17 March 2017
Sixty-first Session, 8th & 9th Meetings (AM & PM)

Speakers Highlight Government Action, Challenges to Promote Gender Equality in 6 Countries, as Commission on Status of Women Continues Session

The Commission on the Status of Women today considered a range of Government efforts to promote gender equality, outlined in six national voluntary presentations spanning four continents, as it concluded the first week of its sixty-first annual session.

Despite citing a host of successful initiatives — from expanded access to women’s health care to quotas for female parliamentarians — ministers and other senior officials from Malta, Mongolia, Morocco, the Dominican Republic, Bulgaria and Indonesia nevertheless described a number of deeply-entrenched forms of discrimination against women and girls.  Many stressed the need for broad awareness-raising campaigns to combat such long-held attitudes, as well as robust political will and gender-responsive budgeting at all levels of Government.

One long-standing challenge spotlighted by many of today’s presenters was that of gender-based violence.  Mongolia’s representative, a Member of Parliament and social policy expert, said that while her country’s revamped Law on Domestic Violence had taken effect last month, a number of obstacles related to compliance remained.  Indeed, due to long-held social norms, the law’s criminalization of domestic violence had been seen as controversial by some segments of the population, she said.

Presenters from all six countries also relayed challenges relating to decent work, equal pay and fair treatment for women in the workplace.  Efforts to address such challenges included improved labour laws, support to female entrepreneurs and incentives for mothers to return to the formal labour market, as described by Malta’s Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties.

Three presenters from Morocco — including the country’s Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development and two female civil society leaders — also shared their perspectives on that issue, with the former stressing that 53 per cent of women were unemployed due largely to “social pressures” that existed both in Morocco and worldwide.  “Revenue cannot only be generated by men,” she stressed, joining other speakers in emphasizing the significant economic potential offered by increasing women’s empowerment. 

In addition, the Commission held an interactive expert panel discussion on the global “care economy”, focusing on women’s disproportionate burden of unpaid care work as well as related challenges and opportunities.

The Commission will meet again on Monday, 20 March, at 10 a.m. to hold an interactive expert panel on enhancing the use of data and gender statistics in sustainable development.

National Voluntary Presentations

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

HELENA DALLI, Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties of Malta, delivered her country’s voluntary presentation, stressing that Malta was committed to a feminist agenda to ensure the achievement of gender equality “during our lifetime”.  An equality act and a human rights and equality commission act were currently progressing through the country’s legislature, while laws on domestic violence and gender-based violence in compliance with the Istanbul Convention were also in place.  Malta had created a free childcare scheme aimed at providing an incentive for mothers to return to, or remain in, the formal labour market, and a maternity leave trust fund — financed through a minimum contribution by private companies — had begun operation in 2015. 

Noting that Malta’s female employment rate had jumped from 44 per cent in 2012 to 53.6 per cent in 2015 thanks to flexible working arrangements and free childcare, she also described national efforts to promote the participation of women and girls in science, prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, and eradicate violence against women and girls.  In that regard, a bill aimed at widening the remit of the Commission on Domestic Violence to cover all gender-based violence was currently progressing through Parliament. 

The representative of Australia, as the first respondent to that presentation, said Millennium Development Goal 3 had galvanized international attention to gender inequality and provided a transformative framework at the centre of inclusive strategies for sustainable peace and prosperity.  The Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment, went a step further, she said, recalling that Australia had been a strong supporter of that target. 

The representative of Canada, welcoming positive steps taken by Malta to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, asked if the country had considered implementing gender-based training in science- and math-related subjects, and whether it had any specific initiatives focused on providing support to victims of gender-based violence. 

Ms. DALLI, responding to those questions, said Malta was working through its Ministry of Education to promote the involvement of more girls in science, technology, engineering and math — or “STEM” — subjects, focusing especially on younger girls.  With regard to victim support services, the Government was working to coordinate among all relevant agencies, including those related to health, judicial and social policy, to help them work in tandem.

UNDRAA AGVAANLUVSAN, Member of Parliament and Member of the Standing Committee on Social Policy of the State of Ikh Hural of Mongolia, said the country had successfully met a number of the Millennium Development Goal targets to reduce child and maternal mortality, develop information and communications technology (ICT) and build an information society.  In addition, significant headway had been made in promoting gender equality and increasing women’s participation in decision-making.  Mongolia had improved its Law on Domestic Violence, which had previously suffered from lack of enforcement as well as inappropriate and incomplete legal specification, and had put in place steps aimed at combating trafficking in persons.  Ensuring gender equality — in particular through the prohibition of gender-based workplace discrimination — was clearly stipulated in the country’s draft labour law.

