Speakers Outline Government Policies to Narrow Gender Gap, Empower Rural Women as General Discussion of Commission’s Fifty-sixth Session Continues

2 March 2012

Speakers Outline Government Policies to Narrow Gender Gap, Empower Rural Women as General Discussion of Commission’s Fifty-sixth Session Continues

2 March 2012
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on the Status of Women

Fifty-sixth Session

10th & 11th Meetings (AM & PM)

Speakers Outline Government Policies to Narrow Gender Gap, Empower Rural Women

as General Discussion of Commission’s Fifty-sixth Session Continues


Accounts of programmes and policies aimed at narrowing the gender gap and empowering rural women continued to dominate discussions as the Commission on the Status of Women continued its fifty-sixth annual session today.

From women’s discussion groups scattered across remote plains to reserved seats on rural management boards, Government ministers and other high-ranking representatives presented a variety of creative approaches.  Speakers described laws designed to assure the land and tenure rights of women while increasing their access to technology and new production methods, as well as programmes to provide agricultural training and skills development.  Moreover, unlocking the potential of women to determine their own destiny — and drive economic growth in the process — was a common theme throughout the discussion.

Some speakers pointed to women’s involvement in cooperative enterprises and other collective groups as an important factor in their economic empowerment.  A law described by the representative of El Salvador, for example, guaranteed the right of women to join in trade unions and fostered their participation on the management boards of rural organizations.  In addition, the country had in place a solidarity programme that aimed to improve the living conditions of rural communities through capacity-building.

Another Government-run programme offered temporary assistance, in the form of six-month cash transfers and services, to improve access to the labour market for female heads of households living in extreme poverty, she continued.  A “City Women” programme sought to improve living conditions through a range of services geared towards helping them meet their basic socio-economic needs.  Some 2,140 women served on social accountability advisory boards involved in citizenship exercises and programmes, as well as projects intended to guarantee women’s rights, she added.

The Deputy Permanent Secretary in Thailand’s Ministry of Social Development and Human Security said that during national women’s assemblies held throughout the country, women and girls from all walks of life had taken part in important deliberations on different themes.  They had discussed the challenges they faced and provided suggestions and recommendations to the Government, which had incorporated them into national development measures.  It had also invested in training workshops and forums for all ministries and local administrative organizations to strengthen the concept of gender equality and ensure the integration of gender perspectives into their plans, policies and practices.

Describing her country’s National Vision Goals 2016, the Deputy Permanent Secretary in Botswana’s Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs said it articulated the need to achieve the full, equal and effective participation of women and men from all spheres of life in the development process.  Consequently, Botswana had made substantial progress in growing its economy, educating the nation, creating employment and expanding physical infrastructure in an effort to improve living conditions and the quality of life.  The Government had also invested in infrastructure to facilitate agricultural and manufacturing development, as well as market accessibility, in rural areas.  Additionally, the national gender policy and legislative framework were directly aligned with international and regional agreements and instruments, such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

A number of delegates spotlighted recent studies and surveys, saying that their results informed national policy.  Zambia had carried out an innovative mapping exercise, the country’s Deputy Minister for Gender and Child Development said, noting that the survey sought to reveal which elements of the Women’s Convention that had been incorporated into national legislation and which had not.  The process had enabled the Government to develop a clear road map as to the full and systematic implementation of all the Convention’s provisions, she said.

Similarly, the Director of Slovenia’s Office for Equal Opportunities said that a 2011 national study on the prevalence of gender-based violence had been the first of its kind in the country, and would be analysed to facilitate better informed decisions on the actions required to ensure effective implementation of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act.

Also speaking today were high-ranking Government officials and other representatives from Spain, Uruguay, Mali, Angola, Lesotho, Malaysia, Iran, Lithuania, Mongolia, Seychelles, Switzerland, Japan, Vanuatu, Guinea-Bissau, Estonia, Czech Republic, Tonga, New Zealand, Israel, Poland, Cuba, Colombia, Chile, Greece, Suriname, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Namibia, Iceland, Belgium, Kazakhstan, Barbados, Paraguay, Malta, Russian Federation, Liechtenstein, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Solomon Islands and Eritrea.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 5 March, to conclude its general discussion.


The Commission on the Status of Women continued the general discussion of its fifty-sixth session this morning.  For more information, see Press Release WOM/1889 of 24 February.


