Press Releases

     
    For information only - not an official document.
    Press Release No:  UNIS/GA/1642
    Release Date:   7 June 2000
    Growing Awareness Most Pressing Women’s Problems Lack Solutions,
    Cuba Tells “Women 2000" General Assembly Special Session

    Cites ‘Feminization’ of Poverty, North/South Technological Gap,
    As 18 More Speakers Address Implementation of 1995 Beijing Action Plan
     

     NEW YORK, 6 June (UN Headquarters) -- The most relevant aspect of the review of the implementation of the Platform for Action adopted at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing was the growing awareness of the lack of a solution to the most pressing problems identified there, the special session of the General Assembly entitled "Women 2000:  Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-first Century" was told this morning.  

     As the Assembly continued its general debate on progress made in implementing the Platform, the Member of the Council of State of Cuba and President of the Cuban Women’s Federation, Vilma Espin Guillois, said that the most significant issues concerning women around the world included the widening economic and technological gap between the countries of the South and the North and enormous differences between the rich and the poor, as well as the feminization of poverty and unemployment.  It was embarrassing that some States had failed to ratify or even sign the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, she said.

     The twenty-third special session -- also known as Beijing + 5 -- is also considering further actions and initiatives for achieving the long-term goals of universal gender equality, focusing on examples of good practices, positive actions and lessons learned.  The main critical areas of concern, as described in the Beijing Platform, include:  women and poverty; education and training of women; women and health; violence against women; women and armed conflict; women and the economy; women in power and decision-making; institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women; human rights of women; women and the media; women and the environment; and the girl child.

     Canada’s Secretary of State on the Status of Women, Hedy Fry, said that with the blueprint of the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action in hand, the special session should chart the course for a new century and build on the tenuous gains women made in the twentieth century.  To allow those hard-won gains to be eroded would be an injustice to the women of the world, representing a backward step in the shared goals of economic and social development, peace and human security. 

     The Minister for Equal Opportunities of Italy, Katia Bellilo, said the challenges of poverty, economic globalization and conflict prevention went beyond the national scope.  The countries of Europe faced those challenges every day, struggling to emerge from the devastating experience of the Balkans through cooperation, democracy and human rights.  The international community faced the same challenges in Sierra Leone, or in the Horn of Africa.  International perception of the African wars should not be clouded by indifference or, worse, by racism.  Nor could the international community forget that the victims and refugees were for the most part women, and that women are the key actors even in such extreme circumstances.

     The Vice-President of Zambia, Christon Tembo, emphasized the seriousness of the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and children, saying that women had a different pattern of vulnerability to HIV infection than men.  Poverty contributed to the spread of HIV and accentuated its impact.  As the effect of HIV/AIDS on economic capacity was particularly significant, an unprecedented infusion of foreign aid was needed.

     The Deputy Minister, Office of the Prime Minister of Malaysia, said that as a multi-racial and multi-religious society with a Muslim majority, Malaysia had proven to the world that Islam was not a deterrent to the advancement of women. The true teaching of Islam valued women as equal to men and laid the foundation for a society where women and men should work towards partnership.  Based on that principle, Malaysia viewed with grave concern the politicizing of culture and religion for creating power bases.  The negative impact of that trend was the denial of the rights of women in the private and public spheres.

     Also speaking this morning were Ministers from Turkey, San Marino, Belarus, Guyana, Ireland, and Pakistan; Assistant Minister for Internal Affairs of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; Chairperson of the Committee for the Advancement of Women of Viet Nam; President of the National Council for Women of Egypt; and the representatives of Myanmar, Kuwait, Grenada and Papua New Guinea.

     The Assembly will continue its debate at 3 p.m. today.

    Assembly Work Programme

     The General Assembly this morning 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

     CHRISTON TEMBO, Vice-President of Zambia:  Zambia has since the Fourth World conference on Women made great strides in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action and has made significant progress in accomplishing specific commitments.  Zambia’s strategic plan, covering the period 1996-2001, identifies five priority areas:  the persistent and growing burden of poverty on women; inequality in access to opportunities in education, skills development and training; women’s unequal access to health and related services; inequality between women and men in the sharing of power and decision-making; and the rights of the girl child.

     Zambia considers the implementation of the Platform for Action as an integral part of the national development process and, therefore, continues to make every effort to mainstream gender in all policies and programmes.  Key obstacles that have hampered the implementation process include:  household poverty; huge national debt; and the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  He required strong and concerted national and international effort in order to surmount them.  Women and men experience poverty in different ways.  The wide range of biases in society and the unequal opportunities in education, employment and access to and control over productive resources -- particularly land -- mean that women have fewer opportunities.

