Women’s Talents Should Be Nurtured ‘From Factory Floor to Board Room’, Says Secretary-General
With one year left to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by the 2015 target date, the international community must take decisive steps to ensure that gender equality and women’s empowerment became a reality, high-level speakers said today as the Commission on the Status of Women opened its fifty-eighth session.
“We need bold action going forward,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Executive Director of UN-Women. Addressing the Commission’s two-week session on the challenges and achievements in implementing the Millennium targets for women and girls, she urged Member States to devise a “forward-looking” document that would pave the way for permanently ending gender discrimination and the hunger, abuse, landlessness and illiteracy plaguing women and girls worldwide.
A focus on ending violence against women and girls and guaranteeing their sexual and reproductive rights, which was absent from the Millennium Development Goals, must be part of the post-2015 development agenda, she said. Men and boys must be part of the solution, she said, noting that on 10 March, UN‑Women launched the “He for She” campaign for that purpose. “We must make sure that today is indeed better than yesterday and that tomorrow will be better than today,” she said.
Most importantly, money spent and gains made must have a lasting positive impact, she said, stressing that poverty eradication and sustainable development could not be achieved without gender equality. Despite progress in some areas — the rate of extreme poverty in 1990 was halved by 2010 — every day some 800 women still died due to pregnancy-related complications, the feminization of HIV/AIDS continued, and women and girls still bore the burden of fetching water in areas lacking access.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon agreed that while women had come a long way, many tasks lay ahead. More girls were in school, but the world was far from ending gender disparity in education. The focus must be on quality education and preparing women and girls for the twenty-first century job market. Women still earned less than men for the same work, and few were in corporate leadership positions, despite research showing that companies with more women leaders performed better.
“We need actions and policies to nurture and include women’s talents, skills and energy from the factory floor to the board room,” he said. More women were also needed in Government, as deep inequality persisted at all levels of representation. At the United Nations, he said he was committed to gender equality and women’s leadership, noting that the top development, human rights and humanitarian officials were women, as were the heads of disarmament, peacebuilding and peacekeeping support.
Also in opening remarks, Nicole Ameline, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that a statement had been adopted at its recent session calling for a human rights-based approach to eliminate discrimination against women in the post-2015 period. Women must be drivers of socioeconomic progress, peace and stability, she said, calling for a “stand-alone” goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the post-2015 agenda.
Libran Cabactulan, Commission Chair, called on participants in the session to seize the opportunity to ensure a strong outcome with concrete, practical recommendations to make women both actors and beneficiaries of poverty eradication, sustainable development, human rights, and peace and security. “I call on all of you to demonstrate the political will and commitment that will make a difference,” he said.
As the Commission opened its general discussion, representatives of the major regional groups noted with concern that overall progress across the Millennium targets was slow and uneven. Some said it was less likely that the Goals would be achieved in the least developed countries and those affected by conflict and living under foreign occupation, stressing the need for specific measures to protect women in such situations.
Several delegates urged an end to gender bias and structural impediments to women’s access to justice, encouraging Member States to provide equal legal protection for men and women. A life free from gender-based violence was a precondition for gender equality, they said, backing the call for monitoring mechanisms with gender indicators and sex-disaggregated data. Some urged universalization of the Women’s Convention and its Optional Protocol and supported the inclusion of a goal aimed at gender equality and women’s empowerment.
In the afternoon, the Commission held two high-level round-table discussions, where ministers and other senior Government officials detailed national policies and programmes related to the session’s priority theme.
Led respectively by the Commission Chair and Vice-Chair Carlos Enrique García González (El Salvador), the round tables also heard about broad concerns, from the lack of women’s input into public and private decisions intended to benefit them to their poor access to financing and resources. They said, among other things, that improved access to sanitation facilities and sexual and reproductive health care required urgent attention.
The Commission Chair for the session was elected at the outset of today’s meeting, and Mohamed Ibrahim Mohamed Elbahi (Sudan) and Carlos Enrique García González (El Salvador) were selected as Vice Chairs of both its fifty-eighth and fifty-ninth sessions. Bruno Santos de Oliveira (Brazil) and Mustafizur Rahman (Bangladesh) were appointed to serve on the Working Group on Communications during those two sessions. The Commission also adopted its provisional agenda and approved its organization of work.