JUAN PABLO DE LAIGLESIA (Spain) said his country’s 2011-2014 Second Strategic Plan for Gender Equality in Rural Sustainable Development was based on the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.  It aimed to combat the double discrimination suffered by women in both urban and rural areas, end depopulation in rural areas, encourage women’s access to the labour market and guarantee their participation in rural economic development.  Law 35 of 2011 on shared farm ownership recognized the right of women jointly to manage family farms, he said, adding that it also aimed to strengthen women’s ties to their communities and their participation in decision-making.  Spain had shown clearly its determination to end violence against women, nationally and internationally, he said.

BEATRIZ RAMIREZ, Director of the National Institute of Women of Uruguay, associated herself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR).  She emphasized that gender equality was, at its core, an issue of human rights and social justice.  Calling for a comprehensive approach to the rights of rural women, and for investment in their success, she stressed: “We must invest, invest, invest.”  Her Government had established a national instrument with a gender-based socio-economic analysis component, she said, adding that a gender perspective was incorporated into Uruguay’s policymaking.  A consultative advisory board on rural issues was working to build on the expertise of rural women, she said, noting that a standing “budgetary envelope” was available for such measures.

DIARRA KADIATOU SAMOURA, Secretary-General, Ministry for the Advancement of Women, Children and the Family of Mali, associated herself with the Group of 77 and China.  She said the current session was taking place at the very moment when conflict was breaking out in some parts of her country, and its priority theme was particularly relevant to Mali’s situation.  Making the agricultural sector a driver of economic growth and a pathway to modernization was a top priority for the country’s leadership, she said.  The 2006 law on agriculture had gained women access to land and new methods of production; they now had access to rice fields, agricultural inputs and other resources.  Mali was also attempting to involve women in programmes that addressed their needs, she said, adding, however, that poverty was still increasingly feminized.

GENOVEVA DA CONCEIÇÃO LINO, Minister for Family and the Promotion of Women of Angola, said the Constitution established equality between men and women in the socio-economic, cultural and political spheres.  Since peace had come to Angola in 2002, women’s participation in politics had risen to 14 per cent in the parliament and 11 per cent at the governmental level.  Those percentages were expected to rise further after elections later this year, she said.  In June, the parliament had approved the 2011 Domestic Violence Act, and the Council of Ministers was considering a national gender policy as well as a revision of the Family Code and the Action Plan on Rural Women.  It had already approved the land law, which guaranteed rural women access to and control over land, either by acquisition or inheritance.

EMERINE KABANSHI, Deputy Minister for Gender and Child Development of Zambia, said her country’s Government had conducted a mapping exercise to identify which provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms Discrimination against Women had been incorporated into national legislation and which had not.  The process had enabled the Government to develop a clear road map as to the full and systematic implementation of all the Convention’s provisions.  To reduce violence against women, the 2011 Anti-Gender-Based Violence Act provided for protection and support for victims, as well as shelters for survivors.  The Citizen’s Economic Empowerment Fund, under the Citizen’s Economic Empowerment Commission, had allocated 30 per cent of its resources to female entrepreneurs, she said, adding that this year, the Government had given $2 million to the Gender and Child Development Division and $2.3 million to the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child in assistance for rural women.

TSELISO MOKELA, Principal Secretary, Ministry of Gender and Youth, Sports and Recreation of Lesotho, associated himself with the Group of 77, the African Group and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).  Affirming the importance of empowering rural women, he described the strides his country had made in that area, citing the 2006 Marriage Act, which allowed greater property and borrowing equality.  The establishment of women’s groups and networks aimed to reduce reducing poverty and improve social services and governance, as well as the provision of fuel and other forms of energy to rural areas, he said.  Non-governmental organizations and development partners were critical to improving rural women’s skills, entrepreneurship opportunities and enjoyment of human rights and services, he said, noting, however, that the challenges they faced warranted an effective, collective response by the entire international community.

