2 March 2009


2 March 2009
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on the Status of Women

Fifty-third Session

1st & 2nd Meetings (AM & PM)



With ‘Caring Societies in Recession’, Says UNAIDS Executive Director,

Nothing Short of Social Revolution Will Deliver on Commitments to Gender Equality

With women still constrained in employment, education and public life, and unfairly burdened in caring for the sick and elderly, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro urged States, the private sector and civil society to take a comprehensive approach to correcting those inequities, as she opened the fifty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

The Commission’s two-week session will consider the follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and to the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly entitled “Women 2000:  gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century”.  Today’s high-level meeting featured remarks by Ministers from developed and developing countries alike, as well as two high-level round tables on the theme, “The equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS”.

Ms. Migiro said inequities persisted in the sharing of responsibilities between women and men in the public and private sectors, and in relation to paid and unpaid work.  The international community must recognize unpaid work and caregiving carried out at the household and community levels, and value its contribution to social and economic development.  The burden of domestic and care responsibilities, in terms of time and work, must be reduced.  That required investment in quality and affordable care services for children and the elderly.

Moreover, she said legislation to reconcile work and family responsibilities should be adopted -- and implemented.  Among other things, it should include measures to close the pay gap, increase flexibility in working arrangements and provide better leave provisions.  In addition, adequate resources were needed to empower women and girls who were dedicated to caring for those with HIV.  “We must do this even as we grapple with multiple crises,” she said.

Stressing that inequalities in the sharing of domestic and caregiving responsibilities persisted in all parts of the world, Sylvie Lucas of Luxembourg, President of the Economic and Social Council, said, as women entered the labour market, there were significant implications for caregiving, yet the unequal sharing of duties had not been reduced as women took up paid work.  In addition, the economic value of women’s unpaid work had not been adequately recognized, which had implications in the context of the emerging global financial crisis.  More must be done to promote the equal sharing of responsibilities, including through appropriate legislation, policies, programmes and awareness-raising.

Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, underscored that women’s caregiving duties had been heightened in many parts of the world by HIV/AIDS.  Due to the serious failure of health systems, care needs generated by the pandemic were largely met through home-based care provided by women and girls.  Moreover, the unequal burdens of household responsibilities were mirrored by inequality in the public sphere -- women were over-represented in paid care work, which often had low pay, low status and few social benefits.  Responses to such situations should challenge -– and not reinforce -- the idea that household work and caregiving were women’s sole responsibility. 

He encouraged the Commission to take bold steps to urge Governments and other relevant stakeholders to adopt and implement effective measures to support women and men in balancing paid work with meeting family and other duties.

Echoing that call, Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said “caring societies are in recession”.  He sounded an alarm over the increasingly terrible acts perpetrated against women, which included sexual violence as an instrument of war.  Just as the world was compelled to respond to AIDS, it had a moral imperative to protect and empower women and girls.  Nothing short of a social revolution was needed to deliver on commitments to gender equality.  The world had committed to universal access to comprehensive HIV prevention, treatment, care and support -- the challenge was to make access a reality for all.  Action was needed on many fronts, the first of which involved giving women and girls the power to protect themselves from HIV.

In other matters, the Commission elected the following members to its Working Group of Communications:  Janine Elizabeth Coye-Felson of Belize (on behalf of Latin American and Caribbean countries); Asif Garayev of Azerbaijan (on behalf of the Eastern European States); Ana Jimenez of Spain (on behalf of Western European and Other States); Paleso Liphoto of Lesoto (on behalf of African States); and Fuzuki Nomura of Japan (on behalf of Asian States).

It also adopted its agenda and other organizational matters, contained in document E/CN.6/2009/1.

Also making statements during the morning session were Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women; Thandika Mkandawire, Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD); and Jane Hodges, Director of the Bureau for Gender Equality of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Statements were also made by the Vice-President and Secretary of State for Women’s Affairs of the Gambia; Minister for Human Rights and Minorities of the Czech Republic (on behalf of the European Union); Minister in the Presidency of South Africa (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community); Chairperson of the State Committee for Family, Women and Children’s Issues of Azerbaijan; Minister of Family and Women and Social Affairs of Côte d’Ivoire; Federal Minister for Women and Public Administration of Austria; Minister for Equal Opportunities of Italy; Minister for the Promotion of Women, Children and Family of Mali; and Minister for Equality of Spain.

The representatives of the Sudan (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China) and Cuba (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement) also spoke.

Participating this afternoon in the first round table were the representatives of Argentina, Czech Republic (on behalf of the European Union), Greece, Germany, Gabon, Finland, Indonesia, Israel, Cuba, Côte d’Ivoire, Mexico, Azerbaijan, Canada, Pakistan, Philippines, Netherlands, Egypt, Portugal, Belarus, Japan, South Africa, Eritrea, Viet Nam, Swaziland, Finland, Haiti, Pakistan, Mali, United States and Morocco.

And in the second round table, participants included high-level representatives from Sweden, Switzerland, Poland, Spain, Turkey, Belgium, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Botswana, Norway, Denmark, Brazil, Sudan, Australia, Niger, United Kingdom, Thailand, Zambia, Iran, Iceland, Colombia, Ecuador, Latvia, New Zealand, Bangladesh and Senegal.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 3 March.


The Commission on the Status of Women met this morning to begin its fifty-third session, during which it would consider the follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and to the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly entitled “Women 2000:  gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century”.  (For background, please see Press Release WOM/1710 of 23 February.)

Opening Statements

Chairperson OLIVIER BELLE ( Belgium) opened the session by detailing the Commission’s programme of work for the session and updating the Commission on the work of the Working Group on Communications on the Status of Women.

United Nations Deputy Secretary-General ASHA-ROSE MIGIRO said she and the Secretary-General both were strongly committed to gender equality, the empowerment of women and the Commission’s work.  She welcomed the Commission’s focus on the priority theme, particularly as imbalances and inequalities in the sharing of responsibilities between women and men persisted in the private and public spheres, and in relation to paid and unpaid work.  Most domestic work, for example, was done by women and girls in developed and developing countries alike.

