PERMANENT OBSERVER MISSION OF THE
SOVEREIGN MILITARY ORDER OF MALTA
TO THE UNITED NATIONS
MARY REINER BARNES
of the Permanent Observer Mission of the
Sovereign Military Order of Malta
TWENTY-THIRD SPECIAL SESSION
OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
"Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the
New York, June 9, 2000
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is pleased to take the floor at this Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly "Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the 21 st Century". Being a member of the international community for many centuries, the Order of Malta has served others, including service to and by women, and is well qualified to understand the full meaning of this Special Session. Many issues have been raised and much has been accomplished in the 25 years since the first world conference on the status of women was convened in Mexico City, and we welcome this opportunity to review and assess progress to date and to consider future actions and initiatives to ever more fully help all women and girls realize their potential.
Founded in 1099, the Order of Malta has served others who needed us, regardless of nationality or opinion. Indeed, this vocation of assistance to and solidarity with the suffering and the weak, the victims of discrimination and intolerance, is our centuries-old mission. In accord with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we are committed to the right to life, which is to be defended everywhere and always, starting with the right to be born, and including rights to proper health care and education, and finally the right to a dignified death. Women are fully included in our programs for individuals with special needs, such as our autism center in France, and the elderly housed in our old age homes in Austria, Germany, Chile and the United States, among others. In addition, we have programs specially designed for girls and women.
For instance, running hospitals is the Order's oldest task, but the Maternity Hospital of the Holy Family in Bethlehem specifically targets the needs of women in the community by guaranteeing normal obstetrical treatment, pre-natal, post-natal, gynecological and pediatric services. This hospital has become the reference hospital for the area, including its refugee camps, receiving an ever-increasing number of complicated cases. It is a project supported by the Order's Members worldwide. It has special significance for the Order because it is located in the region where we were founded more than 900 years ago.
The hospital also features a program that teaches women to be doctors and other medical workers. Thus, the Maternity Hospital of the Holy Family serves the mandates of recognizing and supporting the social significance of maternity, education and employment opportunities for women, as set forth in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and echoed in the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies and critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action.
Other health care facilities supported by the Order of Malta include women's clinics in Lebanon and El Salvador. The Order of Malta also seeks to help assuage the pain resulting from the worldwide AIDS scourge by, among other projects, supporting a Dominican Republic center run by nuns who provide housing for ex-prostitutes infected with the AIDS virus.
In addition, "Project Crudem" in Milot, Haiti, not only meets the medical needs of women and children served by this hospital and medical center, but 600 children receive their education under its auspices. An Order of Malta hospital in Bonn, Germany has a nursing school and kindergarten attached to the hospital. In Brazil, the Order has established kindergartens in Sao Paolo and Brasilia in the vicinity of the favellas to give unmarried mothers the possibility to work and also to provide health care for the children and their mothers. In Sao Paolo, educational opportunities are also provided for the mothers in the training centers attached to the kindergartens. Other purely educational Order projects include Portugal's home for the education of girls. Therefore, besides seeking to improve the health care of women and girls and supporting motherhood by assisting unwed mothers, the Order of Malta worldwide supports their education, and the resultant improved employment opportunities and poverty eradication.
Further Order of Malta projects address the needs of women suffering as a result of armed conflicts. At the request of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the Order of Malta is one of the groups that has implemented programs to help the traumatized women in Bosnia- Herzegovina and Kosovo adjust to life after the region's war. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Order's "Bosnian Women's Initiative" has sponsored training courses teaching computer skills, English and sewing, and social programs including health and emergency telephone counseling. The "Kosovo Women's Initiative" has placed great emphasis on socio-psychological programs entailing training courses in sewing and the opportunity to speak of traumatic experiences, since it is usually easier for these women to speak about such traumas during practical activities rather than in therapy groups.
As a result of armed conflicts in Africa, our programs there have included the establishment of refugee field hospitals serving maternal needs during crises in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi and many other places. We have a women's project operating in the refugee camps on the frontier between Cambodia and Thailand.
Another Asian project that the Order of Malta supports is the women-oriented Project "Health for One Million" in Kerala, India, which seeks to improve the living situation of women and children in rural areas of Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu, South India. This is accomplished by, for instance, giving classes in basic health-care, sanitation and hygiene, childcare and nutrition, and sponsoring income-generating activities to improve women's quality of life. Since most of the program's beneficiaries are married women who are mothers, and a mother plays an important role in maintaining a healthy nutritional status for the family, all the Project's activities are centered around the mothers, through whom the entire community is served; unless the community standard of living is raised or improved, the goal of health promotion cannot be achieved. Thus, this Project also promotes motherhood, health and education for women and girls, and poverty eradication by providing income-generating activities as a means for women to improve their economic position.
Further supporting motherhood, the Order sponsors a number of homes for unwed mothers in the United States. The needs of elderly women are recognized in the Order's support of convents for older nuns, in addition to the homes for both older men and women that it runs.
Finally, as stated above, besides serving girls and women, the Order has included women since it began. At its inception many women were sisters who also assisted in nursing, and by the mid-eighteenth century, a medical degree was conferred on a woman at the Order's medical college and hospital in Malta, where she also performed surgery. The Order's history of uniting health care and scientific research continues to this day. Our work at the Bethlehem Hospital and also in the ophthalmic research sector at Sao Paolo University in Brazil are two examples.
Within itself, the Order sees an increased presence of female members, its Dames. Also, some of the Order of Malta's auxiliary services provide for young girls to participate, thereby instilling a sense of social responsibility right from a girl's childhood. Such activities may be found in many countries where the Order is active, for example, in Ireland, with its Ambulance Corps, and in Lithuania.
Thus, as established above, the Order of Malta has actively supported the role of women in the development of society and the social significance of maternity, and provided for their education and means to employment, thereby clearly echoing mandates set forth in the CEDAW and the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies. Also as noted, we have further addressed critical areas raised in the Beijing Platform for Action through our programs that encompass women and the particular issues they face concerning poverty, armed conflict, the economy, decision-making, human rights, as well as those special concerns of the girl-child, among others.
In sum, Mr. President, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta appreciates the opportunity for exchange in this area of great concern. It calls on all Member States and Observers, the United Nations, NGOs and other interested parties to support all efforts to eradicate societal injustice and poverty by promoting the role of women and motherhood, and the education of women, whether a woman is a stay-at-home mother, professional woman or both. Being a woman, Dame of Malta, wife, expectant mother, and lawyer, I myself have more than just a passing interest in these issues.
Finally, being politically neutral, striving ever to promote peace in the world, and a supranational entity having full diplomatic relations with nearly 90 countries around the world that also has a particular commitment with respect to international aid, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta is uniquely placed to serve comprehensively the needs of women and girls, and welcomes the opportunity for further coordination with the United Nations, Member States and Observers and other entities in providing the means for women and girls to fulfill their societal potential.
Thank you, Mr. President.