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Commission on the Status of Women

Forty-eighth Session


Introductory Statement


Ms. Angela E.V. King

Assistant Secretary-General

Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women


New York, 1-12 March 2004



Madam President,

Madam Chairperson,


Distinguished Delegates,

Representatives of UN entities and of the Non-governmental Community,

Ladies and Gentlemen,




It is a pleasure for me to warmly welcome the distinguished members and observers of the Commission to this 48th session.  I am also delighted to greet in this forum H.E. Ms. Marjatta Rasi, Permanent Representative of Finland and first woman ever to be elected President of the Economic and Social Council and Mr. José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs who joins us for the first time since his appointment.


I am sure that delegations are fully aware of the session’s critical importance for our future work as we start a count-down to the 2005 comprehensive review and appraisal of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and of the outcome of the special session of the General Assembly on “Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century.”  I expect that our discussions will not only lay the foundation for the review but will also begin to shape the agenda in the field of the advancement of women for the next five to ten years.


Allow me to express my sincere appreciation and deep gratitude to the Chairperson and members of the Bureau of the Commission for their dedication and many hours spent in guiding our work during the inter-sessional period.  This Commission is fortunate to count on their wealth of knowledge of gender and diplomacy and strong commitment to the advancement of women.


May I also welcome the Ministers and Heads of national machineries coming from capital, and numerous representatives of NGOs attending this session.  Your participation and drive were fundamental to the successes of Beijing and Beijing+5 and we expect no less for Beijing+10.


During the twelve months since we last met there have been significant events where Governments, international organizations and civil society reached consensus on the importance of gender equality and the empowerment of women in the continuing struggle for equality, poverty reduction, peace, security, democracy, human rights and development.


Among these events was the World Summit on the Information Society held in December 2003 in Geneva, when world leaders committed themselves in the Declaration of Principles to “ensuring that the Information Society enables women’s empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society and in all decision-making processes.”   A second was the focus on the impact of HIV/AIDS on women leading to the launching of the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS in early February 2004, in London and a third, the discussion on the report of the Secretary-General on “Implementation of the United Nations Millennium Declaration” (A/58/323), during which the General Assembly recognized gender equality not only as a Goal in itself but also as a path towards achieving all other Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These and other events and intergovernmental processes signaled that progress has been made.  


Nowhere else are these signs so visible as in women’s enjoyment of their human rights.  Since the Beijing Conference, 24 States Parties ratified or acceded to the CEDAW Convention bringing the total number of States Parties to 175. The ratifications last year by Afghanistan, San Marino, Syrian Arab Republic, Timor-Leste and Sao Tomé and Principé are extremely encouraging.  More needs to be done to facilitate the preparation of more timely initial and periodic reports and to increase the number of ratifications to the Optional Protocol to the Convention, now at 60, so that more women in all parts of the world will have the possibility of seeking redress at the international level for alleged violations of their rights, once all national remedies have been exhausted.


The trend for Member States to promote and protect the human rights of women and girls by enacting or amending legislation to achieve gender equality or by prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sex, continues.  Constitutional amendments relating to gender equality or prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sex have been adopted for example, in Fiji, Kenya, Nigeria and New Zealand.  Barbados, Sri Lanka and Trinidad and Tobago reviewed and strengthened legislation outlawing violence against women.  Uganda introduced affirmative action laws.  A number of countries, among them Algeria, revised their family codes.  Morocco adopted a landmark Family Law supporting gender equality, including granting women new rights in marriage and divorce and possibilities for custody of their children.  Many countries established family courts, revised law regulating women’s rights to family property, to inherit land, citizenship laws and revised labour legislation, including equal pay for equal work and social security coverage.


And yet the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the Millennium Declaration stresses that virtually nowhere are women’s rights given the priority they deserve.  And, despite increased global awareness, in many countries the rights of women are still under threat.  Intensified efforts from all of us are needed to promote women’s rights at the country level and develop effective mechanisms to fully implement and monitor them.


