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    For information only - not an official document.
    Press Release No:  UNIS/GA/1640
    Release Date:   6 June 2000
    Persistence of Violence Against Women Should Be Matter Both of Shame
    And Concern, "Beijing + 5" Special Assembly Session Told

    NEW YORK, 5 June (UN Headquarters) -- That violence against women persisted and took new forms should be a matter of both shame and concern for all civilized societies, the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly was told this afternoon.  The Minister for Human Resources Development, Science and Technology and Ocean Development of India, Murli Manohar Joshi, noted that democratic and pluralistic countries had had to face proxy wars and externally sponsored terrorism of which women and children were the first targets and favoured victims.

    The special session -- "Women 2000:  Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-first Century" -- is reviewing implementation of the Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995).  It is also considering further actions and initiatives for achieving its purposes and focusing on examples of good practices, positive actions and lessons learned.

    The Minister for External Relations of Angola, Joao Bernardo de Miranda, said his country, in the aftermath of war, was experiencing high maternal mortality rates due to poor sanitary conditions and the lack of human and material resources.  The family unit was also being weakened and the population of the urban areas was growing, a phenomenon at the root of an increase in poverty and prostitution.  

    The international community and the United Nations could put an end to the wars that had spread to various countries of the African continent, he noted.  Also, the special session offered an opportunity to evaluate policies and seek solutions corresponding to the objectives of the Beijing Platform.  Programmes and strategies to promote and defend women’s rights should be more concrete and precise.  

    Paik Kyung-Nam, Chairperson of the Presidential Commission on Women’s Affairs, Republic of Korea, suggested that to address the issue of violence against women, including that associated with armed conflict, the special session should generate momentum for more women peacekeepers, special envoys and decision-makers to be involved in the entire peace process. 

    Many speakers also pointed out that domestic violence remained a global problem.  It was a violation of women's rights and the worst expression of male dominance, the Minister for Gender Equality of Sweden, Margareta Winberg, said.  It must be condemned and punished wherever it occurred.  It was unacceptable, she stressed, that the life of a woman should be viewed as worth less than that of a man’s.  She stressed the need to provide adequate support for the survivors of violence, to prosecute the perpetrators and to combat the scourge itself.  Methods must be developed to treat the perpetrators, including preventive work and breaking the culture of silence prevailing among men. 

    Other speakers this afternoon also noted the advances their countries had made in ensuring gender equality in areas, including employment, education, maternal and child health and in implementing national strategies and legislation.  Future action would include mainstreaming gender roles into education curricula, the empowerment of women and strengthening the existing national mechanisms for women’s affairs.

    Ministers of Bangladesh, Australia, Guatemala, Thailand, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Israel, Lithuania, Romania and the Russian Federation, as well as representatives of Japan, El Salvador, France, Greece, Spain and Ghana also addressed the Assembly.

    The Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, 6 June, to continue its general debate.

    Assembly Work Programme

    The General Assembly this afternoon continued debate in its twenty-third special session -– "Women 2000:  Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-first Century" -- which is reviewing implementation of the Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995).

    Statements

    SUMIKO IWAO (Japan):  The Japanese Government is presently promoting a collection of gender disaggregated data and quantitative assessment of unpaid work, and has begun to develop a methodology for gender-based monitoring and evaluation of government policies.  Involving women in decision-making and in political activities is especially important for their empowerment.  Since Beijing, many Japanese women have been elected to national and regional legislative bodies, and in 2000 for the first time, women were elected as governors in two prefectures.  The Japanese Government has also been promoting measures to guarantee equal opportunities and treatment in employment, and to reinforce vocational training and supporting entrepreneurial activities of women.  Also, in an attempt to deal with Japan’s declining birth rate and ageing society, the Government is promoting a family-oriented process that would ensure a balance between life inside and outside of the family.

    On the international level, Japan has decided to provide a 100 per cent reduction in official development assistance (ODA) and non-ODA debt and would contribute an additional amount of up to $200 million to the World Bank’s debt reduction fund.  Developing countries should use that debt relief effectively for poverty reduction.  Also, the State will continue its efforts to eradicate violence against and sexual harassment of women by taking measures to prevent such actions and protect victims by enforcing existing laws, conducting surveys and enacting further appropriate legislation.  It would also ensure reproductive rights and health throughout a woman’s life span by providing appropriate health care at every stage of life.  The Government will formulate a basic plan for gender equality during this year and actively implement it through national machinery, which will be reinforced at the beginning of 2001.  The activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also been promoted and the Government will continue to pursue partnerships with those organizations.