She went on to describe a number of efforts to implement girls’ rights to free education and to provide courses on sexual and reproductive health, gender equality, gender justice, gender rights and roles, as well as to strengthen the overall environment for gender equality and the empowerment of women across Mongolia.  A 2016 election law had legalized a quota requiring 20 per cent of parliamentary candidates to be female.  Major political parties had also introduced a quota of 20-50 per cent of governing bodies to be female.  In addition, in line with its National Programme for Ensuring Gender Equality, the Government was increasing its investments in enhancing women’s employment, promoting their social, economic and political empowerment, including the creation of a small and medium enterprises support fund.

The representative of Switzerland, responding to that presentation, described her country’s bilateral cooperation with Mongolia and underscored the central role of gender equality in those efforts.  In that context, she asked for more information about Mongolia’s recently revised law to combat gender-based violence, including the major challenges being faced in that area, as well as about the country’s specific efforts to expand women’s political participation.

The representative of Japan asked Ms. Agvaanluvsan to outline lessons learned and difficulties encountered in implementing Mongolia’s national gender equality programmes and the related mid-term strategy.

Ms. AGVAANLUVSAN, responding to the delegate from Switzerland, said her country’s domestic violence law had come into effect in February.  It had been somewhat controversial due to its criminalization of domestic violence, she said, describing long-entrenched social attitudes and noting that enforcement by police officers was a challenge.  With regard to increasing women’s political participation, quotas had been crucial, and the National Commission on Gender Equality continued to address the issue.  Responding to the delegate from Japan, she cited implementation challenges including a lack of political will and limited resources.

BASSIMA HAKKAOUI, Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development of Morocco, then delivered her country’s voluntary presentation, noting that women in Morocco currently enjoyed all of their inalienable rights.  In 2016, the country had passed a wide-ranging law aimed at mobilizing funds to meet the needs of women, children and families.  “This is the door through which we enter to ensure that all social groups enjoy their rights” as enshrined in the Moroccan Constitution, she said, describing particular Government initiatives aimed at supporting widows and helping all children — including those with disabilities — to enrol in school.  Describing the multisectoral Government plan for gender equality, she said laws to combat violence against women and protect working women had also recently been passed.

However, she said, a number of challenges existed.  Some 53 per cent of women were unemployed due largely to “social pressures” that existed both in Morocco and worldwide.  Only about 16 per cent of decision-making positions were held by women.  “Revenue cannot only be generated by men,” she stressed, emphasizing the significant economic potential offered by increasing women’s empowerment.  Morocco was focused on achieving gender equality goals on a local level, and it was actively working to improve disaggregated data collection in that regard.

FATHIA BENNIS, President of Women’s Tribune, Morocco, provided the perspective of a civil society representative and a female business owner.  Women’s empowerment began with the education of girls, she said, describing strides made in reducing Morocco’s gender wage gap and promoting their place in business sector decision-making.

ASMAA MORINE, President of the AFEM women’s association, Morocco, then described major gains in promoting women’s entrepreneurship in the country.  “We need to support these women,” she said, stressing it was the Government’s responsibility to raise awareness and empower women to “take power for themselves”. 

The representative of Belgium, responding to that presentation, underscored the cross-cutting nature of gender in his country’s development cooperation with Morocco.  He then asked Ms. Hakkaoui to describe specific measures aimed at combating violence against women, as well as specific initiatives to end early and forced marriage.

Ms. HAKKAOUI responded that Morocco had put in place a finance law mainstreaming the gender dimension into all the Government’s specialized budgets.  A law defining and criminalizing all forms of violence against women, and outlining support to victims, had also been adopted, and amendments to the national Criminal Code were aimed at eradicating early and forced marriage. 

IVAN RODRIGUEZ, Vice-Minister for Economy, Planning and Development of the Dominican Republic, said that in terms of social indicators, his country had received good grades in reducing poverty and redistributing wealth.  However, the task of achieving gender parity remained substantial.  Reducing maternal and child mortality was a critical priority for the Government.  In 2012, it adopted a national development strategy that promoted equal opportunity for men and women.  All public sectors were involved in ensuring inclusive participation in the plan, which comprised 57 specific goals and 461 courses of action.

