11 October 2010

Calls for Gender Equality, Women’s Empowerment ‘Must Be More Than a Mantra; It Must Become a Lived Reality’ for Women in All Countries, Third Committee Told

11 October 2010
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fifth General Assembly

Third Committee

8th & 9th Meetings (AM & PM)

Calls for Gender Equality, Women’s Empowerment ‘Must Be More Than a Mantra; It

Must Become a Lived Reality’ for Women in All Countries, Third Committee Told

Head of Newly Created ‘UN Women’ Michele Bachelet Addresses Committee; Also Hears

Reports on Violence against Women, Obstetric Fistula, Anti-Discrimination Committee

Addressing Member States for the first time as head of the newly created UN Women, Under-Secretary-General Michelle Bachelet told delegates today that the establishment of the new entity was a message from the General Assembly that more needed to be done to make the empowerment of women a reality.

“The quote that we heard so often at the Summit on the Millennium Development Goals just three weeks ago — that gender equality and women’s empowerment are goals in their own right and central to all other goals — must be more than a mantra.  It must become a lived reality for women and men and boys and girls in all countries,” she said to the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), as it began its three-day discussion on the advancement of women.

She acknowledged that the creation of UN Women had been a long journey that brought together four existing entities — the Division for the Advancement of Women, the Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).  In that process, three changes had been made that had the potential to deliver important benefits:  gender equality was put on par with other development priorities by elevating the leadership of UN Women to Under-Secretary-General; greater coherence among the four entities permitted the bridging of gaps and a stronger voice in the United Nations response system; and a strong UN Women served as an advocate for larger financial investments in gender equality.

“We must reverse decades of accepting minimal resources for work on gender equality,” she said, noting that rarely was more than 6 per cent of budgets in any given field dedicated to women’s empowerment and gender equality.

While outlining the major tasks on which she would focus over the next three months, she stated that the Secretary-General had determined that $500 million would be required for UN Women’s start-up phase — a challenge they intended to meet in 2011 — and that she would be reaching out to Member States to build new partnerships and secure these new resources.  Her first priority would be to make UN Women operational by 1 January 2011 and to lay the foundation of a new organization with a new identity and vision.  Early focus would be placed on strengthening UN Women’s capacity in the field, in order to deliver where need was the greatest and to respond to demands for enhanced support of Member States.

During a question-and-answer session, delegates, such as the representatives of the European Union and India, asked how UN Women planned to coordinate with other United Nations agencies dealing with women, to which Ms. Bachelet replied that strategic planning would be at the heart of UN Women’s work in the first months of 2011 and that UN Women would work within the United Nations systems as other agencies, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), continued addressing issues relating to women’s and girls’ empowerment.

Cooperation would not only be enhanced at the headquarters level, but the “gap of coordination” would be bridged on the ground, particularly with regard to responding to sexual violence, she said.  “One area that has clearly moved to the centre of global and local attention is ending violence against women,” she added, calling on the Third Committee to continue its work in that area and on trafficking in women and girls, and pledging UN Women’s support at the national level to strengthen the implementation of Member State recommendations.

Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, also addressed the Committee, discussing her first thematic report to the Human Rights Council, which focused on the issue of reparations to women victims of violence.  She stated that the due diligence obligation to reparations remained grossly underdeveloped, with little attention devoted to reparations at a substantive and procedural level.  Her report also recommended that an independent body responsible for women’s rights and gender equality be created with the legal authority to solicit accountability from relevant ministries and agencies.

In the question-and-answer period, when asked by the representative of Swaziland about the role of the family in overcoming gender-based violence and programs to help the family through education or other means, Ms. Manjoo said that they needed to go back to the grass-roots level, as Ms. Bachelet had stated, because, while there had been a huge focus on laws and policies, they had not looked at the “lived realities” of women or addressed implementation gaps or social and economic gaps.

Also speaking today were Purnima Mane, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, who presented the report of the Secretary-General on supporting efforts to end obstetric fistula, and Xiaoqiau Zou, Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (on behalf of the Chair of the Committee), who each had question-and-answer periods with delegations following their statements.

The representatives from Yemen (on behalf of the Group of 77 and China), Belgium (on behalf of the European Union), Guyana (on behalf of CARICOM), Chile (on behalf of RIO Group), Malawi (on behalf of the African Group), United Republic of Tanzania (on behalf of Southern African Development Communities), Netherlands, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Egypt, China, Jordan, Sudan, Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, Bahrain, Israel and Brazil also spoke.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 12 October to continue its consideration of the advancement of women and to hear the introduction of five draft resolutions on social development.


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to begin its discussion on the advancement of women and implementation of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women and of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly.

The Committee had before it a letter dated 24 August 2010 from the Permanent Representative of Brazil to the United Nations addressed to the President of the General Assembly (document A/65/336), summarizing the conclusions of the forum held the margins of the Economic and Social Council’s 2010 session entitled “Feed minds, change lives: school feeding, the Millennium Development Goals and girls’ empowerment”, held at Headquarters in New York on 29 June 2010.

It also had before it the report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on its forty-fourth and forty-fifth sessions (document A/65/38 Supp.), summarising the work of that Committee.  It deals with the sessions held from 20 July to 7 August 2009 at United Nations Headquarters and from 18 January to 5 February 2010 at the United Nations Office at Geneva.

Also before the Committee was the Report of the Secretary-General on intensification of efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women (document A/65/208) which discusses the legal reforms carried out in many States to address violence against women.  States have introduced new criminal offences, increased penalties, broadened definitions of violence against women, and expanded the scope of protection and support for victims/survivors.  One promising practice has been the adoption of comprehensive legislation on violence against women, which not only criminalizes such violence, but also mandates support and protection for victims/survivors, prevention measures, funding and the creation of institutional mechanisms.

The availability of services for victims/survivors of violence has increased, the report says.  Centres have been established to provide a number of services in one location, including counselling, shelter and medical and legal services.  In another development, efforts have been made to better collect data, including more population-based surveys, to assess the prevalence of violence against women.

Despite such “impressive efforts” around the world, however, women continue to be subjected to many different forms of violence, the report says.  Indeed, new forms are evolving.  A stronger focus must therefore be placed on prevention.  Information and awareness-raising campaigns, educational programmes and other initiatives should be reinforced.  Environments and communities must be safe for women and girls, and efforts to end violence against women must be pursued with the full involvement of men and boys.

The report of the Secretary-General entitled Trafficking in women and girls (document A/65/209) draws on responses from 59 Member States.  Despite stronger laws and reinforced cooperation, trafficking in women and girls — including for the purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labour and forced marriage — has persisted, it says.  Future action should ensure a comprehensive, coordinated, cohesive and gender-sensitive approach to the issue, as well as adequate funding and full implementation, monitoring and evaluation of measures taken.

Many States have made trafficking in persons a specific criminal offence, increased penalties for traffickers, and expanded protection and support for victims/survivors, according to the report.  Some have adopted specific laws against trafficking in children.  Comprehensive anti-trafficking acts represent a good practice that should be replicated.  All forms of trafficking should be criminalized, with sentences in line with other serious crimes and tougher penalties when the victim is a child.

However, the report adds, laws are often not effectively enforced or not well understood by authorities, and prosecution rates remain low.  Efforts should be strengthened to ensure that all perpetrators at all levels, including public officials, are prosecuted and appropriately sentenced.  The report pinpoints a need for a greater effort and resources vis-à-vis prevention, as well as measures to discourage employer and consumer demand that lead to trafficking in women and girls.

Also before the Committee was the report of the Secretary-General on supporting efforts to end obstetric fistula (document A/65/268).  Fistula, it explains, is a devastating childbirth injury that leaves women incontinent and often isolated from their communities.  It is generally accepted that at least 2 million, and perhaps as many as 3.5 million women are affected; their babies are either stillborn or die during their first week of life.  A leading source of maternal death in developing countries, fistula is entirely preventable, and the report states that over the past two years, there has been considerable progress in focusing attention on the issue.  More and more, countries are investing in and promoting the prevention, treatment and reintegration of women with obstetric fistula, within the context of the Millennium Development Goals.  Many serious challenges remain, however, and the report sets out a number of specific actions to be taken, including greater investment in health-care systems, ensuring access to contraceptive measures, and more efforts to keep adolescent girls in school and to outlaw child marriages.

