Special Rapporteur on Violence Says Unless Women Achieve Economic Independence, Their Human Rights Will Go Unrealized, as Women’s Commission Continues Debate

3 March 2010
WOM/1782

Special Rapporteur on Violence Says Unless Women Achieve Economic Independence, Their Human Rights Will Go Unrealized, as Women’s Commission Continues Debate

3 March 2010
Economic and Social Council
WOM/1782
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on the Status of Women

Fifty-fourth Session

7th & 8th Meetings (PM)

Special Rapporteur on Violence Says, Unless Women Achieve Economic Independence,

Their Human Rights Will Go Unrealized, as Women’s Commission Continues Debate

Arab Strategy to End Violence against Women Proclaimed, First Regional

Convention on Topic ‑‑ in Latin America ‑‑ to Hold First Meeting of States Parties

The international community must tackle head on the root socio-economic causes of violence against women, end impunity against perpetrators and recognize such abuse as a violation of women’s human rights, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, said today during an address to the Commission on the Status of Women’s fifty-fourth session.

Too often, said Rashida Manjoo, challenges created by the current neo-liberal policy environment that limited women’s access to such essentials as decent housing, land, food, water, health, education and work, were left out of analyses of women’s human rights and strategies to end violence against them.

“If we are to secure women’s rights and their freedom from violence, it is imperative that we adopt an integrated human rights perspective that stresses the equal importance of civil and political rights and economic and social rights,” she said.  “Unless women can develop their capabilities and achieve economic independence, the human rights they are promised will not be realized.”

Ms. Manjoo, who assumed her post in June, said headway in ending violence against women ‑‑ 1 of the 12 key areas identified in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action ‑‑ was stymied by many factors.  Among them was unreliable data on domestic violence in many regions where abuse cases were underreported, victims’ limited access to justice and weak enactment of laws on the books to protect women.  Moreover, conceptual and practical frameworks to ensure reparations and justice for women during times of peace, conflict and post-conflict were grossly underdeveloped.

Despite such obstacles, progress was evident, she said.  Several Governments had adopted or strengthened laws and set up institutions to end certain forms of violence.  International courts increasingly recognized rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution and forced pregnancy as war crimes and crimes against humanity.  The Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign and his recent appointment of Margot Walström as his Special Representative on sexual violence in conflict were positive steps.

Several Government ministers addressing the session agreed with that assessment, and shed light on their respective strategies to end violence.  For example, Tunisia’s Deputy Minister for Women, Child and Ageing Affairs said an Arab strategy to end violence would be launched in Tunis on the occasion of International Women’s Day.  She also pointed to a proposal to create an Arab Commission of International Humanitarian Law for Women to examine ways to protect women during war, armed conflict and natural disasters.

Guatemala’s Presidential Secretary for Women said her Government was preparing an action plan to implement the Secretary-General’s UNiTE campaign, which was launched in November 2009 in her country.  Her Government had joined forces with other Latin American leaders to ratify the “Belem do Para” Convention to end violence against women ‑‑ the only regional convention on that issue.  In September, Guatemala would host the first Conference of States parties to it.

Other ministers discussed their national efforts in that regard.  Nigeria’s Minister for Women Affairs and Social Development pointed to her country’s Sexual Harassment Policy for Educational Institutions.  Malaysia’s Director-General of the Department of Women’s Development said his Government had a zero-tolerance policy, as well as a holistic approach to end impunity, prosecute offenders, and protect and rehabilitate victims.  Moreover, the Malaysian Penal Code was amended to crack down on husbands who forced their wives to have sex against their will.

Also speaking today were Government ministers and senior officials from Finland, Angola, Serbia, Mongolia, United States, Argentina, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Dominican Republic, Hungary, Israel, Armenia, Timor-Leste, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, Costa Rica, Egypt, Slovenia, Lao’s People Democratic Republic, Swaziland, Colombia, Croatia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Australia, Panama, Antigua and Barbuda, Ecuador, Botswana, Malawi and the Solomon Islands.

A Senator of the Philippines, President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, also spoke.

Representatives of Burkina Faso, Switzerland and Kuwait also made statements.

Cuba’s representative spoke in a point of order.

The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 4 March, to hold a panel discussion on “linkages between implementation of the Platform for Action and achievement of the MDGs”.

Background

The Commission on the Status of Women met this morning to continue its fifty-fourth session.  (For more information, please see Press Release WOM/1775.)

Statements

STEFAN WALLIN, Minister of Culture and Sport of Finland, associating his remarks with those made on behalf of the European Union, said that in a globalized world where great ideas, as well as various global crises alike, moved from place to place more quickly than ever, women’s contributory role could no longer remain static.  Finland promoted women’s participation in decision-making at all levels.  Strengthening the rights of women and girls was among the cross-cutting issues in its development work.  Expressing strong support for a new gender entity as a central driver of gender issues at the United Nations, he said it would promote the achievement, not only of Millennium Development Goal 3, but of all the Goals.  He highlighted the need to achieve Goal 5 and expressed commitment to making the 2010 summit a success.

He emphasized the importance of women’s participation in society’s power structures, particularly in matters affecting climate change, which had a different impact on men and women.  Finland remained committed to the aims of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) and would continue giving financial and political support to furthering them, as well as doing so through its own national action plan.  Moreover, gender equality was one of the core values of Finnish society and was enshrined in its Constitution and the act on Equality between Women and Men.  Finland was among the world’s leading countries in terms of women’s involvement in political decision-making, but it realized that equal representation did not solve all problems.  It was striving to reconcile work and family life, including by organizing high-level affordable day care.  A multi-sectoral programme had also been drafted to reduce violence against women.

SALAMATU HUSSAINI SULEIMAN, Minister for Women Affairs and Social Development of Nigeria, said in the past 15 years Nigeria had remained committed to women’s advancement.  It had set up her Ministry, created Ministries of Women Affairs in 36 states and Women Development Units in 774 local governments to ensure grass-roots mobilization and programming.  The National Centre for Women Development worked on research, development and training.  The Government was upgrading the Women Development Centres to train women in various income-generating activities.  The National Economic Recovery Fund helped women’s cooperatives nationwide with soft loans.  The National Gender Policy and its strategic implementation framework guided the country’s implementation of commitments on women’s development, empowerment and gender equality.

She said that, in 1999, women made up 3.6 per cent of elected members of Parliament.  By 2007, that figure had risen to 8.26.  Nigerian women were strategizing to have greater participation in the 2011 general elections.  On 23 February, women leaders had met in Abuja, under her Office’s auspices, to draw up a workable agenda for an all-inclusive National Women Political Summit in April.  Child and maternal mortality remained key challenges due largely to poverty, poor maternal education and weak health-care infrastructure.  Violence against women was an impediment to development.  To combat it, the Government had drafted a Sexual Harassment Policy for Educational Institutions.  There was a National Policy on the Protection and Assistance to Victims of Trafficking.

