Taking stock of 25 years of achievements in women’s empowerment, Governments, members of civil society, private sector and the media, today discussed challenges and progress made in implementing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, in the third day of the Commission on the Status of Women.
Conducting two high-level interactive dialogues, the Commission focused on steps and measures taken to empower women and girls, respectively titled “Accelerating implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action: Exchange of best practices in preparation for the Beijing+25 review and appraisal” and “Women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development”. In 2020, the Commission will undertake a review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), in introductory remarks to the first panel, said it is essential to close gaps in implementation. “We have to be brutally honest” about “how far we have come and how far we have yet to go”, she added, calling for political commitment to lead to action that will close gaps.
Young people must be involved in the review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration, she continued. All branches and levels of government, civil society, academia, media and the private sector must be welcomed at the table. “Don’t leave anyone behind in this review,” she stressed. While this may not be a popular agenda for everyone, she stressed the need to “push back against the pushback”. Ambitious plans and interventions will take the world forward.
Various leaders and experts shared their experience with implementing the Beijing Declaration and Plan for Action, including the Executive Director of the National Institute of Women of Argentina, who said that the concept of empowering women, physically and economically, has been included in all national policies. “This will lead to a cultural transformation,” she added.
The Minister for Social Welfare, Gender, and Children Affairs of Sierra Leone said that, under the direction of its new Government, there is hope that the situation in the country will significantly improve. Sierra Leone recently declared combating rape and sexual abuse a national priority. Law enforcement and health officials are working together to ensure justice and proper care for victims.
The Minister for Women of the Dominican Republic said that the way power is handled needs to change, adding: “We need to change ways of thinking so that young people can approach gender in an inclusive manner.”
Several officials underscored the importance of international assistance in helping them implement the Declaration and Plan for Action. The Vice-President of Kiribati said his Government has enacted laws to promote gender parity. More than half of the administrative positions are occupied by women. However, “Kiribati cannot do it all alone,” he stressed, adding: “We need support and assistance from development partners from donors and the United Nations agencies.”
In the afternoon, the Commission took up the Secretary-General’s report on the “Review of the implementation of the agreed conclusions of the sixtieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women” (document E/CN.6/2019/4), heard the voluntary presentation of six national reviews on the theme of women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development, and held an interactive dialogue with Ministers and high-level Government officials of participating Member States.
While gains in political, social and cultural areas have been made, the Secretary-General’s report highlighted an uneven implementation of agreed goals and structural barriers remain for women and girls. The report also underscored key measures to reduce such inequalities and facilitate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including prioritizing gender-responsive programming and strengthening women’s organizations.
In delivering their national presentations, representatives of the participating Member States described strategies and achievements in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. However, many highlighted priority challenges, including closing wage gaps, combating violence against women and boosting gender mainstreaming initiatives.
Italy’s Minister for Family Affairs and Disabilities reported on new initiatives aimed at addressing gaps in the labour market and work‑life balances for men and women. Italy also introduced a strategy adopted in 2017 that serves as a national reference point, with a national commission established tasked to monitor and assess the implementation achievements.
The Minister for Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs of Qatar reported recent gains for women, including the right to vote, increased participation in politics and the labour market, as well as policies, strategies and mechanisms to ensure further progress to advance the status of women.
Spain’s Director General of the Institute of Women and Equal Opportunities, described national efforts, stressing that establishing equal opportunity ultimately aims at achieving independence and autonomy for women, which will be a great step in reducing the wage gap. The main goal for Spain has been enhancing a notion of shared responsibility, she said, noting that a timetable has been set, with a new decree adopted in 2019, for companies to draft strategies to carry out the policy that addresses wage gaps.
Also delivering national presentations were Ministers and high-level officials from the Philippines, Egypt and Bulgaria.
The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 14 March to hear voluntary presentations from Member States to convene an interactive dialogue on women and girls of African descent.
Interactive Dialogue I
PHUMZILE MLAMBO-NGCUKA, Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), in introductory remarks, said it is critical to identify gaps in implementing the Beijing Declaration. “We have to be brutally honest” about “how far we have come and how far we have yet to go”, she added. Political commitment is essential to lead to concrete actions that will close the gaps. “We have to make sure that we stimulate the participation of young people,” she emphasized. Young people must be involved in the review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration. All branches and levels of government, civil society, academia, media and private sector must all be involved. “Don’t leave anyone behind in this review,” she stressed. While this may not be a popular agenda for everyone, it is essential to “push back against the pushback”. Ambitious plans and interventions will take the world forward.
In the ensuing discussion, various representatives shared their experience with implementing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, including by presenting challenges they have encountered and noting the progress they have made so far.
