Speakers Focus on Maternal, Child Health Noting Positive Trends amid Remaining Daunting Challenges
While countries were on track to meet several of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, progress on those related to women and girls was uneven at best, ministers and other senior officials told the Commission on the Status of Women today, urging that more be done to accept women as equals in all areas of life.
That was especially true of the issue of maternal and child health, said several of the day’s 30 speakers taking part in the continued general debate. Reducing global maternal mortality by three-quarters by 2015 would require accelerated efforts and stronger political backing for women and children. The current goals, targets and indicators, some said, had failed to address critical issues, including for rural women, among those most in need of basic services.
“The fact that, across all the MDGs, overall progress for women and girls remains slow calls for a new approach,” said the Head of the Division for Gender Equality and Women’s Affairs in Austria’s Federal Ministry for Education and Women’s Affairs. The new development agenda would need to address those aspects of gender inequality that had been omitted in the past, including sexual and reproductive health and rights.
On that point, several speakers pointed to the persistent impact of socioeconomic and cultural barriers preventing women from accessing sexual and reproductive health services. Women were still subjected to subordination and sexist stereotypes, they said, with the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare of Malawi noting the high number of deaths among young women aged 15 to 24 in her country, due to early marriages and unsafe abortions, among other factors.
Urging a change in attitudes, she pointed out that maternal mortality had fallen in Malawi, thanks, in part, to the engagement of traditional leaders in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.
Quality care for women during pregnancy and at the time of childbirth was also crucial for saving children, speakers said. Driving that point home, the Under-Secretary-General of Internal Affairs of the Marshall Islands stressed the urgent need for skilled practitioners to support a new programme aimed at improving pre- and post-natal care.
Citing steps forward in that regard, the Minister of Solidarity, Family, Women and Children of Côte d’Ivoire said her Government was now providing free childbirth and caesarean services, as well as information on contraceptive use.
Likewise, the Minister for Social Affairs, Advancement of Women and Children of Guinea said a coalition of women’s non-governmental groups had been formed to support the implementation of best practices in sexual and reproductive health. The Government also had set up “anti-AIDS” clubs for women and girls, and programmes to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
Still other speakers said such entrenched behaviours were a direct result of poverty. The Minister of Gender, Family and Children of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said at least 60 per cent of women in her country lived below the poverty line. While that percentage had been on a downward trend, much work remained to achieve the 40 per cent target by 2015, and she urged support for microcredit programmes.
In the afternoon, the Commission held a panel discussion on “Women’s access to productive resources,” an emerging issue that panellists agreed required increased attention. Four experts addressed the opportunities and challenges women faced in harnessing the human, capital and natural resources needed to launch income-generating activities. In that context, they examined measures to increase rural women’s access to land, tenure, credit and financial services, describing land reform practices that had led to women’s increased control over ancestral territory.
Also speaking in today’s general debate were ministers and other senior officials of Congo, Fiji (on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States), Czech Republic, Mauritania, Paraguay, Albania, Liberia, Burundi, Rwanda, Kazakhstan, Angola, Kenya, Tonga, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Greece, Mongolia, Bahrain, Switzerland, Pakistan and Suriname.
The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday, 17 March, to continue its fifty-eighth session.
The Commission on the Status of Women met today to continue its general debate and hold a panel discussion on “Women’s access to productive resources”.
CATHERINE EMBONDZA LIPITI, Minister for the Advancement of Women and Integration of Women in Development of Congo, said gender equality indicators had improved in primary education, with more girls staying in school. However, “equality in education is still a challenge for us,” she said. The Government also sought to improve reproductive health services, while a bill before Parliament aimed to enhance women’s status overall. Concerning decision-making and reducing violence against women, “we’re still dealing with sociocultural prejudices”, she admitted, which had hindered women’s empowerment. Further, gender equality had not yet been mainstreamed into development projects. On health, her Government was working towards Goals 4 (child mortality), 5 (maternal health) and 6 (HIV/AIDS). Despite reforms, “what we have achieved is still not enough,” she said, noting that women accounted for 54 per cent of those employed in the informal sector. She proposed extending the deadline for achieving the Goals so that gender equality could be achieved.
