Economic and Social Council, Concluding High-Level Segment, Adopts Ministerial Declaration Reaffirming Women’s Vital Role as Agents of Development

2 July 2010

Economic and Social Council, Concluding High-Level Segment, Adopts Ministerial Declaration Reaffirming Women’s Vital Role as Agents of Development

2 July 2010
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Economic and Social Council

2010 Substantive Session

19th & 20th Meetings (AM & PM)

Economic and Social Council, Concluding High-Level Segment, Adopts Ministerial

Declaration Reaffirming Women’s Vital Role as Agents of Development

Investing in Women, Girls Has Multiplier Effect

On Productivity, Efficiency, Sustained Economic Growth, Leaders Say

Reaffirming the vital role of women as agents of development, the ministers and heads of delegations participating in the high-level segment of the Economic and Social Council’s 2010 substantive session declared today that gender equality, empowerment of women, the full enjoyment of their human rights, and the eradication of poverty were essential to socio-economic development, including achievement of all of the Millennium Development Goals.

“We recognize that women are disproportionately affected by many of [the current interrelated] crises and challenges, but we also recognize that women have a key leadership role to play, including in decision-making, when responding to them,” the Government leaders said, as they adopted a Declaration to a burst of applause at the close of the week-long segment on the theme “Implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to gender equality and empowerment of women”.

Owing to the persistence of gaps in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment, the Declaration stressed the importance of implementing comprehensive national policies and action plans — including for the achievement of agreed commitments on women’s issues — which would include measurable goals, targets and timetables; establish monitoring and accountability mechanisms; and assess the costs of implementation while providing funding for it.  “Investing in women and girls has a multiplier effect on productivity, efficiency and sustained economic growth,” the leaders added.

The Ministerial Declaration also welcomed the establishment, today by the General Assembly, of “UN Women”, the Organization’s new entity for gender equality and women’s empowerment.  The leaders pledged their full support to get the new agency up and running, which would strengthen the ability of the United Nations to support the attainment of women’s rights and empowerment worldwide.

Recognizing that action on a number of interrelated issues would positively enhance the realization of agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, the leaders stressed, among other things, the need for efforts to tackle the negative attitudes and gender stereotypes that perpetuated discrimination against women.  They also emphasized the need for a holistic approach to ending all discrimination and violence against women and girls, and to encourage and support efforts by men and boys to play an active part in preventing and eliminating all forms of violence, especially gender-based violence.

“Women are at the core of development,” said Economic and Social Council President Hamidon Ali ( Malaysia), in his closing remarks.  Key messages from discussions throughout the segment had made clear that promoting gender equality, and investing in women and girls, were essential for reaching all the Millennium Goals.  Moreover, such investments should be at the core of an agenda emerging from September’s high-level meeting to review the Goals, and include a focus on mental health and reproductive rights.  Combating violence against women, another urgent priority, was a task that must begin with men and boys.

The adoption of the Declaration capped a busy day for the Council, which featured parallel meetings to, respectively, wrap up its general debate, and hold a high-level policy dialogue with senior officials from key international financial and trade institutions on current developments in the world economy.  In the afternoon, the Council held its annual dialogue with the heads of its substantive regional commissions.

Beginning on Monday, 28 June, the high-level segment also included the Council’s Annual Ministerial Review, which heard voluntary presentations from a record 13 countries on their efforts to promote the rights of women and girls at home and abroad.  The presentations were delivered by Ministers and other senior officials from Australia, Brazil, Congo, France, Guatemala, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Mongolia, Namibia, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the United States.

The week’s events also included the two-day Development Cooperation Forum, which was structured around a series of round-table discussions and policy dialogues on the following themes:  promoting greater coherence; accountable and transparent development cooperation; the role of various forms of cooperation, including South-South and triangular cooperation; the impact of multiple crises; allocating resources among competing needs; and achieving the Millennium Goals by 2015:  an agenda for more and improved development cooperation.

Delivering statements in the general debate today were ministers and senior Government officials from India and Bangladesh.

Others were representatives of Chile, United States, Iraq, Colombia, Zambia, Japan, Venezuela, Nigeria, Philippines and Guatemala.

Also speaking were representatives of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), International Organization for Migration (IOM), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), International Olympic Committee Women and Sport Commission, International Association of Economic and Social Councils and Similar Institutions (AICESIS), Food and Agriculture Organization Liaison Office with the United Nations (on behalf of the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme), International Labour Organization (ILO), International Alliance of Women, HelpAge International, International Committee for Arab-Israeli Reconciliation, and the World Society for the Protection of Animals.

The Economic and Social Council will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 6 July, to begin the coordination segment of its substantive session.  Among other things, the segment is expected to cover the role of the United Nations in implementing the Ministerial Declaration of the 2009 substantive session.


The Economic and Social Council met today to conclude its high-level segment with the adoption of a Ministerial Declaration.  It was also expected to conclude its general debate, which began yesterday (see Press Release ECOSOC/6434), and to hold a high-level policy dialogue with international financial and trade institutions, as well as a dialogue with the heads of United Nations regional commissions.

General Debate

MASHIUR RAHMAN, Economic Affairs Adviser to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, pointed out that both his country’s Prime Minister and the Deputy Leader of the House were women, and women also held the important Cabinet portfolios of agriculture, foreign affairs, and women and children’s affairs.  The posts of Leader of the House and Leader of the Opposition had been held by women since 1991, he added.  The Government had adopted a National Policy for Women’s Advancement and a National Plan of Action.  A Women’s Development Committee, headed by the Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs, monitored implementation of empowerment policies.

The enrolment of girls at the primary and secondary levels exceeded that of boys, helped by tuition waivers and stipends for girls in secondary school.  Since 2008, the Government had approved or enacted laws protecting women against domestic violence and recognizing that children could be granted Bangladeshi citizenship from both their mothers and fathers.  The Government was also implementing several projects to develop women’s capabilities, including the Vulnerable Group Development Programme, microcredit, skills training in computers, and product display centres.  More women labourers were hired for rural public works than men, he said, adding that those registered with the Vulnerable Group Development Programme and hired for rural works received skills training and credit for capital machinery such as Singer sewing machines so that they could set up their own enterprises.

A number of affirmative actions had been carried out, such as the provision of allowances and shelter, which helped women in distress and old age, he said, adding that dormitory and day-care centres had been built for working women.  However, those efforts were too modest and should be scaled up.  The Government had introduced a gender-responsive budget for fiscal 2011.

On the international level, he said, an all-female Bangladeshi Formed Police Unit had landed in Haiti early last month, evidence of the country’s support for the participation of women in conflict resolution, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation, as mandated by Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).  He urged developed countries to make good on their promises to devote 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product to official development assistance (ODA), including 0.2 per cent for least developed countries.