KELEBOGILE KGABI, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs of Botswana, reaffirmed her country’s commitment to addressing poverty by implementing the policies and strategies contained in the National Development Plan 10, which was aligned with the National Vision Goals 2016.  The National Vision articulated the need to achieve the full, equal and effective participation of women and men in the development process in all spheres of life.  Consequently, Botswana had made substantial progress in growing its economy, educating the nation, creating employment and expanding physical infrastructure in an effort to improve living conditions and the quality of life.  The Government had also invested in infrastructure to facilitate agricultural and manufacturing development in rural areas as well as market accessibility.  On the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, she said there had been significant progress, as demonstrated by the alignment of the national gender policy and legislative framework with international and regional agreements and instruments, such as the Beijing Platform and the anti-discrimination Convention.  To that end, Botswana had instituted a wide range of administrative, policy and legislative measures aimed at improving the status of women.  They included the review of laws that discriminated against women and the enactment of gender-responsive legislation, such as the Abolition of Marital Power Act of 2004 and the Domestic Violence Act of 2008.

RARINTHIP SIRORAT, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security of Thailand, assured the Commission that her country’s Government had pursued both legal and administrative efforts to ensure that its commitments to the Beijing Platform, the Millennium Development Goals and the anti-discrimination Convention were translated into action at the national and regional levels.  At national women’s assemblies held throughout the country, women and girls from all walks of life took part in important deliberations on different themes, discussed the challenges they faced and provided suggestions and recommendations to the Government, which were then incorporated into national development measures and the national women’s development plan.  The Government had invested in training workshops and forums for all line ministries and local administrative organizations to strengthen the concept of gender equality and ensure the integration of gender perspectives into their plans, policies and practices.

ZURAIDAH AMIRUDDIN (Malaysia) said it was imperative to recognize women as potential human capital that could contribute significantly to national economic growth and development.  In recognition of women’s contribution to the development of settlement land under its special land scheme, the Government had amended the Land (Group Settlement Areas) Act in 2002 to allow wives and ex-wives to hold joint ownership of the developed land.  Eliminating violence against women was one of the Government’s priorities, she said.  To that end, it had amended the Domestic Violence Act 1994 and submitted it to Parliament last December, she said, reaffirming Malaysia’s commitment to the full realization of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the Convention and the Millennium Development Goals.

ESHAGH AL HABIB (Iran) noted that in the follow-up to the adoption of the Tehran Declaration at the third Women’s Ministerial Conference of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in December, his country had hosted an international conference titled “The Eminent Ladies of the Divine Religions”.  Iran had taken many initiatives to mainstream women’s empowerment across all political sectors, he said.  The Centre for Women and Family Affairs, together with other Government Ministries and organizations, had created a comprehensive national development plan on women and family affairs.  The Government had also instituted various measures to empower rural women, including skills training, technical aid and social insurance funds to help them access services and foster micro- and small-scale entrepreneurship.   The current employment rate among women stood at 82.7 per cent, he said.  The Vice-President for Science and Technology and the head of the National Elite Foundation were women, he said, adding that female participation in decision-making had increased remarkably.  Four women held cabinet posts and several others served as vice-ministers, he noted.

PATRIKAS SKRUDUPIS, Adviser to the Minister for Social Security and Labour of Lithuania, associated himself with the European Union and reaffirmed his country’s commitment to empowering rural women under numerous international agreements.  Women had traditionally worked hard on family farms and were strongly engaged in preserving national culture.  Growing numbers of rural women were interested in alternative careers and were active leaders in improving the quality of rural life.  New communications technologies and laws on protection against domestic violence had helped empower women, he said, noting, however, that regional disparities still existed, particularly in the development of infrastructure and in the levels of social, health and child-care services.  Actions targeting rural women would therefore continue, he said.

BADRAA DOLGOR, Senior Adviser to the Prime Minister of Mongolia, said her country had been the main sponsor of the General Assembly resolution on improving the situation of rural women.  Mongolia’s main focus in recent years had been on women’s economic empowerment through support for household development and small-and medium-sized production, she said.  For example, in 2011, the Government had allocated some $300 million as “soft loans” to small- and medium-sized businesses, 70 per cent of which were run by women.  She proposed that the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) consider allocating resources from the Gender Equality Fund to projects aimed at empowering rural women economically, including by assisting interested countries in developing microcredit funds and women’s banks.

MARIE-JOSEE BONNE, Special Adviser to the Minister for Social Development and Culture of the Seychelles, said that even though many gaps still existed, the lives of women in her country had improved considerably.  The Government was working to meet its Millennium Development Goal targets on gender equality, while nurturing younger men, as well as women, to build a better society for all.  Because of the island nation’s small size, there was no official distinction marking areas as “rural” or “urban”, and all women carried out multiple roles, she said.  While farming and agriculture were the backbone of most developing countries, the Seychelles, in contrast, imported more than 70 per cent of its food and had no exports.  Still, more than 33 per cent of households did some type of small-scale farming, which was important for reducing expenditures and improving food security.  Achieving decent employment for all had proven vital in the battle against hunger, poverty and gender inequality, she said.  To empower women, the Government worked mainly to eradicate poverty and bolster the individual capacities of both men and women so that the country could prosper, she said.