TERESA AMARELLE BOUÉ, Secretary-General of the Federation of Cuban Women and Member of the Council of State of Cuba, said her country had adopted the Platform for Action to guide its national policies. Several ministries are now responsible for implementing those measures and accelerating compliance to ensure synergies with other commitments. While the Government has not been able to meet all the targets outlined in the plan, it has already made commendable progress.
FABIANA TUÑEZ, Executive Director of the National Institute of Women of Argentina, said that 70 per cent of the activities outlined in the plan have already been achieved by her country. Empowering women, physically and economically, is now included in all of Argentina’s national policies. “This will lead to a cultural transformation,” she added.
MERESEINI VUNIWAQA, Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation of Fiji, said that the responsibility of implementation lies fully with Governments and must be supported by institutions and accountability mechanisms. This is an immense task that requires coordination. It is a collective duty, she said.
DAVID STANTON, Minister for Equality, Immigration and Integration of Ireland, said a robust legal framework has been put in place to promote women’s rights and combat domestic violence. Plenty of challenges remain, including getting women into the highest levels of political office.
BAINDU DASSAMA, Minister for Social Welfare, Gender and Children Affairs of Sierra Leone, said that considerable progress has been made in enhancing gender equality through the promotion of education, provision of health care, enhanced participation of women in Government and improvement of finance provision to female business owners. However, more can be done to advance women’s economic empowerment and ensure maternal health. Under the direction of Sierra Leone’s new Government, there is hope for more progress and improvement. Sierra Leone recently declared combating rape and sexual abuse a national priority. Law enforcement and health-care officials are working hand in hand with Government to ensure justice and proper care for all victims.
JANET CAMILO, Minister for Women of Dominican Republic, said the countries that have signed the Platform for Action signed on to achieve equality. This means a change in how power is handled. “We need to change our way of thinking so that young people can approach gender in an inclusive manner,” she emphasized, adding “this is a huge challenge for my country.” Women have spent many years fighting for their rights and they will continue to do so, she added.
NAZGUL SAGYNDYKOVA, Head of the Secretariat of the National Commission for Women, Family and Demographic Policy of Kazakhstan, said that, recently, two gender laws have been adopted. One is focused on equal opportunity for men and women and the other on combating domestic violence. Kazakhstan has every opportunity available for women entrepreneurs. Women non-governmental organizations are playing a vital role in ensuring equity. The State provides subsidies to women for the birth of a child and to all children under the age of one.
ROSEANE ESTRELA, Assistant Secretary, Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights of Brazil, said the Beijing legacy goes beyond the words negotiated. The outcome has led to developments at national, regional and international levels. The momentum generated in Beijing cannot be lost, she stressed. Brazil is firmly committed to the Declaration and to securing the rights of all women.
RUPAR MYA, Deputy Director General, Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement of Myanmar, said her Government has formed four technical working groups focused on gender-specific topics and on ensuring that the gender perspective is included in all policies. “We have challenges,” she said, expressing concern over time constraints in the review of the Beijing Declaration.
KOURABI NENEM, Vice-President of Kiribati, said women and girls should be empowered to achieve their full potential in life. His Government has enacted laws to promote education and eliminate sexual violence. More than half of the administrative positions in Kiribati are occupied by women. Noting the strides achieved in the private sector, he noted that Kiribati cannot do it all alone. “We need support from development partners, donors and the United Nations.”
PUMZA DYANTYI, Member of the Executive Council on Social Development of South Africa, said her Government inherited an apartheid system where women were denied political positions, education opportunities and equitable health care. From 1994 onwards, the Government has achieved substantial progress in mainstreaming gender equality and women’s empowerment principles in its legislative policies.
Also participating in the morning’s discussion were high-level officials of Australia, Nigeria, Latvia, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Ukraine, China, Mexico, Spain, Zambia, Croatia, Turkey, Georgia, Thailand, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Qatar, Germany, Zimbabwe, Peru, Italy, Nepal, United Republic of Tanzania, Kenya and Cyprus, as well as the African Union and European Union.
Also speaking were representatives of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, private sector, civil society and human rights institutions, as well as media officials.
Interactive Dialogue II
SEEMIN QAYUM, Officer-in-Charge of Economic Empowerment at UN-Women, presented findings outlined in the Secretary-General’s report on the “Review of the implementation of the agreed conclusions of the sixtieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women” (document E/CN.6/2018/4). Member States have made laudable progress, with good practices emerging. Efforts have tackled gender discrimination, actively promoted women’s rights as a means to remove structural barriers, initiated gender-responsive budgeting and allocated targeted financing for development. Other gains in political, social and cultural areas were also reported. However, uneven implementation of agreed goals and structural barriers remain for women and girls. The report underscored key measures to reduce such inequalities and facilitate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, including prioritizing gender-responsive programming and strengthening women’s organizations.
The Commission then heard presentations from six countries on the theme “Women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development”.
