Despite Notable Success in Levelling Gender Playing Field, Speakers in Women’s Commission Urge Stand-Alone Goal in New Development Framework

17 March 2014
Fifty-eighth Session, 10th & 11th Meetings (AM & PM)

Despite Notable Success in Levelling Gender Playing Field, Speakers in Women’s Commission Urge Stand-Alone Goal in New Development Framework

More than 50 Delegations from United Nations System, Economic Commissions, Regional Coalitions, Civil Society Participate in Debate

While attempts to level the gender playing field had already resulted in more robust development gains in the past decade, that element must be central to the post-2015 agenda, the Commission on the Status of Women heard today, as some 60 speakers took the floor, including several Ministers who detailed their countries’ successes and the challenges.

When women participated fully in political, economic and social decisions, they could be a driving force for progress, said Venezuela’s Vice-Minister in the Ministry for Women and Gender Equality.  Echoing a common call, she supported a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the post-2015 development agenda.  Like many other speakers, she highlighted domestic achievements before underlining concerns over remaining challenges, including addressing gender-based violence and the “de-feminization” of poverty.

Several speakers described successes, including greater recognition of gender as a cross-cutting theme in their government policies and programmes.  Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister for State of the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development said national progress had been made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls and legislation had been strengthened to better secure their well-being.  Yet, challenges persisted, including domestic violence, constrained access to leadership posts and insufficient child-care solutions that inhibited women’s participation in the formal workplace.

There were calls to establish a more enabling legislative and policy framework to address the challenges; where that had been done, women’s participation in politics, for example, had increased.  India’s Additional Secretary for the Ministry of Women and Child Development said her country’s annual union budget contained a gender budget statement and, today, 1.5 million elected women representatives in local bodies were taking decisions on education, health and community development.

Broadly summing up the debate, Germany’s speaker said ending gender-based discrimination and inequality was not only an important development goal in itself, but would contribute significantly to poverty reduction, improved livelihoods and a more inclusive and sustainable development.

Also delivering statements were representatives of the United Republic of Tanzania, Namibia, Panama, El Salvador, Mauritius, Uruguay, Syria, Viet Nam, Swaziland, Estonia, Croatia, Singapore, Belgium, Myanmar, Fiji, Qatar, Tuvalu, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Montenegro, Libya, Ecuador, Botswana, Gabon, Maldives, Nepal, Timor-Leste, Colombia, Belarus, Algeria, Chile, China, Saudi Arabia, Honduras, Iraq, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Solomon Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Liechtenstein and Ukraine.

Also delivering statements were representatives of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Additional interventions were made by the Permanent Observer of the Holy See, as well as representatives of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Sovereign Military Older of Malta, African Union and the League of Arab States.

Representatives of the Association of Economic and Social Councils and Similar Institutions, International Olympic Committee and Amnesty International also spoke.

Delegates from Qatar, Japan, China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Syria spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 18 March, to continue its fifty-eighth session.


The Commission on the Status of Women met today to continue its fifty-eighth session.


SOFIA SIMBA, Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children of the United Republic of Tanzania, said her country had achieved gender parity in primary and secondary education, while women’s participation in Parliament had reached 8 per cent for elected Members, while 50 per cent were nominated.  Women were heavily employed in the agriculture and the service sector at low pay.  “The issue of empowering women through employment is still a challenge,” she said. While there had been significant progress in reducing both the under-five and infant mortality rates, children were still dying from preventable diseases, such as malaria and diarrhoea.  Reducing maternal mortality had progressed at a slow pace.  As for reducing HIV/AIDS, progress had been sluggish in reducing HIV prevalence among youth aged 15 to 24 years.

ERASTUS NEGONGA, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare of Namibia, said her country was set to achieve all targets related to primary education within the agreed timeline, noting a “tremendous” expansion in school enrolment, with girls outnumbering boys.  In terms of combating HIV/AIDS all public hospitals provided anti-retroviral therapy under the Government roll-out scheme, while treatments to prevent mother-to-child transmission were also available and accessible in all health centres.  To combat violence against women and children, which was on the rise, Namibia had developed a national gender-based violence plan of action, focused on prevention and improved responses.

MARKELDA MONTENEGRO DE HERRERA (Panama) said her country had implemented new laws to tackle inequality, trafficking and femicide, and policies and sectoral programmes had also been established, broadening access to health services and education.  A new strategic plan on fighting child labour had been adopted, while local networks to prevent violence against women had made inroads, as had efforts to eliminate discriminatory practices.  The under-five mortality rates had also decreased.  She welcomed support for ongoing efforts.

ANGELICA CUADRA, Director for International Affairs and International Cooperation of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs of El Salvador, said the status of women had improved in her country, with poverty reduction policies and programmes now including a gender perspective and a focus on rural and urban women and vulnerable groups, including the elderly and single mothers.  Decreases in child and maternal mortality rates were a result of related policies.  Yet, much remained to be done, and she appealed to the Commission to advocate for the inclusion of a gender perspective in the post-2015 agenda.

