As Women’s Commission Opens Session, Speakers Stress Key Role 2030 Agenda Can Play in Placing Equality, Empowerment at Heart of Sustainable Development Efforts

WOM/2067
14 March 2016
Sixtieth Session, 2nd & 3rd Meetings (AM & PM)

As Women’s Commission Opens Session, Speakers Stress Key Role 2030 Agenda Can Play in Placing Equality, Empowerment at Heart of Sustainable Development Efforts

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called upon Governments, businesses and others around the world to step up efforts for gender equality, as he opened the sixtieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women which, over two weeks, will underscore the crucial role of women in implementing and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Speaking to delegates in the General Assembly, Mr. Ban, whose time as Secretary-General is drawing to a close, said that in his many travels, he had been angered to see women excluded from politics — and inspired by “strong heroines” who were making a difference in some of the toughest places in the world to be female.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), urged the international community to be bold in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  For many women and girls at risk, change was not happening fast enough, she said, emphasizing how the Agenda, with its women-specific Goal 5, should be put into effect in tandem with the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

The Chair of the Commission, Antonio de Aguiar Patriota (Brazil), said that the session was well-positioned to adopt strong conclusions.  Now was the time to determine the “how” of the Agenda’s implementation, he said, adding that deliberations would focus on building alliances and taking stock of progress towards eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.

Also speaking at the start of the session, Mogens Lykketoft, President of the General Assembly, described some of the ways that women around the world face discrimination in one form or another, before adding that no woman had ever served as Secretary-General of the United Nations.

When the floor was opened for debate, several ministers and other high-level speakers underscored the progress that had been made, the work that remained to be done and the valuable role that the Agenda would play in putting gender equality and women’s empowerment at the heart of sustainable development efforts.

“A transformation is necessary because the 2030 Agenda has set the bar higher than before”, said Adul Sangsingkeo, Minister for Social Development and Human Security of Thailand, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, while Ummy Mwalimu, Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children of the United Republic of Tanzania, on behalf of the African Group, said women were forced to bear the brunt of climate change, yet they were systematically excluded from decision-making mechanisms.

Dawn Hastings Williams, Minister, Ministry of Communities of Guyana, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community, said significant unemployment and underemployment in her region had led to a high proportion of female-headed households, placing women at a significant disadvantage when it came to greater economic autonomy.

A number of speakers underlined the connection between sexual violence and the global refugee crises, saying that action was needed to support and protect women forced by armed conflict and violent extremist to flee their homes.  Others regretted a lack of quality data to monitor the progress of gender equality and help develop more effective policies.

In the afternoon, delegates participated in round table discussions on enhancing national institutional arrangements for gender equality and women’s empowerment; strengthening normative, legal and policy frameworks for gender equality and women’s empowerment; financing for gender equality and women’s empowerment in the 2030 Agenda; and fostering gender-responsive data design, collection and analysis and building a knowledge base.

Others who made introductory remarks in the morning were Jürg Lauber, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, Yoko Hayashi, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.

Also speaking, at the ministerial level, on behalf of regional groups were representatives of the Netherlands (for the European Union), the Dominican Republic (for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Viet Nam (for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Honduras (for the Central American Integration System), Slovenia (for the Human Security Network) and Nauru (for the Pacific small island developing States).  

Additional statements were made by the Vice-President and Minister of Women’s Affairs of Gambia, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare of Nepal, the Secretary of State of Kazakhstan and the Minister for Children, Education and Gender Equality of Denmark.

The Minister for Social Affairs of the Faroe Islands also spoke.

The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 15 March, to continue its session.

Opening Remarks

ANTONIO DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA (Brazil), Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, said the collective commitment of the international community to achieve results for women and girls required a new sense of urgency.  Adopting a political declaration at the 2015 session, members of the Commission had pledged action in that regard, he said, adding that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development now presented a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals; Goal 5 on achieving gender quality set a number of targets, including eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls, ensuring their leadership and partnership in decision-making and ensuring their access to reproductive health.  The systematic mainstreaming of gender equality into the Agenda was also critical.

