More Women in Senior Government Posts despite Stereotypes, Resource Constraints Hampering Fulfilment of Blueprint for Action, Women’s Commission Told

8 March 2010

More Women in Senior Government Posts despite Stereotypes, Resource Constraints Hampering Fulfilment of Blueprint for Action, Women’s Commission Told

8 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

13th & 14th Meetings (AM & PM)

More Women in Senior Government Posts despite Stereotypes, Resource Constraints

Hampering Fulfilment of Blueprint for Action, Women’s Commission Told

African Union Boasts Rwanda’s Lead in Number of Elected Women, Cape Verde’s

Ratio of Female Ministers; Latin America, Caribbean, Middle East also Post Gains

While implementing the Beijing Platform for Action had been hamstrung by severe resource constraints and a lack of will to combat entrenched stereotypes, more and more women were participating in high-level political decision-making in their countries, with some of the biggest gains made in Africa and Latin America, speakers in the Commission on the Status of Women said today in continued debate.

The Director of Women, Gender and Development Directorate of the African Union pointed out that Rwanda led the world in terms of women in elected office, with more than half of its parliamentary seats filled by women.  Meanwhile, Cape Verde boasted the world’s highest level of female cabinet ministers.

Providing detail, the Chief Gender Monitor of Rwanda said that, as of February, the percentage of women in Parliament stood at 56.25 per cent.  It stood at 40 per cent at the State Minister level, 50 per cent at the Supreme Court justice level and 33.9 per cent in other courts and tribunals.  In Ethiopia, the number of representatives in the ruling and opposition parties had increased by 21 per cent, that country’s delegate said.

In Latin America, Bolivia’s delegate underscored that 34 per cent of women -- including indigenous women -- had participated in the drafting of that country’s new Constitution, which contained 25 articles on equality and social equity, among other issues, and opened new spaces for women to participate in all areas of political life.  Women’s participation in the national congress had reached 49 per cent, and half of the President’s ministerial cabinet was comprised of women.

In neighbouring Venezuela, standards promulgated by the National Electoral Council facilitated women’s access to senior Government posts, its representative said.  Four of the five public authority offices were headed by women.  “Meeting points” had been set up to foster women’s direct participation in problem-solving, and in the design of economic community projects.

As for the Middle East, Iraqi women’s participation in decision-making was “very high”, that country’s delegate said, recalling that there were three female ministers -- for human rights, the environment and Government Affairs -– and that women held 27 per cent of the seats in parliament.  The Government had set up the Ministry for Women’s Affairs and established a women’s commission within the Ministry of Social Affairs.

In the Caribbean, Saint Lucia’s representative heralded the growing numbers of women who had confidence in their ability to create political change.  Today, Saint Lucia’s Governor General and President of the Senate were women, and there was one female Government minister.  More broadly, there was recognition that women brought a unique perspective to political decision-making processes, which was vital to the country’s functioning.

Providing a more tempered view, a representative of the European Women’s Caucus said she was deeply concerned that spaces for influencing decision-making by women’s organizations at the Beijing+15 Review had been significantly reduced.  A declaration had been agreed ahead of time and adopted without consultations with civil society.  That declaration, in its failure to strongly commit to concrete actions to implement the Beijing Platform, represented a backward step.  As such, she called on the Secretary-General and the Commission Chair to create, in 2010, a new gender entity with strong mechanisms.

During the afternoon, the Commission held an interactive expert panel on “Women’s economic empowerment in the context of the global economic and financial crisis”, which, among other things, brought out that women were still underrepresented -– or completely absent -– in decision-making in many countries, and that ongoing inequality in law and practice determined that situation.  It was underscored that income gaps also persisted everywhere.

Alma Espino, an economist at Republic University in Uruguay, pointed out that, in Latin America, the Beijing Platform for Action had been implemented in an environment of liberalization, deregulation and privatization.  States had been historically weak in comparison with developed countries.  Proposals for change must be the result of a democratic debate among people as people, and not just as mere consumers or producers.  Fiscal policies that prioritized investments in education, health and infrastructure, were needed, as were new people-centred strategies that included women’s participation in plans aimed at fighting poverty.

Moderated by Leysa Sow ( Senegal), the panel also featured presentations by Mona Khalaf, economist and independent consultant on gender and development issues; and Rania Antonopoulos, Director of the Gender Equality and Economy Programme, Levy Institute, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

Among participants in the discussion that followed were representatives from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Brazil, Senegal, China, Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Italy, Republic of Korea, Paraguay, Mexico, Iran, Austria, Iceland, Turkey, Colombia, Armenia, Belgium, Japan, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, South Africa, Philippines, Thailand and Rwanda.

Several non-governmental organization representatives also made statements, including from the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, World Student Christian Federation, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and the Catholic Organization for Relief and Development Aid.

Also speaking in the high-level plenary debate this morning were ministers of Gabon, Guinea-Bissau and Tuvalu.

Representatives of Liechtenstein, Monaco, Slovakia, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Poland, Iran, Mali, Marshall Islands and Georgia also spoke. 

Representatives of the Permanent Observer Missions of the Holy See and Palestine also made remarks to the Commission.

Statements were also delivered by representatives of the League of Arab States, International Organization of la Francophonie, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), International Association of the Economic and Social Councils and Similar Institutions, International Organization for Migration, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

The representatives of Turkey and Ethiopia spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Commission on the Status of Women will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 9 March to hold a preparatory panel discussion for the United Nations Economic and Social Council Annual Ministerial Review 2010.