Participants in the general discussion included high-level officials from Bolivia (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Greece (on behalf of the European Union), Costa Rica (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Guyana (on behalf of the Caribbean Community), Dominican Republic (on behalf of Central American Integration System’s Council of Women’s Affairs Ministers) and Malawi (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community),
Speakers also included representatives of Guinea-Bissau (on behalf of the African Group), Indonesia (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Venezuela (on behalf of the Southern Common Market), Guinea (on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference), Iran, Gambia and Poland.
The Commission will continue its session at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 11 March.
The Commission on the Status of Women met today to begin its fifty-eighth session.
LIBRAN CABACTULAN, Commission Chair, said that the international community’s collective commitment to achieve results for women and girls was more urgent than ever. The task ahead was to assess progress by women and girls to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and to highlight gaps and challenges. He called for a frank, open discussion. “The Commission must make a decisive contribution to the accelerated achievement of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls in the remaining time before their target date,” he said, calling on stakeholders to “seize this opportunity” to ensure a strong outcome with concrete, practical recommendations to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment.
With such progress slow and uneven, he said, a transformative approach was needed to make women actors in and beneficiaries of poverty eradication, sustainable development, human rights and peace and security.
While much of the Commission’s work would focus on its priority theme, the session would also evaluate progress in implementing its 2011 agreed conclusions, he said. This year, the Commission would examine progress in ensuring gender equality in science and technology education and training, and work and employment. It would highlight interesting cases and remaining challenges. “I call on all of you to demonstrate the political will and commitment that will make a difference,” he said.
Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON said gender equality and empowerment were essential to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and devising a successful post-2015 development agenda. While women had come a long way, there was much remaining to be done. More girls were in school, but the world was far from ending gender disparity in education. The focus must be on quality education and preparing women and girls for the twenty-first century job market. Indeed, women were more likely to be in vulnerable employment situations, with low pay, poor working conditions and no protection from labour laws. They still earned less than men for the same work, and few were in corporate leadership positions, despite research showing that companies with more women leaders performed better.
“We need actions and policies to nurture and include women’s talents, skills and energy from the factory floor to the board room,” he insisted. More women were also needed in Government, as deep inequality persisted at all levels of representation. At the United Nations, he was committed to gender equality and women’s leadership, he said, noting that the top development, human rights and humanitarian officials were women, as were the heads of disarmament, peacebuilding and peacekeeping support. Despite the world’s perception that women could not handle troops, there were five women commanding thousands of troops in South Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Cyprus and Haiti. Further, he had appointed Mary Robinson as the first female peace negotiator in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Sanitation was among the area where progress lagged, he said, noting that each year, more than 800,000 children died needlessly from diarrhoea. Plus, more than 1 billion people practiced open defecation, which, if ended, would enhance the safety of women and girls who risked sexual abuse for lack of a safe, clean toilet. Proper sanitation facilities in schools also had been shown to significantly boost girls’ attendance. Another crucial area of focus was maternal and child health, he said, stressing that too many children died needlessly before age 5 and that too many women died daily due to pregnancy‑related causes, almost all from developing countries.
The United Nations was committed to helping Governments provide sexual and reproductive health services to the too many women and girls without it. “We must ensure their reproductive rights,” he stressed, noting that more young women were infected with HIV than men. Violence against women plagued the response to HIV, causing untold damage to societies everywhere. Men had a vital role to play, which was why he had established a network of men leaders to speak out against such abuse. “You have an important task before you,” he said. In the run‑up to 2015, he would count on the wisdom and commitment of those here today to bring the voices of women and girls to the table. “We cannot achieve a world of dignity for all until we end gender inequality in all its forms,” he concluded.
PHUMZILE MLAMBO-NGCUKA, Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Executive Director of UN-Women, said the week had begun with a sense of optimism that the session would be a victory for women everywhere. “Equality for women was progress for all,” she said, adding that poverty eradication and sustainable development could not be achieved without gender equality. The session’s theme was about taking stock and getting ready to move forward. For more positive outcomes in the future, it was essential to ensure that expenditures incurred and gains made had an irreversible positive impact on women and girls. There were high expectations that the post-2015 period could create a great leap forward and that the lives of girls could change forever, as they looked to us to fight their battles against hunger, abuse, landlessness and illiteracy. Once and for all, ending discrimination against women must be an achievement of the first part of this century.
