Economic and Social Council
Substantive Session of 1998
Ms. Angela E.V. King
Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on
Gender Issues and Advancement of Women
17 July 1998
The principle of the equal rights of women and men is one of the pillars of the United Nations. This principle is asserting itself in clearer terms than ever before. The five-year review of the implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action is an appropriate occasion for ensuring that coordinated system-wide follow-up to the Vienna Conference fully reflects the human rights of women and the mainstreaming of a gender perspective.
The centrality of gender equality in the full enjoyment of human rights is reshaping action for their realization. In decisions at the recent sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women and the Commission on Human Rights, Member States emphasized that women's human rights are a priority concern. The Beijing Platform for Action's target of universal ratification, by the year 2000, of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women should be a focus during this commemorative year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The early achievement of this target, by December 1999, would mark in a most fitting way the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention.
Reservations to the Convention and equality guarantees in other human rights treaties should be reviewed. States which have entered substantive reservations to the Convention should actively consider their withdrawal. The statement on reservations to the Convention, adopted last week by the Committee as its contribution to the anniversary of the Universal Declaration, provides important guidance in this regard (copies are available in the room).
Women's enjoyment of human rights does not occur automatically as a result of the overall protection and promotion of human rights. Proactive measures are required so that the realization of women's human rights is addressed explicitly and systematically at all stages of the integrated and coordinated follow-up to United Nations conferences.
The entities of the United Nations system have two complementary responsibilities in this context. One, they must ensure that women's human rights are mainstreamed into all policies and programmes for the protection and promotion of human rights. And two, they must support Governments in their own efforts to protect, promote and fulfil women's human rights. The impact of human rights activities of mainstream human rights institutions must be assessed at all stages in order to ensure outcomes that contribute to the goal of gender equality.
The report of the Secretary-General provides a picture of UN system activities concerning the equal status and human rights of women. Improved cooperation among various parts of the UN system is a major factor in creating greater awareness of the gender dimensions of human rights.
Commitment and leadership from the highest levels are a prerequisite and provide the foundation for practical actions in policy development and operational activities. The clarity with which the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have spoken on the subject of women's human rights is refreshing and energizing. Their leadership is crucial to the success of the reform process which links the normative, analytical and policy work of the system more closely with operational activities.
The annual joint work plans between the Division for the Advancement of Women and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights are now well-established as the basis for coordinating the work on women's human rights in our respective areas of responsibility. The preparation of a first-ever joint report on a specific issue, namely women's full enjoyment of their human rights particularly in the economic area, was an excellent example of how our differing strengths can be combined for the benefit of women, and facilitate coordinated inter-governmental decision-making. I look forward to similar joint reports in the future. The areas of violence against women migrant workers, or trafficking in women, are obvious subjects for joint review.
I welcome the efforts of other entities of the UN system to reflect women's human rights prominently in their work. The landmark round table on women's reproductive rights and health in the work of treaty bodies of December 1996, the report of which was just published, and in which the DAW collaborated with UNFPA and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, is an example of such efforts. The recommendations of this round table have lead to further cooperation among our offices.
I am also grateful to the Administrator of UNDP for undertaking to convey the concluding comments of the CEDAW Committee to relevant Resident Coordinators so that follow-up support may be provided as appropriate. UNDP's work in support of ratification of the Convention, or withdrawal of reservations, is notable. I acknowledge UNIFEM's contribution, especially in facilitating NGO participation at CEDAW sessions. UNICEF is to be credited for supporting implementation of the CEDAW Convention in many ways, including its most valuable provision of country-specific information to the CEDAW Committee.
Human rights treaty bodies shape the implementation of the rights falling within their monitoring responsibility. The approach of the treaty bodies to the gender aspects of these rights determines the degree to which women may derive direct benefit from their work. I look forward to the ninth meeting of Chairpersons of treaty bodies this September, when the Chairpersons will consider a study prepared by the DAW on the progress of treaty bodies in incorporating a gender perspective into their work, as mandated by the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. It will also be an opportunity to suggest practical strategies for further attention to the gender dimension.
The workshop on a rights-based approach to women's empowerment and advancement, which I am convening in my capacity as Chairperson of the Inter-agency Committee on Women and Gender Equality later this year, will be an excellent occasion for the United Nations system as a whole to share experiences, and identify challenges it faces in living up to its responsibilities for women's human rights.
This coordination segment of the Council provides members with the opportunity to formulate additional recommendations so that the equal status and human rights of women expand from the realm of specialized, women-specific expertise to making women's human rights an integral part of all human rights activities. Let me suggest the following areas for your action.
The Secretary-General's reform proposals emphasize the cross-cutting nature of human rights, and consequently, they are addressed by the four Executive Committees established by him. It is essential that systematic attention to human rights in these Committees be informed by gender considerations.
Further efforts are needed to transform the successful experiences of a targeted, women-specific approach into a holistic approach that mainstreams a gender perspective into all areas on the human rights agenda. More United Nations entities should actively participate in this effort. The ECOSOC's agreed conclusions 1997/2 on gender mainstreaming, subsequently endorsed by the General Assembly in resolution 52/100, outline a series of steps. These are also applicable to the area of human rights. Specific strategies for mainstreaming women's human rights into all human rights activities should therefore be put in place. Formalized structures of accountability would ensure that tangible results are achieved.
Technical and advisory services involving various parts of the UN system in cooperation with Governments, are another area where gender concerns should be addressed as a matter of course. A project on gender in the technical cooperation programme of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and with the participation of the Division for the Advancement of Women, has established a framework from which we can proceed. Needs assessment missions, human rights education, literacy and law reform efforts, United Nations human rights field presences or human rights components in peace-keeping or humanitarian operations are some of the areas where gender needs to be explicitly addressed. It is also crucial that the UN system faces up to its responsibilities for women's human rights in countries in crisis, whether as a result of natural disasters, conflict, human displacement, or the introduction and entrenchment of laws and policies which negate women's human rights.
UN expertise in women's human rights is available. National machinery for the advancement of women should be involved as full partners in all human rights capacity building initiatives at the country-level.
The Inter-agency Committee on Women and Gender Equality contributes to the implementation of the gender-related recommendations of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. It provides a forum for strengthening its implementation and follow-up. Opportunities for cooperation between my Committee and any human rights coordination mechanism should be further explored so that gender can be fully integrated into such work.
May I assure you that, in my capacity as Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, and together with the Division for the Advancement of Women, I am ready to continue our collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other parts of the UN system so that women's rights, which are indeed a responsibility of all of us, are given the attention they deserve.