The Commission on the Status of Women met today to continue its high-level plenary debate and hold an expert panel discussion on the theme of “Women’s economic empowerment in the context of the global economic and financial crisis”.  (For more information, please see Press Release WOM/1784.)


ALPHONSINE MBIE N’NA, Minister of Health, Social Affairs, Solidarity and Family of Gabon, associating herself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the African Group and the francophone countries, said that, since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, her country had set up an “Empowerment of Gabonese Women” programme, which had helped improve the situation of women.  Further, Gabon had created a poverty reduction strategy, as well as an exam to promote socio-economic activities among women.  Winners of that exam received $40,000 and a trip abroad, and as a result, some 1,200 women had improved their situation.

In the area of employment, she explained that there was no hiring or salary discrimination.  A health insurance and social guarantee fund helped improve living conditions, including for women, by providing health care for all.  As for education, law 1666 (1966) made schooling mandatory to the age of 16, without discrimination.  Schooling and textbooks were free.  A social reintegration fund gave grants to girls who had left school and wished to return.

CHRISTIAN WENAWESER ( Liechtenstein) said the Government’s Office of Equal Opportunity played a central role in implementing the Beijing Platform and Liechtenstein’s Equal Opportunity Act.  In recent years, a central concern of the autonomous Gender Equality Commission was to support female candidates in parliamentary and municipal elections through training, technical assistance and advocacy.  Significant progress had been made towards gender parity in education.  In 1975, only 10 per cent of university students had been women; in recent years, that figure had grown to 43 per cent.  The Government had created an information campaign and granted financial support for gender equality in employment.  In 2007, the Labour Market Service of the Office of Economic Affairs had developed a training programme for women seeking to re-enter the workforce after giving birth.  In April 2008 a three-part project had been concluded, which had resulted in an amended criminal code that provided protection for victims and led to adoption of a victims’ assistance act.  Liechtenstein and Switzerland were jointly financing a project aimed at implementing Security Council resolutions on women, peace and security.

ISABELLE F. PICCO ( Monaco) welcomed the proposal for a new gender entity at the United Nations, especially as her country favoured gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Reports and statistics recognized that the Millennium Development Goals would not be achieved without assigning the highest priority for women and girls.  The 12 critical areas of concern of the Beijing Platform required attention and commitment.  Two issues -- health and education -- were priorities for Monaco.  It was important that significant progress be made in the area of maternal health and in the struggle against HIV/AIDS, so that hundreds of thousands of lives might be saved.  Moreover, there were too many obstacles that prevented girls from reaching the educational level needed for them occupy their place in society.  As part of the global women’s movement, Monaco believed that combating violence against women was indispensable and that each State must implement the Beijing Platform.  Implementation should be ensured at regional and national levels.

MILOŠ KOTEREC ( Slovakia), aligning himself with the European Union, discussed his country’s national gender equality strategy for 2009-2013.  Its goal was to incorporate a gender aspect into the design and implementation of policies at all levels and management stages.  As for the legislative framework, a main achievement in the field of gender equality and equal opportunities had been the adoption of the anti-discrimination act, which comprehensively regulated the implementation of the principle of equal treatment and stipulated legal instruments to protect victims.  However, challenges remained, including the unequal share of unpaid labour between women and men, imbalances in decision-making and strong gender stereotypes, which led to gender segregation in education and the labour market.  In that context, he welcomed enhanced system-wide coherence in the United Nations, notably the creation a new composite gender equality entity.  Consolidation of the four existing bodies would strongly help unify control and operation of the gender equality architecture.

ZACHARIE GAHUTU ( Burundi) said his country was in a post-conflict period marked by efforts to rebuild infrastructure and promote societal well-being and economic progress.  Burundi had made progress in six priority areas.  Thanks to measures to improve women’s health care, the rate of assisted births had increased from 22.9 per cent in 2005 to 56.3 per cent in 2008.  There was also a programme to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.  To curb violence against women, the penal code had been reformed in April 2009 and a national strategy had been created.  Efforts had been undertaken to create a harmonized entity to collect data and set up a database on related indicators.  The strategic framework to fight poverty recognized the need for a gender perspective to guarantee women’s participation in decision-making that affected them.  The Government had set a quota to have 30 per cent of all elected seats filled by women.  A process was under way to reform the electoral code to better mobilize women to participate in politics and policy implementation.  The Government had also taken steps to create gender parity in primary education, but that remained a challenge in secondary and higher education.  Women’s enrolment at the University of Burundi had increased from 22.5 per cent in 2006 to 24.5 per cent in 2009.

GUILLAUME BAILLY ( C ôte d’Ivoire) said gender equality was enshrined in the Constitution of August 2007.  Articles 2, 3 and 17 addressed all types of gender-based discrimination.  The Government had created a Ministry for Family and Women’s Empowerment, a national body in charge of ensuring gender equality.  It had set up gender units in technical ministries, which took into account gender issues at the sectoral level.  There were several draft projects to codify the February 2007 solemn declaration of Côte d’Ivoire on equal opportunity and gender equality, and to ensure women’s significant participation in elected bodies.  The 2009-2013 poverty reduction strategy had a gender dimension.  The lot of women was improving, but significant challenges to achieve gender equality remained.  Political will was needed to reduce the feminization of poverty and high maternal and infant mortality.  The focus must be on making operational the national document on equal opportunity and gender, better coordinating national gender activities, better training of national stakeholders on gender issues and drawing up microfinance programmes for women.  She supported the creation of single United Nations gender entity.

