‘As Women Thrive, So Will We All,’ Says Secretary-General as Women’s Commission Opens Session, Pointing to ‘Unacceptably Slow’ Progress since Beijing

9 March 2015
WOM/2021

‘As Women Thrive, So Will We All,’ Says Secretary-General as Women’s Commission Opens Session, Pointing to ‘Unacceptably Slow’ Progress since Beijing

Commission on the Status of Women, Fifty-ninth Session
2nd Meeting (AM)

High-Level Meeting Adopts Political Declaration Pledging Government Action

“As women thrive, so will we all,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as he opened the fifty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women today, marking two decades of progress that he warned had been “unacceptably slow” in achieving gender equality since the historic adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995.

“The world will never realize 100 per cent of its goals if 50 per cent of its people cannot realize their full potential,” he told the Commission.  While women bore the burden of conflict, war, discrimination and domestic violence, they were not just victims, but agents of progress.  Empowered women and girls were the best drivers of growth, the best hope for reconciliation and the best buffer against radicalization of youth and the repetition of the cycle of violence, he stressed.

In that connection, the year 2015 would be a vital one for advancing the cause of gender equity, he said, adding that, if the new post-2015 sustainable development agenda — slated to be finalized later this year — was to be truly transformative, women must be at its centre.

Those issues were also at the core of a Political Declaration adopted by the Commission this morning, by which Ministers and other Government representatives similarly expressed concern that progress had been slow and uneven and that both existing and emerging challenges stood in the way of achieving gender equality.  Also by the text, the Commission pledged to take further concrete action and to strive for the full realization of gender equality and women’s empowerment by 2030.

“The emerging picture is highly complex,” said Phumzile Mlambo-McGuka, Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Executive Director of UN-Women.  Much worthwhile progress had been achieved, but the successes had not led to deep-rooted and irreversible change.  The Declaration adopted today had taken steps forward, including by welcoming the role of civil society and confirming the expiry date of 2030 for gender inequality.

General Assembly President Sam Kutesa (Uganda) was heartened by progress made in such crucial areas as girls’ education, labour participation and health care.  Yet, high levels of violence against women and girls, lack of access to credit and exclusion from political and decision-making roles remained challenges which must be addressed within the new framework of the post-2015 agenda.

“We are gathered here for action,” said Commission Chair Kanda Vajeabhaya, who was elected by acclamation this morning.  She echoed the need for the post-2015 agenda to deal substantively and directly with gender issues, pledging that the current session would seek ways of strengthening gender equality through the next development agenda.  It was also crucial that the Commission itself was “further energized” in its role of championing gender equality, she added.

In her keynote address, Patricia B. Licuanan, Minister for Higher Education of the Philippines, expressed hope that the “hard-nosed” review of the Beijing outcomes — celebrating gains, recognizing gaps, identifying new and emerging issues, re-affirming the commitment to the Platform and seeking innovative strategies for implantation — would “revitalize” the spirit of Beijing.  At the same time, she noted that a number of issues that had been contentious in 1995, such as reproductive and sexual health, remained contentious today.

Also making introductory remarks, Lydia Alpizar, Executive Director of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, stressed that exclusion, gender biases and policy flaws all must be addressed to end structural discrimination against women and girls.  Extremism, climate change, economic preponderance of transnational corporations, and the criminalization of dissent posed new and dangerous threats to women, she warned.

When the floor opened for debate, scores of Ministers and other high-level speakers pointed to this moment — a nexus between the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, the culmination of the Millennium Development Goals and the birth of the new sustainable development goals — as a unique opportunity to position gender equality and women’s empowerment in the new agenda.

More specifically, speakers heralded the proposed establishment of a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, while stressing the need for stringent gender indicators across all of the 17 proposed goals.

“No country has fully achieved gender equality, but each one has useful experiences to share,” said Marite Seile, Minister for Education of Latvia, who spoke on behalf of the European Union.  The world had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to place human rights and the empowerment of women and girls on a global level and to deliver tangible results, she said, adding that the new development agenda must “steel” a collective determination to end extreme poverty in one generation, and it must be people-centred, based on human rights and combat discrimination.

Susan Shabangu, Minister for Women of South Africa, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, agreed that a more holistic approach was needed to address poverty, unemployment, lack of socioeconomic opportunities, gender-based violence and marginalization.  An enabling international environment and genuine global cooperation would help developing countries realize their goals and targets, she said.

Still, others drew attention to targeted attacks on women and girls, including those attempting to receive an education. In that connection, Zainab Maina, Minister for Women’s Affairs of Nigeria, referred to the terrorist abduction of the Chibok Girls in her country, which remained a sad and unresolved incident.  The Government continued to place a premium on the girls’ recovery and on the well-being of the affected families and communities, she said.

Also making introductory remarks were Pascale Boistard (France), Security Council President; Oh Joon, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council; Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Song Xuiyan, Vice-Chair of the National Working Committee on Children and Women under the State Council of China, speaking on behalf of the host country of the fourth World Conference on Women; and Yoko Hayashi, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Alaa Murabit, a representative of the Voice of Libyan Women and member of the UN-Women Global Civil Society Advisory Committee.

Statements in the debate that followed were made by the Vice-Presidents of Iran, Guatemala, Gambia and Zambia.

Also speaking, including at the ministerial level, on behalf of regional groups were representatives of Sudan (on behalf of the African Group); Ecuador (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States); Guyana (on behalf of the Caribbean Community); Tonga (on behalf of the 12-member Pacific Small Island Development States); Malawi (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community); Brazil (on behalf of Common Market of the South); Guatemala (on behalf of the Central American Integration System); and Brunei Darussalam (on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations).

Additional statements were made by representatives of Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Bahrain, Sweden, South Africa, Liechtenstein, Philippines, China, Germany, Denmark, Azerbaijan, Luxembourg, Grenada, Niger, France, Malta, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Bahamas, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Samoa, Cambodia, Fiji, Viet Nam, Mozambique, Ghana, Ethiopia, Republic of Korea, Ecuador, Indonesia, Algeria, Jamaica, Honduras, Angola, Chile, Morocco, Bolivia and Tonga.

The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 10 March, to continue its session.

Opening Remarks

KANDA VAJRABHAYA, Commission Chair, said that today’s high-level participation was testimony to the global commitment to women’s empowerment and gender equity.  “We were gathered here for action,” she said, noting that the present session would be devoted to the review and appraisal of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.  The session would identify remaining obstacles and new challenges, and look at ways of strengthening gender equality through the post-2015 development agenda.

Beijing+20 reviews had taken place around the world and at the regional level.  Today’s dialogue was a chance to address the issues at the ministerial level and to reiterate political will for women’s rights.  Deliberations must focus on the way forward.  Certain questions needed to be answered, including ways to eliminate gender-based discrimination and violence, and ways to empower women and girls everywhere.  The discussion must provide practical and clear answers to those questions.  It was also crucial to ensure that the Commission was “further energized” in its role of championing gender equality.  “We need to ensure that women and girls are drivers, actors and beneficiaries of gender empowerment, and that not one of them is left behind,” she said, calling on all stakeholders to step up their efforts to those ends.

