First Female Vice‑President of United States Champions Women’s Role in Democracy
Ministers highlighted obstacles and shared best practices to accelerate the race towards gender equality, as the Commission on the Status of Women continued its session today with a general discussion and two ministerial round tables.
Touching upon a range of barriers and newly opened pathways towards women’s empowerment and gender equality, some ministers said a spike in violence against women during the COVID-19 pandemic required targeted action. Many showcased progress on women’s participation in public and private sectors and also called for galvanized action to reap even more benefits from their inclusion in decision‑making areas ranging from climate change mitigation to conflict resolution.
The representative of Guyana, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), voiced a common complaint: worldwide, women are still underrepresented. Pointing out that, 25 years after the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, no country has achieved gender parity, she said more must be done. While the proportion of women parliamentarians in the region has doubled, men still hold more than 70 per cent of seats. Despite gains made across many fields, women are still outnumbered in public and political life. Legislation can lead to real change in the lives of women. Men and family play crucial roles alongside robust programmes in education and childcare to address such discrepancies as chronic pay gaps and higher unemployment rates for women.
Fernando Elísio Freire, Minister for Family and Social Inclusion of Cabo Verde, speaking for the Community of Portuguese‑Speaking Countries, agreed that engaging boys and men “on this walk” towards gender equality is essential. For its part, members are “committed to joining efforts to overcome common barriers that hinder the empowerment of women and girls,” he said, especially female genital mutilation, child marriage and human trafficking. Members of the Community have strengthened their fight to end femicide and gender-based violence against women, championing zero tolerance and appealing for others to join the quest to protect the rights of all women and girls.
Many speakers shared success stories of promoting women’s inclusion in politics. Nyeleki Brooke Mondlane, Minister of Gender, Children and Social Action of Mozambique, speaking for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), highlighted significant progress in increasing women’s representation in Parliament, noting that, while it still falls short of the 50 per cent target, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe have achieved over 30 per cent female representation in their Lower Houses.
Kamala Harris, Vice-President of the United States, the first woman to hold the position, said “the status of women is the status of democracy”, which depends on their participation. While the United States still has work to do, it is making progress in accelerating women’s participation and leadership, she said. More women than men have voted in every United States election for the last 56 years, more women than ever before serve in the United States Congress and more are their families’ main breadwinners. “These are signs of progress, these are signs of strength, but we cannot take this progress for granted — especially now,” she said, noting that COVID-19 appears to be reversing critical gains in such areas as combating HIV/AIDS and reducing child and maternal mortality.
Several participants raised concerns about rising reports of violence against women during the pandemic. Debunking negative social norms and stereotypes plays a crucial role in reducing violence against them, said the representatives of Argentina and Namibia, on behalf of the Group of Friends for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls. Amid the many increasing challenges outlined today, they said, women and girls facing violence and discrimination must be able to partake in all COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. The Group supports enhanced cooperation between decision-making bodies and organizations advocating for children, adolescents and youths; strengthened, inclusive education systems; and high quality, affordable access to health care for women and girls, including universal access to sexual health and rights.
Ministers and other high-level representatives also participated in two round tables on the themes “Getting to parity: Good practices towards achieving women's full and effective participation and decision-making in public life” and “Creating an enabling environment for women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life”.
Also delivering statements during the general discussion were ministers and other high-level representatives of Chad (on behalf of the African Group), Portugal (on behalf of the European Union), Costa Rica (on behalf of the Council of Ministers of Women's Affairs of Central America and the Dominican Republic), Uzbekistan (on behalf of the Group of Central Asia Countries), Tuvalu (on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum), Kazakhstan (on behalf of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries), Chile (on behalf of the Group of Friends of Older Persons) and North Macedonia (on behalf of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Core Group).
The Commission will meet again at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 17 March, for an interactive dialogue on “Eliminating violence against women in public life”.
