29 February 2000


29 February 2000

Press Release



Five years after the Fourth World Conference on Women, the world was faced with painful and compelling evidence that its Platform for Action should more strongly spell out imperatives to enable women and men to protect themselves and cope with the impact of AIDS, the Health Promotion and Gender Adviser of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) told the Commission on the Status of Women this afternoon as it continued its review of the Conference.

Speaking at the Commission's forty-fourth session, Aurorita Mendoza said that although the AIDS spectre had been recognized at the Beijing Conference, the innovative thinking reflected in its outcome had not completely captured the scope of the epidemic. Indeed, the very populations that the Action Platform sought to uplift were the most vulnerable to AIDS. Moreover, the epidemic had set back successes in maternal and children's health programmes in the most affected countries in Africa, and the trend was also apparent in Asia and Latin America, where socio-economic developments were firmly taking root, and in Eastern Europe where economic transitions were rapidly taking place.

The representative of France said gender equality was the business of all countries. Even the most advanced had been prompted by the Beijing Conference to take stock of the situation of women in their countries. The introduction into law of positive (affirmative) action had triggered vigorous debate, but her country had made a quantum leap forward since Beijing: it had gone from proclaiming equality of opportunity for women to practising it.

The United States representative said it was now a different and better world for women, but inequalities persisted. The most visible was violence against women, which weakened families and left devastating emotional scars. The Commission should renew its commitment to eradicating violence against women and girls; governments and civil society should create a system that protected the victims and punished the offenders.

The representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea said that violence against women, in all its manifestations, had been a major impediment to the realization of gender equality, development and peace. Its eradication should be a central goal of any national or global plan. Understanding the root causes of violence against women would enhance respect for their human rights and freedoms.

Commission on Status of Women - 1a - Press Release WOM/1180 4th Meeting (PM) 29 February 2000

Statements were also made by the representatives of Brazil, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Iran, Sweden, Georgia, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Argentina, Zambia, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh, Guinea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Germany, Pakistan, Ukraine, Philippines, Gabon, Sudan, India and Venezuela.

The Manager of the Gender in Development Programme of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also spoke.

The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow to hold a panel discussion on emerging issues, trends and new approaches to issues affecting the situation of women or gender equality.


Commission on Status of Women - 3 - Press Release WOM/1180 4th Meeting (PM) 29 February 2000

Commission Work Programme

The Commission on the Status of Women met this afternoon to continue its general discussion on review and appraisal of the Platform of Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995. (For background on documents before the Commission, see Press Release WOM/1176 of 24 February.)


AURORITA MENDOZA, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said that although the spectre of AIDS had been recognized at Beijing in 1995, the enormous challenges it now imposed on millions of people worldwide had then been only at the periphery of the imagination. Thus, the ground-breaking and innovative thinking reflected in the Action Platform had not completely captured the links of the AIDS epidemic to the strategic areas beyond the issue of women and health. Of the 33.6 million people living with HIV today, nearly half were women. At the end of 1999, sub-Saharan African had been home to 70 per cent of those people. In that region alone, 55 per cent or the 23.3 million people living with HIV were women.

He said that young girls were particularly vulnerable to the epidemic, and epidemiological studies had shown that 17 to 22 per cent of girls between 15 and 19 years old had already been infected, compared to 3 to 7 per cent of boys their age. In 1999, the vast majority of children had been infected through breast- feeding. Indeed, the AIDS epidemic had set back successes in maternal and children's health programmes in the most-affected countries in Africa. Sadly, the increasing trend was the same in other parts of the world, including in Asia and Latin America, where socio-economic developments were firmly taking root, and in Eastern Europe, where economic transitions were rapidly taking place. The epidemic was extracting a serious toll on women as, more and more, young girls, wives, mothers and older women were becoming infected.

The AIDS epidemic had highlighted the dynamics of inequalities and disparities, he went on. Those who did not participate in the political process lived in poverty, received less education, had fewer economic resources and limited access to health care, or had been victims of conflict were the most vulnerable to AIDS. Meanwhile, those had been the very populations that the Beijing outcome had sought to uplift. Five years after Beijing, the world was faced with painful and compelling evidence that the Action Platform should more strongly spell out imperatives that must be taken to enable women and men to protect themselves and cope with the impacts of AIDS.

In that connection, he urged Commission members to intensify actions to facilitate the access of women and men to various methods of prevention; ensure that basic health and social services to women included HIV prevention education, counselling, testing and treatment; and provide economic, psycho-social and community support systems for women. Also, increased funding should be sustained for the research and development of microbicides, as that would provide women with one more way of reducing their risk within a context of unequal power relations.