United Nations Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON said that, as the world marked the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, 2015 was a vital one for advancing the cause of gender equity.  If the new development agenda was to be truly transformative, women must be at its centre.  “As women thrive, so will we all.  If girls are held back, the whole world feels the pain,” he said.  Women continued to suffer disproportionately from the economic crisis, from the impacts of climate change, from the displacement caused by conflict, persecution and other challenges.  Extremist groups continued to “viciously and systematically attack girls and women”, he said, adding that the international community should translate its outrage into aid, services, support and justice.

“Women bear the burden.  Women pay the price.  But, women are not just victims; they are agents of progress,” he went on.  Empowered women and girls were the best drivers of growth, the best hope for reconciliation and the best buffer against radicalization of youth and the repetition of the cycle of violence.  There had been important advances since the Beijing Conference; however, “progress remains unacceptably slow, and our gains are not irreversible”.  The international community should pursue the goal of “50-50 by 2030”.  Urging Governments to work closely with women’s groups, particularly the human rights defenders on the front lines, he also urged stakeholders to recognize the crucial role of men in changing mind sets.  “The world will never realize 100 per cent of its goals if 50 per cent of its people cannot realize their full potential,” he said.

SAM KUTESA (Uganda), General Assembly President, said advancing the agenda of gender equality and empowerment remained a vital priority of his tenure.  On 6 March, during a high-level thematic debate, Heads of State and Government affirmed their commitment to accelerating implementation of pledges made at Beijing, as well as in the context of the Millennium Development Goals.  Progress made in such crucial areas as girls’ education, labour participation and health care, had been heartening.  Yet, high levels of violence against women and girls, lack of access to credit and exclusion from political and decision-making roles remained challenges which must be addressed within the new framework of the post-2015 agenda, as that would help to strengthen accountability and address structural deficiencies by harnessing the participation of all segments of society.  Men and boys in particular should work more actively to break down gender stereotypes, as the world joined hands to turn women into equal participants in its affairs.

PASCALE BOISTARD (France), Secretary of State for Women’s Right, speaking as Security Council President, said the convergence of anniversaries of important conferences on women was an opportunity to express a shared sense of urgency on fulfilling the commitments made.  Noting that this was the first time the Security Council President had addressed the Commission, she said, the Council had adopted successive resolutions involving women in peacekeeping, peacebuilding and in addressing other challenges to international peace and security.

The women, peace and security agenda had made advances, she said, adding that, last year, the Council had named the first head of a mission.  How those institutional and normative changes remained the subject of Council field visits.  Millions of women were excluded from decision-making and access to services, and were victims of natural and man-made disasters, as well as of extremists.  Addressing violence against women in conflicts required common endeavours of States and societies.  The United Nations should address the gender disparities within the peacekeeping mechanism and work to end sexual abuse, she said, calling for the appointment of women in mediation and leadership roles.  Change should begin from within each individual and States should commit greater resources and energies to advance the women peace and security agenda.

OH JOON, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said that, as an indispensable member of the Council system, the Commission had contributed to the Council’s work to advance the post-2015 development agenda by integrating different dimensions of gender equality.  With the recent strengthening of the Economic and Social Council, the broader work of its system — including the Women’s Commission — had been aligned.  In 2015, the Council would focus on supporting the transition to the new development framework under the theme, “Managing the transition to the sustainable development goals:  What will it take”.  The High-level Political Forum, convened under the Council’s auspices would also address key aspects of that transition.

“We believe that the Commission on the Status of Women will contribute greatly to the transition by aligning its focus to this year’s [Economic and Social Council] theme and providing substantive input from the perspective of gender equality and women’s empowerment,” he said in that regard.  The Council system working as a unifying platform would be key to setting a transformative and universal post-2015 agenda, and to strengthening linkages between norms and operations.

HELEN CLARK, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that gender equality was a human right, as well as a driver of sustainable development.  The United Nations development system had worked to translate the Beijing Platform for Action into concrete actions, she said.  Among other things, that meant promoting women’s participation in food security, education, sexual and reproductive health and environmental sustainability.  A major step forward had been the creation of UN-Women, she said.

The United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination had urged all Governments to advance development and peace for all women and girls, and to advance their human rights, she said.  The Economic and Social Council’s fifty-ninth session would reflect on achievements made since 1995, as well as on “unfinished business”.  A major goal must be to ensure that women had full access to sexual and reproductive health and to education, enjoyed full participation in public life and were able to make critical choices in their own lives.

LYDIA ALPIZAR, Executive Director of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, said the gathering provided an occasion to celebrate the tireless and relentless of work of all women, irrespective of religion, race or sexual orientation.  It was also important to commemorate those rights pioneers who were no longer alive, as well as those who risked their lives behind the headlines daily.  Political exclusion, gender biases and policy flaws all must be addressed to end structural discrimination.  Extremism, climate change, economic preponderance of transnational corporations, criminalization of dissent posed new and dangerous threats to women.

Achieving the human rights of women and girls needed full reaffirmation of commitments made, as well as appropriate allocation of financial resources, she continued.  “The resources are clearly there.  It is a question of reallocating them towards women.”  Sexual and health rights should not be used as bargaining chips in international negotiations, she said, adding that culture and tradition could not be allowed to provide a cover for discrimination.  A vital prerequisite was the integrated protection of defenders of women rights.

 

ALAA MURABIT, representative of the Voice of Libyan Women and member of the UN-Women Global Civil Society Advisory Committee, said her generation was often called “impatient”.  However, she preferred the term “eager” — eager to transition to decision-making structures that respected all human rights.  The people in Beijing had taught her generation that the only way forward was through persistence and innovation.  Over the past few years, youth had been demanding that their voices be heard, which were amplified by the media in unprecedented way.

The price of admission to the peace table seemed to be a gun, she said, adding that women were working in danger zones every day without weapons, building on the foundations laid by their predecessors whose guidance was constantly required.  The message of empowerment and equality could travel only as far as the voice conveying it could project it.  “Let’s give the next generation something to look forward to,” she said.

Keynote Address

PATRICIA B. LICUANAN, Minister for Higher Education of the Philippines, said that she hoped the “hard-nosed” review of the Beijing outcomes — celebrating gains, recognizing gaps, identifying new and emerging issues, re-affirming the commitment to the Platform and seeking innovative strategies for implantation — would strengthen the spirit of Beijing.  There, new ground had been broken in such areas as violence against women, elevating the issue from a private domestic concern to the level of public policy and broadening the definition to include acts previously justified in the name of culture and tradition.  It had also tackled, among other issues, women’s unremunerated work, their sexual rights, the rights of the girl child.  A special feature of the Beijing Conference had been its highly participatory nature, she added.

While some things had changed, some had not, she said, noting that contentious issues, such as reproductive health and rights were, remained contentious.  Possibly the most emotional of the debates at Beijing had been that on sexual orientation, and today, sexual orientation and gender identity remained highly controversial with little possibility of achieving consensus.  De jure equality in law was a necessary but not a sufficient condition for de facto equality.  Most countries had removed discriminatory laws, but changing laws was easier than changing attitudes and behaviour.  Gender mainstreaming could only be effective when accompanied by strong gender equality and women’s empowerment entities.  Good gender disaggregated data was a powerful tool.  In addition, “allies and friends come in all shapes and sizes, and we need them all,” she said, adding that partnerships were needed to champion the cause of gender equality.