The 2016 session was well positioned to adopt strong, agreed conclusions to strengthen the gender responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda, he said.  The international community needed to move from commitment to action, and now was the time to determine the “how” of implementation.  The present session would focus on building alliances and engage in many interactive discussions; among other things, it would also evaluate progress on the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls.  He went on to describe his country’s particular history in the field of women’s rights and gender equality.

MOGENS LYKKETOFT (Denmark), President of the General Assembly, said the 2030 Agenda would point the way to a future in which men and women, boys and girls would have full equality in a sustainable world.  The drive for gender equality had been the business of the Commission long before the Sustainable Development Goals.  Since September 2015, in many aspects, not much had changed.  Women everywhere still faced discrimination in one form or another.  Gender violence had persisted and political systems paid lip service to gender equality.  Human rights were being suppressed.  There had yet to be a female Secretary-General.

What the Agenda had achieved, however, was a change in the narrative about gender equality and the factors that gave rise to inequality, he said.  It went to the heart of the prejudices and the structural causes of gender equality, and would dramatically increase the chances of achieving what had been agreed in Beijing at the Fourth World Conference on Women.  The Commission could be the watchdog that would ensure that full implementation of the Agenda would contribute to the realization of gender equality.  “We have 15 years to make this transformation now.  The needs are great and change is long overdue.  Let’s get to it.”

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, recalling the efforts he had made to promote women in the Organization, called upon Governments, businesses and others to step up for gender equality.  Everywhere he had travelled, he was angered by the political exclusion of women, and it was long past time to end the pandemic of violence against women and girls.  He recalled a number of initiatives that had been undertaken, such as the creation of UN-Women, the Every Woman, Every Child movement, the UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, the HeForShe campaign and the new United Nations Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism.

In the some of the harshest places on Earth for women, strong heroines could be found, he said.  That included communities that practiced female genital mutilation (FGM), where activists believed FGM should stand for “finally girls matter”.  Four countries now had no women in their parliaments, and eight had no women in their cabinets.  He would not name them, but he would check on them daily and continue to push until the world no longer had all-male parliaments or cabinets.  While the world was full of inequalities and injustices for women and girls, nothing rivalled the resolve to create a future of full equality.  “I will always stand with you in the struggle for equality for all women and girls so that we can make the world a better place.”

JÜRG LAUBER, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said the 2030 Agenda recognized that the empowerment of women and girls was critical to achieving sustainable development, and the Paris Agreement on climate change had been yet another achievement in the promotion of gender equality of women’s empowerment.  Adequate financing was needed to turn those and other commitments into action.  To that end, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda promoted gender-responsive budgeting and tracking.  At the core of the Commission’s work lay the review and follow-up of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, as well as the identification of gaps and emerging issues and the recommendation of corrective action.

In addition to defining the key enabling conditions for the gender responsive implementation of the Agenda, the session would provide clear guidance to States on women’s empowerment and gender equality.  The Council’s current theme, “implementing the post-2015 development agenda:  moving from commitments to results”, was closely aligned with the Commission’s work.  The principle of integration would be at the core of implementing the Agenda, and it would require the Council’s subsidiary bodies, including the Commission, to harmonize their work with that of the Council.  The Council had a mandated responsibility to eliminate and prevent all forms of discrimination against women and girls, and more action was needed in that regard.  “The international community needs a strong [Commission] to be an effective platform for norm-setting and engagement between stakeholders”, he concluded.

PHUMZILE MLAMBO-NGCUKA, Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), said the sixtieth session of the Commission was the first since the 2030 Agenda was adopted.  The Commission was the largest and most diverse body working to systematically integrate gender into the implementation of the new Agenda.  That vision was bold, ambitious and transformational; now the international community needed implementation modalities that matched that boldness.  Indeed, for many women and girls at risk, change was not happening fast enough.  For example, at the present rate, it was estimated that it would take 50 years to achieve gender parity in political participation.  To break such trajectories would mean taking steps beyond business as usual.