As a result, women faced restrictions in employment, education and training, and participation in public life, she said.  The HIV/AIDS pandemic had illustrated that a range of stakeholders -- including in the State, private sector and civil society -- must play a role in caring for people.  “This is an urgent task that requires a comprehensive approach,” she said.

Highlighting critical steps, she said the international community must recognize unpaid work and caregiving carried out at the household and community levels and value its contribution to social and economic development.  The burden of domestic and care responsibilities -– in terms of time and work -– must be reduced, which involved investing in quality and affordable care services for children and the elderly, among other things.

In addition, all must address the significant responsibilities faced by women and girls during home-based care in the context of HIV/AIDS, and find ways to strengthen the roles of men, she said.  Legislation should be adopted and implemented to promote reconciliation between work and family responsibilities for women and men.  That should include closing the pay gap, increasing flexibility in working arrangements, providing better leave provisions and increasing the degree to which men took advantage of such provisions.  Moreover, innovative ways must be developed to eliminate gender stereotypes.

Without proper social and rights protection, she said too many women carried the heaviest burden in caring for those affected by HIV and AIDS.  “This is unjust and a serious form of discrimination, even a form of violence against them,” she said.  Through the “UNite to End All Forms of Violence against Women and Girls” campaign, the Secretary-General was resolved to end that scourge, a commitment he reaffirmed yesterday at the Kibati refugee camp near Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Ensuring that caregivers had the means to do their work at a cost that society must be ready to meet, she called for adequate resources to empower women and girls who were dedicated to looking after those with HIV.  “We must do this even as we grapple with multiple crises,” she said, noting the global financial crisis.  While such challenges might seem daunting, there were many lessons to build on and she urged the Commission to exchange ideas and enhance partnerships.

President of the Economic and Social Council SYLVIE LUCAS ( Luxembourg) said inequalities in the sharing of domestic and caregiving responsibilities between women and men persisted in all parts of the world, notably due to unequal power relations and persistent stereotypes.  As women entered the labour market, there were significant implications for caregiving, yet the unequal sharing of responsibilities had not been reduced as women took up paid work.  Rather, unpaid work in households was often assumed by other women from disadvantaged groups, including migrant women.  In addition, the economic value of women’s unpaid work had not been adequately recognized, including in national statistics, which had implications in the context of the emerging global financial crisis.  The HIV/AIDS pandemic had further increased caregiving responsibilities for women and girls, especially where health systems had failed.

She said there was increasing recognition of the role that men must play to ensure equal sharing of responsibilities, including care for those living with HIV/AIDS.  Innovative measures had been developed to support men in that role, and she expected there would be active sharing of experiences in the coming two weeks.  However, much more must be done to promote the equal sharing of responsibilities, including through development of appropriate legislation, policies, programmes and awareness-raising.

With that, she said the Economic and Social Council was working to increase its effectiveness as the principal body for coordination, policy review and guidance on economic and social development issues.  It had invited its functional commissions to contribute to the 2009 Annual Ministerial Review on the theme of “Implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to global public health”, and she welcomed the Commission’s favourable response to that request.  Indeed, the Commission had made significant efforts to increase its effective collaboration with the Council in recent years, including through participation in the annual meetings of the Council Bureau with the Chairpersons of the functional commissions.  Commending the Commission on its working methods, she hoped it would identify themes that would allow it to provide input to the Council and other intergovernmental bodies.  The Commission would have an important opportunity to do that at the Annual Ministerial Review.

SHA ZUKANG, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said women in all regions, regardless of their socio-economic and employment status, still assumed a disproportionate share of household responsibilities, including caregiving.  Those responsibilities had been heightened in many parts of the world by HIV/AIDS.  Due to the serious failure of health systems, the care needs generated by the pandemic were largely met through home-based care provided by women and girls.  The unequal burdens of household responsibilities were mirrored by inequality in the public sphere.  Women were over-represented in paid care work, which often had low pay, low status and few social benefits, particularly in the informal sector of the economy.  Such inequalities were often caused by, and contributed to, limited access by women and girls to education, training and employment opportunities.  Those had serious economic, social and political impacts, including women’s reduced potential to participate in public life. 

Due to stereotypical attitudes about the role of women and men, many men felt constrained from sharing responsibilities more equally, negatively affecting men’s personal development and well-being, and denying families the benefits of more active involvement of men as fathers and caregivers, he said.  That inequality had not received the global, regional and national policy attention it deserved.  Responses to relieve women’s and girl’s burdens should challenge, and not reinforce, the idea that household work and caregiving were women’s sole responsibility.  He encouraged the Commission to take bold steps to urge Governments and other relevant stakeholders to adopt and implement effective measures to support women and men in balancing paid work with meeting family and other responsibilities, including caregiving and to contribute to the United Nations work in that area. 

Historically, economic recessions disproportionately affected women, he noted.  Women were more likely than men to be in vulnerable jobs, to be under-employed or without a job, to lack social protection, and to have limited access to, and control over, economic and financial resources.  Policy responses to the financial crisis must take gender perspectives into account to ensure, for example, that both sexes benefited from employment creation and investments in social infrastructure.  This session was an important opportunity to take stock of implementation of policy recommendations at the national level and to provide guidance to speed up action.  The Commission was also contributing to the Council’s new functions, he said, noting that, upon the Council’s request, the Commission would hold an expert panel on the theme of global public health and implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, an area which needed urgent action.

RACHEL MAYANJA, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said the session’s theme was timely, as sharing responsibilities between men and women was critical to women’s political, social and economic empowerment.  In both developed and developing countries, it was women who assumed most of the domestic and care work.  In the context of HIV/AIDS, care had become a major source of inequality.  Women and girls provided an estimated 90 per cent of the care needs generated by the illness.  The unequal sharing of responsibilities had implications for a range of policy areas, including political participation, health, social welfare, family, education and the labour market.  Without equal division of labour between the sexes, gender equality would remain elusive.  She urged the Commission to be bold and ignite a new political momentum in order to turn the tide of the past decade and reinvigorate the global gender equality agenda.

