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    For information only - not an official document.
    Press Release No:  UNIS/GA/1645
    Release Date:   8 June 2000
    Speakers in Special Session Place Emphasis on Right of Women
    To Enjoy Equality in Decision-making and Power Roles

     NEW YORK, 7 June (UN Headquarter) -- As the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly continued its general debate this afternoon, a number of speakers called on the international community to recognize the fundamental right of women to enjoy equality in decision-making and power roles.

     The Assembly has convened the special session -- "Women 2000:  Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-first Century” -- to assess and review progress made in implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, which was adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. 

     The Chairperson of Liberia's delegation, Jewel Howard Taylor, appealed to governments, international organizations and donor institutions to give women a real chance to make a meaningful difference.  She challenged men, as the dominant policy formulators and implementers, to afford women, during this twenty-first century, the opportunities to make a positive difference. 

     She said there were factors that continued to impinge on efforts to implement the Beijing Platform for Action, including continued civil conflict and strife around Africa, indebtedness and high repayment rates, inadequate grant/aid packages, regional and international trade barriers, and inadequate capacity- building at all levels.  "It has been five years since Beijing, and we are still grappling with the concept of gender equality", she said.  Governments were still giving women “token” positions in areas where their presence hardly makes a difference. 

     The Deputy Prime Minister of Croatia, Zeljka Antunovic, said that gender equality played an important part in all aspects of the democratization process currently under way in her country.  The most substantial achievement so far had been a significant increase in the participation of women in the country’s political arena.  Almost all political parties had included women on their lists of electoral candidates and that had proven to be the best recourse for change. 

     However, while the Government realized that women's participation could prove intrinsic to conflict resolution and reconciliation processes, it still had not tapped that source, she continued.  The activities launched by Croatian women’s organizations during the war should be reinforced through programmes aimed at economic reintegration, and supported by international assistance and investment in war-torn areas. 

     Other speakers identified the major constraint to the implementation of the Beijing Platform as a lack of appreciation of the importance of gender equity in the quest for social justice, and the absence of clearly articulated gender equality policies and appropriate response mechanisms. 

     The Minister for Health, Family Affairs, Human Services and Gender Affairs of Saint Lucia, Sarah Flood-Beaubrun, noted that cultural norms and practices were also serious obstacles, and the Adviser to the President and Head of the Centre for Women's Participation of Iran, Zahra Shojaei, said the Beijing outcome represented a delicate compromise among competing value systems and outlooks on such sensitive concepts and issues as family, marriage, sexuality and reproduction, which played a central role in the life of all societies.  As those concepts involved long-established universal fundamental ethical principles and values, they simply could not be subjected to a post-modern “laissez faire, laissez passer” mentality and approach. 

     She said that, given the existing differences on the definition, interpretation and application of fundamental concepts regarding the status and rights of women, as individuals, in the family and in society, future success on a global scale for women required collective efforts in determining a common normative framework, which should derive from various living value systems. 

     Also this afternoon, the President of the General Assembly, Theo-Ben Gurirab (Namibia), stated that Ukraine had made the necessary payment to reduce its arrears below the amount specified in Article 19 of the Charter.  [According to the terms of that Article, a Member of the United Nations in arrears in the payment of its financial dues to the Organization for two years loses the right to vote in the Assembly.]

     Ministers of Malawi, Mozambique, Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, Estonia, Kenya, Syria, Rwanda, Swaziland, Norway, Burkina Faso, and representatives of Bhutan, Federated States of Micronesia, Qatar, Malta and Austria also addressed the Assembly this afternoon.

     The General Assembly special session is expected to continue its debate tomorrow, Thursday, 8 June, at 10 a.m.

    Assembly Work Programme

     As the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly met this afternoon, it was expected to continue its general debate on the review of progress in the implementation of the Platform for Action adopted by the Fourth Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 and consider new actions and initiatives to promote the purposes of gender equality.  (For further information, see Press Release GA/9713-WOM/1198 of 2 June.)

     OM PRADHAN (Bhutan):  Among our topmost priorities is the need to take concerted action to eliminate violence against women in all its forms.  Trafficking and exploitation of women and children generally take place from areas of poverty to areas of prosperity, whether in the national or international context.  Our whole being rebels against this phenomenon and we note that there is agreement within the international community to take action to end such practices.  However, adequate political will and resources for urgent initiatives are seriously lacking.  My delegation calls for immediate and effective measures by governments, the international community, the United Nations and civil society, to put an end to such practices.

