United Nations Nations Unies
Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues
and Advancement of Women
Division for the Advancement of Women
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
2 UN Plaza, DC-2-1220, New York, NY 10017 USA
Telephone: 212 963 5986 - Facsimile: 212 963 3463
E-mail: daw@un.org
Internet location: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw
General Assembly
Fifty-third Session

Item 103: Advancement of Women
Item 104: Implementation of the outcome of
the Fourth World Conference on Women
Introductory Statement
Ms. Angela E.V. King
Special Adviser on Gender Issues and
Advancement of Women
14 October 1998

Mr. Chairperson,

Distinguished Delegates,

It is an honour and privilege for me to introduce item 103 on the advancement of women, and item 104 on the follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women. I should like to begin by congratulating you, Mr. Chairperson, on the assumption of your office in this important year in which we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I also convey my congratulations to the other members of the Bureau. I pledge my full cooperation and that of my staff in support of your work.

Under item 103, the Third Committee will consider the following reports:

- Report on traditional and customary practices affecting the health of women and girls (A/53/354);

- Report on traffic in women and girls (A/53/409);

- Report on the status of women in the Secretariat (A/53/376);

- Two reports related to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (A/53/318, Parts I and II and A/53/38)

Under item 104, you have before you a report on the implementation of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women (A/53/308).

A summary of my briefing for delegates of the Third Committee of Friday 9 October which is being circulated, presents these reports in more detail. This morning, I wish to place the issues raised in these reports within a global framework.

Mr. Chairperson,

A number of important items are on the agenda of your current session. Each of these items has a gender dimension. While the work of the General Assembly with regard to the advancement of women has traditionally been assigned to the Third Committee, with the Second Committee discussing the role of women in development on a biennial basis, I would like to emphasize, as I have done last year, that gender issues are not the exclusive responsibility of this Committee of the Assembly. They are the responsibility of all of us.

Since I last had the pleasure of addressing this Committee, the cross-cutting nature of the advancement of women and of gender mainstreaming has had clear impact in many fora: intergovernmental, governmental and those of civil society. The last session of ECOSOC paid significant attention to women and gender issues under various agenda items, including human rights, humanitarian assistance, operational activities and integrated global conference follow-up. The preparations for the Special Session in the year 2000 to review implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action gives additional impetus to such activities.

The conclusions of the United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of the International Criminal Court held in Rome in June-July 1998 marked a significant step in the quest to hold the perpetrators of gender-related crimes accountable. The Conference conclusions make clear that the international community will no longer tolerate such crimes.

This year also saw the historic conviction of the former mayor of the Rwandan town of Taba, Jean Paul Akayesu, by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. In making rape part of Mr. Akayesu's conviction for genocide, the Tribunal advanced the World's legal treatment of rape and sexual violence and began the long process of reversing the climate of impunity that sexual crimes in war have enjoyed.

During your present session, the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will be the focus of Governments, as well as women and men around the globe. This historic commemoration also provides the backdrop for unprecedented attention to women's de jure and de facto enjoyment of their human rights.

Women from all walks of life, and from all countries of the globe are this year rallying around the vision of human rights and its promise of equality between women and men. They are using the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to call their Governments, and the international community, to account for their implementation of the Declaration, and for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.

Violence against women in its many forms is no longer suffered in silence, but has become the subject of public debate. Ethnic, communal and other forms of violent conflicts are a reality in nearly every region. Women and children suffer disproportionately from armed conflicts. Recent violence in Kosovo has displaced an estimated 300,000 people, mostly women and children. Women and children constitute some 80 per cent of the world=s millions of refugees and displaced persons. Civilian fatalities have climbed from 5 per cent of war-related deaths at the turn of the century to more than 90 per cent in the wars of the 1990s. Most of these wars are internal and most of these casualties are women and children.

Women and girls are victims of massive violations of human rights in armed conflicts, but they face the particular risk of rape and sexual violence, including systematic rape. These are abhorrent practices and perpetrators must be brought to justice.

Trafficking in women and children, particularly for the purposes of sexual exploitation, is an increasing feature of our modern world. Better communications technology, including the Internet, as well as the ease of travel are factors, which have combined with globalization to encourage individuals to seek their fortunes in richer nations. Increased poverty has allowed the unscrupulous to prey on those who are na´ve and uninformed. The growing incidence of trafficking and the suffering and degradation which this crime creates deserves the most serious response. Just as progress has been made where gender-based crimes against women in times of war are concerned, we must now turn to address trafficking in women and children.

The reports before you indicate that, throughout 1998, Governments, international and regional organizations, and civil society have been working towards our common task. They have taken bold measures to realize the twelve critical areas of concern of the Platform for Action and to strengthen gender mainstreaming in all policies and programmes. The number of national machineries for the advancement of women has increased, and in many instances, so has their influence and leverage in national policy-making processes.