YANIRA ARGUETA (El Salvador) said her country’s Government had made significant efforts to ensure that women played a leading role in national decision-making.  The law on equality and equity and the eradication of discrimination against women focused on the needs of rural women, guaranteed their right to participate in trade unions and fostered their participation on the management boards of rural organizations.  A solidarity programme for rural communities aimed to improve living conditions through capacity-building.  Another Government-run programme offered temporary assistance, in the form of six-month cash transfers and services to improve access to the labour market, to female heads of households living in extreme poverty.  The “City Women” programme sought to improve living conditions through a range of services geared towards helping them meet their basic socio-economic needs, she said.  Some 2,140 women served on social accountability advisory boards involved in citizenship exercises and programmes and projects intended to guarantee women’s rights, she added.

SYLVIE DURRER (Switzerland) affirmed the great importance of agriculture in her country as well as the objective of creating an efficient sector that offered decent work and respected the environment.  Challenges to women included the prevailing small-farm inheritance system, which resulted in only about 5 per cent of women farmers managing their businesses, even though they were in charge of domestic, care-giving and community chores, and frequently had additional jobs outside the farm.  While much needed to be done to achieve equitable sharing of responsibilities and ensure that women’s roles were sufficiently valued, gender equality in agricultural organizations and institutions was being promoted and training courses targeted at women were being launched.  On international cooperation, she said her country supported efforts to ensure women had access to land and resources, gender-responsive budgeting and improved living conditions.

HIROKO HASHIMOTO (Japan) said that the “Basic Policy for the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Reconstruction Efforts”, adopted by her country’s Government in 2011, stipulated women’s participation in all aspects of the recovery from the devastating earthquake, and support for women’s entrepreneurial activities, including the start-up of community-based businesses in rural areas.  In recovering from the earthquake and tsunami, Japan was building an inclusive society in which actors, including women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities, participated actively while also emphasizing the promotion of gender equality.  Specifically on promoting gender equality in rural areas, the basic law on food, agriculture and rural areas stipulated that the State would promote the creation of an environment in which women’s roles in farming operations were fairly assessed and women could be provided with opportunities to become involved in farm management and other relevant activities at their own initiatives.  A gender aspect was also emphasized in the global health policy 2011-2015 and the education cooperation policy 2011-2015, announced at the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Summit in September 2010.  Last but not least, she highlighted the active role that non-governmental organizations had been playing in providing immediate assistance to the victims of the earthquake and tsunami, conducting research and symposiums, and sharing opinions with the Government.

DOROSDAY KENNETH, Director, Department of Women’s Affairs of Vanuatu, associated herself with the Pacific Islands Forum, and said that her country’s revised political action agenda for 2012-2015 — the Government’s highest policy and planning document — now reflected its commitment to gender equality and the empowerment of women.  Gender parity had been achieved in primary-school enrolment and efforts were under way to do the same at the secondary level.  The first national population and skills development policies and strategies had been developed, and they complemented the national curriculum, she said.  Rural women had access to a microcredit scheme, the “Vanwods”, which enabled them to engage in business and fulfil basic needs at home, such as children’s school fees and household equipment.

TANJA SALECL, Director, Office for Equal Opportunities of Slovenia, associated herself with the European Union and said her country had been active for almost two decades in ensuring women’s equal participation in political decision-making.  Legislation on gender quotas was effecting change, and there had been a 19 per cent rise in the number of women in the National Assembly, she said.  There were also laws targeting gender-based violence, including domestic violence, and a 2011 national study on the prevalence of such violence had been the first of its kind in the country and would be analysed to facilitate better informed decisions on actions required to ensure effective implementation of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act.  In 2011, Slovenia had signed the Council of Europe’s landmark Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, she said, adding that the national procedures for its ratification were under way.