The confluence of the global financial crisis, projected global economic slowdown, and the food and energy crises, the rise in unemployment, instability and hostilities, violence against women and environmental deterioration had already seriously adversely impacted progress towards achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment, she said.  Those challenges threatened to reverse progress made since the Beijing Conference.  Delays in reaching the Millennium Development Goals, coupled with women’s unemployment, shrinking safety nets, unabated violence against women and other challenges, many of which required urgent attention and collective action, were worrisome.  Without workable solutions, the pernicious impact on women would be deep and pervasive.

She shed light on the most pressing challenges to gender equality.  Among them was the fact that, despite steady improvements in health and education for women and girls in many of the poorest countries, the world was off track to meet the targets for women’s economic empowerment.  In low-income countries, women consistently lagged behind men in formal labour force participation, access to credit, entrepreneurship rates, income levels and inheritance and ownership rates.  It was bad economics to leave a large human resource untapped.  Further, it was vital that the Conference on the Global Financial and Economic Crisis, scheduled for later this year, incorporate gender perspectives in its outcome.  Financing for gender equality was crucial in order to seriously promote women’s equality and eradicate poverty.  Investing in women paid off.  In terms of women’s food security, she stressed the importance of putting social protection systems for undernourished women and their families in place in the short-term while enhancing food production and trade and empowering women economically in the long-term.

Violence against women, one of the most extreme manifestations of pervasive violations of women’s human rights, continued unabated, she said, stressing that intensified global efforts were needed to end it.  A Framework for Action and the Programme of the United Nations Activities and Expected Outcomes and Outputs of the Secretary-General’s Campaign to Unite to End Violence against Women 2008-2015 provided an overall umbrella for the United Nations efforts.  The Campaign had set five key benchmarks to help countries integrate it into their national agendas.  In terms of sexual violence against women, Security Council resolution 1820 (2008) expressed a clear mandate and commitment to ending that scourge in conflict areas on the Council’s agenda.  The United Nations was looking beyond 2009 to intensify system-wide efforts to report and prevent sexual violence in conflict areas. 

“It troubles me greatly to say that caring societies are in recession,” said MICHEL SIDIBÉ, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).  The world was bombarded with news of increasingly terrible acts perpetuated on women.  He pointed to the “alarming” convergence in Swaziland between sexual violence and growing HIV prevalence, estimated at 40 per cent.  In many countries, sexual violence was used as an instrument of war, and he reminded delegates of a warning by holocaust survivor Primo Levy, who said, “we join the ranks of the tormentors when we fail to relieve the torment we know how to relieve”.  Just as the world was compelled to respond to AIDS, the world had a moral imperative to act to protect and empower women and girls.

He said gender violence was not just about numbers; it was about the dignity of every woman and girl.  Recalling a photo used in a breastfeeding awareness campaign of a girl who had died because her mother had chosen to breastfeed her son over her daughter, he said such life and death choices were faced by countless women every day -– invisibly -- in far too many communities.  Such decisions were shaped by deeply ingrained social norms and ruthless economic realities.  “Let us get real,” he said.  Such realities made a mockery of the notion of choice, and often reflected male-dominated societies.  He feared that the recession in caring societies would be aggravated by the global financial crisis.

Nothing short of a social revolution was needed to deliver on commitments to gender equality, he said:  a future generation free from HIV.  The world had made a commitment to universal access to comprehensive HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, and the challenge was to make access a reality for all.  Such a social revolution would require strong efforts on many fronts, the first of which was to give women and girls the power to protect themselves from HIV.  Investment in universal access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services was needed.  The opportunity was unprecedented, and it was time to integrate delivery of antenatal, sexual and reproductive health and HIV services.  Next, he called for respecting and protecting human rights.  Key to HIV prevention, and to achieving gender equality in all aspects of life including caregiving, was universal access to sexual education.

Calling for a shift in the development agenda, he said poverty reduction must be accompanied by increased dignity and freedom.  New development models were needed in which women and men had greater control over their lives.  Inclusive governance must be constructed from below, and pervade all aspects of life, while wider distribution and use of female condoms was needed.  Highlighting the role of boys and men in constructing more compassionate societies, he said the “democratization of problem solving” would be a signature of his tenure in UNAIDS.  Promoting a more equitable sharing of responsibilities between women and men was a practical necessity and a matter of justice.  Women and girls needed legislative and judiciary initiatives, policies and community-driven programmes.  Also crucial was more coordinated support for women’s groups and community organizations.  For its part, UNAIDS would ensure priority support for country programmes to promote actions to achieve gender equality and protect the rights of girls and women.

THANDIKA MKANDAWIRE, Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), said it often took a crisis to awaken decision makers to the risks of ignoring important social issues.  Just as the recurrent financial crisis, including the current one in developed countries, seemed to have driven the message home about unfettered financial liberalization, the HIV/AIDS pandemic had been a tragic wake-up call to those who assumed that families and communities, and more concretely, women and girls, would continue to provide an unlimited supply of unpaid care to meet policy shortfalls.  In countries with high HIV/AIDS rates, questions were being raised about the limits of relying on the unpaid work of girls and women.  In developed countries, where fertility rates had dropped to below replacement levels, finance ministries were beginning to worry about the solvency of their national pensions systems and their ageing populations.

Decision makers should think seriously about how public policies could help reduce the burdens of women’s unpaid work.  It was necessary to support those who carried it out and complement them with other forms of care delivered through public services, or State-regulated and subsidized provision by markets or not-for-profit providers.  Policy responses to care responsibilities must focus on reducing and eliminating economic and social disadvantages that women faced due to their disproportionate involvement in unpaid care, while at the same time ensuring that those in need of care -- among them young children, the elderly, and the ill -- were able to access good quality care in a dignified manner.  Weaker labour markets meant weaker claims to social security, and less time for education, training, leisure and self care.

