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    For information only - not an official document.
    Press Release No:  UNIS/GA/1643
    Release Date:   7 June 2000
    Twenty-third Special Assembly Session Continues Review of Progress
    Made since Fourth World Summit on Women

     NEW YORK, 6 June (UN Headquarters) -- Member States must make full use of the tremendous human resources being wasted while women lack access to the same opportunities as men, the special session of the General Assembly entitled "Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-first Century" was told this afternoon, as it continued its general debate on progress made since the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995).

     The Minister for Social Affairs of Iceland, Pall Petursson, said that with increased participation of women in the labour market, mothers and fathers should be offered equal opportunities to be active both within the family and without.  One of the factors that could facilitate the coordination of family life and paid work was to grant parents equal rights to maternity/paternity leave and parental leave.  Legislation to this effect had been passed by the Icelandic Parliament this spring, ensuring that every child was taken care of by both of its parents and enabling women and men to coordinate family life and paid work.  

     The Secretary of State for Social Affairs and Employment of the Netherlands, Annelies Verstand, said that countries which reduced the gender gap in access to resources and opportunities achieved more rapid economic growth.  Women and men should have the opportunity to build an independent life, based on equal rights, opportunities and liberties, regardless of differences in sex, race or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.  The message for future emancipation policies was to work towards conditions for a society in which diversity was the basic assumption and in which discrimination was not tolerated.  Freedom of choice for women and men should be assured in all phases of life.

     Portia Simpson-Miller, Minister for Tourism and Sport of Jamaica, drew attention to the situation of adolescent girls.  In many countries, those girls were often victims of various forms of sexual abuse and exploitation; therefore, special attention must be paid to reproductive health issues and to the rights of adolescents.  The goal must be to reduce the unacceptably high levels of teenage pregnancies and to ensure that girls develop self-respect and gain financial independence.  

     As many speakers did, she also addressed the effects globalization had on hopes for sustainable human development.  While acknowledging that globalization did offer opportunities for advancement to those who were equipped to exploit them, global economic competition was threatening to women who earned their livelihoods in the agricultural and service sectors.  The international community must address the economic, social and political contradictions when applying global strategies.

     Other speakers addressed issues of health care and education pertaining to women and girls, and described progress made in that area.  Baroness Margaret Jay of Paddington, Leader of the United Kingdom House of Lords and Minister for Women, said that more girls than boys went to college or university in the United Kingdom.  When women left school, however, they worked in mostly low paid jobs.  Sixty per cent of employed women in her country worked in the 10 lowest paid occupations.

     Also speaking this afternoon were Ministers from Suriname, Germany, Slovakia, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Sudan, Madagascar and Nepal. 

     The Secretary of State for the Status of Women of Mauritania, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice and Public Order of Cyprus, the Presidential Counsellor of Colombia, the President of the Women's Association of the United Arab Emirates, the Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Andorra, and the Director for Gender Affairs of Antigua and Barbuda also made statements.

     The Assembly will continue its work at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, 7 June.

    Assembly Work Programme

     The General Assembly this afternoon continued hearing speakers at its twenty-third special session -– “Women 2000:  Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-first Century”.  (For background information, see Press Release GA/9713-WOM/1198 of 2 June.)

    Statements

     YVONNE R.A. RAVELES-RESIDA, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Justice and Police of Suriname:  Due to increased economic and financial vulnerability of its commodity-based small economy, the Government was forced to reduce spending in a number of areas, including in the social sectors, and that has had a negative impact on women and children.  However, despite the constraints, Suriname has succeeded in implementing projects in almost all the areas recommended by Beijing.

     Since 1999, the national gender bureau of Suriname has collaborated with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) on a programme –- Women and Sustainable Human Development -– aimed at promoting leadership, economic empowerment and human rights of women.  The Government is also making a strong and sustainable link to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) by establishing networks, and it is also in the process of establishing a database and taking actions for gender mainstreaming.

