Fifty-fifth Session


Introductory Statement


Ms. Angela E.V. King
Assistant Secretary-General

Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women

6 October 2000

Madam Chairperson,

Distinguished delegates,

Colleagues and friends,

It is an honour and privilege to speak on items 107 on the advancement of women, and 108 on implementation of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the 23rd special session of the General Assembly "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the 21st century." I would like to congratulate you warmly, Madam Chairperson, on your election to lead this Committee. My congratulations also go to the other members of the Bureau.

This Assembly marks the culmination of a period of intense activity by Member States, United Nations entities, international organizations and NGOs. During this year the implementation of the Fourth World Conference on Women and of the Social Summit have been reviewed and built on at Beijing+5 and Copenhagen+5. This Assembly also takes place against the background of the historic consensus of the Millennium Summit where world leaders agreed on such fundamental values as men’s and women’s freedom to live their lives and raise their children; equal rights and opportunities for women and men; solidarity in distributing the costs and burdens in accordance with basic principles of equity and social justice; tolerance; respect for nature and shared responsibility for managing worldwide economic and social development. It takes place at a time when the Secretary-General has called on us to identify and act on the challenges ahead and reshape the United Nations so that it can make a real and measurable difference to people’s lives in the new century.

I am very encouraged by the strong sense of commitment and political will that Governments showed during the Beijing+5 and Copenhagen+5 processes. I am convinced that with this commitment, a shared vision, and strong partnerships, we can overcome obstacles and fully implement the Beijing Platform for Action, as well as the further actions and initiatives contained in the Outcome Document. I am equally encouraged by the support and cooperation of United Nations specialized agencies and organizations, including the Bretton Woods institutions. The Beijing+5 process allowed for wide and open participation of NGOs and other civil society organizations. Indeed over 4,000 of these organizations participated, including in activities organized by the host country. Just as the Beijing Conference was inspired by and drew its energy from the work of NGOs, they continued to be a critical force at many different levels in the period following Beijing. For my part, I shall work to ensure that the partnership between Governments, the UN system and NGOs continues and strengthens as we move beyond Beijing+5.

Beijing+5 reaffirmed the Platform for Action as the blueprint for women’s equality, while at the same time strengthened and updated it in many areas, including violence against women, empowerment, health, education, human rights, poverty, debt relief, globalization, armed conflict, and political participation. It proposed concrete actions for diverse actors to ensure full implementation of the Platform, thereby leading His Excellency Minister Gurirab, the President of the Assembly, to suggest in his closing statement to the session that "If Governments demonstrate the necessary political will, and allocate the human and financial resources required, the goals of gender equality, development and peace will become a reality very early in the twenty-first century".

This optimism has a solid basis, and I will highlight one example here: the area of women’s human rights. In the period since the Beijing Conference, 17 States became party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, with the latest Saudi Arabia, which ratified during the Millenium Summit, bringing the total number of States parties to 166. Delegates will all be aware that one of the Government actions agreed at Beijing was support for an optional protocol to the Convention on a right to petition that could enter into force as soon as possible. On 22 December 2000 – a little over five years since that commitment – the Optional Protocol to the Convention – now ratified by 11 States and signed by 62 – will enter into force. I am confident that the commitment Member States have shown in the elaboration and acceptance of the Optional Protocol will be mirrored by the attention and support they will give to the provision of adequate human and financial resources to ensure that the Committee fulfils its full mandate.

The progress that has been in this area is paralleled in respect of all the Platform’s critical areas of concern. But our satisfaction with progress should not distract our attention from the many challenges that remain.

This afternoon, I wish to address some of these challenges, and consider some of the steps that we must take to ensure that the United Nations can make a real difference to women’s lives. When opening this Committee, Mr. Nitin Desai, placed the work on gender issues and social and human rights issues within the broader context of global development. Pointing to globalization as our world’s dominant trend, he made clear that its has productive forces, but at the same time can have negative effects, and has the potential to add to inequalities both between and within countries. Critical in ensuring that globalization is a force for good is the integration of broadly shared values and practices that reflect global social needs, and strategies to ensure that all the world’s people, women and men, share the benefits of globalization.

The need to ensure that women do not bear the brunt of the negative effects of globalization is perhaps our primary challenge in the period beyond Beijing+5. There are other related challenges, including poverty, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the impact of conflict, trafficking in women and girls and the continuing relative absence of women from the realm of decision-making.

World Bank estimates suggest that the number of people today who live on 1 dollar a day is 1.5 billion and that this number will reach 1.9 billion by 2015. The majority of these are women and recent reports such as UNIFEM’s Progress of the World’s Women indicate that many factors have contributed to the widening economic inequality between women and men.

We must be aware that without reducing women’s poverty our work towards alleviating and eliminating poverty will be flawed. I would urge Member States to keep the links between poverty and gender inequality in mind during next month’s regional consultative meetings in preparation for the High Level Intergovernmental Event on Financing for Development. The Event and its outcome must address gender issues in the context of development and the economic empowerment of women if we are to move forward in our goal of poverty elimination.