MARIELLE MARTIN (Mauritius) noted both efforts and gains in her country to eradication extreme poverty, by, among others, including meals in schools for children and support for day-care centres.  A “back to work” programme for women also helped them find jobs.  Gains in education were a result of governmental support through policies and other measures.  She hoped those would continue to improve the situation of women in Mauritius.

ISABEL YEKUANA MARTINEZ LÓPEZ, Vice-Minister, Ministry of Women and Gender Equality of Venezuela, said the “de-feminization” of poverty was a great concern, noting that women’s full participation in political, economic and social decisions could render them a driving force in that regard.  Spotlighting progress, she said that 52 per cent of women had finished secondary school, and specialized courts had been created to prosecute perpetrators of crimes against women.  Internationally, she reaffirmed her country’s support for the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, among other instruments.  Recalling that women had suffered negative effects from the global economic crisis, she supported a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the post-2015 development agenda, as well as work to eradicate gender-based violence.

RAZIAH AHMED, Minister of State, Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development of Trinidad and Tobago, said the country’s national policy framework, which outlined seven interconnected pillars for sustainable development, recognized gender equality as a cross-cutting theme.  As such, her ministry was charged with promoting gender equality within the context of sustainable development, she said, noting that progress had been made towards achieving the Millennium Goals for women and girls.  Legislation had been strengthened to better secure the well-being of women and girls.  Among the challenges were insufficient child-care solutions, which limited women’s ability to access job and education opportunities; domestic violence; women’s constrained access to leadership positions; and social norms that favoured men.

PREETI SUDAN, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development of India, said her country had an enabling legislative and policy framework for women’s advancement, noting that the annual union budget contained a gender-budget statement.  Today, 1.5 million elected women representatives in local bodies were taking decisions on education, health and community development, among other issues. In education, the focus was on improving quality and access for girls and women, while in the area of health, the focus was on neo- and post-natal care, which had led to a substantial decline in infant and maternal mortality rates.  To strengthen rural women’s skills, the Government encouraged self-help groups.  India had amended its criminal law to broaden the definition of sexual assault and harassment, a supplemental measure to a legislative framework that addressed crimes of trafficking, domestic violence and workplace harassment.

BEATRIZ RAMIRÉZ, Director of the National Institute of Women of Uruguay, said the Commission’s current session had the important task of assessing progress in the 2015 development goals and beyond.  Negotiating a post-2015 agenda must go hand in hand with advancing the rights of women and girls nationally.  Her country had adopted laws and policies to address those issues, as well as the 2015 Millennium Development Goals.  Those gains included more jobs for women, comprehensive health and reproductive care, and reduced maternal mortality.  Yet, more needed to be done, she said, emphasizing that the post-2015 agenda must include priority targets,  such as eliminating gender-based violence.

INSSAD HAMAD, Chair of the Commission for Family Affairs for Syria, said her country believed in setting a priority for women in the context of development.  Syria was proud to be among the pioneering countries spearheading laws that recognized equality between men and women.  The country had achieved much towards attaining the Millennium Goals, including in food security, education and employment.  Women received equal salary to men in Government positions, and in terms of health, child mortality had been reduced.  However, he warned, armed terrorists had threatened the country and its people.

VU NGOC THUY, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Gender Equality of Viet Nam, said the current session was an opportunity to reflect on gains and identify future challenges.  Gender equality was a major goal, as evident in the domestic laws and policies adopted over the years to address gender-based violence, ensure equality, protect pregnant workers and prevent discrimination.  As a result, progress had been made in political participation, labour, education and health care.  Viet Nam had reached Goal 3 ahead of schedule.  Yet, challenges remained, as violence against women and girls persisted as did a gender gap in income.

GIDEON GWEBU (Swaziland) reported that his country had experienced a reduction in the poverty rate from 69 per cent in 2000 to 63 per cent in 2010.  Its Poverty Reduction Strategy and Action Programme was the major framework and guide for the implementation of activities geared towards reducing its prevalence.  The country also recognized that access to free primary education in public schools was a constitutional right through the Free Primary Education Act.  As such, the enrolment rate was now at 97 per cent for primary school education.  Swaziland was committed to promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment and efforts were under way to increase their political participation.  However, the country continued to experience a high incidence of violence against women and girls, which was an issue of ongoing concern.

MARGUS KOLGA (Estonia) said significant contributions by Governments, businesses and non-governmental organizations were needed in order to meet the internationally agreed goals.  There would no sustainable future without education for all, and Estonia would work towards that end, including in the area of higher education.  It had a comprehensive plan for reducing domestic violence, violence against minors and violence against women and children.  There were also guidelines for the development of criminal policy, requiring the country to have a sufficient number of shelters for trafficking victims.  Cooperation was needed at the international level, as were progress indicators.  He supported the call for a stand-alone goal on gender equality in the post-2015 agenda.

