Economic Downturn Stimulates Governments to Augment Women’s Empowerment, Improve Workplace Status, Women’s Commission Hears, as More than 60 Delegates Take Floor

5 March 2010

Economic Downturn Stimulates Governments to Augment Women’s Empowerment, Improve Workplace Status, Women’s Commission Hears, as More than 60 Delegates Take Floor

5 March 2010
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on the Status of Women

Fifty-fourth Session

11th & 12th Meetings (AM & PM)

Economic Downturn Stimulates Governments to Augment Women’s Empowerment, Improve

Workplace Status, Women’s Commission Hears, as More than 60 Delegates Take Floor

Top United Nations Trade Official Says Economic Crisis Highlights Need

For More Equitable Globalization, Use of Trade as Tool for Women’s Empowerment

As the international community grappled with the global financial crisis, officials in countries from Chile to Ireland were stepping up efforts to economically empower and improve the workplace status of their female citizens, delegates and a senior United Nations official said today as the fifty-fourth session of the Commission on the Status of Women continued.

Ireland’s Minister of State with responsibility for Equality, Disability Issues and Mental Health, said Ireland’s sustained economic growth could be attributed in part to a marked increase of 400,000 ‑‑ or 60 per cent ‑‑ in the number of women working in Ireland since the mid 1990s.  To date, Ireland’s economic downturn had put more men than women out of work.  In many cases, women’s earnings had supplemented the income of families that would otherwise have to rely on the male breadwinner’s unemployment benefits.  Moreover, by introducing a national minimum wage, and better childcare services, maternity leave and child benefits, the Government had made it easier for women to balance work and family life, while narrowing the gender pay gap to below the European Union average.

Chile’s representative said that in the past four years her Government had adopted a “We are all Chile” slogan to affirm a gender-based approach.  The Gender Equity Agenda 2006-2010, a set of guidelines for action by ministries and services, had helped the National Service for Women implement major programmes that promoted good labour practices.  The pension system had been reformed to enhance women’s participation in the national economy, with an emphasis on the value of domestic work and motherhood.

In neighbouring Uruguay, women generally received better grades in school than men; but they faced wage discrimination in the workplace, according to that country’s representative.  To better protect women, the Government had adopted a law that regulated household work and encouraged gender mainstreaming in collective bargaining, the latter of which had led to clauses that ensured equal opportunity.

Similarly, Malta’s Government had enacted policies to empower women to enter the labour force and retain the jobs once they were there, according to that country’s representative.  It had set up training programmes for mothers returning after a five-year absence, as well as flexible work arrangements and special family leave provisions.

Denmark’s long and flexible parental leave schemes, and guaranteed day care for all children had helped to make it one of the most gender-equal societies in the world, its representative said.  But there was room for improvement.  The Government was focusing on putting more women in top management by creating a Charter for women in management, and taking steps to close the pay gap and labour market segregation.  Starting in January 2007, major enterprises were required to prepare gender-divided wage statistics.  The results would be analysed this year.

The Deputy Secretary-General of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said the global economic downturn demonstrated the need for a dramatic shift to a more equitable globalization and action to make trade an instrument for women’s empowerment.  In practical terms, mainstreaming gender in trade policies required assessing the impact of those policies on the well-being of men, women and households.  Such analysis would allow for better understanding of the challenges and opportunities women faced from market liberalization, as well as facilitate women’s transition to a more competitive market structure.

Tajikistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister and Sri Lanka’s representative pointed to efforts in their nations to bolster women’s entrepreneurship through training, skills development, marketing assistance and microcredit schemes ‑‑ all effective tools for reducing poverty.  Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates’ delegate noted the creation of a Business Women’s Council among other steps to strengthen women’s entry into the national workforce, where they accounted for 22.4 per cent of all employees.

During the afternoon, the Commission held an interactive expert panel on the theme, “Commemorating 30 years of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women”.

One of the panellists, Dubravka Šimonović, head of the Human Rights Department of Croatia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the Convention was the only gender-specific human rights instrument, and the Beijing Platform for Action was similarly gender-specific.  They should not be viewed separately, but in an integrated manner, she said, adding that in the past 15 years, the links and convergences between the texts had grown stronger ‑‑ so much so, that they were actually merging into one overall framework for women’s empowerment.

Andrew Byrnes, Professor of International Law of the University of New South Wales of Australia, said the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which monitors States’ Parties compliance with the Convention, had gone far towards developing the concept of discrimination against women by coming up with a substantive definition of equality, and not just a formal one.  But on a practical level, nearly all cases decided by the Committee had been against members of the Council of Europe, casting doubt over why other regions were not engaging the Committee in the same way.  On States parties’ reservations to the Conventions, he called for challenging States in that regard and for ensuring that national human rights institutions saw the Convention as part of their mandate.

Moderated by Takashi Ashiki (Japan), the panel also featured presentations by Sapana Pradhan-Malla, a Member of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly and President of the Forum on Women, Law and Development.

Among participants in the discussion that followed were representatives from Belgium, Indonesia, Israel, Paraguay, Australia, Mexico, Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Japan, Philippines, Switzerland, Cuba, Canada, Lichtenstein, Colombia, Uganda, Republic of Korea, Netherlands, Cambodia, Solomon Islands, Guinea-Bissau, Congo, South Africa, Botswana, United Republic of Tanzania, Sweden (also on behalf of Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway) and Thailand.

Representatives of the International Federation of Women Lawyers, Human Rights Advocates, American Association of Jurists and the Italian Association for Women in Development also spoke.

Also speaking in the high-level plenary debate this morning were Ministers and senior officials from Liberia, Lesotho, Japan, Cambodia, Niger, Togo, Jamaica, Seychelles and Saint Kitts and Nevis.

Representatives of the Netherlands, Algeria, El Salvador, France, Guyana, Thailand, Syria, Bangladesh, Eritrea, Suriname, Sudan, Benin and India also spoke.

Statements were also delivered by representatives of the African Women’s Caucus and the Asia Pacific Women’s Caucus.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday, 8 March, to continue its high-level plenary debate.


The Commission on the Status of Women met today to reconvene its high-level plenary debate and to hold an expert panel discussion on the theme of “Commemorating 30 years of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.”  (For more information, please see Press Release WOM/1783.)

VABAH KAZAKU GAYFLOR, Minister of Gender and Development of Liberia, said that in recognition of the persistent discrimination against women in Liberian society, the Government was proud to have a gender-mainstreamed poverty reduction strategy and highlighted women across the four pillars of its development agenda.  Liberia had hosted the International Colloquium on Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development and International Security in March 2009, bringing together women leaders and advocates from around the world.  Also in March 2009, it had launched a national action plan for implementing Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).  In the past two years, Liberia had achieved 20 per cent female representation among immigration officials and the same target was within reach for the national security force.

