AS SESSION ENDS, COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN APPROVES TEXTS ON PALESTINIAN WOMEN, PROTECTION FROM HIV/AIDS, FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION, FORCED MARRIAGE

WOM/1622
9 March 2007

AS SESSION ENDS, COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN APPROVES TEXTS ON PALESTINIAN WOMEN, PROTECTION FROM HIV/AIDS, FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION, FORCED MARRIAGE

9 March 2007
Economic and Social Council
WOM/1622
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on the Status of Women

Fifty-first Session

13th Meeting* (PM)


AS SESSION ENDS, COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN APPROVES TEXTS ON PALESTINIAN


WOMEN, PROTECTION FROM HIV/AIDS, FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION, FORCED MARRIAGE


Members Adopt Provisional Agenda; Elect Chair, Other Officials of Bureau


The Commission on the Status of Women concluded its fifty-first session today by approving four draft resolutions touching on the situation of Palestinian women, the need to increase HIV/AIDS protection for women and girls, ending female genital mutilation and curbing the practice of forced and early marriages.


In line with the priority theme for its current session -- the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child –- the Commission approved a draft resolution on the situation of and assistance to Palestinian women (document E/CN.6/2007/L.2) by a recorded vote of 40 in favour to 2 against (Canada and the United States), with no abstentions.  (See annex.)


By the terms of that text, the Commission would have the Economic and Social Council express the importance of providing assistance, especially emergency assistance, to alleviate the harmful impact of the financial crisis that had exacerbated the already dire socio-economic and humanitarian situation faced by Palestinian women and their families.


Further, the Council would demand that Israel comply fully with the provisions and principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the regulations annexed to the Hague Convention IV of 18 October 1907 [“Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land”] and the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949, in order to protect the rights of Palestinian women and their families.


Also by that draft, the Council would reaffirm that the Israeli occupation remained a major obstacle for Palestinian women with regard to their advancement, self-reliance and integration into the development planning of their society.  It would encourage all women in the region to take an active role in supporting the peace process.


The Commission also approved, without a vote, a draft resolution on forced marriage of the girl child(document E/CN.6/2007/L.4/Rev.1), previously titled “Forced and early marriage”, after several changes had been made to the text by the representative of Germany, on behalf of the European Union.  As a result of those amendments, the United States, the draft’s main sponsor, removed itself from the list of sponsors.


That draft resolution would have the Economic and Social Council recognize that forced marriage contributed to girls’ faring disproportionately worse than boys in terms of access to primary school in some countries,and that early motherhood entailed complications during pregnancy and delivery, and a risk of maternal morbidity and mortality that was much greater than average.


In that resolution, the Council would urge States to enact and enforce laws to ensure that marriage was entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses and, in addition, to enact and enforce laws concerning the minimum age of consent and the minimum age for marriage and raise the minimum age for marriage where necessary.


By the terms of another draft resolution, on women, the girl child and HIV/AIDS (document E/CN.6/2007/L.1), the Economic and Social Council would urge Governments to strengthen initiatives to increase the capacities of women and adolescent girls to protect themselves from the risk of HIV infection, through the provision of health care and health services, including voluntary counselling and testing, and through prevention education that would promote gender equality within a culturally and gender-sensitive framework.


Further by that text, also approved without a vote, the Council would urge Governments to institute and ensure the enforcement of laws to protect women and girls from early and forced marriage, as well as marital rape.  It would also urge Governments to strengthen legal, policy, administrative and other measures for the prevention and elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls, including harmful traditional and customary practices, abuse and other forms of sexual violence, battering and trafficking in women and girls, and to ensure that violence against women was addressed as an integral part of national HIV/AIDS responses.


The Commission also approved, again without a vote, a draft resolution on ending female genital mutilation (document E/CN.6/2007/L.3/Rev.1), by which the Economic and Social Council would urge States to take all necessary measures, including enacting and enforcing legislation to prohibit female genital mutilation and protect girls and women from that form of violence, and to end impunity.


By further terms, it would call on States to develop standards for data collection on violence against girls, including its underreported forms, such as female genital mutilation, and to develop additional indicators to effectively measure progress in eliminating that practice.


The Commission withdrew a proposed text on the elimination of harmful practices of prenatal sex selection and female infanticide (document E/CN.6/2007/L.5) owing to the absence of its co-sponsors.


In other business, the Commission appointed two members to its working group on communications on the status of women -- Ivanan Kozar ( Croatia), from the Group of Eastern European States, and Carlos Enrique García González ( El Salvador) from the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States.  The appointment of the working group’s remaining three members, from the Group of African States, the Group of Asian States and the Group of Western European and other States, respectively, would be deferred to the Commission’s fifty-second session.