    ZINATUN NESA TALUKDAR, State Minister, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs of Bangladesh:  We in Bangladesh have made sincere and all-out efforts to keep our promise made in Beijing to chart out a better life for our women.  A national policy for the advancement of women was adopted to set in motion the implementation process for the commitments made in Beijing.  Institutional mechanisms were also established.  The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs was strengthened and designated as the focal point to coordinate efforts.  Efforts are being made to mainstream women’s concerns in the national development process.

    In line with the 12 critical areas of concern identified in Beijing, specific policy measures and programmes have been adopted in Bangladesh.  Elaborate programmes have been undertaken to address the feminization of poverty and to make our women more self-reliant.  Micro-credit is an effective tool in addressing poverty and empowerment of the poor, and Bangladesh has covered 5 million households under the Vulnerable Group Development Programme.  The country is investing in the health and education of women.  Today, more girls are going to school in Bangladesh and staying there.  The female literacy rate has increased from 34.2 to 49.5 per cent from 1995 to 2000.  Within the social sectors, education receives the highest allocation in our national budget.

    The major focus of the national health programme is to ensure primary health care to all with special emphasis on vulnerable groups, such as poor women and children.  The Government has also formulated a food and nutrition policy and national action plan for nutrition.  Maternal mortality rate per 1,000 live births has declined from 4.5 to 3 from 1996 to 1998.  Legislative measures have been enacted to ensure adequate representation of women in the National Parliament, as well as in the local government institutions.  

    Despite continuous efforts to combat violence against women, this continues to be a problem.  A multi-sectoral project on violence against women has been undertaken in the country to establish “one stop crisis centres”, which would provide facilities for medical treatment, police investigation, legal aid and counselling.  Initiatives have been undertaken to address issues related to trafficking of women and children.  New laws have been enacted to address women’s human rights.  The Government is also fully committed to improving the conditions of children with special focus on the needs and concerns of the girl child.  Gender sensitive environmental measures are also important.

    JOCELYN NEWMAN, Minister on the Status of Women of Australia:  The Australian Government has worked hard to give practical effect to the Beijing policy recommendations and has developed a powerful agenda for empowering women.  Our record of achievement stands as testament to this -- 25 per cent of Commonwealth Parliamentarians are women, more women than men complete the final years of secondary education and enter university, and the gender gap in wages is at a record low of 15 per cent, among other things.

    The Australian Government remains firmly committed to improving opportunities and choice for women and to a robust legal and institutional framework to protect women against discrimination.  Through both targeted and mainstream policies, it provides practical support for women in paid and unpaid work, such as major economic reforms to improve the well-being of all Australians, educative partnerships to address social issues, and a strong focus on preventive strategies to tackle problems at their source.  Women are benefiting from new workplace legislation, which enables employers and employees to tailor flexible working arrangements.  The Government actively encourages employers to adopt better equal employment opportunity strategies with an emphasis on education, facilitation and practical advice.

    The “Stronger Families and Communities Strategy”, introduced earlier this year, will support women in balancing work and family commitments and strengthen the communities they live in by investing in community capacity-building at the local level.  Australia has also undertaken reforms to combat violence against women, such as national gun controls and a national campaign to prevent and address domestic violence.  Australia’s extensive cultural diversity requires specialized measures to meet the concerns of women from these backgrounds, and the Government has, therefore, introduced a range of initiatives to promote a harmonious Australia.  It is vital that governments maintain their efforts to fight discrimination and harmful social attitudes, so that women can reach their full potential.

    The Beijing + 5 Political Declaration and Outcomes Document will contribute to an empowering agenda for women.  Political commitment, partnerships across all actors, and innovative “leading edge” practices are powerful ingredients for empowering women.  This Conference is a unique and important opportunity to share experiences and to move forward together.

    MARGARETA WINBERG, Minister for Gender Equality of Sweden:  The Nordic countries continue to be the exception in the existing situation of gender inequality.  The Swedish Government has 11 female ministers out of 20, and women constitute 43 per cent of all parliamentarians.  However, South Africa has joined the struggle, and firm actions by women in political parties have resulted in women obtaining one third of all seats in Parliament.   There must be the political will for change, and the United Nations must be in the forefront in setting normative targets and carrying out the goals set. 

    One of the key issues to be addressed is reproductive rights and services for women and men, especially adolescents.  It is important for young people of both sexes to have access to relevant information and education, which should be given to them in privacy in the absence of parents.  The experience of Sweden has been that adolescents are better able to handle their sexuality responsibly when that was done resulting in fewer teenage mothers and extremely good reproductive health.  Information and education is also a precondition for combating the occurrence of HIV/AIDS.  

