28 October 1996


28 October 1996

Press Release


19961028 Economic growth did not necessarily ensure gender equality, but it could only be sustained if matched by advances in the status of women, the representative of Singapore said this morning. He was addressing the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), as it continued its general debate on the advancement of women and the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. He said economic globalization increased direct foreign investment and expanded job opportunities, thus allowing more women to join the workforce and reach decision-making positions. However, the opportunities for income and employment expansion must be seized to promote sustainable development and gender equality. The representative of the Bahamas said although many governments and the United Nations were confronting severe economic and budgetary restraints, there must be innovative ways to fund women's programmes, and strengthen institutions and mechanisms. The Organization's hiring freeze should not be an excuse for inaction. Education and training programmes for boys, girls and adults were needed to eliminate a gender-segregated labour market, according to the representative of Denmark. His Government had introduced vocational courses for women within traditionally male-dominated areas and for men in traditionally female-dominated fields. Several other speakers this morning stressed the importance of women's full participation in development. The representative of Sierra Leone said due to sociocultural beliefs, religious practices and the gender-biased interpretation of laws, women in developing countries suffered unequal treatment, rights and opportunity. Literacy was a high priority, because other initiatives, including political, economic and cultural sensitization, could be easily implemented if women were literate. Statements were also made by Barbados, Iran, Israel, Ghana, Marshall Islands, Kyrgyz Republic, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Bahrain, Russian Federation, United Arab Emirates and the Niger. Representatives from the World Bank, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also addressed the Committee. The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. this afternoon to continue its general debate on the advancement of women and the implementation of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women.

Committee Work Programme

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to continue its discussions on the advancement of women and the implementation

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of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995). (For background, see Press Release GA/SHC/3365 of 24 October.)


BETTY RUSSELL (Barbados) said her country's Bureau of Women's Affairs had been actively involved with other government ministries, major statutory corporations, private-sector organizations and non-governmental organizations in implementing relevant sections of the national Strategic Plan of Action and the policy and initiative section on the strengthening of family life and the status of women. The Bureau had begun updating the national policy statement on women. Gender awareness was central to all parts of the national plan of action. Her Government was particularly mindful of women's role in sustainable development, including food production and the educational sector. It also subscribed to the views, expressed earlier this year, by the Commission on the Status of Women on the need for poverty eradication and to combat globally the feminization of poverty.

Barbados had been working closely with the countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) on the advancement of women, she continued. Last October, it had participated in the first subregional activity with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) -- a Caribbean follow-up meeting to the Beijing Conference. Her Government strongly supported a recommendation for an information kit to promote gender awareness which would include information on key terms such as unpaid work, and a profile of regionally agreed codes and legislation on gender issues. Such a kit would be extremely useful to new ministries and administration heads responsible for women's affairs. Continuing information and evaluation on gender awareness was crucial to continuity in the development of gender equality between men and women.

BENNY KIMBERG (Denmark) said his Government attached the highest importance to the implementation of the commitments it willingly accepted in Beijing. In April 1996 the Danish Government presented a plan of action for the national and international follow-up to the Beijing Conference. The general approach of the plan was based on the mainstreaming of the gender perspective in all policies and planning. The Denmark platform also addressed the issue of the policy on development cooperation with an overall objective of gender-specific poverty eradication. Any work on poverty eradication was to be based on the differing roles and needs of men and women. All the numerous recommendations of the Beijing Platform for Action would be fully implemented into Denmark's development cooperation, including both political dialogue with the recipient countries and the planning and implementation of specific aid activities.

Education and training programmes for boys, girls and adults were needed to eliminate a gender-segregated labour market, he said. His Government had introduced training programmes and introductory vocational courses for women within traditionally male-dominated areas and for men in traditionally female- dominated fields.

Under the broader theme of violence against women, he said the Danish Government had placed special emphasis on female genital mutilation as a subject of concern. Denmark had hosted a well attended, international seminar on this issue in Copenhagen in May 1995. As a result of this seminar, guidelines for the prevention of female genital mutilation through development assistance were established and published.