Recalling that a Youth Forum had met ahead of the present session, she called on the Commission to engage with youth with greater seriousness.  “We need to be closest to those who are most disadvantaged”, she said, which meant providing greater support to and protection of civil society.  The new Agenda enhanced and did not replace the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action; they should be implemented together.  Sustainable Development Goal 5 and its targets were examples of how relevant and universal the Agenda was for those who had been left behind.  It called for an end to harmful practices, the promotion of women’s participation in political life and closing the gender wage gap.  Calling for better disaggregated data on gender, she announced that UN-Women would launch a global database on violence against women later today.  The pace of change was directly correlated to investments made in women and girls; therefore, the international community needed to close the gender funding gap without delay.

VANESSA ANYOTI, youth delegate, relayed a number of recommendations emerging from the recent Youth Forum.  The Commission needed to incorporate the Forum’s findings into its deliberations and States had to concentrate support to young women and girls.  In addition, they should ensure that young women and girls had a voice and the appropriate skills to allow them to access services.  She called for action to end all forms of violence against women and girls — especially female genital mutilation, forced marriage and others — and called on young men and boys to become partners in achieving those goals.  Finally, the Commission should institutionalize the Youth Forum and adequately resource it going forward.  “We stand with you in finding innovative and lasting solutions to achieve gender equality by 2030”, she said.

YOKO HAYASHI, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said significant progress had been made in protecting women’s rights and advancing equal opportunities.  With 189 States parties, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women enjoyed almost universal ratification, and the priority and review themes of the 2016 Commission had been at the heart of the Committee’s work this past year.  She summarized the Committee’s work in such areas as violence against women, the global refugee crises, women’s access to justice, sustainable development and the condition of rural women.

Gender-based violence, together with armed conflict and extremism, was often a push factor in women’s decision to leave their home countries and seek protection abroad, she said.  In that regard, the Committee had urged States parties to respect the principle of non-refoulement, protect women and girls from falling prey to extremists groups and refrain from making comments that exacerbated negative stereotypes and prejudices against asylum-seekers.  It was crucial that implementation of the 2030 Agenda be grounded in a human rights-based approach to development.  Linking that Agenda closely to the Convention could help States meet their human rights obligations and political commitments with regard to women’s rights and gender equality.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, said that violence against women was still universal, widespread, systemic and structural, and despite international and regional norms, a holistic and comprehensive approach to the problem was still lacking.  Throughout her mandate, she would strive to close that gap.  As indicated by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in February, there were now more women and girls who were migrants than men.  They faced significant challenges.  However, such migration, in the context of the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe, had yet to be adequately addressed.

States had the primary responsibility to address violence against women and to set out legislation and policies for women who had survived acts of violence, she said.  A lack of quality data was a barrier to the development of meaningful strategies to address femicide or gender-related killings.  The ability to analyse specific cases would help to improve and develop preventative measures.  Security organs had a key role to play in protecting women against violence and in prosecuting perpetrators, and in that regard the Kigali Declaration of 2010 could serve as a set of good practices for the elaboration of a global code of conduct for police forces.

Statements

ADUL SANGSINGKEO, Minister for Social Development and Human Security of Thailand, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the momentum and political will that culminated in the adoption of many important documents in 2015 must continue unabated.  The 2030 Agenda had deepened and better linked gender equality and the empowerment of women with other goals and targets.  “Women’s empowerment is fundamentally linked to sustainable development”, he said, adding that such development was “simply not possible” when half the world’s population continued to endure discrimination and inequality.  Many countries had made substantial progress.  However, he was concerned that progress for women and girls had been slow and uneven.  Women continued to be vulnerable and lacked social protection and other critical services.  In addition, all forms of violence and discrimination against women must be addressed as serious obstacles to gender equality and sustainable development.

The Commission’s sixtieth session presented a unique opportunity to address all those issues and more by setting a path for the gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda, he went on.  Political will and resources were needed to ensure the participation of women and girls in society, economy and the political arena.  “A transformation is necessary because the 2030 Agenda has set the bar higher than before”, he said.  Against that backdrop, he underlined the paramount importance of enhancing international cooperation and partnerships, including through the fulfilment of commitments on official development assistance (ODA) and capacity-building.