After adopting the report on its fifty-first session (document E/CN.6/2007/L.7), the Commission agreed on a provisional agenda for its next session (document E/CN.6/2007/L.6).


Committee Chairperson Carmen María Gallardo Hernández of El Salvador said in a brief closing statement, that the session had been an extraordinary experience; professionally, personally and diplomatically.  The Commission’s important role was clear: it must insert its voice into the United Nations reform process.  It had proved it could establish new alliances and strong dialogue with all United Nations organs.  The Commission had also stressed the importance of civil society and non-governmental organizations and must now maintain its catalytic role.


Following the conclusion of the fifty-first session, the Commission held the first meeting of its fifty-second session, electing Olivier Belle ( Belgium) as Chairperson on behalf of the Western European and Other States Group for the fifty-second and fifty-third sessions.  It elected En-na Park (Republic of Korea) of the Asian States Group; Ara Margarian (Armenia) of the Eastern European States Group; and Julio Peralta (Paraguay) of the Latin American and the Caribbean States Group as Vice-Chairpersons.  The election of a fourth Vice-Chairperson from the African States Group was left pending.


Background


The Commission on the Status of Women met this afternoon to take action on several draft resolutions and adopt its agreed conclusions.


Statement by Special Adviser on Gender Issues


APARNA MEHROTRA, Focal Point for Women, read out a statement on behalf of Rachel N. Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, saying there had been no significant progress in reaching gender parity within the United Nations system since the Special Adviser’s last report to the Commission.


She said that, as of 31 December 2005, the representation of women in the professional category had stood at 38 per cent, representing an increase of 1 percentage point over the previous year, and at the D-1 level, there had been a 2 per cent rise for the same period.  Women represented 37.26 per cent overall in the Secretariat, an increase of 0.6 percentage points since 31 December 2005, she said.  The largest decreases in the representation of women were at the Assistant Secretary-General and D-2 levels.  While women represented 50 per cent of resignations in 2006, they constituted only 39 per cent of professional staff.


The rate of progress was clearly insufficient, she said.  The Secretary-General had stated his commitment to gender balance and the Deputy Secretary-General had pledged to do everything she could to support him in meeting the goal of 50-50 gender balance within the United Nations.  Member States were also requested to use their influence to increase the representation of women in intergovernmental bodies and to propose the names of qualified women candidates for senior-level positions in the system.  “Together we cannot but succeed,” she concluded.


Action on Draft Resolutions


As the Commission took up the draft resolution on women, the girl child and HIV/AIDS (document E/CN.6/2007/L.1), CARMEN MARIA GALLARDO HERNANDEZ ( El Salvador), Commission Chairperson, said it contained no programme budget implications.


The Secretary of the Commission then reminded delegates of amendments to the text made by the representative of Lesotho at the time of its introduction.


The representative of Lesotho, speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), expressed thanks to Member States for their continued support of the initiative, noting that SADC countries were most affected by HIV/AIDS in the world.  Since this year was not a negotiation year, only technical updates had been included in the text and SADC looked forward to a rich debate on the topic next year.


The representative of Chile said that, as an observer, her country had co-sponsored the draft resolution, which was supported by a number of delegations based on initiatives negotiated last year.


The Commission then approved the text without vote.


The representative of the United States, speaking in explanation of position, noted that the Beijing Declaration expressed important political goals based on the understanding, among others, that it provided a policy framework but was not a legally binding text.  There was an international consensus that the Beijing document created no new international rights, such as the right to abortion, as confirmed by the Chairperson.


The representative of Cuba said it was the responsibility of all Member States to combat AIDS and they must work to ensure universal access to treatment by all those suffering from the disease by 2010.


The Chairperson then turned the Commission’s attention to the draft resolution on the situation of and assistance to Palestinian women (document E/CN.6/2007/L.2), saying it also contained no budget implications.


The representative of Pakistan made oral amendments to the text, after which the Chairperson said a recorded vote had been requested.


Asked by the representative of Pakistan who had asked for the vote, the Chairperson said the United States delegate had requested it.


The representative of Israel, making a general statement, said that, as in previous years, the Commission had before it a politically motivated text.  Since it did not address the Palestinians’ internal human rights abuses and continued terror -- which caused suffering to both Palestinian and Israeli women -- the draft left much to be desired.