RETA ALEMU NEGA (Ethiopia), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, and the African Group, said that to address the multifaceted problems of women, the Constitution enshrined equal rights in all economic and social spheres.  Ethiopia had removed all discriminatory laws.  The Universal Declaration, Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child were also important.  Describing national steps, he noted those to mainstream gender into all development programmes.  The penal code had been revised to protect women and it stipulated that female genital mutilation, rape and trafficking were crimes worthy of prison.  The family law had been changed to ensure equality in marriage.  In the area of decision-making, advocacy efforts had been made across the country, which had led to more women in political leadership positions.  For example, the number of representatives in the ruling and opposition parties had increased by 21 per cent. The Ministry of Women’s affairs also was part of the executive branch.  To boost equality in the main sector -- agriculture -- Ethiopia had registered names of spouses for land certification to ensure that women could own their economic assets.  Agricultural credit services had also been expanded.

MARIA DE LURDES VAZ, Minister of Women, Family, Social Cohesion and Combating Poverty of Guinea-Bissau, said her country had signed and ratified the Women’s Convention and the Beijing Platform.  Her Government was committed to implementing those instruments to advance women’s rights.  Non-governmental organizations were partners in development strategies and more than 20 such organizations were working in the area of women and children.  Despite ongoing economic difficulties, Guinea-Bissau had presented its initial report and cumulative reports on the implementation of the Women’s Convention.

She said that, in order to promote equity, a national gender policy was being created.  The country’s poverty-reduction strategy took account of gender issues, as did the State budget.  In the area of decision-making, Guinea-Bissau had created a political platform for women to raise awareness among parliamentarians and others about the importance of increased representation in all areas of life.  The Government had also established a body dedicated to implementing Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security.  There was a committee in place to combat violence against women, and a strategy to end female genital mutilation.  The country had 5 female ministers of a total 18, or 20 per cent.  The problem for women was one of dignity and social justice, which was why it was a priority.

PAWEŁ HERCZYŃSKI ( Poland) said that while his delegation supported the statement made on behalf of the European Union, Poland wanted to seize the opportunity to reiterate its view that any reference to the sexual and reproductive rights of women made in the statement by the European Union did not constitute an encouragement of the promotion of abortion.  Ensuring Poland’s commitment to the “full and swift” realization of the advancement of women, he added that his delegation looked forward to working with others to achieve that goal.

ESHAGH AL HABIB ( Iran) said the persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women was one of the critical areas of concern in the Beijing Declaration and Platform.  It was a national goal of his Government to uproot poverty and promote social justice.   Iran’s legal framework, embedded in the Constitution as well as in its various development programmes, provided suitable grounds for the Government to effectively implement its poverty eradication policies throughout the country.  Furthermore, the Charter for Women’s Rights and Responsibilities bestowed on Iranian women the right to enjoy social security and economic facilities, as well as committed the Government to render its support to women in cases of poverty, divorce and stability.  He also said that a review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform 15 years after its adoption indicated that offering a single prescription for all global problems, particularly those related to national and regional cultures, would remain unsuccessful if it failed to behold the special characteristics of different peoples and nations.

AMI DIALLO ( Mali) shed light on national strategies for gender equality and women’s empowerment.  She pointed to legal texts that guaranteed women’s rights and showed the clear will of the authorities to protect and promote women, including in articles 1 and 2 of the 1992 Constitution.  There were also several action plans and strategies for women’s rights and development.  The November 2009 labour code guaranteed women the right to employment and training, with specific provisions set forth in articles L.178 to L.188.  Another law gave both women and men the right to vote after 18 years of age.  With support from technical and financial partners, and in close collaboration with civil society, the Government had launched two action plans to implement the 12 priority areas of the Beijing Platform.  It had seen encouraging results in all areas.  It had formed a national education policy in August 2007, which had led to creation of the 2007-2009 action plan for that purpose.  There were strategies to promote literacy and national languages.  A ministerial department had been set up for education, and in January 2007, a policy had been adopted to promote girls’ education.

ILENIA R. MEDINA-CARRASCO ( Venezuela) said that, since 1999, her Government had implemented innovative policies to foster gender equality and women’s empowerment and to end discrimination and violence against women.  Regulatory frameworks and national budgets had been created towards that goal.  Several laws focused on women’s rights, such as the Organic Law on Prevention and Working Conditions, which guaranteed workplace safety and protection for women.  The Social Services Law guaranteed rights to pregnant and lactating women and to mothers.  The standards for gender parity, promulgated by the National Electoral Council, called for parity on electoral lists for elective office.  It had facilitated women’s access to senior Government posts.  Four of Venezuela’s five public authority offices were headed by women.  Additionally, so-called “meeting points” had been set up to act as a support network for women and to help foster their direct participation in problem-solving and in developing economic community projects.  In February 2008, a National Observatory of Gender Equality had been created to strengthen the system of gender statistics and indicators.  Since 2005, the Government had made it mandatory to incorporate a gender perspective into all Government budgets.

JAVIER LOAYZA BAREA (Bolivia), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, the Rio Group and the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), said that implementing the Beijing Platform was a main objective for his country.  Nationally, 34 per cent of women, including indigenous women, had participated in the drafting of the new Constitution, which stated that development would be a collective process.  The Constitution had 25 articles focused on equality, inclusion, maternal rights and social equity, among other issues, and it had opened new spaces for women to participate in all areas of political life.  A new quota law recognized a 50-50 gender parity for all political candidates.  Recent elections had seen women’s participation in the national congress reach 49 per cent.  Also, 50 per cent of the President’s ministerial cabinet was made up of women.  In the area of health, there were provisions for pregnant mothers, for example, and the Government hoped to expand coverage to reduce the mother and child death index. In the area of education, there was a law covering four cross-cutting issues: democracy, gender equality, health and sexuality.