     Several poverty-eradication and community-development projects to benefit women and children have been undertaken with assistance from a number of major donors.  Suriname is also in the process of formulating its first national gender plan to which government institutions and about 100 NGOs have contributed.  

     Furthermore, a translation in the national language of the Beijing Platform for Action has been distributed to all libraries and government institutions and information on gender issues is being disseminated through a monthly page in the national newspaper and in the Government Gender Bulletin.  Also, the process of gender mainstreaming will continue with the decentralization of gender training in local districts, public education, through radio programmes in local languages, through television and as empowerment projects for women and men at the grass-roots level.

     CHRISTINE BERGMANN, Minister for Family Affairs, Senior citizens, Women and Youth of Germany:  The World Conference in Beijing lit a flame for the implementation of equal opportunity, which continues to burn conspicuously all around the world.  It is now up to us all to keep this flame moving forward and to prevent it from dying out or from being extinguished on purpose.  This is crucial since the achievement of equality between women and men is an irreversible process, even when, in some cases, progress seems to take place at a snail’s pace.

     Women’s rights are human rights.  Germany will be embarking on the ratification process of the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women before the end of this year.  We must work together so that women’s basic human rights are respected and observed all over the world; violence against women in all its forms is outlawed and eliminated; more women come to hold decision-making positions; the possibilities for women and men to combine family life and professional activities are improved; and more girls and women can decide to undertake training and pursue professions in areas with a promising future.  These demand require concrete steps towards implementation, combined with predetermined, time-bound, qualitative and quantitative requirements.

     Last year, Germany decided to implement the “Women and Work” programme and will introduce legal regulations to achieve equal rights for women in public administration and in business.  Women will not automatically profit from the information society.  That is why we are collaborating with business to achieve greater equality of opportunity in this area.  If we want to bring about real gender equality, men need to be more involved in family tasks and raising children.  Therefore, we introduced a law which makes it possible for fathers and mothers to take parental leave simultaneously.  It is accompanied by a major campaign to bring about a different picture of fathers in society.

     Violence is an issue which seriously affects women in Germany.  With the “Programme of Action to Combat Violence against Women”, the Government presented a comprehensive overall concept to combat violence.  It includes prevention, working with offenders, improving networks of assistance for victims, increasing awareness-building among the public and in legal measures, such as a law on the protection of women.  In Germany, the process of gender mainstreaming is still in its infancy, but we are pursuing it actively because it is my firm conviction that gender-mainstreaming, in the long term, is the only means of achieving a stable relationship based on equality and partnership between women and men in our society.

     PETER MAGVASI, Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Family of Slovakia:  In my country, the rights of women are declared and understood as an indispensable component of human rights and fundamental freedoms, guaranteed by the Constitution.  The Slovak Republic is a party to the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  The Government has also signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention and recommended that the President ratify it upon approval by the Parliament.  

     Through implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, fundamental principles of gender mainstreaming were established in Slovakia.  In March 1996, a coordination committee on women’s issues was created in order to guarantee the status of women institutionally.  In 1999, the new statute of that body was approved by the Government.  The national plan for women in Slovakia has become a key policy instrument in the area of women’s issues.  A national gender centre was created in 1997 in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  The next step was the establishment of the department of equal opportunities at the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family.  Its priority task is harmonization of Slovak legislation with that of the European Union.  

     Recently, a parliamentary women’s committee was established.  The Government has undertaken a reform of labour law, implementing the principle of equal treatment of men and women in employment, vocational training, job promotion and working conditions.  Beginning with 2000, an annual review of family and job issues will be carried out in Slovakia.  High employment of women has become an economic necessity in the dual-income model of households.  The average wages of women, however, are 24 per cent lower than those of men.  The principles of equal pay for equal work and equal job opportunities for all irrespective of gender are important in this respect.  Programmes to increase participation of women in political life and in decision-making are being prepared.

