Beijing+5: 23rd special session of the General Assembly


By Ms. Angela E.V. King
Assistant Secretary-General, Special Adviser on Gender Issues  and Advancement of Women

I am greatly honoured and pleased to be addressing an audience of so many distinguished representatives of media and brief you on global gender issues and Beijing +5. I would like to congratulate the Department of Public Information for organizing such a representative event. I am most grateful to all of you for your keen interest and enthusiasm about gender issues.

Why do we need a special session? The 1995 Fourth World Conference held in Beijing, moved the global agenda for the advancement of women forward. Attracting the participation of almost 47, 000 women and men, the Beijing Conference and the parallel Huairou NGO Forum was and still is the largest-ever gathering of government and NGO representatives at a United Nations Conference. 189 countries unanimously adopted the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action. 12 critical areas for action were identified by the international community: poverty, education and training, health, violence against women, including domestic violence, armed conflict, economy, power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms, human rights, the media, the environment and the girl child. Designed as an agenda for women’s empowerment, the Platform’s emphasis was not only on achieving equality and eliminating discrimination, but on the integration of women as full and equal partners in all policies and decision-making processes.

Since then, globally women have made some remarkable gains: they live longer and healthier lives; are much better schooled; they are more economically active; and in most countries of the world they have the power of the vote.

Despite this, however, women worldwide continue to bear a disproportionate burden of poverty, illiteracy, dislocation, violence, poor nutrition, and ill health. They still lag behind in virtually all aspects of life. Let us take a few key critical areas; women are the majority of the world’s poor and hungry. Although in practically all regions of the world women’s employment increased, their wages are 50 to 80 per cent of men’s; two thirds of 8.75 million illiterates are women; up to 80 per cent of refugees fleeing from conflict are women and children; domestic violence claims too may women’s lives; every minute of every day a woman dies of from direct complications of pregnancy and childbirth; 45 per cent of women in the developing world do not meet the WHO’s minimum daily caloric intake. Maternal mortality is still at unacceptably high levels and each minute four women and girls undergo female genital mutilation.

Although for the first time in history, most of the world lives under democratic norms of government, requiring the full participation of all citizens, this is not reflected in women’s advancement into positions of leadership in the political arena. Gender gaps vary from place to place but the overall pattern of women’s disadvantage is clear.

What are some of the remaining obstacles to achieving the goal of gender equality? They include: discriminatory stereotyping, traditional social attitudes, policies, laws, institutional arrangements and lack of resources. We need to overcome major constraints related to the underlying issue of political will and the need to develop greater capacity to translate our plans into real actions on the ground. Better information, based on more reliable data is an important requirement. The scarcity of sex-disaggregated data for key measures of economic, human and social development remains an important constraint. Better data indicators and benchmarks can lead to better planning and permits the more accurate assessment of progress. I commend to your attention a recent publication by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, "The World’s Women 2000: Trends and Statistics", which provides useful factual information on the achievements and challenges facing women worldwide and which was launched at a Press Conference, last Wednesday.

We know that the task of achieving gender equality is difficult but we also know that there are many opportunities for accelerated progress. Gender is increasingly identified as a core concern with regard to every single issue - human rights, growth and development and peace-making. What were once called "women’s issues" is transformed into issues of national and international importance. As a result, nations have come to recognize that it is imperative to address the gender dimension in their quest for solutions to the whole range of global problems.

Stronger women’s networks and alliances across borders and across issues are created. Women acquired knowledge and experience in working with the United Nations and in learning how to caucus and lobby effectively to get their ideas translated into decisions. Most importantly, it is clear that no one policy would ensure gender equality; a comprehensive policy approach is needed.

These insights are central to how we envision our work in the 21st century and to the way in which we will be tackling the principal challenges to the achievement of gender equality.

The forthcoming special session of the General Assembly  Beijing +5 at which we expect 10,000 men and women delegates, NGOs, and United Nations agencies, offers an opportunity for sharing and comparing experiences, learning from the policies and programmes of other countries, for strengthening commitments, encouraging more effective action and identifying further concrete means and actions of addressing gender inequalities to implement the Platform fully in the next five to ten years.

Looking ahead – five years after Beijing +5, I see several broad new trends and challenges that demand our urgent and undivided attention.

The globalization process has caused policy shifts in favour of more open trade and financial flows, privatization of state-owned enterprises and lower public spending. Globalization has brought greater economic opportunities and autonomy to some women, while others have become more vulnerable.

Science and technology are transforming patterns of production, creating new jobs and ways of working, and contributing to the establishment of a knowledge-based society. Technological change brings new opportunities. But millions of the world’s poorest women still do not have access to these facilities and are at risk of becoming part of the digital divide and excluded from the opportunities it presents, thus becoming even further marginalized.

Demographic trends, including increased life expectancy and lower mortality rates, have contributed to the ageing of the population. Given the gap between male and female life expectancy, the number of widows and older single women has increased considerably almost everywhere.

The progression of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the developing world has had a strong impact on women. The burden of care for people living with HIV, including orphans, particularly in Africa falls on women, mainly elderly women as state infrastructures are inadequate to respond to the challenges being posed.

The changing context of gender relations, as well as the discussion on gender equality and right to sexual and reproductive health, has led to increased reassessment of gender roles. This has further encouraged a discussion on the roles and responsibilities of women and men in working towards gender equality and the need for changing the stereotypical roles and identities of both women and men.

We are facing many challenges. But we also have the opportunity and the tools and knowledge to address them. We have some record of success in the past five years. I am inspired by the determination of Governments, civil society, NGOs and individual women and men in achieving gender equality. I am happy to see that the media is increasingly contributing to the creation of a gender equal society.

I am also encouraged by your attention to the issue of poverty and development. Women’s rights will feature prominently on the agenda of the special session. I highly appreciate your interest to the issue of violence against women. But I want you to focus not on the sensational only, but on the plight of women victims of violence in the home and to social conditions engendering violence against women and to the plight and contributions of grassroots women everywhere. The up-coming special session of the General Assembly on Beijing +5 will provide an opportunity to identify new, practical and effective ways in translating the commitments made by Governments, the United Nations system and other international organizations, NGOs and civil society into effective programmes of action. But these decisions will be empty unless you help us to highlight them in people’s minds, in every form of media, print audio and visual.

I would urge all of you to closely monitor the discussions at the special session and to intensify your contacts with the United Nations. I am here to pledge the commitment of the United Nations and its Agencies to a gender-equal society – a priority into this century.

I am here to lend support to those women and men who speak for gender equality.

I would like once more to express my appreciation and to pay tribute to all of you for putting gender high on the agenda in your work. I wish you every success in covering the special session of the General Assembly.

Thank you for your attention.