UMMY MWALIMU, Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children of the United Republic of Tanzania, speaking for the African Group, said the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction reaffirmed the importance of working with women who were forced to bear the brunt of climate change and were systematically excluded from decision-making mechanisms.  Their contributions to adaptation and mitigation efforts were a necessity, but their inclusion at all climate change decision-making levels was not enough.  Women must be able to lead at national and local levels.

Climate-related disasters also posed serious threats to development in Africa, she said.  It was of paramount importance to strengthen the continent’s resilience to such concerns by capacity-building and targeting those living in vulnerable situations through the African Solidarity Initiative.  Noting that African countries had a shown strong commitment to the Paris Agreement, she appealed to partners to fulfil their finance and support pledges.  Turning to agriculture, she said women needed access to land, markets and financing.  Applauding the 2030 Agenda’s commitments to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, she said the connections among social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development should be addressed.  Since the 2030 Agenda, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and their implementation were in line with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Union Agenda 2063, the current Commission session would put more emphasis in promoting African women’s empowerment so that no one was left behind.

JET BUSSEMAKER, Minister for Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said 2015 was a milestone for gender equality as it marked the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the fifteenth anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security.  Affirming their centrality in the realization of the 2030 Agenda, she stressed the need to fully implement Sustainable Development Goal 5.  Further, no cultural, traditional religious or other beliefs could justify discriminatory laws against girls and women.  Describing States as primary actors to ensure full equality between men and women, she called upon all countries to sign, ratify and fully implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

National gender equality mechanisms must participate in the national implementation, follow up and monitoring of the 2030 Agenda, she continued, underlining that achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls was necessary for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.  On financing gender equality and women’s empowerment, she said that women’s access to employment and economic empowerment remained a key factor towards ensuring that no-one was left behind.  For the Union, it was also important to strengthen the role of civil society organizations as advocates of gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Finally, she called for strengthening gender responsive data collection, follow-up and review, monitoring and accountability processes.

ALEJANDRINA GERMÁN, Minister for Women of the Dominican Republic, speaking for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said much progress had been made since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, but more needed to be done to reach all the goals and commitments.  For its part, CELAC had launched a working group on the advancement of women, organized regional conferences and was firmly committed to promoting equity, equality and empowerment.  He also welcomed the 2030 Agenda’s stand-alone Goal on gender equality.  Countries in the region prioritized the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals and their implementation would offer the region a strategic opportunity to accelerate the advancement of gender equality.

The Agenda also provided a chance to continue to advance towards the fulfilment of all commitments to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment, he said, pledging to take all necessary measures to ensure those goals were met in accordance with national laws, policies and priorities.  There was a need to promote the participation of women at the highest managerial levels in the private sector.  Strongly supporting the mandate of UN-Women, he said global challenges required coordinated and coherent work at all levels.  The Community advocated for more international dialogue, consensus and cooperation, including regional, North-South and South-South.  There was a need to develop or strengthen strategies to include gender equality and empowerment as a priority in national development plans.  Gender statistics and indicators were important to monitor and follow up on the 2030 Agenda’s implementation, he said, emphasizing the importance of dialogue between data users and producers and the allocation of sufficient resources by States and international cooperation agencies.

DAWN HASTINGS WILLIAMS, Minister, Ministry of Communities of Guyana, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the group had played a vital role in advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls through regional coordination, technical support, drafting of model legislation, research and data collection.  It was also making strides in areas including mainstreaming a gender perspective in policy development and programmes, enhancing education and training opportunities for women and girls, increasing the participation of women in leadership positions and decision-making, reducing infant and maternal mortality and the spread of HIV, and facilitating access to sexual and reproductive health care.  Women’s contribution to the growth and development of the region’s economies was receiving greater attention by Caribbean Governments.

The region faced significant unemployment and under-employment along with acute skills shortages in some key economic sectors, she said.  That reality had resulted in a high proportion of female-headed households, placing women at a significant disadvantage to attain greater economic autonomy.  In addition, lack of access to technology by young people had the potential to widen unemployment and poverty gaps.  She also expressed concern about gender-based violence, noting that CARICOM countries had developed legislation and public policy to protect victims, sanction perpetrators and criminalize various acts of physical, psychological and sexual violence.  The rising prevalence of non-communicable diseases, in addition to high rates of adolescent pregnancy, the fight against HIV and AIDS, and the ongoing changes in population dynamics due to ageing and migration also continued to challenge the region.