     PALL PETURSSON, Minister of Social Affairs of Iceland:  It is important to Member States to make full use of the tremendous human resources being wasted while women do not enjoy the same opportunities as men.  While the Icelandic Government has made efforts to equalize the status of women and men throughout society, many are of the opinion that this development has been too slow, in spite of the fact that the legal status of women in Iceland is one of the best in the world.

     With increased participation of women in the labour market, mothers and fathers should be offered equal opportunities to be active both within the family and without.  One of the factors that can facilitate the coordination of family life and paid work is to grant parents equal rights to maternity/paternity leave and parental leave.  Legislation to this effect was passed by the Icelandic Parliament this spring.  The aim of the law is to ensure that every child is taken care of by both of its parents and to enable women and men to coordinate family life and paid work.  At the same time, efforts are being made to facilitate the participation of women in the labour market and make it possible for them to be on an equal footing with men.

     New legislation on gender equality was passed this spring in Iceland, providing for equal status for men and women in every respect.  Even though legislation in this field is considered to have a limited effect -- unless it has the moral support of society -- it is nevertheless necessary.  In order for men and women to have equal opportunities to strengthen and develop their abilities and enjoy a healthy and happy life, attitude is of crucial importance.

     Women are subjected to injustice and discrimination worldwide in spite of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights.  Human rights are universal and the disguise of religion and tradition can never be accepted as an excuse for tolerating human rights violations.  Serious violations against women continue.  The Icelandic Government feels that violence against women should not be tolerated under any circumstances.  For these reasons, it is important for Member States to agree on actions which will improve the living conditions of men and women as we enter the twenty-first century.

     PORTIA SIMPSON-MILLER, Minister for Tourism and Sport of Jamaica:  One area of particular interest that should be emphasized in the outcome of the special session is the situation of adolescent girls.  In many countries, those girls are often victims of various forms of sexual abuse and exploitation; therefore, special attention must be paid to reproductive health issues and to the rights of adolescents.  The approach must be holistic because of other related issues such as education, poverty eradication and gender-based violence.  The goal must be to reduce the unacceptably high levels of teenage pregnancies and to ensure that girls develop self-respect and gain financial independence.  

     The upsurge in violence against women also deserves consideration.  Effective interventions that will have a lasting impact on the elimination of all forms of violence against women are urgently required.  Jamaican women have determined that gender-based violence must end, and there are encouraging signs of an increasingly strong commitment to community action to support the necessary legislative changes.  To achieve gender equality, the effects of globalization on hopes for sustainable human development must be taken into account.  

     While acknowledging that globalization does offer opportunities for advancement to those who are equipped to exploit them, it does pose a threat to women and other vulnerable groups.  Global economic competition is particularly threatening to women who earn their livelihoods in the agricultural and service sectors, and the international community must address the economic, social and political contradictions when applying global strategies.   These strategies, if not properly planned, will further marginalize the poorest women, men and children.  

     DAPHNE PHILLIPS, Minister of Culture and Gender Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago:  Since Beijing, there has undoubtedly been an increasing awareness of issues of relevance to women.  There continues, for example, to be stereotyping of gender roles of women and men.  Women are significantly under-represented in decision-making.  Two thirds of the world’s illiterates are women, and there is unequal access to and benefit for women in the revolution occurring in information and communications technologies. 

     In spite of the constraints, the countries of the Caribbean region are earnestly attempting to implement the commitments made in Beijing and have developed a regional platform of action.  In this respect, at the Third Caribbean Ministerial Conference on Women held in Trinidad and Tobago from 5 to 7 October 1999, the Port of Spain Consensus was adopted and has been circulated as a document for this special session.  Trinidad and Tobago has pledged to implement and take action in the 12 critical areas of concern articulated in the Beijing Platform for Action.