     The impact of HIV/AIDS on women and children has emerged as a very serious issue.  Evidence suggests that women have a different pattern of vulnerability to HIV infection than men.  Poverty and HIV/AIDS are closely linked.  Poverty contributes to the spread of HIV and accentuates its impact.  Poverty creates situations of vulnerability to infection, especially among women.  The effect of HIV/AIDS on economic capacity is particularly significant.  Without unprecedented infusion of foreign aid, our national income would, therefore, be reduced significantly.

     Debt servicing has a significant impact on public budgets and has shrunk resources available for development and greatly reduced the prospects for growth.  The implications of such reductions are felt disproportionately.  Inequalities are perpetrated and increased by debt, not only through incomes, but also in respect of gender.  Zambia has a legitimate reason to seek significant debt relief, if not outright debt cancellation, as it is in the category of highly indebted poor countries.  There is a need for foreign debt relief initiatives to go beyond the existing framework. 

     HASAN GEMICI, Minister of State Responsible for Women’s Affairs, Family and Social Services of Turkey:  The full realization of the human rights of women and the girl child is a both a legal and ethical responsibility and the reforms that Turkey undertook in the cause of women’s rights have been revolutionary.  Women in Turkey have embraced their true identity in the Republic and gained suffrage rights before those in many other countries.  Five years ago, Turkey committed itself to withdrawing the reservations it had placed on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, extending compulsory basic education from five to eight years, eradicating illiteracy among women and reducing infant and maternal mortality rates by at least half by this year.  Most of those commitments have been accomplished.

     Compulsory basic education was increased, as committed, in 1997 and the enrollment rate in schools of the girl child increased by 67 per cent.  While the Government has not fully realized its commitments to reducing infant and maternal mortality rates and eradicating illiteracy among women, considerable improvements have been registered.  Legislation on the family has also been enacted, which acknowledges domestic violence as a major violation of women’s rights.  Presently, a new draft civil code, prepared with a gender perspective and incorporating the contributions of women’s non-governmental organizations (NGOs), is before the Turkish Parliament.  One significant gain since the Beijing Conference has been the flourishing of dynamic civil society organizations for women’s rights.  

     Turkey is determined to continue contributing to all international endeavours to achieve equality for women.  The Government is committed to allocating sufficient resources to gender equality issues.  It also intends to ensure the full and equal representation and participation of women at all levels of decision-making and will embark on an institution-building process to achieve its targets.

     VILMA ESPIN GUILLOIS, Member of the Council of State of Cuba, President of the Cuban Women’s Federation:  Women’s growing social protagonism and the pressures put on governments by many women organizations in the aftermath of the Beijing Conference have resulted in some progress in the promulgation of laws acknowledging their political rights, incorporating the principle of equality in family law.  Some governments have created mechanisms to bring about progress for women.  The most relevant aspect, however, is the growing social awareness of the lack of a solution to the most pressing problems identified in Beijing.

     The period we have to look into is marked by the widening of the economic and technological gap between the countries of the South and the North and enormous differences between the rich and the poor.  In the past five years, women have been excluded from opportunities to gain access to dignified jobs and adequate professional training, health care and the guarantees of social security.  Feminization of poverty and unemployment are also on the rise.  These are the most significant issues that concern women around the world.  

     In our country, efforts have been made to achieve greater participation of women in economic, political and social life.  The national plan to follow-up on the Beijing Platform for Action is the expression of our Government’s political will and recognition of women’s human rights.  Women have played an essential role as workers, technicians, scientists and leaders, who have contributed to the recovery of the national economy.  The economic war, which the United States declared on us over four decades ago, has not been able to crush the determination of the Cuban people to pursue development with social justice and equality.

     The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was immediately signed by Cuba and many other countries.  It is embarrassing that some States still have not ratified it, and others have not even signed it.  The last decade of the last millennium was characterized by an accelerated growth of poverty and extreme violence as a result of the greed of huge economic powers, merchants of war and State terrorism.  This situation must come to an end.  We have to struggle for development.  A new economic and social order is badly needed to eliminate all types of discrimination, achieve progress for all and respect for sovereignty, independence, self-determination and full realization of human rights.