Round Table III
The Commission on the Status of Women held a ministerial round table on the theme “Getting to parity: good practices towards achieving women's full and effective participation and decision-making in public life”.
Opening the discussion, Chair Kaouter Krikou, Minister for National Solidarity, Family and the Status of Women of Algeria, emphasized that women serve as Heads of State or Government in only 21 countries, hold only 21 per cent of ministerial positions, 25 per cent of national parliamentary seats and 36 per cent of local deliberative seats. Failure to expedite women’s participation will make it impossible to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, she said, adding that a lack of women in public sector decision-making leaves Governments ill-equipped to respond to conflict and crises. “When women are not consulted or included in decision-making on issues that have direct impacts on their lives, policy outcomes are likely to be harmful, ineffective and lead to violation of women’s rights,” she said, encouraging ministers to focus on solutions as they share best practices during the discussion.
Participants provided many examples of national and regional achievements in striving for gender parity in public life, with some laying out challenges faced when implementing various programmes. Some ministers voiced concerns about the increase in reports of violence against women during the COVID-19 pandemic, given related restrictions, with some explaining that this regrettable trend has been the focus of new targeted programmes.
Hasina Safi, Acting Minister for Women Affairs of Afghanistan, said women’s empowerment and gender equality are the core at decision-making and public life, adding that: “Afghan women are heard”. Citing a range of gains, she pointed to the approval of the mother’s name on national identity cards and the Cabinet’s assignment of a woman as the Deputy Governor in 34 provinces. Even during the pandemic, the Government implemented a well-managed plan with equal service delivery and more priorities set aside for widows and female-headed households. In addition, the Ministry of Women Affairs has developed a policy for those in crisis and emergency situations. Women hold 27 per cent of seats in the Wolesi Jirga (lower house) and 28 per cent in the Mishrano Jirga (upper house). There are also four female ministers and 13 deputy ministers and commissioners. For the first time in Afghanistan’s history, women hold the positions of Deputy Attorney General for Elimination of Violence Against Women and Children and of Chief of Independent Election Commission. A female judge was nominated for membership in the High Council of the Supreme Court. Despite progress, more efforts for effective participation and decision-making in public life are required at national, regional and international levels.
Jana Maláčová, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs of the Czech Republic, said that, while women gained the right to vote more than a century ago, they remain underrepresented in all decision-making positions, including in politics. Generally, Czech women are employed in low-income jobs; the employment rate of those with small children is well below the European Union average. “We know our limits, but we want to go beyond them,” she said. Soft measures, such as awareness-raising campaigns, help to increase the number of women in decision‑making positions, but at the current slow pace, it would take the Czech Republic until 2071 to achieve a 40 per cent level of representation for women in the Parliament. As such, the Government has adopted a gender equality strategy to re-open the discussion on gender quotas on lists for parliamentary candidates. At the same time, policies are now helping women to participate in both professional and public life, she said, citing such examples as efforts to increase the availability of flexible work arrangements and pre-school child-care services. A law to make childcare services more affordable and accessible is currently in the legislative process, she said, adding that: “If women have enough opportunities to build their careers, they will be much more likely to engage in the public life, as well.”
Ayanna Webster-Roy, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, said women have achieved an appreciable level of participation and representation in leadership and governance processes. An annual “head count” tracks female participation at the top echelons of public service and the judiciary, with 30 per cent of ministers being women, who also hold such key portfolios as President, Opposition Leader, Speaker of the House of Representatives and President of the Senate. Women hold 70.8 per cent of the top public service decision-making positions and comprise 59 per cent of judges. Government measures ensure their access to secondary and tertiary education, with financing available for those who cannot self-finance the latter. Women are encouraged to enter such non-traditional areas as science and engineering through various programmes. Female enrolment in tertiary education continues to exceed that of males by as much as 10 per cent in some faculties except engineering science. Similar data tracks show a growing number of women studying medicine, and in 2021, 45 per cent of registered doctors were female. However, women still do not figure prominently in leadership positions in national and local Government, holding just 33 per cent on average in these roles since 2016. The Government is exploring ways to increase women’s participation at these critical levels in the governance system beginning with leadership training initiatives.