No doubt, the Millennium Development Goals had galvanized action towards women’s empowerment, she said, noting that extreme poverty had been halved in some parts of the world from 47 per cent in 1990 to 22 per cent in 2010. Countries with the least education resources were able to reduce the education backlog in a significant way. Education, particularly at the secondary level, was vital for preparing girls for the labour market. However, quality would not be achieved unless all aspects of gender equality were addressed. She noted progress in reducing infant mortality, which was expected to shrink by two thirds by 2015. Still, every day, 800 women died due to complications from child birth-related and structural gender inequalities, which had undermined the combat against HIV/AIDS. Some 2.1 billion people had achieved access to clean drinking water, but girls and women still bore the responsibility to fetch water in areas lacking access, and millions still grappled with inadequate sanitation. Women’s lack of access to development finance was also worrisome.
From May 2014 to May 2015, the Commission would review each of the 12 focus areas of the Beijing Platform for Action, leading to national and regional reports on progress made, she said, noting that those would be presented during the September 2015 General Assembly session. Men and boys also had an important role as the challenge for gender equality could not be left to women alone. Three days ago, in the lead up to Beijing+20, UN Women had launched the “He for She” campaign, which advocated men’s and boy’s involvement towards that end. It already had reached 18 million people through social media. Violence against women and girls had been left out of the Millennium Development Goals; it could not be left out of the post-2015 development agenda. Women’s sexual and reproductive rights must be upheld. Also vital was women’s and girl’s access to education, training, science and technology. “We need bold action going forward,” she said, urging Member States to achieve a strong forward-looking document that would transform the lives of women and girls. It must be ensured that “tomorrow will be better than today”.
NICOLE AMELINE, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, asked what the purpose of development was if it was not to serve the cause of equal rights and opportunities. “In fact, there is no sustainable development without respect for fundamental rights”, she said, stressing that the time had come to deliver on the promise of substantive equality, which could be achieved only through respect for the rule of law and elimination of discrimination. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women offered a basis for those efforts as the only internationally legally binding women’s rights treaty.
She said that the Committee, at its fifty-seventh session this year, had adopted a statement on “The post-2015 development agenda and the Elimination of Discrimination against Women”, which called for a human rights-based approach to that work, with women as drivers of socioeconomic progress, peace and stability. She advocated a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the post-2015 agenda, adding that a commitment to non-discrimination should be mainstreamed throughout all targets. Moreover, the goals should be universal and consideration must be given to indicators that captured the situations confronting women and girls, as well as to sex-disaggregated data on sexual and gender-based violence.
The Committee, she added, would hold two expert meetings, in Geneva and New York, during the Assembly’s sixty-ninth session, to consolidate the elements of a gender equality goal. Already, it had adopted general recommendation No. 30 (2013) on women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations, which had been of great use in adopting recent concluding observations on Iraq and Sierra Leone and would inform dialogues with Syria and the Central African Republic. Also last year, the Committee had adopted inadmissibility decisions on six cases, finding violations in two of them.
GABRIELA MONTANO, Senator, Bolivia, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, expressed strong commitment to gender equality, women’s empowerment, and respect for women’s human rights and fundamental freedoms. She stressed the need to promote women’s empowerment and their ability to generate income and to ensure their access to productive resources, opportunities and public services. Women’s empowerment and participation in all spheres of society was vital for equality, development and peace. To that end, it was important to promote and facilitate women’s increased political participation, including in decision-making. The outcome and conclusions of the review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action as well as the Assembly’s twenty-third special session should enrich the Commission’s current session. To that end, she stressed the importance of sharing national experiences and of effective monitoring and evaluation to advance sustainable development.
She called for an end to all forms of discrimination and violence against women, including violence against migrant domestic workers, disabled women and girls, older women, and rural and indigenous women. Gender bias and structural impediments to judicial access must be removed, she said, encouraging the provision of equal services and legal protection to all citizens. She welcomed progress in achieving the Millennium Goals, particularly in reaching gender parity in primary education enrolment and the proportion of women in national parliaments. But she was deeply concerned that overall progress for women and girls across all the Millennium targets was slow and uneven, and that the Goals were less likely to be achieved in countries affected by conflict and living under foreign occupation. To fully achieve the targets, all aspects of gender equality and women’s empowerment, including the structural causes that created gender gaps and inequality, must be addressed.