OCTAVIO ERRÁZURIZ ( Chile) said his country was closer to achieving equal opportunities and rights for women and men, noting that by the end of the decade, Chile would have overcome the adversity that had followed the recent earthquake and become a developed country.  He highlighted several initiatives towards ensuring gender equality in the labour market, protecting motherhood, providing childcare and increasing access to health care, stressing that women were playing an important role in post-earthquake reconstruction.

Chile had also worked hard to prevent violence against women and to establish criminal penalties for it, he said.  In accordance with General Assembly resolution 61/143, the country had taken measures to increase reporting and reduce prevalence, paying urgent attention to the draft legislation on “femicide”.  “ Chile is the first Latin American country to have a plan of action on resolution 1325 (2000) on women and peace and security,” he noted, reaffirming its commitment to gender equality and the empowerment of women.

PRENEET KAUR, Minister of State for External Affairs of India, said her country had a strong interest in the world economy doing well, since that was the key enabler for the pursuit of growth and bringing the fruits of development to all sectors of society.  It was also necessary to focus on medium- and long-term structural issues of global governance.  Reform of the Bretton Woods institutions must be urgently completed, and the Security Council must reflect contemporary realities by expanding both its permanent and non-permanent membership categories, she said.

The Annual Ministerial Review’s focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment this year was timely, since the Millennium Development Goals aspirations remained unfulfilled, she continued.  India’s National Policy for the Empowerment of Women sought to enhance economic and political empowerment and to provide equal access to health care, education and employment for women.  Nearly half of the 46 million rural household beneficiaries of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, one the world’s largest cash-for-work programmes, were women.  Similarly, India had more than 2 million women’s self-help groups under the Swarnjayanti Gram Rozgar Yojina, a huge rural employment programme.  In education, the Government had recently launched Saakshar Bharat, a national programme for female literacy, to impart functional literacy to some 60 million adult women.

She went on to say that the newly enacted Right to Education Act guaranteed free and compulsory education for all children, adding that girls would be the obvious focus.  However, figures on maternal and infant mortality remained unacceptably high and efforts to reduce them through various schemes, including the Janani Suraksha Yojna cash assistance programme, were beginning to yield results.  She expressed particular concern over the disparity between female and male literacy rates, the exceptionally high maternal mortality rate, the lower rate of women’s participation in the job market as compared with that of men, and issues of violence against women.  However, Indian women were participating in greater numbers in the political process and in decision-making structures, she said, noting that they occupied some of the country’s highest positions, including those of President, Speaker of the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament), and leader of the ruling coalition.

FREDERICK BARTON ( United States) applauded efforts to raise the participation of girls in school, improve the safety of giving birth, reduce trafficking, strengthen women farmers, and increase women’s economic independence.  Underlining the catalytic role that women played in guiding and uniting efforts by donor and partner countries, he called for a holistic approach to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, noting that enormous progress had been made and encouraging Member States to build on that positive momentum to make historic breakthroughs.

He went on to cite some of his country’s efforts to integrate gender concerns into its international programmes, highlighting President Barack Obama’s recent initiatives on food security and health.  Such initiatives would bring attainment of the Millennium Goals closer to reality, he said, affirming his country’s commitment to drive innovation, invest in sustainability, evaluate outcomes, and reinforce mutual accountability.  “Not only must we empower women to have a hand in shaping more stable and peaceful societies, but we must also work together to change the cultural setting which accepts violence against women, he emphasized.

HAMID AL BAYATI ( Iraq) said his country had been among the first in the Middle East to pay attention to women’s causes.  As early as the 1930s, the women’s movement had made important gains, and a law had been enacted in 1936 to guarantee their rights in the workplace.  Women had opportunities to participate in important economic, social and political fields, and their participation in decision-making was vital, he said, adding that Iraqi law guaranteed equality and non-discrimination.

The proportion of women in the previous Parliament had stood at 27 per cent, he recalled, noting that the country now had three women ministers, holding the portfolios of Human Rights, Environment and Housing.  It also had two female Ministers of State, and women held numerous other important Government positions as experts and under-secretaries, among others.

He went on to note that a woman headed Parliament’s Commission on Women and Children, the highest body for the promotion of women’s affairs, which drew up policies for their advancement.  Numerous non-governmental organizations throughout the country carried out plans and programmes to advance the lot of women and children, and the Government had adopted a policy to promote women’s affairs in fields including community policing and caring for victims of violence.  Iraq’s social welfare policy provided credits to help women improve their economic lot.

CLAUDIA BLUM (Colombia), aligning herself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, stressed that non-discriminatory access to education was an essential prerequisite for empowerment and equality.  Colombia had achieved universal basic education coverage, having taken measures to educate men and women on gender equality and to support education on sexual and reproductive health.  Women’s economic empowerment was crucial for the realization of women’s fundamental rights, as well as inclusive and sustainable development and poverty reduction.

Highlighting her country’s initiatives, she said the Government had strengthened laws against specific forms of violence, such as domestic violence and trafficking in persons, by adopting legislation to that end in 2008.   Colombia’s quota law helped increase women’s participation in the executive branch, where they held 30 per cent of decision-making positions, she said.  Acknowledging that more progress needed to be made, she reaffirmed the importance of international cooperation to support national efforts.

CHRISTINE KALAMWINA, Director of Social, Legal and Governance in the Ministry of Gender in Development of Zambia, said promoting gender equality was an important part of her country’s development strategy as it sought to improve people’s lives.  For the past five years, the Government had been implementing the Fifth National Development Plan, in which promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment had been a priority.  The Government was now in the advanced stages of developing the Sixth National Development Plan, which systematically mainstreamed gender into all development sectors.

National budgets had been allocating additional funds to the National Gender Machinery and the Ministry of Community Development and Social Welfare for the economic empowerment of women, she said.  In 2006, the Government had established the Citizens Economic Empowerment Fund with a specific mandate to ensure that women were given preferential access to it.  Conditions for obtaining funding had been relaxed to allow women easy access funding, she said, adding that 40 per cent of the Fund was reserved for women.

The Government had committed to provide women with greater access to productive resources such as land, affordable credit, agricultural extension services, and appropriate technology, she said.  With leadership from the Bank of Zambia, financial institutions were beginning to engage more with women entrepreneurs in addressing some hurdles that women faced in relation to access to bank and financial services.  Zambia had made steady progress towards realizing the Millennium Development Goals, he said, adding that it was likely to meet the targets on hunger, universal primary education, gender equality, maternal health, and HIV/AIDS by 2015.