Pointing to five areas for policy options, he called for investments in appropriate infrastructure, such as drinking water, sanitation and electricity, which would reduce the time needed to fetch fuel and water, a task that was particularly burdensome when caring for HIV/AIDS patients.  That must be a key priority for many low-income countries.  There must also be reliable and affordable social and care services as well as leave entitlements for care workers as part of social security system benefits.  Social assistance must be provided, particularly for vulnerable groups.  Decent wages and working conditions for paid care workers were also needed, he said, stressing that many care workers were paid much less than non-care workers and they faced precarious conditions, particularly in developing countries.  All of that clearly suggested that the issue of care must be closely integrated with overall national social policies.

JANE HODGES, Director of the Bureau for Gender Equality of the International Labour Organization (ILO), reminding delegates of the current financial and economic crisis, called for strengthening collective efforts to reduce the social impact on the most vulnerable in society who would be disproportionately affected.  Indeed, inherent in the current financial crisis was a job crisis, and the challenges to gender equality, such as insecure employment status and precarious work arrangements, were now exacerbated.  The number of working poor -- disproportionately represented by women -- could increase to 1.4 billion.

She said financial downturns could negatively impact families by increasing unpaid work for women and girls, as economies shank and public spending dropped.  However, past experience had shown that investments in public services and the implementation of counter-cyclical policies could help mitigate problems that disproportionately affected women, in part by providing needed safety nets.  Stimulus packages that included “the voice of women” had a better chance of achieving what they set out to do.  The Decent Work Agenda, together with other United Nations policy frameworks, could contribute to lessening the immediate impact of the crisis and providing policy guidance to national Governments to ensure that care work was recognized, measured and valued in their practical approaches to realizing equal sharing of responsibilities.

Obstacles to women’s equal opportunities persisted, she explained.  Labour markets in the formal economy were highly segregated, with women caught in poorly paid jobs.  Even in work of equal value, women were still paid an average of 20 to 30 per cent less than men in industrialized and developing economies alike.  The difficulty of balancing working and family responsibilities had worsened in recent years with the spread of HIV/AIDS, which had weakened national economies.  The problem of finding ways to combine paid work with caring for those with the disease was critical, as the burden of care fell more heavily on women and girls.

She said ILO’s 1981 Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention called for equality of opportunity and treatment for both women and men workers with family responsibilities, while its 2001 “Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work” contained key principles for policy development and advice on the gender dimensions of the HIV epidemic.  She called on Governments, the United Nations and other international and regional organizations to ensure coherent policies to promote greater understanding, recognition and sharing of family responsibilities. 


AJA ISATOU NJIE-SAIDY, Vice-President and Secretary of State for Women’s Affairs of the Gambia, said gender equality required the promotion of equal sharing of responsibilities, including care responsibilities between men and women.  Boys and girls should support each other, be given equal opportunities in social and productive sectors, and participate in decision-making and the political life of their societies.  Women worldwide did not have the same opportunities in society as men, particularly in areas of education, employment and decision-making, although women cared for the sick, elderly and the disabled, and did housework.  Unless that imbalance was addressed, gender inequality and underdevelopment would persist, particularly in developing countries.  Lack of equal opportunities between the sexes hampered progress in poverty reduction strategies, access to quality education for all, reduction in maternal mortality, access to productive resources by women and other related challenges.

Much had been achieved in the Gambia in terms of policymaking, legislation and programming, she said.  Her country was committed to implementing the Beijing Platform for Action, and it had signed and ratified major international instruments, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women, the Commonwealth Action Plan, the African Union Gender Policy, and the Gender Policy of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).  In 1999, the Department of State for Women’s Affairs had adopted the 1999-2009 policy for the advancement of women and girls, which focused on the Beijing Platform for Action and the Women’s Convention. 

Continuing, she noted that women held key Government posts and the Government and non-governmental organizations were striving to mainstream gender perspectives into their national policies and programmes.  Still, challenges remained, she said, pointing to effective employment in the private sector, where women still comprised the majority of the unskilled workforce.  At the local and household level, women and girls lacked the opportunities afforded to men.  This year, the National Assembly would be presented with a women’s bill, with a clear objective of harmonizing international commitments into domestic legislation. 

ABDALMAHMOOD ABDALHALEEM MOHAMAD (Sudan), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, strongly urged the Secretary-General to speed the process of appointing the Executive Director of the International Research and Training Institute of Women.  Thanking the Secretary-General for his report on the priority theme of the fifty-third session, he said various conferences and summits had addressed that issue.  The World Summit for Social Development had addressed the need for equal partnership between women and men in family and community life, while the 1995 Beijing Declaration emphasized that equal sharing of responsibilities was critical to the well-being of women and men.

He said the current economic and financial crises threatened to reverse modest progress towards internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.  Women and girls would be among those most affected by unemployment, poverty and hunger, and he called for the inclusion of a gender perspective in plans to overcome such crises.  The current session was an opportunity to examine challenges related to the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, and to review efforts in that area, to which the Commission could make an important contribution.

The many challenges facing women and girls in caregiving were significantly increased in families affected by HIV/AIDS, notably in relation to resources and the lack of involvement of men, and girls’ empowerment, he went on.  Concrete measures must be taken to address those challenges at the national level by facilitating the equal sharing of responsibilities.  Moreover, he urged developed countries to fulfil commitments towards the target of 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) as official development assistance (ODA) to developing countries, and 0.15 to 0.20 per cent to least developed countries.  Delivering on those commitments would enhance implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and improve chances of meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

MICHAEL KOCAB, Minister for Human Rights and Minorities of the Czech Republic, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that, despite some positive developments, there was still much to be done to achieve full gender parity, which was vital for the harmonious development of societies.  That required a shared responsibility in the private and public spheres and an enhanced role for women in building gender equality.  Men must be encouraged and enabled to take responsibility for their social and family roles.  Appropriate measures should be implemented, such as incentives aimed at encouraging men to take parental and paternity leave and to share leave entitlements with women, the creation of an economically enabling environment together with adequate and accessible care services for children, the elderly and dependents.  Full gender parity also called for eliminating gender stereotypes from an early age, by providing awareness training to teachers and students, the labour market and the media, and providing adequate family leave arrangements. 