     HA THI KHIET, Chairperson of the National Committee for the Advancement of Women in Viet Nam:  The Socialist Republic of Viet Nam considers women’s emancipation as one of the major objectives of the Vietnamese revolution, which exerts a direct and long-term impact on national development.  Vietnamese women have made glorious contributions to the cause of national construction and defence.  The Vietnamese Government’s policy is to make adequate investment and provide diverse support to improve women’s status and enhance their participation in all fields of life.

     Our Government has approved and directed the implementation of the overall Strategy and Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women, which fully reflects the spirit of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.  The public awareness on gender equality has been raised in general, creating a momentum for gradually integrating gender into policy-making and implementing processes in all ministries and at all other administrative levels.  The number of women in leadership and elected bodies has increased all through the power hierarchy.  Women are represented from the top leadership of the State to the grass-root levels of village and commune.  

     Though positive gains have been made in the pursuance of the Beijing Platform’s concrete objectives, they still fall short of our expectations.  We hold that the relations of partnership should be further enhanced in the international community, including those in the United Nations system, among inter-governmental mechanisms, governments and NGOs, and between women and men the world over to deal with obstacles and challenges posed to the full implementation of the Platform.  Appropriate solutions to the negative aspects of the vigorously unfolding globalization process must also be found to ensure that women and men in developing countries can have the opportunity to participate in and to benefit from this process, as those in developed countries do.  Gender equality and the advancement of women must become a cross-cutting theme in the endeavour for peace, stability and cooperation for development.

     HEDY FRY, Secretary of State, Status of Women of Canada:  said The Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action remain the blueprint for empowering women and essential tools for achieving long-term goals of universal gender equality. With this blueprint in hand, this meeting should chart the course for a new century and build on the tenuous gains women made in the twentieth century.  To allow those hard-won gains to be eroded would be an injustice to the women of the world and would mark a backward step in the shared goals of economic and social development, peace and human security.

     Canada remains resolute in its commitment to these goals and by extension to global gender equality.  Since Beijing, we have taken steps to advance the agenda at both domestic and international levels.  Canada has shared its data, research, experiences and best practices, and has learned, from other countries new and creative ways of promoting universality of women's rights, and of ensuring they are realized, de facto as well as de jure.

     In the 30 years since Canada's first formal acknowledgement of women's rights within its Constitution, slow but steady progress had been made in the realization of gender equality.  The machinery of government dedicated to the task has been strengthened, and efforts continue to mainstream gender in all aspects of government.  Gender-based analysis has demonstrated its importance to the economic status of women in areas such as entrepreneurship, small- and medium-sized businesses, tax reform, pay equity and trade, as well as in social policy areas like pensions, a National Child Benefit to assist low- and medium-income families and other areas.  Despite progress, many societal and systemic barriers remain.  Poverty remains a reality for many Canadian women, especially those who are single parents, aboriginal, disabled or immigrants.  Poverty is the single greatest barrier to access and participation for women and children.  Progress requires cooperation with NGOs.

     Internationally, Canada is actively engaged in the development of protocols against human smuggling.  Its commitment to human rights is further evidenced in its insistence on the establishment of the International Criminal Court, which we consider to be the most gender sensitive piece of international humanitarian law.  Canada is also pleased at the recent adoption of protocols on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and children in armed conflict.  It is determined to continue to work with other United Nations Member States to reduce barriers to equality, increase awareness and appreciation of the benefits of diversity, advance the links between social and economic policy and to point out their interdependence.

     FRANCESCA MICHELOTTI, Minister for Internal Affairs and Justice of  San Marino:  Today, gathered in the United Nations building, we finally exercise our right to express our opinion, which is a remarkable success, as we would have never expected that our personal, slow and tough struggle would make us the protagonists of our own destinies.  This Assembly provides an enriching opportunity for all women to go beyond their daily experiences and gain a wider perspective.  Today, more than ever before, we are aware that no single identity can be disregarded when sharing views and experiences.  All cultural contributions are equally valuable.  Therefore, even the smallest nation in the world community can contribute to this global debate with its own experiences.

     The strength shown today by the world women's movement no longer coincides with the mere search for a "development niche", but is rather the expression of an ongoing process that is irrevocably dismantling the preordained schemes of global development, coexistence between ethnic groups and cultures, and peace-building. From family to school, from education to employment and from politics to personal well-being, the women's movement has imposed a new way of conceiving history, human relations and gender roles.  This movement has focused greater attention on the relationship between the environment and culture, participation in public life and gender, reiterating the right to one's own identity against any simplistic and ambiguous attempt to level out diversity. 