NORIHIRO OKUDA ( Japan) stressed that not enough progress had been made thus far and further efforts to realize the Millennium Goals should be based on national ownership.  Japan was focused on protecting women from critical and pervasive threats so they could “achieve freedom from fear, freedom from want, fulfilment and dignity”, he said.  Japan was making efforts to help other countries promote gender equality, he said, adding that the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), in cooperation with the Government of Yemen, had developed girls’ education in that country, with the result that enrolment had risen by 50 per cent in 59 pilot schools.

He went on to state that his country had established the Trust Fund for Human Security, which had recently undertaken a project in Nepal to provide comprehensive assistance to women and girls amid armed conflict.  However, Japan needed to improve in the area of decision-making, a category in which women’s participation remained quite low.  There had been encouraging developments in that regard, he said, noting that 54 women had been elected to the House of Representatives in 2009 — the highest proportion of women in that body.  Japan was formulating a Third Basic Plan for Gender Equality to tackle challenges to the creation of a gender-equal society, he said.

JULIO RAFAEL ESCALONA OJEDA ( Venezuela) said his country had not cut social spending despite the recession.  It was maintaining cooperation and solidarity for fair trade, as well as efforts, with other countries in the South, to reduce poverty and inequality.  Determined to bring about gender equality, Venezuela’s Constitution used non-sexist, non-discriminatory language, and women were protected from discrimination under the law.  The Government had enacted a law giving women the right to a life free of violence, protecting them from violence and punishing offenders.  It had also set up special tribunals to deal with violence against women.

He said his country had been a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women since 1982, and had ratified its Additional Protocols.  To promote gender equality, it had created various instruments such as shelter and housing for abused women.  The mission called “Mothers of the Neighbourhood” had been formed to eliminate the social exclusion of women, he said, adding that the Development Bank provided poor women with microfinance.  By the end of 2009, a total of 99,724 women had been benefiting from the Mothers of the Neighbourhood, receiving funds in an amount equal to the national minimum wage.  That recognized their value as domestic workers, he said.

The Ministry of Popular Power for Women and Gender Equality had been established to promote women’s participation he said.  It functioned throughout the country and allowed women collectively to make proposals and discuss their needs.  Venezuela had already achieved the Millennium Goal of eliminating the gender disparity in primary and secondary education, he said, adding that women’s participation in higher education had surpassed that of men.

EZINNE NWADINOBI, Director of Social Services, National Planning Commission of Nigeria, said there had been a marked increase in national strategies to provide women with a competitive edge and help their entrepreneurial development.  The Government had increased its budget by 5 per cent since 2005 to address gender issues.

She said her country had made significant progress in the area of education, and school enrolment rates for both boys and girls had increased at the secondary and tertiary levels.  Underscoring the emphasis placed on land reform in her country’s development agenda, she expressed hope about efforts to facilitate women’s access to land and to the financial resources required to purchase it.  To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, Nigeria had implemented strategies focused on prevention at the national and local levels.

In light of the challenges posed by global crises, Nigeria had limited capacity to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women, she said, calling for the strengthening of the links between expressions of commitment and capacity to implement them.  She went on to emphasize that special attention must be paid to several elements, including technical assistance and capacity-building, and measures to combat the impact of climate change, among other challenges.  She also called for a scaling up of ODA to developing countries and for the extension of more debt relief packages.

LIBRAN CABACTULAN ( Philippines) said his country had just entered a new phase of development with the election of a new President, who had assumed office just two days ago, having won the election on a popular mandate based on a platform of good governance imposed not by external influences, but born of a nation’s disaffection with negative bureaucratic behaviour.  The new Administration would oversee the development and implementation of a new Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan for the period 2010-2016, he said.  The new President had instructed his new Cabinet to focus on projects in health, education, food security, job creation, justice and anti-corruption, he said.

The Philippines had done comparatively well in terms of gender equality and women’s empowerment, he said.  The passage of the Philippine Magna Carta of Women in August 2009 had put into one comprehensive law the role that women played in nation-building, and sought to eliminate all forms of discrimination against them by recognizing, protecting, fulfilling and promoting their rights, especially those in marginalized sectors.  The law also protected women from all forms of violence and ensured mandatory training on human rights and gender sensitivity by all Government agents involved in the protection and defence of women against gender-based violence.  Through that law, Filipina women could claim legal accountability for violators and offenders.  The new President, son of the late former President Corazon Aquino, had already appointed four women to key ministerial-level posts in his Cabinet, he said.

GERT ROSENTHAL ( Guatemala) stressed that the current session on gender equality and the empowerment of women provided a holistic perspective to all the Goals and emphasized the links between them.  “Taking charge of our own responsibility in achieving these objectives also gives us moral authority to demand a friendlier international environment to pursue these goals,” he said.

Applauding the establishment of the new composite United Nations gender entity, he said it was a concrete and important step to introduce greater coherence into the Organization’s system.  Guatemala valued the Council as an intergovernmental organ, yet recognized that it was still a long way from reaching its full potential.  Therefore, Guatemala was committed to working towards the realization of that objective.

AMY MUEDIN, International Organization for Migration, said migration could be an important variable in implementing the international framework for gender equality and development.  The Beijing Declaration took stock of the impact of international migration on women, since poverty or gender-violence could leave them no choice but to migrate, in many cases.  It also called for action to prevent and address trafficking in women and girls for sexual exploitation.

Although the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women lacked specific provisions on migration, he said, the recent adoption of recommendations dedicated to migration, such as the ILO General Recommendation 26 on Women Migrant Workers, was a strong indicator of the attention paid to the dual discrimination faced by migrant women.  Migration was not formally included in the 2000 Millennium Declaration, but it could have important ramifications for the realization of all the Millennium Development Goals.

For example, while the migration of health professionals was detrimental to access by women and girls to health care, especially reproductive health, the money remitted by migrants helped millions of families pay for food, health and education, she said.  It provided daily needs such as food, health and education, which helped alleviate poverty, promote education and reduce child mortality.  Research in different parts of the world showed that remittances could substantially improve girls’ schooling opportunities.  For some of the 105 million migrant women, the migration experience could, when occurring in a legal and safe fashion, provide women with employment opportunities unavailable at home, thus helping them achieve financial autonomy and decision-making power.

UFUK GOKCEN, Permanent Observer for the Organization of the Islamic Conference, noted that women remained deprived of their fundamental rights.  The international community should strengthen coordinated efforts and take an active role in overcoming various challenges faced.  Violence against women constituted a “shameful crime” which must be addressed in all societies through appropriate laws and regulations.  The philosopher Aristotle’s suggestion that women were imperfect men had helped create the view of them as secondary beings, he noted.