     In the area of women and poverty, a situational analysis of women in 1997 indicated that poverty is more widespread among female-headed households.  Women also occupy the lowest paying, traditionally female-dominated fields of work.  The Small Business Development Company (SBDC), a government body, is the main vehicle used by the Government to stimulate the micro and small enterprise sector.  Forty-three per cent of SBDC loan guarantees are awarded to women, 90 per cent of training recipients are women, and 80 per cent of participants of the Community Venture Programme are women (primarily rural women).

     In keeping with the Beijing Platform for Action, the Gender Affairs Division is committed to the mainstreaming of gender in all government policies, programmes and projects.  Through the work of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Gender, the National Council for Women and various collaborative efforts with NGOs, the National Focal Point for the Advancement of Women is able to operate.  The Division also involves itself in extensive gender training and sensitization programmes throughout the country to guarantee the place of gender on the national agenda.  The voice of the Division needs to be strengthened, and all the stakeholders involved are committed to the process. 

     HAMILTON LASHLEY, Minister of Social Transformation of Barbados:  Globalization and liberalization have become the most fundamental challenges confronting all nations.  Their effects on Barbados and other developing nations are far-reaching.  However, the country has remained committed to the goals of Beijing.  The five areas for priority action in Barbados are mainstreaming of gender issues in all areas of development; the issue of women in poverty; violence against women; women in decision-making; and women and health.

     The new Ministry of Social Transformation seeks to rationalize the existing social service agencies and implement the priority strategies of the Beijing Platform for Action.  National machinery for women is being strengthened.  A number of focal points have been established across ministries and departments to facilitate the gender management system.  Legislation against domestic violence has been enacted in the country, and a shelter for battered women has been established.  In Barbados, alleviation of poverty has been identified as a priority area for action in advancing the status of women.  The Government has established a poverty eradication fund and embarked on a series of measures to boost entrepreneurial activities among youth and women.

     The right to health is a fundamental human right, and the Government of Barbados maintains a health-care system of high quality with free care for all.  Provisions are being made for maternal health care, free drug services for the elderly and chronically ill, and a family-planning service.  Barbados also participated in regional programmes on HIV/AIDS.  There are no restrictions in Barbados on women’s participation in public and political life.  The Government is also promoting a number of programmes to foster gender awareness and sensitivity.  In response to the feminization of poverty, Barbados joins those who call for the reform of the international financial institutions.  It also insists on the increase and further improvement of financial and technical assistance to small island developing States and other developing nations.

     KOTBI AL-MAHDI, Minister for Social Planning of the Sudan:  Since its independence, the Government of the Sudan has placed special importance on women, and recently it formed a high-level committee to follow up the recommendations of the Beijing Conference.  In the Sudan, women have occupied some of the highest positions in the legislative and judicial branches of the Government.  The Constitution stipulates that everyone enjoys equal status in the judiciary and in public life.

     Also, women have been active in the politics since the country’s independence.  Recently, a woman was appointed adviser to the Sudanese Head of State on women’s affairs, and women also preside over a number of other internal institutions.  Another response to the Beijing Conference has been the establishment of institutional mechanisms to improve the status of women.

     Since Beijing, the education programme in the Sudan has developed.  Secondary education has expanded and, according to a 1997 report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Sudan was listed as number four on the list of those countries in Africa whose education systems have experienced improvement.  The rate of admission in higher educational institutions has also increased, and a national campaign to eradicate illiteracy has witnessed a sharp decrease in those statistics.   

     Other initiatives by the Government include a number in family-planning and reproductive health education, including safeguard techniques against sexually transmitted diseases.  Many of the programmes and initiatives encourage the participation of women in developing strategies and implementation.  The Government is also paying special attention to programmes for women in the southern part of the country because of their vulnerability due to the ongoing conflicts in that area.