    The perpetuation of men’s violence against women is a violation of rights and the worst expression of male dominance, which must be condemned and punished wherever it occurs.  It is unacceptable that the life of a woman should be viewed to be worth less than that of a man’s.  It was an obligation to provide adequate support for the survivors of violence, to prosecute the perpetrators and to combat the violence.  Methods must be developed to treat the perpetrators, including preventive work and breaking the culture of silence that prevails among men.  In Sweden, thousands of men are networking to combat the scourge.  However, so far, the work for gender equality has focused far too little on the role of men.  Without the active participation of men on the work of equality, we cannot reach our goal of creating equal societies.

    CRISTIAN MUNDUATE, Minister for Social Welfare of Guatemala:  Five years ago, Guatemala endorsed a set of guidelines derived from the Beijing Platform for Action.  The commitment to the mainstreaming of the gender perspective into public policies received a renewed impulse from the conclusion of the Peace Agreements, which ended a conflict of almost four decades.  We cannot but be deeply committed to development and equity, considering that 50.7 per cent of the country’s population are women, 70 per cent of whom live in poverty.  The illiteracy rate of women reaches 45 per cent, and the maternal mortality rate is still at 190 out of 100,000 children born alive.  Employment opportunities for women continue to be concentrated in the service, agricultural, manufacturing and commercial sectors.

    Only two weeks ago, a Secretariat for Women was established in Guatemala.  This office will coordinate State actions seeking to mainstream public policies for the development of women.  Policies in the areas of women’s health, reduction of illiteracy, access to quality education, employment and generation of income have been established in the country.  The goal of the Government is to bring about an improvement in the standard and quality of life of girls and women in Guatemala in the next four years.

    The national efforts are complemented by the regional commitments, including the Regional Action Programme for the Women of Latin America and the Caribbean.  A significant advance has been the creation of the Women’s Forum, a pluralistic agency that follows up on the implementation of policies for women that are linked to the Peace Agreements.  In the same spirit, the Agency for the Defence of the Indigenous Woman has been created.  This is an unprecedented development in Guatemala, for it institutionalizes an agency that monitors the observance of the rights of the indigenous women, who has historically been the object of discrimination and social exclusion.

    LOURDES MARIA RODRIGUEZ DE FLORES, Secretary of the Family of El Salvador: When the Fourth Conference for Women was held in 1995, my country was just emerging from a bloody 12-year war that ruined the national economy and divided the population.  The peace agreement challenged us with the task of rebuilding a new society with better opportunities for all.  Several groups wanted to change the structure of social relationships and to create better understanding.  Among those groups, women lead the urgent changes that enhance the quality of life.

    At the beginning of the process of consolidation of democracy, women and girl children were most disadvantaged.  They had low education levels and El Salvador leads the list of Latin American countries with high levels of teenage motherhood.  To institutionalize levels of equal opportunity, a centre for women, ISDEMU, was established to coordinate all activities carried out by public and private organizations in that field.  That institution has strengthened the potential for cooperation between Government and civil society.  
    Other examples of innovative measures in El Salvador are the ratification of the inter-American convention to prevent violence against women; the formulation and implementation of a programme to improve family relations, including services for victims of domestic violence; the adoption of a law against domestic violence; and the creation of a new penal code in 1998 protecting the constitutional rights of citizens and incorporating the crimes of abortion, prostitution, rape and sexual aggression.

    Challenges for the future include a national plan for the prevention of gender-based violence; the creation of a system to provide services to prevent domestic violence and to care for its victims; and reviewing legislation from a gender perspective by a legal commission at the national level.  At the heart of the changes in our times are the changes for women.  It is not the commitment of a mere individual that will bring about success.  It is the organized good will and conviction of the women of the world.  “The present we create is the future we can expect.”

    KHUNYING SUPATRA MASDIT, Minister, Office of the Prime Minister of Thailand:  Thailand has made substantial progress in the implementation of the Beijing commitments since 1995.  We have been giving mindful attention to all areas of concern as addressed in the Platform for Action, prioritizing the urgency of the problems and the people's necessities.  Those areas of concern have been tailored to advance the three interconnected goals of the Beijing Conference -- equality, development and peace.  The key word to describe Thailand's endeavours in this decade would be "empowerment".  Empowerment of women in all spheres of life is one of the main goals of our social policy.  In order to reach this goal, we have emphasized not only the women themselves, but also their communities.

