Introductory Statement by Ms. Angela E.V. King
Assistant Secretary-General, Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women

28 February - 3 March 2000

Madam Chairperson,


Distinguished Delegates,

Representatives of the NGO community and of United Nations agencies,

Colleagues and Friends,

It is an honour and pleasure to welcome you to this session of the Commission on the Status of Women. May I extend a warm welcome to the many distinguished members who came from capitals to attend this session of our Commission. Your presence testifies to the importance that Member States accord to the work of this Commission.

I would like to warmly congratulate you, Madam Chairperson, and the other members of the Bureau of the Commission, on your election. You will be guiding this Commission over the next two years as it carries out the challenging task of laying the foundations for implementation of the decisions made by the Special Session of the General Assembly, Beijing+5. We look forward to your leadership and wisdom, already demonstrated so clearly in your contribution as one of the Vice-Chairs of the Preparatory Committee for Beijing + 5, in setting the context, pace and tone for constructive dialogue at this first session of the Commission of the new century.

I wish to express my deep appreciation to Ms. Patricia Flor, the outgoing Chairperson, and to the other members of her Bureau for their particular contribution to the success of the Commission’s work. In particular, I commend them on the efficient working methods and the quality of the decisions which have had maximum impact on the decisions of other bodies. ECOSOC ‘s agreed conclusions on gender mainstreaming in both 1997 and 1998 were a direct result, as was the richness of the discussion at the high level segment of ECOSOC last year on employment, poverty eradication and women and the growing debate on women’s role in peace building. This pattern should continue with ECOSOC’s coordination segment 2000 which will focus on an in-depth assessment of the follow-up given to gender specific recommendations of other global conferences. Also of importance were the regular intersessional meetings and those instituted with the Bureaux of ECOSOC and of the Commission on Human Rights.

Madam Chairperson,

The forty-fourth session of the Commission is taking place at a critical time in the quest for the advancement of women. The year 2000 marks the fifth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women. It is also the year of the special session of the General Assembly "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace in the twenty-first century", the year of the World Social Summit (Copenhagen + 5) and the Millennium Assembly.

Beginning next week, this Commission acting as the Preparatory Committee for the special session will assess progress and define future actions and priorities. Your deliberations during this short session, the interactive dialogue on emerging trends and your assessment of the progress made since 1995, will be vital inputs to the discussions which start on Friday. These will largely determine the policies and programmes of the world community on gender equality and the full enjoyment of their fundamental rights and freedoms of the women of the world in the coming years.

Tremendous efforts and energy have gone into the preparations on the part of delegations, the Bureau, the secretariats of the UN system and a large number of non-governmental organizations worldwide.

Much has been achieved since Beijing at the international, national, regional, community and grass-roots level. Some of these gains can be directly attributed to the impact of global conferences in Rio (Sustainable Development), Vienna (Human Rights), Cairo (Population and Development), Istanbul (Habitat) and Rome (Food Security) and the profound effect of their integrated follow up.

From your reports to CEDAW, from your responses to the Secretariat’s questionnaire, from delegation statements, from results of regional preparatory meetings, from NGO reports and many other sources, much progress has clearly been made:


Madame Chairperson, the list is long and details appear in the review and appraisal document which will be before the Commission as Preparatory Committee.

Another side of the picture is shown by the same sources and many others. We see that:

The United Nations system of organizations, I am pleased to report, is responding fully to these realities and challenges. A meeting of the ACC Inter-Agency Committee on Women and Gender Equality which I chair as Special Adviser and which concluded its fifth session last Friday bears this out. The Commission has always taken a strong interest in these meetings and I can attest that this was stimulating and energizing with over sixty participating agencies (including the World Meteorological Organization for the first time) and departments and offices of the UN, including the five regional commissions. The discussions on emerging challenges in the context of the preparations for Beijing + 5 were refreshing, reconfirming many of those of delegations and civil society and offering new ones.

High on the agenda was the need to be vigilant to ensure that gains under gender mainstreaming should not be eroded as we see gender units and focal points targeted for elimination or downsizing, to establish mechanisms to ensure accountability and responsibility for promoting gender equality programmes on the part of managers, and to develop indicators to measure progress in mainstreaming.