RINA TAREO ( Marshall Islands) said that since Beijing, there had undoubtedly been an increasing awareness of issues of relevance to women.  For example, there had been an improvement in respect for women’s human rights, and in the participation of women in education and employment inside and outside the home, which had helped to lessen gender imbalance in her country.  In some cases, however, while there was evidence that the rate of women receiving higher education or better jobs was on the rise, the numbers still indicated that there were fewer female college graduates, fewer women appointed to top Government jobs, and even fewer getting elected to high-level decision-making posts.  Despite constraints, the Marshall Islands was earnestly attempting to implement the commitments made at Beijing, and had ratified the Women’s Convention.  The Government was also strengthening its efforts to intensify equality for and meaningful partnership with women, because it fully understood that without both, it would not remedy its underdevelopment.  While the greatest responsibility rested with individual nations, that did not lessen the responsibility of the world community, especially the developed countries, many of whose resource commitments expressed in various world conferences remained unfulfilled.

SARAH FLOOD-BEAUBRUN (Saint Lucia), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China, said that, since the adoption of the Beijing Platform, her country had moved decisively to improve women’s situation.  The most notable effect of intervention had been the growing numbers of women who had confidence that they could create political change.  Giving context, she said that, in the past, only one woman had been elected to parliament, in the 1970s.  Two years post-Beijing, however, had brought new hope.  So far, Saint Lucia had three women elected as parliamentarians.  Awareness had been raised -- the Governor General and President of the Senate were women, and there was one female Government minister.  There was recognition that women brought to bear a unique perspective on the political decision-making process, which was vital to the country’s functioning.  The important role of family also informed and enlightened women’s role in the political arena.  Balancing family and professional life was important, given the stresses of political life.  Every effort was being made to recognize women’s health needs and, while the incidences of maternal death was relatively low, the provision of skilled birth attendants would help cut maternal mortality in half.  She was concerned about women’s migration to other countries.

SHALVA TSISKARASHVILI ( Georgia) said his country had presented its report on implementing the Beijing Platform to the Commission.  It focused on activities undertaken between 2005 and 2009, during which there had been achievements and challenges.  During that period, women had participated actively in presidential and parliamentary elections.  Women and the elderly had suffered the most from the August 2008 war and ethnic cleansing.  That war had added thousands of women and girls to the already hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons and refugees.  At the same time, serious improvements had been made to the legislation.  A draft law on gender equality was expected to be adopted in a few weeks.  In 2006, the Advisory Council on Gender Equality had been set up in Parliament.  Its activities had been praised by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2006, and it had subsequently been made a permanent institutional mechanism.  Laws had been enacted in 2006 on combating domestic violence and trafficking in human beings.  In 2007, a biannual National Action Plan on Combating Domestic Violence had been approved, and in the previous year, the Parliament had adopted the State Concept of Gender Equality, in close cooperation with women’s non-governmental organizations.

ODA GASINZIGWA, Chief Gender Monitor of Rwanda, said her country had been relentlessly committed to achieving the Beijing goals and it had integrated gender equality into its national development strategy and vision 2020.  It had also developed a national gender policy.  The high representation of women in decision-making remained the Government’s leading achievement.  As of February 2009, the percentage of women in Parliament stood at 56.25 per cent.  It stood at 35 per cent in the Senate; 38 per cent in the Cabinet; 40 per cent at the State minister level; 50 per cent at the Supreme Court justice level; and 33.9 per cent in other courts and tribunals.  The Government had initiated gender budgeting in key ministries.  It had set up various institutional mechanisms to fight gender-based violence and assist survivors, such as community policing, gender desks in Government offices, free telephone hotlines and a One Stop Centre.  Rwanda had recently ratified the Optional Protocol to the Women’s Convention.

MARY ANN DANTUONO, Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, said the assessment of the situation of women and girls was not entirely positive -- there was some light, but many disturbing shadows.  There had been improvements in girls’ education, participation in social life and political reforms aimed at removing discrimination against women.  However, “women continue to suffer in many parts of the world”, she stressed.  Violence in the form of female feticide, infanticide and abandonment was a reality that could not be brushed aside, while malnutrition affected girls more than boys.  Girls accounted for the majority of children out of school, while those aged 15 and over accounted for two thirds of the world’s illiterate population.  The proportion of women infected with HIV was increasing in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.  Of those trafficked across borders, minors accounted for up to 50 per cent, and 70 per cent were women and girls.  The reasons for such situations were various and tended to be found mostly in cultural and social dynamics, as well as policy delays.  Achieving equality in education and employment, and securing legal protection and social and political rights was considered in the context of gender equality, yet evidence showed that the handling of that concept was ideologically driven.

NADYA RASHEED, Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations, said that, since the convening of the Beijing conference, the world had witnessed many significant achievements regarding the advancement and empowerment of women.  Yet 15 years later, many of the same challenges and constraints that had been prevalent then were still present, along with new challenges, which hindered the full implementation of the Beijing Declaration.  Echoing the calls before the Commission that the international community renew the pledges made in the Beijing Declaration to ensure its full and speedy implementation, she also expressed appreciation for the Secretary-General’s report concerning the situation of and assistance to Palestinian women (document E/CN.6/2010/4).  Her delegation considered the report to be very important, especially given the continued perpetration of serious human rights violations by Israel against the Palestinian civilian population, including Palestinian women, and the consequent deterioration of their socio-economic conditions on the ground.  While many of the world’s women continued to advance in a number of fields, Palestinian women and their families sadly were still living under a brutal military occupation that had gravely impeded the normal functioning of society and the ability of its members to develop.  Calling on the international community to exert all efforts to ensure compliance by Israel with all of its obligations under international law, she said that only then could Palestinian women truly experience the ideals sought by the international community in such instruments as the Beijing Declaration.