    I am very proud to further inform the Assembly that a review of our community empowerment programme over the past two years has shown that women's groups have displayed remarkable competence for their own good.  The main thrust of these efforts has been to promote participation and allow members of communities to play shared roles in planning, participation and solving their own problems.  This success then, is perhaps a most powerful demonstration of how capable women are.  These examples have convinced my Government that we must strive to encourage women's roles as main actors and leaders of community empowerment.  At the same time, women's involvement and participation in economic development has been given no less attention.  In Thailand, we have seen women's most valuable participation in small and medium enterprises. They become major contributors to this sector of the economy, and we have pledged to continue earnest support of women in this area.

    Thailand has done much in recent years to enhance women's participation in public affairs -- especially at decision- and policy-making levels.  Untiring efforts have been made to increase the participation of women as political candidates, advocates and voters.  Our aspiration is to prove to society that women's participation could help transform politics and ensure good governance.  Women will make a difference in society through their valuable contributions and their partnerships with men.  Thailand strongly encourages women to rise to the challenge of political reform and ameliorating governance.  The year 2000 is an election year in our country, and women's political empowerment lies at the heart of our duties.  

    Thailand has come a long way in terms of our commitment to the promotion of women's rights and their advancement.  Through time, we have learned that the one urgent task left to be completed is to mainstream gender perspectives into the policies and programmes of all sectors.  The national mechanism and national focal point for gender equality have been set, with the responsibility of providing technical support on mainstreaming to concerned agencies.  Capacity-building workshops for gender-awareness and gender-sensitivity training have also been organized regularly.  Their aim is to assist and familiarize planners and programme executives with tools such as gender analysis, and gender statistics.

    MARIE JOSÉE JACOBS, Minister for the Advancement of Women of Luxembourg:  Luxembourg accepts its responsibilities as part of the international community and contributes regularly to efforts of the various bodies and agencies of the United Nations in the work for women’s rights.  On the national front, the State has developed an action plan this year, which is being implemented by the Government, as well as by civil society.  In 1997, a law was adopted to penalize persons guilty of any form of gender discrimination –- an important step in combating outmoded thinking.  Employment policies are also being implemented, including the recent adoption by Parliament of a law against sexual harassment in the workplace.  Other legislation seeks to reduce segregation of men and women in the labour market and enables an increase of jobs for women in Luxembourg.

    In 1999, the Swedish Parliament also adopted a law to reinforce steps taken to end sexual exploitation of children, particularly in the tourism industry.  Generally, the population of Luxembourg agrees with political decisions aimed at guaranteeing women full rights to education and in peacekeeping and the economy, among other areas.  In the future, the Government intends to complete the implementation of the national plan of action for employment.  In that light, it would hold training programmes for union leaders and management, as well as for persons in other sectors of society.  The evolution of women’s participation in decision-making processes would also be addressed, and a law is being prepared to evict perpetrators of violence against women from the conjugal home.  Issues relevant to gender roles would also become mainstream topics in educational curricula, in guidance counselling and in police training.

    JOAO BERNARDO DE MIRANDA, Minister for External Relations of Angola:  In the countries of our region, women occupy a fundamental social role in the production of goods and services and the education of new generations.  At the same time, they are also most affected by the distortions in the distribution of national wealth.  Women continue to be under-represented in the political decision-making.  In Angola, 16 per cent of the deputies to the Parliament are women, as well as 13 per cent of the Government.  The Government is committed to achieving a better representation of women and economic, political and social fields.

    This session should dedicate special attention to the situation of women in Africa.  Brutal conflicts ravaging Africa present a serious obstacle to the implementation of the Beijing Platform and other measures and strategies in support of women.  Women are the main victims of these calamities, constituting the majority of internally displaced people and refugees forced to live off international charity.

    In the aftermath of the war, Angola has high maternal mortality rates due to poor sanitary conditions and the lack of human and material resources.  The country is witnessing the weakening of the family unit and the growth of urban areas, which represent the root causes of an increase in poverty and prostitution.  My Government is seriously concerned about this situation and is undertaking efforts to rectify it in cooperation with the United Nations agencies and NGOs.  The international community and the United Nations can put an end to war that has spread to various countries of the continent.  We believe that if there is political will, it will be possible to completely isolate the perpetrators of war, cut off their supply sources and prosecute them judicially.

    The special session offers us a great opportunity to evaluate the policies and seek solutions corresponding to the objectives of the Beijing Platform.  The programmes and strategies to promote and defend women’s rights should be more concrete and precise.  They should also have the necessary financial support of the international community within the framework of public assistance for development.  At least 0.7 per cent of the developed countries’ gross domestic product (GDP) should be channelled to those purposes.  The political declaration to be approved at the end of the session ought to reflect this commitment.

