4 March 2009


4 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

5th & 6th Meetings (AM & PM)



Special Rapporteur Says Human Rights Council Underutilized by Women’s Rights

Defenders; Speakers Call for New ‘Socio-Cultural Consensus’ Between Women, Men

While international policies, instruments and campaigns had made headway in stemming violence against women, events such as armed conflict, and entrenched cultural mores portraying women as “territories” to be invaded posed serious risks to achieving more balanced gender relations, experts stressed today, as the Commission on the Status of Women continued into its third day of general debate.

Spotlighting such issues, Yakin Ertürk, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, who was in her last months in that position, said her final thematic report would focus on the political economy of women’s rights and its implications for violence against women.  It analysed how global processes -– such as neoliberal policies, armed conflict and natural disasters, among other things -- hindered efforts to eliminate violence against women.  It also discussed the limitations of the human rights discourse in responding to the socio-economic conditions that sustained gender-based violence.

In addition, she said the effectiveness of the Human Rights Council’s complaint procedure -- among the most powerful mechanisms through which women’s rights violations could be brought to Governments’ attention for redress -– was being undermined by the fact that it was not sufficiently used by women’s rights defenders.  Although the 86 communications she sent last year to 29 Governments represented an increase over the previous year, the number still lagged behind those of the more conventional mandates, such as freedom of expression or torture.

At the same time, María del Rocío García Gaytán, President of the National Women’s Institute of Mexico, speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, pointed out that the Secretary-General’s campaign to end violence against women was an “articulating axis” that Governments, civil society and others could implement.  She also welcomed the adoption of General Assembly resolution 62/277 on system-wide coherence, and awaited the new detailed modalities it requested on the different institutional options to strengthen United Nations work on gender equality, including funding, staffing and specific functions.

Such issues were in urgent need of attention, speakers agreed.  Anibal Hurtado, National Coordinator of the National Commission of AIDS of Chile, said women’s empowerment was crucial in the formulation of any programme for reducing vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, including in wartime situations, in which female bodies were treated as “territories” to be invaded.  Such attitudes involved the idea that women’s bodies were to be plundered; that they were the property of men.  As such, Chile supported Security Council resolution 1820 (2008), which called for the inclusion of more women in peacekeeping forces.

There was broad agreement that overcoming such deeply rooted stereotypes, however, was a challenge, including to the equal sharing of responsibilities by men and women -– the theme of the current session.  Tokasa Leweni, Director for Women Affairs of Fiji, said inherited cultural values, which had existed in her country for centuries, were integral to daily life.  They dictated everything from the ownership of customary land to the division of labour, and were even reflected in the formal work sector.  Despite the increased number of educated women, many were employed in welfare and care positions.  A real equal sharing of responsibilities involved educating both women and men of its importance.

Meutia Hatta Swasono, State Minister for Women Empowerment in Indonesia, agreed, saying it was necessary to design a relevant cultural strategy and policy –- thus, a new “socio-cultural consensus” -- between women and men.  The sharing of responsibility was a vital social capital as well as an invisible human investment that must be incorporated into national development plans.  To end violence against women, Indonesia had promulgated the 2004 Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence, the 2007 Law against Human Trafficking, especially of women and children, and had improved facilities to help affected women and children. 

During the discussion that followed her presentation, Ms. Ertürk encouraged “cultural negotiations” that challenged hegemonic representations of culture.  Cultures were diverse, but, when Governments talked about culture officially, those in power assumed a monopolistic attitude towards how it should affect people’s lives.  There were significant movements around the world to challenge the official version of culture and the status quo, including in some Muslim countries, where women were engaging in Islamic teachings that presented Islam as more compatible with equality for women.

In Norway, Anniken Huitfeldt, Minister for Children and Equality, said a recent Government White Paper that examined men’s participation in care, family life and work suggested a nationwide programme to promote understanding of masculinity as non-violent.  She said such measures were necessary globally.

Also making introductory remarks today was Carolyn Hannan, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, who introduced various reports of the Secretary-General, including on the meeting’s priority theme; implementation of the gender mainstreaming strategy; and on issues under agenda items 3(a), (b), (c), 4 and 5. 

Ines Alberdi, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), presented the Secretary-General’s Note on UNIFEM Activities to eliminate violence against women, which also included a report on the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. 

Purnima Mane, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), also made a statement.

Ministers from Barbados, Namibia, Australia, United Republic of Tanzania, Niger, Nigeria, Kenya, Finland, South Africa, Zambia, Malaysia, Ghana, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Burundi, Uganda, Niue (on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum), Russian Federation and Angola also spoke.

Also making statements were high-level Government officials from the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Viet Nam, Sweden, Hungary, Iran, Poland, Argentina, Kazakhstan and Eritrea.

The representatives of Mexico (in national capacity), Iceland, Egypt, Netherlands, Togo, United States, Ecuador and Iraq also addressed the Commission.

The Observer of Palestine also spoke.

The representative of the United States made a statement in the exercise of the right of reply.

During the discussion segment, the representatives of Switzerland, Czech Republic (on behalf of the European Union), Croatia, Turkey, Malaysia, Ecuador, Argentina and the United States spoke.

The Commission on the Status of women will reconvene at noon on Thursday, 5 March, to continue its general discussion.


The Commission on the Status of Women continued its general discussion on the follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly entitled “Women 2000:  gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century”.  (For background of the session, please see Press Release WOM/1710 of 23 February.)

Introduction of Reports

CAROLYN HANNAN, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced various reports of the Secretary-General, including on the priority theme -– the sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS (document E/CN.6/2009/2) -- and on implementation of the gender mainstreaming strategy (document E/CN.6/2009/4).  She also detailed various reports under agenda items 3(a), (b), (c), 4 and 5.  Recalling that General Assembly resolution A/RES/63/155 had requested the Secretary-General to present an oral report to the Commission, with information provided by the United Nations bodies, funds and programmes, she said also that updates on United Nations activities had been provided to the Commission at its last session and to the General Assembly at its sixty-third session.

She drew attention to an update before delegates on preventing and eliminating violence against women -- United Nations system activities on violence against women, which covered the September 2008 to January 2009 period.  In response to the request of the Economic and Social Council for broad dissemination of the agreed conclusions of the Commission, the Division continued to provide them in a user-friendly brochure.  She hoped that the availability of those conclusions in that format would strengthen their use at the national level and facilitate the review process.

Introductory Statements

INES ALBERDI, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), then presented the Note of the Secretary-General on the Activities of the United Nations Development Fund for Women to eliminate violence against women, which also included a report on the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (document A/HRC/10/43-E/CN.6/2009/10).  This year’s report came at a time when there were system-wide efforts to advance the Secretary-General’s UNite to End Violence against Women Campaign, which gave high-level support to efforts by United Nations partners, Governments, and women’s and other civil society organizations to make commitments a reality by 2015, as well as to achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  The report complemented the UNite campaign and the Secretary-General’s 2006 in-depth study on all forms of violence against women (document A/61/122/Add.1), which documented the nature and scope of the problem, countries’ laws and action plans to end it, and the budgetary resources needed for implementation. 

She said the report highlighted the catalytic work that the Trust Fund was supporting in partnership with Member States, United Nations partners and women’s civil society groups to strengthen institutional capacity to implement national laws and action plans to end violence against women; mobilize men, youth, religious and community leaders; advocate for budgetary allocations; and set up data collection systems and indicators to monitor and track implementation.  A comprehensive approach was needed to bring about sustainable change and reshape household and community decision-making and caregiving responsibilities.  The 2005-2008 United Nations Trust Fund strategy introduced measures to enhance its effectiveness, in accordance with the need for effective monitoring and evaluation and institutional mechanisms to ensure coordination, action and accountability. 

Highlighting progress in implementing the strategy last year, she stressed efforts to enhance impact, deepen involvement, ensure efficiency, generate knowledge and mobilize resources.  For example, last year, United Nations Trust Fund grants focused on supporting implementation of national laws, policies and action plans.  For the first time, the Fund began issuing two- to three-year grants as large as $1 million, and it expanded the “safe cities for women” programme in Argentina and Peru to other Latin American countries.  UNIFEM continued to broker partnerships, foster inter-agency collaboration and pioneer approaches to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls.  In line with its 2008-2011 Strategic Plan, UNIFEM had developed “A Life Free of Violence” strategy to build on the momentum generated by the Secretary-General’s campaign to speed up implementation.  It focused on advocacy and awareness-raising; policy and legal reform; addressing the links between violence and women and HIV/AIDS; and developing capabilities to increase access to services and justice for survivors.

