Press Conference on Addressing Discrimination against Women

10 October 2011

Press Conference on Addressing Discrimination against Women

10 October 2011
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Addressing Discrimination against Women


Much progress had been made in establishing normative and legal frameworks required to fight discrimination and violence against women, but implementation of those frameworks, as well as necessary social transformation, lagged far behind, United Nations experts told correspondents at Headquarters this afternoon.

“There’s a great difference between de jure and de facto in women’s advancement,” said Silvia Pimentel, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  She was joined at a press conference by Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.  Both experts had just briefed the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) on their respective reports.  (See Press Release GA/SHC/4008.)

Ms. Pimentel said that States had made progress in reforming their legal codes, overturning discriminatory legislation and enacting laws based on equality between men and women.  As a result, women’s participation had increased in Government, in employment and education, with gender gaps narrowing and women actually outnumbering men in university-level studies in some regions.  Maternal deaths had dropped dramatically.

At the same time, she said, women still made up the majority of illiterates worldwide, were vastly out-represented by men in decision-making positions in both Government and private sector work and were much more apt to be working in precarious or low-status work, lacking benefits, with 22 million threatened by unemployment during the world financial crisis.  In addition, hundreds of thousands of women were trafficked, and many others forced into marriage, with yet others languishing in subservient and restrained situations.  

She called on the seven States who had not yet done so to become Parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, in order to achieve universal ratification of that important instrument.  She also called on States to ratify the treaty’s Optional Protocol on individual complaints and to fulfil their obligations to implement the Convention in its entirety.  “After all, women hold up half the sky,” she said.

Violence against women was actually on the rise in many parts of the world, both women stressed.  Ms. Pimentel noted the prevalence of honour killings and called female genital mutilation a scourge that must be eradicated.  In addition, she said that women and girls’ bodies had become part of the “battleground” in many armed conflicts.

Ms. Manjoo, noting that the report she had just presented was the first written report submitted under the mandate of the Rapporteur on violence against women, confirmed that such violence remained “pervasive, widespread and unacceptable” in all spheres of human interaction.  She reiterated her call on States to uphold their international human rights obligations by preventing acts of violence, investigating such acts when they occurred and providing remedy and reparation to victims, through a holistic strategy.

Asked what she had found in the United States, Ms. Manjoo said the first Rapporteur on the topic in that country had focused on custodial settings such as prisons, but she had added domestic and military settings and had also focused on violence against African American, native American and migrant women in both domestic and public settings.  She found that there had been enormous investment in fighting violence against women in the country, but there was a lack of implementation of regulations, as well as a dearth of social transformation.  One of the recommendations was for the United States to ratify the anti-discrimination Convention.

Similarly, Ms. Manjoo said, the normative framework to fight gender violence in Africa was very good, but the challenge was interpretation and implementation by States.  That was augmented by other challenges that included a lack of resources and cultural and religious practices. 

South Africa, she added, followed international and African norms, but there had actually been a backlash against women, with some 40 per cent of rapes there reportedly involving men’s anger against women’s empowerment.  She commented that the country, in general, suffered from a culture of unmet expectations.

Ms. Pimentel added that other areas in which a backlash was being experienced included reproductive rights, with some countries now criminalizing abortions, even if the life of the mother was in danger.  She called that development “very depressing” because of the threat of a resultant increase in maternal mortality. 

On the dismissal of charges against the former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Ms. Pimentel said she was not surprised, having studied many rape trials in which men were not prosecuted because of a belief that the women had seduced them.

Regarding alleged cases of sexual exploitation by United Nations peacekeepers, Ms. Manjoo said the Organization’s agencies were looking into such matters and were trying to find ways to prosecute offenders.  Replying to a question about peacekeepers who had yet to be prosecuted a long time after such allegations, Ms. Pimentel said that Committee and the rapporteurs could become involved, but access to information in such instances was a challenge for treaty bodies and special procedures. 

She said there was also a lack of knowledge among the world public about human rights conventions such as the Women’s anti-discrimination treaty, along with the fact that information on abuses could be sent to special procedures under the Convention’s Optional Protocol.  She asked members of the press to help increase awareness in that area.

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