Angela E.V. King
Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women
Informal Meeting with States Parties
17 June 2002, Conference Room 2
3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women,
Distinguished representatives of States Parties
On behalf of the Secretary-General, I would like to extend a very warm welcome to representatives of States Parties and the members of the CEDAW Committee today. It is truly very welcome to see so many States Parties here. This, we take it, is a demonstration of interest and support. I would also like to commend the Chairperson and the experts of the CEDAW Committee for initiating this very timely exchange of views with States Parties on matters concerning the substantive work of the Committee.
Heretofore, formal meetings of States Parties have focused mainly on matters dealing with elections of experts and on the frequency of the Committee’s sessions. At this, the very first informal meeting, the Chairperson has shared with you progress made by the Committee in refining its working methods and we hope to provoke a lively interactive debate with you. This gradual reform has been an ongoing process for some years but we, in the Secretariat, feel that the Committee has come a long way over the last few years in focusing its work and targeting issues. It is now performed in such a way that States Parties can grasp very clearly, when the Committee is concerned about non- or slow implementation of the Convention and when it is gratified about those areas in which they have excelled.
In particular, I would like to commend the Committee for the nature and format of its concluding comments. Together with the Department of Public Information, the Division and my Office, we have ensured in recent years that the Committee members have a chance in the press conference, which takes place towards the end of each session, to publicize critical issues where there are patterns of gross violations, as well as areas where there is marked progress. This has been facilitated by the revised format of these comments. The press conference for this session will take place tomorrow. In line with this improvement, States Parties themselves are increasingly finding it useful to publicize the findings in their capital so that all may learn from their experience with the Committee.
Other areas of progress include the way in which the Committee has dealt with the backlog of States Parties’ reports about which the Chair has already spoken. Many of the individual Committee members have played a role in this as have Governments, and I would particularly like to mention the Government of Sweden which hosted the recent seminar in Lund on working methods. I would also express deep appreciation to the General Assembly for approving our special session in August to clear the remaining backlog. I want to say that both my Office and the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) have, with the help of the General Assembly, strengthened the component on women’s rights in the Division, which has now been upgraded from a unit to a section. We hope to shortly fill the only remaining new post granted by the Assembly in December 2001.
The other area of great interest to States Parties mentioned by the Chair is that of the Optional Protocol where a working group of the Committee has prepared procedures, and with the Secretariat, is in a position to process any receivable complaints as soon as they arrive.
Again, I wish to thank the Government of Germany for hosting the workshop in Berlin in November/December 2000 which enabled CEDAW members and the Secretariat to have a clearer understanding of what lies ahead under protocol procedures and to exchange views with the representatives of other treaty bodies, thereby setting in train this process.
At this point I would like to mention that the practice of individual States Parties providing a forum for the Committee to exchange views on particular issues was initiated by the Government of Spain in 1995. The Committee on that occasion had the opportunity of preparing their comments for the Fourth World Conference for Women in Beijing.
We are now at a critical time for the CEDAW Convention. Its principles are being applied both at the level of States Parties as well as countries that have not yet ratified the Convention.
In Afghanistan, for example, Minister of Women’s Affairs, Dr. Sima Samar, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, the staff of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and of United Nations agencies are very conscious of the principles outlined in CEDAW and of its importance for the future of Afghan women and men, particularly as regards the Constitution, the Special Commission on Human Rights and the Judicial Commission. The current Gender Adviser in UNAMA, on loan from the Division, is also very cognizant of CEDAW and its principles as they apply in that setting.
In another country which has yet to ratify the Convention, hearings were held last week in Washington by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. These hearings were organized by Chairman Joseph Biden and Senator Barbara Boxer. Whilst the time frame for legislation is somewhat short – slightly over one month – we are nevertheless encouraged that the hearings were indeed held with keen interest shown from a variety of quarters. We hope for an eventual positive outcome in line with the request in the Beijing Platform for Action for universal ratification.
Along with the collaborative work between the Committee, the States Parties and the Secretariat; no review would be complete without a special tribute to Ms. Mary Robinson, High Commissioner for Human Rights, for the constructive role she has played together with her staff and the Chairpersons of the treaty bodies. She has consistently highlighted violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms to which women and girls are subject and encouraged other treaty bodies and Governments alike to take note and act accordingly. We hope that the very close collaboration achieved between her office, my office and the Division will continue under her successor.
UN agencies (funds and programmes) too have played a major role, particularly, in the area of strengthening knowledge at grassroots level among women’s groups and NGOs about their rights under the Convention. I would, particularly, like to single out UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, UNIFEM, ILO and WHO which have, through their own programmes in the field, stressed capacity-building of women and training to enhance knowledge of CEDAW amongst government Ministers, women’s groups, activists and the population at large in many, many countries around the world. DAW continues to work in collaboration with the agencies, particularly, UNIFEM, which continues to arrange with some generous donors for the regular attendance of NGOs at CEDAW sessions.
UN system agencies have also encouraged the ratification of CEDAW by certain States Parties and the withdrawal of reservations. What you see today, and the progress that has been identified is very much a collaborative one.
I wish to reiterate my pledge of continued support of my Office and that of the Division for the Advancement of Women to the work of this Committee and to deepen understanding of the Convention by States Parties and non-States Parties alike. I would now like to turn the floor over to Ms. Carolyn Hannan, Director for the Division for the Advancement of Women, to speak specifically about the technical assistance work which the Division offers to States Parties.