United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women

14 JANUARY 2002

Madam Chairperson
Distinguished members of the Committee
Representatives of the United Nations system and agencies
and colleagues

It is my honour and privilege, on behalf of the Secretary-General, to open the twenty-sixth session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and to welcome you all to the United Nations Headquarters. I would like to extend a special welcome to two new members of the Committee. They are Ms. Fumiko Saiga, who was nominated by the Government of Japan, and accepted by the Committee, to complete the term of Ms. Chikako Taya, who resigned because of professional commitments. I also welcome Ms. Christine Kapalata, who was nominated by the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania, and accepted by the Committee, to complete the term of Ms. Asha Rose Mtengeti-Migiro, who also resigned because of professional commitments. You will all remember Ms. Kapalata who served as the Chairperson of the preparatory committee of the special session of the General Assembly on Beijing+5. She is currently Minister Counsellor at the Permanent Mission and successfully presided over very complex negotiations. Many of you will know Ms. Saiga from the Commission on the Status of Women and the Third Committee of the General Assembly. She was the first woman appointed as a Vice-Governor of a province in Japan and is currently Consul General in Seattle.

As you all will know, the period between the closing of the twenty-fifth session and the opening of this session was marked by difficulties in light of the tragic events of 11 September 2001. Nevertheless, there were certain highlights during this period, which I would like to report to you. Before doing so, however, I would like to extend my gratitude to all the members who contacted me and my colleagues to inquire about our welfare and boost our morale following the events of 11 September.

Madam Chairperson
At the outset, I would like to introduce Ms. Carolyn Hannan, who, as I informed you, has been appointed as the new Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women. With your permission, I will ask her to say a few words to you after my statement.

In terms of new achievements for gender equality, we have seen in recent weeks Latin America's first woman Defense Minister appointed in Chile, Michelle Bachelet, a law against Female Genital Mutilation adopted in Kenya and a new Civil Code making women equal to men in the eyes of the law in Brazil.

The World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR), which took place from 31 August to 9 September 2001 in Durban, South Africa, adopted the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. The Conference, in which several members of the Committee participated including the Chairperson, recognized that racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance, affect women and girls differently than men and boys, and that women may be subject to multiple forms of discrimination which can lead to a deterioration in women's living conditions, poverty, violence and the limitation and denial of their human rights. The Conference stressed the need to integrate a gender perspective into relevant policies, strategies and programmes against racism and racial discrimination in order to address multiple forms of discrimination, and the importance of the development of a more systematic and consistent approach to evaluating and monitoring racial discrimination against women and the obstacles and difficulties it produces for them.

Several situations where the intersection of racial and gender-based discrimination create particular difficulties for women and girls were highlighted by the Conference, and emphasis was placed on the elimination of trafficking in persons, especially women, youth and children. The intersection of discrimination on the basis of race and gender was also recognized as making women and girls particularly vulnerable to sexual violence as a weapon of war.

Amongst the strategies to confront racism and racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance recommended by the Conference was the ratification and implementation of human rights instruments. States which have not done so were urged to consider signing and ratifying human rights and other treaties, and implementing them fully. In this regard, States were urged to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women with a view to achieving universal ratification within five years, as well as the Optional Protocol.

Madam Chairperson,
Recently world attention has become increasingly focused on the situation of women in Afghanistan. I would like to highlight some of the significant developments that have occurred in the last couple of months.

The United Nations sponsored talks between four Afghan groups in Bonn, Germany, which were chaired by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, and ended on 5 December with the signing of an Agreement on Provisional Arrangements in Afghanistan Pending the Re-establishment of Permanent Government Institutions. Two women participated as full delegates in those talks, and two women are in the Interim Administration, namely a Minister of Women's Affairs and a Minister of Health.

The UN has developed a fast moving strategic framework in order to be able to deliver humanitarian aid, to stabilize the country and to ensure that no final decisions are taken without the participation of all parties in the negotiations, including women. I am happy to inform the Committee that the first Integrated Mission Task Force (IMTF), which has been established to advise the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, includes three gender specialists: from the Division on the Advancement of Women, the World Food Programme and UNICEF.

I attended the Afghan Women's Summit for Democracy in Brussels from 4 to 5 December 2001. The Summit was organized at the request of Afghan women by the European Women's Lobby, Equality Now and other groups, in collaboration with my Office and UNIFEM. The purpose of the meeting was to hear from Afghan women what their priorities were for the future of Afghanistan, particularly on strategies for their full participation in the peace process in the context of Security Council resolution 1325 of 31 October 2000 on women, peace and security. The Summit concluded with the adoption of the Brussels Proclamation, which addresses women's demands with respect to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The Proclamation includes concrete demands for the recovery of Afghan society in the areas of education and culture, healthcare, refugees, and human rights. Members will be interested to know that the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is one of the human rights instruments highlighted in the Proclamation. The meeting presented a unique opportunity for Afghans to meet each other, exchange views and share some rather gruelling experiences both inside their country and in exile. A network of Afghan women of very diverse ethnic, educational, linguistic and political backgrounds was thus created. In follow-up to the Summit, a delegation of Afghan women met with members of the Security Council and with the Secretary-General. A companion meeting, organized by the European Union and UNIFEM, was also held in Brussels, during December. This produced an action plan relating to technical assistance needs and confirmed priorities set by the earlier meeting.

While these developments are encouraging, we must remain vigilant that Afghan women are included as full partners in the decision-making process at the peace table, in humanitarian efforts and in reconstruction of Afghanistan, and that efforts are taken to ensure gender mainstreaming in all areas of recovery, reconstruction and development of the country, particularly in the context of the Tokyo Meeting, 21-22 January, and subsequent meetings.

