Statement By Ms. Angela E.V. King
Assistant Secretary-General
Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues
and Advancement of Women

Twentieth session of the Committee on

the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

19 January to 5 February 1999

19 January 1999

Madam Chairperson,

Distinguished Experts,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my honour and privilege, on behalf of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, to open the twentieth session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and to welcome you to this session of the Committee.

I wish to extend a special welcome to the new members of the Committee elected at the tenth meeting of States parties to the Convention which took place in February 1998. They are Ms. Feng Cui, Ms. Naela Gabr, Ms. Savitri Goonesekere, Ms Roselyn Hazelle, Ms. Rosario Manalo, Ms. Mavivi Myakayaka-Manzini, Ms. Zelmira M.E. Regazzoli and Ms. Chikako Taya. I congratulate you all on your election and I am confident that the work of the Committee will be greatly enriched by your knowledge and expertise.

I wish to congratulate the four members of the Committee who were re-elected. They are Ms. Charlotte Abaka, Ms. Emna Aouij, Ms. Ivanka Corti and Ms. Carmel Shalev. Your proven knowledge and experience with the Committee will continue to enhance its progress and development. I am sure that members will join with me in congratulating Ms. Emna Aouij who was recently appointed President of the Tunisian Audit Court.

I also wish to congratulate most warmly the new members of the Bureau, Chairperson: Ms. Aida Gonzalez Martinez, Vice-Chairpersons: Ms. Yung-Chung Kim, Ms Ahoua Ouedraogo, and Ms. Hanna Beate Sch÷pp-Schilling, and Rapporteur: Ms. Ayse Feride Acar. I wish to thank most sincerely the outgoing chair, Ms. Salma Khan, for her leadership and achievements over the period of her stewardship and that of the Bureau, Ms. Charlotte Abaka, Ms. Carlotta Bustelo, Ms. Miriam Estrada Castillo, Vice-Chairpersons, and Ms. Aurora Javate de Dios, Rapporteur, for their hard work and dedication. I am sure that the new Bureau, like its predecessor, will continue to advance the goals of the Convention and the influence of the Committee in reaching those goals.

The twentieth session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is taking place at the beginning of the year which marks the twentieth anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It is proposed that this important anniversary be commemorated during the Committee's twenty-first session later this year. At this session, however, the Committee may wish to consider how it would like to mark this event. In this regard, the Committee may wish to recall that 1999 also marks the tenth anniversary of the adoption by the General Assembly of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Although it has been less that six months since the nineteenth session of the Committee closed, this period has been a busy one for the Division with several of its activities contributing to the growing visibility of the Convention and the Committee.

At the request of the eighth meeting of the chairpersons of human rights treaty bodies, the Division prepared a background paper analysing what the various treaty bodies had done and should do, to integrate a gender perspective into their work. The report, which includes recommendations aimed at increasing cooperation between the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and other treaty bodies, was strongly endorsed by the chairpersons at their tenth meeting in September who called upon each of the committees to take full account of the recommendations contained in the report within the framework of their respective mandates.

In collaboration with the World Health Organization, the United Nations Population Fund, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Tunisian Ministry of Women and Family, the Division held an expert group meeting on "Women and Health: Mainstreaming the Gender Perspective into the Health Sector" in Tunis, Tunisia, from 28 September to 2 October 1998. The meeting formed part of the preparations by the Division for the forty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women in March this year, which will take up "Women and Health" identified by the Beijing Platform for Action as one of its critical areas of concern. It was ably chaired by Ms. Charlotte Abaka, and benefited from the attendance of Ms. Emna Aouij. The meeting's findings are also directly related to CEDAW's work on the general recommendation on health which hopefully will be concluded at this session.

In early October 1998, the Division organized a workshop on behalf of the Interagency Committee on Women and Gender Equality on "a rights-based approach to women's advancement and empowerment and gender equality" which was hosted by FAO in Rome. The meeting was co-chaired by myself and Ms. Merete Wilhelmsen, the Chairperson of the OECD/DAC Working Party on Gender Equality. The workshop sought to review and clarify the rights-based approach to gender equality and its implications for policy and operations by bilateral and multilateral entities. An important focus of the workshop was the value of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women as a tool for rights based-programming. The report of the meeting, which includes a background paper prepared by Ms. Savitri Goonesekere, in cooperation with the Division, has been provided to Committee members.

Also in October, the Division, in cooperation with UNICEF, UNIFEM, International Women's Rights Action Watch and Save the Children, organized an expert consultation on violence in families. The consultation was greatly enhanced by the contributions of Ms. Charlotte Abaka, Ms. Ivanka Corti and Ms. Aida Gonzalez who focussed on the role treaty bodies can play in confronting intrafamilial violence. Ms. Savitri Goonesekere also served as a resource person for the consultation. The consultation was followed by a half-day dialogue between members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and where possible joint activities to address this pressing problem were discussed.

Much of the Division's activities during the latter part of 1998 were directed towards the Third Committee of the General Assembly. Most delegations in the Third Committee who took floor on the issue of CEDAW commended the work of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and reported on their compliance with reporting obligations under the Convention. Several delegations welcomed the progress made by the Working Group on the Elaboration of an Optional Protocol. A number of speakers urged States parties to withdraw their reservations to the Convention.