YATIMAN YUSOF (Singapore) said as a small country with no natural

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resources, Singapore had to depend, among other things, on two factors to succeed. First, it had to tap into the global economic network. Second, it had to develop its human resource to its fullest potential. Only by developing women's full potential to benefit from the economic globalization could the well-being of society be enhanced. The issue of gender equality was therefore an end in itself and also a means to an end. Globalization brought direct foreign investment, expanded job opportunities and thus allowed more women to join the workforce and reach decision-making positions. However, the opportunities for income and employment expansion must be seized to promote sustainable development and gender equality.

He said women in Singapore were given equal access to education, training and health-care services and the Government advocated an equal opportunity employment policy for both sexes in all sectors based on the principle of meritocracy. The literacy rate of Singapore women aged 15 years and over was currently almost 90 per cent and there was virtually equal enrolment in schools. Some 43 per cent of women in tertiary institutions were female and they were also entering disciplines previously dominated by men, such as engineering, business studies, accountancy, science and technology. The Government had also implemented various programmes, such as child-care facilities and subsidy schemes, special tax benefits and a wide range of community-based activities and programmes to support working mothers. Singapore had been ranked twenty-ninth out of 174 countries on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index and thirtieth out of 137 countries in the Gender-related Development Index. However, economic growth did not necessarily ensure gender equality, but economic growth could only be sustained if matched by advances in gender equality.

FATEMEH HASHEMI BAHREMANI (Iran) said the world was facing a moral crisis caused by centuries of tyranny, injustice and bankrupt moral values, as well as indifference and inaction in granting women's inherent rights. The advancement of women was considered among the main elements for social development because it played a vital role in economic, social, cultural and political development. Ensuring that women enjoy all human rights was an essential precondition for development, because women's issues affected all of society. The successful advancement of women's rights should address three integrated areas: family, society and the State. In the process of implementing such a programme, respect for each country's moral, cultural and religious values should also be respected.

Iran's experiences in the advancement of women had been built on the basis of the Islamic tenets following the Islamic Revolution, she said. The Government had endeavoured to improve women's status in all aspects during the past 18 years. Women were participating in all economic, social and political activities, including in the national decision-making process as members of parliament, advisers and under-secretaries to the president and ministers. A women's council, a policy-making body for women's issues, had been established in order to further the status of women. Work had been carried out in health services as well, and as a result women's life expectancy had increased and birth mortality had been reduced.

LEEORA KIDRON (Israel) said that the Beijing Platform for Action should be known by as many people as possible to ensure its fullest implementation. In the last year, non-governmental organizations and government offices and agencies in Israel had conducted meetings and conferences to bring the message of Beijing to a wide audience. The Committee of Women's Organizations had established three working groups of experts and non-governmental organization representatives to evaluate the situation of Israeli women in the areas of poverty, health and the environment. The results of the surveys and

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recommendations would be presented in the next two months. The media was being used to raise awareness on gender issues and it was giving extensive coverage to cases of violence against women.

Today, most Israeli women served in the army, joined the workforce and enjoyed an advanced system of maternity leave and affordable day care, she said. Legislation promoting equality between men and women was among the most advanced in the world. However, Israel was a country of migrants and the laws were enforced differently in the different cultures. A committee had been formed in the Knesset on the status of women and had the support of all parties. As a result, women's issues had been more frequently and comprehensively on the Knesset's agenda. Her Government wanted to share its experience promoting women's equality and had recently held two courses titled, "women in trade union leadership" and "managerial development of the professional women in agriculture". The courses were attended by women from all continents.

