Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

Thirtieth session, 12 to 30 January 2004


Opening statement by José Antonio Ocampo

Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs



Madam Chairperson,

Distinguished members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women,

Delegates, colleagues and friends.



I welcome very much the opportunity to address the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women at the opening of its 30th session, and to start a dialogue with the Committee early in my tenure as head of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. I took over these responsibilities in September 2003, after 10 years of most distinguished leadership by Mr. Nitin Desai. 


            Great emphasis is placed by the United Nations system, as well as by Member States at the national level, at the achievement of the Millennium Development goals that were distilled from the Millennium Declaration in 2000. Progress towards these goals requires that we aim for economic growth that is equitable, inclusive, pro-development and supportive of equality between men and women. The Millennium Declaration called for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women as effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease and to stimulate development that is truly sustainable. Towards this end, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs advocates for the full and effective integration of social development goals into economic policies.  Economic growth, employment generation and active social policies must be reconciled in order to reduce poverty, eliminate extreme poverty, and to enhance equity, social integration and gender equality. Social policies cannot be regarded merely as a mechanism to compensate for the adverse social effects that the functioning of the economic system may generate.


The outcomes of the global conferences, the resolutions and agreed conclusions of intergovernmental bodies are roadmaps for action at national and international level towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Resulting from global consensus, they are policy instruments that are expected to inform Governmental action. Many of these instruments address gender equality either as a goal in itself, or as a means towards achieving other goals, such as social development, poverty eradication, prevention and elimination of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, to name a few.


            The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, on the other hand, creates legal obligations for States parties to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights of women. In that regard, the Convention differs qualitatively from the policy instruments adopted in intergovernmental processes, and Governments commitments resulting from such consensus policy instruments. As a treaty that legally binds those States that accede to it in an act of sovereign decision-making, the Convention creates, on the one hand, entitlements for rights holders –in this case for women– and, on the other, it creates obligations for ratifying States to give full effect to the provisions of the Convention. The Convention encompasses the full range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and enshrines women’s entitlement, in States parties, to the enjoyment of these rights on a basis of equality between women and men, without discrimination. Given the comprehensive scope of the Convention, the Committee considers legislative, regulatory and other appropriate means of economic and social policy taken by States, and their effect on equality between women and men. In doing so, the Committee pays consistent attention to the two dimensions, economic considerations, and social policies, that are necessary for progress towards the goals of the Convention, and which are also critical for reaching the Millennium Development Goals.


            In your work, you regularly find the persistence of discrimination against women, de jure and de facto, in basically all the States that report to you. For example, discriminatory laws governing marriage, administration of marital property, divorce and the family persist. Nationality laws also continue to discriminate against women, for example by not allowing them to pass on their nationality to their children. Penal law is often especially discriminatory against women, for example in relation to criminalization and prosecution of sexual crimes, including those committed in marriage. Women’s ownership and inheritance of land, access to loans and credits likewise continues to be negatively affected by discriminatory legislation. The co-existence of multiple legal systems results frequently in discrimination against women, especially in areas of personal status and private life. Persistence of these types of discriminatory legislation constitutes a failure of implementation of the Convention. It also poses the challenge for achieving the target contained in the outcome document of the 23rd special session of the General Assembly in 2000, which had called on Member States to review legislation with a view to removing discriminatory provisions as soon as possible, preferably by 2005. 


            De jure discrimination is, however, only a part of the concerns raised by this Committee. The persistence of stereotypical attitudes with regard to the roles, responsibilities and expectations for women and men create and sustain a pervasive climate of discrimination against women, and remains a critical challenge in the promotion of gender equality. Likewise, the effect of laws, policies and programmes that are developed without attention to gender-based differences and disadvantages, often results in discrimination against women. Legislative gaps leave women in many countries without adequate protection of their rights and without effective recourse against gender-based discrimination. The availability of an international avenue of redress this through the Optional Protocol to the Convention, and which so far has been ratified by 59 States parties to the Convention, constitutes an essential new tool for women to remedy discrimination. The Optional Protocol should also be a significant incentive for States parties to intensify their efforts at the national level to eliminate and prevent discrimination against women in law and practice, and to ensure for women access to justice in an effective, affordable and expeditious manner. Your work under the Optional Protocol, which is now well under way since the Protocol entered into force at the end of 2000, will set important precedents of encouragement to women around the world, especially in these early stages.


I am very pleased that the Department is entrusted with providing substantive servicing to this Committee which is mandated to monitor, on a regular basis, the adherence of States parties to their obligations under the Convention, through the reporting process, and to consider communications and conduct inquiries under the Optional Protocol. While I am aware of the Committee’s concerns about the significant number of outstanding reports, the large number of States that do submit their reports in a timely and comprehensive manner, and engage in a constructive dialogue with the Committee, is a confirmation that this form of monitoring and supervision by an international body of experts is an essential aspect of the protection of the rights of women.


In your constructive dialogue with representatives of reporting States, you identify positive developments in regard to Convention implementation, but more importantly, you clearly address gaps in implementation where, in your collective view, a State’s efforts fall short of Convention requirements. In making such assessments, you carefully review the entire gamut of tools that are available to Governments –legislative action, policy, regulatory and administrative measures, concrete project interventions, etc.—and determine the specific action a State may have failed to undertake, or where insufficient, or ineffective action may have been taken. While implementation strategies for global policy instruments can complement strategies designed to implement the Convention as a whole, Governments’ commitments and action resulting from global conferences do not reduce States parties’ obligations under the Convention.


I would like to stress that I attribute great importance to the Convention and the work of this Committee, particularly for the promotion of gender equality but also more broadly for the work of the Department on economic and social policy issues that reflects the rights, concerns and priorities of women as well as men. I can assure you of the continuing full support of the Department, in particular of the Division for the Advancement of Women, and of my personal support in your work, and I look forward to future opportunities to meet with you.