JOÃO SOARES DA GAMA (Guinea-Bissau), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said current and emerging issues required that several steps be taken to ensure women and girls’ full participation in development policies and programmes. Among them were strengthening women’s role in formal and informal trade, he said, calling for the implementation of the international community’s commitments on development, including the transfer of official development assistance (ODA) and access to markets. Despite progress made in women’s increased participation in the labour force, unequal opportunities remained in access to well-paid work. In addition, the Millennium Development Goals had not captured the gender dimensions of hunger and malnutrition, and gender gaps existed in access to and control over land, credit and decision-making. The Group was also deeply concerned about the unacceptably high numbers of maternal deaths and other health-related disparities.
He noted that progress had been made in school enrolment and parity in primary education, but said poor learning outcomes were insufficient to meet the Goals’ 2015 target. Greater emphasis should be on access to good quality education. Another challenge to Africa’s development was the prevalence of conflicts, instability and natural disasters, he said, recognizing the need to adopt specific measures to implement the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls in armed conflict and post-conflict situations. Violence against women remained a major human rights concern, making it important to adopt and accelerate implementation of laws and policies to protect women and to work with community leaders, men and boys as strategic partners. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) was the African Union’s strategic programme, which placed the Millennium Development Goals at the centre of the continent’s development agenda. The main challenges to achieving the Goals included ensuring peace and security, fostering good political and economic governance, tackling the HIV and AIDS pandemic, breaking the poverty cycle and sustaining growth. The promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment were vital to sustainable development.
VASSO KOLLIA, Secretary-General for Gender Equality, Ministry of Interior of Greece, speaking on behalf of the European Union, urged universalization of the Women’s Convention and its Optional Protocol. Detailing the Union’s efforts in supporting girls’ education, clean sanitation and health services, she said Millennium Goal 3, on gender equality, women’s empowerment, had been a “powerful” stimulus for action by Governments and donors alike. Yet, no country could claim to have achieved de facto gender equality. “We have failed to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health for women and girls,” she said, adding that women were often relegated to the most vulnerable forms of employment.
There was an opportunity to change that picture, she said, with a focus on common efforts and resources towards areas and regions where progress had been slow, particularly in least developed countries and fragile States. That included maternal mortality, lack of universal access to reproductive health, and protection, including female genital mutilation. Further, a rights‑based approach was needed, which encompassed all human rights into sustainable development and included partnerships with boys and men. Women’s role as key actors to unlock poverty eradication must also be enhanced by removing barriers to equal participation in decision-making. A life free from gender-based violence was a precondition for the realization of gender equality, she added, stressing the need for a monitoring mechanism with gender indicators and sex-disaggregated data.
ISABEL BRENES PANIAGUA, Vice-Minister of Social Welfare of Costa Rica, speaking for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, said she was concerned about the situation of migrant, rural and indigenous women, as well as those with disabilities, older women and women of African descent. The Community had agreed to intensify efforts to develop the fullest potential of women and girls, she said, noting that a regional consultation for Latin America and the Caribbean had been held in Mexico last month, in connection with the Commission’s session, as well as a regional conference on women in those regions, held in the Dominican Republic last October. Regional Governments had noted the contribution of women’s movements in placing women’s needs on national, regional and international agendas.
She went on to say that the post-2015 development agenda must tackle the unequal power relations between men and women and the gender stereotypes that impeded sustainable development. It must fully integrate gender mainstreaming across all goals and targets, as well as address the broader context for realizing gender equality, such as the impact of economic crises. She called for a “transformative” stand-alone goal on gender equality, women’s human rights and empowerment, based on substantive equality. It must ensure a life free from violence and discrimination, as well as access and resource distribution, and gender equality in decision-making. She called on States and multilateral groups to address new challenges. International cooperation, including regional, North-South and South-South, was needed to promote gender equality.
JENNIFER WEBSTER, Minister of Human Services and Social Security of Guyana, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said a people-centred approach to development guided Member States, which recognized the critical role of gender equality and women’s empowerment in achieving poverty eradication, social integration and sustainable development. Significant progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals had been made, including great education gains among the Community and the sharpest decline in HIV incidence of any region, with 42 per cent fewer infections annually compared with 2001. Also, women played a critical role in the region’s socioeconomic and political development.