MARCELA MARIA NICODEMOS (Brazil) said that beside the Secretary-General’s report and the many different reference documents prepared by the Secretariat, the Commission must also bear in mind the set of Agreed Conclusions adopted by the Commission over the last four years, which referred to all 12 critical areas of the Beijing Platform for Action. Those recommendations were of utmost importance and should not be overlooked.

Although there had been progress in all critical areas in all different parts of the world, progress had been uneven and much remained to be done to achieve full implementation of the commitments undertaken in Beijing five years ago, she said. There was still a long way to go to achieve gender equality. The process of globalization, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the changes in demographic structures, the access to and use of new communications technology and the changing roles in society were but a few samples of the challenges that would affect the full implementation of the Platform for Action. It was encouraging to note the remarkable contribution of the non-governmental organization community. At the international level, the United Nations had played a crucial role in promoting the advancement of women.

ASTER ZAOUDE, Manager of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Gender in Development Programme, said the 1999 UNDP Human Development Report pointed out that there were more opportunities and more resources available in the world today than in the past. But those increases masked greater disparities among nations, among people and between men and women. The UNDP's main goal was to help developing countries bridge those gaps, among which the gender gap was central. The UNDP had multiplied its efforts to mainstream gender in poverty education, sustainable livelihood, governance, environmental protection, HIV/AIDS and all sustainable development initiatives. It was also striving to achieve gender balance within the UNDP so women could participate as equal citizens in shaping the policies that govern their lives.

The UNDP's strength lay in its capacity to mobilize the entire United Nations family, through the Resident Coordinator system, so that strong partnerships were built, complementary interventions were initiated and broad- based networks with NGOs, civil society and the private sector were supported, she said. The current restructuring process within UNDP presented a new opportunity for increased networking and partnership among United Nations agencies. Women who were determined to bridge the digital gender divide should be assisted to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities for active leadership in distance learning, access to worldwide knowledge and new skills and opportunities.

AHMED ABOUL GHEIT (Egypt) said his country had taken pride in the fact that questions about the advancement of women now occupied a prominent place. The international community had recognized the need to care for women and ensure their equality with men in order to achieve the desired development. Development achieved by one gender without the other would be a "lopsided" achievement. All Member States should enhance the role of women and guarantee their social, economic and political rights by affirming their role in the decision-making processes. His country had long recognized that fact, and had enabled Egyptian women to occupy the loftiest positions in all sectors of the State. Moreover, interest in women in the country's development plans had been firmly established in the country's national policy.

Indeed, he said that the women's component had been included in the comprehensive development plan. Moreover, the Government had established the necessary mechanisms for their advancement, namely the National Council for Childhood and Maternity and the National Committee for Women.

Finally, his country had crowned its efforts in that regard by the President's decision announced in February to create a National Women's Council comprised of public personalities with experience in women's affairs and representatives of civil society. The new Council would negotiate several objectives, including the proposal of policies aimed at women's development and the formulation of a national plan of action for their advancement. It would also focus on implementing the Beijing outcome, especially in the fields of education, training and the elimination of poverty.

JOHN DE SARAM (Sri Lanka) said that far-reaching social policies introduced in his country since 1931 had significantly benefited all sections of Sri Lankan society, including women. It was inevitable that with the great social improvements there would be a dramatic movement of women into all spheres of national life, and Sri Lankans were now proud to state that women were leaders in the conduct of affairs at the community, provincial and national levels.

The World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995 had provided humanity’s collective conscience with a focus, he said. The Conference, and its Platform of Action, were inspirational for Sri Lanka. Following Beijing, a National Plan of Action had been adopted, a National Committee on Women had been established to oversee that plan's implementation, and laws had been reformed and focal points created in each Government Ministry.

Of course, not all Sri Lanka's gender problems and concerns had been satisfactorily resolved, he said, but this was not a consequence of national laws or lack of national will. Rather, problems arose because of economic and social difficulties that afflicted all developing countries. Those included inadequate resources, particularly to finance infrastructure, overpowering poverty, the increasing disparity between rich and poor, the scourge of terrorism, declining commodity prices, limited access to overseas markets and so on. However, he remained hopeful, he added, that far-reaching policies and investments in social infrastructure would allow both men and women the opportunities to play fuller roles in society.

TAD ELECH H. MICHAEL (Ethiopia) said that since Beijing, Ethiopia had enacted a number of policies and laws that addressed the issue of women’s rights. In cooperation with NGOs and the international community, Ethiopia would continue to promote gender equality.