The note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme on the activities of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (document A/65/218) provides an update of progress of the programme and activities of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) as framed in its strategic plan, 2008-2013, and highlights concrete results of the support that UNIFEM provided to countries in 2009. The report focuses on such issues as enhancing women’s economic security and rights, ending violence against women, halting the spread of HIV and AIDS among women and girls, advancing gender justice in democratic governance, and developing a results framework.  This is the last report to be submitted in fulfilment of the mandate set out in resolution 39/125, given that UNIFEM has been dissolved and is now part of the composite United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, UN Women.

The report concludes with a set of recommendations on the ways in which the development effectiveness and organizational effectiveness of UNIFEM can be further strengthened, such as UNIFEM continuing to be actively involved in the processes leading to a stronger and more coherent United Nations architecture for gender equality and empowerment of women; stressing the importance of UNIFEM’s ongoing advocacy campaigns, such against violence against women; seeking stronger partnerships in order to meet the resource mobilization targets in its strategic plan, 2008-2013; and securing predictable voluntary contributions and reaching the target of annual disbursements of $100 million by 2015 for the United Nations Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence against Women.

Also before the Committee was the report of the Secretary-General on the improvement of the status of women in the United Nations system (document A/65/334), which provides up-to-date statistics, information on progress made and obstacles encountered in achieving gender balance, as well as recommendations for accelerating progress.  The report states that, over the two-year reporting period, 1 January 2008 to 31 December 2009, the representation of women in the Professional and higher categories in the United Nations system increased marginally from 38.4 to 39.9 per cent, translating into an average increase of 0.75 per cent per annum.  In response to a system-wide survey of United Nations entities on achieving gender balance, the following challenges were noted: inadequate accountability, monitoring and enforcement mechanisms; lack of special measures for gender equality; weak integration of focal point systems; weak implementation of flexible working arrangements; insufficient outreach; and low numbers of qualified women applicants.  As recommendations to address the stated challenges, the entities emphasized the need for senior leadership sponsorship, enhanced monitoring and accountability, and more rigorous implementation of existing policies, including special measures for women and flexible working arrangements.  Despite heightened awareness of the imperative for gender balance, reversal of the negative trends at some levels and the slow pace for others will require urgent and intensified action and demonstrated leadership.

The report of the Secretary-General on measures taken and progress achieved in follow-up to the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcomes of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly (document A/65/204) was also before the Committee.  It notes how gender equality considerations have, overall, appeared in only a limited number of resolutions of intergovernmental bodies and in only approximately half of the reports of the Secretary-General.  The goal of gender equality needed to be inserted into the documentation and work of intergovernmental bodies, in order to speed up the implementation of commitments on gender equality, women’s human rights and the empowerment of women.  Also needed was a bigger investment in data collection and analysis at the global, regional and national levels.

The report sets out several recommendations.  These include stronger data collection and monitoring capacities by States and United Nations entities; putting concrete recommendations into reports submitted to the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and subsidiary bodies; ensuring that gender perspectives are part of all United Nations conferences, summits and high-level meetings; and encouraging periodic thematic discussions on progress made in mainstreaming gender perspectives.

Finally, the Committee had before it a note from the Secretariat entitled Declaration on the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women (document A/C.3/65/L.7) transmitting from the Economic and Social Council to the General Assembly the declaration adopted by the Commission on the Status of Women on the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women.  It calls upon the United Nations system, international and regional organizations and all sectors of civil society, including non-governmental organizations, as well as all women and men, to fully commit themselves and intensify their contributions to the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcomes of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly.

Opening Statements

MICHELLE BACHELET, Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN Women), in her first formal interaction with Member States in her new position, said that the quote heard so often at the Millennium Development Goals Summit — that gender equality and women’s empowerment were goals in their outer right and central to all other goals — must be more than a mantra; it must become a lived reality for women, men, boys, and girls in all countries.  The establishment of UN Women sent a clear message that the General Assembly understood that far more was needed.  In establishing UN Women, three changes were made that had the potential to deliver important benefits for gender equality and women’s empowerment.  First, by elevating the leadership of UN Women to the Under-Secretary-General level, a clear message was sent that gender equality must be given a priority on par with other development priorities, also causing national partners to re-examine how gender equality expertise was positioned within government ministries.  Second, an important step was taken towards greater coherence, bridging the operational and normative aspects of the United Nations support to Member States to advance gender equality.  Third, it was acknowledged that financial investments in gender equality must also be commensurate with the ambition of the vision for change.

“We must reverse decades of accepting minimal resources for work on gender equality,” she said, noting that, when examining various budgets through a gender lens, rarely was more than 6 per cent dedicated to women’s empowerment and gender equality.  The 15-year review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in March 2010 showed promising trends, but challenges persisted.  The Ministerial Declaration adopted by the Economic and Social Council in July 2010 agreed to pursue a series of strategies to close implementation gaps in the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women.  The Heads of State met at the United Nations just a few weeks ago on the Millennium Development Goals against a backdrop of slow progress in gender equality and the forthcoming tenth anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security later this month would be an occasion to put in place new strategies for progress. Additionally, ten years after Member States had set the goal of universal ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, it had still not been reached.

She noted that, over the next three months, she would focus on four major tasks.  First, she would make all necessary efforts for UN Women to be operational by 1 January 2011 and to lay the foundation of a new organization with a new identity and vision, placing an early focus on strengthening UN Women’s capacity in the field, so that it could deliver where need was the greatest and respond to demands for vastly enhanced support of Member States.  Her second priority would be to consult and strengthen collaboration with entities of the United Nations system to determine how, together, they could deliver gender equality support as one, particularly with regard to responding to sexual violence.  Her third priority would be to re-engage with the many constituents that had advocated for the establishment of UN Women, and to hear from women’s groups and networks from countries worldwide, so that women were present in decision-making.

Finally, noting that the Secretary-General had determined that $500 million would be required for UN Women’s start-up phase, with the bulk for catalytic, country-specific United Nations programmatic support, she said that the fourth area of focus would be to reach out to Member States to build new innovative partnerships to secure those new resources.  The relevant bodies of the current General Assembly would be reviewing the Secretary-General’s proposal for the revised use of the regular budget component of UN Women for 2011 and she looked forward to the Assembly’s support, for that proposal, in particular approval of the so-called grant modality, to enable UN Women to function as a truly composite entity with a clear identity.  She also looked forward to the Economic and Social Council’s election of the Executive Board for UN Women in November.

She stated that areas that had clearly moved to the centre of global and local attention were ending violence against women and trafficking in women, drawing attention to the reports that had been prepared for consideration of the Committee by the offices that now make up UN Women — the Division for the Advancement of Women, the Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).  She called on the Committee to continue its critical work in those areas and pledged UN Women’s enhanced support at the national level to strengthen implementation of recommendations.  With regard to gender mainstreaming, she also noted that other Committees had not explicitly addressed gender equality aspects and that the Third Committee should continue to take a lead role in improved monitoring and reporting on progress in relation to policies, strategies, resource allocations and programmes.

Regarding the improvement of the status of women in the United Nations system, she said that, while advances were unprecedented at the senior most levels, progress remained far less encouraging at professional levels, increasing only 1.5 percentage points, from 38.4 to 39.9 per cent over the current two-year reporting period, and needed to be accelerated.  Additionally, she pointed to the 2009 activities of UNIFEM, saying it had been able to stretch its limited resources to respond to demands for support in 98 countries in support of laws and policies to improve women’s rights, institutionalizing gender-responsive budgeting, and supporting women as candidates and voters in electoral processes.  “The report shows that the demand for the UN’ support on gender quality far outpaces its ability to respond,” she said, stating that it provided yet another building block in the case for a strong and effective UN Women, including through expanding the reach of the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.

