6 – 16 MARCH 2001

Introductory Statement


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

Madam Chairperson,
Distinguished Delegates,
Representatives of NGOs,
Colleagues and Friends,

It is with great pleasure that I address the forty-fifth session of the Commission on the Status of Women. Madam Chairperson, may I congratulate you and all the members of the Bureau for your valuable work intersessionally, and especially in preparing this session. I am confident that your able leadership will guide the deliberations of the Commission to a productive conclusion. May I also thank all those delegations whose term of office has expired and warmly welcome those who have been elected to serve in their stead.

The Commission, as the preparatory committee for the special session on "Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-first Century", must be commended for its tireless efforts to negotiate the Outcome Document that was adopted by the General Assembly. I would like to thank all delegations for their flexibility and for the spirit of understanding and co-operation that was demonstrated during the special session. I hope that this spirit will prevail during this vital session of the Commission.

I would also like to recognize the importance of your partnership with the NGO community. Valuable contributions of NGOs individually, and collectively, and their active involvement in the special session enriched and broadened the Outcome Document. A record number of NGO representatives - nearly 1,900 - more than during the special session of the General Assembly on Beijing +5 – wish to be registered for this session of the Commission. Their contribution to our panels and discussions on the selected annual themes, continues to be an essential element in the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the Outcome Document.

Madam Chairperson,

Since we met last year, a number of landmark events have taken place all of which were closely followed by women in all parts of the world.

The special session of the General Assembly on Beijing+5 provided a forum for Governments, international organizations and civil society to review progress and reaffirm their commitment to finding effective and lasting solutions to the problems women and girls face. The special session also gave us the opportunity to reflect on how we could close the gap between Member States’ commitments and targets, and actual reality on the ground.

That there has been definite progress was acknowledged by the immediate past President of the General Assembly, His Excellency Mr. Theo Ben-Gurirab of Namibia, who acknowledged that there was no backward movement on any of the Beijing language and commitments. The special session strengthened and updated the Platform in many areas: violence against women and trafficking, empowerment, health, education, human rights, poverty, debt relief, globalization, armed conflict, and political participation. It also proposed concrete actions for diverse actors so as to ensure full implementation of the Platform.

The Outcome Document further elaborates and updates the 1995 blueprint for practical action to achieve gender equality and women’s human rights – the Platform for Action. The Commission now needs more than ever to focus on practical implementation strategies and workable mechanisms as it adopts its multiyear programme.

Today, I would like to propose that we think in terms of finding strategic entry points for integrating gender perspectives into the work of the Organization and its Member States. This can be done in two ways. The first is to link gender equality with the main intergovernmental and expert events. Just as the work of the Commission influenced the Millennium Summit’s Declaration and the Millennium Assembly itself, which adopted a set of far-reaching resolutions on prevention of violence against women, trafficking, so-called honour crimes and crimes of passion, so the Commission should strive to influence the outcomes of other events at the highest level of intergovernmental decision-making.

These events include special sessions of the General Assembly: on Habitat+5 and HIV/AIDS, both in June this year; and on children in September. They also include world conferences such as those on the Least Developed Countries in May; on Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in July; and on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in August/September. The forthcoming high-level segment of ECOSOC on the role of the United Nations system in supporting the efforts of African countries to achieve sustainable development, will also present an opportunity to reflect the needs and concerns of African women. Similarly, the Commission should also provide timely inputs into the High-level Conference on Financing for Development and on Rio+10, which will take place in 2002.

All delegations should stress with their counterparts to these negotiations that gender dimensions must be incorporated well ahead of the event itself.

The second is to incorporate gender into the critical themes with which the United Nations in concerned –such as development, globalization, poverty, HIV/AIDS, and peace.

In its recent publication, Engendering Development - Through Gender Equality in Rights, Resources, and Voices, the World Bank states:

"… gender equality is a core development issue – a development objective in its own right. It strengthens countries’ abilities to grow, to reduce poverty, and to govern effectively. Promoting gender equality is thus an important part of a development strategy that seeks to enable all people – women and men alike – to escape poverty and improve their standard of living."