Yet despite those successes, major equalities persisted, she said, noting that “our task is far from over”. Gender-based violence, adolescent pregnancy and the increased risk of the feminization of poverty were among the areas requiring urgent attention. Major challenges for sustainable development included the regional and global burden and threat of non-communicable diseases, the leading cause of death in women, with cervical and breast cancer responsible for about 800,000 deaths annually, 70 per cent of which were in developing countries. Persistent inequality was also a fundamental challenge to sustainable development, requiring a change in attitudes at multiple levels. The post-2015 development agenda should draw on lessons from the Millennium Development Goals to address the structural causes of inequality, she said, adding that CARICOM supported the inclusion of a stand-alone goal in the area of gender equality and the empowerment of women. To advance efforts in those issues, she called on developed countries to fulfil their ODA commitments.
ALEJANDRINA GERMÁN, Minister of Women, Dominican Republic, speaking on behalf of the Central American Integration System’s Council of Women’s Affairs Ministers, said that despite progress, the region still faced complex challenges to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment. It had witnessed major positive changes in public policy, but expedited progress was needed to achieve the global development targets. More resources should be allocated to critical areas and to boost measures towards the financing of and investment in regional plans that would lead to gender equality. Quality services also were needed, as were common solutions to common problems. The Council was strongly committed to achieving and sustaining regional equality and served as a coordinating mechanism to ensure compliance with the sustainable development goals. It remained committed to the 2013 Santo Domingo Consensus and sought to ensure that by 2025, the Dominican Republic and Central American States achieved full development for women politically, economically, socially, culturally and institutionally at the national and regional levels.
She stressed the need to firmly confront obstacles to gender equality and women’s empowerment and to show optimism towards that end. The Council supported the Mexico Declaration, which recognized the importance of taking into account the sustainable development goals when addressing gender inequality. She expressed confidence that women’s rights and gender empowerment would be achieved in the public and private sectors. The Santo Domingo Consensus had ratified a set of commitments by States in the region in the past 20 years, including to monitor progress in achieving the Millennium targets and the goals set forth at Cairo+20, the Beijing Conference, the World Summit on the Information Society, among other global events. The consensus was a key reference for the post-2015 agenda.
CLARA MAKUNGAWA, Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare of Malawi, speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and aligning with both the Group of 77 and the African Group, said Africa had taken a strong stand on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Ten of the Development Community’s countries had carried out constitutional reforms to promote those issues, she said, noting that Zimbabwe had devised a quota to involve women in the national assembly. South Africa had the highest percentage of women in the cabinet, followed by Malawi. Six countries in the region had higher proportions of women than men in tertiary education, and six countries also had 50 per cent or more girls in secondary schools, while 12 countries had domestic violence and sexual assault legislation in place.
She went on to say that AIDS-related deaths had decreased by 32 per cent since 2001. Zimbabwe had devised a progressive policy on care work, while others had studied its development. As for peace and security missions, Namibia had consistently committed that 46 per cent be women, while South Africa had contributed the largest absolute number of women to such operations. Zambia surpassed parity in terms of representation in climate change and sustainable development-related decision-making, followed by South Africa and Namibia. Thirteen countries had signed the Development Community’s Gender Protocol and endeavoured to incorporate all 28 targets. However, challenges persisted, she said, citing, among them, women’s low participation in governance and economic justice, new HIV infections and low uptake of reproductive health services.
LINDA AMALIA SARI (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian States (ASEAN) and associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said that for the Association, the Millennium Development Goals mirrored the Organization’s commitment to building a caring and sharing community by 2015. ASEAN also firmly believed that the next development goals should balance the social, economic and environmental pillars of development by taking into account the need for empowerment, as well as the protection of all members of society.
She said ASEAN was accelerating attainment of the Millennium Development Goals region-wide, as well as working to narrow the development gap through the “ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint” and that of the ASEAN social cultural community, which served as cooperation platforms. The “ASEAN Roadmap for the Attainment of the MDGs” also served as a framework for collective action on development priorities. Through such efforts, ASEAN recognized the importance of incorporating the gender perspectives in various areas of development to ensure the equitable achievement of social and economic goals.
Verónica Calcinari Van Der Velde(Venezuela), speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), said gender equality and women’s empowerment was a sine qua non to guarantee development. Attaching importance to the Millennium Development Goals’ full implementation, she said the region had made progress in such areas as poverty eradication. MERCOSUR had set up a specialized women’s entity at the ministerial level, which served as a platform for dialogue and policy actions. That had led to tangible results in eradicating violence against women and enhancing various rights, including those to education, food, economic integration, political participation and access to justice. Political participation was especially important and had increased in MERCOSUR.