Since Beijing, the world had been confronted by a wide range of crises, including the conservative backlash of Governments and the questioning of the moral authority and effectiveness of the United Nations.  The participation of civil society in United Nations meetings had severely diminished.  Fundamentalism and armed conflict was growing.  “And now we must forge the future,” she said, adding that “we must draw from the wellspring of our accumulated wisdom”.  Also necessary, she said, was to “work on ourselves”.  While commitments had remained strong, there had been moments of discouragement, weariness and even boredom.  The spirit of Beijing must be revitalized, she stressed.

SONG XIUYAN, Vice-Chair of the National Working Committee on Children and Women under the State Council of China, speaking on behalf of the host country of the fourth World Conference on Women, said the Beijing outcomes were the product of candid and extensive decisions and represented a new milestone in the global women’s movement.  Those also had provided a sounder legal footing for women’s rights, participation and development.  Indeed, the Declaration and the Platform remained the most important policy document for women’s equality and empowerment, she said, calling for sustained efforts to address the implementation challenges.  On 26 September, China and UN-Women would co-organize a high-level meeting, for which President Xi Jinping and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would be sending official invitations.  President Xi would address the meeting, which would aim at promoting more sustained action towards attaining the objectives of the Beijing Declaration and Platform.

Next, the Commission adopted a political declaration on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the fourth World Conference on Women (document E/CN.6/2015/L.1), by which it expressed concern that progress had been slow and uneven, that major gaps remained and that obstacles persisted in the implementation of the 12 critical areas of concern of the Platform.  It recognized that 20 years after the fourth World Conference on Women, no country had fully achieved equality and empowerment for women and girls, that significant levels of inequality between women and men and girls and boys persisted globally, and that many women and girls experienced multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, vulnerability and marginalization throughout their lives.

Continuing remarks, PHUMZILE MLABMBO-NCGUKA, Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Executive Director of UN-Women, reporting mainly on the normative aspects of the work of UN-Women, noted the enthusiasm and optimism in Beijing.  The political declaration adopted by the Commission today had taken steps forward, including by welcoming the role of civil society and confirming the expiry date of 2030 for gender inequality.  “The emerging picture is highly complex,” she said, noting that much had been done and much was worthwhile.  But, the successes had not led to deep-rooted and irreversible change.  Legislation had been passed in many countries and constitutions amended in compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, but many of those laws had not been implemented.  Stereotypes had not changed in many places, which subverted the positives those laws could bring.

She said that UN-Women’s latest report showed multiple challenges facing women, such as conflicts and environmental crises, which must be better addressed.  A major goal was to tackle both the easily measured and the more complex changes.  “We will be working within the new transformative development agenda,” she said, adding that substantial change must be achieved within the first five years of that agenda.  “We need urgent action and much stronger political commitment.”  Human rights were interdependent and indivisible, she said, adding that men must be partners politically and in the home, including as parents.  Men and boys were key to dismantling the patriarchy.  That meant, among others, saying “no” to early marriages.  The bold, brave acts of one Head of State or one student leader could have far-reaching effects.  “We must make the economy work for women,” she stressed, adding, “empowering women empowers nations”.

The review, she went on, noted the need to reduce the burden of unpaid work.  No country had achieved gender equality, and temporary measures and quotas had been important in that regard.  “We must significantly increase investment to close the gender funding gap,” she urged.  Despite the increased identification of women’s needs, underinvestment remained a major challenge.  Official development assistance (ODA) should be directed towards supporting women.  She called for appointed representatives to be more accountable to women and girls, and for better data and more effective national gender equality mechanisms.  “Our mantra remains:  women’s rights are human rights,” she said, noting that those rights were still compromised in many countries.  Without human rights, including reproductive rights and access to education, there would be no meaningful equality, she added.

YOKO HAYASHI, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said the Committee had spared no effort in implementing the Declaration and Platform. With 188 States parties, the Convention provided the main legal framework for those mutually reinforcing documents.  In line with the General Assembly resolution last year, the Committee had decided to reduce the reporting burden of States parties.  Discrimination against women in all its manifestations had been a source of concern for the Committee, which also noted progress in mortality rates and participation of women in various fields.

As the international community prepared to adopt the post-2015 development agenda, said the speaker, it was important to note that sustainable development could not be achieved without ensuring gender equality.  Anchoring the new development agenda in the Women’s Convention would go a long way towards affirming that sustainable development was not a matter of choice for States, but one rooted in the universality of human rights.

Statements

SUSAN SHABANGU, Minister for Women of South Africa, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, underscored the need to intensify and accelerate efforts to achieve full and effective implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform.  While progress had been made in several areas, the Group remained deeply concerned that overall advances for women and girls across all the Millennium Development Goals remained slow and uneven.  The Commission’s current session offered a great opportunity to assess the achievements and identify the challenges since the adoption of those Goals to attain substantive equality between women and men, and to contribute to the debate on the new agenda.  Also vital were intensified efforts to address women’s health issues and human trafficking.  A more holistic approach was needed to addressing poverty, unemployment, lack of socioeconomic opportunities, gender-based violence and marginalization.  An enabling international environment and genuine global cooperation would help developing countries realize their goals and targets.

MASHAAIR AHMED ELAMIN ALDAWALAB, Minister for Welfare and Social Security of Sudan, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that the landmark Beijing Platform remained a powerful tool for gender equality and empowerment and was a key to sustainable development, peace, equality and human rights.  It was now time to turn commitments into action.  The Group had made great strides in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, with such initiatives as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), which placed the Millennium Goals at the centre of the continent’s development agenda, and the African Union’s adoption of a gender policy in 2009 and the launch of the African Women’s Decade in 2010 with a special fund to finance thematic projects.

She said that African women were known for their resilience, yet they continued to face constraints, often lacking resources such as access to credit and control of land.  To combat discrimination, the Group’s States had launched efforts to end child marriage and female genital mutilation.  Aware of health issues and welcoming birth spacing and timing, the Group rejected abortion as a family planning method and was concerned by the spread and use of harmful contraceptives.  With the current situation in mind, she said addressing the Platform’s 12 focus areas remained as critical today as it was in 1995.  Going forward, it was imperative to address the persistent financial impediments that hampered States’ efforts for the advancement of women.

MĀRĪTE SEILE, Minister for Education of Latvia, speaking for the European Union, said the world had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to place human rights and the empowerment of women and girls on a global level and to deliver tangible results.  “Business as usual is no longer an option, whether in terms of human dignity, equality or sustainability,” she said.  The new development agenda must “steel” a collective determination to end extreme poverty in one generation, and must be people-centred, based on human rights and combat discrimination.

Highlighting a range of regional achievements since the Beijing Declaration, she said the Union actively supported a stand-alone goal on gender and its inclusion in other goals and targets of the new agenda.  For its part, Union member States had made significant gains in education, employment, research and development cooperation.  Yet, gender gaps remained in all spheres of society, with an average of a 16 per cent pay gap in the Union.  “No country has fully achieved gender equality, but each one has useful experiences to share,” she said, including in combatting violence against women and trafficking.  Committed to addressing existing and emerging issues, including radicalization and terrorism, she said the Union was also developing a robust new plan of action on gender equality and women’s empowerment in development for 2016 to 2020.

