14 January 2002


Press Release

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

Twenty-sixth Session

529th Meeting (AM)



At the opening of its twenty-sixth session, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women -– the monitoring body for the implementation of the Convention against such discrimination -- held its organizational meeting this morning.

Adopting its agenda and programme of work, the Committee agreed that during the current session, which is to last until 1 February, it will examine reports of eight States parties -- Fiji, Iceland, Portugal, Trinidad and Tobago, Estonia, Uruguay, Russian Federation and Sri Lanka.  The Committee’s 23 experts, who act in their personal capacity, are also expected to continue their work on a new recommendation to address article 4.1 of the Convention on temporary special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women.  [For further information, see Press Release WOM/1305 of 9 January.]

The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women requires States parties to eliminate such discrimination in the enjoyment of all civil, political, economic and cultural rights.  In pursuit of the treaty's goals, countries are encouraged to introduce affirmative action measures designed to promote equality between women and men, and are legally bound to put its provisions into practice and submit periodic reports on their compliance.  As of 1 December 2001, the Convention had been ratified or acceded to by 168 countries.

Opening the session today, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women Angela E.V. King highlighted several achievements since the Committee’s previous session.  They included the passing of a law against female genital mutilation in Kenya and the adoption of a new civil code making women equal to men in Brazil.  Other accomplishments included the endorsement of the recommendations of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action by the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which took place from 31 August to 8 September 2001 in Durban, South Africa. 

The Durban Conference recognized that racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance affected women and girls differently from men and boys, and that multiple forms of discrimination against women could lead to poverty, violence and the denial of women’s human rights.  It also stressed the need to integrate a gender perspective into policies and programmes against racism, and

highlighted situations where racial and gender-based discrimination created particular difficulties for women.  Among the strategies to confront racism recommended by the Conference were the ratification and implementation of human rights instruments.  States were urged to ratify the Convention with a view to achieving universal ratification within five years, as well as the Optional Protocol. 

Ms. King also addressed the situation of women in Afghanistan and highlighted such developments as the participation of two women as full delegates in United Nations-sponsored talks in Germany last December and the participation of two women in the Interim Administration.  The first Integrated Mission Task Force, which had been established to advise the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, included three gender specialists from the Division for the Advancement of Women, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Informing the Committee of her participation at the Afghan’s Women’s Summit for Democracy in Brussels, she said that it had concluded with the adoption of the Brussels Proclamation, which addressed women’s demands regarding the reconstruction of Afghanistan.  The Convention was one of the human rights instruments highlighted in the Proclamation.  In follow-up to the Summit, a delegation of Afghan women had met with members of the Security Council and the Secretary-General.  It was necessary to remain vigilant that Afghan women were included as full partners in the decision-making process and to ensure gender mainstreaming in all areas of recovery.

During the period under review, she said, Costa Rica and Liechtenstein had ratified the Optional Protocol.  A number of countries had also become party to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children.  Regarding the amendment to article 20.1, which by November 2001 had only had 26 acceptances, she had sent letters urging acceptance of the amendment to all States parties which had not yet accepted the amendment.  Seventy-three States had signed the Optional Protocol and 28 States had ratified or acceded to it.  Among the 28 countries, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein and Uruguay had ratified the Optional Protocol since the closing of the last session.

She also informed the Committee of the expansion of the Women’s Rights Unit, which was now known as the Women’s Rights Section.  The General Assembly had approved two new Professional posts for the Section and authorized the Committee to hold, on an exceptional basis, an extraordinary three-week session in 2002 to be used entirely for the consideration of the reports of States parties to reduce the backlog of reports and to enlarge the membership of the pre-session working group in 2002 to prepare for the exceptional session of the Committee.  The Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) and the Fifth Committee had raised similar concerns that the Committee and States parties should consider adopting reporting guidelines to limit the length of States parties’ reports and streamline their structure and content. 

Reporting on activities undertaken since last summer’s session, the Committee’s Chairperson, Charlotte Abaka of Ghana, said that the immediate focus during that period had been the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.  Describing her participation in the Durban event, she said that her role at the Conference was to ensure that the Declaration and the Programme of Action strongly reflected the gender perspective.  The gender dimensions of racism and related phenomena were well addressed by the Convention and its interpretation by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, especially through its general recommendations and other statements, including its specific contribution to the Durban Conference.

The Convention was an effective tool for transformation directed at achieving sustainable human, economic, social and cultural development, she continued, recommending that the Committee place more emphasis on human rights education.  It should also be a more active partner in the Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004).  It was clear to her in Durban that even in democratic societies, citizens and policy makers must learn to understand human rights obligations and the responsibilities they entail in a holistic and comprehensive way.  They must learn to monitor and enforce human rights effectively and efficiently, and for that the Committee had a very important role to play.  In that regard, she proposed that the Committee should discuss the possibility of all six committees dealing with international human rights treaties coming out with a programme on the implementation of the Durban Plan of Action.

She looked forward to a busy session, she added.  The Committee had a full programme ahead of it and much to do in preparation for the twenty-seventh session and the exceptional session in August.  It was also to lay the groundwork for its mandate under the Optional Protocol. 

Also speaking this morning, the newly appointed Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, Carolyn Hannan, assured the members of the Committee of her full support for their work.  The Division would continue to work in every way possible to ensure full ratification and implementation of the Convention -- a very powerful instrument for the promotion of gender equality.  For instance, the Division’s technical cooperation programme, which had a strong focus on supporting ratification and implementation of the Convention and its Optional Protocol at the national level, would be strengthened and expanded.  The Division also worked to ensure that personnel in the United Nations itself were aware of the importance of those instruments.

At the opening of the meeting, Ms. King and Ms. Abaka welcomed two new members joining the Committee:  Fumiko Saiga from Japan and Christine Kapalata from the United Republic of Tanzania.

Also this morning, the Chief of the Women's Rights Section, Division for the Advancement of Women, Jane Connors, introduced an item on article 21 of the Convention, which authorizes the Committee to make recommendations based on the reports of States parties.  Under the same item, the Committee would also take up article 22, under which specialized agencies were entitled to be represented at the consideration of provisions of the Convention that fell within the scope of their activities.  She introduced a second item on ways and means of expediting the Committee's work.  She also introduced the reports of the Committee on those items.  She noted that documents on Portugal’s acceptance of the amendment to article 20, paragraph 1 of the Convention had been received on 8 January, making it the twenty-seventh country to accept the amendment.

Several speakers commented on the Chairperson’s opening remarks, expressing appreciation for the work conducted prior to the current session. One of the

Committee’s experts, Françoise Gaspard of France, shared her experiences during the Durban Conference.  In connection with the preparatory work for the International Conference on Financing for Development, an expert also suggested that the Committee should pay particular attention to the role of women in developing countries.

The Committee is to meet again at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 16 January, to begin its consideration of the initial report of Fiji.

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For information media. Not an official record.