     Bearing in mind that the experiences of each and every one of us highlights the importance of what we are discussing, I wish to submit some data on the status of women in San Marino.  As in all European countries, the path towards gender equality has been relatively easy for San Marino women.  Thanks to the favourable economic conditions, we have achieved important participation levels that are still unimaginable for most women in the world.  Today, the number of San Marino women holding medium and high-ranking positions in both the public and private sectors is significant.  The whole population has access to social security and social support, and women can benefit from all necessary services.  Wage equality between male and female workers is a consolidated achievement, as is trade union equality. 

     With regard to legal equality, however, the process has been long and difficult, despite the widespread affluence of the country.  Legal equality in San Marino still lags behind, as evidenced by low female representation in Parliament, on one hand, and inadequate recognition of women's rights to transmit their nationality, on the other.  Today we are still demanding to be effectively recognized as "citizens as of right".  In fact, this claim still encounters cultural and institutional opposition, which is by now anachronistic.  It is fundamental for San Marino women that citizenship be considered an inherent right, and not a strategic concession.  We will continue our battle with great determination, prompted by the conviction that our voice will be heard.  At the same time, we are ready to pool our efforts and contribute, in all possible ways, to women's liberation throughout the world.

     OLGA DARGEL, Minister for Social Protection, Belarus:  The Beijing Platform became the basic instrument for Belarus as it developed its national strategy for the advancement of women and, to that end, they have achieved much progress.  A national plan of action and the national programme “Women of the Republic of Belarus” have been adopted and both are being implemented.  Also, the “National Machinery for the Advancement of Women” is being established and the Government has approved regulations for the national council on gender policy.  Legislation aimed at advancing the status of women to make it consistent with international standards is currently being improved and the process is complemented by efforts to raise women’s awareness about legal issues.

     In Belarus, women have been increasingly participating in decision-making processes and the first statistical publication on a comparative analysis on men and women in the Republic has been released.  The results of gender research have become more obvious and that has been reflected in the publication of a national report.  The problems of women in Belarus are highlighted on a larger scale in the mass media and gender issues have been introduced into the curricula of four of the country’s universities.  

     Several obstacles impeding progress in the improvement of women’s status in Belarus include insufficient financial resources, aggravated by the necessity to allocate more than 10 per cent of the State budget to eliminate the consequences of Chernobyl.  Also, stereotyping with regard to the role of men and women persists and men have not become sufficiently involved in activities that would ensure gender equality.  Therefore, the Government has decided to develop a new plan of action for the advancement of women for 2001 to 2005.

     KATIA BELLILLO, Minister for Equal Opportunities of Italy:  Since the election of the new Government in 1996, Italian policies have been based on the view that women are essential resources for society and agents of social change.  Action is being taken to eradicate all forms of discrimination, and efforts are being made to mainstream the gender perspective into all governmental policies, such as employment, development and social policies.  Dialogue and partnership between women’s organizations in civil society, politics and government are also promoted.

     Problems that go beyond our national dimension include the challenges of poverty, economic globalization and conflict prevention.  In Europe we face these challenges every day.  Together we are struggling to emerge from the devastating experience of the Balkans through cooperation, democracy and human rights.  We are faced with the same challenges in Sierra Leone, or in the Horn of Africa, where Italy is playing a leading role in efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.  We cannot allow our perception of the African wars to be clouded by indifference, or worse, by racism.  Nor can we forget that the victims and refugees are for the most part women, and that women are the key actors even in such extreme circumstances.

     In this perspective, monitoring the implementation of Beijing commitments is not a technical issue, but a highly political one.  Technical instruments are obviously needed, including statistics, common indicators, research methods and measurable goals.  Also needed are legal instruments.  The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women should be universally ratified, and reservations incompatible with its goals and purposes should be withdrawn.  The Optional Protocol to the Convention should be swiftly ratified.  But above all, we need political instruments.  The reform of the United Nations need look no farther than the experience of women for a wealth of ideas and proposals.  Without these partnerships, the United Nations of the new millennium will never get underway, nor will it meet the global changes elaborated by the international conferences of the 1990s.

     However, today’s movements are not always seeking dialogue.  The Seattle march against the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Washington demonstrations against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were sometimes reactive, rather than proactive.  Nevertheless, we cannot ignore their voices.  We must build new strategies that embrace the most forward-looking ideas that such protests have expressed.  Likewise, we must seriously consider the proposals of the Global March for Women, the NGO Forum, and learn from the experience of women’s organizations, trade unions, environmental groups and campaigns.  Social, cultural, economic rights, as well as civil, political, sexual and reproductive rights should be defended against any and all violations.  Women are not one problem among many; they are half of humankind.  Women can overcome the boundaries that divide continents and cultures, North and South, institutional roles and grass-roots experience.