CECILIA VACA (Ecuador), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said “this is the most important global forum on gender issues and we need to be ambitious”.  Fully supporting the implementation of the Beijing Platform, she said that women’s status was a matter of growing concern, including the feminization of poverty, the unequal burden of unpaid care work as well as gender-based violence and trafficking.  It was vital to use the current review process to strengthen the mainstreaming of a gender perspective in all sectors and in all areas of development.

The Community, she said, supported several approaches, including legislative and administrative reform and promoting the active participation of women at all levels of government decision-making.  For its part, the Community had set a regional agenda for achieving real equality, placing a priority on achieving the Millennium Development Goals and shaping the new agenda, which should include gender as a stand-alone goal, as well as across all objectives and targets.  Despite global progress since Beijing, goals and commitments had yet to be reached.  The Community pledged to take all necessary measures in that regard.

JENNIFER WEBSTER, Minister for Human Services and Social Security of Guyana, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and associating with the Group of 77 and China and CELAC, said that during the last two decades, the Beijing Declaration and Platform “has been a vehicle for unprecedented global and political mobilization”.  However, critical concerns remained, including domestic abuse and violence.  At the same time, significant progress had been made in the Caribbean region in the social and economic status of women and girls.  For example, a recent plan had been created to reduce the number of adolescent pregnancies by at least 20 per cent between 2014 and 2019.  All Caribbean countries continued to provide universal and equal access to education to boys and girls at the primary and secondary levels.  In addition, women’s contribution to growth and development was receiving greater attention by many Caribbean countries, and higher levels of female participation in the work force had been recorded in the Bahamas, Barbados, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

An area of great concern in the region, she said, was gender-based violence.  Almost all Caribbean countries had developed laws and public policy to protect victims, sanction perpetrators and criminalize acts of physical, psychological and sexual violence.  One Beijing recommendation was for Governments to establish a target reserving 30 per cent of seats in parliament for women.  In that connection, Guyana had passed legislation which stipulated that at least one third of candidates selected by political parties must be women.  The Government of Suriname had initiated a national policy dialogue to raise public awareness around the introduction of a quota system. “There is no doubt that there has been progress in the advancement of women in the Caribbean,” she said.  Nevertheless, challenges remained, many of which were due to inadequate resources, she said, calling for developed countries to fulfil their ODA commitments with increased priority to gender equality and women’s empowerment.

SOSEFO FE'AO VAKATA, Minister for Internal Affairs of Tonga, speaking on behalf of the 12-member Pacific Small Island Development States, expressed the group’s commitment to working with the international community and development partners to invest and support policies in empowering women and girls as equal partners in development.  Aligning with the Pacific Islands Forum and the Group of 77 and China, he said gender equality and women’s empowerment must take centre stage in global, regional and national sustainable development policies, plans and budgeting processes.

He said that major setbacks to progress for many developing countries had resulted from conflicts, financial and economic crises, volatile food and energy prices, unfair trading practices and democratic deficits in global governance, among other things.  Given the isolation and narrow base of countries in his group, climate change posed an existential threat.  Under the post-2015 development agenda, the international community must have a gender perspective for sustainable development, and the special case of small island developing States must be given priority in the allocation of development assistance.

PATRICIA KALIATI, Minister for Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare of Malawi, speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said that, since 1995, the region had witnessed dramatic improvements in the status of women in such areas as politics, peacekeeping, education and health.  To achieve sustainable development and economic growth, the Community had prioritized women’s empowerment.  Member States had also sought to tackle the key underlying factors that contributed to poverty and disenfranchisement among women through regional policy protocols and plans.  Elaborating on specific regional advances, she said the number of States that included gender-related affirmative action provisions in their constitutions had risen to 13 in 2014 from nine in 2009 and women’s representation in government had reached 25 per cent today, up from 17.5 per cent in 1997.

However, challenges remained, she said.  Progress in economic empowerment remained slow and gaps persisted, with women still making up the majority of the poorest and most vulnerable.  As in the rest of the world, women in the region also continued to experience violence fuelled by gender inequality and patriarchal and harmful cultural and traditional norms and attitudes, despite legislative and policy frameworks to the contrary.  Stressing the importance of learning from past experience, she said the Community called for new and innovative strategies, including to integrate gender equality and women’s empowerment across all efforts to accelerate the implementation of the new development agenda.

LINDA GOULART, Vice-Minister for State for Policies for Women of Brazil, speaking on behalf of Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR), and associating with CELAC and the Group of 77 countries and China, reiterated Brazil’s unwavering commitment to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, and underscored that the full and effective implementation of the Beijing Platform was a prerequisite for the achievement of sustainable development.  She welcomed a stand-alone sustainable development goal on that, but at the same time, the MERCOSUR States believed that a gender perspective should be included across all areas of the new agenda.

Many challenges remained since Beijing, and a round of fresh challenges had emerged, she said, noting that the Secretary-General’s report had shown that progress had been “unacceptably slow” with even some regression in some contexts.  The Group held regular meetings of women ministers, and had implemented plans to address several gender-related issues.  Those would allow the Group to continue to deliver on the overall goal of equality and streamlining it across all the sustainable development goals in the region.  Significant progress was already being recorded, especially in eradicating hunger and malnutrition, and in the provision of education.  Women were participating more in the work force.  But, around the world, women remained marginalized and violence against them persisted at alarming levels.  Discriminatory social norms and stereotypes hampered women’s ability to fully exercise their human rights.  Indeed, 20 years had elapsed since Beijing, and no country had yet been able to fully deliver on its goals.

LOURDES XITUMUL, Secretary on Advancement of Women of Guatemala, speaking for the Central American Integration System, said many women around the world suffered from inequality.  The region had recorded significant achievements in the passage of new laws to combat violence against women and in efforts to enhance the inclusion of a gender perspective in ongoing initiatives.  Mechanisms for the advancement of women had also been established in member countries and were now tackling issues including femicide and trafficking.

Nevertheless, she said improvements were needed in implementing the Beijing Platform.  Progress reports had shown persisting gender inequalities, and the region also faced complex challenges that required special focus, including institutionalizing gender equality in areas such as education, as well as combating violence and furthering women’s participation in decision-making processes.  Economic progress had been the weakest link, and in that regard, targeted efforts were needed in creating decent work, to set up capacity-building programmes that served women seeking education and training, and narrowing the salary gap.  Other steps were also needed, including the democratization of access to finance, especially given that the number of female-headed households was rising.  Also vital was access to information and communication technology training, she said.

DATO ABDUL GHAFAR ISMAIL (Brunei Darussalam), speaking on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the group’s commitment to protecting the rights of women and girls was strongly demonstrated in, among other things, high female enrolment numbers, balanced population sex ratio, increase in women’s labour force and political participation and the establishment of national mechanisms for the advancement of the women.  He underscored the important role of the Commission as a platform to promote awareness, as well as to review best practices and lessons learned on the protection and empowerment of women and girls.  With the deadline for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals and adoption of a new set of goals and targets fast approaching, the Association urged the Commission to take a leading role in ensuring the inclusion and centrality of women’s issues.