Question and Answer Session

Ms. BACHELET then took questions and comments from a number of delegations, which warmly congratulated her appointment and pledged their support.

The representative of Chile expressed hope that UN Women will be operational as soon as possible, with its financing assured, and that it would address gender issues within the United Nations system.  The representative of Japan asked what the priority areas of UN Women would be.  The representative of the United States said that the well-being of societies improved when women’s rights improved; UN Women could count on her country’s support and encouragement.  The representative of Syria inquired about the situation of women living under occupation.  The representative of Australia asked how Member States could help apply the priorities of UN Women, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

The representative of the European Union asked the Under-Secretary-General to spell out the priorities of UN Women for the next few years and how she planned to coordinate and cooperate with other parts of the UN system.  The representative of Malaysia, citing the Under-Secretary-General’s “action-oriented, can-do” approach, inquired about the work of UN Women in developing countries.  The representative of Brazil inquired about her priorities for Latin America.  The representative of Pakistan asked for her views on taking into account the cultural perspectives of various regions of the world in drawing up a cohesive strategy for the advancement of women.

Ms. BACHELET replied that she was counting on the support of the Member States to fulfil the expectations and important tasks that lay ahead.  The four entities that had been addressing women’s issues had done much work over the years, and the situation of women had advanced.  However, in the real world, implementation had not been as good as the establishment of legal frameworks and policies.  “It is clear for us that we have much more to do” and UN Women strengthened, so as to be on the field to respond to urgent and complicated issues.

Strategic planning would be at the heart of the work of UN Women for the first months of 2011, she said, with the participation not only of Member States, but also women’s organizations and grass-roots organizations.  UN Women would not be replacing other parts of the UN system, which would continue what they have been doing.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), for instance, would keep working on the condition of girls, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on women’s development, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on women’s empowerment and gender equality.  Other part of the system would address issues relating to Security Council Resolution 1325 (document S/RES/1325), sexual violence against women in conflict areas and the situation of women in occupied territories.

Coordination would be enhanced not only at Headquarters level, but on the ground, she added.  There has been “a gap of coordination” at the country level; the capacity of the entire system had to be reinforced.  UN Women would be working with the World Health Organization (WHO) on women’s and girl’s health.  Every entity would keep doing its job, but synergies would be developed.  Violence against women was a very urgent issue, not only in developing countries, occupied territories and conflict areas, but also in developed countries, where it was a concern mainly in migrant families.  In some developed countries, as well, more progress was needed on economic and educational opportunities for women.  It was really unacceptable that there had been little progress on the fourth of the Millennium Development Goals (children’s health).  “I’m a doctor, a medical doctor, and regarding maternal deaths, we know what we have to do,” she said.  Progress on the fifth Goal (maternal health) had been a little bit better.  There was work to do on comprehensive empowerment of women; she wanted to sit down with others in the United Nations system and set priorities with them.  In Latin America, there were specific situations, such as Haiti, that would be addressed with much energy.  UN Women expected a lot of Member States, including financing, and in some areas it would be active in the field to answer the needs of Member States.

The representative of Cameroon recalled that rural women made up a big part of the population in many parts of the world, including Cameroon; what were Ms. Bachelet’s priorities vis-à-vis them.  The representative of Peru asked what could be done to strengthen the role of UN Women in regards to gender equality.  The representative of India asked how Ms. Bachelet would ensure better coordination between United Nations agencies dealing with women, and how she would encourage the appointment of more women to senior positions within the United Nations.  The representative of Mexico pledged her country’s support and noted the expectations of middle-income countries of the work of UN Women.  The representative of Indonesia asked the Under-Secretary-General for her views on increasing cooperation between UN Women and regional organizations, such as the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Ms. BACHELET said she was “completely aware” of the challenges she faced, and she hoped that her experience would be very important in the way in which those challenges were solved.  The United Nations system had a lot of different agencies, most of them working on gender issues either directly or not so directly.  But, to look at different projects, only 6 per cent of United Nations system resources went to gender equality and empowerment; for instance, little went to addressing rural gender issues.  There were a number of possibilities for strengthening the work of UN Women in the field.  UNIFEM was already active in 98 countries; through its representatives the fieldwork of UN Women would be improved.  UN Women was not going to build parallel to the United Nations system; it was going to work with the United Nations system already in the field.  It would be discussing synergies with Helen Clark of UNDP, for instance.  Common strategies would be built with UNFPA to avoid duplication.  Existing mechanisms would be built upon and improved.  Regarding interaction with regional organizations, Ms. Bachelet said all levels needed to work together.

Before leaving for a meeting of the 1325 Committee, the Under-Secretary-General thanked the Committee.  “We really need your support, your perspectives, your recommendations and suggestions,” she said, adding that UN Women would need the full support of Member States.  It was “a marvellous cause” and she was certain that all the men present today were “very enthusiastic” about the work it would be undertaking.

Presenting the report of the Secretary-General on supporting efforts to end obstetric fistula (document A/65/268), PURNIMA MANE, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), recalled how obstetric fistula was one of the most serious injuries of childbearing.  In most cases, the baby is stillborn or dies within the first week of life, and the woman suffers a devastating injury that leaves her incontinent, ashamed and alone, often excluded from community life and abandoned by their husbands and families.  Virtually eliminated in industrialized countries, there are still more than 2 million women living with obstetric fistula in the developing world, with 50,000 to 100,000 new cases every year.  The victims were usually poor and illiterate, with little access to health care.  Effective interventions, enhanced data collection and analysis, advocacy programmes, partnerships, and stronger political and financial commitments had contributed to considerable progress in the past two years in focusing attention on maternal health and obstetric fistula; further progress will require more resources and intensified efforts at all levels, with a greater focus on prevention, more technical assistance to countries, and a scaling-up of treatment services.

Gender inequality, lack of protection of human rights, child marriage, and lack of access to health services were factors that contributed to obstetric fistula, she said.  It was almost entirely preventable where there was universal and equitable access to quality reproductive health services.  UNFPA joined the Secretary-General in calling upon the international community and others to increase funding for the fifth of the Millennium Development Goals (improving maternal health).  Pregnancy and childbirth could be safe for all women, and fistula eliminated everywhere, if women’s health and rights were made a priority.

Question and Answer Session

The representative of Chile asked whether good examples or practices could be pointed out relating to health workers dealing with the problem of obstetric fistula, such as those in Malawi, and how the global campaign was going to provide any benefits, particularly regarding stigma and discrimination?

Ms. MANE answered that she would not note specific examples, but that the report, which was available at the back of the room, had tried to highlight as many examples and practices as possible in case studies.  Regarding the global campaign, she said that it would benefit all elements of maternal health hugely, because of the advocacy happening at the global level that had brought attention to maternal health.  Obstetric fistula was one example of how easy it was to prevent problems related to maternal health, but how little was done because of stigma and discrimination.  Many services were not available since they were seen as expensive, even though they were not.

She said UNFPA and its partners were trying to highlight issues of maternal health, so that countries would feel energized to put a national campaign into place with regard to educating women, providing services for obstetric care, and offering repair work through hospitals.  The Secretary-General’s campaign would also work closely with Malawi in terms of eliminating fistula.  Stigma was one of the most difficult elements to address, because while fistula could be treated, stigma and discrimination had a lot to do with cultural beliefs and the understanding of fistula within a society.  The United Nations was focused on educating communities in how it could be prevented and treated, as well as accepting victims and giving them services.

Special Rapporteur

RASHIDA MANJOO, Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, echoed the views of many who considered violence against women as the “missing” Millennium Development Goal, and called for more efforts to implement laws, policies and programmes to tackle that issue.  Discussing her first thematic report to the Human Rights Council, she described its focus on the issue of reparations to women victims of violence, saying that the legal basis for rights to a remedy and reparation were enshrined in the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law.

