Commission on the Status of Women

Forty-seventh session 3-14 March 2003


Introductory statement

Angela E.V. King

Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on

Gender Issues and Advancement of Women



Mr. Chairperson,


Distinguished delegates,

Representatives of UN entities and of non-governmental organizations,

Colleagues and friends,



            I join Mr. Desai in extending a very warm welcome to the distinguished members and observers of this Commission gathered here for its 47th session.  I look forward to the substantive discussions that will take place over these next two weeks on issues that are critical for the advancement of women and promotion of gender equality.   I would like to express my special appreciation to the members of the Bureau and its Chairperson for their commitment and hard work over this last year, and for the skill and dedication invested into the preparations for this session.  This Commission has been in very good hands indeed. 


Distinguished participants,


Since we last met, national governments and the international community have intensified their focus on achieving the Millennium Development Goals of the Millennium Declaration of September 2000.  In his agenda for further change to strengthen the UN, the Secretary-General made a number of critical steps to realign UN activities and resources to implement internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and targets.


While Goal 3 is the only goal overtly focusing on gender equality and empowerment of women, we all know the importance and relevance of gender equality for the achievement of all the Millennium Development Goals.  The MDGs are mutually reinforcing.  Progress towards one goal affects progress towards the others.  Gender aspects are essential to the achievement of all goals.  Promotion of gender equality therefore cannot be relegated to Goal 3 only, but must be an integral part of all efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  And we must assess progress towards the gender equality both with regard to Goal 3 itself, and in relation to each of these goals.   


The Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality, which I have the honour of chairing, discussed this important issue last week, and will intensify its collaborative work over the coming year to strengthen the policy as well as the operational responses by linking gender equality with the other goals.  Entities will also continue to work with their own constituencies and stakeholders to strengthen the understanding of how the goals mutually reinforce each other and have to be pursued in an integrated manner.  The theme for International Women’s Day, which we will be celebrating on 7 March, Gender Equality and the Millennium Development Goals, was chosen to create awareness of gender equality in all goals and specifically to highlight that poverty and hunger cannot be eradicated without attention to gender dimensions, and to demonstrate the gender dimensions in relation to the goals of health and education. 


In his report to the Assembly on the Millennium Development Goals last fall, the Secretary-General noted that given current trends, prospects for meeting the MDGs were “decidedly mixed”.  He was especially concerned about achieving the first target, by 2005, of eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education, a goal that is unlikely to be met, as between 1990 and 2000, the gender gap narrowed only by 25 per cent. 


Recent weeks have also put a harsh spotlight on the devastating impact on women and children of the convergence of famine and the HIV/AIDS crisis in Southern Africa.  As HIV/AIDS infection rates of women have climbed to 58 per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa, the disease is eroding the health of Africa’s women as well as the skills, experience and networks that keep their families and communities going.  Even before falling ill, women will often have to care for their sick husbands, which reduces the time they can devote to planting, harvesting and marketing crops.  When husbands die, women are often deprived of credit, distribution networks, or land rights.  On the other hand when women die, households risk complete collapse, and children are left to fend for themselves.  Older girls will stay home from school to work in the home and the farm, and to care for younger siblings.  These girls, deprived of education and vulnerable to violence, will be even less able to protect themselves against AIDS.


The combination of HIV/AIDS and economic deprivation is causing serious human resource and capital depletion in the most affected areas.  In some areas the situation is “beyond capacity building” and requires a new multidisciplinary approach, including capacity replenishment, to address these exacerbating crises.  This approach should put women at the centre of our strategy to fight AIDS. 


All stakeholders need to ensure that action is taken to achieve gender equality as a shared goal of the international community and as a means for development.  The outcomes of the global conferences of this past year, including the Second World Assembly on Ageing, the International Conference on Financing for Development and the World Summit on Sustainable Development, all reinforced this commitment to gender equality, and to gender mainstreaming as a strategy for its achievement.  We must build on these gains and keep careful track of the implementation that will follow so that commitments result in concrete implementation.  The Commission has a catalytic role to play in this task, and national machineries for the advancement of women have a particular responsibility to monitor progress, serve as catalysts and act as expert advisers within Government to ensure that the gender equality goal is an integral part of all governmental action. 