SHAHINDOKHT MOLAVERDI, Iran’s Vice-President for Women and Family Affairs, said the elevated status of women in Islamic and Quranic scriptures had provided the base for the codification of her country’s laws.  The Government was taking resolute actions towards realizing gender balance in various aspects of life, and more importantly, striking a balance among multiple roles of women to bring about their advancement.  While Iranian women had achieved significant progress in the fields of education and research, science, entrepreneurship, economy and health, the Government was aware of their relatively low rate of participation in political and decision-making positions and was working to improve that.  Politics and power relations, as well as the adoption of unilateral, force-based measures by certain countries served as an obstacle to empowerment.  Complete fulfilment of the Beijing Declaration and Platform required identifying the root causes of the obstacles and adopting strategies that took into account specific cultural, resolutions and historical characteristics of societies.

ROXANA BALDETTI, Vice-President of Guatemala, said progress had been made in her country, but challenges needed to be overcome.  Having committed to promoting women’s rights, the Government had set up two bodies for monitoring and evaluating the progress, addressing issues such as gender-based violence and indigenous communities.  Indicators in areas such as education, health and political participation were used to ensure that the Government was complying with commitments made in Beijing.  Guatemala had also established a women’s cabinet and had created a budget tailored for women rights, she said.

AJA ISATOU NJIE-SAIDY, Vice-President and Minister for Women’s Affairs of Gambia, said women globally had made incredible progress, particularly in Africa.  For its part, Gambia had registered significant improvements, with women occupying positions at all levels of government.  Government efforts included investments in business development, education and health, she said, adding that Gambia had committed to international legal instruments to advance women’s rights.  Despite progress, limited resources and capacity continued to be obstacles to lifting women out of poverty.  Concluding, she said women’s empowerment was the key to achieving future goals, including the African Union’s Vision 2063, the Millennium Development Goals and the Beijing Platform for Action.

INONGE WINA, Vice-President of Zambia, said the Commission’s session was an opportunity for Member States to take stock of progress on the Platform for Action.  For its part, Zambia had upheld internationally agreed tenets of democracy and good governance, and its commitment to advancing gender equality.  Her country had come a long way in further the gender agenda, including the Government’s recognition of the role equality played in socioeconomic development.  Zambia had, among other things, established the Ministry of Gender and Child Development, enacted an anti-gender-based violence act and amended the penal code.  Remaining challenges were hampered mainly due to limited resources, and as such, the international community must make a stronger commitment to ensure progress.

YONGYUTH YUTHAVONG, Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, described his personal experience, saying his grandmother had brought up seven children, with all having access to education.  Improvements over three generations of his family demonstrated that Thailand’s example of prioritizing women’s education could be replicated with success around the world.  Elaborating on an array of national efforts, he said the Government had approved a national bill criminalizing discrimination and had passed various laws addressing women’s rights.  Parental leave, with an emphasis on the father’s role, had also been established, he said.

DAMIRA NIILIEVA, Vice-Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan, said her country had set out on path of democratic change in 2010, having been the only country in the region with a female leader during a difficult point in its history.  Citing domestic efforts, she said the 2012 national strategy to achieve gender equality by 2020 outlined priorities for women in the economy, education, access to justice and political equality.  In line with Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), Kyrgyzstan had prepared a review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.  It also had held a women’s forum.  During constitutional reforms, the principle of equal rights was enshrined into law, notably electoral legislation, which contained gender quotas.  Further, non-governmental organizations had helped the country amend its legislation to combat “bride theft”.

HALA MOHAMED HASAN JABER ALANSARI, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Women of Bahrain, said that the consultative body, reporting to the King, specialized in setting policies and strategies to improve the status of women in the country.  Bahrain had made efforts to fulfil its international commitments in line with the Beijing Declaration and Platform.  Actions taken in that regard included submitting periodic reports to the Women’s Convention Committee according to the assigned deadlines, efforts to combat violence against women, supporting their representation in decision-making positions and participation in the private sector, promoting technical, vocational and industry-oriented education and offering the best medical services free.  Bahrain aimed at bridging the gap between women and men through continued improvement of institutional mechanisms.

ÅSA REGNÉR, Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality of Sweden, said women’s rights must never be violated in the name of culture, tradition, honour or religion.  Efforts to achieve gender equality must tackle the structural drivers of inequality:  unequal power relations, discriminatory laws, social norms and practices.  She voiced deep concern that violence against women and girls persisted in every country, stressing the need for recognition of the crucial responsibility of men and boys in promoting gender equality, human rights and the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls.  Reproductive health and rights were a precondition for gender equality.  “Women and girls have the right to decide and exercise control over their own body,” she said, noting that their right to safe and legal abortion must also be guaranteed.  Sweden was deeply concerned at increasing extremism and conservatism, often with the explicit aim of suppressing women’s and girls’ rights.

SUSAN SHABANGU, Minister for Women in the Presidency of South Africa, associating with the Group of 77 and China, the African Group and SADC, said her country was committed to implementing the Women’s Convention the Beijing Platform for Action and other instruments.  Legal reforms over the last 20 years had led to the production of an unprecedented body of laws to transform society.  Section 9.1 of South Africa’s Constitution prohibited discrimination on grounds of gender, age and other factors.  Local government and municipal structures provided for equal participation of men and women in political life.  One specific act provided for parity of representation among men and women and was explicit in promoting “non-sexism”.  That act addressed gender oppression and structural oppression, as well as ways to create an environment that enabled women to take control of their lives.

AURELIA FRICK, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Liechtenstein, described the Beijing Declaration and Platform as the most comprehensive and actionable document for advancing gender equality, women’s empowerment and their human rights.  Not a single country in the world had truly achieved gender equality and the fight continued.  While men must be on board, women must lead the charge.  Women continue to be underrepresented in leading positions in politics, the civil service, the private sector and academia.  While some managed to break through the glass ceiling, structural change was needed to alter the mind set.  Narrating her personal experience witnessing the growing participation of women in politics in Liechtenstein, she said change could be catalysed by the voices of women who stood up for what was right.  Violence against women was the single most prevalent human rights violation around the globe and its effects went far beyond the immediate physical and mental consequences.  The world must be united in its determination to put an end to that scourge.  The twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration was a cause for celebration, but, more importantly, for action.

PATRICIA LICUANAN, Chairperson of the Commission on Higher Education of the Philippines, said, in 2014, her country had ranked ninth in the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report and was the only one in Asia that had fully closed that gap in education and life expectancy.  The Philippines had also been the first Asian country to have developed a national plan of action on women, peace and security.  Yet, optimism for the future was tempered by persistent challenges, including human trafficking, sexual and reproductive health and rights, poverty and economic empowerment, as well as emerging challenges such as information communications technology-related violence against women, and climate change.  Sustainable and inclusive development could only be realized with a stand-alone goal on gender equality in the post-2015 agenda.