WILLIAM ODISHO ( Iraq) said that, while his country had signed the Beijing Declaration, it had had not made much progress before 2003, owing to the extraordinary situation in his country.  Nonetheless, women’s presence in public life had been enshrined by their participation, through women’s organizations, in Parliament.  The Government had created infrastructure -- notably the Ministry for Women’s Affairs and a commission for women in the Ministry of Social affairs -- and it had taken steps to develop a strategy for women.  Women’s participation in decision-making had been “very high”.  There were three female ministers: for human rights, the environment and for Government Affairs.  Women held 27 per cent of the seats in parliament.  In the Constitution, women were allocated 25 per cent of those seats, and entitled to participate in all meetings of the Ministry of Women and the Family.  Conditions were ripening in the legislative sphere towards eliminating crimes against women.  Since 2003, progress had been made in all political, social and economic areas.  Women were represented in the Government, police and army, and in all municipal councils.  The Constitution guaranteed their right to marriage, divorce and protection against violence.  There were a large number of women’s centres to help protect women against violence.

WADOUDA BADRAN, Director General of the Arab Women Organization, League of Arab States, said that, in the past five years, Arab women had made progress despite obstacles.  Women were participating in greater numbers in the public sector, thanks to the political will of Arab countries.  But the elimination of cultural and religious barriers to women’s empowerment remained a challenge.  Arab women still suffered from illiteracy, disease, a lack of education, and from living under foreign occupation.  The League of Arab States, in preparation for the Beijing review, would annex its statistics on gender equality and women’s empowerment to its report this year to the Commission.  It had formed a specialized institutional framework to promote Arab women, which comprised the First Ladies of Arab countries.  The secretariat for Women had published educational achievements of women in Arab countries.  The Arab Women Organization had revised the League’s constitution to better represent women’s rights and to make recommendations towards that goal.  The organization was working to improve the image of Arab women and to promote the Year for the Struggle against Female Arab Illiteracy, as well as to introduce a gender perspective in schools.

LITHA MUSYIMI-OGANA, Director of Women, Gender and Development Directorate, African Union, said the Union continued to provide leadership towards meeting the Beijing goals.  It had adopted its first ever policy on gender equality, and had launched the first Decade of African Women.  It had also set up an African Women’s Development Fund and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.  Twenty-seven Union members had ratified the Protocol.  Rwanda had provided global leadership in terms of women holding elected office, with more than half of all its parliamentary seats filled by women.  Cape Verde had the highest level of women cabinet ministers in the world.  However, the Union was aware of the huge implementation challenges.  Seventy per cent of its members had gender policies, but most had not been implemented, owing to resource constraints.  The Union had taken concrete steps to address Millennium Development Goal number five on maternal mortality by initiating a campaign that had already begun to change the region’s maternal mortality terrain.  The Union had also launched a regional campaign to end violence against women.  She supported the creation of a single United Nations gender entity. 

MOUSSA MAKAN CAMARA, International Organization of la Francophonie, reaffirmed his organization’s support for the equality of opportunity and elimination of all forms of abuse against women.  On 1 March in New York, ministers from his delegation had held a high-level meeting and adopted the Francophone Declaration on violence against women.  Copies of it were available in English and French, and its translation into other languages was under way.  The Declaration drew attention to one of the Beijing Platform’s 12 areas of critical concern: violence against women, and noted that there had been little progress on that issue.  As such, the text called for respecting the rights of women and girls, adopting legislative measures and rigorously enforcing policies.  The training of medical, justice, police and military personnel was also needed.  The Secretary General of International Organization of la Francophonie had been called upon to bring the Declaration to the Commission’s attention at its present session.

WILLY TELAVI, Minister of Home Affairs and Rural Development of Tuvalu, reaffirmed his Government’s commitment to the Beijing Platform and the outcomes of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly.  However, the full realization of that commitment was severely challenged by the many constraints commonly presented by the unique situation of his small island developing State, particularly its economic and social vulnerability and lack of natural resources.  While Tuvalu laws did not allow discrimination and did not specifically prohibit women’s participation in decision-making, either at local or national levels, men had always been the main decision makers because of cultural and traditional practices.  That had changed, however, since the realization of the Women’s Convention and other international treaties.

He said that gender mainstreaming was an important thrust that was embraced by his Government towards the achievement of gender equality goals.  It had established the Women’s Department to oversee the development and empowerment of women nationwide, and a new position of Country Focal Officer, funded by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, had been established in the Ministry of Home Affairs to assist the Government and non-governmental organizations in ensuring that gender was integrated into policies, plans and programmes.  Despite women’s involvement in decision-making in local government, there had not been much progress at the political level overall.  A recent notable activity was the implementation of a micro-financing and credit scheme, whereby women were granted small loans to generate income.  More work was required to accelerate and strengthen existing mechanisms, he added, calling on the continued support of development partners and civil society organizations.

ELYSE MOSQUINI, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said that, in mobilizing the delivery of humanitarian assistance to earthquakes victims in Haiti and Chile, her organization was ensuring that the specific needs of women and girls were given special consideration.  It was investing in the prevention and response to gender-based violence and sexual exploitation, including by deploying a dedicated gender focal point to Port-au-Prince.  The importance of ensuring equal participation of women and men was reflected in its global volunteer policy, which called on societies to ensure appropriate participation for gender-sensitive service delivery.  Through national and regional initiatives, the number of women among volunteers had increased; figures showed that 53 per cent of active volunteers were women.  That near balance was consistent across all regions, from a relative low of 46 per cent in Africa, to a high of 58 per cent in the Americas.  In closing, she underlined a vision of a world of empowered communities engaged to prevent and alleviate human suffering.