Vladimir Drobnjak (Croatia), associating himself with the European Union, and said that ongoing efforts to meet and achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 sent a clear message:  “Women are agents of development”.  Equality for women was a vital engine of economic and social development; it was not possible to achieve the development goals without a strengthened focus on women’s empowerment.  He was convinced that education was the most effective approach to address adolescent pregnancy in an effective, empowering and sustainable way.  Education also contributed to better health and boosted economic gains.  In Croatia, inequality between men and women was a violation of fundamental human rights, and the National Policy for Gender Equality integrated gender equality into all policy areas.

KAREN TAN (Singapore), associating herself with the Group of 77 developing countries and China, as well as the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and said that inequality and the inability to recognize the intrinsic value of women and girls manifested itself in the marginalization of women and their continued exploitation, objectification and exclusion from the formal economy.  Women still held fewer salaried jobs, received lower wages for their work and were disproportionately underrepresented among policy officials.  It was important that the post-2015 development agenda reflect the issue of gender equality and women’s empowerment in a holistic manner.  The goals, targets and indicators should be universally applicable, flexible and forward-looking, but grounded in reality.  While the development agenda presented the world with unparalleled opportunities, every country must chart its own path in the process.

BÉNÉDICTE FRANKINET (Belgium) said eradicating discrimination against women required a strong political commitment to integrate gender into all policies.  Pledges must be strengthened vis-à-vis the Women’s Convention and Beijing Programme of Action.  Supporting a stand-alone goal for gender equality and women’s empowerment in the coming development agenda, she said such a target must address the structural causes of gender-based discrimination.  Seven out of 10 women claim to have been a victim of sexual violence at some point in their lives.  Actions should seek to eradicate the fear of violence in the public and private spheres, requiring a change in discriminatory perceptions and attitudes.  Further, women must have access to health care and enjoy sexual and reproductive rights, as well as education.  Equal access to land was also crucial, as was work and fair income, to enable women to become real economic stakeholders.

U KYAW TIN (Myanmar), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China and ASEAN, said that Myanmar would spare no effort to work together with the international community in pursuit of gender equality and women’s empowerment.  The country’s recent reform measures embracing democratic values, and the emergence of a viable legislature had created an even more conducive environment for the protection of women and girls.  Gender-based violence was strictly prohibited by both culture and law, while strong legal action was taken against all perpetrators.  Myanmar had also undertaken serious efforts to combat human trafficking, which threatened the security of women and children both at the regional and national levels.  Year after year, women’s participation in government had also continued to increase in Myanmar.

CHRISTOPHER GRIMA (Malta) said various national measures had been taken to promote gender equality in the social, political and economic spheres, and the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality played a key role in that regard.  Education included training for teachers and students on equal treatment, while health policies safeguarded gender equality through the provision of services that addressed women’s particular needs, such as free breast screening.  Sustainable development goals on gender equality should ensure that all women and girls had access to health care, including for their sexual and reproductive needs.  Any such proposal in the post-2015 agenda should not create an obligation to consider abortion as a legitimate form of reproductive health, rights, services or commodities.

PETER THOMSON (Fiji) said his country had produced two national Millennium Development Goals reports, with the most recent in 2010 highlighting the need to focus on women’s and girls’ issues, who were disproportionately affected by poverty, non-communicable diseases, and the challenges of living in informal settlements.  The new Constitution, promulgated last year, protected a range of civil political and economic rights, while the 2014 budget had accounted for free education, as well as social service benefits for poor families.  In addition, work was being done ahead of elections later this year to ensure that women in politics was more balanced, which could be achieved over time. Finally, Fiji had launched its first national gender policy on 6 March to help mainstream gender-related across all sectors of the economy.

ALYA AHMED SAIF AL-THANI (Qatar) underscored the important of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) in the area of gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Women faced significant challenges such as poverty, discrimination, a lack of equal opportunities and violence.  She voiced concern at the situation of women in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, where they had been negatively affected by movement restrictions and settlements building.  The Syrian crisis had had a pernicious impact on women, who were subjected to rape, sexual violence and torture, as well as to psychological abuse.  Nationally, she noted a policy that aimed to build women’s capacity, also highlighting a women’s empowerment conference, which would be held in April.

AUNESE MAKOI SIMATI (Tuvalu) said his Government continued to pursue the unattained Millennium Development Goal targets on women and children, noting that gender had been integrated into all sustainable development targets.  Tuvalu had also adapted the Beijing Programme of Action to the local context, to ensure national ownership.  Citing gains, he said more women were in full-time employment in both the Government and the private sector.  Challenges included finding productive opportunities for those below the poverty line.  Limited access to technology had prevented many of them from the benefits of information and communication technologies, and the Government encouraged their training in the “basics”.  The Government had “zero tolerance” towards violence against women under the family domestic violence bill, as well as the police powers act and the 2014 national gender policy.