JOHN E. AGGREY (Ghana) said much needed to be changed in the lives of women, including conditions relating to the feminization of poverty, discrimination, disease, entrenched traditions, practices and attitudes that perpetuate inequality and subordination, violence, sexual exploitation and marginalization. The Beijing Platform for Action made a bold attempt to address all these problems in twelve critical areas, and national governments now bore the primary responsibility for the implementation of the Platform. Ghana welcomed plans to establish or improve the effectiveness of national machineries for the advancement of women at the highest political level. Some countries had already established institutions and taken concrete decisions to broaden women's participation and mainstream a gender perspective into policies and programmes as envisaged in the Beijing Platform for Action.

His Government expected the United Nations to assume a leadership role in the implementation, monitoring and assessment of the outcome of the Beijing Conference, he said. To achieve this goal, the United Nations needed to adopt an integrated approach to mainstreaming a gender perspective in all policies and programmes, including the Secretariat, the specialized agencies, as well as the Bretton Woods institutions. A test case for these measures should be to improve the status of women in the Secretariat. The Government was concerned that the representation of women in policy-making and decision- making roles remained a low 17.9 per cent, which was "a rather unsatisfactory example to the outside world".

FODE KAMARA (Sierra Leone) said there was no doubt that the enormous discrimination against the girl-child had led to a wider gender gap especially in developing countries. Due to sociocultural beliefs, religious practices and the gender-biased interpretation of laws, women in those countries had suffered unequal treatment, rights and opportunity. As a result, they did not participate fully in the development of their countries. The recent United Nations conference on development, population, and human rights, as well as the Beijing Conference had all contributed to a greater awareness among women of their rights and the gender imbalance. However, the commitments made at such conferences must be made at the national level. The United Nations could only play a supporting role.

He said empowering women was a critical factor for eradicating poverty. Women's access to income, education, health care and other resources must be given priority. Literacy must be considered the highest priority, because other initiatives, including political, economic and cultural sensitization could be easily implemented if women were literate. Women's reproductive

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health must also be improved. Millions suffered serious injury and illness because of complications in pregnancy, childbirth and unsafe abortion. His Government was encouraging the political awareness of women at the local and national level. The newly elected Government was firmly committed to national development, social progress, self-reliance and improvement of peoples' welfare with special attention to women and the girl-child.

NEIJON R. EDWARDS (Marshall Islands) said the role of women was central to the development process, and development strategies must be based on the fundamental improvement of women's status. The Government of the Marshall Islands had already started implementing plans and programmes for women, especially women and girls in rural areas, in accordance with the Beijing Platform for Action. These included workshops, short-term training, vocational and health education. The education of women was also crucial to an improved overall economic performance. With a proper education, women in the Marshall Islands could become empowered to control and manage the gains from their labour in the interest of family, community and national development.

More and more young women in her country were dying of cancer caused by exposure to radiation, she said. It was hoped that the international community could help provide the Government with the expertise necessary to address the health and clean-up needs. Her delegation thanked the United States for its continued willingness to address the contamination and health problems in the Marshall Islands. Special attention should now be focused on the plight of women, young girls and mothers who were dying of cancer.

ZAMIRA ESHMAMBETOVA (Kyrgyz Republic) said that her President had established a State commission on the family and women to develop a national strategy on the advancement of women based on the Beijing Platform for Action. The Government was working with United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations to improve the status of women. The President had also issued a decree that women should make up 40 per cent of the power structure by the year 2000. Women from higher levels of power, including the judiciary, had been participating in meetings on that issue. Currently, 18.6 per cent of ministers were women -- which was higher than the rate in developing countries. Women played an important role in politics and had even established their own party -- the Women's Democratic Party.

She said her Government recognized the importance of education for women's advancement and had decided that, in future, 50 per cent of scholarships for study at foreign educational institutions would go to women. It had also made efforts to reduce poverty by giving attention to women's employment and supporting their access to banking. Women's unemployment had been reduced from a high of 73 per cent to 59 per cent in 1996, but unemployment among young women aged 18 to 29 and older women was still very high. It had been a difficult problem to deal with during the country's transition to a market economy. The country ranked sixth in the level of child mortality in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Women represented 46 per cent of those studying for higher degrees and doctorates. The President had declared 1996 as the year of the woman and there would be several conferences on women's advancement.