PHAM THAI HAI CHUYEN, Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs of Viet Nam, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said gender equality, women’s empowerment and ending violence against women were central to the group’s three pillars.  Eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls was a priority for ASEAN.  Significant progress had been made through concerted policy action, but there was room for improvement.  Regional plans of action adopted by ASEAN leaders at their summit in November 2015 sent a strong signal of the region’s zero-tolerance approach to all forms of violence against women and children.

The same ASEAN summit had also adopted a legally binding convention against trafficking in persons, especially women and girls, she said.  Other Association entities, such as the ASEAN Committee on Women, were advancing the welfare and development of women and children.  The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights was promoting the rights of women, while the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network had truly become a forum for the exchange of knowledge, best practices and information.  The Commission had an important role to promote awareness and review best practices, and it should take a leading role in implementing the 2030 Agenda in a gender-responsive way.

ANA AMINTA MADRID, Minister, National Institute of Women of Honduras, speaking on behalf of the Central American Integration System, said the group was focusing on economic empowerment programmes in coordination with the regional institutional framework.  It had also undertaken a gender-based budgeting model and had held a high-level dialogue on preventing violence against women and girls.  Despite political will and national and regional efforts, inequality remained and must be addressed.  The 2030 Agenda provided new opportunities and should include gender mainstreaming across all the Sustainable Development Goals.  In addition, the international community must restore the meaning of the strategy for gender mainstreaming of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, so that a gender perspective could be included in State legislation and policymaking.

ANJA KOPAČ MRAK, Minister for Labour, Family Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities of Slovenia, speaking on behalf of the Human Security Network, said gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls was an integral part of the 2030 Agenda and was critical for achieving all its goals as well as for strengthening the human security of women and girls.  She stressed the importance of the effective implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action as well as the outcome of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, and reaffirmed the need to accelerate the full implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, among other relevant conferences.

All those instruments touched upon the human security of women and girls, she said, as well as the full realization of their human rights — including their right to enjoy a life free from fear and want and their ability to live in dignity.  It was also crucial to effectively address endemic violence committed against women and girls around the world.  Another major challenge highlighted by the 2030 Agenda was the question of health.  A gender-responsive approach to health must include universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.  More generally, the effective implementation of the Agenda would also depend on stronger democratic institutions, more inclusive participatory governance and greater accountability to deliver substantive change for women and girls.  They must have equal access to quality education, economic resources, political participation, employment opportunities and leadership and participation in decision-making at all levels.

CHARMAINE SCOTTY, Minister for Home Affairs, Education, Youth and Land Management of Nauru, speaking on behalf of the Pacific small island developing States, recognized that gender equality and women’s empowerment had a transformative and multiplier effect on sustainable development, and it was a driver of economic growth.  Reaffirming her commitment to the 2030 Agenda, she stressed that true empowerment of women and girls could not be attained without all Sustainable Development Goals.  Overcoming challenges across broad sectors, from health to education, would exponentially benefit those most vulnerable.

Describing the 2030 Agenda as integrated and irreducible, she underlined that the rapid implementation of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, including those provisions targeting women’s empowerment, was critical.  Gender inequalities could leave women and girls vulnerable to shocks and ongoing crises, she said, adding that the effects were felt in sectors such as food security, biodiversity, water resources and health.  Therefore, she called for the appointment of a special representative on climate and security as a way of ensuring that no one would be left behind.

AJA ISATOU NJIE-SAIDY, Vice-President and Minister of Women’s Affairs of Gambia, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said that without women, the targets and Goals set out in the 2030 Agenda would not be achieved.  It was crucial to step up collective efforts.  Over the years, Gambia had enacted policies and programmes to reduce gender equality and promote women’s empowerment in all areas of development.  The country had ratified a number of international and regional instruments and enshrined equality and non-discrimination in its Constitution.  Women had been rising in the civil service, the number of girls in school had grown significantly and infant mortality had gone down.  Women’s empowerment was key to achieving Gambia’s national vision.