     INDRANIE CHANDARPAL, Minister for Human Services and Social Security, Guyana:  In spite of rapidly increasing global income, as well as a recognized link between improved economic power by women and the realization of their equality, many goals of the Beijing Platform for Action remain unfulfilled.  That is a reflection of the gap between articulation and implementation of women’s rights.  The Government of Guyana has underpinned a number of national strategies and initiatives, including the introduction of a poverty alleviation programme, with an emphasis on women, which serves to reduce their greater vulnerability to the effects of economic hardships.  Also, it has launched training programmes to improve women’s ability to compete in the job market.  A women’s leadership institute has been established to empower women to lead in local government, community development, as entrepreneurs and in the environmental sector.  

     Legislative reforms have also been promoted in the areas of abortion and domestic violence.  An organization –- “Men against Violence against Women” –- has been established and thousands of men have become signatories to the campaign of the Guyana Human Rights Association to eradicate that type of violence and to develop awareness within the male community about the abuse of women.  In 1996, a national policy paper identified the broad principles on which the Government’s policy on women is based; and in 1997, an act was adopted to prohibit discrimination against women, particularly on the grounds of pregnancy.  Other national goals include recognizing the value of women’s unpaid work in the home and community, as well as in agriculture and protection of the environment; broad societal acceptance of child-rearing and other unwaged care of family as responsibilities to be equitably shared; women’s access to reproductive health; equality of educational opportunity across class, race, culture and region; and ensuring equal education and training opportunities in non-traditional areas for both boys and girls.

     The experience of Guyana has demonstrated that women’s advancement depends on political will and commitment, outlay of adequate resources and the involvement of women as equal partners in the development of policies and decisions, which would affect their lives.  However, poverty alleviation continues to remain a formidable challenge, while much needed resources for health, education, employment generation and social protection are being constrained by a high debt servicing bill, inadequate markets for exports from developing countries and volatile terms of trade and trade barriers.  We cannot allow gains that have been achieved since Beijing to be eroded.

     JOHN O'DONOGHUE, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of Ireland:  The five years since the Beijing Platform for Action have seen major changes in Ireland both in terms of the legislative framework and in terms of Irish society generally.  Many groundbreaking pieces of rights-based legislation have been passed in Ireland in the last two years, including the Employment Equality Act and the Equal Status Act.  Women often face double discrimination, both on the grounds of their gender and for other reasons, such as race or disability.  Human rights are an essential prerequisite for gender equality.  The Human Rights Commission Act 2000, which provides for the establishment of a Human Rights Commission, was signed into law last month.

     The unprecedented economic growth in Ireland in recent years has been the catalyst for major changes in Irish society and has had a particular impact on the role of women.  The participation of women in the labour force has risen from a relatively low level to over 47 per cent.  For women who wish to access or return to the workforce, or who wish to avail of training or educational opportunities, Ireland is committed to supporting them through policies such as gender mainstreaming and support for childcare provision.  We are also taking steps to ensure that the demands which the buoyant economy is making for increased numbers in the workforce does not result in any devaluing of the role of women who choose to work in the home.  While it was only in the 1970s that women were given the right to remain in paid employment after marriage, the choice of women to remain at home to care for their children or elders should also not be lost.  Social security and tax policies have been used to support those who stay home through, among other things, the introduction of a special tax allowance for caregivers and improved pension arrangements.

     On education, upper secondary graduation rates for women in Ireland exceed those for men by 14 percentage points, the greatest difference of all Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.  However, difficulties still exist in relation to female education.  A review is being undertaken of the overall structures for the monitoring and implementation of present commitments in relation to gender equality.  While much progress has been made, it is agreed that there is still some way to go to achieve full gender equality in Irish society.  Ireland's overseas aid programme, Ireland Aid, has long realized that women bear the brunt of financial and social inequity.  Ireland Aid's approach attempts to consider the impact on both women and men as an integral part of all projects, from planning to implementation to monitoring and evaluation.  Ireland supports the Platform for Action and agrees that there should be no renegotiation of the text and actions agreed to in 1995.  We must build on the achievements of Beijing and adopt an outcome document that will move the agenda forward and ensure that equality becomes a fact of life for women and men throughout the world.