She said that, in its efforts to increase women’s economic opportunities, the Government had also launched an ambitious programme to realize Millennium Development Goal 3 and empower women economically.  The programme would reach tens of thousands of women with literacy training, agricultural inputs and simple machinery, microfinance loans, vocational and business development training, and increased access to markets.  A National Gender Policy had also been adopted and, following Liberia’s sixth periodic report on its progress implementing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Government had embarked on a massive public awareness campaign to promote the Convention’s full implementation.  The Land Reform Commission, along with the Constitutional Reform Task Force, was breaking down barriers for women in the area of land ownership.  A Sexual Based Crimes Unit had also been set up to handle all cases of sexual crime.

JOHN MOLONEY, Minister of State with responsibility for Equality, Disability Issues and Mental Health, Ireland, said Ireland’s sustained economic growth could be attributed in part to a marked increase of 400,000 ‑‑ or 60 per cent ‑‑ in the number of women working in Ireland since the mid 1990s.  To date, Ireland’s economic downturn had affected male unemployment more than female unemployment.  In many cases, women’s income had helped boost the income levels of a large number of families where the male partner received unemployment benefits.  Introduction of a national minimum wage, enhanced childcare services, increased maternity leave and increased child benefits had enable women to balance work and family life and had led to a decrease in the gender pay gap, which was now below the European Union average.  Later this year, the Government would conduct a three-year evaluation of the 10-year National Women’s Strategy published in 2007, in order to determine how best to address the needs of specific groups such as migrant women.

Since 2008, he said, Ireland had strengthened legislation and adopted a comprehensive action plan to end human trafficking.  Next week it would publish a five-year comprehensive strategy to address gender-based violence.  Gender equality was a key priority in Irish Aid, Ireland’s development programme.  Its core programme was eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, with a strong focus on the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa.  Women suffered disproportionately from poverty and food insecurity.  His Government recognized the importance of women’s role in agriculture and it addressed the need of women farmers in its policy and programmes.  Some of Irish Aid’s programme countries had the world’s highest level of maternal mortality.  Irish Aid worked with partner Governments to strengthen health systems, build capacity and integrate reproductive health and HIV/AIDS components into primary health strategies, and combat gender-based violence.  Ireland’s national action plan to implement Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) involved participants from Ireland, Liberia and Timor-Leste and drew on the experiences of those affected by conflict.  Ireland has appointed a Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security to chair the initiative and it expected to present its comprehensive outcomes to the United Nations later this year.

’MATHABISO LEPONO, Minister of Gender and Youth, Sports and Recreation, Lesotho, aligning her statement with those made on behalf of both the “Group of 77” developing countries and China and the African Group, noted that her Government had established focal points in ministries, as well as a gender technical committee and gender forum.  Country-wide consultations had recently been undertaken on an “APEX” body for women to provide a coherent institutional framework for addressing women’s issues.  The Gender Equality Commission had been established to provide oversight functions.  The National Gender and Development Policy, adopted in 2003, also provided a policy framework, with sectoral programmes.  A 30 per cent quota had been set in the Local Government Elections Act of 2005.  Currently, women accounted for 32.2 per cent of Cabinet Ministers; 45.5 per cent of judges; 60 per cent of assistant ministers; 27 per cent of Members of Parliament; 58 per cent of local Government councillors; 44 per cent of principal secretaries; 34.5 per cent of deputy principal secretaries; and 48 per cent of directors.

She went on to say that basic education had been made free, accessible and compulsory for all.  Gender parity in access to primary education had been exceeded, with 82 per cent for girls and 75 per cent for boys and higher completion rates for girls.  Prevention and protective measures had been put in place to fight violence against women and girls, maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS and human trafficking.  A number of initiatives had been launched aimed at relieving women and girls of the brunt of poverty and discrimination.  Laws discriminatory to women were currently being reviewed.  In 2006, Parliament had enacted the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act, thus removing the minority status of married women.  Support services in the form of women’s entrepreneurship and skills training, as well as access to credit, had been initiated. –eob-

CHINAMI NISHIMURA, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, noting that a new Administration had taken office last September, said the Government was vigorously promoting gender equality in all aspects of society.  She had been engaged with civil society partners and was convinced that, to create equality, cooperation among a wide range of stakeholders, including international organizations, was crucial.  In 2005, Japan had formulated an initiative on gender and development as its basic gender policy.  Based on the Beijing Platform for Action, it placed gender mainstreaming at its core, an issue that had been a challenge for years.

She said that Japan had engaged in comprehensive efforts to create a gender-equal society, but it had not been easy to break through invisible walls or glass ceilings.  Among the successes were equal employment opportunities.  To eliminate violence against women, the Government had twice revised the Act on the Prevention of Spousal Violence and the Protection of Victims and, in December, an action plan to combat trafficking in person had been elaborated.  Japan would contribute to discussions on the creation of a new gender entity so that all United Nations gender activities could be effectively implemented.  The Government also was following up on the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

SAMITH HOU, Secretary-General of the National Council for Women, Cambodia, said that, since it last reported to the Commission in 2005, Cambodia’s Government had increased girls’ primary school enrolment and closed the gender gap in secondary schools.  It had improved access for girls and women to health services, including reproductive health and HIV/AIDS prevention.  Women had achieved parity in wage employment in agriculture and industry.  Cambodia had created legal, policy and institutional frameworks to address violence against women and trafficking in women and girls.  There was strong engagement of multiple stakeholders and improvements made in data collection and monitoring.  New key legislation included the 2005 Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Protection of Victims, the 2008 Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, as well as the 2009 National Action Plan to Combat Violence against Women.  It had created greater awareness of women’s rights and gender equality.

She said that women’s participation in decision-making had increased.  There were women Deputy Governors in all districts and provinces.  The percentage of elected female commune councillors had doubled.  The country’s gains towards gender equality and women’s empowerment were due to high political commitment and support, resulting in gender targets and mainstreaming in all key sectors of the Cambodian National Strategic Development Plan, and to implementation of the five-year strategic plan of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.  Through the Cambodia Gender Assessment and gender-responsive national statistical survey and census instruments, Cambodia now had a more solid evidence base for gender analysis and policy formulation.  But the Ministry of Women’s Affairs still faced obstacles.  Traditional gender stereotypes persisted, and continued efforts were needed to strengthen access to justice and law enforcement, especially for women and girl victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.  High school dropout rates for girls required urgent attention.

HAMIDOU GARBA MAMADOU, Secretary-General of the Ministry for the Promotion of Women and the Protection of Infants of the Niger, said his country had established structures to address gender.  In that context, he highlighted two gender projects, one supported, in part, by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and another that worked to heighten awareness about gender equity and the implementation of the national gender policy.  There also were 22 gender units in Government institutions, which had helped the country to eliminate certain cultural practices that hindered women’s rights.