A recent joint initiative of OSAGI/DAW and the Inter-Parliamentary Union to produce a Handbook for MPs on the CEDAW Convention and its Optional Protocol, gave parliamentarians a very practical tool for understanding how to use the parliamentary process for enhancing women’s rights.


Significant steps have been taken to redress various forms of violence against women, including through its designation as a priority area in national crime prevention; criminalization of specific forms of violence, support of services for victims of violence, improving reporting, sensitizing men, training judicial and law enforcement officers and preventing trafficking. Canada, for example, set up a domestic violence courts system and Barbados established a network of centres for battered women.


     Despite these efforts, violent acts against women continue unabated. The World Health Organization’s 2003 World Report on Violence and Health, indicates that depending on the country and the environment, between 10 and 69 per cent women around the world reported being subjected to some form of violence in their lives.


An in-depth study on all forms and manifestations of violence against women will be conducted by the Secretariat and made available to the General Assembly at the sixtieth session.  Violence goes hand in hand with trafficking in women and children, which is one of the fastest-growing types of organized crime.  It is estimated that more than 700,000 people are trafficked for sexual exploitation with the numbers growing yearly.


            Determined efforts are needed to reduce and eliminate poverty among women and girls.  Roughly a fifth of the world's population - most of them women and girls - lives on less than one dollar a day.  The ILO study entitled, A Fair Globalization, released last week shows the highest recorded number of unemployed ever, 185 million.  It also points out that women's traditional livelihoods as subsistence farmers or small producers have been undermined by foreign subsidized agriculture or foreign imports.  This situation impedes development.  In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, if women’s access to agricultural inputs was on a par with men’s, total agricultural outputs could increase by 6-20 per cent, (2003 World Bank report, Gender Equality and the MDGs).


            On a more positive note, when presenting the annual World Economic Situation and Prospects for 2004, Mr. Ocampo emphasized that the world economy is gaining momentum and that the recovery being driven primarily by China, India and the United States will continue to stimulate world economic growth.  It is expected that the world economy will expand overall as much as 3.5 per cent in 2004 thus creating realistic conditions for the achievement of the 2015 goals.  Economically empowering women is an essential precondition for making this projected growth a reality.


             The vast number of those below the poverty line are women which affects disproportionately their access to health services and medicine.  A frightening pattern is emerging as women are increasingly bearing the brunt of the lethal HIV/AIDS epidemic with more women and girls than men and boys being infected.  UNICEF reports that there are striking differences even among girls affected.  Young African brides, for example, are shown to have a higher incidence of AIDS than sexually active unmarried girls--a seeming paradox.  We expect to hear new insights into these and other issues such as dealing with stigma, at the Opening Event of this year’s International Women’s Day, 8 March, when the topic will be “Women and HIV/AIDS.


A number of governments, Brazil, Cambodia, Romania, Senegal, Thailand, Uganda and Zambia, for example, have proven by containing or reversing the pandemic, that the goal of reversing its spread is achievable.   


     Another serious health issue is the rate of maternal mortality one of the MDGs. Recent World Health Organization data show that the gap between developed and developing countries is widest in the matter of maternal mortality. Every day complications related to pregnancy or childbirth result in 1,600 deaths, – some 600,000 annually and 99 per cent of these deaths, most of them preventable, occur in developing countries.


            If we are to meet the related MDGs of reversing HIV/AIDS and reducing the rate of maternal mortality by three quarters by 2015, concerted action is needed to fully finance women’s health programmes, incorporate a gender perspective into health care and ensure quality of care in childbirth.


     Equally challenging is the growing violence against women and girls in armed conflict.  In today’s conflicts, they are not only the victims of hardship, displacement and warfare, they are directly targeted with rape, forced pregnancies and assault as deliberate instruments of war.


            Security Council resolution 1325 continues to energize women and men all over the world, and political support for its implementation by Member States, international organizations and civil society is growing every day.  Progress has been made in six broad areas: awareness of the importance of gender perspectives in peace support work, development of gender action work plans in disarmament and humanitarian affairs, training in gender sensitivity, deployment of gender advisers, prevention and response to violence against women; work on codes of conduct, including sexual harassment; and support to greater participation of women in post-conflict reconstruction, post-conflict elections and governance.


