Fostering further gains to broaden opportunities for women depends on strong political will and working closely with civil society and other key stakeholders, Ministers and other high-level Government officials told the Commission on the Status of Women today as its sixty-third session continued.
Concluding its consideration of 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), the Commission 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.
Delivering their respective country’s presentations, they described how their Governments partner with the private sector and civil society, from national to municipal levels, to ensure real progress on the ground. Doing so means reaching out to businesses, consulting with women from vulnerable communities, working with local police to prevent and address gender-based violence and providing the kind of services that reduce maternal mortality and teenage pregnancy while encouraging more women to attend higher education institutions, start businesses and enter the political arena.
Panama’s National Director of the National Institute for Women said her country adopted a new model to build on a range of achievements. Highlighting ongoing efforts, she pointed to quotas for political positions, a national strategy to remove barriers to women’s participation and laws that, among other things, criminalize femicide.
In her national presentation, the Minister for the National Institute for Women of Honduras said a newly established special unit is investigating women’s violent deaths and femicide. Meanwhile, a new centre will soon open to offer various services to women, widening the reach of existing centres located in areas with a high incidence of gender-based violence.
Sharing recent developments in Slovakia, an expert from the Department of Gender Equality and Equal Opportunities at the Ministry of Labour said her Government has taken steady and consistent steps, from passing equal-work-for-equal-pay legislation to launching new initiatives to eliminate violence against women and better serve victims of gender-based crimes. Special efforts are engaging men, offering them enhanced parental benefits and actively involving them in campaigns to stamp out violence against women.
Attracting more women into the workforce continues to be a priority for Saudi Arabia, whose Secretary-General of the Family Affairs Council reported improvements in the education and job sectors. Women now make up 47 per cent of higher education graduates and hold growing numbers of positions in the justice system. Since 2016, the number of licenses issued to female lawyers increased by 113 per cent, and since 2014, the number of women holding jobs in the private sector rose by 130 per cent.
Presenting challenges and accomplishments, Cabo Verde’s Minister for Education, Family and Social Inclusion said a cross-cutting approach supports women’s empowerment as the country works towards achieving middle-income nation status. Ensuring further progress requires political will and international support, she said, adding that partnerships are invaluable. Indeed, the exchange of experiences with Cabo Verde’s partner country, Spain, should continue with a view to learning from past mistakes.
Algeria’s Minister for National Solidarity, the Family and the Status of Women said her country strengthened its legislative framework by adopting laws to guarantee equal opportunity and criminalize violence against women. New projects also address women’s needs, including a fund to assist single mothers and efforts to enhance women’s participation in politics and combat stereotypes.
In the afternoon, the Commission held an interactive dialogue about women and girls of African descent, featuring Dominique Day, member of the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent; Caren Paola Yañez, General Coordinator of the Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women’s Network; Valdecir Nascimento, Executive Coordinator of ODARA — Instituto da Mulher Negra (Black Women’s Institute); and Sami Nevala, Programme Manager in the Research and Data Unit at the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.
Participants shared experiences and outlined challenges ahead. Summing up the current situation, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), said that, despite playing a significant role in making strides against discrimination, women of African descent are discriminated everywhere in the world, even in Africa, where they face discrimination from their own Governments, communities and families. This is often exacerbated by the fact that they are Muslim or poor.
“There is deep racism and xenophobia that over centuries we have just not been able to conquer even at the highest levels and even in institutions that promote women’s rights, even here at the United Nations,” she said, calling for investment in lifelong learning for girls and women so that can learn and grow at any age.
The Commission on the Status of Women will reconvene on Friday, 15 March, to convene an interactive expert panel on the theme “Harnessing synergies and securing financing”.
Interactive Dialogue I
The Commission heard presentations from six countries on the theme “Women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development”.