The meeting decided to have a one-day workshop at its next session to assess progress, and obstacles still remaining on gender mainstreaming. In a very striking report presented by the Task Manager UNFPA on gender focal points seen from the perspective of the focal points and of the managers, concern was expressed about the low number of gender focal points (25.7%) involved in decision-making on a continuous basis. Most are at very junior levels and have few if any staff working with them. Another report presented by UNIFEM which represented the IACWGE on the UN Development Group found that despite some progress in particular countries the review of Resident Coordinator reports for 1998, found that the gender perspective reflected, was disappointingly weak.

Other points of interest to the Commission is one reiterated last year that there continues to be confusion between the goals of gender mainstreaming and of achieving the 50/50 gender balance between women and men on professional posts; the lack of effective measurement tools to assess progress including more concrete guidelines integrating gender perspectives more consistently and forcefully into medium-term planning and programme budgeting.

The Inter-Agency Committee reviewed findings of a workshop hosted by ESCAP on the empowerment of women in the context of human security and proposed a further one with the OECD Development Assistance Committee/Working Party on Gender Equality on themes relating to gender, governance and poverty eradication to be held in Nairobi and co-hosted by UNCHS and UNDP.

The Commission will be pleased to note that the ACC has approved a statement of commitment on gender to be presented to the PrepCom. A joint statement on future actions will also be presented by the IACWGE. The system-wide medium-term plan which Ms. Ertürk, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, will introduce shortly shows a cross- section of the Committee’s integrated and coordinated work.

Madame Chairperson,

One of the most important areas of interest to the Committee was WomenWatch , the joint interagency website, chaired by DAW and run by UNIFEM and DAW with contributions from a growing number of agencies and one Member State, Spain. In light of the need to ensure that women are fully familiar with and use all aspects of the new information and communications technology, WomenWatch, which receives with the DAW website as many as 102,000 hits a month is recognized as an important tool for achieving this competency. The on-line conferences on each of the 12 critical areas bears this out. There were over 10,000 participants from over 120 countries.

This brings me to the critical issue of resources. If gender and the advancement of women programmes of the United Nations and the agencies are to continue into the twenty-first century on a firm footing, can they continue to depend on extrabudgetary funding for a substantive part of the activities such as womenwatch (nearly $400,000 per annum), gender mainstreaming, advocacy, co-ordination work and research, including the 2000 edition of The World’s Women, an all-time UN best seller with 45,000 copies issued in 1995?

The system as a whole is deeply grateful to the generous contributions of donor countries, developing and developed alike, to foundations and to UN agencies themselves. Work on violence against women, the related high-profile campaigns for zero tolerance of violence, women’s role in peace building and much of the monumental task of assessing the extent and effectiveness of mainstreaming in projects, would not be carried out without these contributions. Yet the challenge of continuity and stability remains. I also call your attention, Madame Chairperson to the need to ensure that the work to be undertaken under the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW Convention is solidly funded for optimum effect. You will recall that the second session of the CEDAW Committee has been absorbed without additional resources, but I am convinced that existing resources have been stretched to the physical and intellectual limit.

The Commission has been instrumental in pushing the mainstreaming concept and methodologies. The successive rolling reports on follow-up to Beijing have revealed to you over the last four years the type of progress made.

My focus, as Special Adviser on Gender Issues, for the past year has been to stimulate and support efforts throughout the UN system and the Secretariat in the implementation of agreed conclusions 1997/2. The majority of the agencies now have policies, advisory groups, units or focal points devoted to gender equality in their organizations to prepare guidelines and methodologies. Agencies dealing with intellectual property, telecommunications, maritime affairs, and meteorology have now begun to be fully involved. In the UN, mainstreaming workshops have been held in UNOV, ESCWA and DPKO and plans for DESA, ESCAP and others are underway with the close collaboration of the department concerned, my office and OHRM. Departments are being requested as they prepare the medium-term plan, 2002-2005, to pay special attention to the differential impact of plans on women and men in relation to their anticipated outcomes.

I think that this Commission will feel gratified when you see the reports, films and videos that have been prepared by the system’s organizations for the special session and the extent to which agencies have worked in groups and to present high quality, cutting edge material.