    PAIK KYUNG-NAM, Chair, Presidential Commission on Women’s Affairs of the Republic of Korea:  Globalization has had a strong influence on the status and rights of women.  It has strengthened international cooperation and accelerated economic growth and social development.  However, uneven distribution of its benefits has driven an even deeper wedge between rich and poor, and women have often been further marginalized, resulting in a feminization of poverty.  Those negative consequences were obvious during Asia’s recent financial crisis.  The Government took advantage of the crisis to strengthen policies for women by initiating free vocational training for women, providing livelihood assistance for unemployed female heads of households and creating new jobs for women.  It also established a channel to report cases of dismissal based on gender discrimination and established programmes to ensure that more women have access to information and communication technology.

    To address the issue of violence against women, including that associated with armed conflict, the special session should generate momentum for more women peacekeepers, special envoys and decision-makers to be involved in the entire peace process.  In that light, Korean women will play a constructive role in the reconciliation process on the Korean Peninsula.  The Government has also placed emphasis on domestic violence against women.  Legislation was enacted to identify domestic violence as a crime and to punish the perpetrators.  Furthermore, since Beijing, the most significant achievement is heightened awareness that domestic violence is no longer just a household problem, but a concern which must be addressed by society.

    Strong political will is a prerequisite for the full implementation of the Platform for Action.  For this will to be translated into meaningful action, women must be empowered.  Therefore, the Government of the Republic of Korea is pleased that many women were elected to the National Assembly during the country’s last general election.  Also, a new Ministry of Women was created earlier in the year, which would strengthen the existing national mechanism for women’s affairs.

    ANDREA WILLI, Minister for Family Affairs and Equality between Men and Women of Liechtenstein:  It is a great pleasure for me to take this opportunity to present to this important gathering a brief outline of Liechtenstein's involvement in the work of the United Nations on issues of equality between men and women.  In 1997, our Government submitted a report to Parliament in which it concluded that the necessary legislation for full equality between men and women was in place.  As in other countries, however, it was also noted that there was a continuing gap between de jure and de facto equality.  In order to promote and accelerate equality between men and women, the Government, therefore, adopted a set of measures aimed at promoting full equality in practice.  These measures were also designed in light of the contents of the Beijing Platform for Action and, thus, its implementation at the national level in Liechtenstein.  

    While Liechtenstein subscribes to the principle of the full implementation of the Platform for Action, both at the national and international levels, it was necessary to identify certain priority areas in which action was particularly needed, such as women at the workplace.  The measures adopted by the Government included the Equality Act in 1998, which ensures full equality of men and women in the workplace, as well as ensures measures to combat violence against women.  The Equality Act also included a campaign against violence.  A set of measures was also adopted to enable women to pursue their family and professional lives in parallel. 

    We believe that education and raising awareness are clearly of the highest importance for achieving the goal of full de facto equality.  Governments can and must take a leading role in designing relevant policies.  But, ultimately, full equality, on a daily basis, can only be achieved through the active involvement of men and women themselves.  It is, thus, very fortunate that fruitful dialogue and close interaction between NGOs and civil society have always characterized the work for the advancement of women in Liechtenstein.  In 1999, the first women's congress in Liechtenstein gathered women from all over the country and resulted in the adoption of a catalogue of proposed further measures for the advancement of women.  The "Equal Opportunity Award 2000" provided an incentive for the active promotion of equality issues by companies, organizations and individuals.

    National implementation of the achievements of Beijing remains our priority goal, and all our efforts in this respect are complementary to the required action on the international level.  The Beijing Conference was of significant importance for our domestic efforts in this area, and we have continued our efforts in the framework of international organizations, particularly the United Nations.  We are, however, disappointed that two important goals in the area of the advancement of women have not been achieved:  the 50/50 representation of women and men in the United Nations Secretariat and the universal ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  This must not lead to frustration, however, but rather to stepping up our efforts to achieve these important goals as soon as possible.

    DALIA ITZIK, Minister for the Environment of Israel:  Millions of Christian, Muslim and Jewish believers pray for Jerusalem, the City of King David, Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammed.  I have come here today, from Jerusalem, to pray for all the women of the world in the name of mothers from the Middle East and the world.  My prayer is to put an end to war, so that the fruits of our wombs will not be used as live targets for bullets, hand grenades and other deadly weapons.  I have come here today to pray together with you that there will be an end to the longest-lasting slavery in history:  the slavery of women.

    We will wage an all-out and uncompromising war on physical violence against women and the invasion of their bodies by sexual force.  All humanity must fight against this illness.  A nation which does not grant full equality to women is only half a nation.  A world which does not grant full equality to women is only half a world.  Equality is not an issue of women alone.  It is the need of all civilization.  Women’s struggle for equality should be a joint effort, together with men -– not instead of men, not against men.