MARITZA ROSABAL PEÑA, Minister for Education, Family and Social Inclusion of Cabo Verde, highlighted achievements and challenges to strengthening legal and policy frameworks, as well as to encouraging empowerment and equal rights for girls and women. Small and comprised of 10 islands off the African coast, Cabo Verde was declared one of the world’s poorest countries in the 1970s, but it is now moving towards middle-income‑country status. While women comprise 49 per cent of the population, 54 per cent are not economically active because they must take care of their families. At legislative and executive levels, women are serving in decision-making positions, yet represent a low percentage of the total number of positions, she said, noting that changing this is a priority. Half of 20 existing programmes follow a cross-cutting approach and are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals and with women’s empowerment. Gender indicators and a reporting system about progress are now in place alongside projects to boost women’s participation in the labour market and improve their access to land. Training to address gender-based violence is taking place across several ministries and efforts are being made to broaden access to education for girls and to social protection services. Meanwhile, legislation is being drafted on improving women’s participation in the political sphere.
The representative of Spain, serving as a partner, wondered how her country and the international community can effectively support these efforts.
The representative of Uruguay, also a partner, commended Cabo Verde for being a model for other African countries.
Ms. PEÑA, responding, said Spain was her country’s first partner in helping to combat gender-based violence and they continue to collaborate in different ways. The exchange of experiences can help facilitate learning from past mistakes. Training and thinking about how things occur is important, including in handling data. At the local level, Spain has a lot of information it could share, for instance, to assist Cabo Verde’s efforts to combat gender-based violence in urban areas. There must be political will and international support to ensure further progress.
ANA AMINTA MADRID, Minister for the National Institute for Women of Honduras, delivering her country’s presentation, outlined achievements at regional, local and national levels to empower women. They include targeted projects, stronger policy frameworks and combating violence against women. A special unit was established to investigate women’s violent deaths and femicide, municipal action plans are tackling violence against women and a social inclusion programme is reaching women in many communities. Gender equity has been mainstreamed into education, health and employment policies, with targeted projects to boost entrepreneurship and women’s involvement in fields such as construction and business.
NATALIA LOSANA, Coordinator for the Right Here, Right Now platform of Honduras, said that, while much remains to be done, stakeholders are committed to empowering women through the legislative framework and working with civil society. However, urgent efforts are needed to support the victims of gender‑based violence.
The representative of the Dominican Republic, a partner country, asked for more details on the role the national mechanism plays in the Right Here, Right Now platform.
The representative of Panama, also a partner, asked about forthcoming approaches.
Ms. LOSANA, responding, said programmes are addressing concerns such as teenage pregnancies and the needs of women in vulnerable communities, with a view to reducing maternal mortality and violence against women. Services are monitored to ensure quality care. A new centre will open to offer these and other services in addition to existing centres located in areas with high incidences of violence against women.
Ms. MADRID, in response, said municipal efforts are tackling a range of challenges. The National Institute for Women also works to ensure establishing alliances with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to facilitate the implementation of a gender equality plan.
LIRIOLA LEOTEAU, National Director of the National Institute for Women of Panama, delivered her country’s presentation, reporting progress in implementing national public policies that recognize women’s critical role in sustainable development. Municipal-level poverty-reduction projects and national‑level initiatives are working towards achieving the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Government is also taking steps to ensure women live their lives free of violence and fully enjoy their rights, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. A national strategy for women is evolving, aimed at removing barriers to women’s participation. Laws have been adopted, among them one that criminalizes femicide. While a federal mechanism to support and defend women’s rights now operates nationwide, including in rural and indigenous communities, Panama has also developed a new model to encourage further progress. In addition, to boost women’s inclusion, Panama set quotas for political positions and improved data collection. Other efforts include training police on addressing gender-based violence and a credit programme to encourage women’s involvement in the business sector. Working with the private sector and civil society, Panama has been fostering partnerships to innovate and be selective in efforts to advance women’s empowerment.
The representative of El Salvador, a partner country, asked about the scope of a programme to empower women.