ANNA COROSSACZ, International Association of the Economic and Social Councils and Similar Institutions, said that the 12 key areas of the Beijing Platform were in danger of not being implemented.  It would also be a challenge to achieve all the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.  Unemployment was a major concern, particularly the global economic crisis’ impact on women’s participation in the labour market and on women’s pay.  Experience showed that after an economic crisis ended, it took three to five years for employment to rebound to pre-crisis levels.  Governments had taken steps to end the crisis, but such steps had been gender-blind.  Budget cuts in education and health would impact the workforce in those sectors, which were largely comprised of women.  She suggested reassessing gross domestic product (GDP) as the only growth indicator.  Instead, Governments should embrace the use of different indicators that accounted for gender differences and the labour carried out by women.

LUCA DALL’OGLIO, International Organization for Migration (IOM), said migration could contribute to women’s empowerment and help promote gender equality, but it could also challenge it.  Achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment were among the most significant measures in poverty reduction.  Respect for women’s rights and prevention of violence were essential.   Women migrants made a significant economic contribution through their labour, to their countries of destination, and, through remittances, to their countries of origin.  In societies where women’s power to move autonomously was limited, the act of migration was in itself empowering.  Women migrants were a main source of physical and emotional support for old and young family members.  Domestic work was one of the largest sectors in female labour migration, but the lack of regulation, the secluded nature of domestic work and racial inequalities in that sector created many risks for migrant women domestic labourers, including possible abuse by their employers.  IOM was trying to increase information on migrant domestic workers and their rights through studies about their profile, legal standing and recruitment and migration trends.

ANA VAN DANTZIG, European Women’s Caucus, speaking on behalf of more than 10 women’s rights networks, said she was deeply concerned that spaces for influencing decision-making by women’s organizations at the Beijing+15 Review had been significantly reduced, as a declaration had been agreed ahead of time and adopted without consultations with civil society.  That declaration, in its failure to strongly commit to concrete actions to implement the Beijing Platform, represented a backward step.  It overstated progress made and ignored the “slow and partial” nature of implementation.  It underestimated the type of challenges that remained for women, including persistence of all forms of violence against them, and it failed to take account of changes in global and local contexts, like crises in food, fuel, climate, finance, new aid modalities and the feminization of poverty.  Such challenges had not been present 15 years ago.  As such, she called on the Secretary-General and the Chair of the Commission to take all opportunities presented by upcoming global negotiations related to the special high-level meeting of the Economic and Social Council with the Bretton Woods bodies.  Also important would be to reaffirm the Platform as a human rights framework integral to the Millennium Development Goals; ensure meaningful civil society participation; guarantee adequate funding for women’s rights organizations; ensure policy space for determining women’s development; and create, in 2010, a new gender entity with strong mechanisms.

AMINATTA DIBBA, Director of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Gender Development Centre, said that the challenges facing the fight for gender equality and women’s empowerment were indeed enormous, and a lot still remained to be done with respect to the 12 critical areas of concern of the Beijing Platform.  In Africa, the African Union, its regional economic communities and individual African countries had worked tirelessly throughout the years and had made significant progress in promoting the equitable participation of women in social, political and economic development processes at the national, regional and continental levels.  At the level of ECOWAS, significant progress had been made with respect to the 12 critical areas of concern.  In addition to the adoption of the Regional Gender Policy Framework and a gender management system, as well as the establishment of appropriate structures, including a gender department and the Gender Development Centre, ECOWAS had initiated several programmes towards the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment in the ECOWAS region, particularly in the areas of trade, peace and security.  The Gender Centre was also set to embark on a project this year that aimed at providing financial and technical assistance to women engaged in agricultural and food processing activities, she said.

XENIA VON LILIEN, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said women and girls in rural areas were more vulnerable to discrimination in education, health and employment.  They were often not aware of their rights and lacked access to land and property.  Plus, their voices were often not heard in public and political life.  However, rural women were not identified as a specific critical area of concern in the Beijing Platform.  IFAD had changed business processes to improve project design to target poor women and men, and had introduced measures to capture gender-specific impacts in monitoring and evaluation.  It also provided space for women and men in farmers’ organizations to voice concerns.  This year would be important for advancing gender equality, as attention was drawn to rural women and women farmers, and to their need for support.  An understanding of the different roles of men and women in family agriculture enterprises was needed, as were efforts to ensure that the benefits from more focus on food security benefited rural women.

Rights of Reply

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, Turkey’s representative, responding to the Swedish delegate’s statement of 2 March, said that while discrimination and violence against women persisted everywhere, examples had singled out countries arbitrarily.  Studies, including one conducted by Swedish academics, underlined a high rate of violence against women in Sweden.  She regretted that one tragic matter in Turkey had been cited.  That case, involving a 16-year-old girl, had elicited “enormous” condemnation by the Turkish Government and was now before the courts.  In 2004, Turkey, with the United Kingdom, had sponsored a resolution on honour killings, while Turkey’s 2004 penal code had introduced new regulations to prevent such violence, making honour crimes punishable by a life sentence.  Civil society had also raised awareness of such abuse.