     ZOBAIDA JALAL, Minister for Education, Women’s Development, Social Welfare and Special Education, Pakistan:  Based on Islamic precepts, the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees the status and dignity of women and forbids discrimination on the basis of race, religion, caste or sex.  The Government has undertaken a number of substantive initiatives in ensuring women’s rights, including the appointment of seven female ministers of government, who hold important portfolios.  Also, institutions have been expanded and strengthened to oversee, coordinate and accelerate national efforts for empowering women and to eliminate discrimination.  Other steps for women’s equality include the reservation of 30 per cent of seats for women in national and provincial legislatures and 50 per cent representation in grass-roots representative bodies, as well as increasing the quota for women candidates in public sector employment.  

     Measures have also been taken to prosecute those guilty of domestic violence, address sexual harassment in the workplace and to generate awareness against early marriage, among others.  The existence of violence against women in every society remains a painful reality and that violence becomes more acute in situations of armed conflict.  In Pakistan, any form of discrimination or violence against women and girls is considered an unacceptable criminal offense.  Apart from being a human rights issue, it also has social and economic consequences.  Recently, the Chief Executive of Pakistan declared “honour killings” to be premeditated murder.

     Since Beijing, Pakistan has endeavoured to:  enable women and girls to be able to participate in political and public life and in decision-making processes; enhance and sustain access of women and children to the best possible health care services, education, housing and social welfare services; take immediate steps to rectify imbalance in resource allocation to the social sector; and evaluate the role of women in the society.  Universal literacy and quality education are the keys to the empowerment of women and girls.  Education is one of the priority areas of the Government, as well as health and access to productive resources.  There is particular concern about the feminization of poverty.  Therefore, the poverty reduction programme has benefited from the diversion of 7 billion rupees from the defence budget, in spite of prevailing tensions in the region.  Also, the important role of the family has been incorporated in the State’s development planning programmes.

     SHAHRIZAT ABDUL JALIL, Deputy Minister, Office of the Prime Minister, Malaysia:  As a multi-racial and multi-religious society with a Muslim majority, Malaysia has proved to the world that Islam is not a deterrent to the advancement of women.  The true teaching of Islam values women as equal to men and has laid the foundation for a society where women and men should work towards a meaningful partnership.  Based on this principle, Malaysia views with grave concern the politicizing of culture and religion for creating power bases.  The negative impact of this trend is the denial of the rights of women to education and work, to equal access to and control over resources, to personal security and safety, to independence and to decision-making in the private and public spheres.  Malaysia would like to urge governments and the international community to monitor and curb the subversive use of culture and religion that denies women their rights.

     Comprising nearly half of Malaysia’s productive workforce, women are a valuable asset to our nation-building.  Regardless of race and religion, they have made remarkable progress in almost all sectors and at every level and have achieved an almost 100 per cent literacy rate.  Many women have managed to break the proverbial “glass ceiling”.  These and other achievements, however, do not mean that our task to promote the advancement of women has been completely accomplished.  Currently, a serious effort is being made to mainstream gender perspectives in all major public policies.  We will continue to work hard to change the way women are perceived in society and, most importantly, the way women perceive themselves.  This certainly needs a paradigm shift, both in terms of mentality and attitude by both women and men.

     We are committed to the orderly development of a knowledge society.  The Government has explicitly stressed that it is necessary to ensure that all Malaysians undergo a paradigm shift -- a fundamental move from production-driven economy to the knowledge based-economy -- and women are not going to be bystanders in this process.  Malaysia hosted the Second Global Knowledge Conference in March and one of the outcomes is the Global Knowledge Women’s Action Plan.  While we are taking proactive measures to prepare our women for the effect of globalization and the information explosion, our Government will continue to seriously address hard-core issues, such as health, poverty and other emerging issues that adversely affect women.  We will continue to work harder to strengthen our capacities and capabilities, and together we will move forward to greater heights in achieving the goals of the Beijing Platform for Action.

     MIRJANA LAZAROVA-TRAJKOVSKA, Assistant Minister for Internal Affairs of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia:  The universality of human rights is indisputable.  The fundamental non-discrimination principle has been widely accepted and incorporated in the legal systems of most States.  However, a large number of women still face various forms of gender discrimination.  One of the most efficient means of eliminating gender discrimination is an international mechanism for filing individual petitions against violation of obligations undertaken following the accession to the Convention for Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  The adoption of the Optional Protocol to this Convention is a big step forward, and the Republic of Macedonia has signed it and is committed to its ratification.

     One of the most appalling problems that women face is trafficking in women and children.  Our fight against this evil needs to be uncompromising.  My country supports the efforts of the international community in this respect.  We especially support the work of the ad hoc committee for preparation of the two protocols to the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.  