He said that, at a recent cultural forum, agreement had emerged among tribal leaders on the elaboration of a code recognizing women’s rights, intended, in part, to reduce violence against women and girls.  On women’s empowerment, the Government had established policies to reduce women’s vulnerability, notably in the area of education; however, more must be done to reduce the burden on women of doing chores at home.  Many issues would not be solved without doing so, and without creating sanitary educational facilities and educational materials.  He also highlighted a 2009 document, which was helping redirect the efforts of the Government and development partners.

BOKO AFI, Director of Family, Education and Children, Togo, said Togo had spared no effort to achieve the Beijing goals.  Several strong efforts had been made in the past five years.  The Government had drafted a national development strategy targeting the Millennium Development Goals, a national gender-mainstreaming strategy for development policies and programmes, a poverty-reduction strategy, and a strategy to fight gender-based violence.  It had taken concrete steps, such as establishing a pool of trainers to train staff in different ministries on how to address gender-based violence.  It had created gender-based focal points in Government ministries and programmes to fight gender-based violence to underpin its strategy.  The process of incorporating the women’s Convention into national legislation had led to a narrowing of the gender gap in security, media and other sensitive sectors.

In Togo, he said, education and equal opportunity for all were key parts of the development strategy.  The 2009-2013 health plan included concrete measures for improving maternal, reproductive and general women’s health in the long term.  The 2008-20112 national strategy for microfinance focused on development in certain areas where women excelled, such as the fruit and vegetable trade.  Despite advances, cultural restraints made it difficult to generate awareness about women’s empowerment, and insufficient financial resources made it difficult to implement strategies.  More progress was also needed on the social and political front.  The State and society must continue efforts in all areas to ensure women’s advancement.

FAITH WEBSTER, Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs of Jamaica, associating herself with the Rio Group, said violence against women was of critical concern and a draft of legislation had been reviewed and amended to afford women greater protection, notably the offences against the person act, whose section on rape and incest punishment had been changed.  A draft national policy on sexual harassment had also been created towards the enactment of legislation to address such harassment in the workplace.

On gender mainstreaming, she said a gender advisory committee had been established to oversee development of a national gender policy.  The Government had also implemented poverty reduction strategies, as well as a national poverty eradication programme targeting vulnerable women.  HIV/AIDS programmes ranged from development of materials to support behavioural change and interventions to target men.  In closing, she said Jamaica was fully committed to women’s empowerment and the pursuit of gender equality.

MARIE-JOSEE BONNE, Special Adviser to the Minister, Ministry of Health and Social Development of Seychelles, said many of the basic needs of women in her country had been met and they had achieved almost full practical empowerment with equal rights to work, education and access to health care.  However, in every sphere of society, there were gaps to address.  Seychelles had not implemented affirmative action to have women access the higher echelons of power.  However, there was a critical mass of women in most decision-making positions:  women constituted 29 per cent of cabinet ministers; 24 per cent of parliamentarians and 64 per cent of district administrators.

Also, she said literacy was 96 per cent for both men and women, and the Constitution recognized the right to education for all citizens.  Enrolment and completion rates at primary level were excellent, but completion rates at the secondary level showed discrepancies.  The tertiary level was dominated by boys.  As for the Beijing Platform, she was concerned about domestic violence.  Amendments had been made to the Penal Code to better protect victims.  The exemption of spouse was removed, recognizing rape within marriage as a crime, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.  In closing, she reaffirmed her commitment to a people-centred development process.

PALITHA KOHONA (Sri Lanka) supported consolidation of the Organization’s four gender entities into a single one.  Sri Lanka, to implement its “Women’s Charter” adopted in 1993, had created a national action plan for women.  It had set up a Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Empowerment as the national machinery and focal point on gender equity.  The Government was working to economically empower women.  There was considerable Government and donor funding for self-employment programmes through training, skills development, marketing assistance and microcredit schemes.  Sri Lanka had nearly achieved the second Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education.  There was free public health care, resulting in the lowest maternal mortality rate in South Asia.   New regulations were introduced to enhance maternity leave entitlements.  A national sexually transmitted disease and HIV/AIDS programme kept the spread of HIV/AIDS very low among women and had enabled Sri Lanka to be well ahead in achieving the millennium target on HIV/AIDS.  It had also achieved the second millennium goal on maternal health care.  It created the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, and counselling centres and shelters for victims had been set up.

OZODA RAHMONOVA, Deputy Foreign Minister of Tajikistan, said the Beijing Declaration and Platform were important landmarks, and progress had been made since their adoption.  In 1991, his country formed the Government Committee on Women and Family Affairs, which worked to improve women’s status in all spheres of life.  In ministries focused on the social sector, offices dealing with family and women’s issues had been created, while other offices had undertaken activities with gender specialists.  The Government also had a coordination committee that supported gender mainstreaming in land reform.  Social organizations participated in political life and a coalition of women’s groups worked in close cooperation with Government structures.

Strengthening the legal environment was also important, he said, and the Government paid special attention to closing the gaps in implementing the Platform for Action.  In the area of education, Tajikistan was taking steps to enrol girls from rural families in primary school and training women to develop leadership skills.  With a view to reducing women’s unemployment, Tajikistan was supporting individual activities and women’s entrepreneurship through microcredit programmes, which had been effective in reducing poverty.  Women’s presence had increased in the judiciary, law enforcement and customs, among other areas.  The number of women in social activities had also increased, born out by the fact that there were more women in political parties and political organizations.  In parliamentary elections a week ago, one third of those holding the post of Deputy in the lower house were women.

CARSTEN STAUR (Denmark) strongly supported the creation of the new United Nations gender entity.  Danish society was a fairly equal society, and equal opportunity was a Government priority.  Both women and men were active in the labour market, and the educational level was high for both sexes.  There were long and flexible parental schemes, a fertility rate of 1.9 and guaranteed day-care facilities for all children.  Both sexes participated in caregiving and the political and decision-making processes.  Denmark had been called one of the most gender-equal societies in the world.  But there was room for improvement.  The Government was focusing on putting more women in top management, for which it had created a Charter for women in management.  It had committed to combat domestic violence and human trafficking.  Comprehensive efforts in that regard since 2002 had led to a one-third reduction in women suffering from partner violence.   The Government was also committed to helping migrant women by creating awareness about their fundamental rights and their possibility to choose freely.  Steps were taken to close the pay gap and segregation in the labour market.  As of January 2007, major enterprises were required to prepare gender-divided wage statistics.  The results would be analysed in 2010.