PETER THOMSON (Fiji), on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States, said Millennium-Goal results had been uneven and mixed, with much work remaining to be done. Partnership was critical in mobilizing collective action to support and accelerate goal-related gender equality programmes. The post-2015 framework must build on lessons learned. As global warming continued to exact increasing tolls on States in the Pacific, he called for greater political will from global leaders to combat climate change. Looking ahead, he called for innovative approaches and insisted that commitments must be backed by action. The sustainable development goals must guarantee human beings’ future on the planet, for which implementation strategies were critical. Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls should have a twin approach, both as a stand-alone goal and action to mainstream into all other goals.
MICHAELA MARKSOVÁ, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs of the Czech Republic, associating herself with the European Union, said that women still did not have full access to decent work and social protection, and remained more vulnerable to poverty and hunger. Globally, the maternal mortality rate had nearly been halved, although it still remained unacceptably high. Women also continued to be denied equal opportunity to participate in all levels of decision-making, while violence against them persisted. For the Czech Republic, gender equality was a basic principle of its democratic society and a crucial part of its development agenda. Domestically, the country had sought to apply the principle of gender mainstreaming and supported various projects specifically aimed at empowering women. During the past decade, it had also worked with non-governmental organizations on projects aimed at improving education opportunities for girls and women in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Senegal and Sudan.
LEMINA MINT EL GHOTOB OULD MOMA, Minister of Social Affairs, Children and Family, Mauritania, said on 8 March her Government had organized activities in connection with women in development. It had acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, but it had reservations to some provisions, which conflicted with some tenets of Islamic law. It had also signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and it sought to combat poverty among women and girls. It had set up a special training programme for women and provided them with microcredit, and another programme was under way to ensure that women and girls had access to primary education. Also ongoing were efforts to eliminate obstacles preventing women from entering educational institutions. The Government had set quotas for women’s political participation, and, at present, 21 per cent of parliamentarians and 35 per cent of local council members were women. Finally, it had launched a national health plan and a strategy to expedite the Millennium health targets for the 2012-2020 period. The nation’s indicators on HIV/AIDS were stable.
ANA MARIA BAIARDI QUESNEL, Minister of Women’s Affairs, Paraguay, reaffirmed her commitment to the internationally agreed targets. She pointed to recent strides in the labour, penal and electoral areas in Paraguay. Still, women were subjected to subordination and sexist stereotypes, and only a small percentage were elected and in decision-making posts. Access to health care and gender-based violence, female migration and poverty remained problematic. Despite a reduction in the gender income gap, the gulf had increased for rural, indigenous women. The Government was focused on reducing poverty and increasing economic growth and had launched a process to address gender inequality at all education levels. Currently, it was conducting a study to guarantee women’s access to justice and a life free from violence. Her Ministry had worked to strengthen institutional capacities. Among other advances, her Government had launched the first survey on domestic violence against women, which was a human rights violation and increasing in Paraguay. Various Government entities were working to address trafficking in women and girls. More generally, the Government intended to set up an institutional bureau under three State branches to address women’s issues, but progress could not occur in a violent environment, she declared.
BARDHYLKA KOSPIRI, Deputy Minister of Social Welfare and Youth of Albania, said the adoption of gender equality legislation was a sign of her country’s integration into the European Union. Noting that Albania was the second State to have ratified the so-called Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women, including domestic violence, she said several actions had been taken to improve women’s lives. But to achieve true gender equality, Albania had to see changes in attitudes and institutional and legal frameworks, including economic institutions and decision-making statutes. Across several sectors, the Government was focused on raising awareness, completing the legal framework and enhancing the capacities of professionals. State and local entities, as well as civil society, were engaged in preventing gender-based violence.
