level.  Women needed to put forth a clear economic agenda to international economic institutions.  She proposed that UNIFEM convene a group of experts to create a general framework outlining that agenda.  Egypt’s National Council for Women was ready to cooperate and participate by hosting the expert group.

The National Council for Women first actively participated in gender mainstreaming through its 2002-2007 national plan, she said.  It then put forward a more ambitious plan in collaboration with UNFPA.  The 2007-2012 National Five-Year Plan for Socio-Economic Development was gender-sensitive and had its greatest impact by directing items of the national budget to meet the needs of men and women with greater equality.  In order to put more women in decision-making and leadership positions, the Egyptian Government, in collaboration with UNDP, had begun training programmes to enable women to take on such posts and participate more actively in political life.  It was working to set up a national training centre, too.

PATRICIA BRISTER ( United States) touched on several of the Commission’s main themes.  She said that the United States saw human trafficking as nothing less than a modern form of slavery.  Since 2001, the Government had obligated more than $528 million towards international efforts to stop such trafficking.  The United States Department of Justice continued to increase the number of anti-trafficking task forces, and 42 were now active in 25 states.  The Department of Health and Human Services also had anti-trafficking coalitions working in 21 areas of the United States, with the goal of increasing the number of victims who were identified, helping them leave the situations of servitude and connecting them with service agencies and benefits.

She said that the United States Government had also designated “Increasing Gender Equity” and “Reducing Gender-based Violence and Coercion” as cross-cutting issues within the Foreign Assistance Framework.  Those issues had been factored into the country’s development portfolios across various sectors, including health, education, democracy and governance, and economic growth.  The United States Government had been a leader in addressing access to quality health care, and had worked to empower women to make healthy decisions, as well as engaged men as supportive partners in their wives’ lives.

HIJRAN HUSEYNOVA, Chairperson of the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs of Azerbaijan, said proposals on gender budgeting were being considered in her country, in light of the considerable economic growth of recent years.  The principle of gender equality as an important element in the realization of good governance and the development of comprehensive economic policies was also incorporated into such programmes as the facilitation of poverty reduction, re-elaboration of the national employment strategy and improvement of welfare.  A solid legislative basis was being established for mainstreaming gender equality in all sectors of social and economic life, as well as for increasing women’s participation in economic processes.  For example, the State programme for implementing the employment strategy, approved in May 2007, had already raised the level of women employed to over 48 per cent, with the presence increased in medium and small businesses.

However, she said, Governments could not alone implement all the efforts needed to achieve the advancement of women.  A special presidential decree had been issued recently to facilitate expansion of civil initiatives and to recognize the value the Government accorded to the cooperation of non-governmental organizations and community organizations.  Financial support would be given to local non-governmental organizations with special budget allocations in certain areas, including gender issues.  Still, all such initiatives were hampered by the fact that a fifth of Azerbaijan’s territory had been occupied by neighbouring Armenia for 18 years now.  That meant one eighth of Azerbaijan’s population was either refugee or internally displaced.  Over half of those people were either women or children.  The result was an enormous economic burden on the country.

EDITH RAUB, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Social Affairs of Hungary, said that in the past year, her country had started to prepare the implementation of a strategic plan to achieve equality between men and women.  For the first time ever in an official Hungarian Government document, the plan included the principle of gender budgeting.  That indicated the priority given to improving access to resources for all and empowering women.  However, the existing system of resource distribution was difficult to change.  A set of agreed conclusions to serve as a vehicle in national policies for achieving gender sensitive public finance policies would be useful.  Also in 2007, she continued, the issue of parliamentary quotas to promote equal participation of women and men in decision-making was put on the country’s parliamentary agenda.  The measure, however, did not become legislation, which made it clear that more professional preparation and social awareness-raising needed to be done on a proposal important enough to stir heated public debate.

Further, she said the Commission’s participation in efforts to implement the Secretary-General’s initiative on the fight against violence against women could be a defining moment for the Commission.  Her country was part of the European campaign, “Stop Domestic Violence against Women”.  Measures had been taken to help the migrant and asylum-seeking women expected to increase in a country with external borders on the European Union.  Finally, she said a new United Nations gender entity should be created to strengthen the United Nations capacity to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment and to more effectively mainstream gender issues, including at the country level.  It should be at the Under-Secretary-General level and it should be aimed at implementing the essential legal instruments already in place for the advancement of women and achieving gender equality.

MARTHA LUCIA VASQUEZ ZAWADZKY, Presidential Counsellor for Women’s Equity of Colombia, said Colombia’s social development goals were linked to the Millennium Development Goals and had been supported in the last five years by the affirmative-action policy “Women, builders of peace and development” that was being implemented by the national machinery for women’s advancement, in partnership with other public entities and the private sector.  It focused on women’s employment and entrepreneurial development, women’s political participation, education and culture, and the prevention of violence against women.  The National Programme for the Comprehensive Development of Women Entrepreneurs included microcredit, financial services training, consulting, business forums, and a national fair for women entrepreneurs.  Colombia’s regulatory framework concerning women’s advancement continued to expand, with the approval of Law 1010 enacted in 2006 to prevent, correct and punish sexual and other forms of harassment in the work place, and of Law 984 of 2005 that approved ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The judiciary had also strengthened efforts related to training legal officials on gender issues, developing new jurisprudences and giving women greater access to justice, she said.  In January 2005, the country began establishing a more effective criminal justice system to be implemented over a three-year period.  Under the new rules, women victims of violence could have a proper defence and better access to financial reparations for harm done to them.  The Presidential Counsellor’s Office had a manual for training civil servants on gender mainstreaming and had in place an Observatory of Gender Affairs, which had enabled follow up in the last five years to implementation of social policy, laws, international treaties relating to women and more than 5,000 decisions of the High Courts.