AHMED AL-JARMAN (United Arab Emirates) said his country had acceded to all agreements, including the women’s Convention and was committed to carrying out all recommendations from international conferences.  The Government had several mechanisms that dealt with gender affairs and was committed to women’s advancement.  There had been achievements in education:  the percentage of girls in primary school was close to that of boys.  The Government had encouraged women’s entry into the marketplace, and women constituted 22.4 per cent of the national workforce, with 66 per cent of their jobs based in the public sector.  He also cited the creation of the Business Women’s Council.  Among new developments, he said there were now two women cabinet members.  Women had been given the opportunity to run for office in the national council and had gained 22.5 representation in the membership.  On efforts to combat violence against women, he highlighted a law against human trafficking and efforts made to provide victim support.  He urged international support for Palestinian women in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

HERMAN SCHAPER (Netherlands) said the current financial and economic uncertainty should be used as an opportunity to encourage and empower women to increase their labour participation and to secure household incomes.  Gender-sensitive strategies should also be included in stimulus packages.  Further, Governments should step up efforts supporting comprehensive health policies, taking into account the interrelationship between HIV/AIDS, violence against women and sexual and reproductive health and rights.  For its part, the Netherlands considered violence against all women ‑‑ including vulnerable groups such as lesbian and bisexual women and transgender people ‑‑ to be a violation of human rights.  The full involvement of women as agents of change was essential in all efforts to advance their interests, and gender equality should be promoted at a young age.  Stressing that the United Nations gender entity should become operational as soon as possible, he said that, once it was, his Government would double its present core funding for the Organization’s work on women’s equality.

MOURAD BENMEHIDI (Algeria), aligning with the Group of 77 and China, and the African Group, said conflict, indebtedness, climate change and the global economic crisis had all impacted women’s situation.  To carry out gender commitments, he urged mainstreaming a gender perspective into all international activities and helping developing countries in that regard. Algeria supported General Assembly resolution 63/11 (2008), which offered a step in promoting women’s status by encouraging the creation of a single gender entity.  Algeria would work in the international governmental process for its creation.  Algeria continued efforts to see that equality of rights in economic and social spheres was a tangible reality, and he recalled a 2008 revision of the Constitution, which facilitated women’s access to national assemblies.  Algeria had also lifted its reservation to article 9 of the women’s Convention.  Gender issues and women’s empowerment were among the Government’s priorities, and it had established a national women and family council.  Algeria had also launched a national strategy to combat violence against women.

CELIA CHRISTOPHER, Acting Director of Gender Affairs, Saint Kitts and Nevis, said that since 1997 the State had supported the participation of teenage mothers in secondary education.  More than 100 of those girls had graduated from high school, and many had gone on to tertiary education.  Women outnumbered men in tertiary education.  The country had an efficient health-care service, with free community clinics.  They offered free cervical cancer screening, family planning services and obstetric and gynaecological care for at-risk, low-income pregnant women.  Secondary health-care services were low-cost and free for children and the elderly.  Workplace health-care screenings made important health information available to the population.  In 2000, the Government criminalized domestic violence and, in 2005, had further amended the domestic violence act.  It passed a sexual harassment act in 2008.  That illustrated the Government’s understanding of the serious nature of violence against women and its commitment to curbing it.

She said her Government was involved in the multi-country programme of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) on Strengthening State Accountability and Community Action to End Gender-Based Violence.  More women were active in politics and public-sector management, but the country had yet to achieve the goal of women occupying 30 per cent of all decision-making posts.  Since 2002, the State Department of Gender Affairs and the National Council for Women ‑‑ with the support of the Organization of American States, the Australia Direct Aid Programme and UNIFEM ‑‑ had implemented training activities in democracy and governance for women.

CARMEN MARÍA GALLARDO (El Salvador), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China, and the Rio Group, reiterated her country’s commitment to attaining the objectives of the Beijing Declaration, saying the Government had worked to address the 12 areas of critical concern.  A review to strengthen legal policies had been undertaken.  She then shared concerns about the negative impact of the economic crisis on meeting the Millennium Development Goals, especially those dealing with women.  Nationally, the Government was committed to boosting gender mainstreaming, notably in the areas of economic and social development, and security, which were necessary for poverty eradication.  There were plans to promote equal opportunity in the design and execution of all measures implemented at local level.  On violence against women, she cited efforts to prevent family violence, child mistreatment and sexual abuse.  In closing, she reiterated her full support for the Beijing Platform for Action.

GÉRARD ARAUD (France) said it was necessary to refuse all forms of cultural relativism that perpetuated discriminatory practices against women.  Protection of reproductive and sexual health must be on an equal footing with all areas of economic and social life.  He supported the Beijing goals and those of the women’s Convention.  The Union of the Mediterranean had met during 11 and 12 November 2009.  Its conclusions reaffirmed member countries’ commitment to equal political, cultural and social rights for men and women, as set forth in international human rights instruments.  That had set a road map and common projects to improve the status and living conditions of women worldwide.  France’s foreign policy was committed to protection and promotion of women’s rights.  In 2006, France and the Netherlands had launched an initiative to end all forms of violence against women.  That had been adopted unanimously by the General Assembly.  The status of women was extremely precarious, particularly in times of war.  The nomination of Margot Wallström as the Secretary-General’s special representative on sexual violence and armed conflict would contribute to the excellent work of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  France’s Government aimed to fight gender stereotypes in education and media.

GEORGE TALBOT (Guyana) said his country had a firm legal foundation for gender equality and women’s empowerment, with the Constitution outlining equality in all spheres of economic and social life. It provided that women were entitled to equal access to academic and professional training, and it had “boldly” incorporated provisions of the women’s Convention, among other human rights instruments.  It had also established five rights commissions, notably the Commission on Women and Gender Equality, and promoted acceptance that women’s rights were human rights.  Guyana had seen success in several of Beijing’s 12 areas of critical concern, notably, in fostering participation in political life.  In 1997, the country had elected its first female President.  Women occupied 34 per cent of the National Assembly and one third of the seats in the Cabinet.  That figure included two indigenous women’s ministers, one of whom was the first female foreign minister.  As a prerequisite for social and economic development, education had been accorded national priority, and increased investment in education had led to almost universal primary education.  Violence against women and high poverty levels were of serious concern, and the Government provided shelter and support to victims of violence.  It also had signed on to the Secretary-General’s “UNiTE to end Violence” campaign.

BELÉN SAPAG (Chile), emphasizing that her country was run by a woman President, said that today, in the year of its bicentenary, it was closer to achieving equality of opportunities and rights between men and women.  Over the past four years, the slogan “We are all Chile” had been adopted, reaffirming the Government’s gender-based approach.  The Gender Equity Agenda 2006-2010 provided guidelines for action by ministries and services.  In that context, the National Service for Women implemented major programmes, many of which promoted good labour practices.  Pension reform had included measures to enhance women’s participation in the national economy and by valuing domestic work and motherhood.  The number of public crèches had been quintupled.  In the area of health, the Plan of Explicit Guarantees, which entitled everyone to treatment for the 66 most common medical conditions, met many of women’s most important health needs.  All Chilean schools were also required to provide sex education.  Efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women had intensified.  Legislation on domestic violence had been improved, while 90 women’s centres and 25 shelters now existed throughout Chile.  As the first Latin American country to develop an action plan for Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, Chile aimed to promote women’s participation in peacebuilding processes and the construction of democracy.