JULIA DUNCAN-CASSELL, Minister of Gender and Development of Liberia, said her country had put in place a number of measures in 2006 that had kept it on track towards achieving the Millennium Goals, including in education, health and gender equality. Still, the gaps were large and required building institutions and infrastructure and mobilizing resources. With regard to the post-2015 agenda, she called for gender equality and women’s empowerment to be a stand-alone goal and mainstreamed into the others. She said young people should be at the forefront of development and that the future agenda must include measures addressing, among other things, climate change through improved energy efficiency.
CLOTILDE NIRAGIRA, Minister for National, Solidarity Human Rights and Gender of Burundi, said gender parity in primary education had been achieved and the literacy rate had increased, noting that all development projects included a literacy aspect for young women, allowing them to pursue income-generating activities. Further, Burundi’s quota system had led to the satisfactory participation of women in Parliament — 34.6 per cent in the National Assembly. Yet, there were constraints to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, she said, citing increased gender-based violence and the poverty of women and girls. In sum, Burundi would step up its efforts to achieve women’s economic empowerment and requested international support for that endeavour.
ROSE RWABUHIHI, Minister of State of Rwanda, said gender equality was the cornerstone to national development in her country, which had made considerable progress on the Millennium Goals. Gains had been made in education, promoting women’s empowerment and health, in addition to positive results from innovative initiatives to fight poverty, including a one-cow-per-family programme. In shaping a future agenda, gender equality and women’s empowerment must be a stand-alone goal and mainstreamed into all others. Calling on States to guard against politicizing development assistance, the speaker said it was imperative that the post-2015 agenda included peace and security and defined concrete measures to end the scourge of war.
MAKHABBAT BEKBOSYNOVA, Chair of the National Commission on Women and Family Demographic Policy of Kazakhstan, said women were a powerful force for entrepreneurship in her country. Kazakhstan’s gender policy was being carried out in line with its gender strategy, which was based on the Millennium Goals, the Women’s Convention, and the Beijing Platform for Action. There were laws on equal rights for men and women and on preventing domestic violence. One of every three loans made in 2013 was to a rural woman. Women accounted for 52 per cent in small- and medium-sized businesses and 66 per cent of single-person businesses, contributing 40 per cent to the gross domestic product (GDP). In addition, every fifth member of the Government was a woman.
MARY CLARA MAKUNGWA, Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare of Malawi, said that while primary education was free, 53 per cent of girls dropped out of school. The ratio of illiterate women to men had improved by 2008, however, but 75 per cent of women could still not read or write in English. Citing gains, she said Malawi was among the eight countries in the world with a female President, the first in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and the first female Chair of that group. Maternal mortality had fallen, owing in part to the engagement of traditional leaders in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS. The highest mortality rate was among young women aged 15 to 24, due in part to early marriages and unsafe abortions.
GENEVIEVE INAGOSI-BULO I. KASSONGO, Minister of Gender, Family and Children of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said least 62 per cent of women lived below the poverty line in her country. While it had decreased from 71.3 per cent in 2005 to 63.4 per cent in 2012, work remained to achieve the 40 per cent target by 2015. To reduce women’s poverty, she urged support for microcredit programmes, which had been put in place by various national organizations. The Government was determined to give women their rightful place in the country’s development. The President had nominated a personal representative to follow the issue of sexual violence and had announced the reservation of electoral seats for women. The Government also had charged Parliament with revising the Family Code to eliminate discrimination against women.
MARIA FILOMENA DELGADO, Minister of Family and the Promotion of Women of Angola, associating herself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the African Group and the Southern African Development Community, said that many Angolan households were headed by women and agricultural production was a priority. Angola had instituted outreach programmes aimed at rural women and had redefined policies to support them, which was deemed critical to the country’s development. The promotion of gender equality in education had made remarkable progress and there was increasing awareness in families about the need to provide equal educational opportunities for boys and girls alike. Advocacy and support for victims of violence and their families was a priority, including providing legal protection to women and their access to shelters.