He said the European Union was currently evaluating the present legal framework supporting reconciliation in order to strengthen workers’ legal entitlement to family-related leave and to ensure equal treatment for the self-employed and their assisting spouses.  Reconciling work, private and family life was one of the six priority areas of action of the road map for equality between men and women during the 2006-2010 period.  Measures in that area were closely linked to the related priority of achieving equal economic independence for women and men.  That priority was echoed in the European Pact for Gender Equality, agreed at the March 2006 European Council.  In 2007, the Council of the European Union, in its conclusions on balanced roles of women and men for jobs, growth and social cohesion, acknowledged that women were still often forced to choose between having children and a career, particularly because of persisting gender stereotypes and an unequal sharing of family and domestic responsibilities.

In December 2008, the Council of the European Unioncalled on European Union member States to continue to take the necessary steps to encourage men to share family and domestic responsibilities on an equal footing with women, and to promote measures to eradicate gender stereotypes.  It was also necessary to end gender violence, which was a real impediment to women realizing their full professional and personal rights.  The European Union had successfully led efforts to strengthen global attention and action to develop effective HIV/AIDS policy programmes and services for women and girls, including those related to reproductive health and rights, and to support women’s full involvement in planning and decision-making related to HIV strategies and programmes.

ABELARDO MORENO ( Cuba), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, reiterated his commitment to advancing the status of women and promoting their development.  The Movement supported the achievement of those objectives, notably with the “excellent” outcomes of the Second Ministerial Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement on the Advancement of Women, held in January in Guatemala.  The Meeting had reviewed women’s advancement in the context of the Millennium Development Goals.  Developing countries faced enormous challenges in carrying out those objectives within a complicated international situation marked by serious crises in finance, food, energy and climate.  The Meeting had also been held during a time of grief for Palestinian women and girls in Gaza.

He said the Movement had adopted the advanced Guatemala Declaration and Programme of Action, in which it had agreed upon working directions in such areas as the promotion of equality between gender; eradication of poverty and hunger; and reduction of infant mortality.  The Movement had also reaffirmed its guiding principles, the implementation of which was essential for women’s advancement.  The outcome would contribute to the review of the Beijing Platform for Action and the Beijing + 15 review, as well as the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.  Reiterating his acknowledgement of the work carried out by the Non-Aligned Movement Institute for the Empowerment of Women, established as a result of the First Ministerial Meeting, he noted with appreciation Guatemala’s offer to host a regional meeting of the Institute.

The Ministerial Meeting was an excellent framework to debate the advancement of women, he said, noting that, despite efforts to fight HIV/AIDS, women constituted 40 per cent of adults infected with AIDS worldwide.  The Movement had agreed on a comprehensive set of actions to address obstacles faced by women and girls in achieving gender equality and improved living conditions.  The current crises demanded efforts to enhance international cooperation, prioritize women and girls, and mobilize resources to address the challenges.  Effective compliance with all commitments in the Beijing Platform for Action was essential.  The diversity among the Non-Aligned countries was a source of strength and creativity and, with its unity, it was addressing threats to meeting Beijing commitments.  The Second Ministerial Meeting was a “new milestone” in the struggle for a better world.

MANTO TSHABALALA-MSIMANG, Minister in the Presidency of South Africa, speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said gender equality and equity were fundamental human rights and a prerequisite to sustainable development.  All member States of the Community had signed or ratified or acceded to the United Nations Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  The Community continued to implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and other internationally agreed commitments related to women’s rights.  Gender equality and women’s empowerment was a founding principle of the Community and enshrined in its 2002 treaty.  In its resolve to mainstream a gender perspective into all aspects of life, the Community’s Heads of State signed their Protocol on Gender and Development in August.  The instrument was hailed as an important step to empower women, eliminate discrimination and achieve gender equality, aimed at enhancing development in the region.

She said that the Community was working to make traditional systems and cultural beliefs more responsive to the gender agenda in the region.  The African Union had declared 2010 to 2020 a Decade for Women.  The Union’s Constitutive Act recognized the key role that women played in development.  The Union had also adopted gender-parity principles in all spheres.  Since the Beijing Conference, it had adopted important commitments and protocols.  Within the context of equal sharing of responsibilities for women and men, including promoting health and well-being, the Protocol on the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa contained several important commitments to be achieved by 2015, which would ease the burden of multiple roles that women played in the subregion.

The Community had also undertaken steps to prohibit unfair dismissal or denial of recruitment on the grounds of pregnancy or maternity leave, and to provide protection and benefits for women and men during maternity and paternity leave, she said.  It had also taken steps to develop and implement policies and programmes that emphasized prevention, treatment, care, support and a comprehensive approach to communicable diseases, including tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria.  The Community was committed to ensuring that by 2015 women would hold at least half of all decision-making posts in the private and public sectors.  In that regard, guidelines were being developed, in consultation with member States, which had also agreed that all legislative and other measures would be accompanied by public-awareness campaigns, in order to demonstrate the vital link between equal representation and participation for both sexes in decision-making.

HIJRAN HUSEYNOVA, Chairperson of the State Committee for Family, Women and Children’s Issues of Azerbaijan, said that Azerbaijanis had lived through a difficult transition conditioned by armed conflict, and the economic and social burdens of the post-ceasefire period.  Still, women had continued to be a mainstay in both family and professional life.  Women gained political rights in 1918, earlier than in many developed countries, and Azerbaijan had adopted a law in 2006 on State guarantees of gender equality, which had had a profound effect on increasing the number of women in decision-making positions.

Detailing other measures, she noted the Government’s integration of refugee and internally displaced women in society, and its work to combat gender-based violence.   Azerbaijan was cooperating with women’s non-governmental organizations and the media to implement policy decisions, and her Committee had increased awareness of gender equality in all areas.  A major breakthrough in efforts to increase the number of women in decision-making posts had been the increased number of women in regional executive bodies, as well as deputy ministerial posts.  Unprecedented numbers of women were also entering the labour force.  She called on the Commission to fulfil development opportunities for women and men worldwide.