     In addition to the global strategy for elimination of gender discrimination, it is necessary to design a comprehensive national strategy and a programme of action.  The Republic of Macedonia dedicates appropriate attention to the gender perspective and has adopted a national action plan.  Gender equality has been established at the legislative level for quite some time now, and one of the basic priorities of the Government is the promotion of this fundamental principle and the improvement of women's participation in decision-making.  Considering that a large number of women in the country are highly educated and represent half of the intellectual and labour potential of the State, there are preconditions for improving the situation in this respect.  The national plan also envisages establishment of a governmental body to deal with gender-related issues.

     In 1998, the Parliament adopted a declaration on equal participation of genders in the decision-making processes.  However, the number of women in Government is still insufficient and cannot have a determining impact on decision-making.  The country is participating in the Stability Pact Working Group on Gender Equality of Southeastern Europe.  In March, a women's lobby was established in the country.  We hope that the results of its activities will be visible even as early as the autumn local elections.  The republic of Macedonia is also very active in inter-governmental cooperation at the Council of Europe.

     SUZANNE MUBARAK, President of the National Council for Women, Egypt:  We are not here to reopen the debate or go back on the collective agreements and decisions adopted in both Beijing and Cairo.  Rather we are here to move forward and pave the way for the empowerment of women.  As partners working together on both the national and international levels, we know we can make a difference to ensure gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century.  Partnerships are the most effective channel for broad-based consensus in both economic and social priorities, but effective partnerships are difficult to forge.  This is particularly true during periods of rapid change. 

     In an increasingly globalized world, those countries that are most responsive to change are best able to meet the development challenges.  There is a cost to unregulated change, however.  At the national level, any change must be supported by economic growth that creates livelihood opportunities, since growth without equity is a prescription for social strife.  The demands made by international partners in development often draw attention to the obstacles faced by our developing countries, without showing the necessary commitment to reducing the cost and risk that comes with rapid change.  All parties at the global level should be willing to redress the balance of power in favour of the weaker members of the community of nations, while working towards the enhancement of social progress and the more equitable distribution of resources between North and South.

     In Egypt, the National council for Women has adopted the notion of partnership between the Government, NGOs and the local communities.  Our experience shows that the most successful women programmes are those that work directly with the grass roots, reach large numbers, have well defined criteria for eligibility and monitoring, and provide tangible incentives to the target beneficiaries.

     I would like to propose an initiative similar to the Global Environment Facility, such as a “Trust Fund for Women”, of a “Global Facility for women”.  This facility would act as an umbrella to existing institutions, programmes and funds charged with the formulation of strategies.  It would also consolidate presently fragmented efforts, as well as increase the resources needed to meet priority areas of universal concern identified in Beijing and beyond.  The role of the United Nations family of organizations is as important in the development sphere as it is in the political and security spheres.  There can be no lasting stability without progress on the development front.  We hope that the international donor community, together with the United Nations system, will match their partnership rhetoric with concrete actions for better coordination, better-targeted support and a larger flow of aid resources.

     WIN MRA (Myanmar): This special session provides us with a welcome opportunity to review and appraise the progress achieved in the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, and to adopt new strategies containing further initiatives to accelerate its implementation.  Since Beijing, Myanmar has taken several steps in order to realize gender equality, development and peace.  As follow-up action to Beijing, Myanmar became party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in July 1997 and the initial report has been submitted.  

    In August of 1997, the National Committee for Women's Affairs adopted the Myanmar National Plan for Action.  The policies and programmes of the Government became more effective with the participation of the National Committee.  Education, health, economy, culture, violence against women and the girl child have been identified as critical areas most relevant for the advancement of women in Myanmar.  Recently, two new critical areas -- environment and media -- have been added and subcommittees were formed.  In Myanmar, violence against women and the girl child does not present a problem, but we do take the issue very seriously.  The subcommittees on violence against women and the girl child have been active in protecting women against violence.  Counseling centers for victims of violence have been established throughout the country and individuals can file complaints directly to the Committee.

     The promotion of women's rights needs a conducive environment -- an environment of peace and development.  In conflict situations and in situations of abject poverty, it is the vulnerable groups, including women and the girl child, who suffer most.  In Myanmar, the Government has been taking concerted measures to bring national unity to a country that was plagued by insurgency for almost 40 years.  My delegation is happy to say that for the first time in recent history, we have put a stop to the internecine fighting among national brethren and bring peace and stability to our country.  It is in this environment of peace, stability and economic growth that we intend to promote the cause of women and the girl child in Myanmar.  It is a worthy cause.  It is a precious cause.  It is a cause that is dear to the hearts of the people of Myanmar, both men and women.