Madame Chairperson,

I have three last points. First on CEDAW. The Chairperson of the Committee, Ambassador Aida Gonzalez Martinez, the Director of DAW, myself and the network of agencies (UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF and UNIFEM, in particular) and the NGO community have through our constant advocacy and the strong interest of States parties has led to 16 new ratifications and accessions to the Convention since the Beijing Conference. Through our joint efforts and technical workshops we hope to bring the current number of States parties—165 - even higher to meet the Platform for Action’s target.. We also urge States parties to ratify the Optional Protocol which 26 countries have so far signed.

But let us take a comprehensive rights-based approach to gender equality and as Dr. Nafis Sadik, Ms. Carol Bellamy, Mrs. Mary Robinson and Mr. Juan Somavia have done, also pursue implementation of the network of treaties affecting women and girls. They may be the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratification of the ILO Conventions on equal pay for equal work, better conditions of work, women migrant workers and their families, or on child labour or child soldiers.

My second point concerns the eradication of gender stereotypes and attitudes. Hidebound and rigid views of women’s and men’s roles are one of the single most potent factors inhibiting the achievement of gender equality.

What we see in a recent study from Yale University is that traditional stereotypes and hidden biases are not unique to the bigoted, but can also be held by people who consider themselves openminded. This finding has just as much implications for women as the growing view that even where women make gains in new areas, emerging stereotypes coalesce to ensure that women remain disadvantaged. I believe that the process has to be overcome through understanding the root of the prejudice and by a positive will on the part of individuals to change attitudes.

The third point concerns progress made towards reaching the target of 50/50 women and men in professional and higher level posts in the Secretariat by 2000.

The report on the improvement of the status of women in the Secretariat (E/CN.6/2000/4) provides an update of statistical information, which the Assembly had considered at its fifty-fourth session (A/54/405). This report is also before the Commission for information.

Very briefly, since 1 January 1999, the percentage of women on appointments of one year or more increased from 35.5 per cent to 36.1 per cent as of 30 November 1999. As of 1 January 2000, the percentage of women stands at 36.8 per cent. In the smaller population of staff on geographical appointments, the percentage of women increased from 37.7 per cent to 38.8 per cent during the past year. Although the overall rate of progress in improving women’s representation remains slow but steady, headway has been made in improving the representation of women at senior and policy-making levels, particularly at the D-1 level where the number of women increased from 68 in December 1998 to 77 in December 1999 (from 26.7 per cent to 28.4 per cent). At the P-5 level, women have reached a critical mass of 30.5 per cent. As of now, 11 of the 189 (5.8%) of the Permanent Representatives to the United Nations are women.

During the coming year, priority will be assigned to the further elaboration and implementation of gender action plans in individual departments and offices. The plans will build upon the objectives for improved gender balance contained in the action plans on human resources management agreed upon jointly by the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management and heads of departments and offices for the period 1999-2001. The gender action plans will include specific targets and strategies for improving gender balance in individual departments and offices within the context of the 50/50 overall goal. In addition to working on this, the Focal Point for Women and I have visited women’s groups and held meetings with interagency gender focal points in eight and six duty stations, respectively. The Focal Point has also dealt with over 150 gender-related complaints of individual staff.

In January 2000, the Secretary-General wrote to each head of department and office to request their cooperation in the design and implementation of these plans as well as their complete support in ensuring that women candidates are identified and given the fullest consideration for upcoming vacancies. The Secretary-General also reviewed the record of each department in selecting women candidates for vacant posts and requested heads of departments and offices to ensure that the performance of managers in improving gender balance was a critical factor in their appraisal.

Madam Chairperson,

The Beijing Conference was a critical milestone in the advancement of women. Since then, Member States, international organizations and civil society have responded to the challenges set in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in many strategic and specific ways, and in many critical areas significant progress has been achieved.

We need swift, bold and uncompromising policies to search for additional and more effective ways of implementing the Platform for Action. In this context, I can see the role of the Commission on the Status of Women in providing authoritative advice to the General Assembly and ECOSOC, guiding national machineries, international organizations and civil society to grow exponentially as we progress towards the achievement of goals set by the Beijing Conference.

I am convinced that, working together in this session of the Commission, with your valuable guidance and all the rich first-hand experiences from capitals, we will be able to make further decisive steps toward these goals. My colleagues from the Division for the Advancement of Women and the Inter-Agency Committee on Women and Gender Equality stand ready to assist you in your work and cooperate with the Commission. I wish you a most productive session and one that will prepare ground for the work of our Preparatory Committee later this week.

Thank you.

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