     In Bhutan, by tradition and culture, women have always been equal partners in our society.  By law, there is equality between the sexes, especially in matters relating to family, inheritance, marriage and divorce.  There is no discrimination on the basis of gender.  Despite this situation, during the past decade, the Royal Government and the National Assembly of Bhutan have made conscious efforts to ensure that there are no provisions that could adversely affect women in our laws, rules and regulations.  For example, the Marriage Act of 1980 was amended by the National Assembly in 1996 to ensure that women and children received absolutely just treatment.  Legal provisions have also been formulated to deal with discrimination against women in employment.

     As far as health, education and economic opportunities are concerned, men and women are on an equal footing.  To further meet basic educational needs, the Government has established adult and non-formal education centres throughout the country.  Up to 80 per cent of the beneficiaries in these centres happen to be women.  Likewise, in the health sector, with the Royal Government's commitment towards accomplishing the goal of Health for All, very significant reductions have been registered in infant and maternal mortality rates within the last decade.  Another positive development has been the increasing participation of women in professions which hitherto were considered male domains.

     JEWEL HOWARD-TAYLOR (Liberia):  This gathering is a milestone in the lives of women and society as a whole because it provides the world with another opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to saving humanity from the vicious cycle of under-development.  Underdevelopment is a situation characterized by the continuing wastage of more than half of humanity’s invaluable assets –- women -- who are the producers and reproducers of goods that are required for sustainable human development.

     The issue of gender equality is one of humanity.  For those of us coming out of war, there are issues that continue to impinge on our efforts to implement the Beijing Platform for Action, including continued civil conflict and strife around Africa, indebtedness and high repayment rates, inadequate grant/aid packages, regional and international trade barriers, and inadequate capacity-building at all levels to insure sustainable human development.  It has been five years since Beijing, and we are still grappling with the concept of gender equality.  Governments are still giving women “token” positions in areas where their presence hardly makes a difference.

     I would like to make a call to our governments, international organizations and donor institutions to give women a real chance to make a meaningful difference.  Let me challenge our male counterparts, as dominant policy formulators and implementers, to afford us during this twenty-first century the opportunities that would enable them to make a positive difference wherever they are placed to serve. Give us equality of resources and responsibility for decision-making, and distribute, on an equitable basis, resources to all nations, enabling each nation to achieve true gender equality for all.  May our participation here this week give all of us a renewed sense of appreciation for humanity to enable us to distinguish right from wrong, to stand up for genuine support and understanding, and full unwavering commitment to peace and justice around the world. 

     ZELJKA ANTUNOVIC, Deputy Prime Minister of Croatia:  Gender equality plays an important part in all aspects of the democratization process currently under way in Croatia, and the most substantial achievement so far has been the significant increase of the participation of women in the country’s political arena.  Almost all political parties have included women on their lists of electoral candidates, and that has proven to be the best recourse for change.  Also important is the role played by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the media in raising public awareness on the issue.  The Government has identified areas which could improve the status of women in employment, and Parliament has recently mandated the elaboration of a strategy, in collaboration with the non-governmental, academic and business communities, for promoting women’s entrepreneurship.

     Globalization of the economy has caused an economic and social transformation in every society, and that raises a number of policy issues such as avoiding marginalization of some countries, particularly those bearing the scars of armed conflicts that cannot be left unresolved.  In Croatia, almost 50 per cent of women are employed and more than 50 per cent work in the informal sectors.  Therefore, eliminating discrimination against women in that areas has become one of the country’s primary concerns.

     To that end, the Government is supporting several national programmes which can assist enterprises with labour surpluses to avoid targeting women and older persons.   Croatia is also fully committed to the observance of women’s human rights and is particularly concerned with preventing all forms of violence against women by adopting legislation and through education. 

     Recalling the State’s recent past, the Government realizes that the role of women could prove intrinsic to conflict resolution and reconciliation processes and should be treated accordingly.  Yet, that source remains untapped.  The activities launched by Croatian women’s organizations during the war should be reinforced through programmes aimed at economic reintegration, and supported by international assistance and investment in war-torn areas.  Education can also be a contributory factor in eliminating stereotyping and in ensuring the participation of women in the economy receiving equal pay for equal work and in ensuring that there is a reconciliation between family life and work, as well as partnership in parenthood.

     The State has established its own national machinery, the Commission of Gender Equality Issues, which still lacks appropriate resources.  However, by joining forces with all segments of civil society, it should achieve tangible results in implementing its central objectives.  Following the special session, the Commission intends to elaborate the national plan of action and attaches importance to the availability of gender desegregated statistical data and to research and other methods that would improve the status of women.