As we near the ten-year review of the Beijing Platform for Action and the Outcome Document of Beijing +5, we need to focus on implementation.  After the Beijing Conference, some 120 countries prepared national action plans, and many countries subsequently prepared progress reports on implementation.  Civil society organizations put in place their own follow-up and monitoring structures.  These plans continue to be an essential benchmark against which progress in implementation can, and must be assessed.  As we move towards the comprehensive review and assessment of the implementation of these instruments which this Commission will undertake as part of its multi-year programme of work in 2005, I encourage all Governments to revisit these plans, critically assess how much progress has been made towards reaching the commitments and goals contained in those plans, and identify gaps and challenges that lie ahead.  It will also be important to enhance national implementation efforts towards the gender equality goal by explicitly linking Beijing follow-up with the MDGs and other conferences. 


Similarly, as Member States at the global level are trying to enhance integrated and coordinated follow-up to international conferences and summits in the economic, social and related fields, it will be critical for us not to lose the distinct character of the various themes, and to ensure that gender equality is maintained both as a goal in itself and a cross-cutting means in the pursuit of other goals.


            Today, in 170 States achievement of gender equality is based on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  The reports prepared by States parties and considered by the Committee reveal many positive aspects, but there is also frank and constructive discussion of challenges and constraints in implementation.  I would like to acknowledge with appreciation the extraordinary scope and volume of work accomplished by the Committee over the last year.  The three sessions of 2002, all of which were conducted with great efficiency, allowed the Committee to consider a total of 49 reports from 26 States parties.  I am also happy to report that 49 States have now ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention, and urge all remaining States parties to do likewise.  I am happy that the Committee’s new Chairperson, Ms. Feride Acar, will be addressing you later this morning. 


            I would also wish to highlight the results of the historic elections for the International Criminal Court, where 7 out of 18 elected judges are women.  Not only does the Statute of the Court provide for a fair representation of women and men as judges, it also establishes jurisdiction to try crimes of sexual violence, such as rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution and forced pregnancy, as crimes against humanity when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed at any civilian population. This is an important step towards ending impunity for crimes committed against women and girls in conflict situations. 


We have also been extremely gratified by Member States’ continuing attention to gender perspectives and the situation of women in peace and security.  I am pleased to inform you that the study mandated by Security Council resolution 1325 on the impact of armed conflict on women and girls and the gender dimensions of peace processes and conflict resolutions, which I had the pleasure of overseeing in collaboration with the Inter-agency Task Force on Women, Peace and Security, has been completed. Based on the study, the Secretary-General presented his report on women, peace and security (S/2002/1154) to the Security Council. In a Presidential Statement of 31 October 2002, Council members reaffirmed their commitment to mainstream gender perspectives in peacekeeping operations and post-conflict reconstruction.  UNIFEM contributed an independent experts’ assessment to our ongoing work on women, peace and security.


Resolution 1325 continues to galvanize many actors. UN entities elaborated specific commitments to women to ensure that women are equal beneficiaries of aid. An action plan has been developed that aims at protecting women and girls from sexual violence and abuse in humanitarian crises; a number of peacekeeping missions have appointed gender advisers to ensure that gender perspectives are an integral part of the implementation of peacekeeping mandates. Security Council members met with women’s organizations during some missions of the Council. Civil society organizations have used the resolution at local, regional and global levels as a training and advocacy tool to strengthen women’s role in early warning and their participation in peace processes.


            All Member States, in different fora and venues, should use the momentum generated by the Security Council to increase attention to gender perspectives in peace and security, for example as peacekeeping mandates are renewed or extended.  Gender advisers or gender focal points must become a standard feature of multi-dimensional peacekeeping operations.  Lessons learned from the Secretary-General’s study and report should now be applied in all situations of conflict and all stages of peace-building, in all parts of the world.  To achieve sustainable peace, Member States must press for women to be legitimate partners in early warning, conflict prevention and peace processes.


The Inter-agency Task Force on Women Peace and Security, is now working to map out further follow-up measures, building on resolution 1325, the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s report and those contained in the Presidential Statement of October 2002.  We are committed to a long-term and sustained effort to implement the Council’s guidance for the benefit of women everywhere. 


The need for a long-term commitment to women’s advancement and empowerment is starkly evident in Afghanistan.  The report (E/CN.6/2003/4) before you summarizes recent developments, and underlines that the security situation remains of grave concern.  Overall progress towards development in the country has been slow, as have financial contributions.  These realities have also limited the scope of operations and of activities targeted to the advancement of women. Afghanistan continues to have one of the highest if not the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.  Although UNICEF indicates that about 400,000 girls are now enrolled, girls’ schools have been attacked and threats to women’s basic human rights and freedoms continue to be reported. Fears have been voiced about a deterioration of the situation of women in some parts of the country.  I am especially concerned that a Senior Gender Adviser has still not been appointed to enhance the Mission’s responsiveness to Afghan women.  I also believe that UN system operations and gender mainstreaming in all Ministries would greatly benefit from the presence in-country of such an expert.   I was very pleased to learn that substantial progress was made in the especially important process of drafting a new constitution.  It is critical that the expanded Constitutional Commission includes women.]  It is also incumbent on us, Member States, the UN and civil society to see that the new constitution includes the full range of women’s rights.