PALITHA KAHONA (Sri Lanka) said the Government had enacted policies and laws to combat gender-based violence, eliminate discrimination, and provide education and skills training to women.  It continued to help ensure women’s access to decision-making at all levels.  More broadly, Sri Lanka was supporting the elaboration of a stand-alone goal in the Open Ended Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals.  The country had been one of the first in the world to have elected a female Prime Minister, in 1960, and at one point, both the President and Prime Minister were women.  The Government was on track to achieve the Millennium Goals related to child mortality, maternal health and HIV/AIDS.  Gender equality would be a cross-cutting theme in World Conference on Youth, to be held in Colombo, in May, he added.

ABULKALAM ABDUL MOMEN (Bangladesh) said his Government had integrated the Millennium Goals into broader economic and social development policies.  It had achieved or was on track to achieve most of the Goals within the deadline.  Commendable gains had been made in the area of education, with a 99.5 per cent net enrolment rate.  The national policy for women’s advancement had led to greater women’s involvement in national development, and it contained targets to ensure women’s participation “in all walks of life”, he said, noting that Bangladesh was among the few countries that had had a female leader for more than two decades.  Additionally, midwife training and free immunization had helped to achieve health-related Goals, including a reduction in the mortality rate for children under age 5.  “The smart way to achieve development is to ensure the rightful place of women in society,” he said.

MILORAD ŠĆEPANOVIĆ (Montenegro) called for a reflection of the gains made in the final lead-up to the Millennium Development Goals’ deadline.  Since 2006, his Government had been dedicated to women’s empowerment and the full implementation of relevant instruments aimed at protecting and ensuring their rights.  Montenegro had also worked towards gender equality across a range of fields, including the business and education sectors.  Despite positive trends in political participation and employment, challenges remained, including domestic violence.  A new action plan would seek to address that and other problems, while the post-2015 agenda should include a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

IBRAHIM DABBASHI (Libya) said women’s empowerment was indispensable to achieving prosperity and development in any society.  Women faced several challenges associated with human rights violations.  Overcoming them required international efforts.  In Montenegro, authorities were keen to comply with their commitments to the Goals, which had become part of national development plans and strategies.  Libyan women had a voice in Parliament, ministries and decision-making, and already had assisted in making several decisions on issues concerning sexual violence.

VERONICA BUSTAMANTE (Ecuador) said her country had made gains, citing its 2008 Constitution, which, among other things, addressed issues of women and other vulnerable groups.  She regretted that no agreement had been made on indigenous women at the Commission’s fifty-sixth session in 2012.  For its part, Ecuador had made progress in several areas.  For instance, the national plan for protecting women from violence included a new organic code that recognized femicide as a crime.  In addition, women held positions in the National Assembly and in various ministries.

CHARLES THEMBANI NTWAAGAE (Botswana) said significant progress had been achieved in mainstreaming gender into national policies and programmes, as well as into 50 per cent of the ministries.  Mainstreaming training also had recently been completed.  In the 2013-2014 financial year, substantial resources had been allocated for women’s economic empowerment, specifically to support income generation, an eight-fold increase over the 2010-2011 allocation.  A multi-sectoral response to gender-based violence included intensified efforts to address the root causes. Finally, the Government had initiated gender-responsive and equitable access to primary health care, including to sexual and reproductive services.

MARIANNE BIBALOU (Gabon) said gender equality and women’s empowerment was both a human and sustainable development issue, stressing that her Government was committed to implementing the Women’s Convention and Beijing Platform for Action.  Gabon sought to provide quality education for both genders, reduce maternal mortality and ensure women’s participation in decision-making.  The national social assistance fund took into account a gender perspective.  On education, equal representation between girls and boys was “a given” in Gabon, and there was 100 per cent parity in primary school.  As for economic empowerment, a grant strengthened rural and urban women in agricultural and animal husbandry sectors, while a micro-credit system supported female entrepreneurship.

JEFFREY SALIM WAHEED (Maldives) said that while global norms and standards had come a long way, renewed and extra efforts were needed to extend the reach of successes.  One in three women faced violent abuse in the Maldives, for which the Government had ratified an act, and opened a hotline and safe houses to address the issue.  Two bills on sexual harassment were now in Parliament, and gender equity was a standard, as was equal pay.  Hurdles, such as discrimination, must be overcome, and it was crucial that the post-2015 framework addressed those key issues.  Since the journey for those gains was more of a marathon than a sprint, gender mainstreaming across sectors had been implemented.  Lessons must be learned to further the gains.

Right of Reply

The representative of Syria, exercising the right of reply, responded to Qatar’s delegate by saying there were women and girls in Syria that had committed suicide for fear of facing terrorist funding by Qatar.  The Syrian people wanted Qatar to desist from intervening in internal affairs and from supporting terrorism.  She said she was worried about workers in Qatar who lived in conditions of slavery and who were deprived of their basic human rights.


DINESH HARI ADHIKARI, Principal Secretary, Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare of Nepal, said inclusive policy measures aimed at bringing women to the fore of development had helped to reduce poverty, structural gaps and inequalities, as well as promote gender equality.  The increased ratio of girls to boys in primary school was a significant achievement.  The Government was committed to enhancing women’s role in development from a human rights perspective, as a party to seven core international human rights instruments, including the Convention.  It also was committed to eliminating gender-based violence and exclusion.