JULIO COLONIA, Director-General, Ministry of Women, Family and Social Cohesion of Guinea-Bissau, said his Ministry and the Institute of Women and Children sought to bring about a nationwide change in mindset so as to end discrimination against women and ensure their active participation in all areas of life.  Legislation to combat HIV/AIDS, prohibit female genital mutilation, ensure care for the elderly and protect women’s reproductive rights had been enacted and a bill intended to end domestic violence was under consideration.  The Government had commissioned a study on gender-based violence, based on gender-disaggregated data.  It had also established a school canteen programme to ensure better access to education for young girls, created three regional pilot centres to give women access to justice, and mainstreamed a gender perspective into the country’s second poverty reduction strategy paper.

LIINA KANTER, Head, Gender Equality Department, Ministry of Social Affairs of Estonia, cited the steps taken to foster gender equality, such as the distribution of information materials on the Gender Equality Act and efforts to form gender-budgeting.  At the end of 2011, parliament had tasked the Government with preparing an action plan to reduce the gender pay gap and a national action plan aimed to reduce gender-based violence, she said.  A children and families development plan had been launched in December. The Government was implementing a national action plan to implement Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women and peace and security, she said, adding that Estonia had launched several bilateral development cooperation projects for women.

LUCIA ZACHARIÁŠOVÁ, Head, Gender Equality Unit, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of the Czech Republic, associated herself with the European Union.  She said that updated national measures supported training and other courses to help women find suitable work, and paid special attention to disadvantaged groups, such as women in rural areas.  A priority focus was women who had been inactive in the labour market due to the burden of caring for a child or other family members.  “Harmonization of professional and family life is crucial,” she emphasized, adding that the Government was introducing changes in criteria which would allow parents with small children to work.  She said the percentage of women facing the risk of poverty was the lowest of the European Union, at only 9.4 per cent.

POLOTU FAKAFANUA-PAUNGA (Tonga), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Pacific Islands Forum, said the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Forests and Fisheries had created a division called “Food, Women and Youth Community Development” in 2008 with the aim of supporting the development of women in their communities, notably through agricultural activities such as vegetable gardens.  Priority activities for the period 2011-2014 included building inclusive communities, improving health, ensuring environmental sustainability and enhancing measures for adaptation to climate change, among others.  Tonga remained highly dependent on foreign remittances, predominantly those from the United States, she said, noting that they were now on the decline.  To confront that challenge, Tonga planned to introduce a social protection scheme for the most vulnerable members of society.

DEB MORAN, Policy Director, Ministry of Women’s Affairs of New Zealand, said that as a member of the UN Women’s Executive Board, her Government looked forward to a year of cooperation to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment.  She said there had been a significant change in the role of many rural women over the years, with more of them becoming farm owners and managers.  Their contributions remained crucial for New Zealand’s success in agriculture as markets expanded and prices rose.  Expressing support for the efforts of rural women’s organizations to raise awareness of the challenges facing rural women and communities, she said the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process was contributing significantly to the asset base for rural Maori women.  Access to broadband telecommunications would be rolled out in rural schools and communities by 2016, she said, adding that it would revolutionize rural women’s access to health, education and welfare services, and enable them to manage large and small businesses while working and training remotely.

MAZAL RENFORD (Israel) said her country led by example in a region where women were all too often excluded, noting that Israeli women stood out in political and economic life.  The fight against poverty and hunger must begin by empowering rural women, she said, adding that if women farmers were given the same access to resources as men, yields would increase by 20 to 30 per cent, ending hunger for up to 150 million women.  Throughout the years, farmers in 147 countries had benefitted from Israeli training and capacity-building programmes in agriculture, she noted, citing programmes to give female smallholder farmers in Senegal the ability to maximize agricultural production using Israeli technology.   That successful programme had been replicated in other parts of Africa, she said, emphasizing that Israel also worked to empower rural women at home by providing employment opportunities to rural Bedouin women.

MONIKA KSIENIEWICZ, Deputy Director, Office for Equal Treatment, Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland, associated herself with the European Union.  She said the Polish Congress of Women brought together members from different backgrounds, and addressed women’s problems.  However, some challenges — including the inconsistency of insurance systems — presented barriers to starting businesses, she said, citing recent data that showed the existence of gender gaps unfavourable to women in several areas.  In the rural context, she said the demographic changes occurring in Europe, as well as the decrease in the number of women living in rural areas, were factors in the growing challenges facing them.  Indeed, wasting women’s capacity could be an important reason for limiting further socio-economic development across the European Union, she warned.