NORACHIT SINHASENI (Thailand), supporting the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said that his Government had abided by the Beijing Declaration and remained fully committed to promoting women’s advancement through all the critical areas of the Platform, which had been incorporated into Thailand’s national development plans since 1997.  Implementation had been conducted at all levels and closely monitored through the systematic collection of gender-disaggregated data.

Describing concrete progress in implementing the Beijing Platform in his country, he drew attention to the fact that his was the first country in South-East Asia to have created and implemented a Gender-related Development Index Plus, with assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to analyse the state of women’s development and conditions of gender equality.  The Thai Government’s commitment had also been clearly displayed at the regional and international level, through its participation in the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children and through its application for membership to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.  To overcome difficult new and remaining challenges, such as women’s low participation in politics, administration, sciences and technology, the country pledged to devote the required hard work and dedication.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria), aligning with the Group of 77 and China, said his Government gave special attention to gender issues and women’s empowerment.  In that context, he cited the Constitution, various laws, objectives of development plans and performance programmes, as well as social and cultural programmes.  He was surprised, however, that no mention had been made in the Secretary-General’s report of the serious challenges facing women suffering under foreign occupation and nothing was said of the commitments made by occupational authorities.  That gap was inexcusable and harmed the credibility of United Nations work to empower women.  On 1 July 2009, his Government had supplied the Secretary-General with information on women in the occupied Golan.  Living under occupation, they had to cope with the psychological impacts of that situation.  Occupational authorities hindered family visits on both sides of the Syrian Golan.  Moreover, Israel had violated the Convention on the Rights of the Child with its lack of health clinics, as well as its imposition of Israeli nationality and culture.  He urged consolidating global policies to force the occupational authorities to address that situation, pursuant to international law.

ABDUL MOMEN (Bangladesh) said Bangladesh had begun formulating national actions in 1998 to implement the Beijing Platform.  For instance, it had set up a Women’s Development Implementation Committee, headed by the Minister for Women and Children Affairs.  As it focused heavily in female education, Bangladesh had already achieved Millennium Development Goal 3 on education.  Infant mortality had been reduced to below 2.3 per 1,000 live births for the first time in the nation’s history.  The Government had already introduced gender-responsive budgeting and it had institutionalized gender-responsive planning.  A gender dimension was also duly reflected in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper.  Eighteen per cent of parliamentarians were women, and women held several prominent decision-making posts.  Domestic violence was a disgrace.  Bangladesh’s Cabinet recently approved, in principle, a domestic violence act.  It passed a Citizenship Rights Reform Bill that would allow children of Bangladeshi mothers to have the same citizenship as their mothers.  The nation’s highest court had established corrective guidelines against sexual harassment.  The Government had introduced several safety-net programmes to assist vulnerable groups, widows, elderly people, pregnant women and mothers, as well as women with disabilities.

JOSÉ LUIS CANCELA (Uruguay) reiterated the call to channel efforts to translate commitments into deeds.  His Government had shown the political will to bring together the efforts of women’s organizations and social and political actors to achieve accountability.  The National Institute of Women was the driver of cross-cutting gender programmes, and had been created with broad institutional and social participation.  In 2007, the first plan for equal opportunities and rights had been established, which committed the State to implementing policies with a gender mainstreaming focus.  On political participation, he underscored the adoption of a law on gender quotas in the political sphere.  In the area of labour rights, he noted the adoption of a law that regulated household work and encouraged gender mainstreaming in collective bargaining, the latter of which had led to clauses that ensured equal opportunity.  In education, women generally received better grades than men; however, in the workforce, they faced wage discrimination.  Uruguay needed international support to allow for effective policies and programmes that would advance implementation of the Beijing Platform.

SAVIOUR BORG (Malta) said the Government had adopted several measures to strengthen gender balance and ensure the growing presence of women in key decision-making posts and processes.  It had allocated resources to promote equal opportunity and implement the Beijing goals.  He clarified Malta’s position on sexual and reproductive health and rights.  No position or recommendation on gender equality or women’s empowerment should create an obligation of any party to consider abortion as a legitimate form of reproductive health, services or commodities.  No discussion of reproductive health services and rights could take place outside the framework of the right to life, which began at conception.  Malta had enacted policies to retain women in the labour market and empower them to enter it.  It had set up training programmes for mothers returning to the labour market after a five-year absence.  It had flexible work arrangements and special family leave provisions.  The National Commission for the Promotion of Equality implemented measures that integrated a gender perspective into national development strategies.  The 2006 Domestic Violence Act strengthened protection, such as restraining orders, to protect victims of such violence.  The Equality for Men and Women Act provided adequate protection and support for such victims.

TSEGGA GAIM MISGUN (Eritrea), aligning herself with the African Group and the Group of 77 developing countries and China, discussed progress in various areas, including in education.  In the last five years, a programme had been developed to improve gender-sensitive access to curricula and textbooks.  Gender and reproductive health was another priority area, and in 2005, the Government had created a health policy emphasizing the equitable provision of health services.  The abolition of female genital mutilation had been a key programme for years, and efforts had been made since the 1970s towards eradicating the practice, including formulation of community laws banning it.  In the area of poverty reduction, the Government had prioritized polices aimed at achieving economic growth and development.  Eritrea’s commitment to poverty reduction was enshrined in the 1994 Macro Policy and the 2004 Food Security Strategy. “If there is no peace, there is no development,” she said, noting that peace was crucial in her country and in all of Africa.  The lack of peace had devastating effects, especially on women and children, and she called on the Commission to pressure Ethiopia to withdraw from Eritrean territories.

HENRY L. MACDONALD (Suriname), aligning himself with the statements made on behalf of the both the Group of 77 and China and the Rio Group, said that in its overall development policy, his country had identified targeted policy interventions to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in poverty eradication, decision-making, human rights, education and training and combating domestic and sexual violence.  Its law on domestic violence, which aimed at protecting victims at an early stage and simplifying procedures for obtaining protections orders, had been approved by Parliament.  The Penal Code had been revised to align it with Suriname’s obligations under the conventions on children’s rights, transnational organized crime and cybercrime.  Marital rape was now punishable, as was the rape of males.  The number of women judges had increased by 50 per cent.  In 2005, the proportion of women cabinet ministers and members of Parliament stood at 18 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively.  Preparations were under way for a time-use survey on the contribution of men and women to the economy, and ensuring social protection, especially in relation to unpaid and paid work.