CELINE M. YODA/KONKOBO (Burkina Faso) said her country understood that its development would not be possible without involving the participation of the 52 per cent of its population that were women.  After the Beijing Conference, Burkina Faso had committed itself to working on all of the critical areas of the Beijing Declaration and Platform.  It had, among other things, established a Government department charged with promoting women, created a national forum for women, and regularly reported on women’s issues.

She said that in social terms, Burkina Faso had devoted more than 15 per cent of its national budget towards its social sector, including education and health.  It had boosted the level of school education for girls at primary and secondary levels and increased literacy rates.  It had launched a massive education campaign called “No Girls Left at Home” and opened women’s literacy centres, among other things.  It was also improving obstetrical care and targeting HIV/AIDS.  In areas of decision-making, it had adopted a law, setting a quota of at least 30 per cent participation by one or the other sex in legislative and municipal elections in May 2009.  As a result, 6,400 women now held positions in municipal councils.

ANA PAULA SACRAMENTO NETO, Vice-Minister for Family, Angola, said the Government had successfully promoted women’s empowerment and the integration of a gender perspective into national policies and programmes to end poverty and gender violence, and to boost health care, education and training.  Creation of microcredit and other financial mechanisms encouraged entrepreneurship among women in both urban and rural areas.  Steps had been steadily taken to improve health-care services.  In recent years, Angolan women had seen an increase in their access to such services.  In the past four years, several health facilities had been built, bringing the total number of facilities from 1,602 units in 2006 to 2,042 units in 2009.  Of them, 400 were specialized clinics for reproductive health services.  There were ongoing programmes to cut vertical transmission of sexually transmitted diseases in 29 hospitals and health centres.

She said that the network of counselling and testing had been expanded from 11 in 2004 to 223 in 2009, of which 114 provided counselling to pregnant women.  Midwives were Government partners and they had benefited from training and kits for making deliveries in areas where there was low health-care coverage.  Girls were given special attention to reduce early pregnancy, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and school dropout rates.  The Government had set up family counselling centres to help reduce domestic violence.  At 39 per cent, Angola had one of the highest representations of women in parliament in the world.  Women also held 26 per cent of all Government ministerial posts.  She reaffirmed Angola’s commitment to the Beijing goals.

SNEZANA LAKICEVIC-STOJACIC, State Secretary, Ministry of Labour and social Policy, Serbia, aligning her statement with the one made on behalf of the European Union, said the recently adopted Gender Equality Act encompassed all matters related to gender parity, as well as the creation of conditions for equal opportunity and the exercise of the rights of women and men.  Of those Serbians who were employed, 44 per cent were women, although the pay gap was still roughly 16 per cent to women’s detriment.  Women represented 22.4 per cent of Parliament, and 8.5 per cent of ministers were women.  While work remained to achieve gender equality, there had been a constant increase in the number of women holding high-level Government positions.  Moreover, 64 per cent of Serbia’s judges were women.  Women’s presence was increasing in the police and military as well and 14 Serbian women had been engaged in United Nations peacekeeping operations.

Expressing Serbia’s full commitment to Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), she said her Government had begun to elaborate a national action plan for its implementation.  It had also embarked on a complex process of economic and social transition aimed at accelerating its European integration.  Strategies to narrow the gaps between men and women were part of various strategic documents, such as the Poverty Reduction Strategy and the Strategy against Human Trafficking.  Further, the comprehensive National Strategy for the Improvement of the Position of Women and the Advancement of Gender Equality, which defined the Government’s overall policy for eliminating gender discrimination, was adopted in February 2009 and represented a turning point in public policy towards women.

SALWA TERZI, Deputy Minister for Women, Child and Ageing Affairs, Tunisia, said that laws had been adopted to secure women’s rights in terms of family allowances, housing, the nationality of their children, employment and pay.  Laws set a minimum legal marriage age and the Penal Code had been amended to outlaw all forms of violence against women, particularly domestic violence.  Tunisia had created the Commission on Women and Development in order to keep its development agenda on track.  The President’s 2009-2014 electoral programme embraced the concept of social gender as an appropriate way to gather and analyse statistics and conduct research.  A Centre for Research, Studies, Documentation and Information on Women had been set up to track women’s situation.

Thanks to those achievements, women’s gains had been reinforced, she said.  All indicators related to achieving the Millennium Development Goals had improved, particularly those concerning health.  Life expectancy for women had increased to 75 years in 2008, up from 67 per cent in 1987.  The maternal mortality rate stood at 37.7 per 1,000 births.  The infant mortality rates had decreased to 16 per 100,000 births, thanks to solidarity-based mechanisms involving civil society.  Women held 27 per cent of parliamentary seats.  Leila Ben Ali, Tunisia’s First Lady and President of the Arab Women’s Association, supported global efforts to promote women’s emancipation.  A proposal had been set forth to create an Arab commission of international humanitarian law for women to examine ways to protect women during war, armed conflict and natural disasters.  An Arab strategy to end violence would be launched in Tunis on the occasion of International Women’s Day.

D. NYAMKHUU, Vice-Minister for Social Welfare and Labour of Mongolia, recalled that his country had initiated United Nations resolutions on improving the situation of women in rural areas and universal literacy for all.  It practised explicit policies regarding the equal participation of women and men in development processes.  In line with the Beijing Declaration and Platform, the Government had approved national programmes on women’s advancement, gender equality, and the commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and children.  The National Committee on Gender Equality, headed by the Prime Minister, had been set up in 2005 to strengthen the national machinery responsible for gender parity, and in 2006 all ministries had appointed an officer for that purpose.

Among Mongolia’s latest achievements, he said, was the draft law on gender equality, which aimed to increase gender-sensitive decision-making processes and ensure equal participation in development.  Drafted with financial and technical support from international donor organizations and submitted to Parliament for approval, the law was expected to create a favourable legal environment for efforts to end gender-based discrimination.  Nevertheless, Mongolian women faced numerous gender-based challenges, such as poverty, human rights violations, domestic violence and sexual exploitation, among other things.  Mongolia was also experiencing a severe winter disaster, which would impede its fight against gender-based violations and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

MELANNE VERVEER, Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for Global Women’s Issues, United States, expressed solidarity with Haiti and Haitian women.  Global rates of child mortality were unacceptably high.  For every woman who died annually, 20 more suffered from disease.  Little progress had been made on achieving the Millennium Development Goals related to women and children.  Maternal mortality rates were too high.  Preventive measures such as family planning, skilled attendants and integrated maternal health care would reduce those rates.  The United States was committed to make that happen through its Global Health Initiative.  Along with a cross-regional group of Member States, her country was sponsoring a resolution on reducing maternal mortality and morbidity.  Addressing factors that underpinned maternal mortality was helpful to achieve Millennium Development Goal 6 on combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

She said that Millennium Development Goal 3 was the linchpin to the others.  Violence against women was a global epidemic that affected women’s health care and education.  The United States placed priority on combating violence against women.  She lauded Security Council resolution 1888 (2009) and action to implement it.  She agreed with the Secretary-General that reforming the United Nations gender-related institutions was vital.  Member States should adopt a new General Assembly resolution to make the proposed new women’s agency a reality.  It was important for the Commission to indicate support for consolidating the United Nations structures.  The Under-Secretary-General selected to lead the agency must have strong organizational skills and accomplishments.  United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who had inspired so many 15 years ago in Beijing with her statement that women’s rights were human rights, would speak at the Commission’s closing session.