Members will recall that Security Council resolution 1325 called on the Secretary-General to prepare a study on the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, the role of women in peace-building, and the gender dimensions of peace processes and conflict resolution. The study is being prepared within the framework of the Inter-agency Taskforce on Women, Peace and Security, and coordinated by my Office. I look forward to meeting with you during this session in connection with the preparation of that study.

Madam Chairperson,
The Division for the Advancement of Women and my Office take every opportunity to encourage ratification of the Convention and the Optional Protocol, as well as acceptance of the amendment to article 20.1 of the Convention on the Committee's meeting time. In this connection, I will be traveling to Washington tomorrow, where I will be discussing ratification of the Convention with several members of the United States Administration.

With the blessing of the Secretary-General, my Office and the Division collaborated with the Office of Legal Affairs in connection with the Office of Legal Affairs' treaty signature/ratification event, which took place from 19 September to 5 October 2001 and which was directed at achieving universal ratification of United Nations treaties relevant to the advancement of women. I am pleased to report that the event was a success. Costa Rica and Liechtenstein ratified the Optional Protocol in connection with the event, and a number of countries became party to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, thus supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. We also emphasized the importance of the Convention and the work of the Committee for preparations to the General Assembly special session on children, which was scheduled to be held in September 2001 but was postponed after the events of 11 September. The special session is now scheduled to take place from 8 to 10 May 2002.

With regard to the amendment to article 20.1, which has only attracted 26 acceptances, I sent letters on 9 November 2001 urging acceptance of the amendment to the Permanent Representatives of all States parties, which had not yet accepted the amendment. I also addressed letters to those members of the Committee whose States had not accepted the amendment.

Additionally, the Division for the Advancement of Women provided technical support to a sub-regional training workshop organized by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), with support from the United Nations Development Programme and the United Kingdom Government, on ratification of the Convention. Representatives of five Member States participated in the workshop, including the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Palau.

Madam Chairperson,
I am pleased to report that seventy-three (73) States from all regions of the world have signed the Optional Protocol, while twenty-eight (28) have ratified or acceded to it. Members will be happy to learn that among the 28, the following countries ratified the Optional Protocol since the closing of the last session of the Committee: Costa Rica (20 September 2001); Dominican Republic (10 August 2001); Kazakhstan (24 August 2001); Liechtenstein (24 October 2001); and Uruguay (26 July 2001).

With the Division for the Advancement of Women, we have continued putting measures in place to ensure full support for the Committee with regard to communications and inquiries under the Optional Protocol. Amongst other steps, I am happy to inform the Committee that the Women's Rights Unit, which is now known as the Women's Rights Section, will be expanding as the General Assembly has approved two new professional posts for that Section in the 2002-2003 Programme Budget. Ms. Eleanor Solo has also joined the Section. She comes to us from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and we are sure that she will be an asset in the Division.

As a measure of our close cooperation with the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights, a staff member of that Office has been seconded to the Division for the Advancement of Women for four months, from November 2001 to February 2002, to assist in setting up procedures in connection with the Optional Protocol. That staff member, Ms. Mercedes Morales, is here with us today. We welcome her expertise and assistance in support of the Committee's work. In accordance with Suggestion 25/I of the Committee, another staff member of the High Commissioner's Office has installed two electronic databases at the Division, one dealing with communications under the Optional Protocol and the another allowing information related to the work of this Committee to be fully integrated into the database of the Office of the High Commissioner covering all six treaty bodies.

Madam Chairperson,
I am delighted to inform the Committee that, taking into account decision 25/I of the Committee, the General Assembly has authorized the Committee to hold, on an exceptional basis, an extraordinary session of three weeks duration in 2002 to be used entirely for the consideration of the reports of States parties in order to reduce the backlog of reports, and to enlarge the membership of the pre-session working group in 2002 in order to prepare for the exceptional session of the Committee.

Members will be interested to know that, in considering this matter, the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) was of the view that "the expected elimination of the backlog might be temporary unless the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reforms its methods of work, including its reporting procedures and provides guidelines concerning the length of reports from State parties. Specifically, the Advisory Committee is of the opinion that the Committee and the States parties should consider adopting reporting guidelines that could limit the length of States parties' reports and streamline their structure and content". The Fifth Committee of the General Assembly raised similar concerns during its consideration of the matter. The Committee may wish to consider these suggestions during this session.

Madam Chairperson,
As members will all know, the United Nations and the Secretary-General received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. This special recognition is significant for all of us. It inspires us to continue to strive even more in our efforts toward gender equality. I would like to thank Members for their congratulations on this prize, as well as for their support throughout the year and particularly for encouraging their Governments to support the financing of the exceptional session and the additional posts.

During this session you will be considering the reports of eight States parties to the Convention; Estonia, Fiji, Iceland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago and Uruguay. You will also continue discussion on the general recommendation on article 4.1 of the Convention, which concerns temporary special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women. In addition, you may wish to consider revising the reporting guidelines for States parties, as discussed in the Report of the Secretariat on ways and means of expediting the work of the Committee (CEDAW/C/2002/I/4). I would like to remind the Committee that the World Summit on Sustainable Development is scheduled to take place from 26 August to 4 September 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa. You may wish to prepare a contribution for one of the Preparatory Committees for the Summit.

I wish you well and every success in your deliberations and a pleasant stay in New York City. I look forward to meeting with you informally during your stay. In closing, I assure you of the full support and commitment of my Office and of the Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, and her staff.

I thank you.

Division for the Advancement of Women -- DAW

Website: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
United Nations