     JAOTODY NOELINE, Minister of Population, the Advancement of Women and Children of Madagascar:  Twenty-five years have elapsed since the first World Conference of the Year of the Woman.  During those years, several United Nations conferences on women have stimulated activities to promote women and have created greater awareness of the gender-specific aspects of equality, development and peace.  A major new approach is the integration of a strategy to include the work and experience of women and men in the creation and implementation of policies in the political, economical and social area.  

     In my country, 40 years of independence have elapsed, during which the equality between the sexes is present in the Constitution of the Republic of Madagascar.  This is highlighted by the establishment of a humanistic and ecological republic in which men and women participate on an equal basis.  The fight against poverty, as well as good governance, constitute the principles of the successive governments of Madagascar, with particular attention for vulnerable groups, including women and children.  Twenty per cent of the national budget is allocated to education and health care.  The national health policy has led to reduction of maternal and infant mortality rate.  In education, a national plan of action for the education of girls has led to a net improvement in schooling rates of girls:  77 per cent in comparison with 74.5 per cent of boys. 

     The realization of 4.8 per cent national growth has resulted in an improvement of income per person.  This is reflected in a strong intensity of skilled labour in tax-free zone enterprises of which 90 per cent are women, and a policy of micro-financing accessible to women.  In Madagascar, many women participate in the decision-making process.  Fifty per cent of judges are women.  My department is headed by a woman.  My department has undertaken a general mobilization of public and private entities to reinforce the legal status of women. 

     Five years have elapsed since the adoption of the Beijing Platform.  The political will of Madagascar towards its implementation has been expressed by a programme of reform of public services and a strategic framework of action to fight poverty.  Since Madagascar has once again found the road towards economic growth, a better distribution of its fruits is a priority of my Government.  It is the duty and responsibility of every entity to continue a programme of reforms in order to establish an environment that will promote women and sustainable human development.

     MINTATA MINT HEDEID, Secretary of State for the Status of Women of Mauritania:  The special session allows us to evaluate progress and come up with new initiatives towards the implementation of the goals of the Beijing Conference on Women.  Mauritania has been pursuing economic reform, which has allowed us to achieve major economic achievements and implement strategies in the fight against poverty.  Access to basic social services has also improved.  The improvement of the socio-economic situation testifies to the efforts by Mauritania in the matters of social development.  

     The positive developments prove that Mauritania is one of the first African countries to benefit from initiatives on the alleviation of external debt and the reduction of poverty.  Last November, a strategy against poverty was adopted.  In the sphere of the empowerment of women, a national strategy has been adopted.  Efforts are being made to improve the quality of primary education.  Governmental policies have favoured girls’ and women’s education.  The Government is undertaking measures against poverty in rural areas and implementing small projects benefiting women.  Other steps include support for small enterprises, professional training and vaccination for women and children.  
     
     Through the new guidelines, women in Mauritania have achieved higher decision-making positions.  Progress has been achieved in such areas as micro-financing, credit and loans, with more than 300 projects in effect.  Special attention is given to income-generating activities in all spheres of development. My country is committed to human rights on the whole, and women’s rights in particular.  We are using all the available channels to overcome obstacles to women’s participation in social life and development.  The climate of freedom, democracy and development have accelerated the advancement of women.  At the dawn of the new millennium, the special session should make a difference by providing adequate resources for the achievement of gender equality.

     KAMALA PANT, Minister of State for Women, Children and Social Welfare of Nepal:  Immediately after the Beijing Conference, a separate ministry was established to formulate a national plan of action on the 12 areas of critical concern.  The current five-year plan of Nepal incorporates the policies of the former plan, including those for gender mainstreaming in all development activities, reduction of gender disparities, and empowerment of women.  

     However, in spite of recent achievements in increasing women’s access to education and health services, the overall educational and health status of Nepalese women remains unsatisfactory.  Some laws which discriminate against women still exist, although a civil code amendment bill has already been submitted to Parliament.  Also, violations of women’s human rights and violence against women, particularly in trafficking, dowry related and domestic, are significant problems.   Women’s participation in the economy is still mostly in traditional and less productive sectors.  