RI SONG IL (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) said the priorities for international efforts in the advancement of women at the global level were to eliminate poverty, unemployment, disease and illiteracy. The advancement

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of women could not be fully realized without social progress and economic development. To ensure equality in all social spheres and to improve women's material and cultural life, governments must pass laws on gender equality and other laws relevant to protecting women's inalienable rights and take practical measures to carry them out.

The Government would continue to actively join the international community in its efforts to achieve full equality for women in conformity with the principles and purpose of the Charter, he said. In the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, women participated as a political force for social development and enjoyed independent and creative lives. In 1946, the Government proclaimed a law on equality of men and women. This law ensured that women, who were once deprived of their rights as human beings and discarded by the colonial society, were granted equal rights and dignity. In Government, 20.1 per cent of the deputies' positions of the Supreme People's Assembly were occupied by women, and many women played important decision- making roles in the Government's policies.

HARCOURT L. TURNQUEST (Bahamas) said there had been minimal increase in the allocation of funding for women's programmes, and, in some areas, funding had actually decreased. Although many governments and the United Nations were confronting severe economic and budgetary restraints, greater attention must be paid to finding innovative ways to provide resources to women's programmes. Institutions and mechanisms would have to be strengthened in order to achieve follow-up to the Beijing Conference. The United Nations had made efforts to achieve that. However, additional steps could be taken to improve the

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capacities of UNIFEM, the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) and the Office of the Focal Point for the Advancement of Women in the Secretariat. The freeze on recruitment should not be used as an excuse to prevent that from happening.

He said national plans, with appropriate benchmarks, targets and objectives, were a useful instrument not only for governments to measure progress, but also facilitated the Secretariat's work in helping governments meet their goals. National plans must be submitted in a timely manner to ensure effective follow-up to Beijing and the model plan which resulted from a recent meeting in Bucharest was worthy of attention by Member States. The CARICOM countries had identified close cooperation with non-governmental organizations as a future priority. There had been dialogues and workshops, as well as active participation in the work of the Commission on the Status of Women. In October 1995, CARICOM countries had developed a subregional plan of action and identified as priorities for the Beijing follow-up the reduction of poverty and women's economic empowerment; improvement in their health; prevention of violence against women; political empowerment; disaster prevention and preparedness; and the strengthening of national machinery.

Miss AL-AWAD (Kuwait) said the status of Kuwaiti women had experienced rapid and successful advancement, including the place of women in education at all levels. Women participated in various businesses and professional business sectors, and gradually women had entered the arena of authority and leadership commensurate with the development of women in Kuwaiti society as a whole. However, the role of women in serving the efforts of development was not limited to the workforce. Many more women were active in society through community and volunteer work in cultural and artistic fields as well. Therefore, Kuwait benefited from all women's efforts in the development process.

The Kuwait Constitution stated that all people were equal in human dignity and there could be no discrimination according to gender. It also offered legal guarantees in employment and education, she said. In addition, since the 1970s the Government's development plan had focused on the role of women in social development and various economic activities. The mid-term plan for development for 1996-2000 focused on the importance of the welfare of the family and the basic role of parents. Kuwaiti women suffered because of the brutal Iraqi invasion, and it had caused serious and detrimental social and psychological effects.

EBRAHIM MUBARAK AL-DOUSERI (Bahrain) said his Government had set up population programmes for the benefit of all heads of family of either gender. Private and national bodies had been taking part in development programmes to ensure the participation of women in society. The cooperation of the State and the private sector was being sought in information programmes to encourage women's full involvement. The non-governmental organizations had worked to ensure women's participation in all areas of education and public life. Women had reached a high level in banks and certain corporations. Poverty eradication programmes had aimed to bolster women's employment, and there were also health and social assistance projects to help them. Local projects to strengthen women's capacity for leadership roles had been implemented. He drew attention to the role and work of the Bahrain Institute for the Advancement of Girls; it had helped to focus attention on women's participation in industry and commerce. The Government had also supported child-care centres and centres for disabled children, as well as research on women and children's issues.