The representative of Saudi Arabia said the Government has established a range of measures guided by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and related international conventions. There is still much to do, but various initiatives have put Saudi Arabia on the right path. The Saudi Arabia Vision 2030 aims at increasing women’s participation in the labour market, among other things. Women’s empowerment efforts include the provision of affordable day-care services for working mothers and services to combat such problems as domestic violence and human trafficking. Other efforts are under way to address such concerns as child support and divorce. The Minister for Communications and Information Technology has also launched a campaign to attract more women to the field, and other Government initiatives are addressing a range of issues and concerns.
Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), called for urgent and bold action for girls’ education. Putting girls at the centre of recovery efforts, including education and job skills, is the goal and current UNICEF projects aim at reaching communities in more than 20 countries. Working with public and private partners, UNCIEF is working to ensure that girls are involved in planning and delivering programmes tailored to their needs. In terms of quotas, efforts have achieved results. But. going forward, girls must be supported, and their voices must be reflected across decision-making discussions. They deserve every opportunity to lend their perspective so they can become the leaders they were intended to be, she said.
Also participating in the round table were ministers and high-level representatives of Costa Rica, France, Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Lithuania, Latvia, Cameroon and Bangladesh.
Round Table IV
Also this morning, the Commission convened a ministerial-level round‑table session on the theme “Creating an enabling environment for women's full and effective participation and decision-making in public life”. Chaired by Chung Young-ai, Minister for Gender Equality and Family of the Republic of Korea, it featured statements from a range of Government ministers and other senior officials representing countries around the globe. Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, delivered closing remarks.
Participants shared their experiences enacting concrete policies, laws and grass-roots-level programmes aimed at bolstering women’s participation in public life, as well as promoting their leadership roles in Government and the private sector. While some spotlighted success stories, others drew attention to stubborn, long-standing challenges, as well as new ones posed by the COVID-19 crisis. Several speakers cited the persistent threat of online harassment, sexism and gender-based violence as one obstacle to women’s participation that must be urgently addressed.
Ms. Chung, sharing some examples from the Republic of Korea, said the Government is working to enhance women’s representation and strengthen their decision-making power in the public sector through a five-year national action plan. Among other things, it implemented gender targets for senior leadership positions, and the share of women in those roles recently surpassed 20 per cent for the first time. As the world continues to face the COVID-19 crisis, Governments and international organizations should enhance efforts to share best practices to boost women’s participation, especially in the public sector, she said.
Signe Riisalo, Minister for Social Protection of Estonia, pointed out that her country currently has its first-ever gender-balanced Government and is the only country in the world led by both a female President and Prime Minister. However, much more remains to be done, especially to empower women and girls in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The meaningful participation of women and the elimination of all forms of violence, both online and offline, are crucial. In particular, she called for efforts to reduce gender segregation and encourage men to take on a greater share of unpaid care work.
Ramata Ly-Bakayoko, Minister of Women, Families, and Children of Cote d’Ivoire, said the number of women in senior leadership positions in her country increased to 30 per cent following the implementation of gender quota laws. Gender parity is expected to increase even further after its upcoming elections, she said, spotlighting efforts to increase the number of women in mayoral and other local-level positions, in particular.
Elizabeth Phiri, Minister for Gender of Zambia, said lack of access to education, discrimination and violence against women continue to hinder women’s participation and their elevation to leadership roles in her country and elsewhere around the world. In response, Zambia is pushing forward programmes promoting girls’ education; supporting women’s empowerment and livelihoods; ending child marriage; and countering gender-based violence. Women are now being appointed as judges to the country’s high court, and a new national gender policy seeks to bolster women’s participation in public life more broadly.