     A 1999 act ensures representation of 20 per cent of women in local bodies, and representation in Parliament has also increased over the years, although occupancy of key decision-making political positions and in the civil service is still very low.  Nepal intends to improve the living conditions of its women in particular.  It has allocated 35 per cent of this year’s total national budget to the social sector.  A human rights commission was also recently established and a national commission on women is expected to improve effectiveness of various efforts being undertaken for increasing gender equality and empowerment.  The Government also encourages partnerships with NGOs in raising awareness on women’s issues, changing attitudes and for advocacy.  

     The Nepalese Government is aware that the greatest responsibility for achieving the equality of women rests with individual nations.  However, that does not lessen the responsibility of the world community, especially the developed countries, many of which committed resources they have not yet made available.

     Baroness MARGARET JAY of Paddington, Minister for Women and Leader of the House of Lords of the United Kingdom:  Our approach is driven by our commitment to fairness, social justice and equality of opportunity.  We want everyone to have the chance to fulfil their potential.  These are values that we hold at home and values that all of us here today share.  The Beijing Platform for Action recognized that global economic success and the elimination of poverty depend on the fulfilment of our commitment to uphold the human rights and freedoms of women.

     Education is at the heart of our strategy.  In the United Kingdom, girls excel at school.  More girls than boys now go to college or university, a rise of 14 per cent in just 16 years.  But when women leave school, they are still mostly working in low paid jobs.  Sixty per cent of women are in the 10 lowest paid occupations.  To redress this imbalance, we are finding ways to encourage girls into non-traditional and higher paid occupations.

     Since 1997, we have introduced new measures to support women’s choices:  a national minimum wage –- which gave over 1 million women an immediate pay rise and closed the pay gap between men and women by 1 per cent in just one year; improved employment rights for all part-time workers -– the majority of whom are women -– including improved rights to parental leave; a tax-credit system for families on low incomes which includes help with childcare costs; a national childcare strategy which aims to provide new childcare places for 1 million children; and the development of a new framework to provide support for women who want to set up their own businesses.

     I would like to draw your attention to our document “Equality in Practice:  A Celebration – and an agenda for the future”, which we published today.  It documents examples of good practices by the United Kingdom Government and our partners, at home and abroad, in supporting women’s contribution to their economies, their communities and their families.  It reflects that a lot has been done and achieved since 1995 -– but it also makes it very clear that there is still much more to be done.

     ANNELIES VERSTAND, Secretary of State for Social Affairs and Employment of the Netherlands:  In the past five years, the Netherlands has put words into action.  Emancipation policy is now becoming an integral part of government policy.  All ministries have formulated action plans with concrete targets and activities to integrate the emancipation perspective into overall policies.  During the Dutch Presidency of the European Union, the Netherlands organized a ministerial conference on trafficking in women, resulting in the Declaration of The Hague which was endorsed by all countries of the European Union.

     There is ample evidence that countries which reduce the gender gap in access to resources and opportunities achieve more rapid economic growth.  We stress the need for engendered globalization, with gender justice as an integrated part of economic justice.  We have engaged in a number of studies and pilot programmes to clarify the relationship between gender justice and economic justice in developing countries.  Based on the findings, we have included gender equality criteria in our programme aid and budget support to poor countries.

     Women and men should have the opportunity to build an independent life, based on equal rights, opportunities and liberties, despite any differences in sex, race or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.  The message for future emancipation policies is to work towards conditions for a society in which diversity is the basic assumption and in which discrimination is not being tolerated.  Freedom of choice for women and men is essential and should be assured in all phases of life.

     Each individual should have the option of an economically independent life and a fair distribution of labour, care and income, free of poverty and violence.  This vision does not allow any violations of human rights.  Recently, our Government has published a policy paper “From Women’s Lib to Inalienable Right” in which our vision in this connection has been presented.  The rights-based approach is also one of our main objectives during this special session of the General Assembly.

