16 March 2017
Sixty-first Session, 6th & 7th Meetings (AM & PM)

Commission Focuses on Empowering Indigenous Women, Assessing Millennium Development Goals, as Session Continues

With this year marking the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Commission on the Status of Women today held an interactive dialogue on the empowerment of indigenous women.

Participants from Member States, civil society and United Nations bodies addressed the topic from a number of perspectives, from gender violence and the impact of climate change on indigenous communities to educational and entrepreneurial opportunities that could enrich the lives of indigenous women and strengthen their voice in political decision-making.

In the afternoon, the Commission — following up on the agreed conclusions of its 2014 session — considered challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals on women and girls.  Several Member States contributed voluntary presentations to the review, which coincided with early implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Commission will meet again on Friday, 17 March, at 10 a.m. to hear additional voluntary presentations from Member States on the review theme.

Interactive Dialogue I

In the morning, the Commission on the Status of Women held a high-level interactive dialogue under the theme “The empowerment of indigenous women”.

ANTONIO DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA (Brazil), Commission Chair, in opening remarks, said four thematic areas would be discussed:  indigenous women’s participation in decision-making processes, violence against indigenous women and girls, indigenous women’s economic opportunities, and the impact of climate change on the empowerment of indigenous women and their responses.

AYSA MUKABENOVA, Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said today’s dialogue acknowledged the role of indigenous peoples in crafting policy at the United Nations.  However, she said, indigenous women remained underrepresented in local and national Government bodies.  As a result, issues concerning them might be overlooked.  She invited the Commission Chair to address the Permanent Forum’s upcoming session, adding that the Commission should refer to the rights of indigenous women in the final text of its current session.

MARIANN WOLLMANN NAGGA, Executive Council of Norway’s Sami Parliament, said 49 per cent of that Parliament’s representatives were women as a result of the active application of gender quotas and shared priorities.  Several women also served on its Executive Council.  However, few Sami women held leadership positions in agriculture, fisheries and traditional livelihoods, and there were no Sami ministers in the current national Government.  She added, according to researchers, 49 per cent of Sami women would experience abuse during their lifetimes.  Sami women must be encouraged to participate in politics to work for the greater good.

OTILIA LUX DE COTI, former Vice-President, Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and member of Guatemala’s Commission for Historical Clarification on the Violation of Human Rights and Acts of Violence, urged the Commission to really take an intensive interest in indigenous women.  They wanted to be visible in its outcome documents, not referred to in a single paragraph.  She emphasized a need for parity democracy and inclusive States, and noted several challenges including the feminization of poverty, a lack of interest in politics among indigenous women and a lack of recognition of their full citizenship.

A representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said development and humanitarian pillars should be taken into account when addressing violence against indigenous women and girls, which often occurred in the context of labour exploitation, harassment, domestic violence and trafficking in the midst of armed conflict.  Stressing the value of male participation in achieving gender equality, he drew attention to efforts in Latin America and the Caribbean with regard to a multicultural approach to maternal health.  He also emphasized the importance of disaggregated data, as well as taking a holistic and integrated perspective.

AGNES LEINA, Executive Director of Kenya’s Il’laramatak Community Concerns, a group promoting the human rights of the country’s pastoralist communities, said violence against indigenous women and girls was often part and parcel of the cultures in which they lived.  Child marriage, for example, prevented girls from realizing their full potential, she said, noting that a majority of such marriages involved indigenous girls.  Female genital mutilation was also still a reality.

PRATIMA GURUNG, from Nepal, a member of the Steering Committee of the Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network, emphasized the vulnerability of indigenous women and women with disabilities to acts of violence, including sexual violence.  Justice remained out of reach for many such women, she said, adding that few studies had been carried out on the issue.  She added that such women wanted to be visible in the Commission’s outcome document.