ANNE WAIGURU, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Devolution and Planning, Kenya, reaffirmed the commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment, which were enshrined in the Constitution and national action plan. Kenya was on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, but sought inclusion of a stand-alone goal in the post-2015 agenda and the integration of gender equality and women’s empowerment into all other goals. Kenya had achieved a full primary-school enrolment rate and gender parity. This year, the Government had introduced free maternity services in public hospitals and, since July 2013, there had been a 17 per cent increase nationwide in hospital deliveries. In 2007, women had occupied 9.9 percent of seats in Parliament; today that figure was at 25 per cent. Women occupied 33 per cent of all cabinet ministerial posts, including in areas previously dominated by men, such as defence and agriculture. It had set up funds for women’s and youth’s enterprise, and was aiming to set aside 30 per cent of public funding for the advancement of women, youth and people with disabilities, earmarking $2.4 billion annually for that purpose. African Governments should commit 30 per cent of development financing to achieve women’s empowerment targets, and the United Nations should increase its core resources to UN-Women.
SANABA KABA, Minister for Social Affairs, Advancement of Women and Children, Guinea, said primary education enrolment had increased from 71 in 2008 to 74 per cent in 2012, and there was gender parity in secondary schools. The Government had set up a microcredit fund for women and mobilized women’s non-governmental organizations in a coalition to support implementation of best practices in sexual and reproductive health. The infant mortality rate had fallen steadily since 2005. Infant deaths were due mainly to pulmonary diseases and nutrition, which were preventable. Maternal mortality had fallen and childbirth delivery had become safer. Still, progress was slow in rural areas. The HIV/AIDS prevalence remained at 1.7 per cent in 2012. The Government had set up “anti-AIDS” clubs for women and girls and programmes to prevent mother-to-child transmission and increased anti-retroviral treatment for women and girls. Still, there was insufficient progress in achieving the Millennium targets and little to no progress in setting up robust institutional frameworks and gender-sensitive budgeting.
LORD VAEA, Minister of Internal Affairs of Tonga, said his Government had continued to make progress in promoting women’s rights. In 2013, it passed the Family Protection Act, which guaranteed protection for women and girls against domestic violence. As of the start of this year, 6 of 15 Chief Executive Officers in the Government were women. Women’s economic participation, however, remained slow, and representation of women in parliament was very low. Promoting women’s empowerment was one of the eight outcome objectives of the Tonga Strategic Framework aimed at achieving sustainable development by building strong, inclusive communities and creating sound educational standards, among other measures.
ANNE DÉSIRÉE OULOTO, Minister of Solidarity, Family, Women and Children of Côte d’Ivoire, said that while measures for keeping girls in school had met with some success, completion of schooling was low, especially for girls. Citing gains, she said the technical military school had, for the first time this year, admitted 20 girls. On the health front, her Government provided free childbirth and caesarean services, as well as information on contraceptive use. A women’s skills database had been compiled across sectors. Noting that Parliament had prioritized gender promotion, she said a new law on marriage aimed to ensure equality by advocating household management by both spouses. She urged that gender equality and women’s empowerment be prioritized in the post-2015 agenda.
NESTORINE SANGARE COMPAORE, Minister for the Promotion of Women and Gender of Burkina Faso, said HIV/AIDS incidence had dropped between 2007 and 2010, while anti-retroviral drug use had risen between 2005 and 2011. However, women’s access to resources, gender-based violence and sexist stereotypes had slowed their empowerment. In 2011, the Government had launched a job creation programme for women and, earlier, in 2008, had created a forum for direct exchanges between the President and women. Going forward, it would focus on promoting peace, establishing funding mechanisms to promote women’s entrepreneurship, and ensuring their access to training and decent work.
ESPERANZA GERTRUDIS DAVIES EISO (Equatorial Guinea) said the Constitution had recently been revised to encourage women’s participation in all State institutions. The adoption of the General Law of Education, as well as the project of alphabetization, for young and adult women, contributed to reducing dropout rates among young girls, whose enrolment in primary education had increased from 0.95 per cent to 40 per cent in 2011. At the secondary education level, girls’ enrolment was at 47.4 per cent compared to 52.6 per cent for boys. Aware of the productive capacity of women, the Government had launched the Project of Self Employment of Rural Women. With $4.93 million in State funding, the programme provided technical assistance and microcredit.