     MARY KAPHWEREZA BANDA, Minister for Gender, Youth and Community Services of Malawi:  The Government of Malawi developed its own platform for action in 1997 and, through a consultative process with NGOs, the private sector, civil society and donors, adopted a national gender policy earlier this year.  The platform for action is a powerful instrument for the empowerment of women, as it calls for the integration of gender perspectives in all national development policies and programmes.  Of the 12 recommendations of the Beijing Conference, the Government has identified four priority areas:  poverty alleviation and empowerment, the girl child, violence against women, and peace. 

     A conducive policy environment for operating gender-specific NGOs was created, as were financial lending institutions for micro- and medium-sized enterprises targeted specifically at women.  Policies for reproductive health and nutrition were also upgraded.  However, the Malawian population still faces rampant and chronic malnutrition, which poses a challenge to the country’s development efforts.

     In efforts to empower the girl child, scholarships are being provided -– an effort that increased their enrolment in schools to 95 per cent in 1999.  Also, a policy on pregnancy has been reviewed to enable both boys and girls to be readmitted to school after the child has been born.  Additionally, a number of organizations that offer support mechanisms and counselling services to victims of violence have been established.  Presently, most of those cases go unreported so a nationwide campaign on violence against women was conducted in 1998 to create awareness of that issue.  Also, a number of discriminatory laws such as the marriage act, the affiliation act and the wills and inheritance act were reviewed. 

     The Government has ensured that cross-border peacemaking missions, trade negotiation missions and trade fairs include participation by both men and women.  Peace does not only mean the absence of war, but is a fundamental human right which enables everyone to effectively participate in decision-making processes.  However, Malawi faces challenges in its quest for the improvement of the status of its women, such as the negative effects of globalization due to a lack of technological capacity.

     VIRGILIA DOS SANTOS MATABELE, Minister for Women and Coordination of Social Action of Mozambique:  Allow me to refer to the difficult times my country has gone through in the first quarter of this year.  Torrential rains caused unprecedented floods, and this natural disaster has left a trail of death and destruction.  The tragedy is a serious setback to projects aimed at enhancing the advancement of women in my country.  I would like to seize this opportunity to express our immense gratitude to the international community for its generous support and solidarity.

     The advancement of women is becoming more complex in the current context of globalization.  The 1.3 billion women, children and elderly living in absolute poverty are striking evidence of this challenge.  Millions of women and children in developing countries who still lack basic education, health care and nutrition further exemplify the magnitude of the social inequities faced nowadays.  To overcome these negative trends, countries must take concrete and tangible actions.  In this regard, our Government has made tremendous efforts to comply with its commitments to the Beijing Platform.

     The Government of Mozambique has identified and concentrated its efforts on seven priority areas –- culled from the 12 set out in the Beijing Platform -– viewed as crucial for the advancement of women:  Women, Poverty and Employment; Women, Environment and Agriculture; Education and Training; Women and Health; Women’s Rights and Violence; Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women; and Women, Leadership and Decision-making.

     I would like to reaffirm my Government’s commitment to the goals of the Beijing Platform and hope that the outcomes of the special session will guide all nations in their efforts aimed at enhancing the advancement of women.  We also hope that the outcome of this session will contribute to the removal of all obstacles that still stand in the way of women’s empowerment.

     ELIUEL K. PRETRICK, Secretary for Health, Education and Social Affairs of the Federated States of Micronesia:  At the dawn of the new millennium, it is discouraging to note that the challenges have not changed, and we are still faced with such critical issues as human rights violations and women’s role in security and globalization.  The Government of my country has achieved considerable progress in the implementation of the Beijing Platform.  The greatest challenge in this respect has been the structural adjustment programme that my Government has had to undertake.  The programme has resulted in an upgrade of women’s machinery and the establishment of a unit on women in development.

     Last year, it was agreed that there is a need to address the under-representation of women in decision-making positions in the social and economic sectors.  New policy strategies were adopted to address these concerns.  Women are now asserting themselves in new positions. For example, since Beijing, about 20 female doctors graduated from medical schools under government sponsorship.  The Government acknowledges the role of women in the economy and facilitates women’s access to capital and credit schemes.  Public awareness activities have been undertaken to educate the general public on the special health needs of women, as well as their rights.

     The country is sensitive to the problems of population and land degradation.  As a result of government policies, undertaken in collaboration with international organizations and stakeholders, I am proud to announce that there has been decrease in the population growth rate since 1995 from 3.4 per cent to 1.9 per cent.  Our national college now incorporates population education and family life and sex education courses. 

     Environment is also a vital issue to my Government.  As stewards of our natural resources, women have an important role to play in all forms of development.  Economic and social development can only be attained if we have a healthy and literate population.  With that in mind, our plan of action for the next five years will focus on the education and training needs of the social sector.