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The Bahrain Government had legislation which supported equality in all aspects of education, he continued. Laws protected working women, including migrant women and mothers and guaranteed their pay and working conditions. There were also laws to deal with violence against women, in keeping with the Islamic Sharia. Since 1928, his country had provided education for women and as a result, they were working actively in all areas of society.

IVAN V. KHRYSKOV (Russian Federation) said the Government fully supported the measures called for by the Beijing Platform for Action, and the next step was to ensure the clear coordination and cooperation among organizations and Member States, which would determine the effectiveness of the intermediary medium-term plan for 1996-2000. Even more urgently, it was vital that all parties take efforts to speed up the implementation of the Platform for Action. In January 1996, his Government had drafted and approved a framework for improving the status of women in the Russian Federation, and this framework addressed a number of problem areas which held particular relevance to Russian women. In order to monitor the implementation of the national plan, the Government established an inter-departmental agency which paid particular attention to the advancement of women. The emphasis on achieving gender equality was underscored by President Boris Yeltsin who pledged that the Government would ensure that it carried out and achieved full equality between the sexes.

The achievement of the fortieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women was one of the first significant steps in implementing the Beijing measures. The proposed optional protocol should be a new and effective instrument in preventing gender discrimination at national levels, and there should be no delays in approving this protocol. In the preparations for the forty-first session of the Commission, emphasis should be placed on the specific requirements and circumstances of geographical regions when implementing the Platform for Action.

KHALED KHALIFA AL-MUALLA (United Arab Emirates) said global efforts since the declaration of International Women's Year in 1995 had not really lived up to the aspirations for a quantum leap on the status of women, especially in developing countries. Lack of stable development had hampered government efforts to fully implement gender equality programmes and policies. The international community should reconsider its macroeconomic policies and work with developing States to help them to improve women's productive capacity, as well as their access to capital, education and training.

He said his Government had sought to achieve equality for women and guarantee their legal rights, ownership of money, choice of work and participation in education and training. Laws had been enacted which ensured women's constitutional rights, their leadership role, leave entitlement, child care and the rights of foreign women working in the country. His Government's interest in improving and promoting women's participation in society was evidenced by their increased level of participation in professional life -- from 5.3 per cent in 1980 to 16.3 per cent in 1990. Their participation had improved quantitatively and qualitatively, and women now made up 25 per cent of the scientific and technical workforce. The Government had doubled the number of child-care centres and health-care units, drawn up illiteracy eradication programmes for women, and programmes to prepare women in rural and remote areas to participate more fully in the economy.

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Miss ILLO (Niger) said African women contributed to social and economic development and the realization of goals in every sector. Their participation was particularly vital in rural areas where women worked on an average of 17 hours per day. However, there existed a "statistical invisibility" which failed to recognize the true value of women's work in these areas. Sociological burdens trapped women in Niger into lives of subjugation, because of a lack of education and the preference for technical solutions to women's problems, among other factors. In the new democratic context in Niger, women have seen their advancement not in opposition to the status of men, but in achieving an equivalent economic and social role in society. Taking into account the political weight of women in the political system and in society, it was certain the Government's policies for the advancement of women would bring about real changes in the country as a whole. The start-up plan, however, was faltering because of a severe financial crisis.

The Government was following up all post-Beijing development efforts, she said. Niger thanked non-governmental organizations for their efforts in Africa and welcomed the role of UNIFEM and encouraged it to redouble efforts to promote the economic and social development of women in Africa. Non- governmental organizations had assisted a group of rural women who lived in a village located 18 miles from the capital. These women witnessed the hardship of children who walked to a school in the capital, and they decided to establish their own school. Several non-governmental organizations were impressed by their plans and invested in it. Now there was a two-room primary school with 130 students in the village.