YAKIN ERTÜRK, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, said that, after six years of extraordinary endeavours that had taken her to some 18 countries, she would submit her final mission reports to the eleventh session of the Human Rights Council in June, specifically on her visits to Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Moldova, and on last country visit to Kyrgyzstan.

Describing her responsibilities, she said she prepared annual thematic reports that addressed key issues in the area of women’s rights and violence against women.  Her last thematic report -- on the political economy of women’s rights and implications for violence against women -- analysed how global processes, such as neoliberal policies, armed conflict and natural disasters, had created new risks for gender relations, and examined the limits of the human rights discourse.  It made a strong appeal for the adoption of an integrated perspective that combined obligations set out in the “twin covenants” on civil and political rights.

Moreover, the report would prove particularly relevant in the current economic and financial crisis, which was expected to affect women and girls in developing and developed countries, alike.  A systematic gender analysis of the crisis was critical to finding viable solutions and upholding human rights standards.

Continuing, she said the Human Rights Council complaint procedure was among the most powerful mechanisms through which women’s rights violations could be brought to Governments’ attention for redress.  Submitting a complaint did not first require ratification of any convention or exhaustion of domestic remedies.  However, its effectiveness had been undermined by the fact that it was not sufficiently used by women’s rights defenders.  For example, in 2008, she had sent only 86 communications to 29 Governments, which, while an increase from the 59 communications sent in 2007, lagged behind the more conventional mandates of freedom of expression or torture.

In addition to her mandated activities, she said she had attended regional consultations on violence against women with civil society organizations, which had been an important method of exchange.

With that, she presented to delegates a study which comprehensively reviewed the 15 years of work by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences (1994-2009).  A joint initiative with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), it aimed to take stock of achievements of the past 15 years, including the conceptual paradigm shifts that had taken place, lessons learned and future challenges in combating the phenomenon.  Further, it reaffirmed that the Special Rapporteur’s mandate was a significant forum which could make visible hidden violations, provide support and serve as a vehicle for the voices of the most vulnerable.

She reaffirmed her deep conviction to the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, saying that the common challenge faced today was to effectively exploit the potential of the mechanism to ensure that women worldwide enjoyed their rights.


In the ensuing question-and-answer period, Switzerland’s representative expressed its strong support for Ms. Ertürk’s efforts.

The representative of the Czech Republic, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said violence against women could never be tolerated as part of customs, norms or religious practices, and she wanted to know how such practices could be ended in the light of such traditions.

Croatia’s representative, noting Ms. Ertürk’s suggestion that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur in the future could be part of other women’s advancement mechanisms and resources, asked if follow up in that regard was a question of resources or of different mechanisms at the national and international level.  Also, how could the Commission and the Economic and Social Council be involved in follow-up?

Turkey’s delegate asked if there was a follow-up plan for the countries Ms. Ertürk had evaluated in the six years of her service.

The representative of Malaysia asked Ms. Ertürk if she had interviewed any men during her visits to the 18 countries.  What was her impression of the mindset of men there?  Would future reports include a chapter on the paradigm shift of men in the context of violence against women?

Ecuador’s representative asked what efforts were being made to change stereotypes that were the basis for violence against women.

The delegate from Argentina expressed concern that programmes to end violence against women were targeted mainly in urban areas and not rural areas. 

The United States’ representative asked Ms. Ertürk how nations could help spread the word about communications procedures, which Ms. Ertürk had said were not well known by women’s rights defenders.

In response, Ms. ERTÜRK said she had identified the issue of culture as a major area of concern.  The 2007 report addressed the issue, and noted that cultural discourse supported or excused violence against women.  What were needed were “cultural negotiations” that challenged hegemonic representations of culture.  Cultures were diverse.  But when Governments talked about culture officially, and their official understanding of them, those in power assumed a monopolistic attitude of how it should affect people’s lives.  There were significant movements around the world to challenge the official version of culture and the status quo.  For example, in some countries, Muslim women were engaging in Islamic teachings that presented Islam as more compatible with justice and equality for women.  States should support that and make more policy space for it.

Concerning masculinity, she said the international community must come to terms with it.  In 2003, the Commission had taken up the issue as an agenda item.  Men were increasingly engaged in defining and redefining masculinity.  Masculinity was plural; there was no single definition of it.  Not all men were involved in the version of masculinity in which violence against women meant power.  That was why there was a need to engage more in the Blue Heart, UNite and other campaigns.  Violence against women was not just a war of the sexes.  It was a war against oppression.  In terms of funding, there was a need for more mechanisms, she said, noting efforts to explore within the Trust Fund the automatic channelling of funds for projects.  Regarding follow-up on the 18 countries visited, her successor would address that.  She hoped Member States would support her successor’s work.  As for how countries could generate awareness about communications procedures, she said it was difficult to give a clear answer since that was not States’ domain, but she encouraged States’ mechanisms to support efforts in that regard.


MARÍA DEL ROCÍO GARCÍA GAYTÁN, President of the National Women’s Institute of Mexico, speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, urged recognition of the contribution women could have in overcoming the current financial crisis, if they were included in the decision-making on the topic.  Social integration must be guided by principles of social justice, diversity and gender equality.  Detailing work in her region, she said advances had been made in the creation of an institutional framework for States to consolidate the gender perspective into public polices, and national mechanisms for women had been integrated into subregional forums, such as the Central American Council of Ministers of Women.  The eleventh Regional Conference on Women of Latin America and the Caribbean, to be held in Brazil in June 2010, would take place in the context of the international challenges generated by the financial crisis.

On the scourge of gender-based violence, she said that, while institutions and legal frameworks had advanced, the articulation of regional efforts was still needed.  In that sense, she underscored the Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, and said the Secretary-General’s campaign to end violence against women was also an “articulating axis” that Governments, civil society and others could implement.  Welcoming the adoption of resolution 62/277 on “System-Wide Coherence”, she awaited the new detailed modalities it requested on the different institutional options to strengthen United Nations work on gender equality and women’s empowerment, including funding, staffing and specific functions.

She said the Group recognized the importance of accomplishing an equal sharing of caregiving responsibilities between women and men, including in the context of HIV/AIDS.  The magnitude of the pandemic made it necessary for all actors to participate in assistance relative to those responsibilities.  She recognized the positive impact of assigning additional resources, notably in the area of social security.  It was also important to collect data on gender and age to measure the impact of progress on the sharing of responsibilities, and to take additional measures to address the specific needs of girls, and young, migrant and indigenous women who were domestic workers.  The Group noted with satisfaction the role of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW).

Then, taking the floor in her national capacity, Ms. DEL ROCÍO GARCÍA GAYTÁN said the promotion, protection and defence of human rights were an “irrenounceable commitment” and she renewed it today.  In Mexico, the struggle to diminish the gaps between women and men and to fight gender discrimination had the support of all efforts carried out in compliance of the General Law for Equality between Women and Men and that of the Access of Women to a Violence-Free Life.   Mexico was convinced that the legislative framework was among the most important tools to achieve equality.  Establishing a favourable legislative framework was part of the strategies adopted to increase the number of women in public spaces until Mexico could achieve full parity.

Among the challenges for Mexico, she highlighted strengthening the rule of law and suppressing impunity and discrimination against women.   Mexico had strengthened inter-institutional work and increased the budget for the advancement of women and equality.  It was carrying out reforms so that such advances became part of institutions.  Faced with the evaluation process 15 years after Beijing, Mexico was convinced it was strategically sound to confront challenges from a perspective of opportunity.

MEUTIA HATTA SWASONO, State Minister for Women Empowerment in Indonesia, said equal sharing of responsibilities, including for caregiving, was a cultural matter.  It was necessary to design a relevant cultural strategy and policy and, therefore, a new socio-cultural consensus between women and men.  The sharing of responsibility was a vital social capital as well as an invisible human investment that must be incorporated into national development plans.  Since the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, Indonesian women had made tremendous progress in the 12 priority areas identified by the Conference.  Indonesia’s Constitution and democratic political system guaranteed women greater participation in political life.  For the first time, there were four women ministers in Indonesia, with wide-ranging responsibilities, namely women’s empowerment, health, trade and finance.  Four political parties were headed by women.

To end violence against women, Indonesia had promulgated the 2004 Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the 2007 Law against Human Trafficking, especially of women and children, she said.  Indonesia had also improved facilities to help women and children affected by such violence.  The police had taken a more active role in providing protection to potential victims.  Indonesia had legally endorsed a quota system to benefit women candidates in general elections, whereby at least 30 per cent of all political nominees must be women and at least one in every three legislative candidates must be women.  In reproductive health, Indonesia had reduced maternal mortality by focusing attention on ensuring that pregnancy was not solely the responsibility of women or mothers, but also of husbands and the entire family, through its Alert Husband Campaign.  The Government had also formulated a National Strategy for Combating HIV/AIDS for the 2007-2010 period.