Globalization is closely linked to the development process. It generates both productive forces and negative effects. It has the potential to add to inequalities both between countries and within countries. The need to manage the globalization process to ensure that women do not bear the brunt of any negative effects is perhaps the Commission’s primary challenge in the period beyond Beijing+5.

Closely related to globalization and development, is widening poverty. World Bank estimates suggest that the number of people today living on 1 dollar a day is 1.5 billion and that this figure will reach 1.9 billion by 2015. The majority of these are women. UNIFEM’s Progress of the World’s Women discusses the main factors that have contributed to the widening economic inequality between women and men.

One factor which plays a critical role in development, is the escalation of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the developing world. By the end of 2000, 36.1 million men, women and children around the world were living with HIV or AIDS. 21.8 million had died from the disease. In the same year, there were an estimated 5.3 million new infections globally and 3 million deaths - the highest annual total of AIDS deaths ever. In Africa and particularly Southern Africa, HIV/AIDS threatens the survival of entire nations, and has had a disproportionate impact on women and girls. The Expert Group Meeting on Gender and HIV/AIDS organized by DAW, UNAIDS and WHO in Namibia last November, provided new insights into the problems and confirmed that women’s and girls’ social and economic status renders them vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS and coping with the disease. The wide-ranging set of recommendations which are presented for your review, contain many practical proposals and call for concerted action for more research, destigmatization, awareness raising and more affordable antiviral drugs.

A recent ILO paper dealing with labour market and employment implications of the HIV/AIDS epidemic takes this further. It points out that if women are economically vulnerable, so are those who depend on them, from the household to the national economy. Hence "the economic vulnerability of women to HIV/AIDS disproportionately more than men, is a matter of serious and urgent concern in addressing the economic impact of the epidemic."

The recently concluded informal consultations for the Assembly’s special session on HIV/AIDS have set the stage for action. This is also an area of deep concern for NGOs. Femmes Africa Solidarité recently pointed to the connection between women’s increased vulnerability to the virus, and the prevalence of violent conflicts in many African countries – spearheaded by sexual violence and the diversion of much needed funds from basic preventive health measures to the purchase of arms.

Gender-based violence against women, which persists and deepens in most countries of the world is another factor affecting global progress. The recent UNICEF report, Domestic Violence against Women, estimates that 20 to 50 per cent of women everywhere have experienced domestic violence. It states that about 60 million girls who would otherwise be alive, are missing through sex-selective abortions, female infanticide and neglect. The Outcome Document includes strategies to address gender-based violence and to increase related penalties.

The impact of gender-based violence and multiple forms of discrimination and particularly the impact of race and sex discrimination, were the subject of a recent Expert Group Meeting on Gender and Racial Discrimination held in Croatia in November last. This meeting, organized by DAW and OHCHR, found that women affected by both gender and racial discrimination experience multiple disadvantages thus further inhibiting their access to education, employment, decision making, enjoyment of economic benefits and human rights. The lack of which in times of war may include systematic rape of women of another ethnicity.

A further challenge is to increase the political empowerment of women. Less than 14 per cent of those in parliament, are women. Another example is that only 11 of the 189 Permanent Representatives to the United Nations in New York are women. Only one woman serves on the International Court of Justice; while on the International Criminal Tribunals of Rwanda and Former Yugoslavia --- the number is one and two, respectively. Today we should focus on how to change this situation. In so doing we should look at some areas where progress has been made.

In the United Nations, there have been both qualitative and quantitative improvements in the situation of women staff. Between January and December 2000 the percentage of women on appointments subject to geography increased from 38.8 per cent to just under 40 per cent. Tangible progress has also been made at the senior decision-making levels where the percentage of women on D-1 and higher posts, has reached an unprecedented level of 33 per cent. Since our last session, at UNFPA Dr. Nafis Sadik, a redoubtable champion of women’s reproductive rights, has been replaced by another woman, Ms. Thoraya Obaid and the UN Centre for Human Settlements now for the first time has a woman Executive Director, Ms. Anna Tabaijuka. Two of the regional commissions, ECE and ESCWA, are now headed by women, one of whom, Ms. Mervat Tallawy, is a former delegate to this Commission.