Wendy Morton, Minister for European Neighbourhood and the Americas of the United Kingdom, said women’s courage in public life has remained the bedrock of her country’s COVID-19 response even as they suffered disproportionately from its impacts. The United Kingdom will use its presidency of the Group of 7 to rally support for two ambitious goals — namely, increasing the number of girls in education by 40 million by 2025 in low- and middle-income countries, and championing women and girls’ participation in peace processes and climate change actions. “We must not fall back into old habits and old ways of thinking,” she stressed, calling for States to think of the coming months of COVID-19 recovery as the road forward instead of the road back.
Susanne Raab, Federal Minister for Women, Family, Youth and Integration of Austria, focused her intervention on the insidious threat of online gender‑based violence. Emphasizing that that pervasive phenomenon can sometimes prevent women from feeling safe while taking part in public life, she outlined Austria’s newly implemented legal package aimed at preventing online hatred, including sexism.
Ms. Bachelet, delivering closing remarks, said empowering women and girls to fully participate in public life is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. Not only is participation the right of every human being, but evidence shows that women in leadership positions make more investments in social protection and focus more on climate action and climate justice than their male counterparts. Women’s involvement in peace processes is linked to more sustainable peace agreements. However, she warned, such crucial engagement by women in public life is regrettably advancing very slowly. Among other things, she encouraged States to ensure 50 per cent women’s representation in their Cabinets and to make better use of temporary special measures to appoint women to senior Government positions. “We also need to work with the women who fight for equality and social justice in our societies,” she added, calling for more support and flexible funding for the work of women, including civil society activists and human rights defenders.
Also participating were ministers and other high-level Government representatives from the Bahamas, Netherlands, Maldives, Sri Lanka, United Republic of Tanzania, Armenia, Greece, Germany, Malawi and the European Union.
The Commission on the Status of Women then held a discussion on the theme “Follow-up to the fourth World Conference on Women and to the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly”.
The representative of Chad, speaking on behalf of the African Group, outlined a range of efforts to assist Governments in addressing gender equality issues. Several factors, from poverty to marginalization, place women at risk of violence, which impedes the socioeconomic conditions of communities and the realization of Sustainable Development Goals. Women’s full participation and inclusion are essential, as their capacities lead to better policies and sustainable development. Increasing women’s participation in decision-making positions requires adequate training and education, she said, emphasizing that African States have demonstrated their commitment to gender equality, including by making commitments to the African Union and New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) declarations and programmes. A continent-wide campaign to end violence against women and girls has addressed such issues as women’s access to land and other related concerns.
Full gender equality is also a goal of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, she said. Preventive measures for combating gender-based violence include providing empowerment opportunities for women. Victims must be able to access support services and protection. Calling on the international community to support related economic and social initiatives, she said that more than ever before, there is a need to enhance the capacity of the family and to make available formal and informal education to eliminate stereotypes and gender-based harmful practices. Positive messages and images must combat stereotypes and promote women’s participation at all levels.
Mariana Vieira da Silva, Minister of State of the President of Portugal, speaking on behalf of the European Union, called for galvanized action to address gender equality. Stereotypes and the exclusion of women in politics and the labour market must end. Women’s empowerment and their full participation in public life and political discourse is crucial. Underscoring the important roles played by men, boys and civil society, she said targeted violence must be addressed, given that 1 in 3 women and girls experience sexual violence. Providing examples of the bloc’s commitments, she said a joint United Nations initiative has aimed at breaching the digital gender divide while combating abuse on online platforms.
Women’s participation is also essential for finding solutions to a range of challenges, she said, including combating climate change, COVID-19 responses and peacekeeping. The European Union supports, among other things, initiatives aimed at making a difference in everyday lives to empower women and girls at every level. Women must also be able to enjoy sexual and reproductive health free from violence or opposition, and they must receive related education and health services. Recognizing that civil society plays a vital role in advancing women and girls’ leadership and participation, she voiced support for UN-Women and other agencies working towards these goals. Condemning reprisals against women’s organizations, she said the European Union supports these groups in their efforts. Change in these difficult times requires hard work and determination, she said, pledging the bloc’s full support.