MAGDALENA FAILLACE, International Special Representative on Women’s Issues of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Argentina, noted that her country had one of the highest percentages of female parliamentarians in the world.  It also had a female President, and other important institutions, such as the central bank, were headed by women.  Given the high literacy and education rate of Argentine women, the Government believed the success of their participation rate would soon be replicated in the economic sphere.  Its Tripartite Commission for Equal Opportunity in Employment was based on the International Labour Organization’s convention.

In light of the recent global economic downturn, she said there had been a presidential decree for family allowance for every unemployed head of household.  That action had brought children into the social safety net and benefited women throughout the country.  Moreover, pension coverage had been expanded, bringing women and housewives into the system.  On health, Argentina had targeted HIV/AIDS by providing antiretroviral coverage and reducing transmission rates.  Laws had also been adopted to curb violence against women.  The Government firmly supported Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), which gave life to its national policies.  She stressed that, while the last 15 years had seen significant progress, it would have been impossible if women had not had access to decision-making processes.  For its part, Argentina believed work was still needed to advance women’s equality particularly in the socio-economic sphere.

WAN HASMAH WAN MOHD, Director-General, Department of Women’s Development, Malaysia, shed light on Malaysia’s efforts to implement the Beijing Platform.  In 2008, female life expectancy was 76.4 and the maternal mortality rate was 0.3 per 1,000 live births.  To promote early detection of breast cancer, a subsidy for mammogram screening had been introduced in 2007.  There was a feminization of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  To address it, the Government had put a special focus on reducing the vulnerability of women, young people and children to the disease.  Under the 2006-2010 National Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS, HIV-positive women were given counselling and free antiretroviral treatment.  In addition, a special task force had been set up in the Department of Women’s Development to address the feminization of the pandemic.  The Government had a zero-tolerance policy on violence against women and a holistic approach to end impunity and prosecute offenders, as well as to protect and rehabilitate victims.

He said that the Malaysian Penal Code had been amended in 2006 to include penalties of up to five years in jail for husbands who forced their wives to have sex against their will.  Various training and financial aid schemes were implemented by various agencies to enable more women to become entrepreneurs.  He noted positive gains in the number of women in decision-making positions, following a 2004 policy to have at least 30 per cent of all such posts filled by women.  At present, 30.5 per cent of all top management public sector jobs were held by women.  The Government aimed to have 4,000 women entrepreneurs by 2012.  In 2005, the Government had installed Gender Focal Points in ministries and agencies.  Despite progress, gaps and challenges remained to improving women’s lot.  Those included the impact of the economic crisis, the increased feminization of HIV/AIDS, violence against women and entrenched stereotypes and attitudes that created institutional and societal barriers to mainstream a gender perspective into policies and programmes.

PIA CAYETANO, Senator of the Philippines and President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, said the Union had held, in cooperation with the United Nations Department for the Advancement of Women, its sixth annual meeting in the margins of the Commission’s meeting yesterday.  Bringing together more than 140 parliamentarians from 50 countries, it had focused on the “role of parliaments in enforcing gender equality and women’s rights:  15 years after”.  It had reviewed the progress and setbacks in relation to women’s access to parliaments in the last decade and a half, and explored how to review and address discriminatory legislation and develop a more gender-sensitive legal framework.

Among the meeting’s results, she said, was that, while the proportion of women in parliament had reached an all-time high of 18 per cent, more than one quarter of parliamentary chambers had less than 10 per cent women members.  Given that, participants had asked if parliament was really open to women.  While gender quotas had led to women’s advancement in politics, they could not alone address all the obstacles encountered by women in the political arena.  Further, where quotas were absent or were weakly enforced, the lack of a formalized recruitment process could hamper women’s election chances.  As the main gatekeepers to parliament, political parties too often represented the bottleneck to women accessing political life.

With the question of systematic follow-up agreed in the Platform for Action still pending 15 years after Beijing, she said the role of parliaments in overseeing the implementation of legislation related to gender mainstreaming needed consolidation.  Audits and gender impact analyses should be undertaken to ensure compliance with international conventions.  Also necessary was to collaborate and build partnerships with a range of stakeholders, including national women’s groups, to monitor the implementation of legislation.

Statement by Special Rapporteur

RASHIDA MANJOO, Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Its Causes and Consequences, said this was her first address to the Commission since her appointment in June 2009.  Review of progress in ending violence against women ‑‑ one of the 12 critical areas of concern identified in the Beijing Platform for Action ‑‑ revealed significant milestones.  Several Governments had adopted legislation to end certain forms of that violence; others had strengthened existing laws to account for lessons learned.  Several State institutions had been set up, and programmes and policies had been adopted.  Steps had been taken to measure the extent of the problem, strengthen awareness-raising and prevent the violence from recurring.

She said that the United Nations was doing its part to support those initiatives.  For example, the Secretary-General’s campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women reinforced the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.  But important challenges remained, notably the effective implementation of laws, as well as coordination and cooperation among social and health services and law enforcement agencies.  Collection of reliable data on domestic violence was another key problem in several regions, where most abuse cases went unreported, as was limited access to justice and inadequate penalties for perpetrators.  Many programmes went unimplemented.  Indigenous, migrant, minority, rural and disabled women were at high risk for violence.  Negative customs that constrained women and prevented them from reporting violence exacerbated that trend.

She noted much progress in the last 15 years in recognizing violence against women as a human rights concern, including through judgments of the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and the inclusion of rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution and forced pregnancy as war crimes and crimes against humanity.  She was also encouraged by adoption of Security Council resolution 1888 (2009) and the recent appointment of Margot Walström as Special Representative of the Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict.  That resolution had also called for Ms. Manjoo’s mandate to contribute to Council briefings and documentation on sexual violence in armed conflict to help implement the resolution.  She was also ready to engage constructively with the new gender entity to protect and promote women’s rights.

In 2009, her mandate had focused on the political economy of women’s rights and its implications for violence against women, she said.  A political economy perspective had made it possible to examine the issue of culture and violence against women from a different light, as well as to understand how power relations sustained certain cultural norms.  Still, “the challenges posed by our current neo-liberal policy environment are often neglected in the analyses of women’s human rights and are rarely included in strategies to address violence against them”, she said.  That resulted in detaching the problem of violence from its underlying causes.