ANIBAL HURTADO, National Coordinator, National Commission of AIDS of Chile, said that, despite progress, practices still existed globally that discriminated against women, and he was concerned about the rights of women and children.  In that context, he urged recognizing the untiring work done in the campaigns against violence against women.  The assignment of gender roles had allocated to women the task of caring for children, the sick and the elderly.  Inequality was a threat to the world population, and an obstacle to peace and poverty reduction.  As such, women’s empowerment was crucial in the formulation of any programme for reducing vulnerability to HIV/AIDS among women and men, including in wartime situations, in which female bodies were treated as “territories” to be invaded.   Chile supported Security Council resolution 1820 (2008), which called for the inclusion of more women in peacekeeping forces.

Continuing, he said Chile had formulated strategies, implemented by the Ministry of Health and the National Women’s Service, to reduce the stigmatization of women living with HIV.  The country had mainstreamed gender into the entire national and inter-sectoral HIV policy.  In addition, work was being done on health and anti-discrimination campaigns on contraception use.  An inter-sectoral round table involving the Ministries of Health and Education and the National Youth Institute had been created for gender mainstreaming in the national HIV policy.  On the Millennium Development Goals, the President, last September, had launched a regional campaign on “Deliver NOW for the health of women and their children”, which focused on Goals 4 (child health) and 5 (maternal health).

ESTHER BYER-SUCKOO, Minister for Youth, Family and Sports of Barbados, said Barbados could proudly claim a tradition of respect for the rights of women and men.  It had made significant progress in achieving several of the Millennium Development Goals and had made it a top priority to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Employment figures showed the closing of the gap between men and women in the workforce; women now accounted for 48.6 per cent of the labour force.  Sixty-eight per cent of students enrolled at the University of the West Indies were women and there was near equal enrolment of girls and boys in primary and secondary schools.  Women held significant posts in the judiciary and, in some professional fields, they were overrepresented in clerical and caregiving jobs, in conformity with international patterns. 

While women had assumed increasing responsibility in the labour market, they had not been absolved of their roles as caregivers in the private or public realm, she said.  That was particularly burdensome for lower-income women who lacked the resources to pay for assistance.  Men generally did not share responsibility for providing for children or relatives.  In recent years, however, that was changing.  More men were taking their children to school and lending support in recreational and sporting events.  However, the absence of time-use surveys prevented Barbados from having empirical indicators to show to which groups of men that practice pertained most.  The Government, in association with international and regional organizations and local non-governmental organizations, had embarked of programmes to modify the concept of masculinity to reduce men’s risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.  In April, Barbados had launched a public education and promotion programme to make men more involved in caregiving. 

ANNIKEN HUITFELDT, Minister for Children and Equality of Norway, said gender equality policies, such as equal rights legislation and parental leave, were not expenses that only rich countries could afford.  Gender equality and more equal participation of women in the workforce helped economic growth.   Norway had made great progress in recent years, not in spite of gender policies, but because of them.  More people worked, and more planned to work for a greater part of their lives.  That increased economic growth.  Scientific evidence had shown that men worked fewer hours for better pay than their fathers, and got to know their children better.  They were beginning to appreciate the great return they enjoyed due to improved equality.

A summary of a Government “White Paper” on men’s role had been among the first of its kind, she said.  It focused on men’s participation in care, family life and work and revealed valuable knowledge about changes in attitudes.  For example, 90 per cent of fathers entitled to 10 weeks paid parental leave spent 10 weeks together with their children as the masters of the house.  Role stereotypes tended to reproduce unwanted behaviour, and masculine violence in close relations was among the evils addressed in the White Paper.  In Norway, the Minister of Justice recently published a book on domestic violence.  The White Paper suggested a nationwide programme to treat perpetrators and promote understanding of masculinity as non-violent.  Such measures were necessary globally.

MARLENE MUNGUNDA, Minister for Gender Equality and Child Welfare of Namibia, said gender inequality had long been acknowledged as the cause of discrimination and violence against women.  Namibia experienced uneven power relations between men and women in the political, economic and social spheres.  It recognized that educational choices and achievements affected and determined employment opportunities of men and women, along with their well-being and place in society.  Education was a fundamental human right, and she welcomed the equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes at all levels.  Namibia had reached gender parity in school enrolment in primary and secondary education.

She noted that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development had been signed last August.  Namibia had achieved the target of having women fill 30.8 per cent of parliamentary seats, 33 per cent of all posts in the public and private sector, and 45 per cent of local authority posts.  Thirty-eight per cent of small- and medium-sized enterprises were owned by women.  The Ministry of Gender and Equality and Child Welfare had launched a Women Parliamentary Caucus, as well as Standing Parliamentary Committees on Human Resources and Community Development and Gender and Youth to strengthen interaction between parliamentarians, service providers and communities on issues concerning gender, gender-based violence, and reproductive health rights, including HIV/AIDS.  Namibia also ran “foster care and maintenance grant” programmes for orphans and other vulnerable children.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, Minister for the Status of Women of Australia, said that, since taking office in 2007, the Government had worked hard to enrich women’s lives and support their participation in all aspects of daily life.  Most recently, Australia had acceded to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  The country was pursuing three priority areas for advancing gender equality:  improving women’s economic security and independence; ensuring women’s voices were heard at all levels of decision-making; and reducing violence against women.  The Government was also reforming workplace relations laws.   Australia had a maternity payment to assist with the extra cost incurred at the time of a birth or adoption of a child.  A parliamentary inquiry into the Sex Discrimination Act had been conducted.

She said Australia promoted the equal participation of women and men in decision-making, and about one third of federal parliamentarians were women, including the Deputy Prime Minister.  Her Government was seeking to combat violence against women and their children through the development of a national plan.  On indigenous women, the Government had made a historic national apology to indigenous Australians for previous policies that saw the forcible removal of children from their families.  Regarding caregiving and HIV/AIDS, Australia’s international HIV/AIDS strategy aimed to reduce the spread of the disease.

MARGARET SIMWANZA SITTA, Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children of the United Republic of Tanzania, said that gender had been mainstreamed into development policy; sector ministries, policies and programmes; and poverty-reduction strategies.  But mainstreaming gender into budgets remained a challenge.  Male domination was still an impediment and efforts were still required to change gender relations.  The equal sharing of responsibilities between men and women was necessary to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Women were constrained with the triple burden of undertaking reproductive, productive and caring roles, which hindered their effective participation in social and economic activities and decision-making.

She said that the Constitution, laws and employment policy categorically prohibited discrimination in the workplace and provided for equal pay between men and women.  The Labour Relations Act 6 of 2004 gave women 84 days paid maternity leave and men three days paternity leave.  The Government, the Worker’s Union and civil society organizations were developing programmes to sensitize people to the rights of domestic workers.  In the context of HIV/AIDS, the Government had enacted a Prevention and Control Act and advocacy campaigns to promote the equal sharing between men and women of the responsibility of caring for HIV/AIDS patients.

BARRY BIBATA GNANDOU, Minister for the Promotion of Women and Protection of Children of Niger, said the complex nature of the HIV/AIDS pandemic required a coordinated approach at all levels.  The efficacy of responses to HIV/AIDS depended on overcoming inequalities that encouraged the propagation of the disease, including stigmatization.  For its part, Niger had embarked on a number of actions with the support of its partners, including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.   Niger had a 0.7 per cent HIV/AIDS prevalence and, in the 20 to 29 age group, women had the highest rate.

She said the Government had introduced a national policy, which included a 2008-2012 framework strategy to fight HIV/AIDS.  It had ratified the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and it had in place a national multisectoral programme to address sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.  HIV patients had free antiretroviral treatment and the Government had passed a law in 2007 to control the virus.  Moreover, Niger supported HIV-positive women through microcredits.  The criminal code had been reformed vis-à-vis genital mutilation.   Niger appealed to financing bodies for funding for specific sectors of the population, notably those living in extreme poverty.