     LAZAROS S. SAVVIDES, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice and Public Order of Cyprus:  My delegation has aligned itself with the statement made previously by the European Union.  Worldwide, women’s issues have and will continue to be developed within the framework of the guidelines and the strategic objectives set in the Beijing Platform for Action.  For Cyprus, the Conference has given a new impetus, strengthened the political will and intensified the efforts towards gender equality.  

     Progress has been achieved in all critical areas of concern, and in particular in the sphere of legal reform, aiming at the elimination of the few remaining discriminatory provisions and further safeguarding of women’s rights.  Cyprus is now ready to withdraw its single reservation to the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee and will be informing the depositary of the Convention shortly.  Regarding the participation of women in politics, emphasis has been given to the organization of special training programmes to encourage women to enter politics.  Other measures include the setting up of a non-party lobby group and efforts to sensitize the mass media in support of the women’s cause.  The presence of women at all levels of the civil service has increased.  

     Another top priority area is violence against women.  Emphasis has been placed on the development of an appropriate legal framework and its enforcement.  Economic independence of women has been pursued through the improvement and expansion of childcare facilities, promotion of equal pay and legislative improvement of maternity protection, which now provides for 16 weeks of maternity leave.  Some very important legal instruments are currently under preparation as part of the harmonization process with the European Union, including the law on equal treatment and opportunities.  

     In the face of 26 years of occupation and displacement, the women’s movement has been very active in protesting through mass peaceful marches.  They have been trying to create a culture of peace on the island through various activities, including the promotion of bi-communal contacts aiming at exploring ways for peaceful conflict resolution.

     NAZLY LOZANO ELJURE, Presidential Counsellor, Colombia:  Both men and women in Columbia are committed to peace, which is impossible without sustainable social justice.  Building a just, tolerant and equitable society is the goal of the Government.  Major international conferences of the 1990s have created a framework for the advancement of the rights of women.  Six days ago, my country passed a first law on affirmative action to increase the number of women involved in the decision-making process.  More women should be involved in the civil service and the Government at all levels, and the new law provides for inclusion of a certain number of women on the lists of candidates for elections.  

     The Government of Columbia has acknowledged that violence against women constitutes a breach of human rights.  Two-hundred cases of family violence are registered in Columbia every day, and the Government has undertaken an ambitious programme to rectify that situation.  Early intervention and protection are emphasized in this respect, as well as care for victims and creation of shelters.  Another significant achievement is the plan for equal opportunities for men and women to eliminate the existing inequalities.  Its main areas are institutional reforms, empowerment, health, education, participation in power and decision-making structures.  

     The drama of internal displacement is one of the most difficult problems in the country.  It is difficult for the State to re-establish the rights of migrants, many of whom have to face rejection in the cities where they go, for most Colombian cities are not prepared to receive the massive numbers of migrants from the rural areas.  Fifty-five per cent of people in Columbia live in poverty, 22 per cent of them in extreme poverty.  Despite that, all efforts are being made to provide them with health and reproductive health services.  Rejecting abortion, we concentrate on family planning and safe parenthood.

     MAITHA SALEM AL-SHAMSI, Adviser to the First Lady and President of the Women’s Association, United Arab Emirates:  Participation, especially for women, is a means and an end because it validates their worth and status as citizens of and workers in the State, and it also enables women to receive economic entitlements.  To that end, the United Arab Emirates pursues a unique approach that is compatible with its Islamic traditions.  Cultural flexibility has been engaged and conflicting cultural rigidity has been averted.  That strategy involves ensuring the rights of women to ownership, which is obligatory in accordance with Islamic Law and the Constitution of the State, under which women’s rights to work, to education, to medical treatment, social and health care are all guaranteed.  