Human Rights Watch had reported abuse of women, such as honour killings, she said, adding that other instances of human rights abuses had been reported to the Commission by the Secretary-General and others.  The deliberate exclusion of those instances distorted the draft resolution.  Indeed, it was in the interest of all parties to improve Palestinian women’s quality of life, but the current Palestinian leadership had not fulfilled it obligations, as stipulated by the Quartet.  If Hamas did not embrace its responsibility to end terror, women on both sides would continue to suffer.  The draft resolution was another reminder of the “stark contrast between reality and rhetoric on First Avenue”.


The Commission then approved the text by a recorded vote of 40 in favour to 2 against ( Canada, United States), with no abstentions.  (See Annex.)


The representative of the United States, speaking in explanation of vote, said her country remained deeply concerned about the impact of the current crisis on Palestinian women and the entire Palestinian population.  The United States was the largest bilateral donor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and contributed significant amounts to other programmes of the Organization, besides bilateral assistance to needy Palestinians.  However, it grieved for innocent Israelis, including Israeli women, who had suffered and died due to Palestinian terror attacks -- a reality that many did not recognize.  The international focus should be on helping both parties to maintain progress.  One-sided resolutions undermined the ability of the United Nations to play a constructive role in furthering peace, which would improve the lot of Palestinian women more than anything else.


The representative of Germany, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the text was of a primarily humanitarian nature.  The European Union remained the largest contributor of assistance to the Palestinian people and had voted in favour of the text.  Deeply concerned about the impact of the conflict on all women in the region, including both Palestinian and Israeli women, the European Union underscored the need for an approach that took into consideration the impact of the conflict on all sides.  The role of women in the peace process was worthy of further investment, and the European Union invited the delegation of the Palestinian Permanent Observer Mission to engage in a dialogue on how best to address the issue at the United Nations.  The European Union’s vote today was without prejudice to future positions it might take in the Commission and other fora.


The representative of Canada said his country was committed to alleviating poverty and addressing socio-economic inequities throughout the world, including those affecting Palestinian women.  However, Canada was concerned about operative paragraph 4 of the text, which called on Israel to facilitate the return of refugees and displaced Palestinian women and children to their homes.  It seemed to prejudge negotiations on key issues arising from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which could only be addressed through a settlement on final status issues.


The observer for Palestine thanked those who had voted in favour of the draft resolution, especially the “Group of 77” developing countries and China.  The text sent a strong message of solidarity with the women of Palestine.  Though some said it was one-sided, it was not the text, but rather the situation as a whole, that was unbalanced.  The occupying Power had continued to carry out illegal measures with complete impunity for 40 years, causing misery to Palestinians, whom it held hostage.  The statement by its representative seemed to have distorted the issue at hand.  Israel should take care to examine its own domestic situation by looking at abuses occurring at the highest levels of its own Government.  The only way to guarantee the rights of Palestinian women was for Israel to end its occupation.


The Commission then turned to the draft resolution on ending female genital mutilation (document E/CN.6/2007/L.3/Rev.1), as the representative of South Africa made amendments to the text.


Speaking on behalf of the African Group, she said female genital mutilation compromised the health of women and girls, leaving lasting physical and psychological scars.


The Commission then approved the text without a vote.


The representative of the United States, speaking in explanation of position, said she had been pleased to join the consensus, adding that the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action expressed important political goals which her delegation endorsed.  The United States reaffirmed that the goals of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action were based on several understandings and did not create legally binding obligations on States under international law or new international rights, including the right to abortion.  Nothing in the text could be interpreted to constitute support and endorsement of abortion.  The international consensus was that sexual and reproduce health did not constitute abortion or support of it.  The United States supported the treatment of women who suffered from illness or injury as a result of abortion.


The observer for the Holy See thanked the co-sponsors of the text on violence against women and girls, specifically female genital mutilation, which not only constituted a serious threat to health, but also a grave violation of the dignity of women.  All forms of violence were to be condemned.  Any strategy aimed at improving the lives of women must include special consideration for those subjected to harmful practices.  Their elimination was essential to full awareness of the value and worth of women and girls.  The Holy See encouraged men and boys to partner with women and girls in leading the fight against all types of violence.


The Commission then took up the draft resolution on forced and early marriage (document E/CN.6/2007/L.4/Rev.1).


The representative of the United States, introducing the text, said forced marriage was a form of discrimination and violence with negative consequences in terms of health, education and economic opportunities.  It also robbed girls of choice regarding their future, perpetuating their second-class citizenship in society.  It was important to highlight the issue in a stand-alone text, the first United Nations resolution on the subject.  Many changes had been made to the text in the past few days, reflecting the good progress made towards consensus.