CHANDRA PRAKASH, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare of Nepal, aligning himself with ASEAN and the Group of 77, recalled that his country had promulgated an inclusive and democratic constitution last year.  That document placed gender equality and women’s empowerment at its core, and guaranteed certain gender quotas for the country’s elected officials.  The Government was committed to building an egalitarian society.  Nepal was a party to International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions and to international human rights instruments, and its development plans were focused on addressing poverty, unemployment, injustice, inequality and discrimination through an inclusive and participatory approach.  The country had been implementing gender-responsive budgeting since 2007 and it strongly supported the United Nations HeForShe campaign.  Furthermore, it had put in place a zero-tolerance policy on violence against women and girls.

GULSHARA ABDYKALIKOVA, Secretary of State for the Republic and Chair of the National Commission for Women, Family and Demographic Policy of Kazakhstan, recalled a proposal made by her country’s President during the seventieth session of the General Assembly, whereby each Member State would contribute 1 per cent of their defence budget to the United Nations special fund to finance the Sustainable Development Goals.  Kazakhstan had implemented a number of laws that addressed equal rights and domestic violence.  Twenty-six per cent of its parliamentarians were women, and more than 42 per cent of small- and medium-sized enterprises were headed by women.  Recent years had seen a two-fold decrease in maternal and infant mortality.  An exposition on alternative forms of energy in 2017 in Astana would feature an international forum on women and energy, and all were welcome to attend.

ELLEN TRANE NØRBY, Minister for Children, Education and Gender Equality of Denmark, said the vulnerable situation of female refugees in Europe was a severe challenge.  Action was needed to support them and protect them against violence and discrimination.  Religion and culture could not be used to undermine the human rights of women and girls, and all refugees needed basic information about gender equality, the rights of women and children, and other fundamental rights in Europe.  Sexual and reproductive health and rights were central to increasing women’s opportunities and economic empowerment, but a lack of comprehensive sexuality education, as well as limits on a woman’s ability to control their sexuality and reproductive lives, stood in the way.

EYÐGUNN SAMUELSEN, Minister for Social Affairs of the Faroe Islands, a self-governing community within Denmark, said the link between gender equality and sustainable development was an important issue for the future of her self-governing islands.  Incomes between genders were quite unequal, and a striking level of outmigration of women was also a real concern that posed a great threat to the islands’ welfare system.

In the afternoon, the Commission held four ministerial round tables on the overarching theme “women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development”.

Round Table A

Yoji Muto, State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, opened the first afternoon round table, “enhancing national institutional arrangements for gender equality and women’s empowerment”.  In his remarks, he told participants that ensuring women were successful in all parts of life was regarded as a high priority in Japan.  The country’s ageing population and low birth rate required that women be active in finding solutions.  Women must be empowered to ensure they could reach their objectives within their homes, across societies and in their workplace.

Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Special Envoy for Gender Equality of the African Development Bank, served as moderator for the round table.  She stressed that the discussion should focus on the importance of institutional arrangements that addressed gender concerns, the need for strengthened and enhanced technical and strategic capacity on gender issues and methodologies to ensure that gender mainstreaming was enhanced at all levels and sectors of Government for the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers highlighted specific mechanisms within their national institutions that ensured that issues of gender equality and women’s empowerment were addressed.  Many underlined legal guarantees and institutionalized anti-discrimination approaches that had been put into place to ensure that the equality of women formed the backbone of national policymaking.

Other delegates highlighted achievements their countries had enjoyed with regard to gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Institutional arrangements were key to ensuring gender equality, including legislation, policy measures and funding, many noted.  Speakers highlighted the importance of establishing gender-focused governmental bodies that allowed for the allocation of budgetary resources to women’s issues.  Having a minister responsible for gender equality was another critical component.  The whole of the Government should support gender issues, but having one minister responsible for gender issues was critical.  At least one speaker noted the need for a single national strategy on gender issues, as segmented approaches had led to uneven results in the past.

Many discussed the steps their national Governments had taken to ensure that gender issues figured prominently in their efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including the establishment of specific governmental bodies tasked with mainstreaming women’s issues.

