24 March 2017
Sixty-first Session, 13th & 14th Meetings (AM & PM)

Concluding Sixty-first Session, Commission Agrees on Approach to Women’s Economic Empowerment in Changing World of Work

The Commission on the Status of Women concluded its sixty-first session today, approving a sweeping set of Agreed Conclusions, which the top-ranking United Nations gender official said would help ensure that “work works for women”.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ncguka, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), said as she delivered closing remarks that the various discussions under the Commission’s priority theme — “women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work” — had demonstrated that all stakeholders had a role in addressing gaps relating to women’s participation in the labour force.  The Commission’s debates had helped to identify the different challenges and responsibilities of each sector, such as the private sector’s fundamental role in ensuring equal pay for equal work.  Underscoring the importance of engaging men and boys in gender-equality efforts, she said all stakeholders must act collectively and decisively — both within their societies and internationally — to realize that goal.  Political mobilization was also essential and was destined to gain importance in the coming years, she said.

The Agreed Conclusions, presented in a 19-page informal paper, urged Governments at all levels to take a number of actions to strengthen normative and legal frameworks; enhance education, training and skills development; implement economic and social policies for women’s economic empowerment; address the growing informality of work and mobility of women workers; manage technological and digital change; strengthen women’s collective voice, leadership and decision‑making; and bolster the private sector role in women’s economic empowerment.

Antonio de Aguiar Patriota (Brazil), Commission Chair, gave an overview of the session’s deliberations, which offered opportunities to address the gaps in women’s labour force participation.  “Realizing gender equality is a truly universal task,” he said, stressing that it would not come about in this lifetime without decisive commitment at domestic and global levels.

Following the adoption, several delegates outlined their support for the Agreed Conclusions, as well concerns and reservations.  Saint Lucia’s representative stressed on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) that, while her delegation had joined the consensus, interpretation and use of the term “early marriage” would be subject to the national laws of CARICOM member States.

Yemen’s representative, speaking also for Sudan, Nigeria and Libya, said that, while his delegation had joined consensus, some of its views had not been taken on board.  He expressed reservations about social terms that did not enjoy international consensus, such as “sexuality”, which was not included in some countries’ national laws.

Mauritania’s delegate expressed a general reservation around all issues that were not in the spirit of Islamic law.

Spain’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said many paragraphs did not reflect negotiated compromises, and thus, could not enjoy the bloc’s support.  References to civil society were limited and had not incorporated agreed language, including the word “NGOs”.  She expressed disappointment that the link between women’s economic empowerment and sexual and reproductive health and rights could not have been made stronger by reflecting the human rights components necessary for gender equality.  Policy space was another concern, as was language that reinforced traditional roles for women, which did not contribute to their economic empowerment.  Nonetheless, the European Union would try to build consensus on those issues, and work with partners to improve the Commission’s efficiency next year.

Argentina’s delegate, speaking for a number of countries, welcomed that proposed language to strengthen references to human rights had been included in the text.  Sexual and reproductive health and rights; social protection floors; and the importance of balancing work and family life were among the issues linked to women’s economic empowerment.  Many proposals by his delegation had come from the Panama Declaration and he was pleased to see them reflected in the text.

Australia’s representative, speaking for a number of countries, said the “well-balanced” text represented an important step towards realizing the economic empowerment of women and girls.  In particular, it addressed the gender pay gap, occupational disparities, the rights of indigenous and other important issues.  While it could have been stronger in some areas — including its references to civil society, national human rights institutions and sexual and reproductive health and rights — her delegation was nonetheless pleased with the outcome.

Iran’s representative, expressing hope that the text would open new horizons for women in the world of work, said that while her delegation had joined the consensus, nothing in the text should be construed as implying a change in Iran’s national laws or policies.

The representative of the United States said his delegation had engaged in the negotiations on the Agreed Conclusions despite not being a member of the Commission.  While the United States valued unpaid care work, it did not include such labour in national accounting, including gross domestic product (GDP) calculations.  Underscoring the importance of the recognition in the Agreed Conclusion’s of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) 1998 declaration on fundamental rights at work, he recalled that the instrument committed Member States to respect and promote the right to association and collective bargaining, eliminate forced and child labour, and end discrimination.

He went on to state that the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action had not created any new international rights, such as the right to access abortion.  His country did not support abortion as part of its international assistance.  It reserved the right to make reservations to sections of the Agreed Conclusions relating to climate change pending a national review of that issue.  The United States considered targeted sanctions to be a legitimate alternative to the use of force and did not consider the Commission to be an appropriate venue to consider such technical issues as illicit financial flows.  No element of the Agreed Conclusions could be interpreted as changing the position of the United States, or any other delegation, on any issue.

France’s representative, associating himself with the European Union and speaking for a number of countries, said full enjoyment of all human rights — including equal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights by all men and women — remained critical.  Women and girls had the right to make all decisions relating to their health.  The enjoyment of such rights without discrimination was a prerequisite for realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

An observer for the Holy See stated a number of reservations to the Agreed Conclusions, noting that his delegation interpreted the term “sexual and reproductive health and rights” as part of a holistic concept of health, and did not recognize the right to abortion, abortifacients or “radical individual autonomy” which undermined the empowerment of women and girls.  The Holy See also interpreted the concept of “gender” as being grounded in a person’s male or female biological sex, not in social constructions.