     JEANNE DAMBENDZET, Minister for Civil Service, Administrative Reform and Advancement of Women of the Republic of the Congo:  Although the armed conflict created obvious obstacles, it did not diminish the Government’s will to support the cause of women.  In 1999, two plans, developed on the basis of the Beijing Declaration, were adopted. 

     Greatly shaken by the conflict, the Government identified a number of urgent issues such as violence against women and girls and poverty alleviation.  The process for accomplishing positive goals on those issues is under way and irreversible.  Another indication of the Government’s willingness to enable the advancement of women is a growing civil society and the development of real partnerships with NGOs. 

     The opening of a national dialogue between the concerned warring factions engendered the rebuilding of the State’s infrastructure -– an undertaking which is almost completed and in which women have been participating.  However, the African continent on the whole is feeling the adverse effects of global changes, particularly of globalization.  The issues of poverty and health and diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS, phenomena which affect women in general, must be tackled in efforts to eliminate those obstacles which encourage the marginalization of women.  A number of regional organizations are playing an important role in ensuring that is done, in particular, the Committee for Women in Development.  The achievement of de jure equality must be accompanied by strong measures to ensure the improvement of the status of women.

     CONSTANCE YAÏ, Minister for the Family and Advancement of Women of Côte d’Ivoire:  In recent years, the international community has taken major steps for women.  The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is the greatest example of that.  Legal protection of women is of the utmost importance.  Conjugal violence is often seen in our societies as normal.  Massive awareness campaigns are indispensable in this respect.  For this reason, we have organized several campaigns towards this end.  Several centres to assist victims have been created. 

     Since its independence, Côte d’Ivoire has abolished polygamy, making monogamy the only legal model of family in my country.  The economic advancement of women involves access to micro-credit, and programmes for women in agriculture and commercial activities of women have been launched.  Training of women increases their access to employment.  Efforts are being made to improve health care for women and children.  However, there are some problems with the advancement of reproductive health in Côte d’Ivoire, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic is producing an impact.  The country is also implementing programmes to protect women by means of social education programmes.  These efforts are supplemented by the elaboration of the national action plan for women. 

     Five years after Beijing, we are reviewing the Platform’s implementation.  We are far from having attained many objectives.  Laws are not being applied, and gender equality is not universal.  The international community must find a definitive solution to the thorny problem of debt burden, without which many dreams are unattainable.  The Government of my country is working to create a new society based on the rule of law and respect for basic freedoms.  The new Constitution, which takes into consideration women’s rights, will soon be submitted to the Parliament.

     DIARRA AFOUSSATOU THIERO, Minister for the Advancement of Women of Mali:  After the World Conference in Beijing, my Government established a plan of action for the promotion of women covering the period 1996-2000.  It has retained seven priority areas: education, health, economic advancement, the rights of women, the environment, participation of women in public life, and institutional reinforcement. 

     Enrolment rate in primary education of girls has risen over the last five years -- from 31.3 per cent to 36.5 per cent.  Literacy rate among women has improved from 9.8 per cent to 12.1 per cent.  In spite of improvements, much remains to be done.  Various partners are helping Mali in this endeavour.  The Centres for Education for Development give non-schooled boys and girls basic intellectual and practical training in various socio-economic activities and prepare them to be modern producers.  Nomad girls also benefit from literacy and training projects.  In the existing professional training centres, girls learn metal working, electricity, fashion design and so on. 

     The adoption of the sectoral health and population policy was an important step.  During the last five years, there has been an improvement in the health of women and children.  Still, Mali has one of the highest maternal, infant and juvenile mortality rates in the world.  The Ministry of Health has developed a 10-year plan for investments in health.  The first sectoral programme is the Health and Social Development Plan, which gives high priority to reproductive health.  The problem of HIV/AIDS needs constant attention.  Practices harmful to women and children still persist.  In 1997, a national committee was created to address those problems.

     The participation of women in public life is noticeable.  Thirty-six per cent of members of the Cabinet are women and 12 per cent of the members of Parliament are women.  Institutional reinforcement is a key-stone in success for the advancement of women.  A major step forward was the creation of a ministry for advancement of women, the child and the family.  Gender technical advisers are attached to various ministries.  It is difficult to list all achievements, but much remains to be done.  The high level of illiteracy, as well as the economic constraints, of Mali remain obstacles to the improvement of the condition of women.

     KATRIN SAKS, Minister for Population and Ethnic Affairs of Estonia:  It is obvious that there is a need to change the behaviour, attitudes, norms and values which define and influence gender roles, and to change them through education, media, arts, culture and science.  The stereotype of a traditional role of a woman as a home keeper and mother, as well as motherhood itself, are the main obstacles to equality.  Another important obstacle is attitude, especially in the labour market.