In her closing remarks, Ms. FRASER-MOLEKETI said that history would judge the international community harshly if in 2030 gender issues were still at the same they were today.  It was imperative that world leaders “walk the talk” to make a real change.  In closing the discussion, Mr. MUTO said that making substantive changes in women’s empowerment and gender equality would require a collective effort and more than just one part of Government.

Speaking during the round table were ministers and other high-ranking officials of Sweden, Republic of Korea, India, Mexico, Poland, Gambia, Russian Federation, Hungary, Jordan, Peru, Czech Republic, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Argentina, Nepal, Estonia, Denmark, Ghana, Dominican Republic, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Côte d’Ivoire, Angola, Cambodia, Zambia, Georgia and Costa Rica.

A representative of the State of Palestine also spoke.

Round Table B

Moderated by David Nabarro, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Climate Change, this afternoon’s second round table addressed the theme “strengthening normative, legal and policy frameworks for gender equality and women’s empowerment”.

Opening the round table, Maria do Carmo Godinho Delgado, Vice-Minister and Secretary of Policies for Women’s Work and Economic Autonomy of Brazil, who chaired the meeting, said her country aimed to increase women’s access to health, education and work, as well as combat violence against women, and promote their autonomy and empowerment.  “We want more,” she said, and there was much to do.  She voiced concern about the various pressures pushing back achievements, which had shown the strength of patriarchal relations.  The 2030 Agenda would never be a reality as long as women continued to be threatened.

Mr. NABARRO said the 2030 Agenda could not be realized unless it was “fully feminized”, noting that discriminatory legal provisions hindered girls from attending school.  Discriminatory legal barriers persisted across sectors, with a World Bank report showing that 155 of 173 countries still had at least one law impeding women’s economic opportunities.  He hoped today’s discussion would highlight examples of frameworks that had created an enabling environment and steps that States could take to ensure gender perspectives were integrated into national sustainable development plans.

When the floor was opened, delegates highlighted national initiatives to ensure that gender-responsive and non-discriminatory laws, policies, planning and budgetary processes were in place.  Nigeria’s delegate said her Government had revised policies to focus on equal participation in all aspects of life, including peace and security.  Chile’s delegate cited a civil union law allowing people of the same sex to marry, and a recent law enhancing women’s participation in Congress.  Samoa’s speaker said recent elections had seen the highest number of candidates of women running for parliament in the country’s history.  On the economic front, Ecuador’s speaker described microloans for women in the agricultural sector and efforts to improve women’s land ownership, while Japan’s delegate noted the importance of promoting women to managerial positions in the private sector.

Others said this year’s Commission must produce a strong outcome, with the European Union’s representative stressing that the task was to define coherence between the Beijing Platform and the 2030 Agenda.  States should also ensure that all regional and international instruments were used to achieve gender equality, she said, citing the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence in that context.  Belgium’s delegate announced that his country had adopted that instrument just today, while Austria’s speaker added that such instruments would be more effective if they included incentives and sanctions.

Others, meanwhile, said legislation was not enough.  States must remove cultural barriers, fight stereotypes and support national structures for gender equality and women’s empowerment, with Niger’s delegate citing a law to address female genital mutilation, as well as a quota system revised to better increase women’s political participation.  “We uphold our laws”, she said, noting that reports were being drafted to ensure that modern, customary and traditional law were applied.  Misinterpretation of the law was a challenge.

Men and boys must also play a role, said Norway’s speaker, as must young people, stressing that in her country, the labour market was still gender-segregated, many minority women did not have paid jobs and violence against women persisted.  On that point, Pakistan’s delegate cited a bill which, for the first time, criminalized all forms of violence against women, including emotional and psychological, and outlined that a female victim of such abuse could not be evicted from her home and instead would be given protection.

Also speaking were ministers and other senior officials from Mozambique, Luxembourg, France, Honduras, Lithuania, Sudan, Slovenia, United Republic of Tanzania, Egypt, Portugal, Colombia, Greece, Burundi, Spain and Turkey.