YANIRA KUPER HERRERA, Member, National Committee, Federation of Women of Cuba, said more than 150 million people around the world were going hungry, and women were the most affected.  Unquestionably there was an increasing rejection of the crisis affecting multiple sectors in various countries, she said, denouncing the commercial and financial blockade that the United States maintained against her country.  It had created restrictions and constraints that further exacerbated development challenges.  The resulting scarcity, and damage exceeding $975 billion, demanded huge efforts to ensure food security, education, health care and other social services, she said.  However, Cuba had realized substantive gains in the areas of justice and equality and aimed to pave the way for sustainable development, she said.

MIGUEL CAMILO RUIZ (Colombia) said his country’s Government was formulating a national public policy for women’s equality, drawing on inputs from organizations representing African-Colombian, indigenous, rural and urban women of various socio-economic levels.  It would be presented to the public this month.  He cited recent legislation aimed at advancing women’s rights, including the 2010 law recognizing the non-remunerative work carried out by women, a 2011 law establishing the Legal Congressional Commission for the Equity of Women to encourage women’s participation in the political process, a 2011 law that set the minimum quota for women in electoral lists at 30 per cent, and another 2011 law that created special protection for women seeking land restitution.  Colombia had achieved the second Millennium Development Goal on guaranteeing universal basic education and the fifth goal on controlling maternal mortality, he said, adding that the proportion of women in the executive and judicial branches stood at 39 per cent.

OCTAVIO ERRÁZURIZ (Chile) said his Government was striving to improve the legal framework for ending discrimination against women.  Chile was committed to ending and penalizing violence against women and protecting victims of violence through an array of laws, educational programmes, centres and shelters for victims, and telephone hotline services.  In 2011, the Government had ramped up efforts to issue land titles to female landholders and adopted new codes to improve the labour rights of female agricultural workers through the creation of worker registries, identification cards and subsidies, among other benefits.

ANASTASSIS MITSIALIS (Greece), associating himself with the European Union, said that gender mainstreaming in public policy and systematic impact assessment of new laws constituted key aspects of the Greek national programme for gender equality.  The Government encouraged rural women to develop enterprises, and its policies were aimed at allowing them unhindered access to the labour market.  Since women were more likely to be adversely affected by the global economic crisis than men, their economic empowerment had become an imperative for sustainable growth, she said.  Gender quality and the empowerment of women would be on Greece’s agenda in the framework of the Human Rights Council for the period 2013-2015, should it be elected to that body.

RAYMOND HAROLD LANDVELD (Suriname) said the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Husbandry had set up development centres throughout the country to train women in rural issues.  Meanwhile, it had established an agriculture credit fund to increase women producers’ access to credit.  The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture had helped to structure the national agricultural strategy, he said, adding that, as a result of that assistance, farmers had been able to increase production, due to the introduction of new technology in particular.  Strengthening the capacity of women’s groups was another national priority, he said, noting that some 30 such groups throughout Suriname were receiving guidance and support.

JACQUELINE LOFULO WAYELA, Secretary-General, Ministry of Gender, Family and Children of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said attitudes towards rural women were still backwards and discriminatory, and a change in mindset was needed.  Women worked 75 per cent of the land, but did not have the right to own it.  The Government had implemented several programmes to empower women, she said, adding that the national gender policy aimed to reduce the time and drudgery of women’s tasks, increase their agricultural yield and productivity, and promote their economic empowerment.  There was a national strategy to end gender-based violence and another for combating maternal and child mortality.  The Government had created several mechanisms to implement the national gender policy, including a strategic unit for gender planning, a microcredit institution and a national fund for rural agricultural development, she said.

MOHAMMAD ERFANI AYOOB (Afghanistan) said the battle to empower rural women economically and fully realize their rights was far from won in her country.  The Government had ratified the Women’s Convention, adopted six critical gender targets in health, education, employment, political participation and access to justice, adopted gender equality as a cross-cutting national strategy and mainstreamed gender into subnational governance policy.  It had also adopted a 10‑year plan of action for Afghan women around six priority areas: security; legal protection and human rights; leadership and political participation; economy, work and poverty; health; and education.  The Ministry had mainstreamed gender into priority Government programmes adopted at the 20 July Kabul Conference, she said, adding that it had also mobilized support for a $29.7 million programme to develop the capacity to implement the national action plan for women.