MASHAIR MOHAMED AL-AMIN DAWLEIB, Minister of Welfare and Social Security, Sudan, said slow socioeconomic development hindered gender equality and women’s rights, particularly in countries in conflict. Women needed equal opportunities in health, education, culture, technology and environment. This month, Sudan would host the High Council of the Arab Women Organization’s sixth conference on post-2015 development. Sudan had achieved great progress for women and girls, including in reducing maternal mortality and adopting the “for more secure maternity” campaign and providing free maternal health care. Conflict and instability in the country had created gaps in education, she said, stressing the need for a decentralized education policy. Sudanese women were active in the labour market, and the Government had set up bank loans and microcredit programmes for them. It also had established a quota reserving 25 per cent of all parliamentary seats for women.
OPPAH MUCHINGURI, Minster of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Zimbabwe, pointed to Government steps to implement the first Millennium target. Under the land reform and resettlement programme, 20 per cent of land holdings were reserved for women. A harmonized cash-transfer programme benefited 53,233 households, over half of them headed by women. A women’s economic empowerment framework had been set up to ensure women’s participation in key sectors such as mining, agriculture and tourism. A women’s development fund had also been established to promote their empowerment at the grassroots level. By 2012, Zimbabwe’s literacy rate had reached 96 per cent. The Government had created an educational support programme to ensure that girls comprised at least half of the beneficiaries. Zimbabwe’s 2013 Constitution was gender-sensitive and considered to be a women’s document. It contained an expansive bill of rights and gender equality provisions and provided for the creation of a gender commission with an enforcement clause. The Government had started to realign existing laws with the new Constitution. Women now comprised 35 per cent of seats in the Lower House of Parliament and 48 per cent in the Senate. She highlighted significant progress in maternal health care and in reducing the HIV/AIDS infection rate.
LOURDES BANDEIRA, Deputy Minister of Policies for Women of Brazil, reported that her country had significantly advanced efforts at development, while promoting social inclusion. However, despite those efforts, reducing maternal mortality to the agreed levels remained a challenge. There also remained a deep inequality gap between women and men, and in Brazil, women and girls constituted more than 50 per cent of all students receiving formal education, although they were still underrepresented in decision-making posts and earned one third less than men for the same work. As the post-2015 agenda came into focus, Brazil believed there should be a stand-alone goal on gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment, which addressed such issues as violence, resource distribution and equality in decision-making roles.
VASSO KOLLIA, Secretary-General for Gender Equality, Ministry of Interior of Greece, said his country sought to fulfil its international gender equality obligations, noting that policies to promote it were being implemented, as was awareness-raising about the legal framework for those issues. A monitoring mechanism to improve the legal framework was under way, and the Government promoted gender mainstreaming across all agencies and institutions responsible for policy design. Additionally, there had been policy interventions in such areas as equal access to the labour market. Gender equality was part of the economic, cultural and social policies to help Greece emerge from the debt crisis. Combating violence against women was a high priority, he said, citing measures to combat human trafficking.
BAASANJAV OTGONJARGAL, State Secretary, Ministry of Population Development and Social Protection of Mongolia, said her country was committed to achieving the Goals by 2015. Targets to reduce child mortality and limit the spread of HIV/AIDS had been achieved. Maternal mortality had dropped between 2003 and 2013, making it six times lower today than in 1993. Also, gender equality and women’s participation in decision-making had been prioritized. She reiterated Mongolia’s commitment to eliminate and prevent violence against women and girls, stressing that the President was determined to end such abuse, including domestic violence. The Government also was committed to implementing the International Conference on Population Development action programme.
BAHIYA ALJISHI, Second Deputy Chair of the Shura Council and Member of the Supreme Council for Women of Bahrain, said a high council had been established to work with official institutions and civil society on women’s affairs. The first women’s strategy also had been devised. Further, scientific mechanisms had been set up to track indicators on women’s development through 2022, along with 18 standing committees for gender equality. The Government encouraged private and public institutions to work on women’s issues, and the national policy had been reviewed to ensure it was in line with international instruments. A law had been adopted to criminalize violence against women, and internationally, Bahrain had increased its number of female civil servants.