SALAMATU HUSSAINI SULEIMAN, Minister for Women Affairs and Social Development of Nigeria, said her country had taken bold steps over the years to promote gender equality.  Those included, among others, increased budgetary allocations for gender issues; capacity-building and training of women at all levels of governance, particularly on gender mainstreaming and skills acquisition programmes; and schemes to help women’s entrepreneurship, such as the Business Development Fund for Women and the Women Fund for Economic Empowerment.  Since 2007, 25 of Nigeria’s 36 States had benefited from the Women Fund for Economic Empowerment.  The National Agency for Poverty Eradication was poised to create more opportunities for women.  Current electoral reforms included positive steps to encourage greater participation of women in appointed and elected posts.

She said that traditional cultural practices, such as gender roles and stereotypes that narrowly defined the division of labour between men and women and boys and girls, had hampered Nigeria’s implementation of relevant international instruments aimed at empowering women and the equal sharing of responsibilities between the sexes.  Nigeria had taken significant steps to redress those disparities, however, in the context of HIV/AIDS.  It had set up the National Agency for the Control of HIV/AIDS, which spearheaded programmes in preventing mother-to-child transmission, caring for orphans and vulnerable children, HIV/AIDS behavioural change impact mitigation, and the development of workplace policies. 

KHOULOUD DAIBES, Minister for Women and Tourism of the Palestinian Authority, recounted the story of a Palestinian woman who provided for her nine-member family, when her husband had been arrested without charge by Israeli forces.  She provided for her sick child, and had not attended school, as there was not enough money.  Severe measures in the occupied Palestinian territories affected women of all walks of life.  The education sector suffered due to the illegal closing of schools and firing at children.  In the health sector, pregnant women had suffered over the past eight years.  Many women had been compelled to deliver babies at Israeli checkpoints, which had resulted in many deaths.  The rate of women who gave birth at home had also increased, as had the number of cases of women with severe trauma due to Israeli operations.

Noting that 6 per cent of Palestinian citizens were women, she said that female Palestinian prisoners were subjected to sexual assault and rape, which contravened Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).  Some 413 children and 140 women had been killed in the recent Israeli aggression.  With the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, an achievement in itself, there had been an increase in gross domestic product (GDP) indicators, and education among Palestinian women had increased.  However, Palestinian women had been negatively impacted by Israel’s policy of collective punishment.  The Ministry of Women had a vision of providing equal opportunities for both sexes.  However, the implementation of any plan to enhance the status of Palestinian women would not work without the end of Israeli occupation.

ESTHER MURUGI MATHENGE, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Development of Kenya, said her Government had adopted several policy initiatives and laws to change the perception of women’s and men’s traditional roles.  The National Policy on Gender and Development recognized the need for everyone to share responsibilities equally.  Kenya had adopted a national machinery to support gender mainstreaming in all sectors and at all levels to ensure that gender issues were integrated into national development processes.  The Government was in the process of enacting gender bills, including on domestic violence, marriage, matrimonial property and equal opportunities.  The Government had enacted policies to reduce the number of hours that women and girls spent fetching water.  It had developed the 2007-2015 National Water Services Strategy, which recognized that water collection and sanitation were mainly carried out by women.

She said the 2007 Employment Act entitled men to two weeks of paternity leave, which aimed to encourage fathers to create a bond with their children as well as to change gender stereotypes about childcare responsibilities.  Kenya had taken several steps to address gender inequality in education, developing the Gender in Education Policy and the Kenya Education Sector Support Programme.  It also continued its concerted efforts to include women in educational leadership and governance.  In October 2006, the President had issued a directive requiring a 30 per cent representation of women in all public posts.  A study by the National AIDS Control Council estimated that women and girls provided 90 per cent of all care in the home to people with HIV/AIDS.  To include men in that caregiving, the Kenya Vision 2030 programme integrated behavioural change programmes in schools. 

ALEJANDRINA GERMÁN, Secretary of Women Affairs of the Dominican Republic, emphasized several points in the context of policies and programmes to enable better a reconciliation of work and family responsibilities for women and men.  She discussed a solidarity programme, which assisted 748,723 poor households, particularly those with single mothers, and included a financial contribution for food.  The Progressing Programme was a social education programme implemented by the Office of the First Lady and it helped families in extreme poverty.  To deal with HIV/AIDS, national strategies for the 2008-2011 period had been defined to address the inter-relationship between violence against women and HIV/AIDS.

Continuing, she said the “From Youngster to Youngster” programme had trained thousands of young people to be promoters of strategies to prevent teenage pregnancy.  As the host country of INSTRAW, the Dominican Republic supported the Institute’s substantive work, but was concerned that, for eight months, it had been operating without an Executive Director, and she urged the Secretary-General to appoint one.  She reaffirmed her country’s commitment to the Quito Consensus and its platform of action as crucial to women’s political participation in the region, as well as to the equitable sharing of responsibilities with men.

STEFAN WALLIN, Minister for Culture and Sport of Finland, said that nearly 70 per cent of women with children under the age of seven in Finland were working mothers.  That had only been possible because of the extensive family leave system and universal day care services.  Finnish women represented 42 per cent of parliamentarians and 60 per cent of members of Government.  Reconciling work and family life was a priority of the 2008 Government Action Plan for Gender Equality, which aimed to encourage men to take parental leave.  Further analysis was needed of the impact of the current financial crisis on women.  Certain areas of concern required continued advocacy and strengthened support, such as reducing the vulnerability of girls and women to the HIV/AIDS epidemic as well as strengthening the capacity of health systems to provide confidential and voluntary counselling, testing and treatment as part of sexual and reproductive health services.

He said it was important to develop efficient and direct social protection programmes for low-income households to strengthen family mechanisms of caregiving and support.  Preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV should be a top priority.  The face of the caregiver in the context of HIV/AIDS was most often a woman’s face.  Prevention must be supported on a long-term basis through adequate attention to stronger reproductive health services.  He urged the creation of a new gender entity that would be a central driver in the United Nations system for gender issues and would strengthen and improve gender-related work. 

MANTO TSHABALALA-MSIMANG, Minister in the Presidency of South Africa, said her country was taking stock of the accomplishments, challenges and lessons learned with regard to building a democratic society and, in that regard, was analysing policies for sharing of responsibilities between women and men.  The Government had assessed international debates drawing attention to the full spectrum of human vulnerabilities as they related to women’s lack of access to and control of resources, the impacts of climate change and food security.  In addition, “what a breath of fresh air”, she said, referring to the United States’ announcement yesterday that it would prioritize acceptance of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

She said South Africa would continue to make substantive progress in implementing the commitments of the Beijing Platform for Action.  It had enacted various laws, including the Domestic Violence Act and the Sexual Offences Act.  On equal sharing and caregiving in the context of communicable diseases, including HIV/AIDS, non-communicable diseases, trauma and violence, South Africa was striving for a more equitable approach to prevention, support and care.  In addition, concrete recommendations were needed to ensure visible action for breaking down negative cultural practices and stereotypes.  She asked the global community to invest more in basic science research, proposing that additional resources be dedicated to researching affordable alternatives.  The financial crisis highlighted the need for more women in financial decision-making.   South Africa’s vision was to create an enabling environment where women and men participated meaningfully in ensuring that all work was valued.

SARAH SAYIFWANDA, Minister for Gender and Women in Development of Zambia, said her country continued to work tirelessly to fulfil its national, regional and international commitments to protect and promote women’s rights.  The recent signing of the Protocol of Gender and Development of SADC in August was a testament to Zambia’s resolve to promote women’s rights and advancement.  Zambia’s Government, in strong partnership with civil society, the private sector and other stakeholders, had implemented several measures.  It had adopted a national cultural policy in 2003 to encourage positive cultural practices that were not discriminatory towards women, set up community radio stations in all provincial centres to ensure increased access to information on positive cultural practices that valued girls and women in society, and to develop guidelines on management and care of people living with HIV/AIDS, which called for men’s greater involvement.

She said that, despite measures to address the unequal sharing of responsibilities between men and women and the impact of HIV/AIDS on caregiving, Zambia continued to encounter challenges.  Those included negative cultural practices and women’s poor economic status, which prevented them from being assertive and productive, and from negotiating safe sex.  That also contributed to gender stereotyping, particularly in rural areas, and resulted in inadequate mechanisms to encourage male involvement in the care economy.  To address those challenges, there was a need to expedite implementation of international instruments and incorporate them into national laws and policies; recognize and incorporate the value and cost of measuring unpaid work in macroeconomic and social policies; and expand quality, affordable health-care services. 

NG YEN YEN, Minister for Women, Family and Community Development of Malaysia, said the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men was clearly linked to a country’s overall development.  What was not clear was how to implement past commitments and translate the notion of equal sharing into something tangible.  In that regard, gender stereotypes were real barriers to the notion of equal sharing and to the overall goal of women’s advancement.  Even the most advanced countries, as well as those deemed more conservative, were averse to discussing that issue.   Malaysia was chipping away at long-held biases, which required strenuous efforts.