WILFRIED I. EMVULA (Namibia) said the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare had launched the Namibian chapter of the African Women’s Decade in 2011, under the theme “Grass-roots Approaches to Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment”.  The theme corresponded with the fourth national development plan’s aim to expand economic growth and reduce income inequality and extreme poverty.  The Decade had revived the national gender agenda with a focus on the rise in gender-based violence, teenage pregnancy, unemployment among young women, maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS among young girls and the drop in female representation in politics and decision-making.  The Government had also set up the Women in Business Association, a project in line with the Women’s Economic Empowerment initiative of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

GRÉTA GUNNARSDÓTTIR (Iceland) expressed concern over the number of remaining reservations to the Women’s Convention, and called upon the States that had lodged the reservations to withdraw them as they were incompatible with the treaty’s mission.  For the first time, Iceland was led by a woman Prime Minister and had successfully incorporated gender-based budgeting, she noted.  To realize the potential of rural women, they must be afforded full and equal rights to own and lease land, and have equal rights to inheritance and financial services.  They also needed access to education and heath facilities, she added, noting that investing in women’s health included sexual and reductive health.  The ability of women to control their own fertility was fundamental to women’s empowerment and equality, she emphasized.

THOMAS LAMBERT (Belgium) said his country had taken significant steps towards improving the gender balance in a wide range of executive functions.  In 2011, the federal parliament had adopted a law introducing quotas on the presence of women on the executive boards of companies.  That law required companies to allot one of three board seats to a woman.  As in many European countries, one of Belgium’s key challenges remained the wage gap between men and women, he said, noting that even though the majority of university students were girls, women still earned less than men.  The Government’s fourth action plan on combating violence between partners and other forms of domestic violence had recently widened its scope to cover explicitly new kinds of domestic violence such as sham marriages, honour crimes and female genital mutilation.

MADINA JARBUSSYNOVA (Kazakhstan) said her country’s Government had taken steps to close the rural-urban economic gap and to combat underdevelopment in rural areas.  Those steps focused on sustainable economic development, poverty reduction and the modernization of rural areas.  The Government had also taken concrete measures to ensure women’s and girls’ access to education and health care, and to their participation in decision-making.  To give rural women better access to health care, the Government had established a network of 150 medical centres and created 20 medical diagnostic trains, or “mobile clinics”.  It had also purchased 16 helicopters equipped with health-care and life-saving support services to reach remote areas.  The Government had recruited more than 12,000 doctors, teachers and other professionals to work in rural areas through a range of financial and social service incentives.  It had invested $9 million in 2011 to implement the 2009-2015 women’s entrepreneurship programme.  Through a national microcredit programme, the Government had loaned $120 million to rural citizens over the last five years, one third of whom were women.

JOSEPH GODDARD (Barbados) said that a recently concluded country assessment of living standards, the results of which had been submitted for parliament’s attention, would be used to determine the types of interventions needed to alleviate poverty.  On empowerment, he said the Bureau of Gender Affairs and the Adviser on Poverty Alleviation and the Millennium Development Goals had joined forces to resuscitate the Women Entrepreneurs of Barbados — a group of women involved in fledgling micro business — in order to develop their entrepreneurial and managerial skills through training and marketing opportunities.  As for domestic violence, the Government maintained a no-tolerance stance and provided support for public education programmes to raise awareness of the causes and consequences of gender-based violence.  The Government continued to provide financial support to the Business and Professional Women of Barbados, a non-governmental organization that managed the domestic violence crisis hotline and shelter for battered women.  Recognizing that the Caribbean region was affected by the global scourge of human trafficking, to which women were particularly vulnerable, he said national efforts to tackle that challenge included the passage of legislation that identified human trafficking as an offence.

JOSÉ ANTONIO DOS SANTOS (Paraguay), associating himself with the Group of 77, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), said his country had brought about a “paradigm shift” in its national gender policy.  Its achievements were largely a result of the strategic targeting of sectors that had traditionally been made “invisible”, including by focusing on domestic work, countryside employment and artisanal work.  Government policies also focused on the professionalization of women and on their access to services.  A “women’s SOS” telephone line had been established and operated 24 hours per day, he said.  As it was essential that national mechanisms be incisive and aimed at rural women in particular, Paraguay had called upon the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to provide guidance on the basis of its experience in the region, he said.