Gender mainstreaming was a basic priority, she said. Ethiopia had identified strategies to achieve that goal. Foremost among them was enlisting the support of grass-roots networking organizations. Such organizations were instrumental in sensitizing the community and development planners to the issue of gender equality. Those groups also highlighted the plight of rural women by creating self-help projects and development activities.

PAIMANEH HASTAIE, Director, International Social Affairs and Women, Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, said a gender perspective had been introduced in the third five-year development plan, which had been approved by Parliament and would take effect in March. The plan stipulated that the Center for Women's Participation was duty-bound, in view of Islamic principles and future developments, to identify the cultural and social needs of women and develop appropriate plans to satisfy them. It was also charged with designing plans to generate jobs for women and strengthen women NGOs. To facilitate implementation of the Plan, the Government had developed a budgeting system in which financial resources were guaranteed for women's affairs and each year's budget bill stipulated amounts for women's issues.

Since the Fourth World Conference on Women, the Government had developed creative policies and programmes to build and strengthen mechanisms for advancing women, she said. The first National Plan of Action on Women, formulated in 1997, had ensured the adoption of a balanced gender perspective within the framework of the Islamic sharia. It aimed to improve areas including education, culture, health, social welfare and employment for all women, and placed priority on NGO participation. During the past five years, Iran had taken measures to prevent and eliminate violence against women. The Center had established a National Committee on the Elimination of Violence against Women, which had developed a national plan of action to campaign against violence.

In Iran, the rate of adult literacy for women had increased to 69 per cent, she said. The rate of enrolment in primary school for girls was 96 per cent. Some 58 per cent of the students in universities in the current academic year were female, compared to 47 per cent in 1997. The life expectancy for women was about 73 years; maternal mortality had been reduced to half its 1990 rate. Almost 100 per cent of women in urban areas, and 84 per cent in rural areas, were covered by health services. Since 1995, attention to the advancement of women had increased in government policy and public perception.

LISE BERGH, State Secretary of Gender Equality Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture of Sweden, said gender mainstreaming required knowledge and awareness of gender issues, which in turn called for training of those involved in politics. Sweden's experience was that without proper methods, adequate date and knowledge of gender issues, gender mainstreaming would only be a strategy on paper. Before Sweden had developed methods, improved statistics and set targets, its promotion of gender equality had been very slow.

The fact that women did not participate in the decision-making processes could not be justified in a democratic society, she continued. The absence of women in decision-making was not the result of a lack of economic resources or competent women. Rather, it was due to a lack of political will and commitment. In Sweden at the start of the 1990s, there were few women in Government and Parliament and in other political bodies. But with political commitment, and pressure from individuals and non-governmental organizations, the Government now had more female than male ministers (11 women and 9 men), and in Parliament, 43 per cent of members were women. Political commitment should be illustrated through time-bound targets and by current statistics. Both measures should be included as actions in the outcome document of the special session.

Violence against women was another critical area -- it was the most extreme example of the imbalance of power between women and men, she said. It was a serious problem in Sweden, as in many other countries. Reliable and adequate data on the problem was an essential base for action. Improved statistics had been one key factor in Sweden's package of measures to combat violence against women. To date, it was mainly women that had been actively involved in work for gender equality. Similarly, gender equality measures focussed primarily on strengthening the position of women. But changes for women had positive consequences for men. Work for gender equality must be broadened to involve men. Gender equality would be advanced by equally sharing the responsibilities for the care of children and the elderly between men and women. In addition, it should be recognized that women and men must both be able to combine work and family. Involving men was essential if gender equality was to become a reality.

SESILI GOGIBERIDZE, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, said the post-communist political, economic and social changes in her country had resulted in a rapid transformation of women's role in society. Women had been hit the hardest by the dramatic decline of production and the paralysis of the national economy, which had brought about painful transformations of family relationships and had created underemployment. The past five years of underemployment in industrial regions had led to urban migration, and many of those migrants were women. In 1993, ethnic cleansing in Abkhazia, Georgia, had resulted in the majority of the region's population being expelled and the creation of an extensive community of internally displaced persons, which, in turn, had exacerbated already difficult socio-economic conditions. In 1998, over 320,000 internally displaced persons had been registered officially in Georgia, of which 53 per cent were women. The State gave significant attention to the problems of internally displaced persons, and was increasing assistance for their social protection.

At the start of the 1990s, international legislative acts played a significant role in the development of Georgia's legislation and practices concerning protecting women's rights, she said. On 22 September 1994, Georgia had acceded to the women's rights Convention and major Government agencies had been charged with implementing it. The Ombudsman's Office and Women's Government Commission were charged with protecting women's rights, while a Parliamentary committee on human rights and ethnic minorities – with a subcommittee on the rights of women, children and family -- now existed. The Georgia Plan of Action for Improving Women's Conditions for 1998-2000 had been prepared, with assistance from the UNDP, and subsequently approved by the President. It incorporated many of the priorities of the Beijing Platform for Action, and the first phase had been successfully completed while the second had begun in April 1999.