JANET CAMILO, Minister for Women, noted that the national development strategy spearheaded efforts to mainstream gender inclusion across the Government.  Interinstitutional coordination among the Ministries of Women; Finance; Public Information; and Economy, Planning and Development, was critical, she said, reiterating the need for more cohesion among all 22 Government ministries, each of which had a gender office.  Another important achievement was securing financing for gender equality initiatives through specific programmes and within ministry budgets.  A guideline document with a gender perspective was enacted to help manage the national budget.  Women’s organizations alone would not be able to achieve gender equality, she said, stressing the need to invest in rural women and provide them with economic opportunity.

The representative of Germany asked, given that the Dominican Republic’s national development strategy encompassed 57 goals, whether the Government had specified any areas of focus that were instrumental for achieving stability and development.

The representative of the Republic of Korea commended the Dominican Republic’s efforts to mainstream gender perspective through its development work and to implement gender goals and targets.  She also outlined several ways her country was doing the same.

Responding to the representative of Germany’s inquiry, Ms. CAMILO said the Dominican Republic had two pending laws awaiting approval from Congress aimed at promoting Dominican women to positions of power, both in the Government and the private sector.  It was essential to work with businesses to promote more women to decision-making positions in the private sector.  Another prerequisite was fighting violence against women.  Achieving development would be extremely difficult so long as women remained victims.  The Government was also working to prevent teenage pregnancies and early marriage, which must be addressed to achieve gender equality and move forward. 

GEORGI PANAYOTOV (Bulgaria) said special laws against discrimination, including on domestic violence, had been adopted and were critical in promoting women’s entrepreneurship.  In 2016, a law on equality between men and women established equality as a State policy in Bulgaria.  The national policy to end gender-based discrimination was supervised by a national council set up in 2004.  The national mechanism on human rights had a gender equality dimension and comprised high-level officials.  Special policies had also been enacted recently to ensure equal participation for men and women in the workforce, equal pay for equal work, and the promotion of the role of the father in family life.  In the last 25 years, the number of female members of Parliament had doubled.  The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was a Bulgarian woman.  Bulgaria ranked second in the European Union’s ranking of women in high-level positions in the private sector, he said, emphasizing the very active role of civil society in promoting gender equality.

GENOVEVA TISHEVA, Managing Director of the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation, noted the important collaboration among the Government and non-governmental organizations in enacting anti-discrimination laws.  She also commended the work of a human rights training institute for providing a four-year course and in educating more than 100 lawyers from 25 countries during the last seven years, many of whom were women.  Those women then returned to their countries and helped their Government make life better for other women, she stressed.  It was important to educate lawyers, as well as psychologists and social workers, about women’s and girls’ rights and gender stereotyping.  Every year the Government allocated funds for such initiatives.

The representative of Austria asked for more information about efforts to combat sexist hate speech on social media platforms.  Such hate speech presented severe obstacles to gender equality.  She also asked which measures were most effective to combat gender stereotyping.

The representative of Kazakhstan commended the efforts of Bulgaria in promoting equal participation in the workforce, equal pay for equal work, and fighting gender stereotypes.  He asked about Government funding for civil society organizations.

Answering the latter question, Mr. PANAYOTOV said civil society was independent from the State and did not receive direct funding from it.

Ms. TISHEVA said that sexist hate speech was a big challenge in Bulgaria and existed also in different forms, including body shaming, Internet hate speech, and the over-sexualisation of women and girls in commerce and industry.  She said that new and developing Government provisions would target the incitement of discrimination.

SUBANDI SARDJOKO, Deputy Minister for Human, Society and Cultural Development at the Ministry of National Development Planning of Indonesia, said it was important to improve poverty reduction initiatives that targeted women.  It was also critical to decrease the rate of maternal and child mortality.  Ensuring access to clean water and sanitation was vital, he added, emphasizing that the availability of such basic services immeasurably improved the lives of women and girls.  The percentage of women in non-agricultural sectors had increased slightly.  Several ministries were collaborating to ensure Indonesia achieved the Millennium Development Goals.  Gender mainstreaming policy had boosted the number of women in high-power positions in Government and the private sector.  He highlighted several national initiatives aimed at increasing access of services to migrant workers, particularly women.  However, challenges persisted, including limited resources and the economic opportunity gap between rural areas and cities.

The representative of Morocco asked about quotas to empower women and sought more information on follow-up mechanisms. 

The representative of Colombia asked the Deputy Minister of Indonesia to share the obstacles that nation faced in increasing the number of women in Parliament, adding that he hoped to have a constructive dialogue with Indonesian officials to transform the lives of women.