“If we are to secure women’s rights and their freedom from violence, it is imperative that we adopt an integrated human rights perspective that stresses the equal importance of civil and political rights and economic and social rights,” she said.  “Unless women can develop their capabilities and achieve economic independence, the human rights they are promised will not be realized.”  The report looked at links between violence against women and women’s access to particular economic and social rights, such as the right to housing, land and property, food, water, health, education and the right to decent work and social security.

She said her report this year to review the work of the Special Rapporteur would address the issue of reparations to women subjected to violence, which had received increased attention recently.  But conceptual and practical frameworks ‑‑ be they peacetime, conflict or post-conflict situations ‑‑ must be consolidated and further developed.  A previous report on that situation had revealed that reparations were grossly underdeveloped.

She would present her review of the situation of violence against women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the Human Rights Council on 24 March, pursuant to its resolution 10/33, she said.  She regretted the limited progress in implementing the recommendations of the previous joint report in terms of protecting women’s human rights and promoting gender equity.  Violence against women was still rampant there, particularly in the East, where brutal sexual violence was used as a weapon of war by all parties to the conflict.  Discriminatory laws and practices against women continued, as did impunity.  That was the root cause of violence against women.

“The seriousness of the situation in the country requires that the Government and donors continue to address violence against women and provide assistance to survivors as a matter of priority by building on current initiatives and enhancing coordination, including with local women’s organizations,” she said.  The United Nations Comprehensive Strategy to Combat Sexual Violence offered a good framework to coordinate the international response.

She said she would submit to the Human Rights Council in June her report on her official November 2009 visit to Kyrgyzstan and her follow-up mission to El Salvador, scheduled for 17 to 19 March 2010.  During her visit to the former country, she had met with various Government representatives, the Office of the Ombudsman, human rights and women’s organizations, victims of violence, and others.  She identified forms of violence such as domestic violence, bride-kidnapping, under-age and unregistered marriages, trafficking, and polygamy, among others.

At the same time, she noted that the Kyrgyz Government had taken steps to integrate global standards on women’s rights and gender equality into law, including via laws on equal rights and opportunities, a quota for representation of women in political life, and protection from domestic violence, as well as a national action plan for gender equality.  She commended those efforts, but noted strong impediments, such as the feminization of poverty; insufficient investments and reforms in the social sector, including in health and social security; and one of the highest mortality rates among the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Statements

JULIANA ASUMAH-MENSAH, Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs of Ghana, aligning herself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said her country had striven relentlessly to implement the critical areas of the Beijing Platform, and gains had been made, with the Millennium Development Goal indicators factored into national development policy frameworks.  Ghana had enacted legislation like the Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Acts, criminalized sexual offences and passed laws on women’s rights in marriage and divorce.  A plan of action on Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) was being finalized.  Social protection policies targeting poor women had been introduced, among them, the national health insurance scheme, with women constituting almost 50 per cent of the registrants.

She said programmes like free school uniforms and one laptop for every child had contributed immensely to improved access to education.  Gender disparity in primary and secondary education would likely be eliminated by 2015.  Further, policies had been put in place to address Ghana’s high maternal mortality rate, including a health service act that ensured free maternal care.  Women’s equal participation in social, cultural, economic and political life was a prerequisite for successful and sustainable development.  Women had been appointed to key positions which, in the past, had been male-dominated, including the Speaker of Parliament and Chief Justice.  The challenges were structural, programmatic and resource-oriented.  Greater attention must be paid to the lack of reliable data to monitor progress in implementing the Millennium Development Goals.

SOCCOH KABIA, Minister for Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs of Sierra Leone, aligning himself with the Group of 77 developing countries and China and the African Group, recalled that his country was recovering from an 11-year civil war that had resulted in a complete breakdown of civil society and political authority ‑‑ with dire consequences.  His Government had a special obligation to protect women and children, who were victims of the untold horrors of civil conflict.  It was fully committed to addressing all 12 critical areas of concern specified in the Beijing Declaration and Platform, as well as in the outcome documents of the General Assembly’s special session.

He said his country had advanced women’s rights through its engagement in various forums and adoption of best practices.  A 2007 Millennium Development Goals needs assessment helped policy planners implement service delivery programmes and enhance development of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper ‑‑ “The Agenda for Change”.  In the area of education, the Government funded a scheme that ensured that girls’ primary school enrolment was almost at par with boys.  Also significant had been the creation of an anti-human-trafficking act and registration of customary marriage and divorce act.  A domestic violence act ensured women’s protection of inheritance rights.  There were 40 family support units that served as a first port of call for victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

NANFADIMA MAGASSOUBA, Minister of National Solidarity and the Promotion of Women and Children, Guinea, said the session took place at a critical international context, when the ongoing financial crisis was negatively impacting the situation of women.  During the bloody repression in his country of 20 September 2009, the worst form of violence had been committed against Guinean women by the Armed Forces.  In its aftermath, Guineans showed unity and responsibility that resulted in the Ouagadougou Accords.  That had led to the creation of a Government of National Unity, which aimed to organize free, transparent and credible elections and an in-depth reform of the army.

She said Guinea’s plans for women’s advancement took into account the Beijing Platform.  The Government was politically committed to increasing girls’ school enrolment and had adopted a national policy in that regard, revising programmes in line with the Millennium Development Goals.  It had also started a national sanitation development programme to improve women’s health.  It provided caesarean surgery free of charge and had a policy of “risk-free” maternal health care.  It was implementing a joint programme between the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to combat female genital mutilation.  Guinea had signed a cooperation agreement with nine countries in West Africa to fight trafficking in children.  Many constraints remained, however, notably the feminization of poverty and HIV/AIDS, persistent gender inequality and high rates of child and maternal mortality.  Efforts to combat them had led to in-depth changes.  She called on all development partners to help Guinea advance women’s rights.

ALEJANDRINA GERMAN, Minister of Women Affairs of the Dominican Republic, aligning with the Group of 77 developing countries and China and the Rio Group, said her Government’s international and regional commitment to women’s advancement was a critical starting point for eradicating all forms of discrimination against women.  Through the Ministry of Labour, equality policies in employment had been implemented and equal opportunities had been created in the labour market.

She said that a significant breakthrough had been made on 26 January with the creation of a new Constitution that established equality between men and women and the right of women to a life free of violence.  It also contained, among other things, gender sensitive language throughout the text.  Concerning reproductive health, advances in the legal framework had included the creation of a general health law, social security act and policies for preventing teen pregnancies.  She noted the General Assembly’s adoption of a resolution on system-wide coherence and expressed hope of concluding negotiations to consolidate a new gender entity and unify management on the gender issue.