At the initial stage of reforms, during the period of acute socio-economic crises, NGOs in Georgia had focused mostly on humanitarian assistance, but in the recent past, they had intensified their activities to promote human rights, democratic values, economic and legislative reforms, as well as the protection of women's interests, she said. The Georgian Government was firmly committed to moving in a more gender sensitive direction. Ongoing democratic changes had enabled women to pursue their rights more actively, but the transition had not been as smooth as had been hoped for, and much remained to be done.

Ms. LESABE (Zimbabwe) said that following the Fourth World Conference on Women, her country had defined priorities derived from the critical areas of concern. It had recognized that the contributions of all actors of civil society, community organizations, and the private sector, in cooperation with the Government, was crucial to the implementation of the Action Platform. In an effort to strengthen the national machinery and ensure its effective contribution to a national plan of action, the Government had recognized the need to popularize the global Action Platform. It had thus embarked on a process of strengthening the institutional mechanism and establishing focal points.

He said that with the assistance of the UNDP, Zimbabwe had embarked on a project aimed at encouraging women to seek political positions, building the capacity of women already in power points and sensitizing women to the need to vote for other women. Yet apart from an insignificant increase in women in leadership positions, the women of Zimbabwe had remained "relatively invisible" in that regard. Economic empowerment had been advocated as a means of eradicating poverty and sustaining initiatives focusing on women and other vulnerable groups. The creation of jobs and self-reliance programmes had also been emphasized. Also, in an effort to overcome the resistance of credit institutions to lend to women, since they had no collateral, women had formed cooperative and village banks, and efforts were under way to establish a women's bank.

Although great strides had been made in the enrollment of girls in primary and secondary schools, the attitudes and cultural factors that had kept them from access to education had not been fully addressed. Also, while there had been marked improvement in retention rates in primary schools, clearly gender disparities had persisted in secondary education. As a means of redressing such problems, the Government had put in place a school curriculum favouring the girl child and including technical education. However, the prevailing macroeconomic situation had negatively impacted on all such efforts, making it difficult to implement the Beijing Platform.

ZOHRA BEN ROMDHANE (Tunisia) presented some of the work done by her country to promote the rights of women. It was important to note that a favorable political climate had contributed greatly to the advancement of women in all areas.

She went on to briefly highlight some of Tunisia’s achievements. In the area of legislation, she said that a “code of personal status” had been enacted that abrogated the principle of subordination of women and had made the marriage relationship one of equality.

In the area of institutional mechanisms, she said that a fund had been established to preserve alimony to protect the rights of women after divorce. Her country had also established an Observatory on the Status of Women, as well as a National Council on Women and the Family. There had also been mechanisms enacted to protect children’s rights throughout the country.

In the area of strategic planning for development, she said that a gender- specific dimension had been introduced into all development programmes and policies after Beijing. An essential part of growth and democracy was the recognition that women’s rights were human rights. Only through this sort of global approach could women achieve parity in all levels of society.

LILA SUBIRAN DE VIANA (Argentina) said that major goals had been reached since the Beijing Conference, such as the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Rome Statue establishing an International Criminal Court, and negotiations under way in Vienna to draft an additional protocol on the trafficking of human beings. In addition, many governments had taken steps to improve the status of women in their countries, but more remained to be done. The same old problems of poverty and exclusion and the lack of education had not always received the attention they deserved. Perhaps that had to do with the nature of such vexing, chronic conditions.

She said that solutions must focus on wiping out all forms of discrimination. Culture should not be used to foster discriminatory practices against women. Further, the most vulnerable women must be the focal point of all actions seeking to transcend the realm of ideas and theories to really turn things around. The great challenge for an international organization was to achieve proper mainstreaming of gender system-wide. As the Secretary-General had stated, identifying "best practices" would help to make programmes pay off. The continuing challenge for governments was not simply to orient public policy with gender considerations, but to monitor the compliance of the impact of such actions on men and women and to compile gender-specific indicators.

Ms. MUSALE (Zambia) said that her country had developed a strategic plan for the advancement of women in Zambia to help implement the Beijing Platform for Action. This plan, based on the premise that women and men must have equal rights, obligations and opportunities, sought to provide all actors with a realistic plan of action for the implementation of the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies, as well as the Platform.