MOLLY HELKENA, Under-Secretary-General of Internal Affairs, Marshall Islands, noted vital progress on the islands in achieving the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls. A programme had been created to increase and improve post-natal and pre-natal care, but an adequate level of skilled practitioners in hospitals was still lacking. Gender parity had been achieved in education, but it must be ensured that the risk of high dropout rates and teen pregnancy did not jeopardize that. Women increasingly entered senior Government posts; three of the island’s nine Government permanent secretaries were women. They also were represented on governing boards, but there was still only one woman in the legislature. To ensure gender equality in leadership, women must be well-represented at all Government levels. Violence against women hindered progress towards women’s empowerment. She stressed the need to protect women and girls with disabilities. In the last two years, the Government had enacted a domestic violence prevention and protection act; a grant from a United Nations trust fund would help support its implementation. She expected the Government’s initial report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women would be completed shortly, with help from UN-Women. It was essential to acknowledge the impact of the nuclear testing programme carried by the United States in the Marshall Islands. Women bore the brunt of community displacement from the recent flooding, she said, adding that climate change threatened sustainable development.
SYLVIE DURRER, General Secretary of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, said despite progress, gender segregation in educational choice remained high, pay gaps persisted and domestic violence continued, making the state of affairs in the twenty-first century “unacceptable”. Switzerland had stepped up efforts to equalize pay and had signed the Council of Europe’s convention on preventing and combating violence against women. Evidence showed that gender equality was not only a question of human rights, but also had a major impact on economic growth, poverty reduction and political stability. Inequality was a major obstacle to sustainable development and inclusive economic growth. A future framework must build on lessons learned from the Millennium Development Goals, and equality and women’s empowerment must be embedded as both a stand-alone goal and as targets and indicators in others, he said.
ZAFARULLAH KHAN, Secretary, Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights, Pakistan, said a series of natural disasters, the global financial crisis, and the devolution of powers to provinces in 2010 had thwarted the country’s ability to achieve even progress towards the Millennium targets, including some related to women’s empowerment. Pakistan was on track for poverty reduction, thanks to an unconditional cash transfer scheme. However, there was a significant gender gap in literacy; literary for women was just 47 per cent, versus 70 per cent for men. There were also gender disparities in primary and secondary education, owing to a persistent dropout rate for girls. Maternal mortality, however, had fallen from 500 maternal deaths per 100,000 births in 1990 to 276 deaths per 100,000 births in 2007. The average age for women to marry for the first time had increased, from 19.1 years to 19.5 years. The median age for women to have their first child had also increased, to 22.2 years. The Government was using new approaches in programme planning, technology-based monitoring of field staff, partnerships with non-profit organizations and skills training in remote areas to help the country achieve the Development Goals. Several landmark laws had been adopted in recent years to prevent violence against women and protect their socioeconomic rights, and ban honour killings and acid crimes, as well as harassment in the workplace. The Government had also set up a fund to assist women in distress.
INES STILLING, Head of Division for Gender Equality and Women’s Affairs of the Federal Ministry for Education and Women’s Affairs of Austria, said the fact that progress for women and girls had been slow across all Millennium Goals called for a new approach. The current goals, targets and indicators had proven inadequate for empowering women. Strengthening women’s role was vital for poverty reduction, economic growth and social development, which was why her Government had made gender equality a cross-cutting issue in its three-year programme. Calling for a stand-alone goal on gender equality, she said the post-2015 agenda must address women’s access to resources, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and participation in decision-making. In sum, gender-responsive budgeting should be institutionalized across all sectors of public spending to link gender objectives, indicators and relevant budget allocations.