GABRIELE HEINISCH-HOSEK, Federal Minister for Women and Public Administration of Austria, said it was an essential element of women’s and equal rights politics to ensure that women and men shared responsibilities equally.  Austria had already taken steps to better balance career and family life.  By introducing a flexible childcare benefit, families were given the chance to make use of child benefits according to their individual needs and desires.  If both partners took up childcare responsibilities, one after the other, the benefit could be extended for a long time.  Austria’s Government was extending that benefit to fathers to encourage them to share in family duties.  In reconciling work and family life, it was important to actively support fathers and understand and shape the role of both parents in accordance with modern, egalitarian standards.  The so-called “papa month” helped involve fathers immediately after their children were born.  The income-dependent childcare benefit would motivate men to take an active interest in their children’s care.  Austria would add 6,000 childcare facilities annually in the coming years, especially for children under age three, in order to give women a chance to work full-time. 

Austria’s Government, together with its social partners, had agreed to formulate a national action plan on gender equality, she said.  The plan would be drafted for five years and would provide annual progress and evaluation reports on gender equality gains.  The key focus would be on equal rights for working women, securing opportunities in the job market, reducing the gender pay gap and supporting women in leading jobs.  Concerning care issues, there were Government plans to increase the provision to compensate for the double workload of women who pursued a career and took care of children at the same time during the first seven years of a child’s life.  Since 2002, the “family hospice leave” allowed employees to take time off, reduce work hours or change them to care for children or sick relatives.

JEANNE PEUHMOND, Minister for Family and Women and Social Affairs of Côte d’Ivoire, said her country attached importance to the equal sharing of responsibilities among women and men, including in providing care to those infected by HIV/AIDS.  Citing a study showing an increased HIV prevalence in her country, she said the causes were rooted in social and economic inequalities between women and men, and a lack of respect for the rights of women and girls. 

Detailing national initiatives, she said Côte d’Ivoire had decided to build its coordinating capacity, notably by the 2001 establishment of a Ministry to fight AIDS, which aimed to reduce the effects of the pandemic.  In 2006, her country created the Department of Equality and the Advancement of Gender, within the Ministry of Women, Family and Social Affairs, the national body that coordinated gender mainstreaming in Government programmes.  Education was a primary concern vis-à-vis sharing responsibility in the care of those with HIV/AIDS.  The duty fell to women and, as such, she called for innovative approaches to finding a balance.  She urged States to change the way decisions were made so as to mainstream gender equality in HIV/AIDS programmes and tackle stereotypes.  Côte d’Ivoire planned to reverse the trend of HIV/AIDS by 2015.

MARA CARFAGNA, Minister for Equal Opportunities of Italy, said that, in the past 15 years, Italy had amended its law to protect women and minors from sexual or domestic violence.  The 1996 law converting such acts from “crimes against public morality” to “crimes against the person” was a testament to how radically Italy’s view of the problem had changed.  Italian legislation on sexual or domestic violence was among the world’s strictest, providing for prison sentences of up to 14 years for the crime.  Greater attention by the media and public opinion had led to greater awareness of the seriousness of the phenomenon.  In February, the Italian Government issued a decree that immediately implemented tough measures to combat sexual violence crimes, in view of the social alarm created by the greater frequency and level of ferocity of such crimes.  The decree included a life sentence if and when such crimes led to the death of the victim.  The decree also introduced for the first time into the penal code the crime of stalking, through a June 2008 amendment.  Italian women had hailed that new provision as a success. 

She said her Ministry had launched a national anti-violence network and a special call centre for victims of violence.  It had also supported an awareness-raising media campaign this month on violence against women.  She had also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Defence and the Carabinieri, Italy’s military police, to form an expert group to counter the serious crime of stalking.  Her Ministry was in the later phases of drafting a special protocol -- to be signed jointly by the Minister of the Interior and the Heads of the National Police Force.  It would be an important component of the future National Plan against Violence.  She also strongly condemned the use of violence against women as a result of religious practice, tradition or custom.  In 2006, the Parliament passed a special law protecting women from female genital mutilation.  Since 2003, Italy had been a main contributor to United Nations programmes against female genital mutilation, donating to the multi-year donor fund to combat mutilation set up by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

MAIGA SINA DAMBA, Minister for the Promotion of Women, Children and Family of Mali, aligning herself with the statement of the Group of 77 and China, said sharing responsibilities between women and men caring for those with HIV/AIDS was an issue of great concern.  Management of the pandemic was a priority for Mali, where the average prevalence of the disease was 1.3 per cent, according to a 2006 demographic and health study; 1.5 per cent of women had HIV/AIDS.  There were specific groups with “alarming” levels of HIV/AIDS, including sex professionals, “hawkers” and household maids.

Given that situation, Mali had responded with legislative reforms to effectively address HIV/AIDS, based on equal partnership among all stakeholders, she said.  In 2004, Mali adopted a person-centred policy to fight HIV/AIDS and, in 2006, it had adopted a law stipulating prevention and care rules.  The national strategy to fight the disease highlighted the need for good governance.  Regarding equal access between men and women to prevention, care and support, she said care was provided equally.  Despite such efforts to ensure equitable treatment of women and men in HIV/AIDS, there were huge challenges, including stereotypes.   Mali was committed to supporting any decision that reduced violence against women.

BIBIANA AIDO, Minister for Equality of Spain, said her country was committed to the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action.  Equal opportunities for men and women were among Spain’s national and international priorities.  It was also committed to the Millennium Development Goals, as well as to reducing HIV/AIDS and providing sufficient treatment for people living with the disease and those caring for HIV/AIDS patients.  That was why Spain had increased its budget for HIV/AIDS programmes by 1,000 per cent.  It had also donated to UNAIDS.  There must be equal responsibilities for men and women in caring for HIV/AIDS patients, but societal attitudes must be changed so that caregiving was not just women’s domain. 