    Many delegations, including the Israeli delegation, will tell us of the enlightened and advanced laws existing in their countries regarding the equality of women.  We must not, however, be misled by these declarations.  The problem is not always the lack of proper legislation, but rather the lack of a proper social attitude.  Despite the existing equal opportunity laws, we know that there is still discrimination regarding employment, advancement, appointment and salary level of women. 

    However, as a woman, I am optimistic and full of hope.  I believe that the twenty-first century will be better for women in Israel.  We are on the road to peace with our neighbours.  In the future “peace-time” Israel, the need for women in all walks of life will be greater.  When I compare my life to that of my mother, I say, “Yes, we have come a long way.”  I hope that when my 15-year-old daughter compares her life to mine, she too will say:  “Yes!  We have certainly come a long way!” 

    MURLI MANOHAR JOSHI, Minister of Human Resources Development, Science and Technology and Ocean Development of India:  Gender equality, development and peace will all be key to the progress of nations in the twenty-first century.  In India, the year 2001 is “Women’s Empowerment Year”.  Mahatma Gandhi said, “I am uncompromising in the matter of women’s rights.  In my opinion, she should labour under no legal disability not suffered by man.  I should treat daughters and sons on a footing of perfect equality.”

    The expression of egocentric individualism is alien to Indian social thought.  We take pride in the fact that we are the world’s largest democracy, and that our Constitution not only guarantees equality for women in every sphere of political, economic and social life, but also provides for affirmative action in their favour.  We have adopted a two-pronged strategy for the empowerment of women; while mainstreaming gender in all policies and programmes across all sectors, we have concentrated on making women-specific interventions.  Literacy rates for women have increased faster than for men.  Micro-credit institutions in rural areas have proven to be particularly successful.  The strong partnership established with the women’s movement and NGOs has galvanized social mobilization and action in local communities.

    Globalization has been a mixed blessing for women.  Governments have fewer resources and sometimes less freedom to promote social development.  That violence against women persists and takes new forms should be a matter of both shame and concern for all civilized societies.  In addition, democratic and pluralistic countries have had to face proxy wars and externally sponsored terrorism; women and children are the first targets and favoured victims.  The international community must unite to respond to these challenges.  The feminization of poverty and the marginalization of women need urgent remedial attention.

    As we stand today in the first year of the new millennium, our focus should be on the realization of full freedom for women.  From liberation to emancipation to empowerment, the story of the fight for gender equality has been one of a continuing struggle to demolish stereotypes and negative social attitudes, while empowering women economically.  In India, the concept of complementarity between the sexes, rather than conflict, has inspired our thought through the ages, and guides our actions to the present day.  It is our vision that women in the twenty-first century should be embodiments of knowledge, prosperity and power.

    NICOLE PERY, Secretary of State for Women’s Rights and Professional Training of France:  Girls’ education, elimination of violence and education are the primary tools for achieving gender equality.  Schools must be mixed, but that is not enough.  Also, the contents of education must be non-sexist.  Combating violence against women is the cornerstone in the battle for equality.  One kind of violence, which is bred by poverty and exclusion, is trafficking in women.  Human beings should not become objects of commercial trade.  It runs counter to the United Nations Convention of 1949, to which we reiterate our commitment.  Negotiations continue in Vienna on the additional protocol -- on trafficking in human beings -- to the United Nations Convention on International Organized Crime, which should reaffirm this principle.Women’s right to health care constitutes one of the pillars of their equality.  It is necessary to recognize the fundamental rights to free contraception and legalized abortion, which also strengthen the effectiveness of the fight against AIDS.  France reiterates its commitments in this area, as well as its proposal to hold a conference of pharmaceutical companies, donor countries and developing countries to facilitate easy and equal access to medicines.  

    Just a few years ago, an idea of women’s participation in decision-making was defended only by militant feminists.  A law on political equality is being promulgated in the French Parliament, which is going to be applied to the municipal elections in 2001.  It is expected to bring about feminization of elected assemblies.  The balanced participation of women in political decision-making will trigger other changes in the life of the country.  The most recent international instrument on equality is the additional optional protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  Gender equality concerns all the countries of the world, and its principles should be promoted and developed.  

    RIMANTAS KAIRELIS, Vice-Minister of Social Security and Labour of Lithuania:  The human rights of women and girls are an inalienable and integral part of universal human rights.  The fact that so many international and national NGOs are participating in this special session proves that the partnership between government and NGOs is important as ever.  We should recognize the contribution of civil society, which, in many cases, has been an equal partner to governments in promoting the human rights of women.