KHALIDA BOUZAR, Director of the Near East, North Africa and Europe Division of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), addressing the theme of economic opportunities, said the loss of land, water and forest resources had created more poverty among indigenous peoples.  Any interventions must be carried out with an understanding of land tenure systems.  She added that youth, women and indigenous peoples were often grouped together as vulnerable, but their respective situations needed to be analysed differently.  Indigenous women had their own specific priorities and needs, she said, adding that indigenous people must be co-creators of their own development.

A representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO) said the effects of land loss, conflict and climate change around the world had been felt disproportionately by indigenous women and girls, who also faced multiple forms of discrimination.  Indigenous women played an important role in the world of work, particularly in the rural economy.  As such, they were important economic actors in their communities, custodians of traditional knowledge and important agents of change.  She noted the migration of indigenous peoples to urban areas, especially in Latin America and increasingly in Asia, and recalled the ILO’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, which remained open for ratification.

VICTORIA TAULI CORPUZ, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and former chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, addressed the theme of climate change, saying it was a significant issue for indigenous women whose communities were situated amidst the world’s most fragile ecosystems.  Indigenous women had participated actively in climate change policy discussions, she said, noting that the 2015 Paris Agreement referred to the need to recognize human rights, including those of indigenous peoples, in all climate change measures.  Monitoring the effects of climate change should be done in a way that ensured the participation of indigenous women, she said, emphasizing that solutions to the climate change crisis would come from strengthened communities.  She also cautioned against renewable energy projects, such as wind farms and hydroelectric projects, being undertaken without the involvement of indigenous peoples.  Solutions could only be sustainable if consultation and prior and informed consent were respected.

TARCILA RIVERA, Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and a Quechuan activist from Peru, said political life for indigenous peoples did not begin at adulthood.  Girls should be offered quality education in order to advance and to ensure that society viewed women as subjects of rights rather than assistance.  That, in turn, would create opportunities for political participation.  She emphasized the need to recognize land rights and the right to access natural resources, and to recognize indigenous women’s concept of environmental sustainability.  Indigenous women must invest in themselves, as their capacities could contribute to the solution to climate change problems.

During the discussion, participants commented on such points as the situation of indigenous women in Africa, discrimination, gender violence, harmful practices associated with traditional rites of passage, access to education, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities, land ownership, and the need to redefine masculinity.  Support for the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples was also raised.

Participating in the interactive dialogue were ministers, senior officials and representatives of Uganda, Finland, Australia, Guatemala, New Zealand, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, South Africa, Argentina, Mexico and the Congo, as well as a representative of the European Union.

A representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also spoke. 

Also taking the floor were speakers from the Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education, Madre, Native Women’s Association of Canada, Pacific Disability Forum and Philippine Commission on Women.

National Voluntary Presentations

In the afternoon, the Commission heard national voluntary presentations from five countries on the theme “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls”.

LAKSHMI PURI, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), delivering opening remarks, recalled that the Millennium Development Goals had been imperfect and lacked an adequate reflection of gender equality.  That “unfinished business” — which had led in part to their failure in some countries — needed to be carried forward into the Sustainable Development Goals, she said, noting that the present meeting offered a chance for the Commission to examine past lessons learned and early implementation efforts at the country level, as well as to identify ways to offer support.

Outlining several key areas of action that had been identified during the Fourth World Conference on Women, she said Member States were now undertaking action in five key areas.  First, many countries had undertaken legal reforms — especially through the adoption of new laws on violence against women, sexual harassment and harmful practices and measures to enhance women’s rights to work and labour rights — as well as steps to address factors and conditions in the broader environment that had an influence on gender equality, including in trade, employment and macroeconomic policies.  Other actions were aimed at maximizing investments to promote gender equality; strengthening the evidence base for gender equality; and addressing the notoriously low level of women’s participation at all levels.

In that regard, she said national gender equality councils and consultative dialogues with election committees were proving effective in supporting women politicians and providing opportunities for increasing decision-making influence.  Going forward, advocacy for the women’s movement — as led by women’s organizations, youth and faith groups and other critical actors — must continue.

