Expert Group Meeting
Gender and Racial Discrimination
21-24 November 2000
Zagreb, Croatia

Statement by

Ms Yakin Ertürk
Director, Division for the Advancement of Women

Your excellency, Madam Deputy-Prime Minister, distinguished experts, ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to welcome you to this expert group meeting on "Gender and Racial Discrimination" which is one of the series of expert group meetings which has been organized by the Division for the Advancement of Women, on behalf of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. I carry with me the warm wishes of Ms. Angela King, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women who could not be with us today. Ms. King wishes you all well during your deliberations and looks forward to a successful outcome with concrete suggestions to address the situation of women who are affected by multiple forms of discrimination, and especially disadvantaged because of discrimination on the basis of race.

I wish to extend my deep appreciation to the Government of Croatia for hosting this meeting so generously in Zagreb. I particularly thank Deputy Prime Minister, Zeljka Antunovic, President of the Commission for Issues of Gender Equality and Ms. Dubravka Simonovic, Minister Plenipotentiary at the Permanent Mission of Croatia to the United Nations, and Chairperson of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, who have assisted us in the preparations for the meeting. I would like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance that has been provided to us here in Zagreb by the Deputy Prime Minister’s staff in ensuring that all logistical details are addressed in a timely and efficient fashion. It is now up to the experts to address the issues of substance related to the subject of the meeting.

I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Development Fund for Women ensuring the participation of several of the experts. This is the second of the expert group meetings which have been organized jointly by the Division, the OHCHR and UNIFEM, the first of which took place in May 1999 and addressed the issue of gender integration into the human rights system. The report of that meeting was circulated widely, and its results have proved to be extremely effective. I am confident that this meeting will be as constructive and influential as our first joint venture.

This expert group meeting addresses the subject of gender and racial discrimination, one of the thematic issues which will be taken up in March 2001 by the forty-fifth session of the Commission on the Status of Women in its consideration of gender and all forms of discrimination, in particular racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. We anticipate that the deliberations and recommendations of this meeting will also be integrated into the preparations for, and work of, the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerance which will take place in Durban, South Africa from 31 August to 7 September 2001. Furthermore, the recommendations of this meeting will be conveyed to the human rights treaty bodies, and in particular, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, as well as the thematic and country-specific mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights. It is expected that this group’s deliberations will inform the work of these mechanisms and provide them with a solid basis to make recommendations aimed at ensuring that women and girls are not burdened by multiple forms of discrimination, and are free from the effects of xenophobia and related intolerance.

Respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion is established in Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations as one of the purposes of the Organization. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms in the Declaration, without distinction of any kind, and since the Declaration’s adoption in 1948, a large part of the policy, normative and operational work of the United Nations has been directed towards the elimination of discrimination.

Despite the fact that the principle of no discrimination became firmly engrained in such international regimes, many forms of discrimination continue to be practiced world wide. In all regions of the world, people are denied equal rights to franchise, political participation and the exercise of citizenship because of some real or perceived distinction. They may be denied equal rights to food, shelter, work, health care, education or credit. All too often discrimination is manifested and sustained through the use of violence. The many atrocities of the 20th century and the recent events in this region are clear examples of how distinctions can be manipulated to produce tragic results.

As the world markets become increasingly globalized and the spatial movement of capital become freer than ever before in history, the flow of labour across national borders is becoming more and more constrained. Anti-immigration policies and related intolerance have become all too common in many parts of the world. Even in countries where immigrant populations historically constituted the foundation of nation building, "nativist" versus "immigrationist" debates have dominated many of the political campaigns in recent years. Such processes have been paralleled by manifest or latent exclusionary practices or outright racially based violence.

Distinctions on the basis of religion, ethnic origin, and race are certainly high on the agenda of identity politics as the world enters a new century. Yet, at the same time, the reality of ageing of populations in developed countries is creating a real dilemma for the advocates of anti-immigration policies. While re-location of industries to middle income countries, has partially relieved the pressures caused by labour shortages in the north, reliance on immigrant labour for services and care giving to the aged continue to be the only viable solution. In many parts of the world women of the south for long have been meeting the labour demand for domestic services and care giving. It is likely that these trends will accelerate in the future, increasing the potential for the intensification of multiple forms of discrimination against women if regulatory measures are not instituted.

Discrimination is the most fundamental cause of human rights violations and it is often justified through the categorization of the "other" as inferior, less than human and undeserving of equal treatment or equal enjoyment of rights. Categorical distinctions on the basis of race have been among the primary concerns of the United Nations in addressing the scourge of discrimination. Since a presentation on a review of the concept of discrimination and the work of the United Nations to eliminate all forms of discrimination particularly racial discrimination will follow, I will briefly touch upon the gender aspect of the efforts of the United Nations, which has proceeded on a separate, but parallel track. A Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was adopted by the General Assembly in 1967, and a Convention in 1979. The period 1975-1985 was declared the United Nations Decade for Women, and four World Conferences on Women were held in 1975, 1980, 1985 and 1995 respectively. The last of these Conferences, held in Beijing, attracted the largest participation of any United Nations World Conference, and adopted the Platform for Action, the comprehensive plan of action to enhance the social, economic and political empowerment of women. The Platform was reaffirmed and strengthened by the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly – Beijing+5 – in June this year.

By drawing attention to the fact that factors such as age, disability, socio-economic position or membership of a particular ethnic or racial group could create particular barriers for women, the Beijing Platform for Action provided the framework for the recognition of multiple and co-existing forms of discrimination resulting in multiple disadvantage. The combined effects of gender and racial discrimination on the advancement of women and the achievement of gender equality have been considered especially in the context of three of the critical areas of concern identified in the Platform for Action: violence against women, women and armed conflict and the human rights of women. The intersection of gender and racial discrimination has also been considered with regard to trafficking in women and children.

However, to date, the impact of gender and racial discrimination on women and on gender relations has not been subject to detailed and in-depth examination. In March this year, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination adopted a general recommendation on gender-related dimensions of racial discrimination, in which it emphasized that racial discrimination does not always affect women and men equally, or in the same way, and that there are circumstances in which racial discrimination only, or primarily affects women. The "outcome document" of the special session on Beijing+5 demanded that Governments take measures to address racism and racially motivated violence against women and girls and support for NGO programmes which address all forms of violence against women and girls, including that which is race or ethnic-based.

This expert group meeting provides us with an opportunity to identify how racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance impact on women and girls and the achievement of gender equality. It also provides us with an opportunity to ensure that the World Conference on Racism considers the situation of women, and views the notion of racial discrimination, through a gender lens. If we do not take an holistic approach to the concept of discrimination, violations of the human rights of women may escape detection, and remedies to address discrimination based on grounds other than gender may fail to meet the needs of women and girls, and accordingly, the effects of these other forms of discrimination may persist.

We are privileged to have the attendance of so many distinguished experts, as well as observers. We have four days during which we can discuss the intersection of various forms of discrimination, the specific forms of racial discrimination directed towards women and girls; the types of disadvantage and difficulties which these may pose; the sorts of measures that should be taken to address these disadvantages; and the remedies and redress that should be available to women and girls who are affected. We are fortunate to have the participation of Professor Kimberlie Crenshaw, who has prepared an excellent background paper, and will guide us through our discussions. With this substantive input and the enabling environment provided by this beautiful city, I am sure of a creative outcome. I wish you well in your deliberations and assure you of the full support of myself, and my staff, Jane Connors and Natalia Zakharova.

Thank you.