United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women

As delivered
56th session of the General Assembly

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

17 October 2001

Mr. Chairperson,
Distinguished delegates,
Colleagues and friends.

It is an honour and privilege to open the consideration of items 112 and 113 on the advancement of women, and the follow-up to 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 extend my warm congratulations to you, Mr. Chairperson, on your election and also to the other members of the Bureau. I pledge my full support, and that of the Division for the Advancement of Women, for your work during this session.

The 2001 Assembly takes place at a time when the international community is drawn together more closely than ever as it faces the unprecedented task of developing an effective response to the challenge of terrorism. The Secretary-General has expressed the shock and revulsion that we all feel at the events of 11 September. I join with him in extending my profound sympathy to the families of the victims - nationals of at least 81countries of the world - and to the Government and people of the United States.

While fully confident that this Assembly and the Security Council will take appropriate measures to confront the current challenges, I would urge that the gender dimensions of the events not be forgotten.

Globalization described by Mr. Nitin Desai at the opening of the Second Committee as our world's dominant trend, remains a challenge. Its negative effects have become even more apparent in recent days. Indeed, without the right type of checks and balances, globalization can add to inequalities both between and within countries. The international community must unite to ensure that whatever benefits accrue, they are equitably spread between the haves and the have-nots, between women and men and that where downturns occur, women are not disadvantaged. Strategies such as gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting should be normalized.

The recognition that the gender aspects of major themes are an integral part of the work of the Organization, has become more marked over the past year.

Thus, when the Economic and Social Council at its Substantive Session this year discussed the situation in Africa and the New African Initiative in its high-level segment, the role of women in economic and social development and in peace-making was highlighted. The Council also adopted a number of resolutions including on gender mainstreaming and other issues relating to women.

In its Programme for Action for the Least Developed Countries for the decade 2001-2010, LDC III held in May 2001 identified gender equality and the empowerment of women as effective ways to combat poverty and stimulate growth and sustainable development in those countries. Among its major targets, the Conference set the reduction of maternal mortality rates by one-third between 2000 and 2010.

One of the key achievements of the special session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS in June 2001 was its emphasis on a prevention strategy, which would challenge the prevailing gender sterotypes, attitudes and gender inequalities. A report published today indicates that in South Africa, 40 per cent of adult deaths in 2000 were caused by AIDS-related illnesses. The worst news is that the overall death rate of young women in their 20s was higher than that of women in their 60s. The special session adopted important gender-sensitive targets on the need for education and the elimination of violence against women and girls through rape and other forms of sexual violence.

The results of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban from 31 August to 8 September also vindicates the strategy of gender mainstreaming. Both, its Declaration and Programme of Action make clear that the experience of racism is different for women and girls. The Conference urged States to integrate a gender perspective into relevant policies, strategies and programmes to combat racism and recognized that the intersection of racial and gender discrimination doubly disadvantages women.

The scourge of trafficking, particularly concerning women in conflict situations, is growing. The Durban Conference recommended that the Assembly declare a United Nations year or decade against trafficking in persons, especially women, youth and children. The opening for signature and ratification of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and its four supplementary protocols, which include that to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, was a significant breakthrough in controlling this scourge.

The adoption and ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is another practical way of dealing with these challenges. Since the entry into force on 22 December 2000 of the Optional Protocol, 27 States parties to the Convention have now ratified or acceded to this Protocol, while 69 have signed it. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has adopted rules of procedure for implementing the Protocol and for establishing practical guidelines for its smooth functioning.

Looking ahead, I see several broad opportunities where we: Member States, UN agencies, NGOs and civil society at large, can make a difference. The forthcoming International Conference on Financing for Development will play a crucial role in sharing benefits of economic growth, social progress and alleviating the burden of poverty on women. By mobilizing additional resources for development, considering issues of governance, addressing needs of vulnerable groups and women's access to land, credit, trade and employment opportunities, the Conference presents an opportunity for Member States to integrate gender more fully into the new international financial architecture which will emerge from Monterrey next March.