Ethiopia’s delegate said that the Commission’s fifty-fourth session had been dedicated to the Beijing Platform, and it was unfortunate that an issue had been raised that was to be handled by the Security Council.  The Council had imposed sanctions on Eritrea for its failure to comply with resolution 1862 (2009).  The African Union summit last June had endorsed the call for sanctions on that country, as it had worked with terrorists and fundamentalists.  The resolution had responded to those activities, and had nothing to do with bilateral relations.  It had been adopted to persuade that country to behave in a civilized manner.

Interactive Expert Panel

In the afternoon, the Commission held an interactive expert panel on the theme of “women’s economic empowerment in the context of the global economic and financial crisis”.  Moderated by Leysa Sow (Senegal), it featured presentations by Alma Espino, Economist and Researcher, Economics Institute of the Faculty of Economics and Administration, Republic University, Uruguay; Mona Khalaf, economist and independent consultant on gender and development issues; and Rania Antonopoulos, Director of the Gender Equality and Economy Programme, Levy Institute, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

Opening the discussion, Ms. SOW said the interactive expert panel provided an opportunity for the sharing of experiences and good practices, and for considering ways of overcoming remaining obstacles and new challenges in the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

The first panellist, Ms. ESPINO, said that, although gains had been achieved in the situation of many women since the Beijing conference in 1995, several gender inequalities -- linked with social inequalities in general -- remained in societies.  Among the changes that had contributed to the progress had been technological development, which had made it possible to lobby and organize feminist networks at the global and regional levels, and the creation of official mechanisms for the advancement of women and of tripartite organisms for the equality of employment opportunities.  Today, women were better educated, and their presence in the economic market had grown.  There was greater visibility and condemnation of domestic violence, of sexual harassment in the work place and of other forms of discrimination against women.  The question of gender equality was ever-present on Government agendas.  In many parts of the world, however, women were underrepresented in formal employment; income gaps existed in all parts of the world; women were absent in decision-making with respect to economic and financial resources; and there was ongoing inequality in the laws and practices that determined that.  Today, the financial crisis threatened progress achieved, as well as the possibility of further gains.

Her region of Latin America was better prepared to deal with the crisis than others, she continued, but the economic growth of the previous years was not sufficient to deal more successfully with poverty and inequality.  Furthermore, the Beijing Platform had begun to be implemented in an environment of liberalization, deregulation and privatization.  In Latin American countries, States had been historically weak in comparison with developed countries.  To a different degree, and with differing policies, the Governments of Latin America and the Caribbean had endeavoured to deal with the crisis, but issues of gender equity were not spared by the economic situations stemming from it.  If the objective of the economy was to provide a decent living, an economy must be thought of as at the service of the people, and of people-centred development.  The proposals for change must be the result of a really democratic debate among people as people, and not just as mere consumers or producers.

Towards that goal, she said, it was essential, not only to warn about possible gender impacts, but also to project policies that would incorporate the gender perspective to avoid a deepening of inequality and to contribute to social equity.  A progressive redistribution was indispensable, and fiscal policies must prioritize investments in education, health and infrastructure.  New people-centred strategies could also be created.  In addition, poverty alleviation policies must prevent women from becoming instruments of political power; such policies would not succeed if they were not based on rights and greater empowerment.  It was also necessary to revise and strengthen social protection measures in the face of the crisis, as well as to widen the scope of social benefits.  The involvement of women and other social groups affected by the crisis was crucial to obtain a response that was in harmony with global standards and commitments regarding gender equality, women’s rights, human rights and empowerment, she concluded.

Ms. KHALAF noted significant progress in women’s economic empowerment in education and the share of the labour market.  But its pace had been slow and uneven across regions, owing to cultural, social and religious norms in many parts of the world.  Economic and financial resources greatly impacted women’s economic empowerment.  Their uneven gender distribution jeopardized women’s participation in development and subsequently slowed down the process of equitable and sustainable growth.  It also led to dependency on male providers, who were often considered family breadwinners and, consequently, family decision-makers.  A more equitable distribution of resources improved women’s productivity and enabled them to channel more time into their own personal development.  In countries where structural adjustment programmes had been implemented to alleviate the economic crisis, many women had lost their secure jobs, due to the shrinking of the public sector, and thus had lost their sustainability, remuneration or social protection.

She said gender inequality in access to land stemmed from discriminatory inheritance laws that favoured men.  Women, particularly in poor areas, suffered from lack of adequate transport facilities and barriers to their use of public transport.  Women and children in Africa spent 40 billion hours annually collecting water.  Freeing them from that task would enable them to spend more time on income-generating activities.  Women found it difficult to access services of formal financial institutions because their ownership of assets was often limited and they could not meet collateral requirements.  As a result, women got a much smaller share of bank credits.  That was well-illustrated in Yemen, where women received a scant a 1.7 per cent of credits provided by the Cooperative and Agricultural Credit Bank, versus 98.3 per cent for men. 

It was imperative to adopt policy measures to ensure that women’s economic conditions were recognized and strengthened, she said, calling for adequate funding for social and economic infrastructure development, gender-sensitive employment strategies to secure decent and full-time work and reduce gender wage gaps, and for equal access to health services, social security schemes and training.  Further, she called for enactment of laws to enhance women’s participation in political life, and for amending laws that impeded women’s enjoyment of their economic rights, such as laws related to inheritance, property and credit access.

The third panellist, Ms. ANTONOPOULOS, said that, for some people -- if not for the majority of the world’s population -- the crisis had come on top of many others that had been endured for some time.  Presenting a framework to understand the crisis from a gender perspective, which included the financial sector, the market production sector, the Government sector, and the household production sector, she said that the last of those sectors -- household production -- contributed to the existence and well-being of households and economies.  If that sector disappeared, a lot of services would, too.  The financial sector had been receiving all of the privileges in the last 15 to 20 years in terms of expansion and profitability, whereas the market production sector had been experiencing a neglect of domestic demand.  The Government sector had taken a very active role, by reducing expenditures and facilitating all forms of liberalization.  The two key issues that had characterized and motivated policy included not having a tax on financial transactions between countries and inflation targeting.