YVONNE TOWIKROMO, Interim Manager of the National Bureau on Gender Policy of Suriname, said women, more than ever, had equal access to education. At the secondary and tertiary levels, significantly more women than men were enrolled in and completed their education. In the last four years, Suriname had improved maternal health and reduced maternal mortality. Child mortality was also on a downward trend. The National Bureau for Gender Policy had drafted a gender plan in 2013, which outlined five priorities: education and training; employment and poverty alleviation; combating violence; health; and decision-making. Inequalities persisted, however, especially in rural areas, where women and girls had limited access to public services, such as health care and education.
In the afternoon, the Commission held a panel on “Women’s access to productive resources”. Moderated by Mohamed Elbahi (Sudan), Commission Vice Chair, it featured presentations by: Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty; Mariam Gabala Dao, regional manager for West Africa at Oikocredit, a global cooperative and social investor; Victoria Tauli Corpuz, Chairperson of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; and Martha Ruiz Corzo, founder of the Sierra Gorda Ecological Group and first federal director of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve in Queretaro, Mexico.
Ms. Sepúlveda Carmona focused her presentation on mobilizing progress in women’s access to land and productive resources through a human rights-based approach, noting that only 1 per cent of the world’s women owned land. Improving their access to and control over it was vital to ensuring their rights, particularly to an adequate standard of living, food, housing, political participation and decent work, and to boosting their social, economic and political power. That required their equal rights with men in terms of land, property, inheritance, marriage and family laws. Clear consent requirements for land transfer or sale should be enforced, and equal property rights should apply in the event of divorce. Forced eviction, gender-based violence and early marriage must be abolished. All laws should be reviewed and amended as needed to ensure the greatest protection for women’s access to property. But globally that was far from the reality. Ms. Sepulveda said she and several colleagues recently called on the Kenyan Government to repeal provisions of its new Marriage and Property Act, which effectively denied a woman the right to marital property upon divorce or death of her spouse, unless she could prove she had contributed to the property’s acquisition during the marriage.
Laws and legal frameworks protecting women’s rights must be enforced, she said. Women must be able to claim their rights, often against powerful elites in their communities and men in their families, and be supported in challenging discriminatory aspects of formal, religious and customary law. Judicial systems must be made more accessible to women, including by waiving fees and providing legal counsel. Women also must have free, full access to decision-making processes on land and agriculture. Gender-based violence, or the threat of it, often prevented women from asserting their rights to land that was rightfully theirs. Female victims of domestic violence should be able to access judicial redress and legal protection, including the “right to reside” in their marital homes. As early marriage and pregnancy hindered women’s ability to control and use land, sexual and reproductive rights must be upheld. Access to loans, credits, insurance and other financial services was also vital. Most small-holder farmers were women, and social protection must support agricultural livelihoods directly to improve food security. It also must be gender-sensitive and grounded in human rights to ensure it did not unfairly exclude rural women or perpetuate gender stereotypes.
Ms. GABALA DAO addressed the opportunities and challenges of women’s access to finance and credit. While women were the main actors in food security, they often faced limited access to financial systems. Microfinancing provided some assistance, but moving forward towards financial “inclusion” was essential. In turn, Governments and banks must realize that such moves bolstered development.
Illustrating the benefits to women of financial inclusion, she pointed to the so-called “COCOVICO” project in Côte d’Ivoire, through which a cooperative of 200 women vendors had benefited from a long-term $1.5 million Oikocredit loan to build and operate a market building. The project included health, child care and literacy centres and had already created jobs, educated women and provided livelihoods for many.
Ms. CORPUZ discussed indigenous rights and women’s access to natural resources, emphasizing that indigenous peoples had been displaced since colonization and that States had been hesitant to concede that those peoples had territorial rights over their lands. Indigenous women faced a range of challenges, including exclusionary inheritance laws. In her country, the Filipino Government had created an administrative order of agrarian reform, land authorities and an indigenous commission, but few ancestral land claims had been resolved last year. In fact, cases of violence against indigenous women had been reported in connection with such conflicts over land.