     In Estonia, the attitudes concerning gender equality are changing.  New views on stereotypes are especially common among younger women.  In the future, special stress should be put on training younger men, using different methods to achieve a real change in mentality.  For Estonia, the key to equality is in men’s attitudes, not only to the new roles of women, but also to their own roles in life.

     The role women play in politics has increased in Estonia.  More women have been elected to Parliament and they receive more votes than ever.  Two of the 15 cabinet ministers are ladies.  From this year on, one fourth of the Estonian ambassadors are going to be women.  The Bureau of Equality within the Ministry of Social Affairs is acting in close cooperation with different national and international institutions.  The Cabinet decided to give its consent to the creation of the Estonian Gender Equality Law.  This does not immediately entail a change in public opinion, but it certainly is a landmark in the overall development of gender equality in Estonia.

     Training in the field of gender equality is a key factor for further development.  This activity has to be based on social science research, the expertise of specialists and the date necessary to monitor social processes.  We, women, never achieve anything if we try to solve only our own problems.  The problems must be solved together, by men and women, and in a way that will satisfy both parties. 

     ZAHRA SHOJAIE (Iran):  The state of negotiations is indicative of the formidable challenges the international community is facing in grappling with the question of how to better implement the Beijing outcome and commitments at both national and international levels.  This daunting task is being rendered much more difficult by the negative aspects of the globalization process, particularly in the developing world. 

     The Beijing outcome represented a delicate compromise among competing value systems and outlooks on, among others, such sensitive concepts and issues as family, marriage, sexuality and reproduction, which play a central role in the life of all societies.  Since those concepts involve long-established universal fundamental ethical principles and values, they simply cannot be subjected to a post-modern “laissez faire, laissez passer” mentality and approach, particularly when eschewed by the smaller part of the human community. 

     Given the existing differences on the definition, interpretation and application of fundamental concepts regarding the status and rights of women, as individuals, in the family, and in the society, future success on a global scale for women requires honest, collective efforts towards a common normative framework. That framework should derive from various living value systems.  The centrality of family as the basic unit of society should be emphasized and accorded due attention.  It is from this vantage point that we approach various issues on the agenda and formulate our position on the specific provisions being negotiated. 

     Promotion of the status and rights of women and their empowerment has been an integral part of the policy of our President’s administration.  The ongoing popular reform process within Iranian society, which aims to transform various aspects of our social and political life within the framework of the Constitution, has much to do with the women’s question.  In fact, Iranian women, along with youth, played a paramount role in the 1997 presidential elections; a critical role further continued in the nationwide elections of the city and village councils.

     NOAH KATANA NGALA, Minister for Home Affairs, Heritage and Sports of Kenya:  Today, I am pleased to report that the national policy on gender and development has been approved by the Kenyan Cabinet.  The policy proposes to establish a gender commission to restructure and strengthen the existing national machinery in order to enhance gender responsive programming and planning.  In May 2000, the Government hosted a national stakeholders’ forum, which strengthened the existing partnerships with NGOs and development partners and created a national forum to debate the goals of gender equality and development.

     With about 43 per cent of the population living in absolute poverty, Kenya’s challenge is to achieve rapid economic development.  In response to this situation, the Government has formulated a national poverty eradication plan targeted to reach the most vulnerable groups, in particular women, youth and children.  Positive achievements in the health sector since independence have been eroded following the introduction of structural adjustment programmes.  There has been a decline in food availability and an increase in the incidence of HIV/AIDS, which the Government has declared a national disaster.  A draft bill is being considered on laws affecting situations related to AIDS, which will address family succession to provide for women and children.

     High priority is accorded to education and achievement of gender parity.  The country has set up a goal of achieving universal primary education by 2010. However, education costs, early marriages and pregnancies have had an adverse effect on girls’ education.  At the university level, the Government has introduced affirmative action to increase enrolment of girls in State universities. 

     Women in Kenya continue to have inadequate access to ownership of assets, social and economic services and participation in decision-making.  Sustained efforts are being undertaken to counteract all types of violence against women.  Among other notable initiatives is the establishment of women-friendly police desks and police sensitivity training. The process of establishing a family court is also at an advanced stage.  The Parliament of Kenya has recently passed an affirmative action motion, seeking 30 per cent women’s representation in the national assembly and local authorities.

     MAHA KANNOUT, Minister of Culture of Syria:  The need for women to stand united and determined is more urgent today than it has ever been before.  Ignorance and socio-economic pressures will not only threaten what has so far been achieved by women, but will also threaten our human achievements for years to come.  For women in my country, this session has translated into reality a determination that did not falter, and a perseverance that cannot be compromised.  We have set for ourselves lofty objectives:  equality, development and peace.