“A women is a part of a whole, a part that renders the other half useful and meaningful […] when that unity doesn’t exist, humanity does not exist,” he stressed.  Islam, as a religion of peace and equality, advocated the emancipation of women and called for their equal rights as equal partners.  Furthermore, the Organization of the Islamic Conference had worked in cooperation with the international community to develop a 10-year programme of action which called upon the Organization’s member States to revise their laws in order to promote the enhancement of women in Muslim societies.

MARWAN JILANI, Permanent Observer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said food insecurity, disasters, overlapping climatic extremes, poverty and rapid urbanization were today’s major humanitarian challenges, as witnessed in Haiti.  IFRC’s annual World Disaster Report, to be launched later this year, was focusing on the urbanization of disasters as a twenty-first century challenge.  It stated that climate change was likely to increase the links between urban poverty and disaster risk.  IFRC was working with city leaders and civil society worldwide to address urban challenges by aiming at root causes.

IFRC had included in its plans for Haiti the prioritization of women’s access to health services, including reproductive health; the role of women in agriculture and food security; equal participation by women in camp management committees; addressing gender in shelter design; land and house tenure; including women in water and sanitation management committees; equal employment opportunities and equal pay for women in operations; and prioritizing single female and parent-headed households during relief distribution.

He said that IFRC’s work on gender-based violence and prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse was highlighted by the appointment of a delegate for gender-based violence in Haiti, and by the integration of those important aspects into an overall plan of action.  Funding for humanitarian aid was failing to keep pace with growing humanitarian need, he said, noting that only a fraction of the money was spent on preparedness and risk reduction, and on attempts to reduce vulnerabilities.  He stressed that reducing disaster risk and increasing resilience to natural hazards in different development sectors could have a multiplier effect and expedite realization of the Millennium Goals.

ANITA L. DEFRANTZ, Chair of the Women and Sport Commission of the International Olympic Committee, said the issue of women in sport was directly related to human and social rights.  The Olympic Charter stated that every human being must be allowed to practise sport in accordance with his or her needs.  Noting that the Beijing Platform for Action referred to sport and psychical education as a mechanism to achieve education and promote women’s health, she expressed hope that the contribution of sport and physical activity would again be recognized and included in the outcome document of the high-level segment.

KILONTSI MPOTOGOMYI, Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), expressed great concern that the participation of women in politics and governance was far from what it should be.  Despite recent progress, it still fell far short of the 30 per cent target set in Beijing 15 years ago.  Urgent action was needed, particularly in view of the current context of crises, in which women were vulnerable and developmentally challenged.

This year, the IPU had concluded a study on women’s advances and setbacks in Parliament, he said, adding that it had also produced, in cooperation with the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women, a new edition of the World Map of Women in Politics.  The conclusions emerging from both publications revealed that the world average of women in Parliament stood at 19 per cent, up from 11.3 per cent in 1995.  Some progress had been made, but it had been slow thus far, he said, cautioning that, at the current annual growth rate of 0.5 points, the 30 per cent target would only be reached by 2025.

Much remained to be done to eliminate discrimination against women, he said, noting that there was considerable scope for stepping up efforts, including quotas and other temporary special measures; amending systems of political party selection and recruitment; taking action to eliminate gender stereotypes and violence against women; and waging systematic, far-reaching awareness campaigns worldwide.  The IPU was working with Parliaments to end violence against women, and urged them to allocate adequate resources to that end, while monitoring implementation.

ANTONIO MARZANO, President of the International Association of Economic and Social Councils and Similar Institutions, underscored the social and economic hardships suffered by millions of men and women in the wake of several global crises, and called for vigorous action to ensure that gender equality objectives were met.  Equality had many facets and, therefore, called for a global approach, he said.

Both developed and developing countries had a role to play, while social partners and civil society could contribute to the promotion of equality through social dialogue and collective bargaining, he said.  In industrialized countries, the issues of reconciling professional and family life, and addressing the salary gap went hand in hand with women’s empowerment in the workforce, in institutions and in society, he said, stressing in that regard the need for a cross-sectoral approach to improve the integration of gender equality issues into development policies.

LILA RATSIFANDRIHAMANANA, Director of the Liaison Office of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to the United Nations, said women constituted more than half of the world’s chronically hungry people, produced half its food and made up the majority of agricultural workers in some regions.  Agriculture employed more than 80 per cent of women in sub-Saharan Africa and almost 70 per cent in East Asia and the Pacific, excluding China, she said, noting that for many years, the design of development policies and projects incorrectly assumed that farmers and rural workers were mainly men.  Women were also active as food producers for their families, traders, processors, labourers and entrepreneurs, she continued.

However, they faced considerable constraints and vulnerabilities compared to men, she said, pointing out that women routinely faced discrimination and were denied equal access to key productive assets and services such as land, water, credit and technology.  That situation was no longer tolerable, she said, emphasizing that more attention must be paid to rural women.  FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) were focused on enhancing women’s access to income-earning opportunities and productive assets by removing the constraints facing rural women in agriculture and improving access to productive resources, basic services and infrastructure.

She said that those agencies were also strengthening women producers’ organizations by building their capacities and supporting their participation in community, national and international decision-making processes.  She called for concrete action to increase investment in food security, agriculture and rural development; promote productive and social safety nets; implement food security and poverty-reduction strategies that would ensure equal opportunities for rural men and women; improve agriculture, food security nutrition policies, taking into account rural peoples’ needs; and improve gender-disaggregated statistics.

ELENA GASTALDO, International Labour Organization (ILO), highlighted the International Labour Conference resolution on gender equality at the heart of decent work as the agency’s most comprehensive contribution to the empowerment of women and gender equality.  Adopted in 2009, it called on the ILO to promote women’s equality as a cross-cutting issue in the areas of employment, social protection, principles and rights at work, and social dialogue.  In addition, it highlighted the roles that Governments and employers’ and workers’ organizations had to play for the realization of equal opportunities for women.

She went on to note that both the resolution and a Global Jobs Pact, also adopted in 2009, recognized the need for recovery packages to mitigate the differing impacts of the economic crisis on men and women.  New international labour standards to address the vulnerability of women and girls to verbal, physical and sexual violence would add power to Government efforts, she said, emphasizing that achieving gender equality in the workplace would help realize the other Millennium Goals.

IRINI SARLIS, International Alliance of Women, said peace was inextricably linked to women’s development, she said, adding that recognizing their knowledge, skills and experience had already been identified as a requirement for peace.  Denying women the right to participate in social, economic and cultural life was discriminatory, she said, emphasizing that the advancement of women could not take place amid civil unrest or where women’s rights were not respected.