ABDALMAHMOOD ABDALHALEEM MOHAMAD (Sudan) noted improvements in the status of Sudanese women, thanks to efforts over the decades.  Sudanese women accounted for 18.6 per cent of the country’s parliamentarians.  Election law gave them the right to form political parties.  There were 79 female judges, and women held posts in the civil service, police force and health care.  There were policies to improve maternal and reproductive health.  There had been great progress in achieving education for all, thanks to several programmes, including one to educate nomadic women.  There were no more gender gaps in secondary education.  There was a national strategy to eliminate poverty among women, as well as a policy to provide and encourage microfinance services for women.  A 2007 ministerial decision had sought to improve women’s status and introduce a gender dimension into all activities.  There was a national strategy to end violence against women.  A social unit in the Ministry of the Interior aimed to protect women and children.  Women were part of the peacebuilding process in the Sudan.  Peace agreements recently signed in Doha aimed to consolidate their role in that regard.  He called attention to the plight of women living under foreign occupation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the Syrian Golan.  He rejected blockades and sanctions that violated women’s rights.  He supported the creation of a new gender entity in the United Nations.

BERTIN A. BABADOUDOU (Benin) cited progress in legal, social and economic areas, highlighting a policy on the promotion of women (2001), and another on gender (2009), which aimed to bring about equality in decision-making at national and local levels, and equal access to productive resources, among other things.  Those policies had allowed for the creation of a legal framework for women’s advancement, which included a minister of the family and sectoral action in the legal, social and economic spheres.  Notable achievements were the code for people and families; the law against female genital mutilation; the law against sex harassment and the law on sexual and reproductive health.  He expressed hope of strengthening the fight to halt violence against women through a plan of action, and a law to that affect was being studied by the national assembly.  However, there were challenges, including in women’s representation at national and local levels and their equal access to employment and business loans.  The road ahead was long, but the creation of a United Nations gender entity was very much in step with efforts of actors working in the operational sectors of development.  It would be an important framework for helping achieve the Millennium Development Goals and implement the Beijing Platform.

HARDEEP SINGH PURI (India), aligning his country with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, expressed strong commitment to implementing the Beijing Declaration and Platform.  India also favoured the early establishment of a comprehensive gender entity at the United Nations that was fully conceived and designed to serve as a focal point for all of the Organization’s gender-related activities and programmes.  The Indian Government was implementing a large number of programmes and schemes to mainstream gender activities, including:  the Education for All Campaign, which focused on girls’ education; the Female Literacy Mission, targeting 60 million women in the next five years; the National Rural Health Mission, which aimed to provide quality health care for women; and the Conditional Maternity Benefit Scheme, which sought to improve the health and nutritional status of pregnant and lactating women.  The 2.2 million Self-Help Groups were contributing to a perceptible improvement in women’s socio-economic status.  Moreover, now that one third of the seats of local bodies had been reserved for women, more than 1 million Indian women had been politically empowered at the grass-roots level.  That empowerment had received a further “shot in the arm” when the Cabinet had recently agreed to table a bill that would reserve 33 per cent of Parliament’s seats for women.

PETKO DRAGANOV, Deputy Secretary-General of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said developing countries were increasingly including a gender perspective in their national economic development strategies.  Many were taking steps to increase women’s participation in parliaments and executive cabinets.  The last decade had also seen more girls enrolled in school and a significant expansion of school infrastructure in most developing regions.  However, the global economic crisis demonstrated the need for a dramatic shift to a more equitable globalization and action to make trade an instrument for women’s empowerment.  In practical terms, mainstreaming gender in trade policies required assessing the impact of those policies on the well-being of men, women and households.  That would allow for better understanding of the challenges and opportunities women faced from market liberalization, as well as the design of policies that maximized their opportunities.  It would also facilitate women’s transition to a more competitive market structure.  Studies ‑‑ including many by UNCTAD ‑‑ showed that gender inequality and discrimination slowed economic growth, but more research in that area was needed.  Through its new work programme on trade, gender and development, UNCTAD aimed to improve research and data to contribute to the development of better policies and strategies for gender equality.

A representative of the African Women’s Caucus noted that progress had been minimal, slow and piecemeal, and had not yielded changes in the lives of most African women. As such, she urged priority for the ratification of national legislation and implementation of all instruments related to women and girls, particularly the women’s Convention, the Maputo Protocol and Security Council resolutions 1325 (2000), 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009) and 1889 (2009).  She also called for more investment in gender equality and women’s empowerment structures and for steps to eliminate all forms of discrimination, with particular attention to harmful cultural and religious practices.  In closing, she urged reducing the gaps in the application of the Beijing Platform for Action.

PAM RAJPUT of the Asia Pacific Women’s Caucus said she was nostalgic for the energy, excitement and encouragement of women in Beijing, which had raised hopes of a world free from poverty, hunger and violence and in which women had an equal say.  She welcomed adoption of Security Council resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1888 (2009).  She recognized the Secretary-General’s campaign to end violence against women and the General Assembly resolution on creating a United Nations gender entity.  But women and girls in Asia faced complex challenges.  She pointed to the systematic prosecution of human rights defenders.  Military dictatorships continued, as did violence against women.  There were also increasing reports of female genital mutilation, honour killings and cyberbullying.  In the midst of those challenges, she urged Governments to bring an end to violence against women, which was a violation of human rights.  She urged them to curb military spending and end ecological destruction, which gravely impacted women and girls.  She also urged States to create the new United Nations gender entity this year and to enable non-governmental organizations to have a strong field presence and participation.  Implementation of the Beijing goals must move from commitment to action.  Progress for women was progress for all.

Afternoon Interactive Expert Panel

In the afternoon, the Commission held an interactive expert panel on the theme of “Commemorating 30 years of Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women”.  Moderated by Takashi Ashiki (Japan), it featured presentations by Dubravka Šimonović, head of the Human Rights Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Croatia; Sapana Pradhan-Malla, Member of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly and President of the Forum on Women, Law and Development; and Andrew Byrnes, Professor of International Law, University of New South Wales, Australia.

Opening the discussion, Mr. ASHIKI stressed the positive impact of the women’s Convention on gender equality and women’s empowerment, noting that the panel would focus on the importance of the integrated use and implementation of the Convention and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

Speaking first, Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ stressed that the Convention and the Platform were key global instruments for achieving equality between men and women and advancing women’s status.  Both had been widely accepted by Member States.  Indeed, the majority of States were bound by both instruments.  Since 2002, stronger and stronger connections could be seen between them and, indeed, the recently adopted 2010 political declaration acknowledged that the two were mutually reinforcing in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Outlining several of the functional links between the two instruments, she said those links were based on, among other things, the Convention as a living document and the fact that the Platform allowed for dynamic implementation.  Moreover, the Committee had further developed the Convention’s linkages with the Platform by explaining to States parties that their country reports should include relevant information on the latter’s 12 areas of concern.  Reviewing the Committee’s constructive dialogue with States parties on implementing the Platform had made clear that the Committee was conveying to them that the Convention was a binding tool and that the Platform was a complementary guide for policy.