     Equality means what the world does to level the playing field for women and men so as to provide women with equal opportunities.  We are neither prejudiced against women nor against men.  We are seeking justice for both.  Recognition should be based on merit and competence.  For equality to be genuine, we must guarantee equal opportunities, freedom from oppression, and uncompromised rights.  In Syria, the relation between men and women is a relation among equals, motivated by a desire to serve our country and promote our national interests.  Men and women are treated equally in labour laws that consecrate the principle of equal pay for equal work.  Employment opportunities are also equally guaranteed for both men and women.

     Development is the main concern of women and men in my country.  Education is free for all throughout its different stages.  Legislation was enacted to guarantee women’s participation on an equal footing with men in the process of social and economic development.  The presence of Syrian Arab women is clearly felt at all levels of power and decision-making.  Grass-root organizations and civil society actively participate in the development of our society.  The Federation of Syrian Women played an important role in advancing and increasing awareness of women’s issues and integrating their concerns in the national agenda.

     Peace is the primary concern and preoccupation of women in Syria.  Women are the first victims of Israel’s persistent violation of any attempt to translate the dream of peace into a tangible reality.  Syrian Arab women in the Golan are the first victims of Israeli occupation.  Israel violates their human rights and subjects them to all forms of violence and oppression.  This is unfortunately also the fate of our Palestinian sisters lingering under Israeli occupation.  We renew our commitment to a just and comprehensive peace, which to us is a strategic choice. 

     ANGELINA MUGANZA, Minister for Gender and Women in Development of Rwanda:  While the Beijing Conference was being held, Rwanda was emerging from genocide; however, in spite of the Rwanda experience, they pledged their commitment to the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.  The Government has made a choice to reconcile all Rwandans and to promote the politics of inclusion.  Presently, women constitute 54 per cent of the population.  Most of them are illiterate and that limits their employment opportunities and financial ability to care for their families.  The Government has created an enabling environment in which NGOs and development agencies can assist the State in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action. 

     The Ministry for Gender and Women in Development has a clear mandate to build capacity in gender training and mainstreaming, and gender sensitization for policy makers is being undertaken in the legislative, executive and local government sectors.  The Ministry has also facilitated development of gender focal points in various institutions and broken the resistance to the cause of gender equality and the advancement of women.  It also plays the role of advocate and mobilizes resources so that Rwandan women can meet their daily needs, such as shelter and food.  In addition, women have played an active part in caring for the thousands of orphans left behind by the genocide.  Women have also been able to contribute, in non-traditional roles, to house construction and by participating in community and national politics.  They have embarked on a process of political empowerment by electing women-dominated councils from the village to the national level. 

     A critical area of concern, economic empowerment for women, is being channelled through NGOs, which have set up a credit scheme with a revolving fund, initiated and managed by women themselves, at the communal level.  The Commercial Bank of Rwanda has put a guarantee fund in place to promote women’s entrepreneurship.

     The women in Rwanda also face the challenge of poverty, which is basically structural in nature, but also a consequence of the 1994 genocide.  A programme for formulating a national poverty reduction strategy has been launched and women are also a part of this process.  Other government programmes include gender mainstreaming in population, AIDS control and prevention programmes, unity and reconciliation, national youth council programmes and reproductive health programmes.  The media, members of Parliament and other national bodies are focusing strategies on developing a national gender policy with a main thrust on poverty reduction and constitution building.  There have already been gains in improvement of education for girls and other affirmative action programmes.

     SARAH FLOOD-BEAUBRUN, Minister of Health, Human Services, Family Affairs and Gender Relations of Saint Lucia:  Since Beijing, Saint Lucia has placed particular emphasis on developing an enabling environment to further the goal of gender equity.  During that period, action has been concentrated on alleviating poverty among women; improving the health status of women; addressing the problem of gender-based violence; and increasing women’s access to power and decision-making at all levels. 

     The Government is mindful of the extent of poverty among women and has put in place certain measures to address this problem.  The Poverty Assessment Report (1995), for example, identified a lack of proper childcare facilities in the poorer communities of our country, as a key constraint to women accessing training and employment.  Since then, there has been an increase in the number of pre-schools and day-care centres.  Since Beijing, the Government has also placed emphasis on increasing access to health care, improving reproductive health services and mental health. 

     Gender-based violence has been recognized internationally, as a public health issue and as a violation of human rights.  The associated stress, chronic ill health and physical disabilities are real issues, and justify the high priority given to them by the Government.  With the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act in 1995, efforts have continued at the national and community level to eradicate this scourge in our society.  The major constraint to the implementation of the Platform is the lack of appreciation of the importance of gender equity in the quest for social justice, and the absence of a clearly articulated gender equality policy and appropriate response mechanisms.  Cultural norms and practices are also serious obstacles.