However, implementation of the due diligence obligation to reparations remained grossly underdeveloped, she said, with little attention devoted to reparations at a substantive and procedural level.  Given the differentiated impact that violence had on women — and on various groups of women — specific measures of redress were needed to address both individual reparation and the wider structural factors that enabled rights violations.  Further, in view of the multiple forms of discrimination women faced during conflict and post-conflict, reparations could not be just about returning women to the situation in which they had been found before violence.  They should aspire to subvert, not reinforce, pre-existing patterns of subordination, gender hierarchies and marginalization in which such violence could be rooted.

Presenting an overview of findings from her country missions, she said her 9 to 16 November 2009 visit to Kyrgyzstan revealed that the Government had adopted national legislative and policy frameworks that could provide comprehensive human rights protection to women and girls.  By way of example, she cited a national action plan for achieving gender equality and a law on protection from domestic violence considered among the most progressive in the region.  Unfortunately, those measures alone had not yielded sufficient results to address the root causes of discrimination and violence against women.  Domestic violence, bride kidnapping and violence against lesbians, bisexual and transgender persons were among the unreported and unpunished forms of violence.  The growing feminization of poverty, among other phenomena, only exacerbated such violence.

Her report recommended that an independent body responsible for women’s rights and gender equality be created with the legal authority to solicit accountability from relevant ministries and agencies.  It also encouraged that budgetary commitments be made to implement programmes for gender equality and enhancing women’s socioeconomic position, and that no effort be spared to bring to justice perpetrators of attacks against women and girls following the breakout of inter-ethnic violence in June.  Turning to her visit to El Salvador, from 17 to 19 March 2010, she said the goal was to review progress on recommendations made by her predecessor on the State response to violence against women.  While she applauded legal reform proposals on violence against women, equal opportunities and protection of children’s rights, she was concerned at the “alarming” rise in the number of murders of women and girls, which was often accompanied by kidnapping and sexual assault.  A full report of her visit would be presented to the Council in June.

On other matters, she informed the Committee that she would visit Algeria and Zambia by year-end and hoped to receive confirmation from the United States Government for a visit to that country in January.  She expressed hope to receive positive responses to requests for visits made to Jordan, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.  In addition, her contribution to the second joint report of seven special procedures on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo highlighted the lack of progress since the initial joint report in 2009.  Condemning in the strongest terms reports of sexual violence by armed groups in Walikale territory in August, she recalled that sexual violence against women and girls in the country remained “distressfully pervasive”.  The Government bore primary responsibility to prevent recurrence of such events.

As for cooperation with Expert Bodies, she pointed to her March presentation of an oral report to the Commission on the Status of Women, and consultations in July with the Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women relating to the scope for more partnership between those mandates.  Her communications to Governments, outlined in her report to the Human Rights Council, largely reflected the following trends: a pervasiveness of sexual violence and other forms of violence amounting to torture or ill treatment; increased violence against women human rights defenders; and State failure to prevent and respond to violence against women.  As for the future, she said her next thematic report would address challenges posed by the interaction of multiple and systemic forms of discrimination and violence against women.  Indeed, the daily struggle of women and girls was “an indictment on each one of us”, she said, and should force a reflection on the collective failure to address the most prevalent form of human rights violations that existed.

Question and Answer Session

The representative of Switzerland, noting that the report underlined the importance of strengthening national programmes concerning violence against women, asked what possibilities there were for the United Nations to support States programmes and whether there were possibilities to establish more institutional access to best practices based on data collection from previous UN questionnaires.  Also, given that UN Women was about to become operational, what were the planned areas of future interaction between the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and this new gender entity?  Finally, given that Switzerland was concerned about sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, did the Special Rapporteur see any additional measures that the United Nations should take in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to protect people from direct attacks?

The representative of Swaziland spoke about the importance of the role of the family in overcoming gender-based violence and asked how programmes that help the family, through education or other means, could be created and strengthened.

The representative of Australia asked about successful performance indicators for long-term progress in preventing violence against women, stating that Australia was in the final stages of developing a national plan regarding violence against women, which would include four three-year action plans with performance indicators focused on changing attitudes.

The representative of the European Union asked how UN Women could best contribute to preventing violence against women, and what could be done to increase coordination with other United Nations agencies such as the General Assembly, Economic and Social Council and the Human Rights Council, as well as the committee to fight discrimination against women in law and practice.

The representative of Cuba, stating that there was not enough attention paid to prevention work, asked what programmes were underway that focused on, and showed the best results regarding prevention, as well as what role education could play in the prevention of violence against women.

The representative of Canada, noting that country visits to review progress made by States were extremely important, asked the Special Rapporteur’s thoughts on the next thematic report?

The representative of Pakistan, seeking further clarification concerning the section of the Special Rapporteur’s report on reparations, asked what categories of violence or forms of victimization had been excluded from reparations and, regarding the concept of cross violations of economic and social rights, how a victim would be identified in the context of these violations.

Ms. MANJOO, responding to general questions about focus, said that the goal was the elimination of violence against women, but the challenge was how to reach that goal.  While issues of protection and punishment were clear cut in international law, a review last year showed that there has not been enough concentration on the obligation of States, including prevention.  She noted that there would be a meeting regarding due diligence obligations and how they should be interpreted.  Best practices on prevention, which existed around the globe, needed to be identified.  Additionally, she appealed to States to respond to questionnaires, noting that the historical rate of response had been low, and that they could not put best practices in a report if the questionnaires were not answered.

With regard to the role of the family, she said there has been a huge focus on laws and policies, but they had not addressed implementation gaps or challenged social or economic gaps.  They had not looked at the lived realities of women and used those as the bottom line.  Therefore, they were still sitting with many of the same problems concerning violence against women, and needed to go back to the grass roots level, as Ms. Bachelet had stated, to identify realities that were applicable.  She also noted that there was a backlash, whereby women who took up the challenge of violence against women were also subjected to violence.  For example, in Nepal, women who entered politics were being subject to increasing levels of violence.  That had resulted in a “chicken and egg” situation, where the problem of the lack of empowerment of women was addressed by placing women into power, but that then manifested itself in other problems.

Concerning UN Women, she said she would take her cue from the entity to see how she fit into its work.  She noted the challenge of conducting visits and producing reports, but not being sure how the reports were used, so she appealed to the civil sector to give life to these important reports.  Concerning reparations, she agreed that her report raised more questions than it answered, such as how are reparations deal with, in what forums, and who is entitled to them.  The mechanics and best practices were not yet known.

As to prevention work, she agreed that country visits were really important, and that she had been fortunate in terms of letters requesting visits, although she was still waiting for others. She noted that hospitality and access had been crucial to identifying issues.

Additional questions were then taken from the floor.  The representative of Algeria asked whether there were any indicators or statistics on the number of women who depended on information from legal sources, as well as what the role of education was in civil society, in terms of raising awareness regarding eliminating violence against women.

The representative of Norway, noting that the challenges discussed tended to remain women’s issues, asked in what way men and boys could be engaged seriously in those issues.

The representative of Chile spoke about the death of women and the issue of women being killed by spouses who had undergone probation, and asked about the application of safeguards and how to deal with offenders once they had left a programme.

The representative of Nigeria, stating that Norway’s question was relevant, asked what role education had to play in the socialization process concerning men and boys, as well as whether there were best practices concerning the issue of women in politics, given that women faced challenges such as balancing their responsibilities at home with, for example, political party meetings that took place 1ate at night.

Ms. MANJOO responded, with regard to indicators on violence against women, they have looked at them, but had a poor mandate, so they were dependent on other United Nations agencies that had done such work.  She noted, though, that the human aspect should not be forgotten with regard to indicators and that they should not be considered in isolation, but linked to concrete results, such as increasing budgets, or hiring of more personnel in the criminal justice or health system.

Regarding education on violence against women, she said that the earlier it was started, the better. Human rights education work was done by society, and not the state.  The level of education about those issues was not systematic around the world, or sufficient, and did not target children in primary schools.  Education systems needed to think about how to incorporate those issues as part of civic education.