LORENZO FONTANA, Minister for Family Affairs and Disabilities of Italy, described a range of activities in his country, including a strategy adopted in 2017 that serves as a national reference point, with a commission established tasked to monitor and assess the implementation achievements. To address significant gaps remaining in employment, the Government launched initiatives promoting women’s entrepreneurship and self-employment. At the same time, the need for women to access and remain in the job market must dovetail with their private lives. A work-life balance provides useful ways for individuals to best live their multiplicity of roles in society while being a powerful tool for women’s empowerment. As such, work-life policies involve men and women, having a clear bearing on the workload within families. A modern policy reconciling work and family life could in this way be a positive element in boosting economic growth through employment. Other measures, including policies on parental leave, education, combating domestic violence and on families with children with disabilities, are contributing towards boosting Italy’s national economic growth. Italy has also contributed to projects in developing countries.
The representative of Bulgaria asked for details on several national programmes.
The representative of Mexico requested details on how the mechanism for the planning and evaluation of Italy’s 2030 Agenda implementation strategy is carried out.
Mr. FONTANA, addressing these questions, said several measures have been implemented since the last budget cycle. Among them is a family grant to pay for kindergarten fees and for services for children with chronic diseases. Similar efforts have resulted from reaching out to women to learn what their needs are. Efforts are also being made to move along the path of sustainable development in an inclusive manner. Working with civil society and other stakeholders, the Government’s strategy began in 2016 to work towards the 2030 Agenda’s goals. Concerning monitoring and assessing the strategy’s implementation, the National Institute for Statistics is coordinating the indicators for the goals.
YOUSIF BIN MOHAMMED AL-OTHMAN FAKHROO, Minister for Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs of Qatar, delivered his country’s presentation, emphasizing that the Government has recently achieved a distinct social and economic transformation to advance the status of women. Women lead ministries and State institutions and enjoy programmes broadening their access to the labour market through scholarships. Their participation in the labour market is about 37 per cent for the 25‑to‑29 age group and almost 49 per cent for the 30‑to‑34 age group. Meanwhile, women hold 30 per cent of decision-making positions. Qatar has also adopted national mechanisms to contribute to equal opportunities and equality at the policymaking level, including granting women the right to vote and stand for elections to municipal councils, and policies.
The representative of Iraq, serving as a partner, asked for details on programmes and for examples on Qatar’s experiences in adopting measures to protect women and girls’ rights.
The representative of Ghana queried about policies on work-family balance and the prevention of violence against women.
Mr. FAKHROO, responding, said that, among a host of efforts to address the balance between work and family, Qatar has adopted a policy on maternity leave guarantees, including five-year-long leaves with regard to children with disabilities. A social protection system aims at improving productivity in the workforce and initiatives aim at addressing concerns about violence against women.
NAJAT AL-ABDULLA, Director of Family Affairs at the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs of Qatar, elaborating on these measures, said Qatar has also adopted laws combating human trafficking and other areas that aim to combat gender-based violence. Targeted programmes also promote social and economic empowerment for women and for youth.
SILVIA BAUBENT, Director General of the Institute of Women and Equal Opportunities of Spain, delivering her country’s presentation, said women’s empowerment is crucial for achieving the 2030 Agenda. Efforts to strengthen the normative, legal and policy framework are ongoing, with laws and decrees guiding initiatives to address gender-based violence and ensure gender equality. In education, initiatives are promoting the participation of girls and women in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. However, challenges persist, she said, pointing at the continuation of a wage gap. To change that, efforts must work towards closing the salary difference between men and women with effective policies. In addition, a drive to combat gender stereotyping must stamp out this discriminatory practice. More broadly, she said it is crucial to work with women’s and feminist organizations throughout the world.
TERESA BARBA, Deputy Director General of Development Policies of Spain, adding to the presentation, agreed that efforts must continue to stamp out discrimination and ensure gains are made in gender mainstreaming. To address these concerns, she said measures are being taken with training and cultural networks.
IZASKUN LANDAIA, Director of the Basque Institute of Women of Spain, providing another perspective in the national presentation, said her organization has taken part in addressing concerns in rural areas, violence against women, promoting education and engaging men in working towards empowering women.
The representative of Argentina, a partner country, asked for more information on the involvement of civil society.
The representative of Portugal, also serving as a partner, said her country adopted a law aimed at narrowing the gender pay gap. She wondered about the long‑term impacts of recent laws on this issue.
Ms. BAUBENT, addressing these questions, said equal opportunity ultimately aims at achieving independence and autonomy for women, which would be a great step in reducing the wage gap. The main goal has been enhancing the notion of shared responsibility, she said, noting that a timetable has been set, with a new decree in 2019, for companies to draft strategies to carry out the policy on wages. In addition, efforts to improve childcare services would also help.