LORENA CRUZ (Mexico), presenting the first national voluntary presentation, underscored the importance of recognizing the intersection of gender inequality and other forms of inequality.  Recalling that the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals — in particular those related to gender — had proven challenging in her country, she said Mexico was now using development implementation and monitoring tools that employed a cross-cutting approach.  Among other achievements, the country had been able to halve the percentage of its population that was living on under $1.25 per day from 9.3 to 4.4 per cent, and it had established an observatory for maternal mortality.  While Mexico had developed a multidimensional tool to calculate poverty based on various factors, that instrument still did not adequately cover the differentiated effects of poverty on women, she said, describing efforts to better study the effects of gender inequality on other spheres of life.

Ms. MENELOZA, a civil society representative from Mexico, recalling that the Millennium Development Goals had lacked a mainstreaming approach to gender, said progress made in her country had had “huge gender and regional gaps” and development remained uneven.  Urging a more comprehensive understanding of implementation going forward, she recalled that one good practice in Mexico had been efforts to reduce maternal mortality, often under the leadership of indigenous women, in conjunction with the provision of sexual and reproductive health.  Civil society faced particular challenges in an increasingly fundamentalist and uncertain environment, she said, calling on civil society actors to link their actions — especially those in the area of human rights — with the work of international organizations and global development agendas.  “The place of birth or ethnic origin should not affect the enjoyment of rights,” she concluded.

The representative of Germany, speaking as the first respondent, asked the representatives of Mexico for some examples of ways the country was mainstreaming a gender perspective into its development efforts.

The representative of Argentina asked if Mexico had seen any success to date in the area of women’s economic empowerment.

Ms. CRUZ, responding to the question of Germany’s delegate, said Mexico was working to ensure the coordination of gender mainstreaming at the highest levels of Government.  Budget lines were being allocated to gender-oriented programmes, and the national development plan had been established, at its outset, with a cross-cutting gender approach.

To the representative of Argentina, she responded that 43 per cent of women working in Mexico were doing so in the informal sector, due largely to the “double and triple roles” they played as workers, caregivers and mothers.  In that context, the country was taking action to ensure women’s access to higher paying and senior posts through training and the provision of childcare and breastfeeding rooms.  Several affirmative action programmes were in place, including those providing economic support to women running micro- and small enterprises and those providing preferential interest rates and access to soft loans.

JULIA DUNCAN-CASSELL, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection of Liberia, delivering her country’s national voluntary presentation, said that her country’s Constitution prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex.  Nevertheless, statutory laws sometimes discriminated against women and there was a lack of specific laws and a lack of enforcement to ensure that women’s rights were protected.  The 2016 Girls’ Manifesto aimed to address the challenges being encountered by adolescent girls, especially rape and sexual exploitation and abuse, while the End Child Marriage campaign and the Children’s Law sought to prevent child abuse.  Endorsing women’s economic empowerment and gender equality had been highlighted by the Central Bank of Liberia, which was empowering women through its microfinance loan scheme.  In addition, it was boosting women’s access to other financial services through such institutions as Village Savings and Loan Associations and grassroots groups.

She went on to outline a number of specific success stories, including the training of 4,700 adolescent girls and young women by the Economic Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Young Women programme; the provision of the Vulnerable Girls programme; successful social cash transfer programmes; and enhanced data collection in such areas as gender-based violence and child abuse cases.  Noting that several draft gender laws, including a draft Affirmative Action Bill and a Domestic Violence Act, were still pending in the legislature, she also described a number of challenges facing Liberia, including the building of institutions and infrastructure, the putting in place of needed frameworks, policies and legislations, and the mobilization of resources and popular support.

The representative of Norway, recalling that his country had been working with Liberia for many years to ensure that peace, stability and development would be sustained, said that while much had been achieved since the end of the country’s civil war, many challenges remained.  In that context, he asked for more information on efforts to increase the enrolment of girls in school.