She urged Governments and intergovernmental organizations to develop national rosters of potential women candidates, and to ensure that women were fully informed about, and worked in, senior management posts in post-conflict recovery programmes.  It was necessary to implement Government policies and protection in terms of the voluntary return, resettlement and repatriation of refugees in a situation of safety and dignity.  It was also important to provide health care for women in post-conflict situations in order to guarantee that the reconciliation process protected women’s rights.  Also necessary was the establishment of accessible and transparent early warning systems, and the financing and empowerment of women’s organizations to help build sustainable peace.

JUDY LEAR, HelpAge International, emphasizing that global demographics had changed profoundly, said policies across all sectors were needed in response to those changes.  “Ageing is really a women’s issue because we are the majority of people who are older, or take care of those who are older,” she said.  Appealing to the Council, the international community and other non-governmental organizations on behalf of mothers and grandmothers worldwide, she called for the use of the phrase “girls and women of all ages” in reports, statements, and speeches, adding:  “What you do here, now, will have an impact on your daughters.”

SUDHANGSHI KARMAKAR, International Committee for Arab-Israeli Reconciliation, said too many girls in many parts of the world either did not attend schools or dropped out, and stressed the importance of family planning in preventing that.  Greater resources were needed to educate girls about the dangers of multiple sex partners, and they should also be taught that sexual abuse was a crime.  All girls should learn a trade and be adequately compensated for their work, she said, adding that women should be able to share family responsibilities with men.  Calling on all countries to file annual Millennium Development Goal progress reports with the United Nations, she said such reports could be verified by third parties.  That was the best way to make substantial progress, she said, adding that country reports should be available to ensure transparency in the Millennium Development Goals process.

MAYUMI SAKOH, World Society for the Protection of Animals, highlighted the link between animal welfare and the welfare of women in rural areas, saying that in developing countries, women were often the caregivers for farm animals.  The nutrition that those animals provided for families could be the difference between life and death, she said, adding that food derived from animals — such as eggs, milk and meat — was a major source of income for most rural women.

Animals, therefore, gave women the power to sell at market, thereby earning income, as well as participating in society, she said, noting that animals were considered an investment as they were used for transportation and acted as a society safety net.  Emphasizing that a focus on improving animal welfare would have a direct and positive impact on the lives of rural women, she urged the international community to recognize the importance of animal welfare for realizing the Millennium Goals.

Dialogue with International Financial and Trade Institutions

Moderated by Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, the dialogue featured presentation by panellists Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); Reza Moghadam, Director of the Strategy, Policy and Review Department of the International Monetary Fund (IMF); Otaviano Canuto, Vice-President of the World Bank’s Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Network; and Clemens Boonekamp, Director of the World Trade Organization.

Mr. SHA kicked off the dialogue by noting that delegates had gathered today to share perspectives on how to climb out of the deepest recession since the Second World War.  The world economy had contracted by 2.4 per cent in 2009, but was expected to grow by 3 per cent in 2010 and 3.1 per cent in 2011.  While that was progress, it was far from sufficient, he said, noting that with so many people without work, a quick recovery in consumption could not be expected.

Growth had been uneven, he continued, adding that, while prospects for some Asian countries were good, other developing countries were still suffering from the economic fallout, and most developed nations had seen only lacklustre growth.  Human fragility could become a source of renewed global instability, he said, noting that with all those factors conspiring against a fast, sustainable recovery, the world faced the risk of a double-dip recession.

On how to move forward, he said the highest priority should be given to addressing the jobs crisis through incentives to stimulate productive employment.  Also, more efforts were needed to reverse setbacks in the pursuit of the Millennium Goals, notably by addressing ODA issues.  Improved financing mechanisms should also be created, with buffers put in place in the form of regional financial reserves.  However, nothing would succeed without strong policy coordination, he emphasized. “There are no simple recipes for development success.”

At the same time, lessons had been learned in the last few years, he said, noting that deregulated markets and private initiatives alone could not solve the problem of widespread poverty.  Social policies were needed and States must avoid a one-size-fits-all approach.  Recalling that the General Assembly had decided last December to convene a sustainable development conference in Brazil in 2012, which would focus on creating a green economy, he said such goals must be kept in mind going forward.  All commitments must incorporate values and concrete plans to protect the environment, he stressed.

Mr. PANITCHPAKDI confirmed that global economic recovery was “deeply fragile and highly uneven”.  Global growth had been stimulated by artificial demand created by fiscal spending, and it was important to understand that, unless consumer demand started showing a healthy increasing trend, real recovery would not take place.  At the present time, consumption was constrained because households in major economies were still unwinding their debt, a process that could take three or four years.

While there had been a financial recovery — banks had been rescued, for example, and could now provide cheap loans — the linkage between the banking and productive sectors had not been re-established, he said.  Even banks in Asia, which had remained intact after the crisis, had become risk-averse.  Furthermore, net job creation was not yet positive, he said, noting that unemployment had reached 9.8 per cent in the United States, which was not a good sign.  Stimulus intended to create a multiplier effect had not done so, because most of the stimulus spending had occurred in non-productive activities to compensate for the loss of demand, he said.  Huge fiscal spending measures taken in the absence of budget surpluses would require the mobilization of more funds, which was difficult in times of slow growth, he cautioned.

The fragility of recovery was exacerbated by its heavy reliance on trade, which was not accompanied by an adequate rise in demand, he continued.  He also spoke about the relative ease of creating stimulus packages and difficulty of coordinating exit strategies, saying that the “Sinatra syndrome” had taken root at recent G-20 meetings, which had reflected a theme of “doing it my way”, with one side pushing for deficit reduction and the other for stimulus measures.  Such behaviour could have a destabilizing effect on exchange rates, he warned, adding that that was not the harmonized type of recovery the world wished to see.  He said the only positive take-away he had heard was a pledge to analyse the effects of trade liberalization on development.

As for what to do, he said “we have to play catch up”, emphasizing that three years of growth had been lost.  More resources were needed, and remittances were a mainstay of funds that deserved attention for that purpose.  Another area was domestic resource mobilization for developing countries to create their own banking systems and microcredit systems, for example.  South-south cooperation could also be used more effectively.  It was also important to address the roles of States and markets, he said, stressing that State institutions must be strengthened to drive agricultural investment and carbon-neutral policies, for example.  Finally, he said global cooperation must not only raise financial assistance, but also treat social and economic objectives equally, to meet the Millennium Goals.  In that context, he suggested the creation of a commission to monitor official development assistance.

Mr. MOGHADAM recalled that only 18 months ago, the global economy had been on the brink of global depression.  It had been pulled back through multilateral action:  coordinated stimulus packages; actions by central banks and pledges to maintain the free-trade regime.  On the whole, there had been no increase in protectionism, and it had also helped that the global community had provided financing for developing countries through multilateral institutions like the World Bank.