ANA PAULA SACRAMENTO NETO, Vice-Minister of Family and Promotion of Women of Angola, said that, in 2003, her Government had created a strategic long-term development strategy which encompassed the improvement of the well-being of the entire population, with special focus on women’s rights and equality.  Since that plan had been launched, she was pleased to note that the Government had significantly increased funds for health, social, education and other vital sectors.  Further, at the end of last year, Angola had organized a national workshop on finances, to provide an opportunity for discussions that would, in the short term, assist in the formulation of a national policy on microfinance.  That forum had also addressed other topics, such as “better practices on policy formulation” and “microfinance strategies for women’s empowerment”.

Continuing, she said that the Government had also targeted rural communities by implementing, among others, an agricultural development programme focused on providing assistance to women, youth, elderly persons and other groups with specific needs.  The plan aimed to improve basic housing and provide better access to health services, education, potable water, and microcredit, among others.  She stressed that the Angolan Government would also continue playing a vital role in reducing poverty in households led by women, through providing access to microcredit and the creation of a legal and institutional environment that invited other actors to increase their investments in social programmes.

JEANNETTE CARRILLO MADRIGAL, Executive Director of the National Women’s Institute of Costa Rica, said in the last decade almost all financing for gender equality and women’s empowerment in Costa Rica came from the federal budget.  But that was not sufficient to meet demands.  Limited technical and financial cooperation was a big obstacle for middle-income countries like Costa Rica.  Support from UNFPA, UNDP and UNIFEM was effective in helping middle-income countries develop potential.  She called for an increase in that support.  In its first progress report on the Millennium Development Goals, Costa Rica provided information of women in the labour market and the reduction in pay gap between men and women.  More advances must be made to ensure quality employment for women and to help alleviate poverty.

In 2007, the Government adopted a National Policy for Gender Equality that involved the three main branches of Government and aimed to eliminate gender inequality in 10 years, she said.  It was necessary to formulate policy that would erase gender stereotypes in the home and in the community.  Also last year, Costa Rica passed a law that criminalized psychological, physical, family and sexual violence.  Gender equality should be incorporated in all Government entities.  She urged the immediate creation, as proposed, of a well-resourced, high-level special entity for women with regulatory and operational responsibilities.  She also stressed the importance of incorporating best practices in gender equality issues, including those used by non-governmental organizations.

ANGELIKA MUHARUKUA, Deputy Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare of Namibia, said that her country had a small population -- barely 2 million people -- of which 51 per cent were women, the majority of whom lived in rural areas.  Moreover, women contributed enormously to the country’s agricultural production through subsistence farming.  They also headed 39 per cent of all households.  Large numbers of women were employed in the informal sector, but that went largely unrecognized and was not factored into the country’s gross domestic product figures.  In order to address those and other inequalities, the Government had put in place various legislation, policies and programmes, she said, adding that Namibia was committed to fulfilling its commitments to women to achieve their gender equality and empowerment.

Among other initiatives, in that regard, she highlighted the work of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, which each year provided grants to support income-generating activities for women to help them come up with projects to support their families.  Project recipients received training in basic financial management to equip them with skills to manage their ventures profitably.  They also participated in exchange visits to other countries to learn from best practices.  She stressed, however, that limited resources had restricted this programme to only a few women, thus far.  Along with resource gaps, she noted that some of the other obstacles hampering women’s development included patriarchal attitudes, gender-based violence, poverty and lack of access to basic services.  It was, therefore, imperative to continue to devise strategies and policies aimed at financing programmes for women’s empowerment.

TETIANA KONDRAKTIUK, Deputy Minister for Family, Youth and Sports of Ukraine, said Ukraine’s Constitution guaranteed equality for men and women.  However, people in remote villages had limited opportunities for quality education and health care.  Gender equality mechanisms in place must be better funded and further developed.  Ukraine also needed to expand the role of women in decision-making.  At present, just 8 per cent of the country’s parliamentarians were women.  Women’s scant presence in decision-making and high-level political and Government positions meant that, overall, women had less say in policy and funding of health care, education, pensions and other important issues.  The Ukrainian Government was introducing legislation to include women on electoral lists and encourage women’s participation in State services.

She stressed the importance of comprehensive family leave to enable mothers and fathers alike to combine their careers with childrearing.  Ukraine was encouraging flexible work schedules in the labour market and the use of information and communication technology to enable people to work at home.  It was also introducing an additional month of family leave for parents.  Further, the State supported families by allocating $2,500 for the first child and $5,000 for the second.  Parliamentary hearings were scheduled soon to discuss a similar mechanism to balance the hiring of men and women in the work place.  Ukraine provided State financing for equal opportunity programmes every year and had doubled funding for programmes to end human trafficking.

JULIA BURNS, Executive Director, Office for Women and representative of Australia to the Commission on the Status of Women, said that her country’s new Government was committed to improving the lives of Australian women, and of women globally, through its role as an “international citizen and significant aid donor”.  She noted that Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister was a woman, and that six senior ministry posts were also held by women.  The Australian Government acknowledged the role of a strong economy, and particularly secure paid work for building a rewarding economic life and addressing intergenerational disadvantage and social exclusion.

To address barriers facing parents and women seeking to return to work after caring for children, the Government would provide a fair and balanced industrial relations system; tax cuts that encouraged workforce participation; flexible working arrangements, including extra unpaid parental leave; and improved quality childcare.   Australia had set up an Office of Work and Family in the Prime Minister’s Office to specifically examine ways to support working families.  She went on to say that he Government was committed to social inclusion and acknowledged the marginalization of many indigenous Australians.  The Government had resolved to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians and was already working hard to improve outcomes for indigenous women across all sectors, including health, education, employment, housing and criminal justice.

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