Turning to access to natural resources, there was a long way to go for women, she said. Even in countries with the relevant laws in place, enforcement was weak, and the global financial and environmental crises only exacerbated that situation. Good practices such as self-help and microcredit programmes for women gave them a better chance at combating extreme poverty. In Kenya, for instance, an innovative project reached women who once supported their families by selling charcoal, but now made and sold beads. She urged UN-Women to compile a compendium of stories that similarly demonstrated the ways in which women were accessing natural resources.
Ms. CORZO highlighted women’s access to productive resources as key to building resilience in rural and urban areas, saying that women must raise their voices to protect the Earth. The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve comprised 638 communities and had crafted a road map for the future of the planet.
Women were running the recycling centre, she said, adding that they shared tasks, started micro-businesses, operated community museums and worked with water basins in the area to provide water and productive lands. Women had shaped the ways in which the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve in Mexico operated. For example, wives of male forest workers could accompany them to receive their salaries to ensure that money was not spent on parties, but on their families and community. She called for increased recognition for the common Mother Earth so as to tap into all possibilities aimed at building hope.
During the interactive segment, more than a dozen delegates, many giving successful examples of projects in their own countries, broached issues ranging from reform laws to sanctions to innovative education initiatives. Speakers from every continent shared good practices and challenges facing women in their countries.
One speaker, from Malaysia, described how a micro-financing project was changing the lives of more than 100 women in rural areas and small towns. A speaker from Cameroon said that a project focused on technology training had promoted a network of communication and exchange of ideas, leaving more women wanting to get online. Speakers from Sudan and Iran emphasized that sanctions continued to hamper efforts towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Speakers from Mexico and Costa Rica highlighted challenges ahead in shaping the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.
Several speakers from developing and developed countries brought up the importance of health, education and gender equality in advancing the status of women. A speaker from Solomon Islands asked panellists for some examples of effective projects to address adverse climate change effects.
A speaker from Sweden asked panellists for their views on addressing the matter of unpaid work at the home level as opposed to at the governmental level by encouraging men and boys to take part in unpaid work at home.
Responding to the speaker from Cameroon and her question about wives accompanying their husbands to collect the latter’s salary, Ms. Corzo said both men and women had decided on that arrangement. Turning to a question on climate change and land, she said one of the biggest challenges was the use of pesticides, which was a health matter that must be addressed.
Addressing land access, Ms. Gabala highlighted the trend of “land grabs” and how women often were left on the sidelines. In Ghana, women could acquire land to produce cacao, which worked well. Financial inclusion was an interesting concept, but women must go beyond that to enjoy sustainable medium- and long-term resources.
Responding to a question about agricultural technology, she said women were still using farming techniques from the fifteenth century. States must realize that helping rural women required a working economy and national growth. To a question from Italy’s delegate on the post-2015 agenda, she said the private sector must be involved to undertake activities on a range of social responsibilities geared towards States’ development. “If we really want to move forward, we need to make the private sector responsible,” she said.
On a question of Switzerland’s, she said the mobile telephone was an “instrument of payment”, but did not solve the problem of financial inclusion. Central banks and States must enable access to medium- and long-term credit for women to really make an impact. Concerning loans given without collateral, trust must prevail, she said, pointing to the many microfinancing projects that worked on that premise.
Responding to interventions by several delegates about banking, Ms. Corpuz elaborated on local credit unions that had improved the lives of women in Indonesia and Malaysia. Concerning public and private partnerships, she said the trend was to push for locally controlled renewable clean energy. Smaller companies were willing to enter into agreements with communities, and after a few years, the company would leave a trained community behind, she explained, adding that it was exactly those types of projects that would address the environmental issues raised by Samoa’s delegate.
Answering a question posed asked by the European Union delegate, she said donors should think about innovating the way they gave money to women’s organizations, including indigenous women, in order to make the most effective impact.
Also speaking during the discussion were representatives of Finland, Iraq, Uganda, Indonesia, Philippines, Eritrea, Nigeria, Sweden, Cuba, China, Zambia, Kuwait, Morocco, Botswana, United Republic of Tanzania, and Ecuador.
A delegate for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also spoke.
Representatives of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television and of Public Service International also took part.