The question was how to address the fragile recovery amid concerns about the financial sectors of various countries and uneven demand across the globe, he said, adding that the answer would be found in continued multilateralism.  “I do see that commitment to work together.”  The good news was that developing countries had not increased their indebtedness, but there was a need to maintain investments and increase growth.  While concessionary lending had been the avenue for that, it would not be enough, he cautioned.  Amid increased pressure for non-concessionary funding, the IMF had been studying how to accommodate that scenario in hopes of strengthening the Fund’s governance structures to more effectively bring about multilateralism.

Mr. CANUTO agreed that multilateralism lay at the core of avoiding further disasters, noting that stimulus packages had not translated into autonomous private absorption in countries.  Large bank recovery had not been re-established, and the tendency towards joblessness, coupled with pressures for fiscal consolidation, painted a picture of a recovery still groping to find the appropriate path forward.  Calling attention to the impact of the crisis on the poor — with 64 million people in developing countries living on $1.25 a day — he wondered what their fate would have been without a crisis, and said that coping strategies would have considerable long-term consequences on the poor.

In that context, he explained that the focus must always be on the path towards the Millennium Goals.  The “mutual accountability compact” — at the core of the Goals — must also be reaffirmed, which meant that developed countries must live up to their trade, aid and debt-relief commitments, and recipients must commit to good governance.  For their part, multilateral institutions must hold up their pledge to be more responsive to a range of stakeholders.  Resource replenishment for the World Bank’s International Development Association would mean that low-income countries would receive funding to deal with the aftermath of the crisis.

Mr. BOONEKAMP rounded out the panel, saying:  “We need growth to create jobs”, without further straining fiscal situations.  Trade offered the possibility to do just that.  In the aftermath of the crisis, the resort to much-feared protectionist measures had been relatively small, he said.  The World Trade Organization’s trade monitoring reports showed that, from November 2009 to May 2010, trade protectionism, coupled with increases in import tariffs and bans had, on the whole, affected no more than 0.4 per cent of global trade, which was remarkably low.  While the World Trade Organization had held protectionism at bay, trade alone was not enough, and coherent economic policies must lead the necessary growth, he stressed.

Moreover, completion of the Doha Development Agenda would free $700 billion in stimulus funds to the world economy, he said, expressing frustration at the slow pace of negotiations that had begun in 2001.  While the talks would not end this year, “we’re at least 80 per cent of the way towards finishing the Round”, he said, noting that in two areas — non-agriculture market access and agriculture — the modalities were known.  The services area had seen less progress than needed, and it was clear that an exchange of ideas was needed to clear the impasse.  To move the Round to conclusion, the Geneva negotiators must “take the bit between their teeth”, he said, stressing that a conclusion of the negotiations was “absolutely necessary”.

In the ensuing dialogue, speakers focused on the less-than-desirable scenario of stagnant consumer and investment demand and uneven economic recovery, both among and within countries.   Brazil’s delegate cited the ILO estimate that 31 million people in developing nations had lost their jobs and were now unable to find full-time work.  The FAO had also shown that the crisis had pushed more than 100 million people back into hunger, placing their number over the 1 billion mark for the first time.

Coordinated and coherent policy measures were needed to create stability in financial markets and promote new sources of growth, many speakers stressed.  A successful conclusion of the Doha Round was imperative in promoting trade and stimulating employment.  There was no one-size-fits-all solution to fostering growth, and stimulus packages must be followed by national structural reforms.  Some speakers said that trade policy could not be the main instrument for tackling social issues, pointing out that social policies were needed, notably to address unemployment.  A balance must be struck between short-term interests and longer-term sustainability, he said, emphasizing that global problems required global solutions.

In that context, Indonesia’s delegate said different specialized institutions dealt with international economic policies on trade, employment and investment, which could lead to incoherence.  The creation of a global coordination mechanism must be part of the international agenda to protect against another global crisis.

On the question of remittances, Saint Lucia’s delegate said that people sending remittances to the Caribbean were facing unemployment and underemployment in the countries to which they had migrated, and asked how remittances could be put to better use.

The Executive Director of the International Trade Centre pointed out that 70 per cent of the world’s poor were women, and any solutions to the current challenges must be proactive in addressing their economic situation.  In that context, she pointed out that women had accounted for 64 per cent of value-added trade in Benin, and a similar situation existed elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.

Mr. PANITCHPAKDI, responding to a query about the proliferation of regional trade agreements, said it was inevitable that more regional accords would crop up.  In fact, they had stimulated South-South cooperation, he said, adding that the only problem he saw was when they included countries at very different levels of development.  The ultimate solution must lie at the multilateral level, with the World Trade Organization, he said.

On question of remittances, he said the total amount sent during the 2009 recession had not dropped that much.  They had held up quite well, and the issue should be raised from the perspective of what donor countries could do for recipient countries.  By keeping migrant workers employed, they would support the flow of funds into developing nations.  Moreover, remittances doubled the size of official development assistance each year and were more predictable, which was why they were a resource that should be “supplemented”.

Mr. BOOTEKAMP, speaking about regional trade agreements, said they had been seen as posing a systemic threat to the multilateral trading system, but non-discrimination was the World Trade Organization’s guiding principle.  By contrast, regional trade agreements discriminated against those not part of them.  They must create trade if they were to support the multilateral trading system, which was hard for them to do, he said, adding that most members recognized that point.  Regional trade agreements must be kept under review as they were, by definition, concerned with market access, rather than the broad rules affecting trade.

Mr. MOGHADAM, speaking about debt in developing countries, clarified that while debt in those countries had risen, the degree of stress had not, and recovery must continue.

Mr. CANUTO said the World Bank had enacted a gender-action plan to mainstream a gender dimension into all its work.  That went beyond dealing with health and maternal mortality.  In every infrastructure project, for example, the Bank studied where it could address gender conditions, whether in urban transport or access to water.  The lack of infrastructure in low-income countries was not gender neutral; it disproportionately affected women, he stressed.

On remittances, he pointed out that the flipside of remittances was migration, which increasingly was a South-South issue.  It had ceased to be a taboo in the sense that there was more discussion of what could be done for migrants, he noted.

Also participating in the debate was the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation.

The representatives of Peru, Brazil, Nicaragua, Kenya and Pakistan also spoke, as did a representative of the European Union.

To a burst of applause, the Council then adopted the Ministerial Declaration of its high-level segment, as orally corrected.

Welcoming that action, the representative of Yemen, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said the text would provide invaluable input for the September Summit, reaffirming the Group’s commitment to the promotion of and respect for human rights, including for women and girls.