With regard to engaging men and boys, she said that the challenge she had seen was that, when donor funding shifted to work with males, that resulted in a cut in funding to women’s work.  Concerning women killed by men on probation, she said that the criminal justice system had a duty to investigate these safety issues.  Such people posed a danger to women who had taken a risk and might be seen as “airing their dirty linen” by going to the court.  If investigation were not conducted, then the state was failing in terms of its due diligence to protect and punish.

Finally, with regard to the role of men and women addressing stereotypes, she said that needed to start in homes and the local environment.  Policies and laws also needed to be reviewed.  Creating an enabling environment was crucial, as there was no point in saying that more gender representation was wanted when, as in the Nigerian representative’s example, political meetings were set for 1 a.m. and women, if they attended, would be beaten for not taking care of their responsibilities at home.

Anti-Discrimination Committee

XIAOQIAO ZOU, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, recalled that her Committee oversees implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women by its 186 States Parties.  The Optional Protocol has been accepted by 99 States Parties, most recently by Equatorial Guinea.  The Committee was grateful to the General Assembly for extending its meeting time to three annual sessions, enabling it to alleviate a backlog of reports from States Parties, while taking up reports soon after their submission.  The Committee had been examining ways to streamline its working methods, and hoped it could depend on an appropriate level of support and responsiveness from the Translation Division in Geneva.  The Committee reminded States Parties with long-overdue reports to submit their reports within specified time frames; failure to do so could result in implementation of the appropriate section of the Convention.

The Committee was very conscious of the importance of harmonizing working methods across the treaty body system, she said.  Discussions to that end had been underway between the secretaries and chairpersons of human rights treaty bodies.  In addition, the Committee has adopted a follow-up procedure, whereby it identified, in its concluding observations, generally two concerns that required priority action, and information from a State party within one or two years.  A review of the format, content and length of concluding observations was also underway.  The Committee had, meanwhile, sought to interact with a wider range of non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, parliamentarians and other United Nations entities.

Referring to general recommendations concerning the interpretation of the Convention and other thematic issues, she said the Committee has been working on draft recommendations on such issues as protecting the human rights of older women, the economic consequences of dissolved marriages, and harmful traditional practices.  In addition, it had adopted statements on specific issues, such as humanitarian assistance to Haiti and the inclusion of women in the peacebuilding process in Afghanistan.  While universal ratification of the Convention had yet to be achieved, “we are well on the road to this goal” and significant progress had been made in removing reservations to the Convention.  The Committee had dealt with petitions on such issues as forced sterilization, possible trafficking, discrimination in family names, financial provisions in divorce cases, pension entitlements, workplace discrimination and gender stereotyping by the judiciary in the handling of rape cases.

Challenges remain, particularly in the context of implementation of the Convention at the national level, she said.  Discrimination and violence against women based on patriarchal attitudes were foremost among those challenges.  From reporting round to reporting round, the Committee had seen discriminatory laws, customs and practices persist.  The potential of the Convention to bring about change at the national level had not yet been fully exploited, mainly due to its lack of visibility and accessibility, as well as resource constraints.

Questions and Answer Session

Ms. ZOU then took questions and comments.  The representative of Switzerland asked how UN Women might best help countries to meet their reporting obligations and implement both the Convention and the Committee’s recommendations.  The representative of Australia asked what areas of domestic legislation could be reviewed as a matter of priority to improve the economic security of women.  The representative of Canada asked a number of questions, including how States could streamline their reports and what actions could be taken to enhance the contributions of non-governmental organizations and national human rights bodies.  The representative of the European Union inquired about initiatives to develop cooperation between committees, and how the Committee could cooperate with UN Women to promote gender equality.  The representative of Indonesia expressed concern about violence against female migrant workers.  The representative of Nigeria asked what help the Committee could provide to help the “domestication” of provisions of the Convention, which her country signed and ratified almost 25 years ago.

Ms. ZOU said that UN Women could help the Committee in implementing the Convention.  The Chairperson of the Committee has issued an invitation to Ms. Bachelet to attend its next session.  The Committee also looked forward to cooperation with the Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and Practice; the two could cooperate in many areas, and the Working Group could draw on the Committee’s many years of experience.  Regarding new working methods, the Committee had been helping States parties to oversee key issues; it mainly focused on urgent issues such as law reform relating to women’s rights and violence against women.  Six countries had provided follow-up information, with more awaited from 10 additional countries.

Referring to the economic empowerment of women, she said that, from reports from State parties, it had been discovered that each country had its own specific priorities; the Committee would suggest which priorities should receive focus.  In many countries, stereotypes had been preventing women from enjoying their human rights, or they faced discriminatory laws relating to inheritance and land rights.  Specific countries should be seen as having specific issues.  The Committee cherished the important role of non-governmental organizations; they were encouraged to report on implementation of all or part of the Convention.  National human rights councils were also encouraged to provide information to the Committee.  Every session of the Committee featured dialogues with representatives of non-governmental organizations and national human rights committees.  So far, the Committee had not seen any country set up a good mechanism to deal with the problem of violence against migrant workers, which was a key issue that State parties and all actors should address.  The Committee was really very eager to help and support the domestication of the Convention; it stood ready to give support and detailed guidance.

WAHEED AL-SHAMI (Yemen), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said achievements had been made since the Fourth World Conference on Women, with expanded educational access for girls, gains in women’s health, measures to prevent violence against women, recognition of the impact of armed conflict on women, and more access to job opportunities.  Despite that, progress had been uneven between — and within — regions and countries, with obstacles persisting in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.  Women still outnumbered men among the world’s poor and, in the last 20 years, represented two-thirds of illiterate adults.

Moreover, violence against women persisted and women’s access to labour markets remained limited.  As such, he emphasized that the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, as well as the outcome of the Assembly’s twenty-third special session, were the guiding policy frameworks for gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Discussing system-wide coherence, he said the Group, along with the Non-Aligned Movement in the Joint Coordinating Committee, had engaged in that process with the aim of institutionalizing concepts like universality, national ownership and equitable representation.  The Group also had proposed the creation of an independent and well-funded Executive Board, which, most importantly, had geographical distribution.

He pledged full support for making UN Women operational and trusted that the integration of the mandate of INSTRAW would result in global training and research of greater impact.  He also expressed deep concern at the suffering of women and girls living under foreign occupation, which underscored the urgent need for respecting international law.  Global cooperation was the sine qua non for the achievement of gender equity and women’s advancement, and, thus, should be enhanced to help developing nations meet challenges.  He concluded by welcoming the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons and reaffirming the Group’s commitment to the full implementation of the Beijing Declaration, Platform for Action and the outcome of the Assembly’s twenty-third special session.

NICOLAS BURNIAT (Belgium), speaking on behalf of the European Union, underlined the leading role that UN Women would be playing, putting the United Nations in a strong position to meet the urgent and ever-increasing requests by governments in support of gender equality and empowerment of women.  Ms. Bachelet’s leadership would be essential.  Equality between women and men was a fundamental value and principle of the European Union, where gender equality had been enshrined in the European treaties.  It supported United Nations efforts against female genital mutilation, and welcomed the creation of a working group at the Human Rights Council dedicated to the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice.

Ending all forms of violence against women and girls was a priority for the European Union, he said.  All too often, such crimes had gone unpunished.  Sexual violence in conflict situations was a growing scourge that required the attention of all.  Men were victims of sexual violence, but women were by far the main targets, and the Union urged all States that have yet to do so to sign and ratify the statute of the International Criminal Court, which classifies violence against women in wartime as a crime against humanity.  The Union had been looking into establishing a comprehensive strategy to address violence against women; that strategy would establish a framework of common principles to address the problem, supported by a Europe-wide awareness-building campaign.