     Prince SOBANDLA DLAMINI, Minister for Home Affairs of Swaziland:  Swaziland has developed a national platform for action through a wide consultative and participatory process, which led to the establishment of a gender unit.  There is a strong collaboration between the Government and NGOs in working towards gender equality.  Top priority areas were identified. Intensified sensitization programmes have been undertaken to overcome the traditional attitudes that women and girls are secondary to men and boys.

     One of eight technical subcommittees formed in the country was a gender subcommittee, which serves to ensure that a gender perspective is mainstreamed in the government policy and programmes.  Short- and medium-term plans of action provide for specified time frames and accountability.  A task force has been established to work on gender balance.

     The efforts towards poverty eradication continue to be a high priority for the objective of sustainable development in our country.  Initiatives to promote small- and medium-size business include the establishment of a fund to promote indigenous enterprises.  Most groups that have benefited from the fund include women, who have long been marginalized and excluded from the economic mainstream. 

     The Government is also committed to reaching the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health care for all.  These efforts, however, have been undermined by HIV/AIDS.  Coordinated efforts are needed to provide assistance to the infected.  Recently, the Government introduced the child-to-child initiative to counter HIV/AIDS in schools.  The programme also targets such problems of the girl child as early pregnancies and violence.

     KARITA BEKKEMELLEM ORHEIM, Minister of Children and Family Affairs of Norway:  It has been well documented that investing in women pays a very high dividend.  Promoting gender equality figures among Norway’s main targets for development cooperation.  We also need to develop basic health services that incorporate a gender perspective and meet the needs of women in terms of contraception and family planning, pregnancy, qualified assistance at birth and pre- and post-natal care. There must be access to treatment and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.  Female genital mutilation remains a challenge.  Meeting these needs requires resources from both national and international sources.  Norway will continue to be a committed partner in this respect.

     In 1995, Norway proposed that the Platform for Action should call for decriminalization of women who have had illegal abortions.  For over 20 years, Norwegian women have had the final say with regard to abortion.  The issue at stake is the safe –- or dangerous –- conditions, under which abortions are carried out.  The issue of unsafe abortions continues to be difficult in many countries, but we must find ways to eliminate this dire risk to women’s health and life.  Sexual rights are about integrity and self-determination to us in Norway.  They also cover sexual orientation and the right to choose one’s partner freely.  We have adopted a law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and same-sex relationships can be formalized. 

     Gender-based violence is about wife battering, rape and sexual abuse; it is about women and children being bought and sold into prostitution.  The sex trade is a blatant human rights violation.  Armed conflicts of the past few years have produced horrifying examples of systematic assaults on women, including mass rape and other violations.  We welcome the increased attention by the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council to humanitarian assistance and protection of women and children in armed conflict.  We encourage all parties to armed conflict to respect the provisions of international humanitarian law.

     MARIAM MARIE-GISELE GUIGMA, Minister for the Advancement of Women of Burkina Faso:  After Beijing, Burkina Faso established a national committee to follow up on the Platform for Action.  Thanks to thorough preparatory work, taking into account the national realities, we proceeded in our work.  Because of the realities, the Ministry for the Advancement of Women was established, demonstrating the political will of the Government.  This institution is more functional and pragmatic and has developed a three-year plan of action with the support of national and international parties who have an interest in gender matters. 

     In the fight against poverty, a number of measures have been adopted:  support for women to access credit and land ownership; making people more aware, especially in rural areas, that there should be equitable distribution of tasks between men and women; training of girls and disabled women; and organizing of women into economic groups so that they can benefit improved production technologies.

     Literacy among women and girls has been increased so that they can advance themselves and participate in the production process.  Administrative and legislative action has been taken against violence against women and certain practices such as female genital mutilation.  Promotion of the fundamental rights of women is done through advocacy and education.  There is also advocacy and mobilization to promote a more positive image of women.  The vision of women as objects has been widely exploited by the mass media, and action has been undertaken to improve media productions and to train women in management.

     The implementation of the Platform for Action are grounds for some legitimate pride.  However, there are still cultural patterns that linger on and economic constraints that hamper development.  The resurgence of malaria and the pandemic of AIDS, for instance, reduce life expectancy and also restrict development.  This is no reason to give in to pessimism.  The struggle for the advancement of women is a long-term undertaking.  Nobody can hope to undo in a short time what has taken centuries to develop.  We appeal to the international community for greater solidarity for help in the eradication of poverty, illiteracy and illness, which is the only condition for conflict to end and peace to triumph.