    During the five-year period since the Fourth World Conference on Women, the Parliament of Lithuania passed the Law on Equal Opportunities -- the first such law in Central and Eastern Europe -- and subsequently established a mechanism supervising its implementation.  Governmental policies, important preventive programmes and projects tackling poverty and unemployment issues, addressed to the situation of families and vulnerable groups, including single mothers, as well as women in the rural areas, have been developed.

    To implement a constructive policy, governments have to engage in real partnership and alliances with NGOs.  The Baltic Conference -- “Beijing + 5: challenges and perspectives” -- has proved that statements calling for collaboration and dialogue between decision-making spheres and movements within civil society are no longer just a theoretical framework. 

    Preparations for the Reykjavik follow-up conference in June 2001 are already under way.  The conference will formulate further actions and strategies to accelerate full implementation of the 12 critical areas of concern of the Beijing Platform for Action.  To achieve this purpose, follow-up projects with the cooperation of governments, NGOs and private enterprises are expected to be initiated at the conference.  Many issues remain to be addressed in the future to create real possibilities for women to fully enjoy the benefits of knowledge, labour and economic independence.  

    NORICA NICOLAI, Secretary of State, Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of Romania:  In many countries of the world, the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Programme for Action was understood as an integral part of the overall democratization processes, which created new opportunities for women's equal participation and for the enjoyment of their human rights.  Many of the ambitious goals set up in Beijing, however, have yet to be achieved.  The Beijing Conference has made an essential contribution to the development of the Romanian policies towards the promotion of the human rights of women and the implementation of the principle of equal opportunity between men and women.  Specific institutional and legislative steps have been made, including the establishment in October 1995 of national machinery aimed at promoting equal opportunities between men and women in the framework of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection.  That machinery is meant to address the main challenges pertaining to the situation of women in Romania.

    The national institutional framework was gradually developed, so as to involve a wide range of actors.  However, improved coordination and coherence between the public authorities responsible for women's issues is still needed for the successful implementation of policies and measures in the field of equal opportunities.  Among recent legislative measures is a draft law on equal opportunities, which prohibits and punishes direct or indirect discrimination based on gender, and a law on paternal leave which aims at increasing the role of men in the rearing and education of the child.  On the issue of domestic violence, a pilot centre for assistance to victims of family violence has been established in partnership with a Romanian non-governmental organization.  Increased cooperation at the national and international levels is also required to prevent and combat phenomena such as forced prostitution, trafficking of women and girls.

    Romanian NGOs have played an increased role in raising awareness about women's issues, especially in the field of civil and political rights, economic participation, development of business opportunities, health care, reproductive rights and family planning.  An evaluation or progress in the advancement of women in Romania shows a number of encouraging trends.  Women are valuable and competitive partners in trade, banking, health, and education.  At the same time, women are the most affected by economic hardships, reduction in social security, and unemployment.  Measures are still needed, however, to stimulate and support the political participation of women, and to ensure a greater presence of women in power and decision-making.  Without an active and direct involvement of women in democratic processes, development and peace, the objectives of the Platform of Action will remain mere aspirations.  

    CONCEPCION DANCAUSA TREVIÑO, Secretary-General for Social Affairs of Spain: In keeping with the guidelines of the European Union, Spain has confirmed its commitment to equal opportunities for men and women.  It has implemented national plans for that purpose, promoting specific programmes to help women where most needed.  Over the past five years, institutional machinery was strengthened and budgets were increased to implement the Beijing Platform in Spain.  

    Starting with education, we are proud to say that 53 per cent of college students are female.  However, this is not enough.  Women’s autonomy also involves their participation in the labour force.  Legislation reform in Spain has been directed at resolving problems of women’s unemployment and social security.  More and better jobs should be created to promote the role of women and achieve their greater participation in the labour force.  Statistics confirm clear progress in this respect, but it is also necessary to increase women’s participation in decision-making.  Although women hold a significant number of Senate and Parliament seats, this percentage needs to increase further.

    A national plan of action has been adopted in Spain to combat violence against women, and special police units have been created to help them.  Services are being introduced to provide care, rehabilitate and follow up with victims of violence.  Spain is prepared to support work at the international level to combat violence against women worldwide.  Spain has also been supporting international legislative work to promote women’s equality.  Despite all this, not all women in Spain enjoy total equality.  The potential of women in the protection of human rights, economy, and environment must be fully recognized.  Governmental, non-governmental, institutional and social commitment is required to achieve equality for all.