Underscoring a problem in labour markets, she said that the normal trend was towards a need for less labour and fewer workers, despite increased productivity.  That underlying problem had nothing to do with workers not being educated or a mismatch of skills.  There was a fundamental issue, and it was necessary as a community to decide what kinds of social and economic policies to put in place to ameliorate that impact.  While the “privileging” of the financial sector was not new, the first and most important concern had been for the role of the State to become as guarantor or “saviour” of the financial sector.  The second step was for it to become the “investor of last resort”, trying to ameliorate the impact of the crisis on key production industries, such as the automobile industry.

She said another sector in crisis was the household sector, which should be thought of as “too big to fail”.  That sector included individuals who, for the most part, had only their labour and labouring ability to survive, and did not have assets.  In a period of crisis, should the thinking not revolve around what to do about the job crisis? she asked.  When looking at the counter-cyclical policy measures that had been implemented, the bulk of expenditures and efforts seen around the world had gone to infrastructure.  Spending was not going to social care or to support the needs of families.  In addition, when policy was unaware or ignorant of gender differences in the economy, the policies being implemented might not deliver what they wanted to deliver, she stressed.

Using the social-care sector as an example, she said that that sector delivered lots of jobs, most of them to people with a high school education or less.  Social care became a “win-win situation” for women because it reduced unpaid work, for the Government because it created more jobs, and for humanity because it created an economy heading in a direction that showed that it could grow and generate jobs, while not relying on the export sector.

During the ensuing question-and-answer period, delegates asked the panellists to give advice on how public policies could be restructured to strengthen women’s labour-market participation and better prepare them for future economic crises, as well as how to involve the private sector to reduce women’s vulnerability to such crises.  They wondered what could be done to better protect and promote domestic workers and women in the informal sector.  They also asked for the panellists’ view on quota systems in the labour market, how to remunerate care-giving activities and for their views on methodologies to promote women’s equal participation in decision-making and on ways to allocate budgetary resources for women’s services.  One delegate asked the panellists to shed light on the greatest achievements in their respective countries in terms of social and economic rights since the Beijing conference.

In response, Ms. ESPINO said that since the Beijing conference, a measurement had been devised to evaluate work in the home.  There must be systems put in place that created social protection for all, including women involved in unpaid caregiving.  In Uruguay, labour legislation had been put in place to create an 8‑hour work day for domestic employees.  Occupational and labour segregation of men and women was at the root of the problem, for which awareness-generating campaigns were needed.

Ms. KHALAF said there was no magic formula to make women active agents of economic growth.  A policy of small steps was imperative, particularly in developing countries.  Society must accept a change in women’s role.  No one objected to women juggling work and family life, but there was less concern over its impact on women’s well-being.  Parents and society educated girls differently than boys.  A change in mentality was needed.  Governments could pass laws that led to the creation of nurseries, and develop procedures to ensure there was no discrimination in hiring women in the public sector.  But no one should expect miracles in the short term.  The process was long and tedious, but it could be achieved with everyone working together.

Ms. ANTONOPOULOS said women internalized what was expected of them and what opportunities existed for them.  A reason given for treating the sexes differently was that even when equal opportunities existed for both, the outcome was often different.  Jobs held more often by women were routinely paid less than those traditionally held by men.  Such inequalities should be eliminated.  A nurse should not be paid less than a construction worker.  Transformative policy instruments were needed to ensure that women at equal levels of skill and professionalism as men earned the same wage as their male counterparts.  For example, history professors, often women, should be paid the same as mathematicians, which were more often men.  Gender equality was difficult to achieve during economic recessions.  Macroeconomic policies should strive to promote and enhance employment as well as pensions, social security and other social protections for all.

Answering a second round of questions, Ms. ESPINO noted that after so many interesting remarks, it was a bit anti-climatic to say that women’s employment was linked to access to economic resources.  On the other hand, it had also become evident that women’s employment was challenged by an economic system that created inequalities and operated on the basis of those inequalities. It should be understood that very far-reaching changes had to be introduced into economies.  There had been many arguments made on the immense difficulties grappled with by countries in times of crisis, which tied in with the need to ensure the function of the global economy in the context of overcoming asymmetries and imbalances among countries and regions.

Ms. KHALAF said it was necessary to understand whether countries were really just after economic growth or wanted to promote the well-being of society at large.  Every country had its own scale of priorities, depending on its resources.  In response to a question regarding the reconciliation of work and private and family life, she said such a reconciliation was a common denominator in all countries, but while it was very important to ensure the equal sharing of duties, that was not going to happen tomorrow.  Someone had to take care of ensuring harmony within the family, and who was going to do that?  A gradual change was a must, but it should probably not be expected very soon. Stressing that a change in mentality was a slow process in tandem with making women more accepted in public life, she added that each country had to draw up its own plan of action.

For her part, Ms. ANTONOPOULOS said that almost every country had an input-output table that mapped out its entire economy.  It was necessary to determine whether the State should be the guarantor of the last resort when it came to financial issues in a country, or whether the institution should be activated at the time of a crisis.  Should we have a system of guaranteeing jobs when people were willing to work and the markets failed them? she asked.  That question should be debated, and as long as countries entered that kind of debate, some progress could be made.

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