She said that the number of women infected with HIV in Malaysia had jumped from 1.2 per cent in 1990 to 16.4 per cent in 2007.  Most HIV infections among women occurred as a result of transmission from their husbands.  A national strategic plan for 2006-2010 had been developed as a response, and the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development had advocated the importance of incorporating gender perspectives in HIV/AIDS policy formulation.  Sex education was a “taboo” subject, and efforts to distribute condoms were negatively received by various segments of the population.  Religious leaders played a critical role in combating HIV/AIDS and they had been incorporated into the national campaign.   Malaysia had amended its Domestic Sexual Violence Act to provide greater protection for marital sexual violence.  It had also made concerted efforts to address women’s needs and correct the inequalities that fuelled the AIDS epidemic.

AKUA SENA DANSUA, Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs of Ghana, said HIV/AIDS was not only a health and developmental challenge, but it was also a gender challenge.  Ghana’s Government had made it a priority to incorporate HIV/AIDS into reproductive health and rights programmes and had also integrated gender into HIV/AIDS policies and programmes to end the disproportionate burden on women, especially older women, of taking caring of people living with, or affected by, HIV/AIDS.  Young women were disproportionately vulnerable to infection, while elderly women and young girls were disproportionately affected by the burden of caregiving.  Policies and programmes should be informed by statistical data on demographic change, including changes in fertility rates, ageing population and household composition.  Ghana had incorporated gender concerns, such as gender-based violence, HIV/AIDS and promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment, into its demographic and health survey data collection tools.

She said that Ghana had also taken concrete steps to raise awareness on stereotypical patterns of behaviour for women and men; address issues of stigmatization and discrimination in HIV/AIDS; and target vulnerable groups such as commercial sex workers and migrant workers, and equip them with alternative livelihoods.  Among other steps, it had also implemented policies that addressed the needs of orphans and children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS and used microcredit as an entry point for reproductive health and HIV/AIDS education to empower women and reduce their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.  The Government had incorporated into its reproductive health programmes ways of addressing harmful traditional practices that affected women’s reproductive health and had implications for HIV/AIDS, such as early marriage, female genital mutilation and food taboos.

Statement by Deputy Executive Director of United Nations Population Fund

PURNIMA MANE, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said the International Conference on Population and Development and the Fourth Conference on Women played independent and mutually reinforcing roles in advancing international standards for the rights and health of all women.  Both Conferences made concrete recommendations that could accelerate achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  Both focused on gender equality, the importance of women’s empowerment, participation of men and boys and the acceptance of equitable roles as essential for progress.  They affirmed the right of women to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including sexual and reproductive health.  Fifteen years later, it was time to ensure universal access to reproductive health so that every pregnancy and every birth was safe.

She said that protecting women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights was essential to women’s empowerment and gender equality, as was the equal sharing of responsibilities between men and women.  That was also crucial for eliminating extreme poverty, combating AIDS and improving maternal health.  The equal sharing of responsibilities between men and women required urgent attention, as did the need to unite to end violence against women and girls.  Everywhere women faced threats to their lives, health and well-being as a result of being overburdened with work, often unpaid and unrecognized, and confronted with physical and sexual violence and a lack of power and influence in decision-making.  Women did the most work and reaped the least benefits. 

Women must no longer be allowed to bear the biggest share of poverty, she stressed.  Negative attitudes that threatened the confidence and aspirations of women and girls could no longer be allowed to persist, and women could no longer be allowed to suffer violence and carry the blame while offenders went free.  She called on everyone to work together to create a world where the labels of “women’s work” and “men’s work” were no longer recognized or reinforced.  Everyone should contribute to creating a world where women and men enjoyed equal opportunity and equal rights and equal partnership and equal responsibilities in their productive and reproductive lives.  The challenge was to translate words into action to ensure accountability, end impunity and strengthen the rule of law.


BYUN DO YOON, Minister for Gender Equality of the Republic of Korea, said her Government had undertaken multifaceted efforts to induce social and cultural changes against gender stereotypes.  Needless to say, promoting a culture of gender equality was a prerequisite to overcoming prejudice in gender roles, and the Government had focused on expanding the culture of gender equality by introducing gender equal education programmes to central and local Government officials.  In 2008, the economic participation rate of women stood at 54.7 per cent, and the country was seeing a steady increase in women’s social participation.  However, participation of men in unpaid daily household work was extremely low, at a mere one sixteenth of that of women.

Aware of the State’s responsibility for creating a social environment where women and men equally shared the burden of caregiving, including housework, the Government was committed to refurbishing related laws and expanding social infrastructure, she said.  The Government had also enacted the “Act on Promoting Economic Activities of Women with Career Interruptions” last year to help women become more economically independent.  On HIV/AIDS, she said the prevalence rate was less than 0.1 per cent, relatively low compared to other countries.  Nonetheless, the Government had implemented measures to lessen the burden shouldered by families due to HIV/AIDS infections and had introduced various services, such as free medical exams.

SHAZIA MARRI, Sindh Minister for Information of Pakistan, said more than half a million women in South Asia were affected by HIV/AIDS.  Women knew considerably less than men about how HIV/AIDS was transmitted and how to prevent it, and what little they did know was often rendered useless by the discrimination and violence they faced.  Research showed that policies that promoted economic and educational opportunities for women and provided for protection of their property and inheritance rights were the core components of national HIV/AIDS strategies.  Training must be provided for the police on how to deal with women’s issues, property inheritance and legal rights.  The 1990 National AIDS Control Programme was an umbrella project that created policy guidelines for implementation through the Provincial AIDS Control Programme and civil society.  It aimed to prevent HIV transmission, establish surveillance, treatment and care programmes.

She said her Government financed 80 per cent of all expenditures on HIV/AIDS, a testament to its commitment to addressing that scourge.  Pakistan proudly had the first woman Speaker of the National Assembly in the region.  Its women parliamentarians had become a collective inspiration and visible force that would continue to drive forward the gender equality agenda.  The Government had taken several institutional and administrative measures to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, among them, creation of the Benazir Income Support Programme for the social and financial uplift of women, the Gender Reform Action Plan, a Women Parliamentarians Caucus, and the ratification of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Convention on Trafficking in Women. 

ROSE NDUWIMANA, Minister for Human Rights and Gender of Burundi, describing efforts in the area of peace consolidation, said her country had adopted many programmes, one of which was exclusively devoted to women.  It focused, in part, the role of women for peaceful cohabitation, and in the effort to combat violence against women.  Women who had suffered in the aftermath of war also found themselves in a precarious socio-economic situation.   Burundi was an agricultural country, and that activity was mainly undertaken by rural women.  To fight against the feminization of poverty, “economies” were being developed at the community level, and women could participate in development projects for their communities.

As for education, she said the illiteracy rate was high, and literacy was part of women’s advancement projects.  The Government was aware of the need for primary education for all.  Regarding violence against women, Burundi was working to combat the scourge.  Reports of domestic violence had increased and, on the issue of sexual violence, two thirds of the cases had involved girls.  Actors dealing with those issues were working to harmonize data; users had been trained and an office for data centralization would be created this year.  A campaign against sexual violence was undertaken in 2007 and, in 2008, another programme was drawn up in the most participatory manner possible.  On HIV/AIDS, women did not have enough decision-making power, even though they were the most affected by the disease.  In semi-urban areas, the prevalence rate was increasing.  Women, whether infected or not, often cared for those who were sick, and left school to do so.

RUKIA ISANGA NAKADAMA, Minister for Gender, Labour and Social Development of Uganda, said her country had addressed the HIV/AIDS epidemic for two decades.  It had put in place a comprehensive national response that included community mobilization, strong political leadership and commitment, a multisectoral strategy and the dissemination of messages about behavioural change, including primary and secondary abstinence, mutual faithfulness, sexual partner reduction and condom use, especially in higher-risk communities.  The approach to prevention -– known as “abstinence, be faithful and condom use”, or “ABC” -- had formed the backbone of HIV prevention in the country.  It had since been expanded to “ABC+” to include voluntary counselling and testing, prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the virus, control of sexually transmitted infections, anti-retroviral treatment, and HIV/AIDS care and support services.

She said Uganda had put in place an extensive system of community and home-based care for HIV/AIDS patients, orphans and other people made vulnerable by the epidemic.  However, due to gender stereotypes, women still shouldered the burden of caregiving.  It was important to focus on challenges faced by certain women who had to provide care, but also needed special care themselves.  That included older women, women in internally displaced camps and women with disabilities.  It was also necessary to analyse the cause-and-effect relationship between violence against women and HIV/AIDS and its impact on women’s caregiving capacity.