Another forthcoming major event - the Second World Assembly on Ageing - presents an opportunity to consider, not only the impact of changed demographic patterns, but also to encourage the scope of contribution older women can make as community workers and care providers.

Yet another theme is women's equal participation in conflict prevention, management of conflict resolution and post-conflict, and peace-building - to be taken up by the CSW in 2004. We are already beginning work on this issue also, in response to the Security Council's resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security of 31 October 2000. A system-wide plan for implementing all aspects of that resolution (humanitarian protection, training for peace-keepers, gender units) has been prepared by the Interagency Taskforce on Women, Peace and Security which I chair. The requested study also being coordinated by my office with a number of key agencies is well underway. Thanks are due to our donors: the Governments of Australia and New Zealand which have contributed $71,000 and United Nations agencies and programmes which have contributed $20,000. A further $100,000 is still required for research, publication and dissemination. Very vital inputs to the study and the Secretary-General's report to the Council will be the complementary studies prepared by other United Nations entities, in particular, the Department of Peace-keeping Operations on Standard Operating Procedures for Mainstreaming Gender, and the United Nations Development Fund for Women on operational aspects.

I include women's role in peace processes because now more than ever we need to have uppermost in our minds, in our deliberations and in our decisions, the gender-based violence affecting women as a result of armed conflict. In this regard, I wish to draw particular attention of delegations to the plight of Afghan women. The situation of women in Afghanistan, now the subject of intense media scrutiny, provides us with one of the most visible and tragic examples. United Nations humanitarian agencies anticipate that as many as 7.5 million refugees, most of them women and children, may cross the borders in the coming weeks. With rapidly approaching winter and the accompanying freezing temperatures, we must act decisively and ensure that in the overall humanitarian efforts the impact on women and children is not given second place. I would also emphasize that Member States ensure that Afghan women rightfully belong at the peace table whenever negotiations begin.

The current crisis in Afghanistan serves as a powerful warning of the consequences when women are excluded from decision-making. Empowerment of women worldwide to participate effectively in decision-making, whether at peace tables, in the political arena, in international organizations or in the corporate world, remains a major concern almost everywhere.

Where decision-making at the United Nations Secretariat is concerned, progress continues in improving the representation of women on geographical appointments. Women now account for over 40 per cent of these staff and 13 departments and offices now exceed 40 per cent women (A/56/472).

Despite this steady progress, the representation of women with appointments of one year or more has dropped by 2 per cent due to the increase in the number of men serving with peace-keeping missions.

In the United Nations system as a whole, while the overall percentage is 33.50 (January 2000), seven organizations of about 25 have more than 40 per cent women professionals. The United Nations Population Fund maintains the lead at slightly over 50 per cent.

We very much regret the delay in the submission of the report (A/56/472) which is due to technical difficulties encountered in the integration of worldwide human resources data in the United Nations data management information system. We understand that reports which rely on the same data have been similarly delayed.

Finally, Mr. Chairperson, on a more sobering matter, I turn to the situation of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW).

Despite continuing efforts to finalize the Gender Awareness Information Networking System (GAINS) project and to raise funds, INSTRAW's financial base remains precarious. Should the General Assembly's Fifth Committee approve the transfer to INSTRAW of the unspent balance of US$800,000 subvention advanced in 2001, the total budget of INSTRAW for 2002, with anticipated voluntary contributions, might not exceed US$600,000. This would require further scaling down of operational and developmental activities, including those related to GAINS (A/56/279). If we need INSTRAW, we need to break this vicious cycle in which the lack of funds forces the Institute to reduce its research and training programmes which, in turn, lead to a further decrease in voluntary contributions. The Committee may wish to give serious consideration to the future of the Institute.

Mr. Chairperson,
In closing, I wish you and this Committee a very productive session. We stand ready in the Secretariat to provide the necessary support and assistance.

Division for the Advancement of Women -- DAW

Website: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
United Nations