Of the five priority areas of concern the Action Plan had identified, she highlighted poverty alleviation as an issue most in need of attention. The implications of poverty included the lack of resources, denial of opportunities and choices and the failure to lead a long, healthy and creative life. In the process of implementing this critical area, Zambia had encountered many constraints, including the burden of debt repayment, limited access to agriculture inputs and inadequate in-depth gender analysis and impact assessment of poverty alleviation programmes.

The advent of the HIV/AIDS epidemic had also compounded the problem of discrimination that women faced. She said that women who were infected with the virus often faced discrimination in the household and community. They also faced “double jeopardy” as a result of gender and health-related discrimination. “The result is severe poverty and suffering”, she said. Zambia had determined that education as well as legislative reforms could help overcome the economic powerlessness of women infected with the HIV virus.

She said that while Zambia would remain committed to ensuring the full implementation of the Platform for Action, she hoped that a national gender policy that would concentrate on gender and development activities would be adopted in order to complete the scope of the Platform and make its implementation more comprehensive.

ELMIRA IBRAIMOVA (Kyrgyzstan) said that since the Beijing Conference, tremendous achievements had been made and the role of the Commission had been crucial in that regard. Her country had undertaken vigorous action at the national level, and had achieved much. Since Beijing, the Government's national gender policy had become well-balanced and focused on enhancing women’s status in such areas as health, education, the development of small business and educational parity. The institutional capacity to improve women's status had also been developed, and key legislative reforms had been adopted.

Towards implementation of those policies, the Government had established a State Commission on Family and Youth Issues in 1996, she said. It had also ratified a number of conventions on women's issues and had been implementing a national programme for women, from 1996 to 2000. Despite some positive results of such widespread reform, such as a decreased rate of infant and maternal mortality, obstacles related to the economic hardships suffered primarily by the women and children of Kyrgzstan had remained. Those had included trafficking, violence against women and significant poverty. International organizations such as UNICEF, UNDP and UNHCR had helped, and despite the many impediments, she was confident that the commitment of her Government to the promotion of women would ultimately produce the desired results.

ANWARUL KARIM CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) said that the National Action Plan for Women’s Advancement had been adopted following the Beijing Conference. The Plan, currently in the third year of its implementation, had established national indicators to measure the progress of implementation, indicated resource requirements and established time-frames for all actions.

He said that initial assessment of the Plan had confirmed that women in Bangladesh now had better opportunities and better access to productive resources. National laws had been adopted and strengthened for gender equality and empowerment of women. Special attention had also been paid to the girl child.

He said that one particular reason for these positive developments was the involvement of civil society at the grass-roots and community levels and the increased participation of women themselves. Those partnerships and networking activities had been the key to the Government’s efforts to implement the Beijing Platform.

He said that there was no doubt that much more work needed to be done. Women in poverty, particularly rural women, called for strengthening of all related initiatives and programmes. There was also much work to be done to further improve the situation of the girl child, and the issue of violence. He also said that strong measures must be taken to address the concerns of women in armed conflict.

Ms. ARIBOT (Guinea) said her Government had always attached much importance to women's advancement, and, following Beijing, had quickly set up the institutional mechanisms to promote their advancement. It had also adopted a national policy for women's promotion, as well as a national action plan in 1997. Those measures had formed the gender and development framework programme, which had been formulated with the assistance of the UNDP.

She said the framework programme for the promotion of women had centred on the following five fundamental elements: gender/law and power; gender/economy and poverty eradication; gender/education, training and illiteracy; gender/health; and support for institutional machinery. Indeed, the framework programme had been an important part of the national sustainable human development programme and of the socio-economic development strategy. Its implementation had emphasized the participation of civil society, NGOs and women's organizations. A major victory had recently occurred with the handing over of excision knives by the professional excisioners in one region of her country.

Along with the difficulties encountered by all countries in implementing the Beijing objectives, Guinea was particularly challenged by the prevailing instability in the western sub-region, which had affected social infrastructures at the grass-roots level. Its involvement in conflict resolution had challenged the national budget -- money had been taken away from certain programmes, in particular those benefiting women and children. Her country had donated more than $300 million to the restoration of peace, security and stability. The massive presence of refugees, representing one tenth of the population, however, had impeded the social plan and stressed the environment, which had been an important source of income for women.

LINDA TARR-WHELAN (United States) said that while women had faced countless obstacles and even a few setbacks in the past quarter century, there had been overwhelming progress. It was now quite a different and better world for women. “Women enter the twenty first century transformed”, she said, “we have cause to celebrate.”