Turning to the external action of the Union, he noted the recent adoption of a Plan of Action on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Development, aimed at accelerating the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, as well as the goals set out in the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, the Beijing Platform of Action and the Cairo Program of Action.  The Plan of Action aimed to systematically include gender equality in political and policy dialogues with partner countries, and to ensure that gender equality issues were part of the planning process with those countries.  Fostering gender equality and women’s empowerment was crucial for achieving peace and security, and women had to participate in peacebuilding and reconstruction in conflict areas.  The Union supported its partners in combating gender-based violence in all its forms, including sexual and domestic violence, in conflict, post-conflict and peacetime situations, focusing on protection, as well as prevention.  Ten years after the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, gaps in its implementation remained too wide, the participation of women in peacebuilding marginal, and prevention of savage violence against women inadequate. Increased women’s political participation in peacemaking and post-conflict situations was crucial.  UN Women was expected to bring more coherence, effectiveness, leadership and accountability to the implementation of norms already in place; it was the belief of the Union that better instruments were now in place, and that it now was the responsibility of all to use them.

GEORGE TALBOT (Guyana), speaking on behalf the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that gender equality was central to the development efforts of the Group’s members, who were working to achieve the objectives of international platforms on the issue both collectively and individually.  The increasing prevalence of gender-based violence remained a central concern.  To counter that trend, a first-ever CARICOM advocate on gender justice was appointed and a two year, multi-faceted programme of the Community in cooperation with Spain was being implemented.  Welcoming the adoption of the Plan of Action on Trafficking in Persons, he said CARICOM States would continue to work with others to ensure that the perpetrators of such crimes were brought to justice and the victims were assisted.

In addition, condemning the mass rapes in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, he supported United Nations initiatives to address gender violence in conflict situations.  To fight entrenched attitudes against women’s empowerment, he called for the positive portrayal of women and girls in the media, the engagement of men and boys in the struggle for gender equality, and the elimination of traditions and norms that perpetuate discriminatory practices.  Affirming that the global economic crisis had increased the vulnerabilities of women, he concurred with the Secretary-General that policy design in the macroeconomic sphere must address specific measures to achieve women’s economic empowerment, as a matter of urgency.

He said that CARICOM States were close to attaining the 30 per cent goal for women in decision-making positions, and he welcomed the fourth female head of Government in the region, the new Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.  In regard to the impact of HIV/AIDS on women, he said that the assistance of the international community on that issue was still vital.  Welcoming the establishment of UN Women, he urged support for the candidatures of Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines on the Executive Board, in consideration of the region’s longstanding commitment to the advancement of women.  He also urged participation in next September’s high-level meeting spearheaded by CARICOM on non-communicable diseases, which, he noted, disproportionately affected women.

OCTAVIO ERRÁZURIZ (Chile), on behalf of the Rio Group, said it was deeply committed to gender equality and empowerment of women and considered it necessary to continue efforts, in that regard, to achieve social and economic development.  It was necessary to promote women’s participation in government decisions and expand their presence in public offices, including the highest levels of government.  Member States of the Rio Group had begun to enact laws on gender equality and cooperated with non-governmental organizations to advance women.  He also welcomed the establishment of UN Women and was confident that wise leadership by its head, Michelle Bachelet, would strengthen the United Nations ability to support the empowerment of all women.  The Group also trusted that the mandate of INSTRAW into the new composite entity would be effective and expressed confidence that the training and research would continue to be carried out globally from the physical location in the Dominican Republic.

The situation of women and girls was an increasingly important issue for our societies, especially in such areas as eradicating violence, trafficking and feminization of poverty and HIV/AIDS, to name a few, and there needed to be increased international dialogue and cooperation to create further support.  The Brasilia Consensus, adopted in Brazil in July 2010 called for greater empowerment of women and urged elimination of all forms of abuse against women, demanding free legal aid for those suffering from violence while urging expansion of their participation in decision-making.  As the Rio Group was firmly committed to eradicating violence against women, Latin American and Caribbean countries had pioneered instruments to promote full enjoyment of their rights; it would also intensify measures to prevent trafficking in persons, coordinating with other countries to combat those crimes.

The Human Rights Council resolution 15/23 that established a Working Group of independent experts on discrimination against women in law and practice was also a welcome mechanism toward eliminating discrimination, he said.  The Rio Group also urged the international community to intensify its efforts to remove existing barriers to rural and indigenous women, who formed a significant portion of the population and made meaningful contributions in many of its states.  Finally, the Rio Group reaffirmed its commitment to implementing measures to promote gender equality and empowerment of women around the globe.

Janet Zeenat Karim(Malawi), speaking on behalf of the African Group and aligning with the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said African women’s rights had been given great importance with the 2005 entry into force of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.  Instruments such as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) also enhanced regional perspectives on women’s rights and provided the basis for holding Governments accountable for advancing their status.  While successes such as more job opportunities for women had been seen, the pace of change had not matched that required to advance African development.

The African Union’s Twelfth Ordinary session declared 2010-2020 as the African Women’s Decade, which aimed to speed implementation of agreed global and regional gender equality goals, she said.  That Decade, to be launched on 15 October in Kenya, would focus broadly on the themes of fighting poverty and promoting women’s economic empowerment; agriculture and food security; health; education; environment; peace and security; and governance and legal protection, among others.  To bolster those efforts, the African Union Assembly announced the creation of the African Fund for Women, which would support capacity building activities to help States implement women’s rights, as enshrined in various policy instruments.

Welcoming the launch of the United Nations Global Plan of Action to combat trafficking in Persons, which would go a long way to protect women and children, she also applauded the creation of UN Women, expressing hope that adequate and predictable resources would be made available, so it can deliver results for women, especially at the country level.  She concluded by reaffirming the Group’s commitment to the full and effective implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome of the Assembly’s twenty-third special session.

OMBENI SEFUE, (United Republic of Tanzania) speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC); said SADC member States remained committed to promoting gender equality and equity in their respective countries, which was affirmed by their signing and ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, as well as other regional instruments related to women’s empowerment.  He said SADC continued to implement, individually and collectively, the Beijing Platform for Action, but noted that major gaps between commitment and implementation continued to hinder progress.  For example, representation of women in decision-making roles remained low, he said.

In that regard, many developing countries would not realize their Millennium Goals, most notably, in the areas of reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, and combating HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.  Of particular concern, he said, was the number of women that continued to die — or became incapacitated — each year from obstetric fistula.  Ending the extreme medical condition would have to be part of a comprehensive strategy on reproductive health and he expected that the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health would also address it.  He recalled that SADC had sponsored the resolution on obstetric fistula and commended the UNFPA and partners for their efforts towards ending the condition.  SADC welcomed the establishment of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality (UN Women) and pledged its full support for making it operational.  He also commended the United Nations Development Fund for Women UNIFEM for its work in the field and he supported the recommendations of UNIFEM Consultative Committee.

In closing, he said SADC Member States condemned all violence against women and, therefore, had ratified the addendum on the issue to SADC Declaration on Gender and Development.  In that regard, all SADC countries had a draft for a national action plan; nine countries had legislation on domestic violence; seven had legislation on sexual offences; and five on trafficking.  In addition, SADC Gender Protocol adopted in 2008 was an impetus to those efforts.  For too long, women and girls had looked to the United Nations to provide leadership in pursuit of gender equality, he said, adding, “SADC is ready to play its role”.

CAECILIA J. VAN PESKI, Women’s representative of Netherlands, said that women both in Netherlands and across the globe from Rwanda to Afghanistan had much to gain from the establishment of UN Women.  Giving the example of a fact-finding visit to Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where women had suffered sexual violence, but had found the power to form local and national non-governmental organizations.  They had achieved a great deal, but could achieve so much more with greater support from the global community.  She called on the United Nations system and the Member States to fully implement Resolution 1325, reaffirming the role of women in the prevention of conflict and calling for special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence.

Stating that there was a high price to pay for the under-representation and de-facto exclusion of women, she said, “Women often redefine political priorities, whether it be in voting booths, in schools and community centres, or in town halls and parliaments.  They put neglected, but essential, issues on the political agenda,” she said.  She called for five different actions on the part of the United Nations System and the Member States: to promote legal and institutional frameworks and electoral systems that provide a level playing field for all citizens, including women; to further forms of genuine democracy allowing more people, including women, participation in democratic processes; to actively support women’s organizations; to support the development of national action plans for the implementation of resolution 1325; and to promote the development of early warning systems that take advantage of women as agents of change and prevent the outbreak of conflict.