The representative of Belgium, speaking for the European Union, also welcomed the Declaration’s adoption.

Mr. ALI ( Malaysia), Council President, closed the high-level segment by emphasizing that women were at the core of development.  Key messages from the discussions made clear that promoting gender equality, and investing in women and girls would allow the realization of all the Millennium Development Goals.  Such investment should be at the core of the agenda that would emerge from the September Summit, and should focus on mental health and reproductive rights.

Turning to the Annual Ministerial Review, he noted the increase in the number of countries making voluntary national presentations.  Additionally, this morning’s special policy dialogue had heard calls for the mainstreaming of gender into all humanitarian work.  As for the Development Cooperation Forum, he said the number of actors engaged in development cooperation had risen, and the Forum provided a platform for all stakeholders to be heard.

Mr. SHA said he had been struck by the breadth of issues covered, and especially impressed with the record 13 national voluntary presentations made during the Review, which showed the high level of commitment to gender equality.  Looking to the future, he said the Department of Economic and Social Affairs had started planning next year’s session on education, and he looked forward to Member State involvement in the preparatory process, to be held next year in Geneva.

Dialogue with Regional Commissions

Moderated by Ján Kubiš, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), the dialogue featured presentations by panellists Abdoulie Janneh, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA); Noleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); Antonio Prado, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC); and Afaf Omer, Chief of the Centre for Women of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

Mr. KUBIŠ launched the dialogue by noting that the General Assembly was about to adopt a resolution establishing a new United Nations gender entity, and that nothing could be more timely for today’s discussion.  Linkages between the gender equality and women’s empowerment agenda and the Goals would be discussed further at September’s high-level meeting to review the Millennium Goals, he said, pointing out that the gains already made were being reversed, as the food and fuel crises impacted the Goals relating to poverty and hunger.  Progress towards realizing the Goals had been mixed and uneven, he continued.  Most alarming, however, was that the women-related Goals were among those lagging furthest behind, especially those on maternal health, he said, adding that half a million women died of pregnancy-related causes each year, 85 per cent of them in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Mr. JANNEH, the first panellist, said poverty was endemic in countries that had not bridged the gaps between men and women.  Giving an overview of Africa’s progress towards achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment, he first addressed Goal 1 (ending poverty and hunger), saying that the economic empowerment of women was critical to overall development.  Plans must recognize the gender dimension in fostering access to land, finance and technology.  Moreover, 70 per cent of Africa’s food-insecure population lived in rural areas, and one sixth of children died before age 5 in countries including the Comoros, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Regarding Goal 2 (primary education), he said universal primary education was an African success story for a substantial number of countries.  As for Goal 3, gender equality and women’s empowerment was the axis around which development was sustained and transmitted.  Eleven countries had achieved parity in secondary education while an estimated eight others had attained parity in tertiary education, including Mauritius.  However, women had only a scant share of wage employment in the non-agricultural sector, he said.  Nonetheless, member countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) had made enormous strides on the number of women parliamentarians.

Concerning Goal 4 (child health), he said 17 of the 20 countries with the highest child mortality rates were in Africa, 7 of them in West Africa.  As for Goal 5 (maternal health), he said that, despite policy investments, maternal mortality remained Africa’s “Achilles heel” and the likelihood of countries reaching positive indicators was not encouraging, given that unsafe abortions and female genital mutilation were major contributors.  On Goal 6 (combating HIV/AIDS), he said women and girls were more vulnerable to the infection due to culturally determined roles.

Turning to Goal 7 (environmental sustainability), he said that African Governments had paid scant attention to the interface between gender and climate change in their policy design and implementation.  He called for rigorous accountability on gender concerns through the collection of sex-disaggregated data, promotion of research on the impact of climate change on all sectors, with an emphasis on food security, and assessment of the impact of brain drain on Africa’s health systems.

Ms. HEYZER then took the floor to say it was not possible to regenerate real progress towards realizing the Millennium Goals without economic recovery.  “If we are serious about sustainable, equitable and inclusive pathways out of the crisis, the Millennium Development Goals need to be the centre of response policies and programmes,” she stressed, noting that the development gap must be closed in order to create aggregate demand.

However, recovery could not be achieved without dramatic improvements in gender equality and the empowerment of women, she pointed out.  The role of the Asia-Pacific region in broader global progress towards realizing the Goals and economic recovery was severely constrained by the costs of gender equality across the region.  Progress made in the region before the crisis had been rolled back, an effect reflected in Goals 1, 5, and 2.  An additional 17 million people currently lived in extreme poverty, while 40 million more went hungry due to a loss of income and food security, leading to cascading negative effects on the Goals relating to education, health and the spread of communicable diseases.

Prioritizing gender equality and women’s empowerment on national agendas, she stressed, could provide States with the “circuit breaker” needed to reclaim lost momentum and galvanize progress.  “There is no question that gender equality and the empowerment of women are not only crucial in their own right from any stand point, but are also proven smart economics.”  Investments in women and girls would not only help to address the inequalities holding back socio-economic development, but would create a powerful multiplier effect in areas such as productivity, efficiency and economic growth.

She went on to stress that women’s empowerment must be at the centre of political and economic decision-making, noting that Asia and the Pacific had much more to do in that regard.  The Pacific subregion accounted for four of six countries in the world without women lawmakers.  Building leadership on gender equality also required men to step up as leaders and partners, she said, noting that it was not “solely a women’s issue”.  There was a need for gender-responsive crisis-response policies and measures, as well as social-protection programmes in the region, she said, adding that it was critical to link efforts closely to the wider commitments of the Beijing Platform of Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Mr. KUBIŠ said the ECE had been engaged in regional meetings to prepare the September Summit.  Sharing some of the findings from those meetings, he said educational parity had almost been achieved in the European region and there was a need to think beyond gender equality.  The narrowly defined target of reaching educational parity was not a concern, as primary and secondary school enrolment was high, with women comprising 55 to 60 per cent of graduates in tertiary education, the highest share observed in Eastern European countries.  The goal of gender equality and women’s empowerment was broader than that defined in the Millennium Goals, which did not fully reflect the international commitments contained in the Beijing Platform for Action.

Gender role stereotypes across European societies continued to entrench gender inequalities, he said, noting that women continued to shoulder the bulk of unpaid domestic and care work, with impacts on their economic independence.  Men dominated in decision-making, while women remained underrepresented in all countries of the region, both in Parliaments and economic decision-making.  They also remained disadvantaged in employment and, in turn, over-represented in low-paid and unpaid work, with gender wage gaps showing remarkable resilience.  Regarding violence against women, the region had yet to turn political commitments into policy practice, he said.  “The progress achieved for women and girls falls short of our expectations.”