One of the most remarkable breakthroughs since the forty-fourth session concerns women and peace. You will recall that on International Women’s Day which coincided with our session last year, the Security Council recognized the central role of women in conflict resolution, peacekeeping and peace building. Since then, the Windhoek Declaration and the Namibia Plan of Action on Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective in Multidimensional Peace Support Operations were adopted. Last October, building on these, the Security Council held its first ever meeting on women, peace and security. The Council adopted a far-reaching resolution on this topic (S/RES/1325/2000) in which it stressed the importance of women's equal participation with men and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security including serving as special representatives and envoys. It also called on Member States to increase women’s role throughout peace support operations. This has provided local women’s groups engaged in peace efforts around the world with an opportunity to find entry points for contributing directly to United Nations peace efforts.

One important aspect of the resolution, is the Council’s request to the Secretary-General to prepare a study on the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, the role of women in peace-building and the gender dimensions of peace processes and conflict resolution. This study, a collective inter-agency endeavour, will reflect the experiences of the whole United Nations system. It is being coordinated, at the Secretary-General’s request, by my Office. A Task Force of of the Inter-Agency Meeting on Women and Gender Equality is collaborating on the study and on a system-wide action plan to implement other parts of the resolution.

On a much more negative side, a report is before you on the situation of women in Afghanistan (E/CN.6/2001/2/Add.1). Since the report was completed, the situation has continued to deteriorate rapidly. Mr. Kenzo Ochima, the United Nations Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, on his recent return from Afghanistan, commented, "a real tragedy is unfolding in front of us." It is now estimated that over half a million Afghans have fled their homes because of the combined effects of war and drought since last summer. The situation in the camps with freezing temperatures is now critical. In one night alone, over 150 people, mainly women, children and the elderly, died. Insufficient funding and donor fatigue prevails and is compounded by grinding poverty, lack of basic human rights and increasing intransigence of the authorities.

Despite the best efforts of the UN Resident Coordinator and his staff including the Gender Adviser, there has been little progress in the enjoyment by women and girls of their basic human rights in Afghanistan. The current situation requires concerted action from the international community, neighbouring States and the parties to the conflict. I urge this Commission to take seriously into account the tragic situation of the Afghan population, particularly, its women and girls.

Elsewhere progress in the field of women’s rights in 2001 is a testimony to the seriousness and importance placed on these issues by all countries. Since the Beijing Conference, 17 States became party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Saudi Arabia, the latest, brought the number of ratifications to 166. The Optional Protocol to the Convention – now ratified by 16 States and signed by 64 – entered into force on 22 December. My Office and the Division for the Advancement of Women are working with Mrs. Robinson and our colleagues at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, on practical measures to support the Committee in its new and important responsibilities. The Committee itself, as you will no doubt hear from its newly-elected Chairperson, Mrs. Charlotte Abaka, is well-prepared having adopted at its twenty-fourth session in January, revised rules of procedure, including rules regarding the Optional Protocol. In accordance with these rules, the Committee appointed its Working Group which will review and determine aspects of admissibility of complaints. It convenes for the first time in July.

Other actions taken to strengthen the legal protection of women’s and girls’ human rights include the adoption of the two protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in June 2000 which will oblige States parties to combat trafficking in children and refrain from deploying them as soldiers. The adoption of the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its additional protocols, particularly the additional Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons has also been opened for signature in Palermo in December. These instruments establish the framework for effective strategies to combat trafficking in women and girls.

Building on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda’s 1998 Akayesu judgement which equated sexual violence with genocide, the recent decisions by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia indicting Kunarac, Kovac and Vukovic, recognize rape as a crime against humanity and confirms that accountability will be demanded of those who commit sexual abuse in armed conflict. The Tribunal’s strong legal condemnation of rape and sexual slavery should inspire nations around the world to be more vigilant about defending women’s rights through the enactment of appropriate laws and their vigorous enforcement. They should also ensure that more resources will be devoted to gender-related cases, as well as gender balance in international tribunals and prosecutors offices.

Each of these developments represents the process and impact of gender mainstreaming.