Much nevertheless, remains to be done. The Mano River Women’s Peace Network, despite their Human Rights award, Femmes Africa Solidarite and the Liberian Women’s Movement for Peace continue to report that women are still ignored or excluded from negotiations and elections.   Two recent expert group meetings, organized on women in peace processes and agreements (Ottawa, November 2003) and on women’s participation in electoral processes in post-conflict countries (Glen Cove, January 2004) contain innovative and proven strategies for increasing women’s political participation.  The latter offers options in elections through open lists, proportional representation and quotas, among others.  In view of the situation in many African countries, in Afghanistan and Iraq, these reports are very instructive.


The Fifth Joint Workshop of the Interagency Network on Women and Gender Equality and OECD/DAC GENDERNET (Paris, July 2003) took as its theme “Gender and Post-conflict Reconstruction: Lessons from Afghanistan.” The Final Communiqué made proposals for strengthening international support for Afghan women, including gender mainstreaming in the work of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and other line ministries. 


The need for a long-term involvement in the advancement of Afghan women is the theme of the Secretary-General’s report (E/CN.6/2004/5).  It shows that despite many obstacles, Afghan women are playing a crucial role in rebuilding the country both economically and politically. In the elections held in December 2003, of a total of 506 seats in the Constitutional Loya Jirga, women occupy 100 - 20 per cent.  Afghan women have participated in the consultative process in drafting the new constitution.  Women returned to the workforce although in more modest numbers than we would wish, gain access to education and health services. 


Yet, factional fighting and the ensuing lack of security, gross violations of women’s rights, and all forms of gender violence, particularly, outside Kabul, continue to plague Afghan women’s lives. The international community must continue to be engaged into the reconstruction of Afghanistan and increase its political and financial support for gender-related projects and capacity building for women.


That women make a difference when in decision- and policy-making positions, is no longer in dispute.  Yet progress in many countries remains perhaps, the most fragile of our gains.  Nevertheless, statistics of the Inter-Parliamentary Union show that from 1999 to 2003 the world average for women’s representation in parliaments increased from 13.0 per cent to 15.1 per cent. In elections held in 2002 in 50 countries, the most significant changes were in the Nordic and Arab-speaking countries.  In Rwanda, women are over 48 per cent in parliament while in Sweden, they are 45.3 per cent.  Pakistan saw a 19 per cent increase to 21.1 per cent; in Algeria, women MPs doubled from 12 per cent to 24 per cent; and there are encouraging signs in Eastern European countries, particularly Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovakia.  Some 60 countries have established various types of quotas and other types of assistance to women.


In this context, I am sure, that we are all delighted that the General Assembly unanimously confirmed the Secretary-General’s nominee, Justice Louise Arbour of Canada’s Supreme Court, as the new High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Her appointment brings the number of women at the level of Under-Secretary-General to the all-time high of six out of 32 - over 20 per cent.


This Commission has rightly placed the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality on its agenda.  Their involvement in promoting gender equality is critical to reaching gender balance in sharing work/family responsibilities caring for family members stricken with HIV/AIDS,  in eliminating violence against women, both at the domestic level and in armed conflict and in the workplace.  Real change will come only when stereotypical attitudes which inhibit women’s advancement and impede our efforts for gender equality are once and for all removed. Resolute and determined measures to educate both boys and girls should become priorities of Governments and civil society, in cooperation with the media, and are needed to eradicate these vestiges of the past.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


The tasks we are facing are monumental. Consistent work is required to ensure that women’s concerns and interests are fully mainstreamed into all the activities at national level and into the wider work of the United Nations.  To achieve this, we must use the opportunity offered by the review and appraisal of Beijing+10 and the forthcoming in 2005 World Conference on the Millennium Declaration.