EDIT RAUH, State Secretary of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour, Hungary, welcomed the political declaration adopted Tuesday.  Hungary had accelerated implementation of the Beijing goals.  Gender equity issues were given priority in the Government decree in January 2010 under the title “National Strategy for the Promotion of Gender Equality - Guidelines of Goals 2010-2021”.  The strategy identified six priority areas for Government action.  Steps were taken based on the current social situation, and their implementation was monitored by set of professional indicators.  The Government aimed to achieve parity between women and men in economic independence, employment and pay.  It also sought to better reconcile professional, family and private life.

Further, she said, her Government was seeking to reduce the gender gap in decision-making and the sciences.  It aimed to combat violence against women, end gender stereotyping and create the foundation for changes needed for gender mainstreaming.  She strongly supported creation of a United Nations gender entity before the end of the Assembly’s sixty-fourth session, and she urged the appointment of an Under-Secretary-General to head it.  The gender dimension should be given high priority in efforts to end the global financial crisis, since women’s labour-market participation had a positive influence on the lives of women, children and families.

GILA GAMLIEL, Deputy Minister for the Advancement of Young People, Students and Women of Israel, said the clock was ticking on fully realizing the Millennium Development Goals, and without forceful action on their gender aspects, the international community would fall far short of its aspirations.  Israel was proud that women played a significant and increasingly important role in Israeli society.  From its declaration of independence through today, legislation guaranteed gender equality.  Israel’s Parliament was 18 per cent female and women had an impact on every level of Government.

She said her Government, in 1998, had established the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, as part of the Prime Minister’s Office.  It had pioneered innovative approaches to reducing gender inequality.  In 2007, it was mandated to submit reports on the potential implications for women of any new legislation, which ensured that laws accounted for women’s needs.  In other areas, the Ministry of Education had established a department for gender equality, which educated people about gender stereotypes.  However, obstacles remained.  While violence against women, prostitution and human trafficking were strictly illegal, the Government was combating those phenomena.  In the last decade, social organizations had worked with the Government to disrupt human trafficking rings and punish those responsible.

JEMMA BAGHDASARYAN, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Armenia, said active steps were being taken to update the legal database and to reform national legislation.  The Government had created institutions to defend human rights.  Electoral laws had also been changed.  In the past, there had been a quota to have 5 per cent of all elected posts filled by women.  That quota was now 15 per cent.  That was still insufficient, but it was just the beginning of the process.  This year, the country planned to adopt an equal opportunities law.  Its final draft was now before Congress.

She said Armenia had ratified the Convention on the Political Rights of Women.  It had done the same concerning the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol.  It had signed the Council of Europe’s convention against human trafficking.  As Chairman of the Commission on the Status of Women, Armenia would work diligently to achieve the objectives set for women’s empowerment and equality.

IDELTA RODRIGUES, Secretary of State for the Promotion of Equality, Timor-Leste, noted that later this year, Government representatives would gather to discuss achievements and obstacles on the topic of education for girls and women.  As for fighting gender-based violence, the Government aimed to support the work of service providers.  Further, a draft law against domestic violence, which would provided legal remedies for survivors, was now being discussed in Parliament.

She said her Government had also held its first constructive dialogue with civil society on that topic.  Reform had been enacted to harmonize legislation, while significant progress had also been made in promoting women’s participation in politics, with a 2006 law mandating political groups to have one women candidate.  Women had gained five important ministerial positions.  In closing, she noted that Timor-Leste had nominated its first candidate for the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

CORNÉLIE ADOU NGAPI, Director-General of Women’s Integration and Development of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, associating herself with Group of 77 developing countries and China and the African Group, said the fifty-fourth session would allow for action-oriented decisions, and she hoped that the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on the Millennium Development Goals in September would enjoy broad participation.  Her country was committed to achieving gender equality and the President had made that a priority.

She noted that the Democratic Republic of the Congo had ratified several international treaties, including the women’s Convention, which would help promote gender equality at all levels.  A national gender policy aimed to incorporate gender into all policies and programmes.  Financial resources had been mobilized to combat the feminization of poverty and strengthen women’s participation in decision-making.  Her Government had also taken steps to reduce maternal mortality, notably through awareness-raising about HIV/AIDS.

ANIS HAROON, Chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women, Pakistan, said her Government was moving forward towards the vision of Benazir Bhutto for women’s empowerment through a four-pronged strategy.  It included reducing the feminization of poverty, promoting gender equality, ending violence against women and introducing necessary legislative structures to empower them.  Pakistan had a national action plan to implement the Beijing goals.  It was prepared on the basis of observations made by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to Pakistan’s last country report.  In addition, the process to make the National Commission on the Status of Women fully autonomous was under way.

She said that women had an increased role in every sphere of life.  They were working in the civil, foreign, police and military service.  Pakistan had its first woman Speaker of the National Assembly, 17 women senators and seven women parliamentarians.  It had recently adopted laws to protect the rights of women, including the 2009 criminal law and the 2009 bill on protection against harassment in the workplace.  The domestic violence bill was under consideration.

PATRICIA SCHULZ (Switzerland) said her Government took equality of opportunity in schooling and vocational and university education as a precondition to equality and independence.  The proportion of female professors had doubled from 7 to 14 per cent, with a target figure of 25 per cent by 2012.  In the past five years, innovative strategies and projects had been employed with respect to equal salaries, including the software application called “LOGIB”, which enabled companies with more than 50 employees to check whether or not their salary system respected equality.  Switzerland was also supporting a dialogue on equal salaries and aimed to eliminate wage discrimination over the next five years.

She said her country had made progress in combating domestic violence and strengthening punishment for such violence, whether or not the perpetrators were married.  Yet the great challenge remained implementation.  Police personnel now had training in cases of domestic violence, but doctors, judges and others involved in social services did not.  Switzerland had also been systematically mainstreaming the gender dimension in all of its development programmes, working through its bilateral aid programmes to increase the representation of women in decision-making processes at the local level. It was supporting several initiatives to improve female reproductive health and it continued to help finance UNFPA and the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.

MAYRA DIAZ MENDEZ, Executive President of the National Institute of Women, Costa Rica, said her country had just elected its first woman President, marking a major milestone.  As a member State of the Central American Council of Women Ministers (COMMCA), Costa Rica had promoted major advances in exercising women’s rights, including their right to full participation in all aspects of society.  Gender equality and women’s empowerment efforts were carried out within the council’s framework, with the understanding that women were half of the population and that their skills and contribution to society and the economy were fundamental for democracy and human development.

She said that the 2007-2017 national gender equality policy focused on women’s human rights.  It included efforts by Costa Rica’s Government and civil society towards economic independence, political participation and cultural change.  Costa Rica had made gains in creating a gender policy, a Secretary for Gender and Judicial Power, a political entity for gender equality, and a supreme electoral tribunal election.  It had also recently set up a technical gender unit in the Legislative Assembly.