JEAN-DANIEL VIGNY (Switzerland) expressed his country’s belief that women needed to be represented in the decision-making process and that women’s rights, as guaranteed by Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and other international human rights instruments, must be placed at the centre of governments’ economic and social development agenda.  His delegation wished to focus its intervention on two topics: violence against women and the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.  Maintaining that the Secretary-General’s recommendation concerning a national normative framework and the prevention of violence was crucial, he noted that preventative measures targeting the root of the problem were necessary.  For example, as a country of destination of African migration, Switzerland was currently establishing a legal norm prohibiting the practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, with equally important measures such as prevention, awareness raising and education.  Additionally, a governmental unit that specialized in violence prevention was concentrating its work on combating violence in relationships between cohabiting and separated couples, taking into account the situation of both the victim and the perpetrator.

Regarding Security Council resolution 1325, although progress had been made during the last 10 years, much work lay ahead, pointing for example, to recent serious incidents of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Switzerland welcomed the inclusion of indicators related to the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls in the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council, the creation of rapid response teams, and the Justice Rapid Response Mechanism, a multilateral standby facility to rapidly deploy criminal justice.  Encouraging States to draft national action plans as an effective tool in the implementation of resolution 1325, Switzerland said it stood ready to share its best practices.

BARBARA STEFAN ( Liechtenstein) said that, out of 10 women she knew, including herself, seven had been victims of violence, three of them on more than one occasion.  None was over the age of 30 and all came from developed countries.  The violations included rape, assault and coercion.  Only three victims had gone to the police, and only one perpetrator — “my ex-husband” - had been brought to justice.  He received a three-year suspended sentence for two incidents of physical assault, one incident of assault with coercion and one incident of coercion.  Only a minority of women ever reported their cases of violence, and only a small number of those cases were brought to justice.  As a result, most perpetrators enjoyed impunity, sending a message to society that violence against women was acceptable and inevitable.  Patterns of violent behaviour were thus normalized and tolerated.

Year after year, resolutions had been adopted on intensifying efforts to combat violence against women, yet there was a huge gap between commitments and implementation, she said.  Without progressive action, “we will just continue to talk here (and) more and more women will be victims of violence.”  In conflict areas, women faced devastating forms of sexual violence; the scale of atrocities against women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had reached horrendous heights, with four out of five women believed to have been raped over the past five years in some parts of the east of that country.  The fight against impunity for gender-based crimes must be made an integral part of work in the area of women, peace and security.  The Rome Statutes and Security Council Resolution 1325, taken together, established a normative framework, with the potential to change the lives of millions of women in conflict.  The text of an action-oriented resolution on violence against women this year should reflect the role of the International Criminal Court in ending impunity.

Soha Gendi (Egypt) aligned her remarks with the statement by the delegation of Yemen on behalf of the G77 and China, and said this year witnessed many significant achievements for the cause of women’s rights, including the establishment of UN Women, the launch of the global plane of action on trafficking in persons and the global strategy for women’s and children’s health, among others.  The resolution creating UN Women was a “huge step” in the long process of UN reform.  The current year was also the tenth anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325, which affirmed the responsibility of the international community to ensure women’s rights in post-conflict situations and peace processes.  She fully supported the resolution and invited its full implementation.  For its part, Egypt, with strong support from its First Lady, had embarked on an ambitious course to enhance gender equality, with emphasis on education and health care services, as well as allocating 64 additional seats in parliament to women to enhance their participation in political life.  In June, it adopted one of the most comprehensive laws in the Arab World for protecting women and children from trafficking.

Egypt had mounted an initiative to allocate a portion of its budget for women’s issues to enhance equal opportunity, she said.  Its micro-credit programmes also provided interest free loans to households headed by women so they could obtain incomes that would improve their standards of living.  Egypt would host the Non-Aligned Movement’s Africa and Arab states members’ office for the advancement of women, as well as the centre for the advancement of women for the Organization of Islamic States.  The International Movement of Women for Peace, organized by Egypt’s First Lady, Suzanne Mubarak, provided a vital example for societal efforts and cooperation with international institutions, organizing a forum against human trafficking in Luxor, in December, with the aim of mobilizing the highest level of political support.

Mr. GANG ( China) said 15 years ago, more than 40,000 delegates gathered in Beijing to adopt the Beijing Declaration and Programme of Action, both of which marked major milestones for women’s development.  While many countries had integrated gender equality into development strategies and were doing more to eliminate violence against women, “women remain a vulnerable group,” he said, noting that trafficking of women and children continued to run unchecked.  The financial crisis and social unrest had negatively impacted women’s development.  Among the new forces promoting women’s development was the new United Nations Global Strategy for Women and Children’s Health.  He called for fully implementing the Beijing Declaration and Programme of Action, and intensifying efforts to reach women-related Millennium Development Goals.

China would support the work of UN Women, with hope it would consolidate resources, improve the institutional structures and carry out targeted activities, he said.  Its staffing should follow the principles of geographical representation and gender equality.  National circumstances should be taken into account.  Indeed, “the question of women is a question of human rights”, he said, urging that gender mainstreaming be viewed in a comprehensive manner.  China, home to one fifth of the world’s women, had always implemented the Beijing Declaration and Programme of Action.  Among other things, China had increased spending on its compulsory education system, as well as for women and children’s health-care.  Today, 56 per cent of female employees were covered by maternal health insurance.  China also had adopted microfinancing policies, some of which had been designed to more deeply involve women in high-technology sectors.  Legislative measures to promote women’s participation in decision-making also had been adopted.  While women had become a major force in China’s economic and social development, the feudal way of thinking had not been eliminated, with violations of women’s rights persisting.

Mohammad Ali Al Nsour (Jordan) noted how his country has withdrawn its reservations to the Convention on Discrimination against Women, doubled the number of seats in its Parliament allocated to women to 12, and continued to review its legislative, political and economic systems, so as to enable women to take their own decisions.  A few days ago, civil code provisions regarding the family were amended; women were given more rights with regards to divorce; the minimum age of marriage was increased to 18; and the right of women to take care of their children was ensured.  Steps have, meanwhile, been taken by the Government to combat trafficking in persons, with a national committee on the issue, chaired by the minister of justice, developing in cooperation with civil society a national strategy to combat trafficking in women and children.  Jordan has also established a centre for battered women, where victims could seek help.

Jordan welcomed the establishment of UN Women, which will facilitate the protection of women and defend their interest when strategies and policies were developed within the United Nations.  Under the guidance of Ms. Bachelet, its expected results should be achieved.  Resolution 1325 was the starting point for the Security Council’s attention to the protection of women.  On the anniversary of its adoption, Jordan hoped to never again see a repetition of the tragedies that had befallen women and children in the past.  Jordan opposed violence in all its forms, including violence under occupation, its consequences and the resulting despair.  It was hoped the UN Women would pay special attention to the plight of Arab women under occupation.

Najla A. H. Abdelrahman(Sudan), associating herself with the Group of 77 developing countries and China, and the African Group, said her country attached importance to the issue of women and their role in the judiciary.  In Sudan, there were 77 female judges in the public civil service, and women also held high-level posts in the Army and police.  Sudanese women were elected to 28 seats in Parliament this year, on the basis of the 2008 electoral law, which marked a significant achievement.  Women also held an unprecedented 28 per cent of occupy public posts.  On violence against women, a national action plan had been developed and a team created to combat that problem in 17 provinces. Neighbourhood police units also worked to protect women and children.

As for legislation, she cited a national strategy to combat female genital mutilation and a decree passed to protect victims.  The Penal Code had also been amended to include violence during war, with one provision related to rape.  Several decrees had been passed related to the impunity of those who had committed crimes against women, while attention had also been paid to awareness-raising about such violence.  Sudanese women represented 80 per cent of the rural economy, and programmes had been adopted with the help of the central bank.  Financing was available for microprojects including in education.  In the area of reproductive health, Sudan provided prenatal care to 43 per cent of women.  She expressed hope that UN Women would work to guarantee gender equality and combat violence against women, especially in view of the impact of the financial crisis on developing countries.  She said any economic blockades that affected women’s rights should be removed.  Attention must also be drawn to women living under occupation, notably in the occupied Syrian Golan and Palestine, and she urged the international community to protect women in those situations.