Round Table C

Moderated by Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of the Ibero-American General Secretariat, this afternoon’s third round table tackled the theme “financing for gender equality and women’s empowerment in the 2030 Agenda”.

Ms. GRYNSPAN opened the session by saying the challenge at hand was the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Investment must flow in a rational way to support women, she said, noting that only 5 per cent of ODA was currently funding women’s projects.  Stressing the need to address the “emerging market of women”, she asked how resources could be enhanced within the context of sustainable development and what measures could be taken to encourage Governments to invest more in women.

Many speakers agreed that there was a need to overcome the present deficit of resources for gender equality programmes.  The allocation of funds to gender equality and women’s empowerment was not an expense but an investment, some stressed, noting that investment in women was among the most cost-effective ways to reduce poverty and achieve development goals.

In that regard, many delegates shared their countries’ experiences with gender-responsive planning and budgeting.  They also described an array of financing strategies, ranging from the establishment of national trust funds for gender issues to the reallocation of taxes and ODA.

A number of speakers stressed the need for national Governments to lead the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.  In that regard, the representative of Guinea said her Government had funded and equipped women’s empowerment centres and centres for the care of victims of gender-based violence. 

Others underscored the need for alternative sources of funding for such programmes, saying that budgets everywhere were shrinking.  In that regard, the representative of Italy said the financial landscape was changing “and not for the better”.  Countries needed to focus on new kinds of partnerships and funding for development, she said, namely philanthropic sources, public-private partnerships and funds raised from combating illicit financial flows.  Similarly, the representative of Tunisia called for reinvigorated partnerships with banks and for lines of credit earmarked specifically for women-run businesses.

The representative of the United Kingdom joined others in spotlighting the related issue of women’s economic empowerment, noting that a new high-level panel on that topic would convene tomorrow.  That event was the first example of how the international community could take forward the Sustainable Development Goals, she said, calling for the panel to lay out an agenda for action.

Also speaking were ministers and other senior officials from Indonesia, Canada, Burkina Faso, Belarus, Ukraine, Paraguay, Kenya, Philippines, Liberia, South Africa, South Sudan, Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, Mali, Iraq, Zimbabwe and Sudan.

Round Table D

Addressing the theme “fostering gender-responsive data design, collection and analysis, and building the knowledge base”, the final round table was moderated by Lisa Grace Bersales, National Statistician, Philippines Statistics Authority.

Ms. BERSALES said robust indicators and quality data would be the backbone of gauging whether the Sustainable Development Goals had been achieved or missed.  The interagency and expert group on the Goals, created under the auspices of the United Nations Statistical Commission, had established 230 robust indicators to monitor the progress in achieving those Goals.  Stressing the need for gender disaggregation in that context, she expressed concern that data collection in such important areas as violence against women and girls was “irregular”.

Speakers raised other key areas where data — especially figures disaggregated by gender — was lacking.  Those included unpaid care work and access to energy, water and sanitation, said the delegate of South Sudan, calling for the creation of an enabling environment for data collection at the national level.

In that regard, other speakers shared the experiences of their national statistical offices, with many urging the better financing of their work.  The representative of Mauritania, for her part, called on her country’s technical and financial partners to support the creation of viable data collection capacity.

A number of delegates stressed that all national policies, in particular in the area of gender, must be grounded in solid, credible data.  “Gender-responsive data is one of the core elements of promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment”, said the representative of Finland.  Indeed, she said, without sex-disaggregated statistical data, it was difficult to take concrete and effective action.

The representative of Uganda agreed.  After learning that 65 per cent of the country’s workforce was female — and that a large percentage of that number worked in the informal sector — the Government had put in place a policy to ensure that women received better access to credit, she said.

Several speakers underscored that data collection in itself was not enough; for statistics to lead to results, information must be collected independently and presented in a user-friendly way.  Indeed, said the representative of Switzerland, such data must be easily understood by a range of stakeholders in order to be useful.

Also participating were ministers and other senior officials from South Sudan, China, Cuba, Mauritania, South Africa, Republic of Congo, Trinidad and Tobago, Switzerland, Uruguay, Uganda, Eritrea, Finland, Canada, Senegal and Egypt.

For information media. Not an official record.