She went on to note that the Convention was the only gender-specific human rights instrument.  The Platform was similarly gender-specific.  Despite such specificity, their goals were the same:  equality.  As such, both were calling on States to eliminate discrimination, and there was significant synergy between the two.  Moving forward, the Convention and the Platform should not be used as two separate instruments, but in an integrated manner that took into account the fact that the majority of States had agreed to be bound by both of them.  Concluding, she emphasized that, over the past 15 years, the links and convergences between the texts had grown stronger ‑‑ so much so, that they were actually merging into one overall framework for women’s empowerment.

Next, Ms. PRADHAN-MALLA, speaking on upholding women’s rights through litigation, asked delegates to imagine situations in which rights were created on the basis of marital status, or if political leaders were for change but an unstable parliament was responsible for making law, and asked what they would do.  What about situations in which there was a tyranny of majority, or when rights existed, but institutions to defend them did not?  Such questions had impacted societies in South Asia.  All regional constitutions guaranteed non-discrimination and equality, and had mechanisms to access justice.  Some jurisdictions had a system of judicial review.

Describing benchmark cases, she cited one in India that was important for realizing women’s rights, after which the court, in the absence of a law, issued a policy guideline dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace that referenced the women’s Convention.  Without enacting a law, the Convention was used as a policy guideline.  In a case, on inheritance rights in Nepal, a court ruling that the Government must bear in mind how its actions could disrupt society had prompted civil society to point to that case, as well as to another, to express its serious concern over the courts’ interpretation of cultural values.  Another case on marital rape found that “rape was rape”, and that a husband would have to be held accountable.  The Beijing outcome documents called on Governments to criminalize marital rape.

She said it was also important to use concluding recommendations and other human rights instruments to uphold women’s rights.  In the region, there were instances where courts had obliged Governments to enact a law or orders to raise awareness and establish institutions.  Many laws had been changed, notably those on inheritance rights and domestic violence.  Important in litigation processes was interpreting each article of the Convention.  Having clear jurisprudence was vital, as was sensitization of courts, law enforcement and public interest litigation lawyers, among others.  Above all, when using litigation to empower women, it was important to recognize that women’s rights were “not against men”.  Strong constitutions were needed.  Without them, the hierarchy of the law would be in question.

Rounding out the presentations, Mr. BYRNES said he sought to bring a lawyer’s perspective to the Committee’s work, asking how that might make a difference and what more could be done to make the Convention and the Committee more effective.  He hoped to address those questions by describing the Committee’s main contributions internationally, by asking how it had been used as the basis for policy development around the world and by examining the places where it could contribute in the future.  Before doing so, however, he noted that the Committee’s trajectory had not been inevitable, but had resulted from a range of struggles at the national level, as well as from within the Committee.

He went on to underline how the Committee had contributed to the conceptual understanding of violence against women as an international legal issue.  It had also elaborated the concept of due diligence, in which States had an obligation to go as far as possible to protect women.  In doing so, it set a very high bar for States in eliminating discrimination against women.  Indeed, the Committee had gone quite far in developing the concept of discrimination against women by elaborating a substantive definition of equality, not just a formal one.  But on a practical level, he noted that nearly all cases decided by the Committee had been against members of the Council of Europe.  It must be asked, he said, why other regions were not engaging the Committee in the same way.  Were regional mechanisms sufficient ‑‑ or were other issues at play?

Continuing, he said that, in terms of jurisprudence, the record of the Optional Protocol had been mixed.  However, in the area of law reform, the Committee’s general recommendations had led to many instances in which the Convention was used to generate domestic law reform, such as Australia’s inquiry of equality before the law and the review of the law of domicile in Hong Kong.  While the clear lesson was the Convention’s utility, there were many ongoing challenges.  Among them were:  the need to expand and support the use of the Optional Protocol to broaden its reach outside Europe; the need to challenge States on their reservations; the need for States to continue to challenge the Committee; and the need for the Committee to continually and progressively interpret the Convention.

Turning to the Universal Periodic Review, which he noted was still relatively new, he said early signs of that mechanism’s work were encouraging, and the Committee had led the way in reinforcing the Review’s findings, thus closing the circle.  Two other bodies that offered real opportunities were national human rights institutions and national parliaments, both of which had been the subject of statements by the Committee. Indeed, there was a clear need to ensure that national human rights institutions saw the Convention as part of their mandate.  National parliaments ‑‑ and perhaps state parliaments ‑‑ were an important collaborator as implementers and monitors of the Convention.

In the ensuing interactive discussion, many speakers shared national plans to ensure gender equality in their countries.  Others asked about strategies that courts could pursue to deal with discrimination against women; the type of follow-up procedure that was needed on recommendations; and how to ensure that gender policies actually met women’s needs.  One speaker called on the Committee to be more aggressive in publicizing the Convention’s Optional Protocol.  Another asked what should be done about a trend towards conservatism and fundamentalism, which had arisen in the last decade and which, the speaker said, clearly undermined the Convention’s gains.

Further, speakers wondered how temporary special measures had been received by countries, as there was sometimes Government resistance to implementing the Convention.  Other delegates asked how to encourage countries to create laws on the Convention’s provisions and ensure that women’s equality was achieved, perhaps in 20 or 30 years, rather than 100.  In the area of employment, one delegate asked for best practices with respect to legislative and policy development to reverse differences in wages, hierarchy and working hours between women and men.

Belgium’s delegate stressed that many States had made reservations to the Convention, and some were so vague it was often difficult to determine what States were reserving.  Also, many States had made substantive reservations to basic articles, which was very worrying.  For example, there were many vis-à-vis article 2, which contained the commitment to eradicate all forms of discrimination against women.  He asked what could be done to encourage a trend towards removing reservations.  Noting that the Universal Periodic Review encouraged States to set up internal coordination mechanisms among Government bodies, he asked whether that had had a positive impact on countries reporting to the Committee.

The Deputy Speaker of Parliament of Uganda expressed frustration that, 30 years after the women’s Convention had come into force, it was only now that Parliament was being recognized as an opportunity ‑‑ and it still was not being seen as a partner.  Would there be a proposal at the end of the session to create a better nexus between State Parliaments and the Committee?

Responding, Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ said that in terms of reducing reservations, the Committee was very clear in general recommendations 4 and 20, stating that any reservations to articles 2 and 16 of the Convention were contrary to the Convention’s object and purpose.  The Committee discussed, among other things, the need for a country to withdraw from the Convention if they had such reservations.  Despite the possibility of holding discussions on those reservations, however, they certainly remained an obstacle.