TAUVEVE O’LOVE JACOBSEN, Ministry of Health and Women’s Affairs of Niue, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, reiterated her commitment to the Pacific Plan, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.  In many Pacific Island countries, the cultural context perpetuated gendered roles, defining responsibilities in families, and thereby entrenching gender inequality.  Migration also affected the unequal sharing of responsibilities between women and men.  Although temporary labour migration provided employment opportunities, those were mostly for men.  In some countries, the low economic status of women impeded their participation at all levels of decision-making.

On HIV/AIDS, she pointed out that, in Papua New Guinea, HIV had become a “generalized epidemic”, exacerbating existing burdens on women as caregivers.   Pacific Island countries were extremely vulnerable to the spread of HIV/AIDS.  The Pacific Regional Strategy on HIV and other sexually transmitted infections for 2009-2013 was a stepping stone for the development of national-level legislation.  Gender roles were perpetuated by discriminatory laws, and there was an urgent need to repeal discriminatory employment laws.  In closing, she said the Forum looked forward to strengthening partnerships with civil society.

LOURDES BANDEIRA, Under Secretary for Planning of the Special Secretariat of Policies for Women of Brazil, said the AIDS epidemic required a range of interventions in the area of health.  AIDS was progressively being internalized.  In Brazil, poverty was among the factors that created vulnerability to the disease.  The feminisation of AIDS was related to power relations between men and women.  There were also differences in social roles between women and men, including in the access to productive resources.  Such differences often were reflected in unequal access to such things as health, employment and income.

She said caregiving was seen as a woman’s job that was not remunerated.  That issue was becoming increasingly complex.  In dealing with the feminization of HIV/AIDS and the consequent inequalities, infected individuals disrupted the chain of responsibility.  Programmatic responses could include research into the effects of antiretroviral drugs on women.  A lack of will to distribute female condoms took away women’s autonomy.  Brazil was adapting the dimensions of social vulnerability to combat the disease.  A strategic plan for HIV/AIDS involved actions to be carried out by 2011, such as strategies to improve men’s awareness and involvement in preventing the transmission of HIV/AIDS and violence against women.

CAROLINE MATIZHA, Director of the Department of Gender, Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development of Zimbabwe, said her country recognized the strong link between poverty, gender and HIV/AIDS and it had made eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, promotion of gender and women’s empowerment, and combating HIV/AIDS a priority.  The HIV/AIDS epidemic had brought greater urgency to the issue of caregiving, including in terms of the division of labour between men and women.  Women provided up to 90 per cent of the care needs generated by HIV/AIDS.  Despite Government efforts to promote gender equity and affirmative action through legislation, challenges remained.  Women had remained unequal to their male counterparts mainly because of socio-cultural norms and the unfavourable national and global economies that perpetuated their inequality. 

She noted that, in 2006, Zimbabwe had adopted the National HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan.  It had also developed a National Plan of Action on Women and Girls and HIV/AIDS.  A National Gender and HIV and AIDS Taskforce was established to ensure that gender issues were adequately addressed in HIV/AIDS programming and policies.  The Government, in partnership with civil society, had embarked on the “Making Care Work Count” advocacy campaign on unpaid care work to focus on awareness-raising with key stakeholders.

IBRA NDOYE, Executive Secretary of the National Council to Combat AIDS of Senegal, said men and women needed to equally share the burden of caring for patients with HIV/AIDS.  Senegal had set up a ministry to women’s rights issues and those of other vulnerable groups.  In 2005, a national strategy for gender equality was passed for a 10-year period.  Senegal had ratified all legal instruments to protect women’s rights.  The 2001 Constitution enshrined the principle of equal rights.  A law of equal access for women in public service was also passed, and the national observatory of women’s rights was created. 

He said that medical coverage was provided for the partners and children of female workers.  Since 2008, the laws protected the rights of people with HIV/AIDS.  Prevalence of the disease in Senegal had been low and stable since 1986, but twice as many women as men were infected.  Combating it was being addressed at the highest political level.  The Ministry of Family had drawn up strategic plans on HIV/AIDS, health and gender.  In 1998, the Government had launched its first initiative on access to antiretroviral therapies.  In 2004, it had made them free for everyone and began offering free screening, treatment and bio-clinical follow-up.  He recommended increasing men’s role in prevention and care of HIV/AIDS, increasing funding for HIV/AIDS programmes, and making education on the scourge a priority for AIDS funding.

TOKASA LEWENI, Director for Women Affairs of Fiji, said her country represented a vibrant and pluralistic society, filled with cultural values which had existed for centuries and formed an integral part of daily life.  They dictated the ownership of customary land and the division of labour, and governed a shared way of life.  The role of women was closely associated with family care and supported the economic activity of men.  That role also was reflected in their type of work in the formal sector.  Despite an increase in the number of educated women, they were normally employed in welfare and care positions.

With that in mind, she said the growing number of cases of HIV/AIDS had presented another aspect of caregiving.  Ultimately, it was the mothers and wives who often provided care for those living with HIV, which presented special challenges.  To instil Western values on people who knew no values other than their own was something to be cautious about.  Indeed, there was a need to modify inherited values in order to meet the realities of life, however, that was a challenge that she hoped would be reflected in the outcome of today’s meeting.  “Our power lies in education.”  Equal sharing of responsibilities involved educating women and men about its importance.  Parents were the primary nurturers, and the family was a fortress from which children departed as adults.   Fiji depended on the National Women’s Plan of Action to empower men and women alike, as well as on civil society and the Commission to help illuminate the path forward.

GUNNAR PALSSON ( Iceland) said the fact that women and girls provided up to 90 per cent of the care needs generated by HIV/AIDS globally illustrated the feminization of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  The unequal sharing of responsibilities between men and women hampered women’s ability to participate fully in society at the political level and in the labour market.  Measures were needed to enhance men’s role in caregiving in order to diminish those inequalities and to empower women.  Iceland’s parental leave worked to improve equality between the sexes, as it gave mothers and fathers equal rights to paid leave.  It had proven to be a powerful tool in sharing responsibilities between women and men, as up to 90 per cent of fathers used their parental leave rights.  Recent studies showed that paternity leave promoted better distribution of domestic responsibilities and a more equal standing of men and women in the labour market.

He said the Icelandic Parliament passed a new gender equality law this year, which included several provisions aimed at improving compliance.  The law referred, for the first time, to gender-based violence and gender-based harassment, making that a legal violation.  The Gender Equality Training Programme was launched this year.  In line with United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), it was a pilot programme that focused on professionals from developing and post-conflict societies.  A new Government, led by Iceland’s first female Prime Minister, was guided by the need to promote gender equity and women’s empowerment. 

MAXIM A. TOPILIN, Deputy Minister of Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation, said women and girls were the first to feel the negative consequences of economic decline.  It was no less important to recall that women were not victims; they were economically, socially and politically active, and he highlighted their participation in finding solutions.  Women in the Russian Federation had an active position, and participated on equal footing to men.  Thanks to their contribution, the country had been able to overcome social and economic hardships in recent history.  Women comprised 54 per cent of the population, and almost half of the labour pool.  They were a “backbone” of the economy, and made up 80 per cent of public-sector workers.  It was no coincidence that women led the Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Healthcare and Social Development.  The Beijing Declaration enshrined the idea that the equal distribution of duties was key to the well-being of men and women, and strengthened democracy.

He supported the conclusions of the Secretary-General’s report on the equal sharing of responsibilities, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS.  In recent years, his country had made progress in countering the epidemic, including in the areas of prevention, treatment and care.  To strengthen social protection, a 2006 presidential decree had established monthly remuneration for unemployed people caring for the sick.  The Russian Federation would work to improve existing legislation, and the status of women.  On another point, it was important to clearly define the spheres of the Commission on the Status of Women and the Human Rights Council, as duplication of work was wasteful.  In transforming the gender dimension of United Nations activity, it would not make sense to create new posts.  Rather, he urged preserving existing procedures.  Transition to more long-term planning required further analysis of all possible consequences.

CAO THI THANH THUY, Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs of Viet Nam, said the country had enacted the Law on Gender Equality in 2006 and the Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence in 2007.  The Ministry had been tasked with gender equality issues, while the National Committee for the Advancement of Women and the Women’s Union had been both strengthened.  Women now accounted for 25.76 per cent of the National Assembly membership and, last year, Viet Nam Female Parliamentarians Caucus had been set up.  For the last 20 years, the country had had a female Vice-President and many women ministers in its Cabinet.