SOFIA BORGES (Timor-Leste) said her country had made great strides in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  She discussed the country’s gender entity, which worked to raise awareness of gender equality, while working groups, created in 2011, were responsive for gender-responsive budgeting.  Female representation at the village council level was only at 28 per cent, with only 2 per cent female village chiefs.  The Ministry of Education had redefined the basic education target to ensure boys and girls would complete nine years of education.  On the health front, Timor-Leste was on track to meet the Millennium Goal on maternal mortality, she said, noting success also in meeting the Goal on HIV/AIDS.  On violence against women, she drew attention to women and girls in conflict, stressing the importance of women in building peaceful societies.

NIGERIA RENTERA, Presidential High Commissioner for Gender Equality, Colombia, firmly supported the Beijing Platform for Action.  Today, women and girls in Colombia had greater opportunities than 20 years ago.  However, violence against women, extreme poverty, external displacement due to conflict, and teen pregnancy were still problematic.  Colombia had a national public policy for gender equality in peacebuilding.  The President had appointed her and one other woman to negotiate with the Revolutionary Arms Forces of Colombia as part of the peace process.  Congressional elections had been held last Sunday, with women winning 22 per cent of the Senate seats, up 6 per cent from the previous term.  A law for unpaid work and land laws favoured women’s rights.  Improving women’s living conditions required special attention to indigenous, elderly, lesbians and other vulnerable women.  Gender must be mainstreamed as a stand-alone goal for the post-2015 agenda.  She called for progress in ending violence against women, strengthening their reproductive and sexual rights, closing the pay gap and promoting their role in the workplace.

IRINA VELICHKO, Deputy Head of the Department for the Global Politics and Humanitarian Cooperation, General Department of Multilateral Diplomacy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Belarus, pointed to a national mechanism for gender equality policies.  The country’s fourth national action plan for gender equality was currently in force, and Belarus had taken steps to improve sex disaggregated data.  Most legislative acts were gender-neutral, and the country was a leader in terms of women’s higher education.  There also was an increase in the number of girls in military training facilities.  In April 2014, there would be a law on preventing domestic violence.  Women were involved in social movements, comprising more than half of their members, and there were specialized projects to promote women’s literacy.  Women comprised 30 per cent of Belarus’ parliamentarians.  For 2015, it was key to encourage Member States to strengthen the family institution.

SABRI BOUKADOUM (Algeria) said poverty eradication remained the biggest challenge for developing countries, and achieving inclusive and equitable economic growth for all meant prioritizing women and girls.  Women’s empowerment and their full participation in all spheres of society were essential to achieving gender equality.  Algeria had based policies and programmes on that aim, with gains seen in education, employment, judicial and other fields.  Reforms had increased the number of women elected to Parliament from 8 to 31 per cent between 2007 and 2012.  The Commission’s current session provided an excellent opportunity to take stock of achievements and identify challenges and gaps.

OCTAVO ERRÁZURIZ (Chile) said his country, through President Michelle Bachelet, was strengthening efforts for women’s empowerment, including in education and employment.  Now, it was important to build on achievements, he said, highlighting regional efforts.  It was also crucial to mainstream gender into all future sustainable development goals.  Chile, for its part, was joining the international community to eliminate discrimination against women, he said, adding his hope that their dignity would be respected.

WANG MIN (China) said no efforts should be spared to implement the Millennium Goals for women and girls.  Progress was slow on promoting women’s employment and reducing maternal mortality, and the international community should mobilize all available resources towards addressing those issues.  China supported a stand-alone women’s goal in the post-2015 agenda, with a focus on economic development and poverty alleviation.  A focus on increased technical assistance to developing countries was also needed and UN-Women could play a bigger role in that regard.  Japan had taken “comfort” women from China and other countries during the Second World War, and some survived today, but with psychological trauma.  Contrary to human rights mechanisms, Japan had refused to compensate the victims.  Women’s groups should urge that country to make official apologies to the victims.

ABDULMOHSEN ALYAS (Saudi Arabia) reaffirmed his country’s efforts to enhance the lives of women and girls, noting that laws had been enacted to guarantee women’s rights.  Other measures strengthened the role of family, education and health.  Saudi Arabia had achieved many of the Millennium Goals, while others would be fulfilled by 2015.  It had enacted a law prohibiting violence against vulnerable groups, especially women, and in 2010, had passed a family safety law, which supported awareness of children’s rights.  He hailed the important role of Saudi women, noting the passage of several other laws to strengthen their participation in political and public life, which he said had been effective.  Other programmes were aimed at reducing maternal mortality, one of which provided tetanus vaccinations to pregnant women.  Syrian women continued to suffer under the Syrian regime’s atrocities and he called for international action to prevent such inhuman practices and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

HEIKO THOMS (Germany) said the concept of equal rights was the key principle of his country’s policies.  Ending gender-based discrimination and inequality was not only an important development goal in itself, but would significantly contribute to poverty reduction, improved livelihoods and a more inclusive and sustainable development.  Germany supported a post-2015 agenda that focused on promoting women’s voices, leadership, participation, economic opportunities and equal access to services and resources.  A future agenda should also aim at preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls, as well as strengthening their human rights through laws, regulations and policies.