The representative of Germany, speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, then presented amendments to the text, according to which the first preambular paragraph would read: “Reaffirming the obligation of all States to promote and protect the human rights of women, including girls, and reaffirming relevant human rights instruments in this regard, in particular the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child”.


The representative of the United States then read out an oral amendment to the text, by which the preambular paragraph would read: “Reaffirming the obligations of all States to promote and protect the human rights of women, including girls, and reaffirming the obligations of States parties to relevant human rights instruments in that regard, in particular the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child”.


The representative of Cuba then said her delegation wished to co-sponsor the original amendment.


The representative of Côte d’Ivoire noted that the European Union’s suggestions were minor, adding that her delegation continued to consider itself a co-sponsor of the draft.


The representative of the Russian Federation also expressed support for the European Union’s amendments, without that of the United States.


The representative of New Zealand, speaking also on behalf of Canada, Norway, Switzerland and Mexico, said those countries placed the highest priority on eliminating all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls, particularly the human rights question of forced marriage.  The United Nations Charter, the Beijing Platform for Action, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women together constituted the standard for the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls, a near-universal position in the United Nations that must be reflected in any text put forward.  It was on that basis that the amendment put forward by the European Union deserved full support.


She said that, while there was always a balance to be struck and compromises to be made; taking the text as a whole, the amendments put forward were essential to ensuring it was absolutely clear that longstanding international standards applied equally to girls who were at risk and subject to forced marriage.  Twelve years ago, the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action had been built on the consensus of all Member States.  Its reaffirmation two years ago at the highest level of the Commission demonstrated its enduring commitment to the implementation of the landmark outcome.


The representative of China associated her delegation with the European Union’s amendment.


The representative of Germany said that, in light of the support that the European Union proposal had just received, it wished to keep its amendment and not amend the text as suggested by the United States.


The representative of the United States then said her delegation had to withdraw as a co-sponsor of the text.


The representative of Pakistan, speaking on a point of order, noted that the title being read out was different from the title that had been distributed.


The Chairperson then asked if the European Union’s amendment affected the draft’s title.


The representative of Germany said the European Union’s title read “Forced marriage of the girl child”.


The Commission Secretary asked Germany to clarify whether the title indicated in its informal paper was also an amendment to the title.


The representative of Germany said that, since the title had been agreed today in informal consultations, the United States could explain the situation.


The representative of the United State said it had been agreed that the title would be “Forced marriage of the girl child”.


The Commission then adopted the European Union’s amendments without a vote.


The representative of Qatar sought an explanation as to whether the United States was still the draft resolution’s main sponsor.


The Committee Secretary noted that the United States had withdrawn its sponsorship of the resolution prior to the amendment.


The Commission then approved the text, as further orally revised and amended.


The representative of the United States, speaking in explanation of position, said the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action expressed many important political goals that the United States had adopted.  The United States reaffirmed the goals and objectives of the Beijing documents based on several understandings.  The documents constituted an important policy framework that did not create legally binding obligations under international law.  Reaffirmation of the goals did not constitute a change in the position of the United States with respect to treaties the United States had not ratified.  References to the Beijing documents did not create any rights or recognize the right to abortion.


Nothing in the text just approved created any rights, and it could not be interpreted as constituting support or endorsement of abortion, she said.  The United States supported the treatment of women who suffered from illness and injury caused by abortion.  As it had not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, it could not support wording that supported that treaty.  Moreover, it would be inappropriate for the Commission, as a subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council, to request the implementation of General Assembly resolutions.


The representative of Iran, also speaking in explanation of position, noted that the country was not a party to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and did not support any reference to the Convention.


Chairperson GALLARDO HERNÁNDEZ said that, since the main sponsors of draft resolution on the elimination of harmful practices of prenatal sex selection and female infanticide (document E/CN.6/2007/L.5) had withdrawn the text, the Commission would not take action on it.


The Commission then took up the moderator’s summaries of the high-level round table on “The elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child”; the panel discussions on “Key policy initiatives to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child”; “Capacity-building on mainstreaming a gender perspective in the development, implementation and evaluation of national policies and programmes for the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child”; “Elimination of all forms of violence against women: follow-up to the Secretary-General’s in-depth study at national and international levels”; and “The role of men and boys in achieving gender equality”.


The representative of Zambia requested the floor regarding the draft resolution on Palestinian women, saying she would have voted in favour of the text had her delegation been in the room.


The representative of Lesotho said she also would have voted in favour had she been present.