The representative of the Dominican Republic, also serving as a partner, requested more information of efforts to reduce gender-based violence.
The representative of Honduras, a partner country, asked for details on targeted programmes.
Ms. LEOTEAU, responding, said the empowerment programme has a national reach and has a direct relationship with regional efforts. In terms of reducing gender‑based violence, a strategy to reduce femicide has seen results through concerted efforts conducted through centres offering a range of services with a view to giving women the tools they need to have the opportunity to leave their aggressors. Panama aimed at reaching women in all communities across the country.
HALA ALTUWAJRI, Secretary-General of the Family Affairs Council of Saudi Arabia, delivering her country’s presentation, pointed to an integrated governance model to implement the national Vision 2030’s goals of increasing women’s share in the labour market through training and leadership orientation and improving employment mechanisms. To strengthen legal and policy frameworks, Saudi Arabia has taken steps, including adopting legislation that prohibits unequal pay. Women make up 47 per cent of higher education graduates and hold positions in the justice system. Since 2016, the number of licenses issued to female lawyers has increased 113 per cent, and in the past five years, the number of women working in the private sector has risen 130 per cent. Saudi Arabia has also passed a royal decree to lift the ban on women’s driving, allocated one quarter of human rights positions to women and passed related legislation, including on maternity leave. Women’s role in the business sector is also increasing. Saudi Arabia’s commitment to transparency extends to ensuring gender equality in the workplace and women’s rights to education, life, health and social protection. She also provided examples of how Saudi Arabia is working towards gender-responsive data collection, adding that the Government prohibits all kinds of discrimination and remains committed to engaging with partners nationally and globally to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals while ensuring that no one is left behind.
HAIFA AL MOGRIN, Princess of Saudi Arabia, presenting her country’s efforts towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, said Saudi Arabia is working to further improve women’s access to the labour force. The Government, private sector, civil society and other stakeholders are taking steps to ensure women’s equal access to services. The Government provides incentives to the private sector to encourage women’s inclusion. Child-care facilities and transportation are also offered as are flexible employment opportunities. Saudi Arabia is also contributing towards advancing women’s empowerment in many developing countries. Meanwhile, the Vision 2030 economic diversification plan aims at promoting women’s rights through leadership programmes, she said, adding that women have equal rights to vote and run as candidates.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates, a partner country, asked for details on the Vision 2030 and how it aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals.
The representative of Maldives, also serving as a partner, requested more information on including women in the labour market.
Ms. ALTUWAJRI, in response, said Vision 2030 targets women’s inclusion across many fields. Methods taken include those targeted at bridging existing gaps to grant women opportunities to join the labour market or get promoted to higher positions. Results include the recent achievement of appointing a female Ambassador to the United States. To address high unemployment among women, programmes focus in a holistic manner on training, creating flexible work arrangements and enhancing a work-life balance. As a result, the number of women joining the labour market has increased.
Ms. AL MOGRIN said examining the gender perspective across the 17 Sustainable Development Goals is imperative. The general authority on statistics has included disaggregated indicators and other relevant to Vision 2030 and in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
LUBICA ROZBOROVÁ, an expert from the Department of Gender Equality and Equal Opportunities at the Ministry of Labour of Slovakia, delivering her country’s presentation, said that a national strategy for 2014 to 2019 for gender equality proposes targeted measures concerning economic independence, decision-making, education and international cooperation. The strategy sets out 64 tasks and identifies financial resources. Actions taken include passing legislation on a range of related issues that, among other things, guarantee equal pay for equal work. Efforts are also tackling the problem of gender-based and domestic violence, including the launch of a new national hotline for victims and a project supporting gender equality in education. The Ministry of Labour also allocates funds to NGOs to conduct gender-related work and the development of child-care services.
The representative of the Luxembourg, a partner country, asked for details on how efforts were addressing violence against women.
The representative of Namibia, also a partner, requested more information on parental leave.