EVGENY ZAGAYNOV (Russian Federation) said the Commission would remain the key body for addressing women’s rights.  The Secretary-General’s report on the theme of the Commission’s current session had underlined concerns, including combating hunger and improving access to reproductive resources.  Shortcomings could be corrected by prioritizing the global gender agenda in the post-2015 era.  However, when drafting the sustainable development goals, there were no blanket solutions and each State had to devise and implement their own strategies and programmes.  In his country, women played an important part of society, he added.

DULCE SÁNCHEZ (Honduras) said human rights and equality were not dreams, but the duty of every nation.  Progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals had been slow, so efforts must be stepped up.  In her country, there were more women in the workplace, yet gaps remained.  The net primary education rate had improved, however enhanced coverage was needed for vulnerable groups, she said, noting that only one quarter of indigenous girls finished primary school.  Other gains included mainstreaming women in the labour market and political areas.

SHLAIR HAMEED (Iraq) said her Government respected all international human rights conventions and had acceded to the Women’s Convention.  It had outlined national strategies and policies to support women, including the law against domestic violence.  A civil department and welcome centres also had been created.  Priority areas included women’s health, education, economic empowerment, political participation and a role in decision-making.  Women’s institutions also were important.  Detailing other efforts, she noted that, on 6 February, Iraq had adopted an action plan to meet women’s needs.  The Constitution’s article 49 focused on women’s representation in the Chamber of Deputies, while a ban on women’s unaccompanied movement had been lifted in 2004.  With that, she urged the international community to support her Government combat terrorism.

KIM SONG (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) said his Government had taken an “historical” measure by promulgating the gender equality law, which allowed women to enjoy full participation in economic and social life.  It had undertaken efforts to discharge its international obligation to promote women’s rights through implementation of the Women’s Convention and would continue to do so.  With that, he drew attention to comfort women taken by the Japanese army, saying Japan had committed a crime by abducting women and making them sex slaves during its military occupation of Korea.  Noting calls for Japan to apologize, compensate victims and punish the perpetrators, he said that country should understand it would have no future as long as it attempted to distort history and evade its responsibility.

HELEN BECK (Solomon Islands) said that climate change was increasing the vulnerability of its people, triggering more natural disasters, which imposed huge economic and financial costs on its infrastructure.  The stress on its populations caused by insecurity over food, water and livelihoods was among the root causes of violence against women and girls.  People in her country were being relocated from low-lying islands, as sea levels rose and ocean acidification continued to claim land and threaten livelihoods.  Women’s productivity and contribution were continuously affected, she said, stressing the need for a global mechanism that guaranteed survival and gave hope to all with disabilities.  Women’s well-being was of deep concern to Pacific small-island developing States, as it was them to whom children and families turned in times of crisis.  Also worrisome was that the focus of the United Nations Disaster Risk Management ignored the slow onset of climate change, which had a more disempowering effect.

GLENTIS THOMAS (Antigua and Barbuda) said the UN-Women regional office for the Caribbean had helped her Government develop a national strategic action plan to end gender-based violence.  The country had instituted several social assistance programmes for women and other specialized groups that included tax breaks on basic goods.  The introduction of vouchers for school uniforms, as well as a national school meals programme had led to a 28.5 per cent increase in school registration.  The percentage of women occupying seats in Parliament had increased by 13.9 per cent; the aim was for women to hold 30 per cent of all seats.  Women held 75 per cent of the most senior public service posts.  Antigua and Barbuda had achieved its maternal health goals thanks to free access to health care, including to pre- and post-natal care, flexible hours for expectant mothers and nutrition classes for first-time mothers.  Child mortality had decreased.  Despite an increase in public education campaigns, interventions targeting young women, free anti-retroviral therapy for all and an increase in voluntary counselling, the HIV/AIDS epidemic continued to shift to younger populations.  The Government had increased condom distribution for the 15-24 age group.

SAHAK SARGSYAN (Armenia) said full implementation of the Millennium Goals was a prerequisite for achieving gender equality, and he called on States to work towards consensus in adopting an outcome on the session’s priority theme.  Armenia’s gender policy concept paper aimed at the enjoyment of equal rights for women and men, while equality was also reflected in legislation that guaranteed a full range of civil and political rights.  The Women’s Council included various stakeholders from Government, civil society and elsewhere.  Among other steps to ensure equal women’s participation in political life were changes to the electoral code the inclusion of gender quotas.  Another achievement was the integration of women and girl refugees and internally displaced persons due to the war against his country.  There was much to be done to eliminate violence against women, and ensure their equal participation in decision-making and their sexual and reproductive health rights.

CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein) said that the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals was now working on the basis of so-called focus areas, including gender equality and women’s empowerment.  The future sustainable development framework should be more explicit on women’s human rights and empowerment, and include several elements, such as women’s full participation and leadership at all levels of decision-making and at all times, including in conflict prevention, resolution and recovery; access to justice; the right to decide freely and responsibly over matters related to their sexuality; and equal land, property and inheritance rights.  The Working Group must recognize and build on the numerous linkages between gender equality and other areas of focus.

YANA BOIKO (Ukraine) pointed to notable national progress in the last 13 years towards achieving the Millennium targets, but added that some areas needed attention.  Those included expanding women’s opportunities, ensuring quality education, reducing HIV infection and tuberculosis, and protecting the disadvantaged.  Ukraine had taken steps to integrate gender-related goals across national development targets.  As a result, the perception of gender roles was changing.  A council of experts on gender-based discrimination had been created in the Ministry of Social Policy.  The Government also had established psychological support centres to assist unemployed women with social services.  Improving gender equality and reducing infant and maternal mortality was a priority, with special attention given to regions such as Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Odessa, Mykolaiv and Crimea.   The outcome of the current crisis in Crimea could jeopardize Ukraine’s achievement of the Millennium targets.  Cases of human rights violations must be documented and an assessment done of those who were affected.

FRANCIS ASSISI CHULLIKATT, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, said overall global progress on the Millennium targets on infant and maternal mortality was still lagging.  Children were the future, and no mother should have to die while giving birth.  Taking a human life through the promotion of so-called “reproductive rights” must never be a way to reducing maternal mortality.  Rather, basic health care should be provided along with adequate nutrition and competent obstetric care throughout pregnancy, delivery and the postpartum phase.  He stressed the fundamental importance of girls’ access to education for both their dignity and their vocation.  He hailed the generous, untiring service of Catholic-inspired organizations that worked to promote and protect women and girls worldwide through caregiving, education and skills training, particularly for female victims of human rights abuses.

Right of Reply

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, Qatar’s representative said representatives of the Syrian regime continued to direct false accusations at her country.  It was inexplicable that such charges came from the Syrian regime, which was supervising the worst terror campaign against its own people.  Qatar had made every effort, in cooperation with the United Nations, to alleviate the suffering of Syrians, especially women and children.  She regretted that the regime’s representatives continued to deny the reality on the ground.

The representative of Japan said his Government had acknowledged the damage it had caused in the past, having expressed its apology.  The Prime Minister also had stated that he was “deeply pained” at the thought of the comfort women.  Japan would continue to take the position expressed by the Cabinet Secretary in the past.  Claims had been resolved through San Francisco peace treaty and others.  Japan also had established an Asian women’s fund and had contributed ¥4.8 billion to it.  It also had provided atonement money and a letter expressing remorse to former comfort women.  The accusations by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s representative were false.  The visit to the shrine mentioned had not been made to praise the military.

The representative of China said history could not be denied.  Japan’s past statements on comfort women could not pacify the victims.  Some Japanese politicians had even denied the comfort women problem and the facts surrounding the Nanking massacre.  Japanese leaders had refused to compensate, in hopes of reversing the verdict.  He urged Japan to listen to the international call for justice and take actions to win confidence.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s representative, responding to the Japanese delegation’s denial of historical facts, said the delegation had discussed the apology and history, but any such apology was just lip service.  Japan’s position was in contrast to the behaviour of other countries that had addressed similar acts in the past.

Speaking for a second time in exercise of the right of reply, Syria’s representative encouraged the international community to be aware that foreign fighters were present in her country and that Saudi Arabia was supporting them.  Saudi Arabia had harmed Syrian women’s destiny, she said, noting that women could not go outside without a man in Saudi Arabia, whereas in Syria, women could vote and run for public office.

Responding to remarks made by the representative of Qatar, she said that country had helped Syria by paying mercenaries’ salaries, which had resulted in numerous deaths.

Japan’s representative, speaking for a second time, said his previous statement stood.

China’s representative, also taking the floor again, said Japan’s Prime Minister had visited the Yasukuni Shrine, which contained four “class A” criminals and thousands of war criminals.

Next, the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea once again denounced the statement made by the Japanese delegation.

ANGELA RUGGIERO (International Olympic Committee) said that her organization was using sport to help address gender inequality worldwide.  Sport helped develop skills in management, negotiation and decision-making, which empowered women and girls to become leaders in the workplace, at home and in all areas of community life.  Sport facilitated social inclusion and promoted physical and mental health, while benefitting society by encouraging school attendance, discouraging adolescent risk behaviour and reducing health-related public costs.  Sport also offered positive role models, particularly when it came to challenging gender stereotypes.  Today, women accounted for more than 40 per cent of participants at the Olympic Games and the International Olympic Committee remained committed to achieving parity.