Nyeleki Brooke Mondlane, Minister of Gender, Children and Social Action of Mozambique, speaking for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), highlighted the bloc’s Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan, covering 2020 to 2030. It aims to advance gender equality through better implementation of the SADC Gender and Development Protocol, gender mainstreaming at national and regional levels to address gender-based violence and promotion of women’s participation in politics. “Gender will permeate all the pillars of the [plan],” she said, noting that most countries carried out constitutional reviews of their domestic laws in order to align them with the SADC Gender and Development Protocol.
She described “significant” progress in increasing women’s representation in Parliament, noting that, while it still falls short of the 50 per cent target, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe have achieved over 30 per cent female representation in their Lower Houses. Twelve countries now have domestic violence laws. Three countries — Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho and the United Republic of Tanzania — do not and only two — Angola and Seychelles — lack laws on sexual assault. Pointing to various regional protocols which SADC countries have formulated, deliberated and adopted, she stressed that SADC countries are “routinely interrogating our progress in the implementation of all our gender instruments” to ensure they are fulfilling regional, continental and global gender commitments.
The representative of Guyana, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), regretted to note that, 25 years after the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action, no country has achieved gender parity. Worldwide, women are still underrepresented. While the proportion of women in Parliament in the region has doubled, men still hold more than 70 per cent of seats. However, gains have been made across many fields, and women continue to be influential in civil society, including academic fields, advancing their rights. Yet, they are still outnumbered in public and political life. Men and family play crucial roles to change this, alongside robust programmes in the areas of education and childcare programmes.
While CARICOM members encourage women and girls to pursue education, gender pay gaps persist, and women still have higher unemployment levels and do most of unpaid work, she said. COVID-19 has exacerbated conditions, leading to an increase in reports about violence against women. Climate change has also negatively impacted women. In terms of the COVID-19 response, women have played an important role, but more needs to be done to include them in plans going forward. Seeking support to collect credible disaggregated data to develop effective initiatives, she also stressed the need to create legislation that can make real change in the lives of women and ensure gender equality.
In her national capacity, she said Guyana has taken several steps to combat crimes against women, including creating a hotline for victims of violence and trafficking and an application to link them to related services. Other measures include fostering wider access to justice, training, resources and local to global platforms. During the pandemic, the Government has introduced targeted programmes, including a business development project. At present, only 35 per cent of parliamentarians are women, but more is being done to pave the way for dynamic generations of the future.
Fernando Elísio Freire, Minister for Family and Social Inclusion of Cabo Verde, speaking for the Community of Portuguese‑Speaking Countries, said the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action have guided actions for removing obstacles to women’s participation in all spheres of public and private life. For example, in 2018, Portuguese-speaking countries approved a resolution on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, aiming to integrate gender equality into the planning, budgeting, drafting, implementing, monitoring and evaluating of national laws and policies. In 2019, they approved the Praia Declaration, extended the related gender-equality action plan and reaffirmed the importance of their memorandum of understanding with UN-Women.
Community members — spread across four continents — are “committed to joining efforts to overcome common barriers that hinder the empowerment of women and girls”, he said, noting a particular focus on female genital mutilation, child marriage and human trafficking. They have strengthened their fight to end femicide and gender-based violence against women, championing zero tolerance and appealing for others to join the quest to protect the rights of all women and girls, especially by engaging boys and men “on this walk”, he said.