She said specific objectives and indicators had been established to ensure women’s equal access to education, and female students now accounted for at least 46.9 per cent of enrolment.  It was no coincidence that the World Bank had commended Viet Nam for its fastest speed in narrowing the gender gap for the last 20 years in South-East Asia.  The country now ranked fifty-second among 93 countries in the Gender Empowerment Measure, and sixty-eighth among 130 countries in the Gender Gap Index.   Viet Nam had also actively participated in many international forums and was currently chairing the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Committee on Women.  As a pilot country of the “Delivering as One” reform, Viet Nam was thankful to UNIFEM for its strong support and proactive involvement in gender mainstreaming throughout the United Nations work in the country.

Despite heartening achievements, there was no room for complacency, the delegate added.  Apart from greater efforts to further gender equality, including ensuring equal job opportunities, equal pay for female workers and equal access to leadership positions, it was necessary to work even harder in the coming years to address the spread of HIV/AIDS.  Given the increased number of HIV/AIDS carriers, particularly among women, and perceiving HIV/AIDS as a factor that was extremely destructive to future generations, more energy and resources must be dedicated to defeat the pandemic.  In that fight, as well as in the broader efforts for women’s advancement, Viet Nam reconfirmed its commitment to working closely with United Nations agencies, international organizations, other countries and the community of non-governmental organizations. 

ANA PAULA SACRAMENTO NETO, Vice-Minister of Family and the Promotion of Women of Angola, said her country had enacted policies to foster women’s economic empowerment, especially those active in the informal sector and rural areas, through microfinance programmes and support to rural businesses.  In addition to having equal access to education and employment, Angolan women should reduce their economic independence on men.  However, social, economic and cultural aspects such as customary laws and discriminatory practices still posed challenges and hindered the involvement of men and boys in caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS and in household chores.  The Government’s strategic plan to combat HIV/AIDS aimed to grant universal access to anti-retroviral drugs and stop vertical transmission. 

She said that the HIV/AIDS national law set up intervention benchmarks calling for the inclusion of information on the pandemic in school curricula and other places, with particular emphasis on the need to end discrimination and stigma against people with the disease.  In 2008, women held 41 per cent of all parliamentary seats, up from 12 per cent in 2004.  That was an important step forward.  It was also important to ensure that those gains were maintained and to encourage men and women to work together towards building a new mentality to end stigmatization as well as to promote gender equity.

MAGED ABDELAZIZ ( Egypt) said Egypt had concentrated its efforts in the past two decades on gender-related issues, particularly those related to women’s economic empowerment, by adopting several important initiatives to end discrimination against women.  In 2000, it had set up the National Council of Women and committed all other national institutions to provide the Council with the necessary data and statistics related to its work.  Its next five-year strategy, for the 2007-2012 period, took into account the principle of equal sharing of responsibility at the local, governorate and national levels.  It included several programmes aimed at women’s advancement in the fields of education, training, health, environmental protection, poverty eradication, economic empowerment, culture, tourism, information technology and social care.

He said the plan of women’s advancement involved creation of a national database for publishing and updating statistics and indicators related to social gender in all sectors, mobilizing non-governmental organizations to monitor discrimination against women and to help change societal attitudes towards gender, and setting up public childcare centres for the children of poor working mothers, among other things.  The Egyptian National Programme for combating HIV/AIDS had provided doctors with medical manuals on HIV/AIDS symptoms and the proper way to deal with suspected cases, set up blood test laboratories and developed medical services and care for HIV/AIDS patients, among other steps. 

CHRISTER HALLERBY, State Secretary at the Ministry for Integration and Gender Equality of Sweden, aligning himself with the European Union, said priorities shifted during an economic downturn, and human rights seemed less important.  “This is not acceptable,” he said.  “Human rights must not be neglected anywhere, anytime and under no circumstances.”  While headlines were mostly about economic recession, gender equality was a necessity for sound and sustained economic development.  Despite progress, gender inequality was still a fact in all countries.  Despite prohibitive legislation, domestic violence was also widespread.

Women’s entry into the labour force meant rethinking gender roles, he said, urging a change in the traditional division of labour.  Gender roles were not static; they changed -– and must -– with social and democratic developments.  In Sweden, a father’s share of parental leave was increasing, but was still too small.  But since the father usually earned more than the mother, household income normally decreased if fathers took parental leave.  That was why the Government had introduced a gender equality bonus to promote equal sharing of parental leave.  Bonus was tax relief paid to parents who shared that leave more equally.  Every person, regardless of sex, ethnicity, disability, age or religious traditions was of equal dignity, and those rights must be protected and promoted.  Increased resources were being made available to promote women’s economic empowerment and increase security, including from all forms of gender-based violence and human trafficking.  Globally, there were a range of legal instruments; what was needed was more action -- to set more targets and work purposefully to reach them.

EDIT RAUH HORNUNGNÉ, State Secretary of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour of Hungary, said women’s rights were fundamental human rights, and all available tools must be used to enforce them.  Indeed, it was a joint responsibility to work towards that.   Hungary had developed a long-term strategy to promote gender equality, having relied greatly on the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.  It paid special attention to the most vulnerable groups, including Roma and rural women.  The strategy’s priorities were in line with the goals identified in the road map issued by the European Union for 2006-2010.

She said the reconciliation of private, professional and family life was a priority that Hungary had tackled for years, in line with international expectations.  It was not easy to change deeply-rooted traditions on which private life and family responsibilities were based.  Among the tools used in that regard, she mentioned programmes to create childcare institutions.  However, real success would come only with the media’s continual involvement.  As for HIV/AIDS, Hungary ran preventive programmes.  The infection rate was low, and there had been no change in the rate among women since 2003.  On promoting United Nations goals, she said the UNIFEM Hungarian National Committee Association had been set up at the start of 2009, and its goal was to shape public opinion through equal opportunity initiatives.   Hungary planned to provide technical and financial support to UNIFEM action in developing countries.

ELHAM AMINZADEH, Adviser to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iran, said Iran was committed to women’s effective participation and to sharing experiences to promote women’s human dignity and values.  Instead of relying on one certain criterion, it would be better to have a more general approach to promote and improve women’s status in society.  The Beijing Plan of Action had not been achieved because Governments were involved in various other issues according to their national priorities and because of emerging issues such as human trafficking, economic and morality crises and military invasions and occupation.  One blatant example of that was Israel’s genocide against women in Gaza and the war crimes perpetrated there, in violation of the Geneva Conventions and all other international human rights and humanitarian law.

After the Islamic Revolution in Iran, there were significant improvements in society for men and women, she said.  Due to special attention given to women to compensate the pre-revolution backwardness, there was positive growth in all areas, which had led to women having a greater say in decision-making in educational, health, political and economic areas.  The results had been an increase in women’s literacy and a reduction in maternal and infant mortality, among other accomplishments.  Iran had taken effective measures to control HIV/AIDS through prevention, treatment, counselling services and post-treatment care, all free of charge.  Another way to eradicate the disease was to return to moral principles within the human community.

ADAM FRONCZAK, Under Secretary of State, Minister for Health of Poland, said any mention of sexual and reproductive rights did not promote encouragement of abortion.  The Government paid increasing attention to ensuring equal treatment of women and men.  The gender mainstreaming policy had been systematically introduced at all levels of State administration, in line with the Beijing Declaration.  Projects on increasing the activity of women in the labour market took on special significance.  One project focused on the “social and economic activation of women at the local and regional level”, which aimed to promote a model of society in which women and men were equal participants.

He said promoting equality should be a primary concern of HIV/AIDS policies and programmes.  In that context, Poland’s implementation of the Beijing Declaration, and objectives within the Millennium Development Goals, among other things, had influenced its progress in the field of health care.  An unquestionable example of that was Poland’s holistic approach towards epidemic-related problems, which was reflected in the wide accessibility of treatment, care and support for those living with HIV/AIDS.

MAGDALENA FAILLACE, International Special Representative of Women Issues of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Worship of Argentina, said her country had a health-care system and extensive and complex hospital infrastructure to respond to the demand of caring for people with HIV/AIDS and, thus, alleviate the burden of that care, which was largely shouldered by women and girls.   Argentina was providing tests for pregnant women, counselling for women and their partners, anti-retroviral drugs and paediatric infectious disease care.  It had been able to reduce substantially mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.  Indeed, Argentina was also providing universal access to anti-retroviral treatment and voluntary and confidential testing for HIV/AIDS nationwide before 2010. 