     MOHAMMAD ABULHASAN, (Kuwait):  My delegation agrees with the directions and endorses the measures and actions proposed in the Secretary-General’s report.  We welcome the ideas contained in the report and concur with the goals indicated relating to combating poverty by empowering women politically and economically and by identifying international, regional and national objectives to combat poverty among women.  
     
     Kuwait encourages participation of women in the elaboration of policies, in particular relating to health care and childcare.  Following the Beijing Conference, Kuwait set up a standing national committee to implement the Beijing Platform for Action, entrusted with the elaboration of a Kuwaiti strategy and plan of action.  Kuwait has established a women’s section in the Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs to elaborate an integrated plan for the promotion of women.

     Women in Kuwait enjoy full legal personalities since birth and the law entitles her to defend those rights.  Kuwaiti law penalizes any abuse of women.  The Constitution guarantees the right to work, and the right to choose the type of work, for everybody.  Kuwaiti women participate in many social and media activities through women societies, which enjoy the full support of the Government.  Despite these efforts, Kuwaiti women still suffer from social and psychological problems because of the loss of loved ones.   The Iraqi procrastination on the issue of holding prisoners exacerbates their suffering.  The issue of prisoners is a humanitarian issue that should not be used for blackmail.

     LAMUEL STANISLAUS (Grenada): Only a few days ago, a publication of the United Nations was publicized and it records the progress and persistent disparities of men and women worldwide.  It analyzes six subject areas of the Beijing Platform for Action, of which human rights, political decision-making and employment are important, particularly in the twenty-first century.  Women’s rights are human rights and poverty cannot be alleviated if their lives are not improved.  The Declaration of Human Rights reaffirms the Charter of the United Nations with respect to equal rights for men and women.  It also says that everyone has a right to equal terms of employment.  It is socially wrong and morally unjust that the subject of equal pay for men and women is still being discussed.  It is also incongruous that 50 years after the adoption of the Declaration, politics is still being dominated by men.

     In Grenada, 27 per cent of cabinet ministers are women, a measure which is necessary to loosen the patriarchal and male dominance in society.  In the employment sector, women have made gains and comprise one-third of the world’s labour force, both in the private and public sectors.  However, gender imbalance is still a factor, particularly in the higher echelons and in the corporate world where women are unfairly treated.  For example, they earn less than men do and perform similar tasks.  The issue of unpaid domestic work also needs to be addressed, as does that which pertains to physical and sexual abuse of women by men.
     
     PETER DONIGI (Papua New Guinea) :  The contents of the Beijing Platform for Action had already been incorporated in the Constitution of Papua New Guinea since 1975.  While they are not enforceable in a court of law, it is a requirement that all constitutional laws affecting the rights of an individual must have a reference point in the national goals and directive principles contained in the Constitution.  The national goals also provide for the equality of all citizens and directs that opportunities must be created for all citizens to participate actively in the political, social, educational advancement and economic activities in the country.  Moreover, the question of the right to life is sacrosanct under the Constitution and abortion is considered a crime under the criminal law system.  It will be very difficult to amend that constitutional provision.  Other constitutional rights include the right to hold public office, the right to equal opportunities for employment, to join unions and other NGOs, the freedom of religion and of speech, in addition to other rights.

     The Constitution also recognizes that the society of the country is based on the family unit and that it must be strengthened.  Furthermore, the exercise of individual rights must be for the benefit and strengthening of the family unit.  The primacy of individual rights destroys the family unit, creates social discourse and disharmony and leads to the breakdown of State services.  The problems the country faces -- such as low education rates for women, high mortality rates, high incidence of crimes against women, increasing HIV/AIDS cases among women and low involvement of women in political and public life -- exist because development partners need to help in developing strategic long-term plans to change the ingrained social structure of Papua New Guinea.  Then, that structure could be substituted with one that is generally acceptable to a community which has observed the same customs for more than 40,000 years.

     The Government gives high priority to education, as it is a tool for emancipating women world wide.  It will also change behavioural patterns and the attitudes of men towards women and the girl child, ensure women’s health needs and reduce the illiteracy rate, as well as lead to economic empowerment and open up employment opportunities.  Furthermore, it teaches respect for human dignity, motherhood and for the family.  Education must be a tool for development.

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