In my role as Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women I will continue to promote, support and monitor the implementation of gender mainstreaming throughout the United Nations system. My office will continue to strengthen collaboration with all parts of the Secretariat, the regional commissions, and the UN system, to enhance capacity for identifying and addressing gender perspectives in their work programmes, for example, through carrying out assessments and developing methodologies and tools.

In this regard, The efforts undertaken by the United Nations Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts to ensure attention to gender perspectives in the development of medium-term plans and programme budgets should be commended in this respect. Collaboration with the Office of Human Resources Management on competence development programmes on gender mainstreaming will be expanded.

My Office also plans, in collaboration with the regional commissions, to organize regional level expert group meetings on gender mainstreaming for Governments over the next five years. The results of these expert group meetings will provide important information on progress within regions to the annual sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women.

I would also like to draw attention to the excellent work on gender mainstreaming carried out by the Inter-Agency Meeting on Women and Gender Equality, composed of representatives of all United Nations entities. Although the group meets formally only once annually for four days, in conjunction with attendance at this Commission, it has developed into a supportive network of professionals with real expertise and knowledge. It uses innovative methods of intersessional collaboration, including electronic means, which have been effective in assisting the development of methodologies and tools for promoting gender mainstreaming. Tools have included inventories on good practice and training materials. Gender perspectives in important events and processes have also been highlighted. Thus collaborative work has been undertaken on incorporating gender perspectives in programme budgets throughout the system and making inputs to the preparations for the International Conference on Financing for Development. This information is contained in the System-wide medium-term plan for the Advancement of Women, 2001-2005 (E/CN.6/2001/4) which is before you.

A one-day workshop on gender mainstreaming was held in conjunction with the Inter-Agency Committee’s annual meeting, to provide an opportunity for exchange of experiences and reflection on the remaining constraints and challenges and the most effective means of addressing them. I am happy to report that there was a highly productive exchange and plans were developed to continue and deepen the existing positive developments on gender mainstreaming, both within individual entities and across the system.

Challenges remain, particularly in two critical areas, both of which are referred to in the Outcome Document of the special session. First, there is a need to make gender perspectives an integral part of the follow-up to global conferences. It is important that all functional commissions of the Economic and Social Council continue to broaden attention to gender perspectives in their work. Second, in the follow-up to the Millennium Summit, gender perspectives must be an integral element of the road-map to ensure the implementation of the Millennium Declaration.

As the Commission considers its work programme and how to achieve practical implementation strategies, I would welcome an enhanced catalytic role for the Commission, in relation to gender mainstreaming throughout the United Nations and to the timely follow-up of the implementation of ECOSOC agreed conclusions 1997/2.

The matter of resources remains a concern. As mandated activities have increased so has the use of the Beijing Trust Fund (Trust Fund for the Implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action). A number of activities such as gender mainstreaming, women’s human rights and our website, Womenwatch, are fully or partly, resourced under trust funds. The Beijing Trust Fund is thus nearly depleted. The Secretariat is deeply grateful to those countries that have contributed and urges all Member States to make generous contributions to the Fund.

Also affected by financial constraints is INSTRAW. The Institute continues in keeping with the mandates on revitalization of its working method, to work on implementation of the Gender Awareness Information and Networking System project (GAINS), ably guided by the Director. Regrettably, I cannot inform the Commission that there has been any marked increase in contributions since I last reported to the Assembly during the Fall. Nevertheless, owing to the Assembly’s decision to use some regular budget funds for this year only, all the staff can be extended beyond March 2001 end of December this year and this important work thus continue.

Distinguished delegates,

The challenge we now face is to put commitments into action. We look forward to the Commission’s decisions on your future work programme, which, coming from the main body on the empowerment of women, will influence not only the work of ECOSOC, its functional commissions and other bodies, but the lives of women all over the world.

Madam Chairperson, you and this Commission may be assured of the continuing support of my Office, the Division for the Advancement of Women, of UNIFEM and of INSTRAW. As Chairperson of the Inter-Agency Meeting on Women and Gender Equality, I can also assure you that you have the support of all the member organizations of the United Nations system.

I thank you and I wish you success in your deliberations.