Among other challenges was effective implementation and enforcement of legislation, particularly in the area of violence against women, he explained.  That required broad support across all levels of Government and the judiciary.  Moreover, gender gaps must be made more visible through the collection of sex-disaggregated data, which was the backbone of good evidence-based policy.  More resources were also needed.  While the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) had reported an expansion of development aid in 2009, a gender-sensitive approach to that assistance was crucial.  One in 5 million United States dollars of that assistance had been spent on activities with a gender dimension in 2007/2008, but far less than 3 per cent of that aid had gone towards activities with an explicit gender-equality objective.  “There is much room for improvement,” he said in closing.

Mr. PRADO said women in Latin America and the Caribbean were not fully enjoying equal participation and lacked the capacity to generate their own incomes.  The situation was severe, he stressed, noting that 35-44 per cent of rural women did not have their own economic resources.  Women’s share of employment in the non-agriculture sector had been rising on average, but progress was slow and insufficient to close gaps.

The issue was that women’s participation in the labour market was limited to precarious, low-productivity jobs, he said.  They had a negative impact on women’s salaries, job quality, social security and protection, as compared with those of men.  Looking ahead to 2015, he said there had been improvements since 1990, yet challenges to achieving parity persisted.  With regard to education, however, he noted that parity had been achieved in primary education, while major improvements had been seen in secondary and tertiary education.

Women also were not fully integrated politically, as their participation in Government had stood at about 19 per cent in 2009, the same as the world average.  Countries like Haiti, Colombia and Brazil had a low percentage of women parliamentarians, while others such as Mexico, Honduras, Ecuador, Guyana and Argentina boasted much higher representation.  In the last five years, however, five female presidents had been elected in the region and women’s participation in other political elections had risen.

Ms. OMER rounded out the panel, pointing out that the Millennium Goals were the most comprehensive, specific and time-bound targets on which the global community had ever agreed.  None could be achieved without creating gender equality and empowering women.  Looking at the Goals through a regional lens, she said only 22 per cent of women in the Western Asia region were employed, versus 69 per cent of men, and a key challenge was encouraging women to pursue non-traditional careers.  The lack of equal pay for equal work was among the most persistent forms of discrimination against women, while discriminatory tax and pension legislation, among other laws restricting women’s freedom of movement, hindered their economic participation.  Some Arab countries also lacked infrastructure — like transport networks and day-care centres — that would allow women to enter the labour markets.

In terms of education, she said 6 per cent more boys than girls in the region were enrolled in primary school, though Bahrain was close to achieving parity in primary education.  In least developed countries, the enrolment gap was significant, she said, noting that, while the region had moved towards gender equality in primary, secondary and tertiary education, disparity had increased at higher education levels, mainly because girls tended to drop out of secondary school due to security concerns or distance from home.

In other areas, she said Arab countries had appointed female ministers, including in Jordan, where the Minster for Trade and Industry was female, and the United Arab Emirates, which had recently appointed its first female Minister for Economic Affairs.  However, only 10 per cent of regional parliamentarians were women, the lowest rate in the world, she said.

Explaining that development progress was lacking in areas where women and girls had been given low priority, she called for the mainstreaming of gender into the implementation of all the Goals, notably by creating equal rights laws, integrating a gender perspective into national policies and dedicating resources.  She recommended a series of reforms for the region, saying that, in order to promote economic participation, Governments must eliminate discriminatory laws and ensure the right of women to decent work conditions, including through equal pay for equal labour.  In the area of education, laws must be enacted to raise the minimum age for marriage, a step that would help improve retention rates for girls.  Temporary measures like quotas must be introduced to speed political representation.

In the ensuing dialogue, several speakers said more needed to be done to strengthen the role of regional commissions within the Council.  The representative of the Russian Federation called for the active use of the regional commissions’ knowledge in formulating development policies, and stressed that their work related, both directly and indirectly, to elevating the role of women in society.

Some speakers called for immediate action to regain momentum towards realizing the Millennium Goals, with the representative of Indonesia highlighting the upcoming Summit as an important opportunity for Member States to assess progress made and reaffirm commitments.  The representative of the Congo said he had been taken aback by the figures on the potential of African countries to realize the Goals, noting that, like many other countries in the region, the Congo faced many challenges and the aggressive action needed to overcome the warranted increased international support and ODA resources.

Highlighting pressing issues yet to be tackled fully, many speakers underlined the importance of closing development gaps.  The representative of Peru said there was a need to tackle wage gaps and to facilitate women’s access to credit, microfinancing, and capacity-building.  As for women’s health, a representative of the National Right to Life Education Trust Fund said the maternal mortality rate was “unacceptably high”, and asked why more resources were allocated to reducing the number of women delivering babies than to ensuring safe deliveries.

Also speaking were representatives of Guatemala, Iraq, Brazil and Israel.

Mr. JANNEH, responding, said that, while the statistics looked grim for Africa, it was important to remember that before the crisis, some countries had been growing at 5 and 6 per cent rates, with hopes of reaching 7 and 8 per cent.  Africa was ambitious, he stressed, noting that the region was “up-scaling” and needed the international community to accompany it on that path.  The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) was still a credible programme, consistent with the continent’s determination to scale up development efforts, he said.

Ms. HEYZER said that inter-modal transport was critical to realizing the Goals, as it linked landlocked countries with coastal areas to close the development divide.  As to why so many were dying, she said most women in urban areas and among the more educated classes were not.  Poor, rural women were dying from a lack of investment in infrastructure and health-care systems, she said, warning that, until that situation was rectified, maternal mortality would not be reduced.

As for the regional commissions, she said they brought together other United Nations funds and programmes to coordinate regional projects.  They not only provided regional solutions to global issues but also examined how global forces impacted regional development.  They also followed which countries were on track to meet the Goals and urged those doing well to assist others, she said.

Mr. PRADO emphasized that knowledge, political will, resources and effective policies were necessary for progress.  Knowledge alone was not enough, and strong political will was, therefore, needed to allocate budgets and other resources, and to develop policies capable of generating change.

Ms. OMER, applauding Iraq’s progress towards gender equality, pointed out that maternal mortality was an issue because several countries chose not to address it.  She called on States to prioritize the issue and devote adequate resources to combat it.

Mr. ALI ( Malaysia), Council President, closed the meeting by calling for the work of the regional commissions to be placed in a more central position in the Council’s session.  That issue had been taken up recently, he said, proposing a dedicated meeting with the regional commissions, rather than trying to cover their broad work in diverse areas.  “You are the face of the United Nations,” he said of the regional commissions.

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