MARY ANNE E. R. DARAUAY, Director of the Social Development Staff at the National Economic Development Authority of the Philippines, delivering her country’s presentation, said its 25-year-long national strategy aims at making progress on the 2030 Agenda. Meanwhile, a medium-term development plan aims at attaining inclusive economic growth and transforming the economy. Within these plans, sustainable development goals are interspersed, with gender mainstreamed throughout the entire process with a view to promoting equality and empowerment. Providing several examples, she said a women’s rights law seeks to eliminate discrimination. Outlining several other laws and measures, she said the Government extended maternity leave, operated cash‑transfer programmes and managed efforts to ensure gender mainstreaming in budgeting and project planning. The Philippines is also conducting several studies on women in the labour force and other pertinent issues. A statistics development plan aims at incorporating targeted information on children, girls and women to better assess the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The representative of Australia, serving as a partner, commended ongoing efforts and achievements.
The representative of Thailand, also serving as a partner, asked for details on new laws on maternity leave and on universal health care.
RHODORA BUCOY, Chairperson of the Philippine Commission on Women of the Philippines, said efforts centred on working with the private sector to advance progress on maternity leave.
Ms. DARAUAY provided details of how taxes, governmental subsidies and budget allocations will contribute to the provision of health services. For instance, tax increases for cigarettes will be implemented. But, a strong political will remains the main driver.
MAYA MORSY, President of the National Council for Women of Egypt, delivering her country’s presentation, said its Constitution has addressed a range of issues, including political rights. In 2017, Egypt launched a strategy to enhance women’s rights, with activities including, among other things, combating violence against women and female genital mutilation and cutting. A national strategy was drafted with input from women’s organizations and civil society. Other activities include an amendment to an inheritance law to protect women’s rights, measures to ensure the economic empowerment of women and protect the rights of persons with disabilities. As 2017 was declared as the Year of the Egyptian Women, there were many opportunities on the ground to achieve further gains. Meanwhile, a gender‑responsive financial inclusion initiative has seen results, including that 3 million people, mostly women, benefited from microfinance projects. Women make up 15 per cent of Parliament and hold decision-making positions at the administrative and judicial level. Special units to combat violence against women were also established in several ministries.
MAGUED OSMAN, Member of the National Council for Women of Egypt, adding to the presentation, described a project that established in 2017 a mechanism to monitor progress and assess activities, providing data related to women “under one roof” with a view to allowing all stakeholders to access the information.
The representative of UN-Women, serving as a partner, commended Egypt’s delegation for its range of efforts to protect women from violence and inequalities.
The representative of the European Union, serving as a partner, asked for details on events planned for the anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action adopted at the fourth World Conference on Women and of the Cairo Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development.
Ms. MORSY said current celebrations for Egyptian women were held for 16 days. While it aimed at reaching 1 million women, the Government has already surpassed this goal, having reached 1.5 million females. Plans are being made to target 2 million women on the forthcoming anniversaries of the Cairo and Beijing instruments.
GEORGI PANAYOTOV (Bulgaria), delivering his country’s presentation, underlined the critical role played by civil society, members of which would be co-presenting the national report. Gender equality is a fundamental human right and an integral part to realize all human rights. Norms and laws have been adopted, including a penal code amendment on domestic violence, and gender has been mainstreamed in all policies, including parental leave, tax relief for families and equal pay to equal work. Citing gains in the labour market, he said 49 per cent of scientists are women and significant progress has been made in other areas, with women comprising about 30 per cent of engineers and information technology professionals.
ELENA TRIFFONOVA, Member of the Gender Research Foundation of Bulgaria, adding to her country’s report, said projects aim at empowering all women and girls. In cooperation with the State, she said initiatives target the wage gap, protect women’s rights and address social exclusion and the needs of children who witness violence and women facing gender-based violence. Describing approaches to address the needs of women facing violence and those living with disabilities, she said centres have been established and services reach those in need.
The representative of Italy, serving as a partner, asked for details on measures that support families.
The representative of Austria, also a partner, asked for more information about paternal leave. Considering that Austria has seen challenges to encourage men to take parental leave, he asked for information on how to address this.
The representative of Singapore, serving as a partner, requested details on new penal code amendments and measures used to promote women in science fields.
Mr. PANALYOTOV, responding, said support for families includes labour legislation that allows employees returning to work to propose to an employer a modification of working hours. Moreover, no employer can ask a mother of children up to age 6 to work overtime. Paternity leave is 15 days, with the Government providing 90 per cent of wages for this time. Turning to the penal code, amendments have criminalizing actions such as stalking, intimidation, forced marriage and assault, all crimes now punishable by imprisonment. Policies, attitude changes and the work of civil society have together contributed to advancing women in various fields in the workforce, he said, adding that more remained to be done to foster further progress.