|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Observance of International Women’s Day
Ahead of International Women’s Day, commemorated annually on 8 March, the United Nations top adviser on gender issues said today that the occasion provided an opportunity to celebrate women’s advancement since the adoption of the landmark 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, and emphasize the need for continued vigilance to help all countries promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.
During a Headquarters press conference this afternoon, Rachel Mayanja, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, told reporters that the United Nations was celebrating the International Day a bit early to take advantage of the presence of so many women’s rights advocates and Government ministers gathered in New York for the fifty-fourth session of the Commission on the Status of Women.
The Commission, which began its annual two-week session this past Monday, was taking a special look at the status of implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted 15 years ago by the Fourth World Conference on Women, she continued. The action plan remains the most comprehensive global framework to achieve gender equality, development and peace. The Platform calls for action on 12 key issues: poverty, education and training, health, violence against women, armed conflict, economy, power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms, human rights, media, environment and girls.
Ms. Myanja said that, thus far, the Commission’s delegations had been sharing good practices and examining the challenges and obstacles that remained towards full implementation of the Beijing outcomes. All participants were “hoping to come up with innovative ideas on ways to move forward”.
Also present at the press conference was Gertrude Mongella, Secretary-General of the historic Beijing Conference, and former President of the Pan-African Parliament. Responding to questions, she said the past 15 years had given her an opportunity to really settle back and examine the feasibility of implementing the Platform of Action in Africa. Much had been accomplished, and many countries, including her own, the United Republic of Tanzania, were set to attain Millennium Development Goals on education, among other targets.
Yet, one of the reasons the continent might lag behind other regions on attaining its specific gender-related goals was lack of resources. Indeed, she said, for Africa, the Platform for Action did not present an “either or” scenario; progress on all 12 priority areas was vital to the advancement of the African woman. All were crucial, especially when African women were still dying of diseases that were no longer problems in other parts of the world.
Another obstacle was conflict, she said, declaring: “We cannot achieve the goals of the Platform without peace.” Peace and security matters in Africa were complicated by “political power mongers pursuing power at any cost”. Saying that she “must speak plainly”, she added that it was time for women to take such matters in their own hands, as the women of Rwanda had done, and say “enough is enough”. Rwandan women had pressed their Government to ensure that they were able to contribute to the reconstruction of their country, and all African women should take similar steps.
Highlighting the situation in Asia, Patricia Licuanan of the Philippines and former Chair of the Commission, said progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment in her region had been a “mixed bag”. Asia had learned from past successes and failures. It had also learned that perhaps a more nuanced approach was necessary to ensure progress in, for example, gender mainstreaming. After a decade or so, it was clear that just calling for such mainstreaming was not enough; such calls must be backed by solid, innovative policy measures.
Her region had also faced its share of humanitarian crises wrought by natural disasters, and now understood that not only were women disproportionately affected, but that they were an essential factor of any recovery efforts. In addition, she said that religious and ethnic fundamentalism was on the rise, and that conflicts were frequent. To that end, she agreed with Ms. Mongella that, while Security Council resolutions on women in armed conflict and various human rights instruments “are really fabulous and a step forward”, there was a real need to have more women at the table for negotiating peace.
Responding to another question, she said that reproductive health was still a contentious and important issue on the Commission’s agenda. Such matters were particularly sensitive and difficult in the Philippines, where a powerful force like the Catholic Church “is, well, paranoid about reproductive health and even women’s rights”. She did not understand how the Church, which was so strong on social issues, could ignore women’s rights. “In that, and all areas, we must guard the gains we have made,” she said.
On the role men played in promoting gender equality, Audun Lysbakken, Minister for Gender Equality and Children’s Affairs of Norway, said it was important that men were not only sensitized to the issue, but mobilized to participate in the struggle for change. Men must share the collective responsibility for changing attitudes about women’s empowerment, and must, therefore, support implementation of the policies that changed mindsets.
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