She firmly believed that “Women 2000” should be a celebration, and urged governments to include representatives of NGOs in their delegations and make special efforts to include youth representatives as the stewards of the next century. “The special session should re-affirm the importance of NGOs and other members of civil society in implementing the Platform of Action”, she said.

She said that as work began on the “outcome document” for the special session, it should be concise and action-oriented. The focus should be on issues that, although grounded in the Beijing Platform, remained unresolved since 1995. Some of these unfulfilled issues included women’s leadership and political participation; trafficking in women; women’s economic empowerment; violence against women; and women’s economic empowerment.

She said that violence against women was one of the most visible signs of women’s inequality. Violence weakened families and left devastating emotional scars that could create a destructive cycle where those who were abused as children became abusers themselves. She called on the Commission to renew and increase its commitment to eradicate violence against women and girls. Governments, NGOs and the international community should work together to create a system that punished offenders and provided victims with the information and assistance they needed.

She said that trafficking in persons in all its forms must be stopped. That included trafficking in women and children for the purpose of slavery, forced labour or sexual servitude. Trafficking was a global issue, she said, and the United States had embarked on a three-part anti-trafficking strategy that consisted of prevention, protection and assistance for victims and the prosecution of traffickers.

On the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan, she said that the United States would again introduce a resolution that would urge all Afghan parties, in particular the Taliban, to end all human rights violations against women and girls without delay. The resolution would also urge the parties to take strong measures to repeal discriminatory legislative and other measures with respect to the equal rights of men, women, girls and boys to education, employment and health care. “We believe this resolution sends the message that human rights are universal, that no group has the right to deny women and girls their human rights”, she said.

TRAN MAI HUONG (Viet Nam) said the advancement of women in Viet Nam had been a high priority of State policy since the country's independence. Immediately following the women's World Conference, all branches of Government and society had participated in formulating a national platform for action. It had been adopted in 1997 and was based on the objectives of the Beijing Conference. The national plan had set out 11 concrete objectives to be achieved by 2000, in such areas as employment and income generation for women; gender equality in education; gender sensitive health care; and the enhancement of women's leadership role.

She said that remarkable achievements had been made in Viet Nam in the last five years, especially in the light of the prevailing economic and social conditions. In addition, progress had been made in nearly all of the 12 critical areas of concern identified in the Beijing Platform. The status of women country- wide had greatly improved, especially in rural areas. Indeed, the Government's policies had been affected by the Beijing Conference, as that had strengthened its strong commitment and active response to its people. Communication and information had remained critical advocacy tools. Much remained to be done, including the mobilization of additional resources to enhance the capacity of the national machinery.

MOHAMMED AL-HUMAIMIDI (Iraq) said that Iraq had enacted legislative measures to eradicate all forms of discrimination against women and had been endeavouring to apply the tenets of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. While it was clear that the major responsibility to follow-up the Beijing Platform was national, the international community also played an important role to help lighten the economic and social burden of its implementation.

He went on to say that since it was difficult to promote the Platform without sustainable development, countries that were suffering from sanctions would face particular problems and impediments to implementation. Unjust embargoes on Iraq had, therefore, affected the promotion of women and women’s issues in that country. In fact, there had been a backward step in their everyday lifestyles and other spheres. Sanctions had even forced some women to give up their jobs to take care of their families.

Unfair sanctions and embargoes also affected women’s mental and physical health, he said. Studies had shown that maternal mortality rates had increased and infant mortality had also risen. He cited a UNICEF report which said that by lifting sanctions on Iraq, it would have been possible to avoid millions of deaths. He said that an essential step to improve the status of women in Iraq would be to lift sanctions so that women could assume their pioneering role as equal members of society.

CHOE MYONG NAM (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) said that, among the 12 critical areas of concern, violence against women deserved priority attention. That practice, in all its manifestations, had impeded the realization of gender equality, development and peace. Its eradication should be a central goal of any national or global plan. Understanding the root causes of the violence against women would enhance respect for their human rights and freedoms. Efforts should also be intensified through the adoption or reinforcement of legislative and judicial measures.

He said that the persistence of sexual violence committed recently in the areas of war or armed conflicts could be attributed to the failure to bring to justice the perpetrators of past violence. An example of unresolved sexual violence was the sex slavery of military "comfort women", which was unprecedented in history. Many in the world had compared that crime committed by the Japanese Government and military against Asian women to the crimes of the notorious German concentration camp at Auschwitz. The Japanese Government must immediately make a sincere apology and offer unconditional compensation to the victims.

MARION THIELENHAUS, Deputy Head of the Department of the Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth of Germany, said the Commission was now called upon to formulate a forward-looking strategy on important future-oriented issues such as globalization, gender mainstreaming and empowerment of women. Rather than repeating the individual chapters of the Beijing Platform for Action, a holistic approach was needed to transform commitment into action. For this, the contribution of civil society was crucial, and, therefore, Germany supported the wide participation of NGOs in the impending special Assembly session.