Ms. ROZBOROVÁ, in response, said one way of increasing women’s involvement in the work force can be addressed by encouraging fathers to take advantage of parental benefits. Engaging men is also critical to combating violence against women, an approach taken in a national campaign to raise awareness and put a stop to the problem.
GHANIA EDDALIA, Minister for National Solidarity, the Family and the Status of Women of Algeria, presenting her country’s voluntary report, described efforts that were enhancing women’s empowerment and highlighted that African women have reached leadership positions and seen other gains. Algeria, for its part, has strengthened its legislative framework by adopting laws to guarantee equal opportunity and criminalize violence against women. It also launched a range of projects that address women’s needs, including a fund to assist single mothers and efforts to enhance women’s participation in politics and combat stereotypes. Activities include strong components on combating violence against women. Her Ministry, established in 2015, has focused its work on providing protection and support for women of all ages that are in need. To further establish gender parity, she said efforts were addressing the fact that women make up only a small percentage of the labour force. However, this will change, as women make up 65 per cent of university graduates and efforts such as microlending programmes are aimed specifically at promoting women’s involvement. Meanwhile, gains have been made in increasing women’s participation in many fields, from the military to the private sector. Emphasizing the importance of partnerships, she said Algeria is collaborating with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) on various projects. At the same time, her Ministry is working with other ministries towards common objectives.
The representative of Cuba, serving as a partner, asked about strategies to encourage women to study at higher education institutions.
Ms. EDDALIA, in response, said that, starting from elementary school, poor families receive support. All college students also receive grants and free transportation, allowing Algerian youth to complete their education.
Interactive Dialogue II
The Commission on the Status of Women held an interactive dialogue on the theme, “Women and girls of African descent”, which was divided into two parts, respectively focusing on “Enhancing political participation and economic empowerment for women of African descent” and “Addressing inequalities, discrimination and violence faced by women and girls of African descent”.
The two discussions included the following speakers: Dominique Day, member of the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent; Caren Paola Yañez, General Coordinator of the Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women’s Network; Valdecir Nascimento, Executive Coordinator of ODARA — Instituto da Mulher Negra (Black Women’s Institute); and Sami Nevala, Programme Manager in the Research and Data Unit at the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. Also delivering remarks was Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN-Women.
Ms. DAY said this week in the United States there were massive arrests of wealthy white parents who were purchasing entrance for their children into elite schools. She said many black and brown students who have gained access to such educational institutions have been for years seen as undeserving or as having taken advantage of some scheme that benefits them. The purchasing of education is in fact the purchasing of money and privilege. Part of the role of human rights advocates is to continue to fight commonly held stereotypes. This also gravely affects the access that people have to social protection services. Without recordkeeping, it is very difficult to measure how people are systematically denied their right to education and services. “If this is something we want to change, we are going to have to keep ourselves accountable and measure how people are excluded based on gender or race, or both,” she added.
Ms. YAÑEZ said that the Afro-American network she works for is focused on empowering girls and women of African descent by fighting against the discrimination and marginalization they face. “Yes, progress has been made in our region, but there are still differences and delays that remain,” she added. Progress has been less for women of African descent than other women. “We have some data, but we need a lot more,” she continued. Women of African descent are greatly excluded from political life and are more likely to be subjected to harassment and poverty. In 9 out of the 12 countries for which there is data, women of African descent are much more likely to live in poorer neighbourhoods than other women. They also lack access to basic resources, such as clean drinking water. In schools, young girls of African descent are teased more often. “They think: ‘Why is this?’ I’m black and then they think, ‘I am fed up with being black’,” she continued. In 2020, the new round of the census in the region will begin, she noted, calling on States to continue to collect data so that they can take action to reduce gaps.
BATHABILE OLIVE DLAMINI, Minister for Women in the Presidency of South Africa, said that the xenophobia faced by people of African descent must be addressed “if we are to ensure substantive equality”. The slave trade and its lasting effect continues to greatly contribute to the socioeconomic disadvantages faced by women and girls of African descent. Evidence-based policy is paramount, she continued, adding: “This is the most important topic.”