SONG XIUYAN, Minister and Vice-Chairperson of the National Working Committee on Children and Women under the State Council of China, said the current session was an opportunity to promote the development of women’s causes, with the Platform for Action a “blueprint” for progress.  Yet, despite advances, new and old issues were becoming intertwined, including armed conflict, climate change and discrimination, and were together limiting progress for women.  The Beijing targets were still far from being achieved, she continued, calling for action to honour States’ commitments and guarantee women’s equal participation.  She also encouraged a favourable international environment for women’s equality.  For its part, China had continuously viewed men and women as equal and had, among other things, increased investments in promoting women’s economic empowerment, helping more than 10 million gain employment.

MANUELA SCHWESIG, Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth of Germany, associating with the European Union, said that “we live in a world that is falling apart at the seams”.  War, violence, terror, militants and fanatics were seen in pictures daily, but, she said, “we rarely see women and children”.  Yet, they were the first to fall victim to violence and war.  “Women’s rights are being trampled underfoot every day,” she said, adding, “women and girls are being killed, injured, tortured and oppressed by the hour”.  Everyone — woman or man — had the right to freedom, integrity and a dignified life.  No religion in the world justified the abuse of women’s rights.  Nor could there be excuses when violence against women was played down or covered up; offenders must be brought to justice.  Germany stood alongside other countries and organizations in calling for gender equality to be a target in its own right in the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.  “We adopted a political declaration today, but it is not enough to write papers and take decisions,” she said, insisting on the need to “change women’s realities, right across the world”.

MANU SAREEN, Minister for Children, Gender Equality, Integration and Social Affairs of Denmark, said the sustainable development goals would set the course for women’s empowerment for the next 15 years.  As such, they must include a stand-alone goal on gender equality and human rights for women and girls, focused on all their rights, including that to decide over their own bodies, and that to a life free of violence.  That goal also must include the broad mainstreaming of gender equality across other areas.  Women were disproportionately affected by poverty. Investing in them and ensuring their rights, including to reproductive health and services, had a “high positive payoff” across nations.   Men and boys must be agents of change in ending gender-based violence through awareness-raising and changing behaviour.  Access to sexual and reproductive health must feature prominently in a people-centred post-2015 agenda.  “The Beijing Platform for Action is a valid and inspirational today as it was in 1995,” he stressed.

HIJRAN HUSEYNOVA, Chairperson of the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs of Azerbaijan, underlined her country’s strong commitment to the Beijing Platform.  The concept of gender budgeting, for example, had been developed and gender was being considered in the distribution of financial resources.  All legislation, State programmes and projects passed through a gender review, while regional family support centres had strengthened the institutional framework for addressing gender issues by creating a community-based rehabilitation network for women and children.  Gender issues featured prominently in the Azerbaijan 2020 strategy, with special measures for, among other things, preventing gender violence and creating equal labour market opportunities.  Among other efforts, the National Congresses of Women had been important, she said, noting that, in 2011, 2,000 women from around the country had participated in the fourth Congress under the motto “Unity for Development”.

LYDIA MUTSCH, Minister for Equal Opportunities of Luxembourg, associating with the European Union, said her Government last week adopted an equal opportunity plan setting out concrete tasks to promote gender equality.  Such an integrated approach would make progress possible.  However, such efforts should not be limited to Governments, parliaments and activists alone.  Society at large, irrespective of gender, must feel concerned and involved in eliminating those discrepancies.  Last year, the Government adopted a strategy that among other things set out to ensure 40 per cent of women’s representation in key leadership roles.  International cooperation must be stepped up to achieve meaningful gender equality

DELMA THOMAS, Minister for Social Development, Housing and Community Development of Grenada, said the session had the potential more than ever to propel the momentum towards gender equality and women’s empowerment.  After many attempts, Grenada had adopted a gender equality action plan and people had joined in a partnership to protect victims and hold perpetrators accountable.  The Government recognized the need to work directly with women and had started a programme to equip them with technical skills.  For the first time since independence, Grenada had a woman Governor-General.  Women had been gaining numerical strength in parliament and other leadership positions.  However, challenges remained, including capacity constraints common to small island developing States.  Women’s rights were being incorporated as part of constitutional reforms in her country.  More men and women must be brought into the conversation in order to avoid any rollback of gains.

MAKIBI KADIDIATOU DANDOBI, Minister for Population, Advancement of Women and Child Protection of Niger, associating with the Group of 77 and China and the African Group, said the geopolitical situation in her country was marked by cross-border threats linked to terrorism.  Against that backdrop, Niger aimed to reduce gender-based inequalities and had made progress in promoting women’s rights.  For example, the Constitution enshrined the principle of equity into law.  Other measures had been taken to remedy the “previously poor lot of women”.  The Government had increased the amount of money dedicated to strengthening their autonomy, especially through microfinance initiatives, and it had ratified regional and international instruments on women, as well as established a quota for elected and administrative positions within the executive branch of Government.  In terms of health care, the Government had seen encouraging results from an inquiry, which showed that maternal mortality had dropped between 2002 and 2012.

Ms. BOISTARD, Secretary of State for Women’s Rights of France, said the Beijing Platform for Action must be bolstered.  Women’s rights were being taken away, including that to abortion.  Twenty years ago, the Beijing Platform had addressed those issues.  Women’s fundamental rights included their reproductive rights.  France supported legal recognition of the right to abortion, noting that women were being deprived of their freedom, with rape persistently used as a weapon of war, as had been seen Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.  She urged confronting Boko Haram’s dictatorship.  In Syria, women were subjected to violence by Da’esh.  Around the world, they faced physical and sexual violence, femicide, domestic violence and genital mutilation, among other abuses.  That terrible legacy of violence from sexist societies must be eradicated.  Women must be able to fully benefit from universal human rights, she said, adding, “no cultural relativism can be tolerated.”

HELENA DALLI, Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties of Malta, said women continued to struggle with the burden of sexism, racism, xenophobia, among other forms of discrimination.  Malta’s administration had been elected on a feminist agenda, with Parliament in 2014 appointing the second female President.  In the past year, female employment had increased by 3.3 per cent to 51.1 per cent.  Following ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, Malta aimed to develop a national action plan to address such abuse.  While committed to the promotion of sexual and reproductive health, Malta reaffirmed its right to oppose recommendations that could create an obligation on any party to consider abortion as a legitimate form of such health, rights or commodities.  In the post-2015 development framework, “we need to unequivocally demonstrate that the human rights and lives of women and girls matter”, she said.

ALEJANDRA MORA, Minister of Women’s Issues of Costa Rica said progress in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform had been slow.  Some gains had been made in certain areas, but there needed to be a change in mind set.  Women’s political participation must be increased and efforts should be made to end gender-based violence.  The establishment of a 40 per cent minimum quota of women in parliament was important, but there was a need to ensure that the spirit of the target was achieved.  More affirmative action was also needed to ensure greater access to labour markets and inclusion in education.  High quality health-care services should take account of populations in geographically remote areas and those belonging to minority communities.  The world must build upon the Beijing commitments in order to ensure that all women could overcome all obstacles to their advancement.