    EFI BEKOU-BALTA, Secretary General for Gender Equality of Greece:  Twenty-five years after the first United Nations International Conference on Women, there has been considerable progress towards achieving equality between men and women. During the past century, constant efforts and a lot of hard work led to changes which contributed to the strengthening of democracy, social justice and respect for human rights.  Under the influence primarily of the women’s movement, governments were induced or persuaded to adopt specific measures for their benefit.

    Five years after the Beijing Conference, although women’s rights have eventually been recognized as full-fledged human rights, inequalities between women and men still persist and a series of obstacles still prevent the attainment of full equality.  In the new globalized international context, social developments and new technologies create new inequalities which coexist with older ones.  For example, poverty, unemployment, immigration, violence and exploitation of women and children, inequality in the workplace, salaries, social security, women’s participation in decision-making and others.

    Greece, as a member State of the European Union, a founding Member of the United Nations and other international organizations, supports the full implementation of declarations and international conventions for human rights and the full participation of women in economic, political, social and cultural life on both national and international levels.  Since 1982, the Greek Government has adopted a powerful and progressive legal and institutional framework aiming at eradicating any form of discrimination against women.  At the same time, we have established a governmental organization for the promotion of the principle of gender equality.  Nowadays, protecting women’s rights and guaranteeing equal opportunities and the attainment of substantial equality, above and beyond legislative measures, constitute top priorities for the Greek Government.

    GALINA KARELOVA, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Development of the Russian Federation:  This meeting now taking place is not just another special session of the General Assembly, but a global international forum which would make a substantial contribution to outlining the social development of the twenty-first century.  The intellectual and creative potential of women must be recognized as an invaluable contribution to the enhancement of social development.  Regrettably, global processes taking place in the modern world are not conducive to the achievement of the goals set up in the Beijing Platform for Action, but make it even more difficult.  The status of women is being aggravated by such factors as widening economic inequality between the world's richest and poorest nations, the deterioration of the environment and the spread of AIDS.  The number of women and children who are victims of armed conflict has not decreased.

    Conflicts and humanitarian catastrophes require appropriate and sometimes most immediate response from the international community.  The concept of "humanitarian intervention" can, in no way, be used as a justification for neglecting the basic principles of international law, such as the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States.  The Russia Federation will consistently oppose "armed humanitarianism" and promote the idea of a multi-polar world architecture, which would enable all countries and nations to live without fear of being subjected to discrimination.  

    In the Central and Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States countries, women have made a significant contribution to economic reforms and the creation of democratic institutions, while, at the same time, becoming one of the most socially vulnerable groups.  The Russian Federation has now started the elaboration of a long-term nation-wide development strategy aimed at overcoming the consequences of the recent crisis and creating a favourable environment for effective social and economic growth.  The year 1999 was marked by visible improvements.  Wages in the public sector were increased by 50 per cent, scholarships doubled and pensions steadily increased.  All these measures have had a direct influence on the status of women, who constitute the majority of the Russian people.  There are a larger number of women in decision-making posts in local administration, an increased number of female voters at the regional level and new employment opportunities.  Yet, much remains to be done to ensure real equality.  Women in the Russian Federation continue to face problems such as gender discrimination, poverty, unemployment and inadequate representation at the decision-making level.  Only by joining efforts can challenges be met and women be ensured decent lives and high social and economic status. 

    NANA KONADU AGYEMAN RAWLINGS (Ghana):  The ones whose lives should be made better by the decision we take at this gathering are the poor women in the villages and slums of Africa, who walk vast distances to find wood for cooking, who toil for hours in the fields under the hot sun -- they are the ones whose empowerment should be the focus of our endeavours.

    The theme of this conference is especially timely in the light of the tragic conflicts in so many parts of the world, and especially in Africa today.  In the Sudan, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Somalia, and in Ethiopia and Eritrea, the wars rage on as vast numbers of innocent women and children are subjected to unbearable hardships.  Empowering women is an essential pre-condition for liberating society from many of its self-inflicted miseries; therefore, society itself must be encouraged to exercise its collective power to those ends.

    Whatever progress we have achieved in Ghana in women’s issues must be seen in the context of the broader far-reaching political and economic changes that have taken place.  Laws have been passed to criminalize harmful socio-cultural practices, such as female genital mutilation and ritual servitude, including trokosi, a system whereby females are kept in virtual slavery for crimes purported to have been committed by their families.  Penalties for rape and defilement have become stiffer. The legal minimum age has been increased from 14 years to 18 years for both boys and girls. The result of our modest efforts is becoming increasingly visible in the number of active female participants in public life and politics. Undeniably, the presence of women in our Parliament and in Government has greatly enriched Ghanaian politics.  Whichever way we look at it, gender equality, peace and development should define our individual, as well as collective, roles in the twenty-first century.

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