Mr. SUBANDI said Indonesia was implementing a 2016-2019 national action plan for development as well as a road map to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  All stakeholders, including such representatives as academia and businesses, were involved.  Answering the question about increasing women’s participation in Parliament, he said training was provided for female political candidates.

Panel Discussion

Moderating the Commission’s afternoon panel discussion, titled “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work”, was Sejla Durbuzovic (Bosnia and Herzegovina).  It featured the following panellists:  Diane Elson, Emeritus Professor, Department of Sociology, Essex University; Patricia Cossani, Adviser to the Director, National Care Secretariat, Ministry of Social Development, Uruguay; Ito Peng, Professor of Sociology and Public Policy and Canada Research Chair in Global Social Policy, University of Toronto; Naomi Wekwete, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Population Studies, University of Zimbabwe; Ida Le Blanc, General Secretary, National Union of Domestic Employees, Trinidad and Tobago; and Emanuela Pozzan, Senior Regional Specialist on Gender Equality, International Labour Organization Regional Office for the Arab States in Beirut.

Ms. ELSON said investing in the care economy had long-term benefits beyond the immediate recipients of care.  The care industry was disproportionately female, while the construction industry was disproportionately male.  Although men were not often directly employed in the care sector, they benefited from investment in that industry.  Employment for both men and women increased with investment in the care industry, she said, noting that there would be a net gain for the economy with higher tax revenue and a decrease in social security spending.  The quality of care mattered as well.  Skills training and reasonable pay in the care industry were vital for gender equality.  Paid care with private for-profit companies produced the worst working conditions because businesses sought to decrease cost and increase output.  Care was highly labour intensive, and thus, the pressure to reduce costs meant employing fewer trained personnel.  Investing in care would shift work from the non-paid to the paid sector and reduce the gender employment gap, she added.

Ms. COSSANI focused on the national care system in Uruguay, describing a law that established a system which ensured “a right to be cared for in the right way”.  Historically, women provided care.  Uruguay promoted sharing that social responsibility, meaning that the family would provide care along with support by the State.  Women usually provided care on a non-paid basis, she said, adding that the Government had enacted the first national care plan with five components.  The care-giving task must be seen as a valuable service, she said, highlighting various training programmes to combat gender stereotyping and change mindsets.  Uruguay’s care services aimed at freeing up women’s time.  Providing childcare was also an important goal for the country.  “We have to include men,” she added, emphasizing the need to make men co-responsible with women.  Awareness-raising had a role to play in communicating the public services available to families. 

Ms. PENG provided an overview of policy and legislative changes made to support working women, particularly working mothers, in Japan and the Republic of Korea.  Both countries had extended and increased child support and childcare, implemented universal care for elderly people, and expanded maternity and parental leave.  Both had provided full parental leave up to one year for both parents and had embedded institutional structures to promote gender equality.  Total Government investment in family services had risen dramatically since 1990.  In both countries, women’s employment had risen since the 1900s.  Although those were laudable achievements, closer examination of women’s status indicated that significant challenges still existed.  The gender wage gap remained high, especially in the Republic of Korea, while a significant portion of women in Japan were working in part-time and contract type work.  Non-standard employment was not only insecure but also linked to low wage.  Women in both Japan and the Republic of Korea, despite the increase in employment and family supportive policies, faced many challenges.  Gender equality could not be achieved by policy alone; institutional and cultural changes were also needed. 

Ms. WEKWETE said women in Africa, particularly Southern Africa, bore the brunt of care work due to local norms, social attitudes, recurring drought and the HIV epidemic.  The gender gap in care work must be tackled in order to address gender inequality successfully, she emphasized, adding that care work referred to caring for children, the sick and the elderly.  It was not valued and “you will not find men involved in such work”, she noted.  They were involved in paid work while women, often elderly ones, made up two thirds of primary care-givers.  Gender inequality in care work consequently affected women’s leisure time and well-being.  Persistent drought required women to travel long distances to find water and firewood, carrying those resources on their heads.  Formally employed women were still expected to do the care work and household chores.  Emphasizing that inequity was due to prevalent gender stereotyping, she said men who helped with child care were often viewed as being under the control of their wives.  “It’s not an easy thing to change our culture,” she said, welcoming the involvement of religious figures, community leaders and men.