The representative of Canada, underscoring the major challenges of working on issues related to sexual and reproductive health and rights in Africa, asked for more information on such efforts.  She also asked what efforts were underway to engage with traditional leaders, opinion leaders, men and boys to achieve gender equality.

Ms. DUNCAN-CASSELL, responding to that question, said Liberia was working closely with the UNFPA and Planned Parenthood International.  It was also working with traditional leaders, men and boys, which had to be done in a particular way.

To the representative of Canada, she responded that the enrolment of girls in primary and secondary school was almost even with boys, thanks to the support of donors such as Norway.

MERCEDES ALICIA FERNANDEZ (Spain), presenting her country’s presentation, described her Sate’s various efforts to institute a national “programmatic and normative framework”, as well as regulatory programmes, aimed at achieving gender equality.  It was protecting and promoting respect for human rights, including with the help of non-governmental organizations, and the second national development plan had incorporated gender as both a critical vertical and horizontal factor.  Under its presidency of the European Union, Spain had led the bloc’s first plan for gender equality.  Despite such achievements, however, a “deep intuitional transformation” was still needed as a political priority.  “We need to change how we are and how we operate,” she said in that respect, noting that the country was already working closely with UN-Women and ensuring that gender was key to its work with all international agencies.  Lastly, she stressed, it was now time to set up innovative new financial resources to help pool the efforts of the international community, civil society and other actors to ensure that no woman was left behind. 

Ms. GONZALEZ (Spain), outlining national efforts to implement Sustainable Development Goal 5 on women’s empowerment and gender equality, said her country’s Constitution ensured gender equality and respect for the human rights of women and girls.  A normative framework had also been developed which prohibited violence against women and ensured equal pay.  Among other things, Spain had put in place an interministerial committee on gender equality, and society as a whole was involved in trying to stamp out violence against women.  Against that backdrop, Spain was now working to share its experiences with other countries and it was undertaking efforts to improve the collection, dissemination and use of data disaggregated by gender.

The representative of Portugal, taking the floor following those presentations, asked what lessons could be learned from the mainstreaming of gender under the Millennium Goals and how they could be applied to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.  She also asked how the impact of such mainstreaming had been measured and for more information on Spain’s innovative gender financing mechanisms.

The representative of Uruguay said Spain provided clear examples of how a country could adapt its gender policies to a changing world.  Describing Uruguay’s own efforts to deconstruct “machisma” and patriarchal attitudes, which served as obstacles to women’s participation in decision-making and daily life, she asked for more information on Spain’s efforts in that regard.

Ms. FERNANDEZ, responding to the question posed by Portugal’s delegate, said Spain had learned that a broader, more diverse and more inclusive approach was needed against the backdrop of a situation that was “not very respectful of human rights”.  Spain had sought to mainstream gender it all of its policies and programmes, and a fifth of its budget had been aimed at gender-related programmes.  Spain was also currently working to develop a financing plan aimed at incorporating the efforts and resources of the private sector.

Ms. GONZALEZ, responding to the question raised by the representative of Uruguay, said Spain’s national strategy to eradicate violence against women was aimed, in particular, at “breaking the silence”.  It was meant to send a signal that there would be no impunity for gender-based violence against women.  Among other things, Spain had implemented an awareness-raising campaign on gender-based violence as well as programmes aimed at adolescent girls and young women.

ĽUBICA ROZBOROVÁ (Slovakia), delivering her country’s presentation, said the nation’s Antidiscrimination Act covered the areas of labour, social security, health care, the provision of goods and services and education.  It regulated the adoption of temporary affirmative action measures in several areas, aimed at eliminating existing disadvantages imposed on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin, association with a national minority or ethnic group, gender or sex, age or disability.  Admittedly, she said, the enforcement of the legal norms emerging from that Act had not yet reached its potential.  The country’s National Centre for Human Rights fulfilled several tasks in the area of protecting the principle of equal treatment, including legal assistance to the victims of discrimination and manifestations of intolerance, and issued related expert opinions.