Pakistan’s representative, also listing a number of reservations, said the concepts of sexual and reproductive health and rights and female genital mutilation lacked adequate definitions in the text and had been left open to interpretation.  Pakistan would therefore adhere to its own national laws and policies on those issues.

Poland’s representative, associating herself with the European Union, said that, as the term “sexual and reproductive health and rights” lacked an international definition, her delegation chose to define it in line with the Beijing Platform for Action.

In other business today, the Commission recommended two draft resolutions to the Economic and Social Council.  First, it approved a draft titled, “preventing and eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace” (document E/CN.6/2017/L.4), as orally revised by the representative of its main co-sponsor, Israel.

The representative of the United States, noting that sexual harassment was a form of discrimination that could evolve to a form of gender-based violence, emphasized the important role of Governments in the provision of adequate redress for victims and expressed opposition to the practice of child labour.

Spain’s representative welcomed, on behalf of the European Union, the constructive and inclusive way in which negotiations had been conducted.  While the bloc was in favour of the text, it objected to the presentation of separate draft resolutions.  It would have been more efficient to tackle the issue in the Agreed Conclusions.

Iran’s representative said that Israel — “the last occupying regime in the world” — had presented a draft resolution “riddled with hypocrisy”.  The text was among Israel’s many attempts to distract from its atrocities, he said, warning that while his delegation had joined the consensus, it remained concerned that “the wrong messenger might kill the right message”.

Oman’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, described the efforts of many Arab countries to combat workplace sexual harassment.  While the Group supported the content of the draft, he echoed Iran’s concerns about the behaviour of its main co-sponsor, which went against the text’s spirit.

Israel’s representative said it was “appalling” that women continued to feel unsafe in the workplace in 2017, adding that “sexual harassment is an affront to all workers”.  Today’s adoption sent a clear message to all stakeholders and to ordinary people all over the world that eliminating workplace sexual harassment was possible.

Next, by a recorded vote of 30 in favour to 1 against (Israel) with 12 abstentions, the Commission approved a draft resolution titled, “situation of and assistance to Palestinian women” (document E/CN.6/2017/L.3).

The representative of the United States, describing the draft resolution as biased, said her delegation objected strongly to the text and to the Commission’s insistence on including one-sided condemnations.  The United States was committed to providing practical support for the Palestinians, she said, adding that, as the single largest donor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), it had provided more than $359 million in 2016 alone.  She also expressed concern over reports that Hamas had limited women’s ability to appear in public and move freely.

Spain’s representative expressed deep concern, on behalf of the European Union, over the impact of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on women.  The bloc had not participated in discussions on its content.  It would abstain in the vote, as issues contained in the text should be dealt with in the General Assembly, a position it had expressed numerous times.  The European Union was prepared to work with the Observer Mission of the State of Palestine with view to eliminating the resolution.

Speaking in explanation of position, Israel’s representative said the resolution had nothing to do with the situation of Palestinian women.  Rather, its goal was to attack Israel.  Israel had always been committed to improving women’s lives everywhere.  She expressed regret over the Commission’s politicization and called for a vote, explaining that Israel would not support the text.

The representative of the State of Palestine said the text reaffirmed the fundamental legal principles underlying the search for a just, lasting and peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The adoption was a resounding reaffirmation of the inalienable rights of Palestinian women, in line with international law, and exemplified the key role of the United Nations in their protection and promotion.  “If Israel were really supportive of Palestinian women everywhere, as we have just heard, then the only thing that should be done is for it to end its occupation,” she said.

Also today, the Commission approved, by consensus, a provisional agenda for its sixty-second session (document E/CN.6/2017/L.2), and a draft report on its sixty-first session (document E/CN.6/2017/L.1).  Vice-Chair-cum-Rapporteur Sejla Durbuzović (Bosnia and Herzegovina) introduced the latter.

The Commission took note of a number of reports, including of the Under‑Secretary-General/Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women on the normative aspects of the work of UN-Women (document E/CN.6/2017/2); of the Secretary-General on women’s empowerment in the changing world of work (document E/CN.6/2017/3); of the Secretary General on the challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls (document E/CN.6/2017/4); and of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on its sixty-first, sixty-second and sixty-third sessions (document A/71/38).Documents by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women on the activities of the United Nations Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence against Women (document A/HRC/35/3-E/CN.6/2017/7); and by the Secretariat transmitting the results of the sixty-fourth and sixty-fifth sessions of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (document E/CN.6/2017/10) were also noted, as were the summaries of high-level dialogues, ministerial roundtables and expert panels, contained in documents E/CN.6/2017/11; E/CN.6/2017/12; E/CN.6/2017/13; E/CN.6/2017/14; E/CN.6/2017/15; E/CN.6/2017/CRP.1; E/CN.6/2017/CRP.2; E/CN.6/2017/CRP.3; E/CN.6/2017/CRP.4; and E/CN.6/2017/16.

The Commission then opened its sixty-second session, electing by acclamation David Donoghue (Ireland) as Chair of both the sixty-second and sixty-third sessions.  It also elected two Vice-Chairs:  Mauricio Caribali Baquero (Colombia), for both those sessions, and Koki Muli Grignon (Kenya) for the sixty-second session.

It also appointed two members to the Working Group on Communications concerning the Status of Women:  Belgium, for the sixty-second and sixty-third sessions, and Uruguay, for the sixty-second session.

For information media. Not an official record.