Indeed, she said, Spain was working to change its gender model through legislation, which included the personal autonomy act, the personal independence act, and the personal equality between men and women act.  It had also taken steps to improve maternity and paternity leave, and 80 per cent of the country’s working fathers had taken advantage of paternity leave benefits.  Gender equality would lead to productivity and economic effectiveness.  Spain’s contribution to UNAIDS was aimed at improving prevention campaigns and early screening.  Spain had universal health care, including for people living with HIV/AIDS. 

It was important to find a new model to improve the principle of gender equality as a universal right.  Today, more than ever, there must be a focus on equal opportunity for men and women and a break from persistent stereotypes.  It was clear that development models based on gender divisions were not useful.  It was important to consider new social cohesion policies that did not depend on the generosity of women who worked without pay, and to work for justice and social cohesion.  Spain was steadfast in its commitment to that and it would continue to boast gender equality through national policies and programmes. 

Round Tables

Opening the high-level round table on “Women 2000:  gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century”, Chairperson BELLE noted that stereotypes, the unequal division of labour and hierarchies within households compelled women and girls to assume a disproportionate share of household duties.  Society did not adequately recognize the economic value of that unpaid domestic and care work, even though it was essential for the well-being of societies, reproduction of the workforce and socio-economic development.

Speakers had noted during the morning session that the unequal division of labour constrained the potential of women and girls to participate effectively in education and training, the labour market and the public sphere, as well as the potential of men to participate fully in family and household activities, including in caregiving, he said.  They had also shed light on different country strategies to help workers reconcile paid work and family responsibilities, such as through maternity and paternity leave, flexible work hours and services such as childcare centres or nursing homes for the elderly.  In some countries, men’s involvement in parenting had increased in response to targeted interventions.

He said concerted efforts were needed to increase the role of boys and men in household work and caregiving.  Moreover, the HIV/AIDS pandemic had illustrated the need for the increased involvement of all stakeholders in care work.  Since women’s unpaid care work was one of the most persistent barriers to gender equality, Governments must address the issue in all policy initiatives.  The round table gave speakers the opportunity to discuss Government and private-public partnerships designed to give both sexes an equal share of public and private responsibilities, and to raise gaps and challenges in that regard.  He encouraged all participants to share their experiences, good practices and obstacles. 

The floor was then opened for discussion, during which many delegates highlighted their respective Government’s strategies to achieve gender equality through action programmes in myriad areas.  They pointed to programmes to reduce the vulnerability of women and girls to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, educate the population and share best practices about the need to share the burden equally between women and men caring for people with the disease, as well as to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.  They also referred to constitutional reforms in their respective countries to legislate gender equality and women’s rights in education, the labour market, politics and the social sphere.

Several speakers said gender stereotypes must be eliminated, and traditions and customs changed, particularly through information dissemination, education and awareness-raising.  Some delegates suggested that the global financial crisis could spur countries to action to create more equal opportunities for women and men, while others worried that the crisis could lead to budget cuts for educational, feeding, health and other programmes essential for women and girls.

Many participants expressed concern over women’s disproportionate share of domestic work.  Some wondered if any Governments had tried to quantify its monetary value and stressed the merits of sharing any data in that regard with other Governments.  One participant asked how countries could reconcile work and family life in the face of increasing migration, which had resulted in fragmented families.  Noting that women of colour overwhelmingly provided domestic labour for other people’s households, a delegate asked if there should be international standards regulating domestic work as part of a country’s national wealth.  Several speakers stressed that national policies were needed to help countries better balance family and work life, as well as to ensure an equal sharing of family duties and caregiving between men and women.  One speaker wondered if women’s unequal burden of caregiving had impacted fertility rates. 

The Chairperson then gave the floor to invited guest speakers from the United Nations system.

BRIAN GORLICK, Senior Policy Adviser, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said UNHCR placed great importance on gender equality.  Displacement was a disempowering experience for women and children, but opportunities existed to establish gender parity among refugee populations.  Men and boys must be involved in that process.  In the Congo, for example, UNHCR was getting refugees to address the taboo subject of HIV/AIDS through discussions, in which men were encouraged to share responsibility with women in caring for victims of the disease.  In that regard, behaviours had already changed.  In the United Republic of Tanzania, UNHCR had set up multi-purpose youth centres and trained young people to serve as peer educators on such subjects as substance abuse.  The agency had also worked to help men in refugee camps understand that collecting firewood was not women’s work, but something men should also do to protect women.  In Sierra Leone, UNHCR had worked with refugee men to encourage literacy programmes for women.  

MAXENSIA TAKIRAMBULE NAKIBUUKA, Chief Executive Officer of Lungujja Community Health Caring in Uganda, said she represented home-based caregivers and became widowed after her husband died of HIV/AIDS.  Men must become more involved in home-based care, which went beyond treatment of ill people at home.  It also involved counselling, guidance and sharing experiences about the challenges caregivers faced in different communities, she said, noting that women and children were often forced out of their homes after a husband or father died of HIV/AIDS.  Women, and to some extent men, had learned how to support each other through the sharing of experiences.  But financial and other resources were lacking for home-based care.  She urged delegates to ensure that adequate home-based caregivers and facilities existed throughout their countries and that people in local communities were aware of such services.  In addition, civil society organizations should be given the authority to receive Government and international funds for home-based caregiving services.

VASU MOHAN, Deputy Director, Europe and Asia, International Foundation for Electoral Systems, United States, said organizations championing gender justice were working to create better structures and laws.  For gender justice to occur, however, individuals must change as well; there must be a change in hearts and minds.  Men and boys should not only be targets of awareness programmes, but they should be enlisted as advocates of gender justice.  Traditional gender roles that had gone unquestioned for generations must be re-examined.  When men realized that women’s advancement was critical for society, they would become more involved in promoting women in all spheres of life.  The role of faith-based organizations in the gender justice process should not be viewed as a matter of last resort.  The development of an individual’s moral capabilities must be addressed because that development shaped a person’s understanding of his purpose in life.  That essential element was severely unexplored at present.