The current German Government had enhanced its efforts to ensure women's skills were better used in all sectors of society, she said. An ongoing "women in work" programme had been launched last year to provide impetus for equal opportunity and promote equal workforce participation. As a first step in that programme, gender mainstreaming would be incorporated into the Federal Government's Rules of Procedure, to be monitored by an inter-ministerial working group. A new bill to be introduced would give preference to women with equal qualifications for work in areas where they were underrepresented. Using greater flexibility in working life provided opportunities to lessen the differences in the work histories of men and women and to redistribute gainful employment and reproductive work more equally between men and women. A new image for men was crucial for this, and a campaign to portray men equally sharing family responsibilities was being undertaken.

The five-year period set for review of the implementation of the Beijing Programme for Action was too short, she said, so the special Assembly session should not mark the end of the Commission's work. It must instead give new impetus to efforts to fully implement the Platform. The Commission seemed the right place to discuss, and to work together for the achievement of, the common goal of equality between women and men in all areas of society.

JALIL ABBAS (Pakistan) said that following Beijing, a greater awareness of the gender dimension in national policies had emerged. There was emphasis now on the need for equal access to education and productive resources by women and men to achieve sustainable development. There was also wider recognition of the persistence of violence and discrimination against women. Clearly, there was still considerable ground to cover in order to turn the vision and plans of Beijing into a reality. Since then, a number of factors had impeded implementation of the Action Platform, including the globalization process, which had largely handicapped developing countries.

He said that in many parts of the world persistent and acute armed conflicts had hampered efforts towards the advancement and empowerment of women and children, particularly the girl child. Those groups had borne disproportionate hardship. Gross human rights violations and crimes perpetrated against women and girls had been most evident during the recent conflicts in the Great Lakes region of Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Kashmir. It was, thus, satisfying that the International Criminal Court would designate rape as a crime against humanity.

Rapid action towards achieving gender equality and ending all forms of discrimination against women was not only a moral human rights imperative, but also an economic necessity, he said. No country could prosper or sustain prosperity if nearly half the population remained neglected, deprived and removed from mainstream development. Among his country's immediate concerns were to transform traditional attitudes and cultural barriers which obstructed action against the perpetrators of violent crimes against women; reform the legal and judicial systems to provide quick redress; and measure and quantify women's existing role in and contribution towards production and consumption levels.

FRANÇOISE GASPARD (France)said the effect of world conferences on the promotion of women had been considerable. For a long time, gender had been put on the same par as religion, race, and ethnic origin. Women were not a minority, but were present in all levels and in all categories and discriminated against because of their gender. For generations, being born a woman had entailed a possible handicap. In Vienna in 1993, the fundamental rights of women and girls had been seen as an indivisible part of the rights of all human beings. The implication that such a perception was new had been revealing.

She said her country had made a quantum leap forward, as it had gone from proclaiming equality of opportunity to practising it. It had ratified the women’s anti-discrimination Convention, which had endowed the Government with an authoritative basis for taking legislative measures to promote women in all spheres. Gender equality was the business of all countries; even the most advanced had been prompted by Beijing to take stock of the real living conditions of women in their societies. De facto inequalities had remained, even in France, and legislation and the introduction into law of affirmative action had triggered vigorous debate. In June 1999, the Parliament had made it possible to provide equal access of men and women to jobs. It was now reviewing a bill to ensure gender parity in regional and municipal councils. Indeed, democracy had depended on parity in decision-making.

VOLODYMYR G. KROKHMAL (Ukraine) said that in his country the protection of the rights of women was an integral part of human rights policy, and there was a growing feeling that the issue should be given special attention. In that regard, the Government, guided by the provisions of the Fourth World Conference on Women, had undertaken efforts within the National Plan of Action to improve the situation of women and to upgrade their role in society.

He went on to say that Ukrainian laws, in full conformity with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, sought to ensure and consolidate equal rights of men and women in the public and political arenas.

One of the areas which continued to be of particular concern to the Ukrainian Government was the trafficking of women and girls for the purpose of sexual exploitation and prostitution. A campaign against that clandestine and criminal activity could only be waged effectively if governments were encouraged to strengthen their commitment to fighting organized crime and the effects of unemployment, and supporting sustainable economic and social development.

He said that progress in the area of gender equality could not be achieved in isolation. Only by working with NGOs, international agencies and other organizations could the Beijing Platform be implemented effectively.