LOUISE UPTON, Minister for Women of New Zealand, said the country was still very far from the vision set in Beijing.  The international normative framework had supported good progress across many areas, but that progress had been too slow and uneven.  New challenges had emerged, which had compounded existing difficulties experienced by Member States.  Conflicting was, in many instances, limiting and sometimes reversing progress and the violation of the human rights of women and girls remained a too common occurrence.  Addressing gender equality, the empowerment and the human rights of women and girls in the post-2015 development agenda was essential and necessary to achieving other goals such as poverty eradication, reduction of inequalities or inclusive economic growth.  New Zealand’s first-hand experience of empowering women and girls and achieving gender equality was critical to the development of a peaceful, secure and prosperous nation.

MELANIE S. GRIFFIN, Minister for Social Services and Community Development of the Bahamas, associating with the Group of 77 and China, CARICOM and CELAC, said her country had achieved success several critical areas of the Platform for Action.  However, challenges existed in the areas of poverty, violence against women, and power and decision-making.  Cognizant of those facts, the country had introduced the first phase of a conditional cash transfer programme; it was finalizing a task force to end gender-based violence and facilitating workshops and seminars to encourage women’s participation in politics.  Several critical amendments to the Constitution were currently being considered by Parliament to advance gender equality.

TERESA AMARELLE BOUÉ, Member of Council of State of Cuba and Secretary-General of the Cuban Women Federation, associating with CELAC and the Group of 77 and China, said that some clear progress had been made.  However, dreams of equality — “which we, full of optimism, agreed upon in Beijing” — remained aspirations for millions of women around the world.  “Achieving true gender equality must become a reality and Beijing agreements cannot be a dead letter,” she added.  In Cuba, the profound changes in the status of women over the last 50 years were indisputable, she said, citing a number of positive outcomes in education, health and political engagement.  However, despite the beginning of the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States, the financial and commercial blockade imposed by that country remained the main obstacle to the implementation of the Platform for Action in Cuba.  “The blockade is a form of indirect violence negatively impacting in the full enjoyment of Cuban women’s rights,” she said.

ALEJANDRINA GERMÁN MEJÍA, Minister for Women of the Dominican Republic, said that, since 1995, major changes had been brought about on behalf of women in her country.  Those included laws on the share of women participating in elected office, a law against gender-based violence and the strengthening of mechanisms for women’s advancement.  The Beijing Declaration had successfully linked the goal of equality with the development, the achievement of peace for all women and the recognition of the wide diversity of women, as well as with human rights and the principle of non-discrimination.  “The time is ripe for us to appraise what has been achieved and also to see what we can deliver within the post-2015 development agenda,” she said, noting that the present momentum provided a “unique opportunity” to position gender equality, women’s rights and empowerment in the global agenda.

TOLOFUAIVALELEI FALEMOE LEIATAUA, Minister for Women, Community and Social Development of Samoa, shared how his country had “Samoanized” the Beijing Platform to fit the national context.  The challenges faced by small island developing States had not deterred Samoa from adopting a sustainable development framework that harnessed the importance of inclusive development.  The Family Safety Act of 2013 provided protection orders for victims of violence.  In the political arena, a minimum of 10 per cent of seats had been guaranteed for women in the national parliament.  The Labour and Employment Relations Act provided significant protective measures that promoted human rights for women.  The school fee scheme introduced in 2010 to help the Government meet the goal of free education at the primary level had now been extended to include secondary schools.  While celebrating their achievements, Samoans were also determined to address pressing challenges in the areas of climate change, disaster risk reduction, elimination of gender-based violence, high prevalence of non-communicable diseases and unemployment.

ING KANTHA PHAVI, Minister for Women’s Affairs of Cambodia, said that the situation of women in her country had improved over the past 20 years.  Women had benefited from reductions in poverty, strong economic growth and improvements in public services.  Women’s participation in the economy had increased and gender parity in primary school enrolment had been achieved.  Maternal mortality had been more than halved between 2000 and 2014, and women’s engagement in politics had increased.  However, considerable challenges remained.  There were still significant gender inequalities in education, particularly at the upper secondary and university levels, and there were problems in addressing violence against women and girls.  Looking forward to the post-2015 development agenda, Cambodia was committed to accelerating progress to achieve the goals of the Beijing Platform for Action as part of an inclusive and sustainable development.  “A stand-alone goal on gender equality is needed as part of the sustainable development goals,” she added.

ROSY SOFIA AKBAR, Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation of Fiji, associating with the Group of 77 and China and with the Pacific Small Island Developing States, said that her country had achieved progress in implementing the 12 critical areas of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.  It took a two-pronged approach — women in development and a gender and development approach.  Fiji’s first National Gender Policy of 2014 had made strides, including significant Government investment in infrastructure development, which had improved women’s access to services such as health, education, legal aid, financial institutions, markets and utilities.  Rural pregnant women were now encouraged to register for social welfare systems.  The Fijian parliament had 14 per cent women representation and its first female speaker.  However, existential challenges from climate change and related threats were exacerbating the challenges facing women in Fiji.  She stood in solidarity with Ministers from around the world who had called for a stand-alone gender goal within the sustainable development agenda and for “meaningful gender indicators” in every other goal.

PHAM THI HAI CHUYEN, Minister for Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs of Viet Nam, said the development of policies and an enabling institutional environment had been crucial to promote the empowerment of women and bridge the gender gaps in her country during the last 20 years.  The status of Vietnamese women in all aspects, including economic, political and social fields had been improved.  At the regional level, the country had actively participated in promoting gender equality, especially by establishing the ASEAN Women Entrepreneur Network.  However, Viet Nam faced challenges in achieving gender equality.  Social norms that favoured men persisted, and violence against women and girls still happened in many places in different forms.  Those and other problems had hindered the implementation of the Beijing Platform, she said, adding that a lot remained to be done that required strong political commitment and international cooperation.

CIDALIA MANUEL CHAUQUE OLIVEIRA, Minister for Gender, Child and Social Services of Mozambique, said that her country had been identifying its challenges with regard to gender and had set a number of priorities, including increasing participation of women in decision-making and achieving the overall goal of gender equality.  There had been an increase in pre-natal care and the creation of expectant mother houses.  As a result of the Government’s commitment to gender equality, the country had had a female prime minister and women now held a number of other important political positions.  The Constitution established the principle of equality between men and women in all sectors of society.  For example, the Law of the Family recognized the shared responsibility and equality in the home between men and women.  In 2012, the Government had also adopted a programme for women victims of domestic violence.  Other instruments had been created to provide training including in the area of sexual and reproductive health and education.  Mozambique was also committed to combating child marriage, which was still prevalent in the country.

NANA OYE LITHUR, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection of Ghana, said that the present session was “momentous” as it marked the deadline of the Millennium Development Goals, as well as the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.  It also marked 40 years of Ghana’s gender equality machinery.  Ghana had achieved a number of Millennium Development Goal targets, she said, describing strides made in the areas of education, access to information and others.  The Ministry had recently closed down one of the country’s “witch camps”, which had held captive a number of women accused of being witches.  An affirmative action bill was coming to Parliament, and a National Gender Policy would be finalized this year.  In West Africa, the recent Ebola outbreak had hit women especially hard, she said, calling for a gender perspective in the international community’s response to the epidemic.