The representative of Costa Rica, speaking on behalf of the Council of Ministers of Women's Affairs of Central America and the Dominican Republic, said global solidarity is needed now more than ever against the backdrop of deepening challenges and inequalities for women, especially in developing countries. “This has meant a setback in the advancement of the rights of women, which were so hard-won,” she said, spotlighting a sharp increase in the overburdening of women in unpaid care work. With the temporary closure of schools, women were also forced to complement the work of teachers and implement new hygiene measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Proposing several concrete policy responses, she called for more skills training for women along with other efforts to improve their economic conditions. She also encouraged States to support workers’ movements and incorporate gender equality and women’s empowerment measures in all aspects of their post-COVID-19 recovery programmes, at all levels. Every woman must be included, and all States must step up their efforts to fulfil their commitments to women.
Tanzila Narbayeva, Chairperson of the Senate of Uzbekistan, speaking on behalf of the Group of Central Asia Countries, said her country has created an enabling environment for women to take part in public life. Pointing out that the number of women in the country’s Parliament has doubled in recent years, she also outlined efforts to improve living standards for its poorest women. Uzbekistan has worked closely with UN-Women to improve its legislation and stamp out violence and discrimination. Continued efforts are also under way to implement gender‑sensitive budgeting and provide assistance to victims of gender-based violence. She also outlined various programmes aimed at providing women with social support, health care and career training; supporting civil society and non‑governmental groups working in the areas of gender equality and women’s empowerment; and helping to pool the efforts of States across the Central Asian region to support women leaders.
The representative of Tuvalu, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, said the Commission’s 2021 priority theme is timely, as women’s participation and decision-making in public life remains low — including in the Pacific region. Advancing women’s leadership goes beyond merely electing women to local and national Governments, he said, stressing that it is also about shared decision-making and leadership in households and communities. Agreeing with other speakers that the threats brought on by COVID-19 require renewed attention to significantly increase women’s participation in decision-making, he stressed that women have a wealth of knowledge and skills to share. Citing the Pacific region’s proud history of harnessing regionalism to address common issues, he spotlighted the new Biketawa Declaration, which established the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19.
Noting that the vulnerability of the region’s women and girls is being further intensified in today’s multi-hazard environment, as evidenced by the climate change crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, he underlined the need to support and uphold women’s resilience to those challenges. “In a constantly changing world, I urge the international community not to lose sight of the compounding and intersecting barriers on women and girls’ full and effective participation to address issues,” he stressed, calling in particular for strengthened climate resilience and mitigation initiatives, gender-responsive and disability-inclusive social protection systems, climate-resilient infrastructure and the international community’s continued support.
The representative of Kazakhstan, speaking on behalf of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, described the downward economic and social spirals sparked by COVID-19. That disequilibrium has been characterized by a high physical, psychological and economic toll on women in particular, as well as newly exposed structural inequalities across every sphere of life. “The consequences of present day crises are never gender-neutral, and COVID-19 is no exception,” he said, citing assessments predicting that the pandemic will drive more than 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2021, almost half of them women and girls.
He said the 32 landlocked developing countries, home to more than 520 million people, have one of the most vulnerable populations in the world with high rates of extreme poverty, weak economies and a lack of human and institutional capacities for growth and development. Women's participation in the labour force is low and women are overrepresented in the informal economy, which has now collapsed with no safety nets. Despite all their efforts to achieve gender parity, landlocked developing countries still have a long way to go. Women continue to suffer discrimination and injustice, and they are excluded, to various extents, from fully participating on equal terms with men due to structural, economic and social factors. Against that backdrop, he called for continued international support and spotlighted the need to use the COVID-19 recovery as a path to help reverse those negative trends.
The representatives of Argentina and Namibia, delivering a joint statement along with the Commissioner for International Partnerships of the European Union, on behalf of the Group of Friends for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls, said debunking negative social norms and stereotypes plays a crucial role in reducing violence against women. Amid the many increasing challenges outlined by speakers today, women and girls facing violence and discrimination must be able to partake in all COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. States must respect women’s centrality in decision-making and redouble their efforts to eradicate extreme poverty.