Turning to the Universal Periodic Review process, she said that the cases of those States that had already been reviewed had indicated that the Committee’s recommendations were being upheld.  She encouraged Indonesia to consider ratifying the Optional Protocol.  The Committee was cooperating with other treaty bodies at the level of chairpersons’ meetings and was also participating in a joint reporting method.  It had also established a joint working group with the Committee on the Rights of the Child.  The Committee’s transfer to Geneva had been smooth and it had established good relations with departments there.  At the same time, it had preserved one session a year in New York.  A new, rather complicated methodology had been developed to follow up new reservations.

She went on to say that the Committee had made recommendations that called for integration with the Millennium Development Goals.  Further discussion was required on the important question raised by Japan, but the Committee also saw violence against women as a human rights violation.  With respect to temporary special measures, many countries were not aware of general recommendation 25, and that recommendation needed to be more visible to be used.

The Convention was not specific on violence against women in armed conflict, but the Committee suggested that conflict and post-conflict States look at Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), she said.  Calling it a “good point” to raise the issue of the speed at which general recommendations were looked at, she said that perhaps in the future there would be more sessions.  Uganda’s question on the relationship with parliaments was also important.  Parliaments were especially important in the reporting process, and the Committee had recently made a statement encouraging all State parties to involve their parliaments.

Ms. PRADHAN-MALLA said that, with respect to removing reservations, one strategy might include the mobilization of civil society and women’s groups for that purpose.  Useful arguments might be that other instruments already ratified by the State in question recognized women’s rights and that there was a need to eliminate discrimination.  She agreed with Uganda that, up to now, the Committee had given too little attention to parliaments.  On the possible role civil society could play in realizing human rights, she cited building capacity and contributing constructive dialogue.

She stressed that jurisprudence must be clearly defined at the domestic level.  Even if some countries used the Convention as a “persuasive document”, it could still make a huge difference in the lives of women since the court was the only institution that could ensure justice.

Mr. BYRNES said he could not fully answer the question on what to do about the rise in fundamentalism and conservatism.  Perhaps no one could.  But he thought any effective response must involve men.  Clearly the rise of those two phenomena underlined the nature of the current struggle and suggested that the gains that had already been made could not be taken for granted.

On labour questions, he said the experience of the Committee showed that the solutions must be holistic and must involve the range of the Convention.  The question of equal opportunities should be addressed from the perspective of attitudes, such as those relating to shared parenting and paternity leave, so men took greater responsibility for child-rearing.

Responding to a question on what the courts could do to implement the Convention, he admitted that countries such as his often looked on common law countries ‑‑ particularly those in Latin America ‑‑ with envy.  He further noted the existence of several collections that looked at the implementation of treaty bodies in law in Latin America.  These were a “treasure trove” of information that should be more broadly shared among countries that were not Spanish speaking.

In a second round of questions and comments, speakers called for the Committee to push Governments to address critical implementation problems, and asked panellists for ideas on how to do that.  It was vital for all countries to ratify the women’s Convention.  They asked for suggestions on disseminating best practices vis-à-vis its implementation.  What was the necessary national-level mechanism to implement recommendations of the Committee and other treaty bodies?

Speakers also zeroed in on national programmes and mechanisms to empower women, calling attention to gender-sensitive constitutions and highlighting their positive track record in implementing the Convention, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.  Some stressed their hope to learn from other countries’ best practices.  One speaker asked panellists how the Committee could help small island developing States and their women’s machineries understand the Convention.

Guinea-Bissau’s delegate said his country was not stable.  Last year, the President was assassinated, but despite that, elections had been organized and there was now an elected Government.  The assembly had 10 women and it was obvious there would be would be difficulties in passing gender bills that were currently before that body.  How could such obstacles be surmounted? he asked.

One delegate stressed that integrating commitments of various treaties, including the women’s Convention and the Beijing Platform, into national legislation often took several years.  In situations where democratic order did not prevail, or parliament was considered supreme law, how could women’s rights best be promoted?  Dovetailing with that, another speaker observed that in countries where common and customary law were practised, people had to be made aware that the constitution would be used as the supreme law of the country.

Other questions focused on how to raise awareness about the Convention and Committee’s work and, further, whether any mechanisms existed within United Nations agencies, to convince the Iranian Government to join the women’s Convention.  If not, did panellists have advice on how to monitor discrimination against women in that country?  One speaker also wondered about information on the Committee’s new follow-up mechanism to the concluding recommendations.

Responding to the second round of questions, Mr. BYRNES suggested there were several creative and effective strategies that had been employed to implement the Convention and it might be useful for an agency to pull them together.  He hoped that he had not been misunderstood on the issue of subnational government bodies.  He had meant that, in federal States, responses for particular areas of governance might lay with sub-federal bodies and there was nothing to stop them from using the Convention as a guide for their policies.

He confessed that he did not know what had happened with respect to the UNIFEM study referenced by the representative of the Solomon Islands.  He hoped that follow-through would be forthcoming, suggesting at the same that it would only succeed if it was owned by the relevant local body of jurists or made part of the national plan for women.  That could be done with international support.

It was increasingly clear that individual countries had an emerging obligation to pursue gender policies in their development and overseas policies, he went on.  Indeed, that trend was made most clear by the disabilities Convention.  That obligation was also relevant to the international financial institutions.  He described as “difficult” the case raised by the Republic of Korea, in which local courts rejected attempts to reopen cases on the basis of the women’s Convention, noting, however, that at least one study had been done that looked at the options in such cases.  He further noted that some countries in Europe and Latin America had rules on that front.

Ms. PRADHAN-MALLA said that the United Nations had different strategies on the dissemination front.  But at the domestic level, Governments themselves, as well as civil society, often employed methods that could be considered as alternatives.  She said the Committee had made efforts to give adequate time to examine different reports.  It was also encouraging to see the efforts of the Committee to establish links with delegations.  But more work was needed on the treaty’s jurisprudence, and the Committee’s partnerships should be expanded to the judiciary and to parliaments.

Adding her voice to the Committee’s need to expand its partnerships, Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ said that process was ongoing.  It was also clear that the Convention was a living document, and that it was important for States parties to follow the Committee’s work.  She highlighted how, at its last session, the Committee had adopted a specific statement on non-governmental organizations and on the role of parliaments.  She agreed that it was important for the judiciary to be closely connected to the Committee ‑‑ particularly with respect to the Optional Protocol.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights was organizing judicial colloquiums on case law coming from the Committee and other treaty bodies.  She hoped that would be useful to Governments.  Concluding, she stressed that 15 years after the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform, the Committee was finally meeting three times a year.  That would allow it to accelerate the implementation of the Platform, along with the Millennium Development Goals and the Convention.

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