FARKHONDA HASSAN, Secretary-General of the National Higher Council for Women, Egypt, said that Egyptian women had enjoyed unconditional constitutional rights to equality and that significant progress had been achieved in efforts to empower women through a comprehensive and integrated strategy with a time frame ending in 2015.  Women’s participation in sectors such as education and health stood at 60 per cent, and averaged 30 per cent in such sectors as transport and industry.  Women occupied about 36 per cent of the leadership and decision-making positions in the Government.  In order to enhance capacities of female parliamentarians, the Civic Education Centre trained them to run and manage election campaigns.  Legislative and oversight training was also provided.  There was also a gradual but noticeable improvement in the image of women in the media.

She said the National Council of women, functioning directly under the presidency and chaired by the First Lady, played an active and substantial role in amending laws that contained any form of discrimination against women, and the council’s Ombudsman Office was gaining popularity.  Egypt’s Poverty Reduction Strategy included a programme tailored to the specific needs of rural, poor and unemployed women.  Challenges to women’s advancement included the fact that illiteracy among women was worse than among men and that there was a gap, though receding, between laws and their implementation.  Women also faced problems in being hired in the informal and private sectors due to rights granted to them, such as maternity leave and family care.  The biggest challenge, however, were some customs and cultural misconceptions of the various religions in some rural communities.

LEA JAVORNIK NOVAK, Acting Director-General of the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Services of Slovenia, aligning her remarks with those made on behalf of the European Union, said that to translate the letter and sprit of international human rights law, her Government had taken important legislative steps.  The specific gender equality act of 2002 had been complemented with the adoption of a general anti-discrimination act in 2004.  Prohibition of discrimination against women on the grounds of sexual orientation had gained a new legal guarantee in the draft family code, which had recently been submitted to the national Parliament for adoption.  Her Government had also decided to act as a role model in guaranteeing a dignified working environment.  The adoption of the 2005-2013 National Programme for Equal Opportunities for Women and Men had given gender equality policies new momentum, and gender equality and women’s empowerment had been increasingly understood as a joint and common effort of society as a whole.

Turning to the gaps in the 12 areas of concern in the Beijing Declaration and Platform, she said the social and cultural transformation that was required could not be realized by short-term measures.  At the same time, culture and tradition could not be used as an excuse for maintaining the unequal division of labour, power and responsibilities between men and women.  Education and media played a positive role in overcoming the traditional division of those roles and preventing new stereotypes from emerging.  Finally, gender equality was not only important for women and girls; men and boys were also affected and their involvement in the process of change was instrumental.

SISAY LEUDEDMOUNSONE, President of the Lao Women’s Union and Vice-President of the National Commission for the Advancement of Women, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, addressed progress in the implementation of the Beijing Platform, saying that an amended Constitution and a law on development and protection of women’s rights had been adopted.  A Women Parliament Caucus had been established in order to empower female parliamentarians.  The Lao National Commission for the Advancement of Women had been created to assist the Government in formulating policies and strategies to promote women’s advancement and to serve as a focal point for gender mainstreaming.  The Government had also adopted the National Strategy for the Advancement of Women 2006-2010.

She said her Government had paid special attention to the link between poverty and gender, which had resulted in a decline in the poverty index, especially for women.  To further gender equality in education, laws had been amended to guarantee equal access to schooling for men and women.  Also, an Education Sector Development Framework for 2009-2015 had been adopted to mainstream gender into the education sector.  Special efforts had been made in national health policies to ensure quality health care and access to health-care services for all, targeting in particular women in remote areas and focusing on reducing maternal and child mortality rates.  Her Government had also put in place policies to create enabling conditions for women to participate in decision-making processes at all levels.

DRUHA SALEM AL SHAQQAT (Kuwait) emphasized her country’s commitment to the Beijing Declaration and Platform and the Millennium Development Goals, inasmuch as they were not inconsistent with Islamic sharia.  Kuwait also supported the new proposed structure for guaranteeing the Millennium Development Goals as outlined by the European Union.  For its part, Kuwait was working to make elementary education mandatory for both sexes.  In terms of reproductive health, it provided free primary and secondary care, and used preventive programmes to protect women and girls.  It had recently enacted a law requiring medical examinations before marriage to protect women and infants from hereditary and dangerous diseases.  To combat poverty, the State provided monthly financial assistance for divorced and widowed women and to unmarried girls over the age of 35 who had never married or worked.  The Kuwaiti Fund for Development also provided long-term, easy-to-pay loans for brotherly and friendly countries.

She said that, while Kuwait’s Constitution provided equality for all of its citizens, women’s political participation had come relatively late.  Still, giant leaps had been made since the law changed in 2006.  There were now four women members of Parliament, and the Minister of Education was a woman.  The Kuwaiti Civil Service law provided equal salaries for women and men holding the same post and performing the same work.  A committee for women’s affairs had been established within the Council of Ministers.  Two months ago, a law was also enacted for persons with special needs.  Kuwaiti women enjoyed financial independence and the State’s labour law allowed motherhood leave for working mothers.

SONIA ESCOBEDO, Presidential Secretary for Women, Guatemala, expressed solidarity with Haiti and Chile.  The Beijing Platform and the women’s Convention should be implemented at the national level.  The Government had created her Office and a national policy for the promotion and protection of women, which had been implemented by three Administrations.  Guatemala had made considerable progress in legislative terms.  It had adopted laws against femicide, sexual violence, sexual exploitation and human trafficking.  It had also adopted rules on universal access to family planning.

She said her Government supported the Secretary-General’s “UniTE to End Violence against Women” campaign, which had been launched in Guatemala in November 2009.  That campaign was an opportunity to address violence against women in an integrated way.  Guatemala was preparing an action plan on it to have substantial results.  At the regional level, Guatemala participated actively in women’s rights issues.  It had ratified the “ Belem do Para” Convention to end violence against women.  Latin America was the only region to have such a convention.  Guatemala also had follow-up mechanisms to assess progress, and next September, it would host the first conference of States parties to that Convention.  Guatemala was working with other Central American counties to harmonize a regional strategy on gender equality, which it would outline during the next Economic and Social Council session.

KHANGEZIWE MABUZA, Principal Secretary of the Deputy Prime Minster’s Office, Swaziland, aligned her remarks with those made on behalf of the African Group and the Group of 77 and China.  She said her Government recognized women as equal citizens and was committed to the promotion and protection of their human rights.  It was in the process of ratifying the Optional Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, as well as the Southern African Development Community Gender and Development Protocol.  Swaziland’s Constitution contained a comprehensive bill of rights that included an equality clause and also guaranteed other rights such as inheritance and land rights and equal participation in politics and decision-making.