Claude Heller( Mexico) recalled that women were still disproportionately affected by poverty, disease, natural disasters and armed conflict.  Women with disabilities, and indigenous and migrant women, were meanwhile subjected to multiple or aggravated forms of discrimination.  UN Women would increase the capacity of the United Nations to respond to women’s expectations worldwide; it should strengthen the coordination of different funds, agencies and programmes of the United Nations, develop strategic alliances and work in coordination with Member States to respond to the particular situation of women.  The economic and social development of women, and the promotion of their human rights, was a high priority for Mexico, which was party to all international and regional instruments aimed at promoting women’s rights.  With Colombia, it had presented at the Human Rights Council a resolution to establish a group of five independent experts on discrimination against women in law and practice.

Sexual violence against women and children in situations of armed conflict needed urgent attention from the international community, he said.  Women and children were the main victims of violence, but they had the strength and courage to be agents of change in their communities and to promote national reconciliation.  Without their participation, inequality would be perpetuated, thus sustaining a spiral of violence and delaying the solution to conflict.  Various bodies of the United Nations should assist victims of such violence and strive for a comprehensive settlement of the underlying causes of conflict.  It had been clearly demonstrated by countries emerging from crisis that the participation of women was essential for achieving more stable, prosperous and democratic societies.

Lisandra Astiasarán Arias(Cuba), aligning herself with the Group of 77 developing countries and China, and the Rio Group, said that, while there had been many achievements in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the feminization of global poverty was a matter of concern.  Developing countries faced many difficulties in implementing the Beijing Declaration and Plan of Action, due in part to reduced official development assistance and more foreign debt.  Progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment could not be made without the creation of an equitable world order that eradicated poverty. With that in mind, inflation, the imbalance in the exploitation of natural resources and irrational military spending must be eliminated.  The international monetary system must be replaced and the foreign debt of countries in the global South eliminated.

Calling the unilateral blockade against Cuba a “genocidal” act and the major form of violence against Cuban women and girls, she denounced the suffering of the mothers, wives and children of five Cubans who were serving unjust sentences in United States prisons for denouncing the criminal actions of terrorist groups that operated from United States territory against Cuba.  She called on the United States to immediately grant humanitarian visas to Adriana Pérez and Olga Salanueva.  Cuba had been the first country to sign and ratify the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention.  Citing data, she said Cuban women had a life expectancy of almost 79 years and represented more than 70 per cent of health-care and education workers.  They represented 43.3 per cent of Parliamentary members.  She expressed hope that UN Women would create mechanisms to follow-up on all commitments agreed at the Beijing Conference.  Developed countries must understand that the effects of global crises required urgent solutions.

Jorge Valero Briceño ( Venezuela) said the capitalist system had denied the value of women’s housework, regarding it as not real work or unproductive in terms of capital.  His country had constructed a new development model that recognized domestic work as a generator of added value that creates wealth and welfare.  It was a revolutionary act, unique in the world, which recognized the role of women in history and broke the chains that had kept them oppressed.  Gender equality and equity was state policy in Venezuela, where the government had put into place a policy designed to eliminate discrimination against women, promote their active participation in national life, and achieve equality and gender equity.  Of the five existing public powers, four — legislative, electoral, judicial and moral — were headed by women, and social missions, such as the Mission Madres del Barrio, had extended social protection to mothers and housewives in extreme poverty.

The brutal face of discrimination against women was violence, he said, and to combat that crime, Venezuela had enacted such innovative laws as the Organic Law on Women’s Right to a Life Free of Violence.  Trafficking in women was being addressed in a comprehensive manner that addressed its underlying causes, as well as preventive measures.  Venezuela also promoted international cooperation to tackle such trafficking, taking into account the principle of shared responsibility.  Venezuela was confident that, under the leadership of Ms. Bachelet, a woman from Latin America, UN Women would contribute to improving the status of women around the world.

HANAN ABDRAHMAIN ALHAJERI ( Bahrain) welcomed the appointment of Ms. Bachelet to preside over UN Women, saying that that the new body would speed the achievement of women’s development.  She called on all Member States to promote women and protect their rights.  For its part, Bahrain had placed women’s empowerment at the forefront of its goals and the country’s reform process had focused on women’s empowerment.  Convinced of the importance of women’s contribution in all spheres of life, the Queen had supported women and promoted their political rights, notably their right to seek seats in Parliament.

Elections in 2002 and 2006 had lent momentum to women’s empowerment, she said, adding that, with a view towards other elections later this month, the Queen had supported women in high positions.  The High Council for Women was the “reference point” for national projects and policies to empower women.  Presided over by the Queen, the Council had made strides in enhancing the implementation of a national strategy to promote women and protect families.  Equality had been achieved in education, with females outnumbering males at secondary and university levels.  Among gains made this year, a centre had been established to economically empower women, while other economic projects had been inaugurated.  Loans had also been extended to women, with some 1 billion Bahraini dinar allocated for small— and mid-sized projects for women.  Efforts also had been made to open professional outlets for women.  Her Government would continue that path to empower women.

DANA KURSH ( Israel) said her country, long active in the field of women’s rights, had high hopes that the merging of the four principal gender-focused United Nations bodies would result in more streamlined, coordinated and effective action.  Last month’s launch of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health was another cause for hope.  On the tenth anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325, Israel supported momentum towards a greater gender perspective in peacekeeping operations and peace processes; a surge in female police recruits in Liberia had been spurred, in part, by the example of an all-female police unit from India, which deployed as part of the United Nations mission in that country.  More efforts were needed, however, to ensure genuine protection for women in peacekeeping situations.

The fifteenth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was another milestone, and Israel extended its hand to other nations to build upon the consensus for action that was achieved in Beijing.  For a decade, the Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Centre had been hosting conferences where prominent women from around the world had discussed gender issues related to development and conflict, and recommended strategies for the future.  Worldwide, however, the situation had been complicated, even grim at times, with women making up the vast majority of the more than 1 billion people living in abject poverty, more than 500,000 women and girls dying annually from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, and 15.7 million women living with HIV.  Such tragedies were, more often than not, the result of deliberate decisions by States, communities and families.  Decisions that failed to give priority to the needs of women and girls, or oppressive policies and practices, were an expression of discrimination and subjugation.

Alan Coelho de Séllos ( Brazil), said 2010 was “an auspicious year” for women and girls, citing in that regard the creation of UN Women, a landmark in efforts to create more gender-balanced societies.  For its part, Brazil had hosted the Twenty-First Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, a subsidiary body of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), with a view to evaluating the situation of women.  Its “Brasilia Consensus” provided a valuable blueprint for addressing challenges, notably related to the promotion of women’ economic empowerment.   Brazil was proud to have achieved almost all of the Millennium Development Goals a decade or more ahead of the deadline.  To meet Goal 3 (gender equality and women’s empowerment) and Goal 5 (maternal health), Brazil had relied on integrated national policies, among them the “bolsa familia” cash transfer programme, which had provided subsidies to more than 12 million families.

That such a subsidy was granted to women ensured that money would be spent on the acquisition of essential goods, he explained, noting also that Brazil had achieved gender equality in education, with girls achieving more positive indicators than boys in terms of access to, and performance in, school.  The Gender and Diversity in School programme trained teachers how to tackle gender stereotypes.  Regarding Goal 5, he said an “impressive” reduction in maternal mortality, unfortunately, had not been enough to realize that Goal, and the country was redoubling efforts where the problem was most acute, in the north and north-east regions. Brazil offered universal access to contraceptives, available for free in clinics or at subsidized prices in pharmacies.  Despite such gains, Brazilian women were still under-represented in the upper levels of political and economic decision-making.  To accomplish its mission, UN Women must have a strong presence on the ground and be able to count on adequate financial resources.

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