Returning to the agenda at hand, the Commission took note of four reports of the Secretary-General: the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child (document E/CN.6/2007/2); progress in mainstreaming a gender perspective in the development, implementation and evaluation of national policies and programmes, with a particular focus on the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child (document E/CN.6/2007/3); the joint workplace of the Division for the Advancement of Women and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: economic advancement of women (document A/HRC/4/68-E/CN.6/2007/5); and the advisability of the appointment of a special rapporteur on laws that discriminate against women (document E/CN.6/2007/8).


The Commission also decided to take note of the Secretary-General’s note transmitting the report of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) on the elimination of violence against women (document A/HRC/4/69-E/CN.6/2007/6).


The representative of Senegal asked if it would be possible for her country to become a sponsor of the draft resolution on women, the girl child and HIV/AIDS.


Chairperson GALLARDO HERNÁNDEZ said the Secretary had advised her that was not possible after so much time had elapsed.


As the Commission began its consideration of the communications on the status of women, the Chairperson recalled that, at its closed meeting of 7 March, members had taken note of the report of the working group on that subject and had decided to include it, in its entirety, in the Commission’s report.


The Commission then appointed two new members to the working group on communications on the status of women.  The new members, Ivana Kožar ( Croatia) and Carlos Enrique García González ( El Salvador), were expected to take up their duties at the Commission’s upcoming fifty-second session.


Chairperson GALLARDO HERNÁNDEZ said the appointment of three more members of the working group would be deferred to the fifty-second session, including candidates of the Group of African States, the Group of Asian States and the Group of Western European and other States, for a total of five members.


The Commission then decided that, upon nomination by their respective regional groups, the nominees would be permitted to participate fully in the proceedings of the working group when it convened next February.


Following that action, the Commission adopted the provisional agenda for its fifty-second session (document E/CN.6/2007/L.6).


The Chairperson then suspended the meeting before acting on the final two items on the agenda of its fifty-first session -- the adoption of its agreed conclusions and its final report -- since negotiations on the agreed conclusions had not yet ended.


The representative of Guatemala assured the Bureau that negotiations on the agreed conclusions were coming to an end.


The representative of the United States expressed concern that acting on the agreed conclusion without circulated copies would make it difficult to prepare statements of position.  Would it not be better for the Commission to consider finalizing that document next week?


Chairperson GALLARDO HERNÁNDEZ said the issue lay not in whether or not there was time to deliver statements on the agreed conclusions, but in the fact that there would be no simultaneous interpretation of those statements, posing a risk that those statements would not be conveyed accurately to others.


Vice-Chairperson TOM WOODROFFE ( United Kingdom), a participant in those negotiations, expressed regret that delegates did not have a copy of the text, since it had only just been finalized.


He said the fifth anniversary of special session of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on a “World Fit for Children” was due to take place in November, and suggested that the Commission submit its agreed conclusions to that anniversary session.


The representative of Cuba said that, while he trusted those assurances as to the authenticity of the agreed conclusions, to adopt them without circulated copies was unusual.  It was important to ensure there was as much clarity as possible when working at the United Nations.  Cuba would study the text carefully, and should there be any reservations, it would inform the Vice-Chairperson, Chairperson and Secretariat.


The representative of the United States said she was dismayed that language in the agreed conclusions was more attentive to the political preoccupation of international conference goers than that of women and girls.  For example, there were many references to sexual and reproductive health, while life-saving immunization was only mentioned once.  The text did not contain references to sex-selective abortions, yet there were many references on the need to help girls understand their sexuality.  References to foreign occupation had more to do with power politics than with the situation of the girl child.


She said the Commission was in danger of preserving ideological orthodoxy at the expense of solving the problems of women and girls, but acknowledged that the document did touch upon the issue of infanticide and prenatal sex selection, even if some delegates insisted that it not be called by its real name.  Nothing in the document created any new rights, in particular the right to abortion, and could not be interpreted to constitute support and endorsement of abortion.  The United States supported the treatment of women suffering from illness or injury as a result of abortion.


The Commission then adopted its agreed conclusions, and agreed that it would submit that document to the event on “World Fit for Children”.


DICKY KOMAR ( Indonesia) introduced the Commission’s final report (document E/CN.6/2007/L.7), which was duly adopted.


ANNEX


Vote on Palestinian Women


The draft resolution on the situation of and assistance to Palestinian women (document E/CN.6/2007/L.2) was approved by a recorded vote of 40 in favour to 2 against, as follows:


In favour:  Algeria, Armenia, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Congo, Croatia, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Germany, Ghana, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Nigeria, Peru, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Suriname, Thailand, Togo, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania.


Against:  Canada, United States.


Absent:  Cameroon, Lesotho, Zambia.


* *** *

__________


*     The 12th Meeting was closed.


For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.