Opening the parallel high-level round table, Chairman PARK IN-KOOK (Republic of Korea) said that, as a consequence of the unequal division of labour, the potential of women and girls to participate in education, training, the labour market and the public sphere was constrained.  At the same time, countries had developed various strategies to reconcile responsibilities between women and men, such as maternal and paternal leave, flexible working hours.  While in some countries men’s involvement in parenting had increased, concerted efforts were needed to encourage that.  HIV/AIDS showed the need for increased involvement of private, public and civil society sectors.  He hoped today’s round table would offer opportunities to discuss Government initiatives as well as public-private partnerships to address such issues.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, Ministers and other high-level representatives asked questions on issues such as legal measures for creating a more balanced sharing of responsibilities; examples of gender-sensitive HIV/AIDS projects that could be financed by donors; and how to combat entrenched stereotypes that confined women to the kitchen.  Almost all representatives shared their national experiences, notably in the area of child and elder care, and creating equality in decision-making on sexual and reproductive health matters.

Many delegates also focused on national HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and control programmes.  The representative of Iran explained that her country’s 2007-2009 strategy featured specialized work groups at provincial and national levels, the latter of which brought together anti-drug organizations, law enforcement officials and academics, among others, to deal with the issue.  As for political advocacy, a directive by the Vice President banned the expulsion of HIV-positive civil servants.

In the area of economic productivity, several speakers highlighted the economic advantage of gender equality.  The representative of Norway said women’s participation impacted a country’s gross national product.  “We are wealthy because both men and women work,” she said, adding that statistics showed that families that shared domestic work had a lower divorce rate and were happier.

The representative of Botswana noted that her country’s national development plan included a provision to review food production policies to ensure that they provided equal distribution of opportunities to men and women.

As for the role of men, the representative of New Zealand said that, by law, women now had the right to request flexible work.  However, unless men requested that as often as women, there was a danger of further endangering women in the labour market.

Underscoring the link between HIV/AIDS and poverty, the representative of Senegal said that sex workers in Africa were most impacted by HIV/AIDS.  Such work found its roots in economic circumstances, and a focus on human development was needed to create an environment conducive to sharing responsibilities.   Senegal was concerned by feminization of the disease, and had proposed solutions that included the integration of HIV/AIDS and reproduction in school lessons.

Taking the floor next were four invited panellists who spoke on the priority theme.  AXUMITE GEBRE-EGZIABHER, Director of the New York Office of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), said that UN-HABITAT studies showed more people living in urban areas than in rural areas.  By 2030, 60 per cent of the global population would be in urban areas, mainly in the developing world.  One billion people lived in slums and, in recent years, urbanization had emerged as an increasingly important factor in the spread of HIV/AIDS.  Recent demographic and health surveys in seven African countries showed that, in all countries, HIV prevalence was higher in urban rather than in rural areas, and higher among urban women.  HIV/AIDS posed significant challenges for local authorities.  Fostering participatory dialogue on caregiving issues -- including for HIV/AIDS -- was important in building trust and understanding.  Local authorities and their civil society partners needed a strong focus on technical training; both could play an important role in promoting equal sharing among men and women.  Gender strategies should be encouraged at the local level.  Partnership among women, youth and other civil society actors should be established at local, regional and global levels.

ELIZABETH GIBBONS, Chief of Global Policy of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said the burden of caregiving on families dealing with HIV fell disproportionately on women and girls.  Health and social protection systems were unable to respond to the needs of those living with HIV.  Millennium Development Goal 3 should be identified in national responses to HIV/AIDS.  Girls who provided AIDS care were at increased risk of contracting the disease, as they were forced to drop out of school, which could be a traumatizing experience, particularly after losing school-based networks.  Keeping girls in school was instrumental in preventing HIV infection among girls.  Moreover, with education, girls could improve their long-term economic prospects.  Too often, an ingrained power imbalance led to denial of girls’ rights and protection.  UNICEF was developing social policies and programmes to ensure both girls’ and boys’ access to education and health services.  It was critical not to overlook girls’ roles as caregivers.

DEAN PEACOCK, Co-founder of Sonke Gender Justice, South Africa, said his organization worked with men and boys to achieve gender equality and reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.  To reduce the burden of care borne by women and girls, it should be acknowledged that, in many countries, it was not enough to share the burden more equitably.  Governments had to improve public sector services, especially for health.  There was also a need to rethink neo-liberal policies that had forced many countries to slash public sector spending.  The economic crisis could be an opportunity to realign public sector priorities.  The AIDS-related burden of care could also be lessened by preventing new infections and ensuring effective treatment.  In South Africa, nearly 500,000 people received treatment, but 75 per cent of those needing it did not have it.  The country was not unique in that regard.  He called for international support for HIV/AIDS treatment-rollout when Governments failed to honour their commitments.  On the role of men and boys, his organization’s “One Man Can” campaign empowered men to change their attitudes.  Circumcision was a key HIV-prevention strategies and he urged a focus on it.

RANIA ANTONOPOULOUS, visiting Associate Professor of Economics at Bard College, drew attention to the issue of unpaid work, as well as to the care needed for HIV/AIDS patients.  In developing countries, people needed much more time to provide for basic necessities.  Families that were better off could purchase services or hire people for child or elder care.  In many instances, migrant women provided for those needs.  One dimension of work distribution concerned men and women -– but others also needed to be highlighted.  As households moved from being employed to unemployed, unpaid work requirements increased.  That fact showed that, aside from examining distributional issues between men and women, focus must be placed on the State’s role.  In some countries, such as in Sweden, for example, there had been strong efforts for more than 30 years to socialize unpaid work.  The State had assumed responsibility for many tasks that typically took place in poorer households.  Was there policy space in developed countries to include people who were excluded?  The United States was able to harness billions of dollars for public job creation in infrastructure:  would developing countries be given the same leeway?

In closing, the Chairperson said that valuable experiences had been shared in addressing the challenges of stereotypes and unpaid work.  He hoped today’s discussion and suggestions would be invaluable during the next high-level segment of the Economic and Social Council, which would focus on public health.

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