Let me now refer to the question of reaching the goal of 50-50 gender balance at all grade levels.  The report before you (E/CN.6/2003/8) updates the information that was before the Assembly (A/57/447).  Due to the short time period between the two reports and in the interest of streamlining reporting, we propose that in future, an oral report be presented to this Commission to supplement and update information presented to the Assembly the previous fall.


There has been modest but steady progress over the period 30 June 2001 to July 2002.  There have also been some encouraging gains at the senior levels.  Since July 2002, six women were promoted from D-1 to the D-2 level, the single largest number on record of women promoted to this level from within the Secretariat during such a short period.   Also, three women have been appointed at the USG and ASG levels (the head of the Department of Management, the head of UN-Habitat and the Ombudsman).


However, we are concerned that in the period from 1 July 2001 to 30 June 2002 the rate of increase in the Secretariat has slowed significantly in a number of areas. This year’s increase of 0.4 per cent of women on overall posts fell well below the annual average increases in past years.  A similar lack of progress can be noted system-wide.  This trend is particularly disturbing as it is also reflected in the number of women Permanent Representatives in New York which is down to 7 from an all-time high of 12. 


Recruitment and promotion of women staff in the Professional and higher categories also declined.  In peace operations and notwithstanding special efforts made by DPKO, international women civilian staff at the Professional level and above stands at only 24 per cent overall and at 4.2 per cent at the D-1 level and above, cumulatively. Nonetheless, the high level appointments of the Special Representative of the Secretary General in Georgia (UNOMIG) as well as the four women deputy heads in peacekeeping missions (UNOMIG, MONUC, MINUGUA, UNMEE) serve as significant examples of progress from which to derive expectations for the future.


If we are to meet our goals in the year ahead, we will need to make a concerted effort to retain women staff currently employed, recruit external women candidates as necessary and ensure that the appointment and promotion of suitably qualified women will not be less than 50 per cent as requested by the General Assembly in resolution 54/139.  Under the new system of recruitment, promotion and placement (which came into effect on 1 May 2002), each head of department/office has decentralized and direct responsibility for women’s equal representation of staff at all levels, taking into account the implementation of special measures for women. As such, greater attention must be given by all actors concerned to monitoring and evaluating the results of the new system on gender balance. In our view, the new system will only work if managers are held accountable and if practical monitoring is a constant tool.  We will persevere in our efforts working towards this objective.


Similarly important to the achievement of gender balance is the creation of a gender-sensitive work environment, where women and men can thrive and perform to the best of their abilities.  The Organization has committed itself to instituting work/life policies, especially flexible working arrangements, part-time work, the right to work away from the office (telecommuting, for example), compressed work schedules compensated by time off from work and paternity leave and spouse employment, in line with the Secretary-General’s reform report  (A/57/387). These measures will help staff balance their professional and private lives and assist to attract and retain quality staff, particularly women.


            I would like to take this opportunity to inform Member States that much of the coordination and collaboration among members of the Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality, which includes 50 gender focal points of all entities of the United Nations system, continues to be implemented largely inter-sessionally through task forces and working groups to increase attention to gender perspectives in areas such as programme budgets, United Nations conferences and their follow-up, and CCA/UNDAF, to improve data collection and indicators on gender equality, to improve our capacity in support of gender mainstreaming, to name but a few.  Our once-yearly meeting just prior to CSW is an opportunity to discuss trends that affect the promotion of gender equality, harmonize policy approaches, plan collaborative activities, but also to share common concerns and setbacks and to strategize how to deal with them.  I would like to thank all the members of the Network for their team spirit and solidarity, and for their untiring efforts in enhancing attention to gender perspectives and the empowerment of women within the mandates of their respective entities.  Several of them will be addressing this Commission and I commend their statements to your attention. 


            Chairperson, I assure you and this Commission that my Office, together with the Division for the Advancement of Women, will support you in any way we can.  We look forward to the outcome of this session and wish you success in your deliberations.              


                        THANK YOU.