The escalation of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the developing world constitutes another critical challenge. AIDS is now the number one killer in Africa, with 24.5 million adults and children being affected by this deadly disease. HIV/AIDS threatens the survival of entire nations in the region, and has had a disproportionate impact on women. This factor was recognised by 13 women Foreign Ministers in their joint letter to the Secretary-General of 11 September. By the end of this year 13 million more women will be affected and a further 4 million will have died. To date, it has claimed the lives of 2 million people, 10 times the number that have been killed as a result of recent conflicts throughout Africa.

To confront this pandemic we need a new approach: one that combines the promotion of basic education with respect to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment; and one which provides full, equal and affordable access to primary health care. During the Millenium Summit, at a meeting convened by Mrs. Nane Annan, Dr. Peter Piot, the Head of UNAIDS called on 70 First Ladies to assist in this endeavour by speaking out against the stigma surrounding the disease and publicizing strategies to confront it. Here success stories, such as those of Senegal and Uganda, where remarkable work has been done, should be recognized, publicized and emulated.

Although the recognition of women as equal partners and actors in conflict prevention and settlement is amongst one of the greatest achievement of the recent past, we must work to expand women’s peacemaker and peacebuilder roles. For the very first time this year, on International Women’s Day, 8 March, the Security Council recognized the central role of women in conflict resolution, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. In so doing, the Council reaffirmed its recent resolution on children and armed conflicts (S/RES/1314(2000)) and called for the integration of a gender perspective into all policies, programmes and projects affecting women in armed conflict.

We look to Member States both in the Security Council and this Committee to ensure that this momentum is further accelerated and we look with anticipation to the debate in the Council on 24 October on women in armed conflict. The Windhoek Declaration and the Namibia Plan of Action on Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective in Multidimensional Peace Support Operations (A/55/138 – S/2000/693) arising out of the meeting in Namibia in last May has set the framework for what can be done. In my view, the work to implement the Brahimi report needs also to incorporate the Windhoek Declaration and Plan of Action.

Globalization, poverty reduction and empowerment, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the equal recognition of women in conflict prevention and settlement are perhaps our most pressing challenges, but there are many others. Gender-based violence against women, recognized and responded to in most countries of the world, persists and deepens. The recent UNICEF report, Domestic Violence against Women, estimates that 20 to 50 per cent of women everywhere have experienced domestic violence. A stark picture is painted in UNFPA’s The State of the World’s Population 2000, which reports on sex-selective abortions, infanticide and neglect leading to the absence of 60 million girls who would otherwise be alive, as well as an increase in the incidence of sexual violence, early and forced marriages, female genital mutilation, dowry deaths and so called honour killings. The 2000 edition of DESA’s The World’s Women: Trends and Statistics also presents disturbing statistics on these and other forms of gender-based violence.

The Beijing+5 Outcome Document provides that violence against women and girls should be a punishable criminal offence, that legislation and mechanisms to handle criminal matters relating to domestic violence should be introduced and strengthened and measures, including policies and programmes taken to address particular forms of violence against women and girls, including that which is racially motivated.

Then there is trafficking in women. In the past decade, the traditional subjects of illegal smuggling - drugs, guns, endangered species - have expanded to include human beings – I speak of the growing spread of illegal trafficking in women and girls. The International Centre for Migration Policy Development in Vienna conservatively estimates the number of people each year smuggled into the European Union alone as being 400,000. Of these, the majority are women and girls, usually in their teens or early twenties. As our High Commissioner for Human Rights has repeatedly emphasized, there is a clear link between poverty and this trade. Many are lured with false promises of employment and end up trapped in unacceptable conditions of sexual slavery or forced labour.

The issue of illegal trafficking has moved rapidly up the international agenda. One of the additional protocols to the draft Convention against Transnational Organized Crime relates to trafficking in human beings, especially women and children. It is of critical importance that this work be concluded.

[Additionally the Outcome Document from Beijing +5 has several important recommendations to combat trafficking; setting up of national co-ordinating mechanisms and encouraging the exchange of information and reporting on data, root causes, factors and trends in trafficking. It called on Member States to support the ongoing negotiations on the draft protocol mentioned earlier. This call, too, needed to be heeded.]

A further challenge is to advance the political empowerment of women. Today we should focus not on what we know -- that women are poorly represented at higher levels of decision-making -- but on what we can do about it. [The Inter-Parliamentary Union has, through its analysis, highlighted what really works. In so doing it has stressed that measures such as proportional representation, quotas, and a percentage of women on lists of candidates have enabled women to move ahead numerically, and transform parliamentary agendas.]

Of the 146 Heads of State and Government who attended the Millennium Summit only four were women: from Bangladesh, Finland, Latvia and New Zealand. At a little-reported meeting between three of these women and women heads of United Nations agencies, called the UN Millennium Summit of Women Leaders, held on 5 September, a number of policy recommendations were made aimed at promoting the broadest participation of women in decision-making at national and international levels. This meeting called for the achievement of the goal of 50% women in all posts in the UN as soon as possible and for women special representatives in peacekeeping operations.