     The national education policy is based on the principle of equal opportunities for boys and girls, men and women.  In addition, women occupy all professions and receive equal pay for equal work in comparison to men.  They also participate in economic activities without experiencing discrimination.  The United Arab Emirates has paid particular attention to the health service sector, as is reflected in the expansion of health and rehabilitation facilities and institutions, as well as in the field of therapeutic medicine.  As a result of those initiatives, women are encouraged to continue education, training and to prepare for the future by becoming involved in women’s social associations and through voluntary work with girls.  

     Future measures include granting further opportunities for women to be educated in science, technology and economics and to engage women when devising plans for the management of natural and environmental resources and in enacting environmental legislation that would have direct impact on the health and prosperity of women and their families.  A number of objectives have yet to be realized, and a number of positive steps must be taken that would enable women to cope with development in all of its technological, economic and social dimensions.  The United Arab Emirates will execute those measures through continued cooperation with the international community and through flexibility in their interactions with other societies.

     ELISENDA VIVES, Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Andorra: During recent decades, we have seen constant transformation and progress in the status of women.  Angela King, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Gender Issues, said in one of her speeches that surely the most peaceful social revolution in the twentieth century was the transformation of the status of women. This assertion is demonstrated by the development of the situation of women in Andorra who have gone, in the second half of this century, from living in a mountainous rural society where they had a traditional role, to a modern society of wage earners where it is estimated that 62 per cent of women have a job. Inequalities between the sexes are still visible in the Andorran work place.  The difference of average wages between men and women is 32 per cent in favour of men, despite the fact that legal provisions are clear on questions of remuneration, since they forbid any type of discrimination due to a worker’s sex.

     A survey carried out by the Association of Women of Andorra, with the support of the Government of Andorra and UNESCO, has shown that in our country sexist attitudes to women are changing.  Such behaviour is no longer determined by sex or age.  The age group with the most prejudices is that of people aged between 45 to 65.  This change of attitude to the role of women in society is partially a result of the generalized access to education. More than 56 per cent of university students in the country are girls and, although they go mainly to branches related to education, health and human and social sciences, the percentages in technical and scientific areas are constantly rising.

     One issue which greatly worries the Government of Andorra is violence against women.  In the last few years, Andorra has not escaped the general trend in Europe and the reported cases of violence have gone up considerably, although they are below the levels recorded for neighbouring countries.  The Government has set up a working group, including representatives from the Ministry of Health, the Police, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and other interested groups, to study the causes and consequences of violence to women and propose preventive measures and effective acts.  From within our own reality, we are aware of the enormous challenges we have to face, but are convinced that the twenty-first century must be the century in which the joint work of women and men all over the world will lead society to justice, solidarity and equality.

     SHEILA ROSEAU, Executive Director for Gender Affairs of Antigua and Barbuda:  Recognizing that a strengthened national machinery for women with a clear policy role is essential to effective implementation of the Platform for Action, the Directorate of Women's Affairs was renamed the Directorate of Gender Affairs and was then restructured and upgraded.  That was one component of the Government's efforts to mainstream gender in all government sectors.

     Currently, a national plan of action on gender and development, which places emphasis on a cross-sectoral responsibility for gender-sensitive policy formulation, is being developed with the involvement of all government agencies.  Also, the prevention, elimination and punishment of violence against women continues to be a major area of concern and, as a result, the Domestic Violence Summary Proceedings Act was passed in 1999.  Other programmes are targeted at health professionals, law enforcement personnel and other officials.  

     While progress has been noteworthy, the Government is continually faced with many competing demands for its limited development capital and resources.  That lack hampers institutional capacity-building, as well as the effective and full implementation of those areas of critical concern.  

     Since the Beijing Conference, Antigua and Barbuda has been hit by five hurricanes, and an assessment of the damage reveals that women, because of their multiple family roles, suffer disproportionately from these natural disasters.  The Government has tried to mitigate the effects on those women and it anticipates that the international community would assist vulnerable States such as Antigua and Barbuda in meeting the objectives of development, peace and equality.

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