She said her country also continued to expand the National Programme for Integral Sexual Education.  The Programme had been expanded since the adoption in 2002 of the Act on Sexual Health and Responsible Procreation, which created the Office on Sexual and Reproductive Health Counselling in the Public Health Services.  Argentina was also implementing the Victims against Violence Programme and it had created the first Office of Domestic Violence, which aimed to guarantee victims rapid access to justice.  Argentina’s Act to fight trafficking in persons was consistent with the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish the Trafficking in Persons, especially women and girls.  Women now filled 40 per cent of all parliamentary seats.  The Parliament was working through several bills to secure women’s greater participation as well as provide for affirmative action measures. 

MADINA JARBUSSYNOVA, Ambassador-at-Large, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, said her country’s implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action triggered the establishment of a national mechanism for gender equality and increased attention to gender issues.  She described a national plan that focused on women’s political promotion, involvement in economic life, improved quality of health and the elimination of violence against women.  More had to be done to empower women, which was an ongoing concern.  There were still problems with discrimination in the labour market and low representation in Government bodies, especially at decision-making levels.

She said legislation stipulated a conducive environment for the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men.  A chapter in the Labour Code regulated labour norms for women and provided a part-time working day for an employee who was a caregiver for a sick family member.  As in many countries, men and women had different responsibilities due to gender stereotypes.  Women spent more time on domestic and caregiving work than men.  There was unequal pay, and women were generally in lower-paying jobs.  The Government had identified the strengthening of the family through the equal sharing of responsibilities as a goal in its gender equality strategy.  Sociological research on gender equality last year had revealed an inequality in the sharing of family responsibilities.  Nonetheless, the promotion of social equality was supported by society.

CARLIEN SCHEELE ( Netherlands) said the Dutch Government was working actively towards a society in which responsibilities were more equally shared and women worked more hours.  In addition to measures to expand after-school childcare and day care, the Government had introduced additional tax advantages to discourage women and men from staying at home by making employment more financially attractive.  A transferable tax credit for the non-working partner would be phased out.  The Minister for Emancipation was actively promoting a model in which both partners worked four days a week.  The Minister had also initiated an award for organizations or persons who played a visible part in promoting the role of men as caregivers.  And a network of male role models as ambassadors for the promotion of the emancipation of men was being created.  Those initiatives sought to facilitate and persuade Dutch women to work more hours and Dutch men to take up their responsibility for caregiving.

She said that promotion and protection of human rights, empowerment and adequate prevention were key elements in Dutch HIV/AIDS policy.  Effective measures must take into account the fundamental impact of gender inequality on the spread of the disease, its consequences and prevention.  Gender inequality lay at the basis of the feminization of the disease.  Reducing maternal mortality and ensuring reproductive health for all was essential in Dutch development policy. 

JOHNSON YACKOLEY KOKOU, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Social Action, Promotion of Women, and Protection of Children and Aged Persons of Togo, said the respective sharing of responsibilities should mark the end of gender stereotypes.  That sharing allowed for the removal of an obstacle to women’s empowerment:  the age-old problem of reconciling domestic and professional duties.  There was no question about women’s contribution to socioeconomic development.  On HIV/AIDS, he noted a strategy based on dialogue.   Togo had worked to make partnership among women and men an indispensable factor for development, which had helped in combating the pandemic.  Other actions had focused on education, training, financing of gender issues, including gender-based budgeting, and strengthening of gender institutions.

He described a campaign aimed at giving boys and girls the same education, and encouraging parents to set an example for children by equitably distributing domestic tasks.  For its effects to be lasting, gender focal points had been created in ministerial departments.  This year, parliamentarians received gender training.  All actions were carried out in partnership with United Nations agencies.  However, overcoming social inertia, particularly regarding the role of men and boys in the equal sharing of responsibilities, was still a challenge.

MERYL FRANK ( United States) said her country was determined to help ensure that women and girls had full civil rights, education, nutrition, medical care and economic opportunities.  President Barack Obama was a strong advocate for women’s issues.  He had repealed the so-called Mexico City Policy, which had prohibited non-governmental organizations working abroad from using United States funding to provide, or even offer, counselling about the full range of family planning options.  He had empowered women to gain access to the health information and services they needed to maintain their own well-being and the health of their families.  President Obama had also signed legislation that protected women in the country from salary discrimination.

She said that the new United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, had spoken strongly during her confirmation hearings in favour of ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  The United States would also review the binding global pacts that helped empower women.  That included the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  She urged Member States to fully implement Security Council resolution 1820 (2008) on sexual violence against women in conflict situations.  The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief had incorporated gender issues into all aspects of prevention, care and treatment.

LUUL GEBREAB, President of the National Union of Eritrean Women of Eritrea, associated herself with the Sudan’s statement on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, and Cuba’s statement, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement.  She agreed that perceptions of men as “breadwinners” and women as “caregivers” had resulted in an unequal distribution of responsibilities.  She called for targeted efforts by all stakeholders to enhance the roles of men and boys in that regard.  In Eritrea, where more than 65 per cent of the population were agro-pastoralists, parental leave or family allowance did not alleviate the heavy burden women assumed in providing family care.  That amplified the need for policies to be as targeted as possible.

On HIV/AIDS, she said Eritrea had a 2.4 per cent HIV prevalence.  There were widespread sensitization programmes about the pandemic.  Contributing to reducing Eritrea’s alarming rate of deforestation was an improved stove, which saved up to 50 per cent of fuel -– mainly wood -- and reduced the amount of time women had to spend collecting wood for fuel.  It also improved rural women’s health.  The Government was committed to equality of women and men and, in 2004, had adopted a national gender policy based on the principle of equality between the sexes.  Policies adopted in favour of women had included banning the practice of female genital mutilation.

MARIA FERNANDA ESPINOSA ( Ecuador) said Ecuador’s new Constitution, approved through a referendum, had led to the creation of National Councils for Equality, which would mainstream, observe and evaluate policies related to gender, ethnicity, indigenous people, intercultural affairs and human mobility.  The law stipulated that the State would formulate and implement policies to achieve equality between men and women and would incorporate a gender focus into plans and programmes, as well as provide technical assistance to implement the law in the public sector.  To do that, the Government had set up the Secretariat of Villages, Social Movements and Community Participation.  The National Council for Women would be responsible for overseeing the implementation of women’s rights policies.  Priorities set forth in the National Development Plan were in accordance with the National Equal Opportunity Plan.

She said that sexual and reproductive rights were important, as were the right to a decent life and a life free from violence.  The State was acknowledging the fact that unpaid domestic work carried out by women was an essential part of development.  It was also endeavouring to promote a greater role for men in caregiving and guaranteed men paternity leave of up to 10 days after the birth of their children.  The Government was implementing a national HIV/AIDS programme to prevent vertical transmission of the disease and was providing free screening for all women.  The Free Maternity Care Law protected the sexual and reproductive rights of women and guaranteed family planning services and cancer screening.  Ecuador had ratified all relevant international women’s rights conventions and it had played a notable role in promoting the disabilities and women’s conventions.

HAMID AL BAYATI ( Iraq), associating himself with the Sudan’s statement on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said women’s living conditions, security and advancement had declined for three decades under “Saddam regime” policies of dictatorship and repression, and due to wars, economic sanctions and negligence, which had eroded conditions for all Iraqis.  There had been systematic breaches of human rights against women.  As for the “new Iraq”, equality and protection against discrimination were enshrined in the Transitional Administrative Law and the new Constitution adopted by the majority of Iraqis in a general referendum in 2005.

Despite recent difficulties, Iraqi women had been playing a bigger role, as part of the political process in the “new Iraq”, he said.  They had no less than 25 per cent of parliamentary seats, as provided by the new Constitution, and recent provincial elections had witnessed competition of 14,431 candidates, 3,912 of whom had been women.  Women had become more empowered with the creation of the cross-party women’s caucus, composed of 73 women parliamentarians.  That would enable women parliamentarians to emerge as more influential actors in the legislature by bridging political views held by various parties.  The current political situation was an opportunity to redress persistent violations of women’s rights, and it was anticipated that 60 laws would either be revised or enacted.  Challenges were great, but ambitions to achieve women’s full realization of their rights were greater.  Solutions should be reached through global efforts and the serious commitment of all parties.

Right of Reply

The representative of the United States, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, expressed deep concern at the speech accusing Israel of “genocide”.  That was a misuse of human rights lexicon and a misuse of a constructive series of speeches held in today’s forum.  Such misuse had no place in today’s forum.  She rejected one-sided and defamatory accusations of that kind.

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