Yet, much remained to be done, she said, urging equal participation in decision‑making by promoting women’s participation in all areas of public and private life. Equal participation must be ensured in the labour market, especially in terms of access to credit. Violence against women must be eliminated, and MERCOSUR was working towards a declaration to that effect. To achieve the Millennium Development Goals, States must adopt inclusive measures that considered women as main players. Those efforts would more broadly address issues such as the adverse effects of the global economic crisis. She also urged enhanced international cooperation and allocation of ODA that took into account a gender perspective. Finally, she said gender equality and women’s rights must be a priority in the post-2015 sustainable development discussion.
MAMADI TOURÉ (Guinea), speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said that despite the progress, women in many parts of the world, particularly those living under foreign occupation, lacked equal opportunities and were suffering from poverty, marginalization and discrimination. Women’s empowerment and gender equality must be a priority in the post-2015 development agenda and should be included as a cross-cutting issue in the sustainable development goals. The global magnitude and complexity of the challenges facing women and girls required a holistic approach, with a developmental perspective that recognized the family as the fundamental building block and positive contributor of current and future such goals.
He said the OIC was deeply committed to the advancement of women and, in 2008, had adopted its Action Plan for the Advancement of Women, aimed at improving the situation of women in all socioeconomic, political and cultural areas. It also provided a strategic vision that aimed to be inclusive of the gender perspective across all of the organization’s activities. Last December, its Council of Foreign Ministers had adopted a more progressive resolution for the promotion of women in its member States, while its Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission had established a specific working group to address the rights of women and children in an effort to highlight the importance of implementing relevant reforms.
SHAHINDOKHT MOWLAVERDI, Vice President for Women and Family Affairs, Iran, said the cultural, social, economic and political empowerment of women and girls was a key element in planning and developing national legislation and and policy. Since taking office last August, Iran’s new Government had worked to mainstream women’s issues into the national development framework. A family-based approach was now part of it. According to the United Nations human development indicators, Iranian women and girls had achieved outstanding progress in education, research, science, entrepreneurship, employment and health. Despite unprecedented and severe unilateral sanctions against Iran, Iranian women’s march towards existing targets continued unabated. The recent presidential election showed Iranian women’s meaningful, influential role in drawing the country’s political map by their enthusiastic participation.
She said that President Hassan Rouhani’s electoral platform based on moderation, prudence and hope had created a new chapter in the lives of Iranian women. The head of the national mechanism for women had been promoted to Vice President for Women and Family Affairs, and special programmes had been developed to eliminate violence against women, to empower their equal access to resources and opportunities and to enhance their political participation. The “Securing Women against Violence” bill was in the final stages of approval. However, the unjust unilateral sanctions imposed on Iran by certain countries were intrinsically inhumane and a flagrant manifestation of structural violence. They victimize common, vulnerable people, particularly women and children, violating their right to peace, development, access to health and education and, above all, their right to life. Their challenges could only be truly addressed if the world united against all forms of violence and extremism and if the voice of women living in armed conflicts and under foreign occupation was heard.
ISATOU NJIE-SAIDY (Gambia) reported that her country had accelerated the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act and Sexual Offences Act of 2013, with the establishment of a functional one-stop centre for victims of domestic violence. A series of capacity-building training exercises for the judiciary, health workers, police and military on the prevention and management of violence against women and girls had also taken place. It was indeed timely that the Commission’s session would focus on the challenges of implementing the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls. Issues affecting the health and well-being of women and girls needed to be adequately addressed in order to shape the way forward for a successful post-2015 development agenda.
AGNIESZKA KOZLOWSKA-RAJEWICZ, Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment, Secretary of State at the Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland, outlined the national action plan for equal treatment 2013-2016, which was the first “horizontal” policy to address discrimination across the board. By bringing together key social actors, including ministries, public institutions and non-governmental organizations, equal treatment was promoted in the labour market, health care and education fields, among others. In 2010, the Parliament had adopted quotas for the electoral lists for Polish and European parliaments and regional authorities. As a result, women comprised 24 per cent of all Members of Parliament in her country. In other areas, she said Poland supported the “Viviane Reding” initiative on the gender pay gap and had changed the prosecution of rape from an ex parte to ex officio system.