In terms of implementing the Beijing Platform, Swaziland had made major strides in policy, legislative and programmatic interventions focusing on women and children.  The People Trafficking and People Smuggling (Prohibition) act of 2009 was now in place and the Domestic Violence and Sexual Offences Bill criminalized all forms of gender-based violence.  The Government was strengthening its capacity to disseminate information, for which it sought the media’s participation.  It was also working through its various development policies to protect women’s rights.  It nevertheless faced myriad challenges, including HIV/AIDS, the rapid increase in the number of orphaned and vulnerable children and high incidences of poverty and domestic violence, among others.

MARTHA LUCIÍA VÁSQUEZ ZAWADZKY, Presidential Counsellor for Women’s Equity of Colombia, noted that in 2002, her country was in an exacerbated situation of violence caused by illegal armed groups, which risked women’s security and the rule of law.  After seven years, progress in demobilization had been made and crime had decreased, notably kidnappings, which had dropped by 84 per cent.  Colombia would continue to confront kidnapping so that future generations would no longer have to deal with that heinous crime.  Measures related to the 12 areas of concern of the Beijing Platform had been implemented by all branches of Government, the private sector and other segments of society.

In that context, she highlighted the signing of three important national agreements.  To eradicate violence against women, Colombia had set up policies like the democratic security policy to combat homicides and kidnappings; a national strategy to combat human trafficking; and a policy for the demobilization and reintegration of members of illegal armed groups.  The main challenge was the articulation of all those policies, incorporation of gender variables and revision of indicators based on international standards.  To tackle poverty, the Government had implemented a social policy that had reduced poverty by 7.7 percentage points between 2002 and 2008.  Colombia had also implemented a strategy that allowed women to access training, markets and financial services from the formal banking system.

HELENA STIMAC RADIN, Head of Office for Gender Equality, Croatia, said her Government had, over the past five years, strengthened its basic institutional mechanisms and introduced important new legislative amendments and strategies, with a view to preventing gender discrimination and improving its policy of equal opportunities.  The new Gender Equality Act, which had been adopted in 2008, proscribed the general ban on discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital or family status, and sexual orientation.  The Anti-Discrimination Act had come into force on 1 January 2009 and a new Act on the Protection against Domestic Violence had also been adopted last year.  In 2006, the Croatian Parliament had adopted the third National Policy for the Promotion of Gender Equality 2006-2010 as the basic strategic action plan for eliminating discrimination against women and establishing real equality between men and women.  It contained several measures promoting women’s human rights and equal opportunities in the labour market and aimed at gender-sensitive education, among other things.

She said Croatia was using its Governmental Office for Gender Equality, Ombudsman for Gender Equality and the Committee for Gender Equality of the Croatian Parliament, as well as the large number of new gender equality commissions set up at town and municipal levels to strengthen its gender equality machinery.  Moreover, more than 60 per cent of university graduates were women, and they accounted for half of those receiving doctorates.  Croatia’s Prime Minister was a woman strongly committed to promoting gender equality.  The president of the Constitutional Court was also a woman.  Twenty-three per cent of parliamentary seats were held by women, and women’s representation at local levels had increased after the last local elections.  In the private sector, the share of women entrepreneurs now approached 30 per cent.  Numerous public campaigns had led to increased public awareness about the inequality between men and women and the need to support the equal opportunities policy.

MADINA JARBUSSYNOVA, Ambassador-at-Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, said a coordinating body had been set up under the President ‑‑ the National Commission for Women Affairs and Family Demographic Policy.  Women constituted 14 per cent of Parliament, while in the civil service, they accounted for 58 per cent.  However, their representation in decision-making posts overall was only 10.3 per cent.  Primary factors for advancing women included efforts in poverty reduction, improvement of social and financial determinants and gender-based financing.

In the past 10 years, maternal mortality had been halved and fertility had increased by one-half, she said.  Measures to build and equip health facilities, among other things, should further halve maternal and infant morality.  Kazakhstan had reached the Millennium Development Goal of equal access for girls and boys to primary education.  A 2006 social benefit system for mothers and children had been expanded by 25 per cent this year.  The country also had successfully incorporated gender indicators into budgetary policies.  Violence against women had not been eradicated in any country.  To counteract that phenomenon, her Government had adopted a law on the prevention of domestic violence in 2009, which provided comprehensive measures to prevent all forms of violence against women.

SOLVEIGA SILKALNA, Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of Latvia, aligned her remarks with those made on behalf of the European Union and reaffirmed her Government’s commitment to the Beijing Declaration and Platform.  She welcomed the progress towards a unified gender entity in the United Nations, as well as the focus on gender equality at the 2010 annual ministerial review of the high-level segment of the coming Economic and Social Council substantive session.  Latvia’s gender equality policy was focused on:  awareness-raising; reducing domestic violence; identifying the impact of lifestyle habits on health and the quality of life, including the large gender disparity in life expectancy; and promoting the reconciliation of work and private life.  It included measures to encourage men’s participation in family life, staring with a 10-day paid paternity leave, she added.

Offering several illustrative statistics, she said Latvian women made up 30 per cent of employees, 50 per cent of Supreme Court judges, 34 per cent of rectors of institutions of higher education, 45 per cent of employees in research and development, 72 per cent of tertiary graduates, and 19 per cent of parliamentarians.  With the active participation of its women’s non-governmental organizations, Latvia was sharing its experience with other countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Georgia, encouraging women in those countries to become more economically and politically active.  In doing so, it aimed to contribute to the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).  Nevertheless, further efforts were required to reduce gender segregation in Latvia’s labour market, tackle gender-based wage gaps and assist women and men in balancing work and family responsibilities.

SALLY MOYLE, Office for Women of Australia, said women’s inequality resulted from interconnected burdens:  violence; discrimination in the workplace; and the expectation that women would clean and care for their families.  The Convention and the Beijing Platform remained vital, and integrating them into national frameworks was critical to sustainable development and economic recovery.  Australia welcomed the collective decision to establish a composite gender entity and called for sufficient funding to ensure it could fulfil its mandate.  Australia also supported greater participation of national human rights institutions in the Commission’s deliberations.

She said equality also required robust national women’s machineries.  There were still challenges.  In Australia, more could be done for indigenous Australians, who experienced poorer outcomes than others on most socio-economic indicators.  Improving economic outcomes for women was critical:  they could not continue to bear the burden of unpaid family care.  Australia recognized the need to boost women’s leadership, in the country and internationally.  Benchmarks were needed to measure progress towards equality.  Australia understood that a whole Government response was needed.  Together, the elements of its national women’s machinery were working towards equality.

MARKELDA MONTENEGRO DE HERRERA, Director of the National Institute of Women, Panama, aligning her remarks with the statements made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China and on behalf of the Rio Group, noted that her country had been one of the first to sign the women’s Convention.  It was actively participating in regional and subregional bodies related to women’s issues, engaging them as spaces to promote gender cross-cutting efforts.  Reviewing the past 15 years, it was clear the Beijing Platform had been essential to making strides in women’s political participation and promoting their rights.  She emphasized Panama’s National Council of Women, which was the highest consultative body and included all three branches of State.