MARIA TERESA SALVEMINI, Senior Adviser, Association of Economic and Social Councils and Similar Institutions, said that without renewed efforts, it would be difficult to achieve all the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.  Improvement in less developed countries had been too slow, with gains eroded by climate change, as well as the global food and energy crises.  She called on the international community to ensure equitable development, saying that the victims of poverty had a right to solidarity.  The Goal related to women’s empowerment and gender equality had stimulated international action, but it had not been enough.  The fight for equality in primary and secondary education had yielded important results, but differences persisted among world regions.

PATRICIA TORSNEY, Inter-Parliamentary Union, said that, in 2005, only 15.7 per cent of parliamentarians worldwide were women, although in 2014, that number had increased to 21.8 per cent.  Today, there were only four countries with no women in parliament, while 18 countries had a woman Head of State.  However, women’s participation in decision-making still lagged, including in the corporate world and media, where they were widely underrepresented.  The difficulty in reconciling work and life continued to hinder women’s participation in all fields.  In many countries, the constitutional and legal frameworks required to secure equal participation of men and women were still missing or poorly enforced.  Often, the spheres of power remained an unfriendly, if not violent environment for women.

MARWAN JILANI, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said it was unacceptable that 800 women died daily from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.  Women and girls continued to disproportionately bear the impact of disasters, she said, calling the mainstreaming of gender in disaster risk management a “good development”.  She urged Governments to ensure that the situation of women and girls in natural disasters was reflected in the Commission’s Agreed Conclusions and included their specific needs across the disaster-management cycle.

FIAMMA ARDITI MANZO, Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said empowered women fuelled thriving economies and were the backbone of families, often the sole providers.  Yet, gender inequalities were deeply entrenched in every society.  “We can do more to accelerate progress in women’s empowerment,” she said, stressing that the gender equality movement must begin at the grass-roots level.  Citing two projects in that context, she said every community was different, and thus, there was no one-size-fits-all solution.  Projects must empower local people to help themselves.  At the core of those communities were strong, resilient women who, with help, could carry their generation to achieve the post-2015 agenda.

LITHA MUSYIMI-OGANA, Director of the Women, Gender and Development Directorate of the Permanent Observer Mission of the African Union, said through sustained political will and commitment at the national level, 36 member States had so far ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, which 48 States had launched in connection with the African Women’s Decade.  In addition, 98 projects from 33 member States had benefited from the Fund for African Women.  On the post-2015 development agenda, the African region led other regions by not only developing an African common position, but also by engendering it through the African Union’s Abidjan Declaration.  The Union was also leading other regions in calling for a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the future development agenda.

ENAS MEKAWRY, Minister Plenipotentiary and Director of Civil Society Secretariat of the League of Arab States, said a meeting had been held at the League’s headquarters, at which a declaration had been signed for the post-2015 agenda.  It included a target for women’s independence, and took into account social justice, poverty eradication and support for women’s mechanisms to guarantee productive resources.  The promotion of new gender-sensitive norms also had been discussed.

AISA KIRABO KACYIRA, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), said cities offered better services for communities, including more possibilities to redefine traditional gender roles.  Yet, shortcomings persisted, such as overcrowding, lack of water and sanitation services, but it was clear that urbanization was a driver for development.  “We need to build cities where men and women are recognized as equal partners,” she said, adding that the new urban agenda was centred on shaping mixed-use cities in ways that ensured equitable access to services.  That would allow women and men greater access to education and transportation and other basic urban services.

NGONÉ DIOP, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), speaking on behalf of all regional commissions, said efforts had been made across the globe, including ECA meetings last month, which recommended that gender be integrated in all post-2015 goals.  In Europe, a meeting in November 2013 had recognized gender equality as a key pillar in development, and in the Asia Pacific region, a discussion held in Thailand had focused on similar themes.   The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and UN-Women also had held meetings.  In the Arab region, a high-level meeting in Cairo had focused on gender in the Millennium Development Goals, and in Latin America and Caribbean, participants at a regional conference in the Dominican Republic had adopted the Santo Domingo Consensus.

SIMON BLAND, Director of UNAIDS’ New York office, said that, while there were physiological reasons for women and girls’ greater susceptibility to HIV, the situation was compounded by persistent gender inequality, stigma and discrimination.  The Millennium Development Goals were closely interlinked and mutually reinforcing, and while HIV response was contained in just one of the eight goals, progress made in that area extended across all others, including promoting education, empowering women and girls and improving maternal and child health.  With fewer than 700 days left to achieve the Goals, the international community must accelerate its efforts to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for all.  He called for accelerated action by all stakeholders in such areas as the structural drivers of HIV, such as gender inequality, and integrating HIV and sexual and reproductive health rights in programmes to meet the needs of women and adolescent girls.

MADHA MALHOTRA, Amnesty International, said that while gender equality and empowerment were widely recognized as essential to poverty reduction, the Millennium Development Goals failed to reflect women’s human rights.  Women and girls continued to suffer, she said, urging the Commission to focus on a number of elements that should be at the centre of a future development framework, including a stand-alone goal on gender equality and proactive measures to eliminate gender-based discrimination and violence.

For information media. Not an official record.