Ms. LE BLANC stressed the need to protect and empower female workers, in particular domestic workers, who provided vital care to the world’s aging population.  Care workers were among the world’s most isolated and vulnerable, she said, stressing that domestic workers must be protected by employment legislation, as they were often fired for joining unions, becoming pregnant or taking sick days.  They also often lacked social protection, a major challenge for female empowerment.  Governments and other stakeholders must take action to ensure decent work for all women by implementing relevant international conventions.  After decades of struggle, care workers in Trinidad and Tobago had begun to organize a cooperative.  The idea was to establish a legal instrument that demanded higher pay standards and work conditions.  The Commission on the Status of Women must send a strong message to the Government to promote decent and quality jobs in both the public and private sectors.  Sustaining workers’ cooperatives was essential as they enhanced bargaining power.

Ms. POZZAN outlined a number of key challenges facing both women and men, including balancing work and life, managing the “deficits of care” and instances of abuse, harassment and unfair treatment at work.  With a rapidly ageing population in much of the world and many of today’s young people soon to be of child-bearing age, the demand for care was growing.  “We have to care about care,” she said, noting that about half of countries provided no long-term care solutions for their populations.  In that context, some 13.6 million additional long-term care workers — as well as 10.3 million health workers — were needed worldwide, providing an opportunity to expand the creation of decent jobs.  Pointing to a relationship between Government policy planning and women’s employment, she said the strong commitment of employers was also critical and that care workers were entitled to a full package of rights, equal pay for equal work and social protection.

In the ensuing discussion, many speakers highlighted the urgency of investing in women’s economic independence, which could have a profound impact on the global economy.  Many agreed with the panellists that it was particularly crucial to bridge the wage gaps between traditionally male-dominated fields and traditionally female-dominated ones, such as education and care work.

Similarly, some speakers spotlighted the enormous economic opportunity presented by regularizing care jobs that existed in the informal economy, as well as paying women for the care they had provided — without any remuneration — for generations.

The representative of the non-governmental organization Canadian Labour Congress, in that vein, stressed that the devaluation of care work needed to change urgently.  Noting that an investment of just 2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in that sector would deliver millions of new jobs, she asked the panellists for their views on how to realize that important shift.

The representative of Switzerland said the panellists’ presentations had demonstrated that care sector work could be a significant source of revenue and empowerment for women.  “We’re all — men and women alike — links in the global care industry,” she stressed, outlining a number of Switzerland’s own policies to support female care workers.  She also asked panellists about the specific needs of migrants care workers. 

The representative of Iran, similarly, spotlighted the particular challenges facing rural women, who often spent more time in unpaid reproductive, agricultural and care work.  In Iran, hundreds of women’s rural cooperatives provided such women with a voice, while women across the country had benefitted from a “paradigm shift” brought about by the wide expansion of ICT services.

Ms. LE BLANC, responding to those questions and comments, said migrant workers in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) single market region had the ability to move across borders freely with the appropriate legal paperwork.  However, they sometimes faced bureaucratic and legal hurdles in accessing such paperwork.

Ms. ELSON, highlighting several common themes that had emerged from the discussion, said many speakers had agreed that investing in the care economy was a shared responsibility that could not be left to families or market forces alone.  The discussion had also revealed that the care economy could be a vibrant place for the creation of “good quality jobs that will provide good quality care”, she said, stressing the importance of viewing that potential investment in a positive light instead of as a burden.

Ms. COSSANI echoed that sentiment, calling on stakeholders to take a long-term view of such investments.  While Governments bore the primary responsibility in that regard, all actors must take a more active role.

Ms. PENG, returning to the question of migrant care workers, emphasized the need to examine the role of both the origin and receiving countries.  In the former, it was crucial to address the social, economic and political context — including the lack of opportunities — that led women to emigrate.  Ensuring the safety and dignity of migrant care workers also meant looking closely at the “intermediary businesses”, such as recruiters and brokers, which benefited from the phenomenon.

Ms. POZZAN stressed that both Governments and the private sector must be involved in protecting migrant care workers who often found themselves in vulnerable positions and could be easily exploited.  In addition, while a number of countries had explored the improvement of protective laws and wage standards, migrant care work usually took place in the private sphere and could be difficult to monitor.

Ms. WEKWETE, agreeing that the enforcement of laws protecting care workers was essential, also stressed the importance of educating those workers on their human rights.

Also speaking were representatives of Italy, Philippines and the European Union, as well as speakers from Help Age International and Daughters of Charity.

For information media. Not an official record.