We can observe unprecedented progress in building the human capabilities of women. Women's role in the productive economy, especially in agriculture, is increasingly recognized. Poverty eradication cannot be pursued successfully without an emphasis on the situation of women. Considerable progress is being made towards gender equality in education and health.

However, we have a long way to go to meet the challenges of the Platform for Action. This is especially so in light of current global realities characterized by a financial crisis that is substantially reducing national incomes and growth in many parts of the world, including Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Many consider this to be one of the most uncertain periods for the global economy during the past fifty years. The financial crisis is lowering social indicators in affected countries. It is threatening many others, including those considered the richest and most powerful. It is crucial for us to focus on the gender dimensions of the consequences of the current crisis, as well as of globalization in general.

And these gender dimensions are not insignificant. Deep cuts in public expenditure, soaring unemployment, severe decline in consumption and increasing poverty put pressure on social services and destroy years of progress in the creation of social infrastructure, the fostering of communities, social cohesion and the promotion of economic development. The 1998 Human Development Report provides clear examples of these effects. In some countries, as a result of the crisis, health care and education is declining and the number of those in poverty is projected to double. Empirical studies demonstrate that shrinking social infrastructure leads to disproportionate growth in unpaid women's work. While women's share in the formal economy is growing, the conditions of their employment are often inferior and at times exploitative. The cumulative burden of their work in the formal sector and in the household increases. In changing labour markets, women often with few skills are the first to lose their jobs, and have even fewer prospects for re-employment.

Our challenge is to maximize the beneficial effects of current global, regional and national realities, and reduce those that are harmful. It is a time of risk and of opportunity. In order to harness the beneficial effects of globalization for women, there must, first and foremost, be a clear recognition that policies impact differentially on women and men. Consequently, all measures, whether those intended to reform the global financial system or those targeting macro-economics or trade, need to be conscious of their social implications, and thus their implications for women and men. Not only is it in the interest of Governments, international organizations and civil society to ensure that women's needs and expectations are reflected, it is their responsibility to do so.

The meeting of the Second and Third Committees of the General Assembly later this week to observe the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on the theme of "Poverty, Human Rights and Development" provides a rare opportunity to examine together these critical themes from a gender perspective.

The fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is another opportunity to chart fresh and sustainable solutions to the problems of today. The Secretary-General, in his reform proposals, has made clear that human rights are a cross-cutting element that should be reflected in all United Nations policies and programmes. Framing women's claims in terms of rights and recognizing that such rights are ends in themselves puts a powerful tool in their hands. Rights are not abstract aspirations. They are a rational basis for justified demands. It is our responsibility to operationalize women's rights to freedom from poverty, illness, and violence. We do so through gender-aware laws, policies and programmes that have a realistic expectation of fulfilling women's entitlements. The achievement of the Platform's goal of the universal ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women by the year 2000, and the timely submission of reports by all States parties needs to be pursued as a common commitment.

Mr. Chairperson, let me turn to a number of issues related to my function as Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women. This includes questions related to the status of women in the Secretariat.

I have established the practice of meeting periodically with heads of departments and offices of the United Nations Secretariat, including Executive Secretaries of regional commissions. Progress in gender mainstreaming in all policies and programmes, in the goal of 50/50 gender distribution in the Secretariat, departmental policies and procedures dealing with representation of women, as well as individual cases are discussed.

In my capacity as Chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Women and Gender Equality, I meet with heads of specialized agencies and organizations of the United Nations common system on good practices in the implementation of the Platform for Action and mainstreaming of a gender perspective, including in field activities and follow-up to global conferences. These meetings also provide opportunities to discuss the situation of women in the agencies and develop joint activities and cooperative arrangements to increase inter-agency mobility of women. In some duty stations, securing spouse employment remains one of the main obstacles in women's recruitment and mobility. Member States may wish to review this matter with a view to devising more flexible provisions to enhance women's employment opportunities in the United Nations system.

Mr. Chairperson,

Distinguished Delegates,

I began by saying that I wished to place the reports before you in a global framework. Part of this is our recognition next Friday, 16 October, of World Food Day, marking the foundation of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 1945. With this year's theme, WOMEN FEED THE WORLD, our sister agency acknowledges women's predominant role in providing food for their families, communities and nations.

Women give much more than their fair share to put food on our tables. Yet themselves receive disproportionately less. In our deliberations and actions during this session, let us ensure that they not only have an equal share of social and economic benefits such as food, but an equal share in political benefits in the arena of power and decision-making.

I thank you and look forward to your advice and guidance.