     SHEIKHA HESSA BINT KHALIFA BIN HAMAD AL-THANI, Vice-President of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs of Qatar:  We must overcome all our disagreements over the understanding and implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and build on what has been achieved so far, taking into consideration the cultural and historical differences among the peoples and societies which constitute this Organization.  These differences are the natural result of the cultural, religious and ethnic diversity of these peoples; nevertheless, they should not be a source of conflict and disagreement.  Rather, they should be a source of support and enrichment for this Organization.

     Qatar believes in the importance of the role of women in building the family, society and the modern State.  In the field of education, the State provides free schooling in all stages of education for boys and girls alike.  The percentage of female enrolment in secondary schools increased to 73 per cent.  As for the health field, the State has established specialized hospitals and health-care centres that cater to all segment of society, especially women and children.  Medical services are provided at no cost, without discrimination.  The State has provided equality of opportunity for men and women.  Women enjoy the right to ownership and the right to dispose of their funds and inheritance.  The political rights of women and their participation in elections as voters and candidates is another achievement.

     The establishment of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs is a landmark in the development of the Qatari family.  Within a short period, this Council has reviewed and proposed legislation relevant to the family and has contributed effectively to the development and adoption of various programmes related to women, children, people with special needs, youth and senior citizens.  We feel that armed conflicts in some countries are major obstacles to development.  Concerted international efforts must be undertaken to contain these conflicts and exploit the resources that such conflicts squander to further development and production.  The developed countries have a major role to play in promoting investments in developing countries and in transferring the necessary technology.  Finding a solution to the indebtedness that strains numerous third world economies is an utmost priority, if we are to eliminate poverty.

     HELEN D’AMATO, Chairperson of the Social Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives of Malta:  One of the main causes of distress among women is extreme poverty, and the effects of internal and external conflicts add to the distressing situation of women, making them a large proportion of the world’s refugee population.  Many suffer detention, sexual assault, prostitution, torture, hazardous working conditions and other forms of violence and abuse.  In connection with an unprecedented number of women entering the labour market, governments are adopting major legislation that acknowledges women’s right to equal opportunities and treatment.  As a result, women are increasingly gaining their rightful access to health care, education and civil justice.  Despite this, they continue to face disadvantages and even discrimination in various spheres.

     The Government of Malta is firmly committed to the fundamental right of equality between women and men, both de jure and de facto.  After Beijing, our national machinery has worked in close cooperation with civil society to fulfil the commitments made there.  Significant advances have been made possible through a firm and consistent political commitment to the elimination of discrimination and the promotion of mainstream approach.  Key indicators reflect these advances.  Measures have been introduced to enable balancing work and family life.  Priority attention is given to zero tolerance of violence.  Our female graduate population currently exceeds its male counterpart, and female representation on government boards and committees has trebled in the last decade.

     Discriminatory provisions have been removed from the country’s legislation. The Government of Malta endorses women’s right to labour market participation, and the well-being of the family remains central to the country’s social policy.  Balance is constantly sought between women’s individual autonomy, the traditional role of the mother, and the reciprocal partnership in marriage.  Parental leave, childcare facilities and career breaks are available for parents, as well as reduced working hours and breaks in careers for taking care of children and the elderly.  The girl child and older women are also a focus of attention. 

     Too many areas of social and economic life are still considered as male domains.  Solidarity and cooperation must remain the two main elements in translating words into deeds.  Social safety nets must be built for women.  Though the main responsibility for the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action rests with national governments, the contribution of all other social partners cannot be minimized.  When deciding on policies and actions to follow-up on the provisions of Beijing, the international community must remain aware of the bond between economic development, good governance, democracy and respect for human rights. 

     IRENE FREUDENSCHUSS-REICHL (Austria):  The Beijing Conference looked at equality between men and women through the human rights prism and applied that perspective throughout the Platform for Action.  One precondition for the full enjoyment of human rights by women is sufficient knowledge about those human rights.  Human rights education and legal literacy are, therefore, very important. In the context of Austria’s endeavours to contribute to the emerging human security network, human rights education is a special focus. 

     Human rights abuses and severe underdevelopment combine to form a particularly heinous form of violence against women -- the crime of trafficking in women, mostly for sexual exploitation.  According to estimates, 500,000 women are trafficked from Central and Eastern Europe and shipped abroad each year, many of them through Austria.  Austria provides considerable funding for the Global Programme against Trafficking developed by the United Nations Centre for International Crime Prevention.  Austria’s law enforcement authorities had developed a special expertise which they were willing to share with other countries. 

     The impact of the session will be decided not by the quality of the conference proceedings, but by the increase in equality for women around the globe.  It would be useful if stakeholders interested in particular aspects of the promotion of the status of women formed policy alliances and cooperated closely.

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