Describing Slovakia’s National Strategy for Gender Equality (2014-2019) and other strategic documents, she said they proposed measures in six areas of concern:  economic empowerment and independence; decision-making; education; dignity; institutional mechanisms; and international cooperation.  The Department of Gender Equality and Equal Opportunities was responsible for the coordination of national policy in the area of gender, she said, also outlining various increases in maternity and paternity leave, flexible working time, job-sharing and telecommuting.  Efforts to address the challenges of poverty and social exclusion — in which gender was a key factor — included a strategy for Roma integration.  Efforts were also under way to narrow the national gender pay gap, which had long been above the European Union’s average, and to promote women’s entrepreneurship and involvement in science and technology.

The representative of Poland, responding to that presentation, said the Slovakian experience could serve as a model for other countries facing similar challenges.  In that context, he asked for more information on how the Government was engaging other partners to better promote work-life balance, and how the issue of gender had been reflected in Slovakia’s presidency of the Council of Europe.

The representative of Albania asked for more information about Slovakia’s policies aimed at tackling violence against women.

Ms. ROZBOROVÁ, responding to the question posed by Poland’s delegate, said affirmative action measures were being used to help women sustain their work skills and competitiveness and return to the labour market after having children.  Employers received incentives to hire women returning from having children.  A nationwide awareness-raising campaign had also been put in place to highlight the gender pay gap, while a “U2 in IT” programme was promoting careers in science and technology among young women and a mentorship programme for women entrepreneurs had been put in place.  Regarding the Slovak presidency, she said a Declaration on Gender Equality had been signed by the Netherlands, Slovakia and Malta, focusing on boosting women’s economic empowerment and their participation in the labour market, as well as reducing social exclusion.

Responding to the representative of Albania, she said eliminating violence against women was among Slovakia’s main priorities.  A national plan had been put in place in that regard focusing on prevention, intervention and victim support.

HAMISI KIGWANGALLA, Deputy Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children of the United Republic of Tanzania, delivering his country’s presentation, said many women and girls in his nation remained disadvantaged compared to their male counterparts.  Noting that both the constitutions of the mainland and Zanzibar prohibited discrimination based on gender, he said the United Republic had ratified a number of international instruments related to gender equality and women’s empowerment, including several of the ILO.  A number of national laws provided for the ownership of land by both women and men, while a 2017 Legal Aid Act had been implemented on the mainland.  The country’s National Poverty Reduction Strategy had also provided opportunities to, among other things, improve women’s quality of life and well-being, reduce their levels of poverty and enhance their roles in leadership.

He went on to describe efforts to integrate the work of civil society and other partners in the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as efforts to improve women’s education and participation in the labour market.  Diverse social protection schemes, including public pension funds, also provided maternity benefits to their members.  Community health funds and supplementary schemes for the informal sector were expected to significantly increase women’s health care coverage by 2020.  He also outlined examples of gender-responsive budgeting and efforts to track public expenditure in that regard, noting that the major challenges going forward included insufficient political will, limited resources and challenges in data collection and analysis.

The representative of Namibia, noting that the United Republic of Tanzania’s presentation demonstrated that “women’s issues are grassroots issues”, asked how that country had been addressing the challenge of financing its many gender-related programmes.  She also asked for more information about the role of Vice-President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who had been appointed to the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Empowerment.

Mr. KIGWANGALLA, responding, said Ms. Hassan was engaged in a number of national and international efforts aimed at enhancing women’s economic empowerment.  Some of the United Republic of Tanzania’s funding for gender programmes came from innovative schemes such as its Women’s Development Fund, which received 5 per cent of the resources collected by local councils.

For information media. Not an official record.