AMELOU BENITEZ REYES (Philippines) said that certain significant gains had been made in her country in the past five years to implement the Beijing outcome. For example, various irreversible measures had been instituted to ensure that gender equality would survive the uncertainties of political transitions. Enabling mechanisms had been established to help mainstream gender and development programmes in all stages of the development planning process. In addition, five of the 12 areas of concern of the Beijing Platform profoundly affecting the lives of women in her country had been prioritized, including women and poverty, violence against women and women in decision-making.

She said that, as a result of globalization, the Asian financial crisis had drastically effected the women in her part of the world. The closing of firms had left many women unemployed or forced into low-paying jobs in the informal sector. Indeed, poverty remained the single biggest factor limiting opportunities for Filipinos, particularly women, and continued to be one of the most serious challenges facing the Government,

Harnessing country experiences and insights would make possible the attainment of further actions beyond Beijing, she said. In that regard, regional mechanisms for continuous and systematic collaboration and exchange of lessons should be set in place through a South-South cooperation scheme in order to better achieve women’s empowerment. Further, a solid, globalized pact for rejecting sexual servitude penalizing the perpetrators and freeing the victims from criminal liability would go far towards solving the problem of trafficking. Hopefully, some of those ideas would find a way into the outcome document on the follow-up to the Beijing Platform.

ANGELIQUE ENGOMA (Gabon) said the time had come to cast a first glance at the progress achieved in implementation of the Beijing Action Platform. Since its adoption, developing countries had made efforts to implement it. While that had led to some progress, obstacles had remained, including a lack of human and financial resources. In order to diagnose progress, the Gabon authorities had organized a seminar to follow up Beijing. The subsequent report had been published and unfulfilled objectives had been turned into a concrete plan of action, focusing on eight of the 12 critical areas identified at Beijing.

She said the plan had proposed the creation of an environmental, legal, institutional, and social framework for advancement, as well as provision of the means and skills and financial support to remove remaining obstacles. Micro- projects were being encouraged with a view to sustainable human development. The programme had outlined general policy development, as well as specific programmes for implementation.

HAG HAMED (Sudan) said that in the wake of Beijing, one of Sudan’s most important efforts to follow up the Platform had been the creation of the National Plan of Advancement for Women, which highlighted the need to promote women’s issues and the overall importance of women and their contribution to society. Representatives from the Government, volunteer organizations and national experts had all participated in the dialogue that had given birth to that landmark legislation.

He went on to say that the Sudan had addressed the issue of women’s rights in various areas -- especially women in poverty, divorced or widowed women and displaced refugees -- in order to ensure a decent livelihood for that most vulnerable segment of the population. The Sudan had also made advances in the field of training programmes and health services. In the field of education, that country had enacted a national strategy to reduce illiteracy to 10 per cent by 2001.

Finally, he said that his Government sought strenuously to give women a prominent position in society. More assistance, however, was needed from the United Nations agencies and world governments on that issue. The special session would provide a good opportunity to renew the international community’s commitment to the empowerment of women.

ASITH BHATTACHARJEE (India) said that of primary concern was the cascading impact of globalization on developing countries, particularly on women and the girl child. The influx of corporate capital into the economies of the developing world would make women the first to suffer from intra-social marginalization and the increasing feminization of poverty. The effects of increasing "monetisation" of social and economic exchanges through the process of integration were already evident in traditional societies and family structures. Increasing competition

for access to resources and employment, in an already unequal situation for women, would further their exclusion without pro-active policies and strategies to preempt it.

She said another challenge was the increased population of the aged, particularly of older women. In India, the proportion of widows in the female population had been increasing. Now, 63 per cent of women over age 60 and nearly 80 per cent of women aged 70 and above had been widowed. Those "silent changes" in the developing world threatened to overtake its peoples, unless structures and institutions were promptly and firmly embedded. True challenges lay ahead for developing countries if change was to occur. Clearly, women's economic emancipation and their strong participation in decision-making would bring about progress. With the countdown to the special session already begun, it had become clear that a wide gap between commitments and achievements remained five years after Beijing.

Ms. ABRATIA (Venezuela) said it was important to note that in December a devastating natural disaster in his country had affected over 400,000 people, nearly 50 percent of whom had been women. Entire towns had disappeared and jobs had been lost.

She said that her country had enacted a new constitution, which she believed was the most advanced in the world in the area of gender equality. Venezuela had also enacted revolutionary laws to address the issue of violence against women and families, which envisaged the reeducation of attackers, as well as programs to aid and educate victims. She said it was important to highlight the role of women’s NGOs and organization in efforts to raise national and international awareness on the issue of gender equality.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.