CHRISTOPHER GRIMA (Malta), associating himself with the European Union, said his country was committed to combating discriminatory treatment in order to empower women and enhance their participation in the economic and social spheres.  Malta endorsed gender mainstreaming and the promotion of gender equality in all policies and measures as a means to address the different circumstances and needs of men and women in various settings.  Through the efforts of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality, the Government was working with the relevant stakeholders to produce the tools to safeguard and promote gender equality by providing training and highlighting good practices to enhance the implementation of that principle.  Various initiatives had been undertaken to assist women and encourage their participation in areas where they were underrepresented, he said, citing one such initiative that raised awareness of the need for gender equality in employment through the “Equality Mark” certification given to employers who fostered equal opportunities in their businesses.

GRIGORY Y. LUKIYANTSEV(Russian Federation) said his country’s national development policy took into account the principles and goals set forth in the Women’s Convention and the Beijing Declaration.  Russian women, including those living in rural areas, were highly active in economic life and the State was creating certain conditions to advance their empowerment.  He pointed to a federal law on rural development and targeted programmes for socio-economic development that included strategies for empowering women.  Many measures had been adopted in the past five years to support farms and rural businesses, he noted.  They had led to higher living standards in rural areas and lower unemployment, including among women.  Women were highly involved in civil society organizations, especially in rural areas, he said, noting that three key Government ministries were headed by women.  Expressing support for UN-Women, he said all regions deserved its attention, but not every one of them needed a separate office.  The United Nations must be wise about where it constructed such offices, he added.

STEFAN BARRIGA (Liechtenstein) noted that in order to increase women’s economic empowerment and independence, the Liechtenstein Development Agency supported projects such as the Lupane Women’s Centre for sustainable livelihoods for rural women in Zimbabwe.  The Centre raised half its annual budget from its own earnings and helped rural women to get an income, support their families and reduce their dependence on the subsistence economy, including basket manufacturing, goat breeding or vegetable gardens.  Ending discrimination and violence against women remained a priority for Liechtenstein, he said, pointing out that rural women were particularly vulnerable.  They needed to participate fully in decision-making at all levels and in all contexts, unlike their current marginalization from the political sphere, particularly at the national level.

KANYA KHAMMOUNGKHOUN (Lao People’s Democratic Republic), associating himself with the Group of 77, said his country had made significant progress in promoting and ensuring the rights of Lao women in all areas.  Recalling that the national legislature had adopted the law on the development and protection of women in 2004, he said the Lao Women’s Union and the Lao National Commission for the Advancement of Women had been working actively to draw up national strategies and plans of action for the mainstreaming of gender issues into all sectors, and to ensure full implementation at all levels.  The percentage of women holding high-ranking positions in Government organizations was increasing, he said, adding that women now accounted for 25 per cent of the total 115 members of the legislature.

HELEN BECK (Solomon Islands), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Pacific Islands Forum, said 85 per cent of her country’s population lived in rural areas.  Institutional mechanisms were being put in place with a view to developing a holistic approach to the country’s complex challenges.  Violence against women had increased and was now a major concern, as were unemployment and other challenges that placed additional pressure on women.  Climate change and natural disasters represented a survival challenge, as the frequency of natural disasters had risen and there was increased tension over land and resources.  She urged, in that respect, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions so as to stabilize global temperatures and protect the livelihoods of women, who were particularly affected.

ARAYA DESTA (Eritrea) said his Government’s macroeconomic policy aimed to ensure equitable participation by all social sectors in nation-building, with a special focus on improving social services in rural communities, which had been marginalized historically.  Women were the main targets of that strategy, he said, adding that a major concern was improving the health of women and children while increasing the amount of time they spent in school and on economic opportunities, and reducing the time they spent on domestic tasks.  The Government had succeeded in reducing maternal mortality in villages, he said.  Since 80 per cent of all village births occurred without the presence of a physician or trained midwife, the Ministry of Health, in partnership with local administrators and the National Union of Eritrean Women, had conducted aggressive training in traditional midwifery skills in order to better prepare them for difficult labour.  The Government had also banned female genital mutilation, he said, adding that it had been building rural schools — in addition to having introduced more than 100 mobile schools — to increase the enrolment of girls, which remained low in the higher grades due to early marriage and other family responsibilities.  The introduction of wood-saving in many village houses had cut the time that women spent on fetching firewood and reduced domestic environmental hazards, he said.

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