Among other things, they said, the Group of Friends supports enhanced cooperation between decision-making bodies and organizations advocating for children, adolescents and youths; strengthened, inclusive education systems; and high‑quality, affordable access to health care for women and girls, including universal access to sexual health and rights. The Group also advocates for gender-responsive justice systems; support for women media workers; stronger dialogue and partnerships, and efforts to combat gender-based violence online; and better gender-disaggregated data collection.
The representative of Chile, speaking for the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said that, by 2050, there will be more older persons than children under the age of 15 worldwide. Yet, older persons face challenges in the enjoyment of their rights and an integrated international legal framework is needed. He acknowledged that the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing has positive implications for the enjoyment of some rights, but gaps between policy and practice remain. It also is not a human rights instrument.
“We need full equal and meaningful participation of all women at all ages in public life and decision-making, including older women,” he said. In addition, ageism — or old age stereotypes, negative attitudes and prejudices against older persons — are not considered in data sets and he expressed interest in two upcoming reports by the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons in that regard. He went on to express concern that older women in particular face economic vulnerability, especially when their role is restricted to unpaid care and domestic work. Their rights must be protected by ensuring their equal access to social, legal and financial services, health care and economic resources, he said.
The representative of North Macedonia, speaking on behalf of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Core Group, said the Commission’s 2021 theme provides an opportunity to highlight the importance of including LGBTI persons in the body’s discussions and to ensure that no one is left behind. “Women and girls in all their diversity need to be given equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life,” he said, noting that various Secretary-General reports reveal that lesbian, bisexual and intersex women, and transgender persons continue to face discrimination and exclusion from public life. Women and girls who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, including due to their sexual orientation and gender identity, have also been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, creating even more significant disparities.
Calling for a reversal of laws that still criminalize sexual orientation and gender identity, he said human rights mechanisms have repeatedly emphasized links between such criminalization and constraints on the work of human rights defenders. Violence against LGBTI persons can be physical, psychological or sexual, or can manifest as so-called “conversion therapies”, institutionalization in psychiatric facilities, hate crimes, extrajudicial executions, torture and enforced disappearances. The absence of lesbian, bisexual and intersex women and transgender persons in decision-making spaces often results in public policies and laws that do not address their specific needs, and could exacerbate discrimination against them. In contrast, he said, when LGBTI women and transgender persons are included in public life, there is a decline in prejudice and stereotyping, and policies start to take effect, that concerns the exercise of their rights.
Kamala Harris, Vice-President of the United States, said that, since its inception, the Commission has worked to document the struggles faced by women and stood up for human rights and gender equality. Emphasizing that such work is as urgent now as it has ever been, she urged the Commission to also consider the status of democracy, which, at its best, protects human rights, upholds the rule of law and ensures that every citizen — regardless of gender — has an equal voice. However, democracy requires constant vigilance and improvement, and today it is increasingly under great strain. Citing a troubling decline in freedom around the globe over the last 15 years, she declared: “Even as we confront a global health crisis and economic crisis, it is critical that we continue to defend democracy”.
For those reasons, she said, the United States is strengthening its engagement with the United Nations and the broader multilateral community, and is re-joining the Human Rights Council. Stressing that the status of democracy also depends on the participation of women, she said that, while the United States still has work to do, it is making progress in accelerating women’s participation and leadership. More women than men have voted in every United States election for the last 56 years, more women than ever before serve in the United States Congress, and more are their families’ main breadwinners. “These are signs of progress, these are signs of strength, but we cannot take this progress for granted — especially now,” she said, noting that COVID-19 appears to be reversing critical gains in such areas as combating HIV/AIDS and reducing child and maternal mortality. For those reasons, the United States has also re-joined the World Health Organization (WHO) and is revitalizing its partnership with UN-Women. “The status of women is the status of democracy,” she concluded, underlining the United States strong support for both.