She went on to say that the impact of HIV/AIDS was a constant concern, noting that law 3 on STI/HIV/AIDS had been adopted.  Indeed, women had the right to live without fear and not be the victims of femicide.  In the present Administration, the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform and the Millennium Development Goals had led to programmes that included, among others, the establishment of a National Institute for Women, a unit for access to justice and gender, a programme for social protection that sought to improve the quality of life, and a national strategy for childhood development.  She added that major challenges still remained in terms of access to social services, especially for rural and indigenous women.  Among the most persistent policy problems was facing up to gender violence and crises like climate change.

SHEILA ROSEAU, Executive Director of Gender Affairs, Ministry of Education, Sports, Youth and Gender Affairs of Antigua and Barbuda, said her Government was committed to the goals of the Beijing Platform, the Millennium Development Goals and the women’s Convention, as they, along with other agreements, provided a blueprint to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.  A 2007 poverty assessment had been undertaken and steps were under way to mainstream gender into national poverty reduction strategies.

Recognizing the importance of women’s health and rights to economic stabilization, her country had strengthened women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services, she said.  All citizens had access to voluntary HIV counselling and testing and all HIV-positive women had free access to medication, treatment and support.  On violence against women, the Government had partnered with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and UNFPA to strengthen State accountability and community action to end gender-based violence.  Women in her country held less than 15 per cent of political positions, despite their tremendous participation in the electoral process.  The Government was working to achieve a balance of women and men in decision-making.  Antigua and Barbuda considered the full implementation of the Platform for Action a priority for achieving gender equality.

ANA LUCIA HERRERA, President of the Transitional Commission for the National Council of Women and Gender Equality, Ecuador, reaffirmed her country’s commitment to the Beijing Declaration and Platform.  She stressed that progress in women’s advancement would not have been possible without the persistent demand for rights by the indigenous women of her region.  The Beijing Conference had been a landmark event for Ecuador, causing it to embark on a process to build institutions that would generate its technical and managerial capacities to build equality between men and women.  Those efforts had sought to, among other things, establish legal or de facto recognition of the family, recognition of non-remunerated work, and the provision of social support for persons who provided work in the home.

In Ecuador, progress had been made in incorporating the needs of women in the Government’s main plan for good living, she said, adding that a gender perspective was also included in its budgets and in the approach it took to gathering statistics.  A joint body had also been set up between the State and civil society that was responsible for fostering cross-cutting issues related to women’s equality.  As a best practice, she mentioned the national plan for the eradication of gender violence.  Further, a public awareness campaign stating that “machismo was violence” had been launched.

SEGAKWENG TSIANE, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs of Botswana, aligning with the African Group and the Group of 77 developing and China, said her country had seen progress in its adoption of national strategies, policies and programmes that were in line with the Beijing Platform.  Success had also been seen in areas of legislative reforms, women’s increased participation in the economy and their greater awareness of and interventions against HIV/AIDS.  However, mixed results had been recorded vis-à-vis women in decision-making positions in public services and political forums.  For example, women occupied 45 per cent of decision-making positions in public services; in the National Assembly, they occupied only 8.1 per cent.

She said that eliminating violence against women and girls was a challenge that called for Governments and civil society to work together in introducing reforms.  The main challenge was to “unpack” underlying psychosocial factors like alcohol and substance abuse, which triggered gender-based violence.  There was still much work to do to implement gender equality and gender mainstreaming.  Obstacles included largely inadequate resources; a lack of disaggregated data on gender equality; and a need for monitoring the national gender programme.  Gender equality and women’s empowerment was not only a matter of justice, but crucial for Botswana to achieve economic growth, sustainable development, good governance, peace and security.  Finally, her Government was keen to hear about progress in establishing a single United Nations agency dedicated to women’s advancement.

BERNADETTE MLAKA MALIRO, Member of Parliament, Malawi, aligning her statement with the remarks made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China and the African Group, said no meaningful sustained development could take place without the full, equal and active involvement of women and girls.  The promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women was at the core of Malawi’s development agenda.  Malawi had also formulated and reviewed gender-related laws as part of its efforts to promote gender equality in areas such as wills and property inheritance; marriage, divorce and family relations; gender-based violence; protection of children and juvenile justice.  It was also formulating laws aimed at addressing the trafficking in women and children.

She said that, despite inevitable challenges, her Government had made considerable progress in implementing activities in almost all 12 critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform.  In terms of education, it had put in place programmes and policies to ensure that boys and girls had equal access to education.  At the tertiary level, a 60-40 per cent quota system for admission of male and female students into university was in place.  The Government continued to implement health-care policies aimed at ensuring that women and girls ‑‑ particularly those in rural areas ‑‑ had access to sexual and reproductive health services.  The Roadmap on the Reduction of Maternal Mortality had been developed in 2007, and Malawi’s maternal mortality rate had declined from 897 for 100,000 live births in 2007 to 807 in 2009.

RUTH MAETALA, Director for Research, Policy, Planning and Information, Ministry for Women, Youth and Children’s Affairs of the Solomon Islands, associating herself with the Pacific Islands Forum, reaffirmed her country’s commitment to the Beijing Platform, the outcome of the Assembly’s twenty-third special session and the Millennium Development Goals, among other regional and international commitments.  The issue of climate change and frequency of natural disasters continued to displace communities in her country, a phenomenon which, coupled with the economic crisis, had placed much emotional stress on people confronting food and water insecurities.  On other issues, a recent study identified the Solomon Islands as among those with the highest gender-violence incidence.  To address that, a policy to eliminate such violence, along with a five-year action plan, had been adopted in February.  Her Government also had moved swiftly to set up referral networks to report domestic violence cases.

Early last year, she noted, an ambitious plan for temporary special measures to advance women’s participation in decision-making at the national level had been launched.  It had not canvassed enough support to get off the ground but the concept sensitized gender representation throughout the country.  Competing national priorities had hindered progress in advancing gender targets.  More support was needed and she welcomed the new United Nations gender entity, also calling for an in-country presence with on-the-ground activities.  In closing, she expressed deep concern that gender non-governmental organizations from Taiwan, which had attended previous Commission sessions, had not been allowed this year.

Following the general debate, Cuba’s delegate, in a point of order, conveyed her concern that, at an earlier event, it had not been possible for ministers and delegates to be in the room.  She hoped that the protocol tomorrow would guarantee that ministers and heads of delegations would have space in the panel sessions.

The representative of the Secretariat said he had taken note of her concern.  The event to which she had referred was not a meeting of the Commission and, thus, neither the Chair nor the Secretary of the Commission had had any input in the organization of that meeting.

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