Round Table A
In the first round table, ministers and other high-level participants outlined their national gender equality and women’s empowerment initiatives, reaffirming their commitment to fight discrimination and prejudice. Many supported a stand-alone goal on gender equality in the post-2015 development agenda, posing questions about how to improve outcomes, in the interim, for the most marginalized groups. Global partnerships, some responded, offered a viable way forward.
To be sure, global gains had been registered, speakers said, noting that gender parity had been achieved in primary education. When girls had access to school, they outperformed boys, showing that Millennium Development Goal 3 (gender equality) had been a powerful stimulus for action, and further, that the global community could make a sizable difference when it “got its act together”.
Many others, however, focused on persistent challenges, underlining that global results in primary education, for example, masked regional disparities. More than 100 million girls were illiterate, with those in rural areas most affected. Girls faced more obstacles than boys to attending high schools and universities, and later on, accessing the job market. If they did enter the workplace, they earned less than men, worked longer hours and often carried the burden of unpaid work.
Moreover, speakers said, women’s voices in public and private sector decision-making were seldom heard, sidelining them in formulating policies intended to benefit them. When women could not access resources for business start-up, a country’s sustainable development suffered. On the health front, progress in reducing maternal mortality had been “disappointingly slow”. A woman in a poor country was 15 times more likely to die during childbirth than her wealthier counterpart. Improved access to sanitation facilities was needed to improve the safety of women and girls who risked sexual abuse for the sake of a clean toilet.
Critical areas for attention included access to sexual and reproductive health, which a few speakers said would help reduce maternal mortality. Another priority was to end violence against women and girls, a universal problem that, in some places, took the form of human trafficking, forced marriage, endemic sexual harassment and female genital mutilation. Stronger legislation and judicial recourse was urgently needed, as were efforts to implement key international instruments, especially the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Ministers and other high-level officials of the following countries contributed to the discussion: Italy, Australia, Finland, Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Azerbaijan, Uganda, Portugal, Mozambique, Switzerland, Gambia, Brazil, Mongolia, Argentina, Norway, Indonesia, Paraguay, Nigeria, Philippines, Panama, Solomon Islands, Cuba and El Salvador.
Also speaking were representatives of the European Union Delegation and the United States.
Responding to comments and questions as invited guests were Frances Raday, Chair of the Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN-Women.
Round Table B
In the second round table, ministers and other high-level participants covered a variety of topics, including women in the labour force, their political participation and violence against them. Many said that the formulation of the post-2015 agenda provided a unique opportunity to make gender equality a priority for the international community.
Several speakers said that an enabling environment was needed to increase the number of women in the workplace, particularly those with young families. The lack of a support system often inhibited women from entering or returning to the workplace after giving birth, some noted, stressing the importance of ensuring the right balance between domestic responsibilities and remunerated work. Others expressed concerns that women’s career opportunities were constrained by traditional attitudes differentiating “women’s careers” from those of men. Another troubling trend was the seeming disinterest of women to work on behalf of other women to promote gender equality in professional settings. Some representatives detailed flexible working arrangements, childcare subsidies and tax credits introduced in their countries as incentives for working mothers.
Women should be empowered through increased political participation and encouraged to obtain leadership positions in their governments, many said. Increased cooperation and solidarity was also crucial on the international platform to promote women’s active participation in governance. One speaker said that women often wanted to be politically active but were constrained by their other numerous responsibilities, including the domestic care they provided to children and the elderly.
Another representative said violence against women was the most pervasive and direct manifestation of their lack of empowerment. Increased sensitivity to cultural differences and capacity‑building were just two ways that countries could combat such violence. Accurate and transparent statistics would provide a better understanding of women’s situation, particularly on issues such as domestic violence. Without a better grasp of the challenges, it was difficult to develop effective policies.
Representatives also called for additional resources to be devoted to maternal and reproductive health, while others stressed that access to education and literacy were also of great concern.
Ministers and other high-level officials of the following countries spoke in the discussion: Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, Peru, Eritrea, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Egypt, Greece, Nicaragua, Mexico, Tunisia, Morocco, Burkina Faso, Pakistan, Samoa, Spain, Denmark, China, Sudan, Bolivia and Sweden.
Responding to questions and comments as invited guests were Amina Mohammed, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the post-2015 agenda and Gita Sen of the Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era.
* The 1st Meeting was covered in Press Release WOM/1952 of 15 March 2013.