JUDY GRAYSON, representing the World Bank, said the Bank intended to hold an open forum for delegates in November with Minhchau Nguyen, manager of the Bank's gender analysis and policy group. The inter-agency process was crucial for ensuring that the Beijing Platform for Action became a reality for women and girls. The issues raised at Beijing were part and parcel of the entire development process. Mainstreaming gender issues was the key. Poverty affected men and women differently, and gender-sensitive programmes and policies were necessary to ensure women did not bear a disproportionate burden and that they had equal access to resources and opportunities offered by economic growth. The Bank's Gender and Monitoring Unit reviewed all newly approved Bank projects and rated them according to whether their special components intended to benefit women and whether gender issues were directly addressed. Last fiscal year, 28 per cent of the Bank's lending operations contained gender-specific actions and a further 9 per cent contained a discussion of gender issues.

She said involving non-governmental organizations in policy formulation at the country level was another important element in the Bank's strategy. All of its resident missions in Africa now had regular consultative meetings with non-governmental organizations, and coordinators had been appointed to resident missions in Latin America. A similar process had been started in Asia. In Europe and Central Asia, the Bank cooperated with women's groups active in the environment, entrepreneurship and employment and in the definition of social safety-net programmes.

MISRAK ELIAS, Chief of Gender and Development Programmes for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said UNICEF's commitments at the Beijing Conference focused on three key areas: girls' education, adolescent girls' and women's health, and children's and women's rights. The aim of the girls' education segment was to provide a strategy for reducing gender disparities in education by addressing actions at global and national levels. Efforts to ensure a coherent programme approach to girls' education were already under

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way in 19 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In the area of health, UNICEF was working to enhance girls' and women's access to information and to help them make more informed choices. The UNICEF was addressing female genital mutilation as both a women's health issue and a violation of their rights. Multi-country initiatives were under way in Africa, and at the national and community levels, plans for the elimination of female genital mutilation were being implemented in Kenya, Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Somalia, as well as in the Sudan and Egypt.

She said UNICEF was currently developing policy guidelines which focused on gender issues in emergencies, in order to examine issues such as reproductive and mental health, gender-based violence, and the lack of access to basic social services in refugee situations. A recent inter-agency meeting, organized by the UNICEF Regional Office for Eastern and Southern Africa, focused on the involvement of women in conflict resolution, peace- building and peace education, the protection of the rights of women and girls in conflict situations and their specific reproductive and mental-health needs.

SOREN JESSEN-PETERSEN, Headquarters Director, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said in implementing the Beijing platform, the Agency was focusing its efforts on violence against women; women and armed conflict; and the human rights of women. In February, 16 countries had participated in a UNHCR-sponsored symposium in Geneva on women seeking asylum on the grounds of gender persecution. To date, Australia, Canada and the United States had drafted guidelines on the issue, and the granting of asylum on the basis of gender-based persecution, such as female genital mutilation, was now clearly established.

Agency field offices were receiving a manual on rights-awareness training for refugee women in order to help in the prevention and recurrence of sexual violence and promote gender equality and empowerment, he continued. The UNHCR had also issued guidelines on prevention and responses to sexual violence against refugees. Progress had been achieved, in close cooperation with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), on the reproductive health of refugee women. However, more efforts were needed to assist women refugees who suffered from gender-based persecution and violence so they could overcome their traumas and restart their lives. He then outlined the Agency's efforts to deal with the massive violence in the former Yugoslavia and the Great Lakes region of Africa, including community-based structures for trauma counselling, health and reproductive health care, psycho-social support and rehabilitation. The recognition that women must be active partners in conflict prevention and resolution was paramount to peace and reconciliation. The involvement of refugee women was vital in the peace-building process to ensure the negotiated peace was sustainable.

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For information media. Not an official record.