ZENEBU TADESSE, Minister for Women, Children and Youth Affairs of Ethiopia, said her Government had in the past 20 years proven its commitment to women’s empowerment through legal and policy measures and by designing and implementing programme packages and strategies.  The Constitution had laid the basis for women’s equality and their human and democratic rights, and that notion was reflected in laws policies and strategies.  Government actions in line with those commitments had facilitated the empowerment of women to ensure their rights and play an active role in sustainable development.  Women’s representation in the federal parliament and in regional councils had grown.  Significant progress also had been achieved in health, education, provision of safe drinking water and sanitation.  However, lack of institutional capacity of executive agencies and capacity limitations of women organizations, together with deep rooted traditional practices, posed challenges.

KIM HEEJUNG, Minister for Gender Equality and Family of the Republic of Korea, said her country had made significant progress in recruiting women for jobs.  However, women had faced problems in retaining those jobs during times such as pregnancies and emergencies.  Accordingly, the Government had instituted policy measures to address that challenge.  Similarly, efforts to promote the re-entry of women into the work force had been moving apace.  Women’s representation had been growing in politics and other sectors.  The country, under its first woman president, had moved to bring sexual and domestic violence from the shadows into the domain of public discussion.  On the issue of “comfort women” during the Second World War, the Government had embarked on an education campaign to prevent a recurrence.

ZAINAB MAINA, Minister for Women’s Affairs of Nigeria, associating with the Group of 77 and China and the African Group, agreed with other speakers that 2015 brought together the Millennium Development Goals, the launch of the sustainable development goals, and the expected adoption of a landmark declaration on the post-2015 development agenda.  Describing strides that her country had made in improving the status of women, she said that there were nevertheless many challenges ahead.  Among those, terrorism had become a global phenomenon and Nigeria had witnessed its share, with the abduction of the Chibok Girls — which remained a sad and unresolved incident.  The Government continued to place a premium on the girls’ recovery and on the well-being of the affected families and communities, she said.

Ms. VACA, Minister for Social Development of Ecuador, associating with CELAC and MERCOSUR, said that a good life could not be achieved without gender equality.  Ecuador was working towards strengthening the access of women to justice and political and social rights.  The Government had strengthened women’s access to food, education, housing, public services and political participation.  There were cash transfers and wage parity, including for domestic wages, and shared family responsibility.  The country had also strengthened the right of women to sexual and reproductive health.  The participation of the National Court of Justice and other Government bodies now had historically high numbers of women, and in 2007, the National Plan for the Eradication of Gender Violence had been established.  It was important to provide support to women who lived with disabilities and all forms of discrimination.

YOHANA SUSANA YEMBISE, Minister for Women Empowerment and Child Protection of Indonesia, said the Beijing Declaration and Platform reflected the spirit of the Constitution of her country.  Recounting Indonesia’s progress in providing education and health care for women and ensuring their political participation, she stressed the need to improve strategies to foster gender balance and end violence against women.  Developing institutional mechanisms to enhance legal safeguards and policy frameworks in that direction would require the participation of all stakeholders.  She also urged international organizations to assist in aligning development programmes with national policies.

MOUNIA MESLEM SI AMER, Minister for National Solidarity, Family and the Status of Women of Algeria, said her country had been able to attain progress in many areas relating to women and girls during the past two decades because of early intervention.  The country had plans and policies in place to enhance women’s access to labour markets and promote their political participation.  Algeria’s experience in the field of protection and promotion of women’s rights was a reference point for other countries similarly situated.  A national strategy to combat violence against women focused on physical and psychological rehabilitation, she said, adding that the country was dedicated to fulfilling the commitments made in Beijing.

SANDREA FALCONER, Minister without Portfolio of Jamaica, described a number of strides that her country had made with regard to the rights of women and gender equality.  Those included women and poverty reduction; women and education and training; women and health; combatting violence against women; women and the economy; women in power and decision-making; institutional mechanisms; human rights; women and the media; and women and the environment.  On the latter, Jamaica was increasing access to safe drinking water, safe and reliable fuels and encouraging other healthy environmental practices.  “These efforts will help to alleviate the burdens faced by women,” she said.  Jamaica joined the global community in anticipating a transformative post-2015 development agenda with the sustainable development goals and equal rights for women and girls at its core.

ANA AMINTA MADRID PAZ, Minister for the National Institute of Women of Honduras, said that it was crucial to place women and girls at the crux of the new development agenda, as well as to ensure that allocation of resources was in line with the priorities established.  Her country had instituted cross-sectoral and cross-cutting approaches to reducing inequalities.  Cooperation with regional and subregional entities was equally crucial in achieving dignity, empowerment and inclusion of women in accordance with the Beijing Declaration and Platform and in incorporating them into the post-2015 agenda.

FILOMENA DELGADO, Minister for Family and Promotion of Women of Angola, associating with the African Group and the Group of 77 and China, said her country, since 2009, had been devoting more attention to the attainment of the objectives and goals of the Beijing Action Platform in 12 critical areas.  Progress had been made on the implementation strategies for specific programmes to reduce poverty among the female population, and microcredit and other financial instruments for women had emerged since the 1990s as part of successful strategies for economic empowerment.  Several mechanisms had been created to ensure the rights of the child in its totality.

CLAUDIA PASCUAL, Minister for Women Affairs of Chile, said 2015 was a year for progress to protect women and girls.  Noting Chile’s commitment to ending inequality and to building a world where women were decision makers, she said women’s empowerment and the end of gender inequality by 2030 were critical.  Chile had taken steps towards those goals, including by addressing issues such as rape, violence against women and femicide.  Still, inequality in employment among men and women persisted.  Through a national plan, thousands of women were being trained.  Equal opportunity and equal rights was essential and she hoped the next 20 years would see the inclusion of a gender perspective in all areas.

BASSIMA HAKKAOUI, Minister for Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development of Morocco, said her Government had taken several steps to address women’s rights.  Morocco had implemented and amended laws on a range of rights, including labour, discrimination and gender equality, and the new Constitution contained amendments made in 2012 focusing on juvenile and family justice, and on establishing new protections for women subjected to violence.  A national plan for equality had also been established, including monitoring and oversight mechanisms.  Further, Morocco had embarked on a development path with economic reforms aimed at combating poverty and achieving sustainable development.

VIRGINIA VELASCO CONDORI, Minister for Justice of Bolivia, said her country had worked to fulfil its commitments to various instruments aimed at achieving equality among men and women.  The new development agenda should focus on women, including vis a vis institutional structures.  Women must participate in all areas, she said, adding that access to justice and education was critical.  Indicators in the post-2015 agenda must take into account the relationships that prevented the strengthening of democracy.  The blueprint must also give priority to ending discrimination and addressing unpaid work, gender equality and reproductive rights for women and girls.  Bolivia had aimed to reduce extreme poverty among women, including those from indigenous communities, and to include them in decision-making processes.

SOSEFO FE’AO VAKATA, Minister for Internal Affairs of Tonga, associating with the Pacific Islands Forum and the Group of 77 and China, recognized the support the Forum’s secretariat had given to his country for women’s empowerment and gender equality.  In that context, he announced that his Government had decided it was ready to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, with some reservations, ending a four-year consultative process with all major stakeholders.  The Prime Minister stated that the decision celebrated the “tireless leadership” of the Green Mother, who had led Tonga’s delegation to the fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

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