On 9 December 1998, the General Assembly adopted resolution 53/118 on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The resolution urged States that have not ratified or acceded to the Convention to do so as soon as possible and emphasized the importance of full compliance by States parties with their obligations under the Convention. It urged States parties to withdraw or limit any reservations they lodge to the Convention and invited States parties to give due consideration to the statement regarding reservations to the Convention adopted by the Committee at its nineteenth session to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The resolution also commended the Committee in its efforts to contribute to the effective implementation of the Convention and for reducing the backlog of reports, for example, through improved internal methods of work and noted the efforts of the Committee to continue to improve its methods of work. The strengthening of coordination between the Committee and other human rights treaty bodies was also encouraged, as was coordination of activities by human rights treaty bodies to monitor the implementation of human rights instruments for the full enjoyment by women of their human rights. Notably, the resolution invited the Committee to draw up joint general comments with other treaty bodies, within their respective mandates, on the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness of human rights, and invited the persons chairing the human rights treaty bodies, at their annual meetings, to explore ways and means of facilitating these activities. In this regard, members of the Committee will be gratified to learn that the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considered and adopted with minor amendments, the statement prepared by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women at its nineteenth session on the indivisibility of civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights and the centrality of gender awareness to the enjoyment of those rights.

Madam Chairperson,

Distinguished members of the Committee.

I am pleased to report that in December 1998, Djibouti became the 163rd State to ratify or accede to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Although the increase in the number of States parties to the Convention is gratifying, the target of universal ratification of the Convention by the year 2000 set by the Beijing Platform for Action, as Ms. Khan pointed out, remains far from achieved. I share the opinion of most delegations in the Third Committee that this target is realistic, but imaginative strategies and concerted effort will be required to encourage those approximately 20 States which have yet to accept the Convention to ratify or accede to its terms. In my capacity as Special Adviser to the Secretary General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, I am constantly seeking opportunities to raise the issue of universal ratification. In addition, members will be interested to know that at their tenth meeting the chairpersons of human rights treaty bodies recommended that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in cooperation with specialized agencies and United Nations funds and programmes, particularly UNDP, develop a concerted effort and comprehensive action programme to promote universal ratification of the six core human rights treaties.

Madam Chairperson,

Distinguished Members of the Committee,

I would like to congratulate the members of this session's pre-session working group for their hard work and excellent results in preparing questions on the periodic reports of four States parties. In keeping with the Committee's decision at its 18th session, the pre-session working group met with representatives of specialized agencies and other entities of the United Nations system, as well as representatives of national and international NGOs who provided information of a country specific nature. The pre-session also decided to limit the list of issues and questions to no more than fifty for each State party under review so as to provide an opportunity for greater exchange between the Committee and States parties during constructive dialogue. I am confident that States parties will welcome this development, just as they have welcomed the Committee's decision to move to a pattern of work in which the pre-session working group meets at the session prior to which the reports before the pre-session will be considered. In this regard, I wish the pre-session working group for the twenty-first session, which will meet as a third working group during the twentieth session and then for three days following the session, well in its deliberations.

Madam Chairperson,

Distinguished Members of the Committee.

Let me turn now to the matters which are before the Committee at this session.

At its nineteenth session, the Committee decided to consider eight out of a list of ten reports which it had nominated. Four of those States parties nominated by the Committee were unable to present their reports at this session. In consultation with the Chairperson, therefore, the Secretariat invited Kyrgyzstan to present its initial report, thus bringing the total number of States parties before the Committee at this session to seven.

In addition to the very interesting reports that it will consider, the Committee will finalize its general recommendation on article 12, "women and health". Also before the Committee, is a draft of the report called for by the Commission on the Status of Women at its forty-second session providing information on the implementation of the Platform for Action gleaned by the Committee through its review of States parties' reports. This report, which will be presented to the forty-third session of the Commission, will provide crucial information which will assist in the Commission=s preparatory work for the special session of the General Assembly to appraise and assess the progress achieved in the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women and the Beijing Platform for Action which will be held from 5 to 9 June 2000.

The report of the Secretariat on "Ways and means of expediting the work of the Committee" (CEDAW/C/1999/I/4) will be introduced later by Ms. Jane Connors, the Chief of the Women's Rights Unit. Allow me, however, to draw attention to one aspect of this report. The Committee has long been preoccupied with the issue of reservations, and its general recommendations on this question, as well as its statement agreed at the nineteenth session are well known. The Committee will thus be interested to know that Ms. Franšoise Hampson, an expert member of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, has been requested by the Sub-Commission to prepare a working paper on the question of reservations. I have no doubt that the Committee will wish to provide Ms. Hampson with inputs to assist in her preparation of this important working paper.

Madam Chairperson,

Distinguished Members of the Committee,

This anniversary year is an important one for the Committee and we in the Division will be looking for innovative ways to promote its visibility and that of the Convention. With my staff, I am always looking for ways to strengthen our technical and substantive support for the Committee. I welcome comments from members in this regard and look forward to opportunities to discuss this informally with you individually and as a Committee.

I would like to assure you that my staff and I are at your disposal to make this session of the Committee a successful one. I am personally looking forward to being with you during the session on those occasions that I can be available.

Madam Chairperson,

Distinguished experts,

I wish you well in your deliberations and pleasant stay in New York.