            The Commission on the Status of Women at its 49th session in 2005 will conduct the global review and appraisal.  As you know, next year the two themes are: “Review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly” and “Current challenges and forward looking strategies for the advancement of women and girls.”   


The review is meant to provide valuable insights into achievements and challenges and indicate how best practices can be shared among all actors and specify emerging challenges.  The analysis will be based on the implementation of national gender action plans, reports submitted earlier by Governments.  PRSPs, CEDAW reports, millennium reports and the responses to the questionnaire (deadline: April 2004). I urge all Member States and NGOs to use the opportunity of Beijing+10 to review and update their national action plans and mobilize women at the grassroots to participate in these activities.


A strong regional perspective through a series of regional and thematic meetings, expert group meetings and  reviews will be evident.  ECLAC will hold a regional conference in June 2004,   ECA  in November 2004 and ECE in December. ESCAP plans a regional meeting in September. ESCWA will focus on women and poverty, family and political participation. All regional commissions are already working closely with national line ministries, regional and sub-regional organizations and NGOs.  These activities covering all sectors will serve as inputs of the Commission’s global review of Beijing and of the Millennium Development Goals.  We call on all Member States international organizations, civil society, academia and the private sector to be fully involved in the process.


On the inter-agency front, I am pleased to report that the work of the Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality which concluded its four-day meeting last week (23-26 February) has proven that progress in integrating a gender perspective in the policy, programmatic and operational work of the United Nations is proceeding in a robust and effective way.  Our work will be an input to ECOSOC’s review of implementation of agreed conclusions 1997/2 on gender mainstreaming this summer. We are pleased to welcome INSTRAW, ably led by its Director, Ms. Carmen Moreno, back to active participation in the Network.  


Over the last year, the three new task forces launched on gender and water, on gender and the MDGs and on gender and trade and have been very active. A fourth task force on the ten-year review of the Beijing Platform of Action is fully functional.  Achievements included: the final report on gender budgeting, a successful workshop on gender dimensions of MDGs, gender language incorporated in the WSIS Declaration of Principles, fact sheets prepared and disseminated,  briefs prepared for Security Council missions, several websites launched and on-line conferences held. 


            The Network identified these issues for attention of the Commission:  the situation of indigenous women, the role of women in export services; and providing tools for measuring progress in national reporting on gender issues on agreed development goals, including MDGs.  Two new task forces on indigenous women and on the development of core qualitative and quantitative indicators and benchmarks for monitoring and evaluating gender mainstreaming were formed.   


My Office has also jointly organized with ESCWA and ECE regional symposia on gender mainstreaming for practitioners from government, civil society and academia.    We continue with the Division for the Advancement of Women with various divisions and departments, to produce briefing notes on gender mainstreaming in various sectors.


Madam Chairperson,


Considering how much inequality between women and men still exists in most parts of the world, remarkable progress has been achieved in a very short time.  Without gender equality we cannot lift our societies from poverty, conflict and underdevelopment.  By empowering women politically, economically and socially, societies as a whole gain, and will have a greater likelihood of bridging the gap towards achieving the 2015 goals. 


Our vision is a world where girls and boys have equal opportunities for education, where mothers and children have equal access to better health care and medicines, where women and men share decision-making and household chores equally, equally enjoy fundamental human rights and strive equally to achieve peace, democracy, good governance, and sustainable development for their families and nations.


This is the vision, which our leaders signed on to in 2000.  I think that this Commission should be justifiably proud of its contribution to making this vision a reality.  But we should not lose sight of this ultimate goal of gender equality and the empowerment of women so that hard-won gains are not eroded.  The Platform with the outcome document is our blueprint. Beijing+10 must become the turning point towards real implementation, where countries learn valuable lessons from one another and determine the priorities for the next five to ten years.


            Madam Chairperson, let me assure you of my personal commitment and support for the work of this Commission. I also pledge the support of my Office, the Division for the Advancement of Women and the Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality.  I am confident that in partnership we will be able to finish on time and make this session another major step towards our common goal – genuine equality between women and men.  


Thank you.