An important aspect of women in decision making is their role in the UN Secretariat and in the agencies of the UN system. Over the last decade women in professional and high level posts moved from 28 to 39 per cent. At the D-1 level and above the percentage rose from 7 in 1990 to 30.9 today. There are now four women Assistant-Secretaries General. In 1990 there were none. FAO, ILO and the World Bank are showing a consistent rise at the Assistant Director-General level matching UN appointments at the ECE and UNCHS.

Since our last report, significant gains have been made at the P-5 and P-2 levels, whereas at other levels, including the higher decision-making levels, progress has slowed. Major increases in the representation of women overall were made in the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and in the Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP) where the percentage of women increased by 10.1 and 4.7 per cent respectively. [The overall numbers will continue at the current slow pace of 1% per year as long as traditional attitudes towards women in senior positions in departments prevail and Governments continue to put forward predominantly male candidates.]

Advances have been made in creating an accountability tool whereby the Secretary-General can measure progress of individual and programme managers in meeting the goal of 50/50. This tool is the gender action plan called for by the Assembly last year. There remains the need for a computerized database of suitable women candidates for professional posts. We are also proposing to refine the Performance Appraisal System to include standardized and specific reporting criteria on managers’ performance in meeting the objectives set in the gender action plans. We should recall that the report before you (A/55/359) also goes before the Fifth Committee and that this year is one in which Personnel Questions including the participation of women will be taken up.

Distinguished delegates,

As I mentioned earlier, implementation of successful practices – those, which have worked in some countries -- should be a priority concern in the next five years.

Nothing, however, can be achieved unless the Commission on the Status of Women, the only intergovernmental body concerned with women, evolves rapidly in its focus and working methods to meet the challenges ahead. Greater interaction with other ECOSOC functional commissions and the Commission on Human Rights are required, to monitor and ensure that gender mainstreaming -- the main process for achieving the goal of gender equality – will be reflected in their policy making.

Many of the institutional mechanisms required for gender mainstreaming, as well as the obstacles to progress, have been clearly identified in my office and I am happy to report that consistent efforts are being made to incorporate gender perspectives into the substantive work of the United Nations. Within the Secretariat the instructions for the development of medium-term plans and programme budgets have given increasing attention to gender perspectives, and the reports before you show that many departments and regional commissions have made efforts to incorporate these perspectives in preparing planning documents critical to the future work of the Organization.

When we look at the numerous practical aspects of Beijing+5 it is clear that co-ordination among United Nations entities has gained a new significance. Simply put, implementation of Beijing +5 will not be achieved without it.

I wish to assure members of this Committee that co-ordination among the Secretariat and agencies, funds and programmes is robust. The members of the ACC Interagency Committee on Women and Gender Equality are collaborating effectively to develop competencies and methodologies for good practices, gender mainstreaming, gender training and budgeting. The System-Wide Medium Term Plan for the Advancement of Women for 2001 – 2005, currently under preparation, will further enhance strategic co-ordination and planning at UN system level.

Effective co-ordination too, between my Office and the Division for the Advancement of Women, and UNIFEM and INSTRAW -- the only entity singled out for mention in the Outcome Document -- is firmly in place. The Directors of these two entities will introduce their reports later.

Yet, despite efforts to revitalize INSTRAW through the Gender Awareness Information and Networking System (GAINS) project ably put together by the Director and her small team of staff to leverage the capacities of the Internet to promote online gender training and research, its financial situation declined to the point where the Secretary-General’s report before you (A/55/385) speaks of imminent closure. It is a matter of extreme concern that no matter how resourceful the Institute has been in its efforts to implement its new mandates for revitalization, and no matter how much effort the Secretariat has made in urging donors to contribute, INSTRAW’s financial situation remains critical. The Secretariat is nevertheless deeply grateful to those countries that have contributed and urges those Member States with outstanding pledges to pay them as early as possible.

Distinguished delegates,

The challenges facing us are enormous. It will take the concerted action of all partners, new and traditional, to overcome them.

The opportunity for decisive action and speedy progress has never been better. We have a clearer understanding than ever before of the economic and social consequences of discrimination and the disadvantages women face. The United Nations has done an enormous amount to place these issues on the policy agenda and it has the potential to provide the world with a credible forum for addressing these problems.

This Committee has a contribution to make to the work of this Millennium Assembly, to ensure that the decisions and recommendations of Beijing+5 are fully integrated in the work of other Committees. We look for your input into the future work of the Commission on the Status of Women and into how to reshape the UN so that in Mr. Annan’s words "we can make a real and measurable difference to people’s lives". We welcome your support and involvement not just during this General Assembly but also throughout the year.

Mme. Chairperson, you and this Committee may be assured of the continuing support of my Office, the Division of the Advancement of Women and its Director, and of the Directors of UNIFEM and INSTRAW. As Chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Women and Gender Equality, I can also assure you that you also have the support of the member organizations of the United Nations system in your work.

I thank you and I wish you a successful outcome of your deliberations.


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