JACINTA HIGGS, Director, Department of Gender and Family Affairs, Ministry of Social Services and Urban Development of the Bahamas, said it is difficult today to get women to understand that long ago in Africa women ruled. They would not allow men to rule without their mothers’ involvement. She requested funding aimed at informing women that they must be empowered. “We need to tell these women that black women once ruled, and they could do it again,” she added. She also expressed concerned over how music and rappers influence the minds of young people. They use demeaning language and call women and girls derogatory names. “We need to push back,” she stressed.
ERONILDES VASCONCELOS CARVALHO, National Secretary of Policies for Women of Brazil, said that the number of people in her country who identify themselves of Afro-descent has recently increased. This is due to raising awareness and educating the public about history. Brazilian legislation has also been improved to enhance access to universities for Brazilian citizens of African descent and expand their role in government.
Also participating today were representatives of Mexico, Costa Rica, Uruguay and the European Union.
A representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) also delivered a statement, as did a member of the Episcopal Church.
Ms. NASCIMENTO said that black women in Brazil make up more than 80 per cent of domestic workers, who continue to be underpaid. The new Government in Brazil is racist and fundamentalist. “The black population in Brazil is the most vulnerable,” she stressed. Violence has gotten worse, and access to jobs and income is dismal. “We are a country that should be ashamed,” she emphasized, adding that 15,000 black youth are killed every year, mostly by the police. Now the Government wants to adopt a law that would allow the killers to go free rather than be brought to justice. A black woman, without structure and assistance from the Government, is in danger. “Not only international support, we need investments from Brazil to move forward,” she said.
Mr. NAVALA said the data presented is based on the experience of some 6,000 people of African descent in 12 European Union member States. It shows that women of African descent are highly discriminated against in the workplace, education sector, housing and public services. Discrimination is most prevalent on the job, and when seeking for employment and housing. The harassment faced by women of African descent greatly exceeds that of men, according to data. The European Union has several laws protecting people against discrimination. However, the specific discrimination faced by women of African descent must be taken into account. Empowering women of African descent can involve existing instruments. This can include raising awareness among professionals of the challenges faced by women of African descent.
Ms. MLAMBO-NGCUKA said women of African descent are discriminated everywhere in the world. “There actually isn’t a place on Earth where they are not discriminated against,” she stressed. Even in Africa, women are discriminated against by their own Governments, communities and families. Their experiences of discrimination are often exacerbated by the fact that they are Muslim or poor. “There is deep racism and xenophobia that over centuries we have just not been able to conquer even at the highest levels and even in institutions that promote women’s rights, even here at the United Nations,” she said. And yet, women of African descent have played a significant role in ensuring that institutions address the biggest and most pressing global issues. Women of African descent have resisted colonial rule. Black women are one of the most active groups fighting against racism and sexism. “We must invest in the education of our girls and in life-long learning so that even older women can continue to learn and grow,” she stressed.
In the ensuing discussion, the representative of the Bridge Foundation said her organization works to link youth of African descent. She described the experience of a group of young Canadians of African descent who travelled to Africa, where they learned about and participated in discussions on the continent’s legislation and culture. Upon returning to their home countries, the participants have remained involved in educating other youth of African descent about their heritage. They also advocate for those who have been silenced by systemic racism.
The speaker from the United States Human Rights Network said that black women and girls, while comprising only 13 per cent of the population in the United States, make up 30 per cent of the prison population. “We know that black women’s bodies are more vulnerable,” she added. Black women and girls are more likely to have mental health problems and three times more likely to die in child labour than white women.
Also participating in the second discussion were representatives of Brazil, Costa Rica and the Bahamas.
Representatives from the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Grail Group, Novant Health, Asian-Pacific Research and Resource Centre for Women, International Trade Union Confederation, American Association of Jurists and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts also joined the discussion.