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    For information only - not an official document.
    Press Release No:  UNIS/WOM/478
    Release Date:   5 June  2000
    Despite Progress, Women’s Concerns Still Treated as “Second Priority”,
    Says General Assembly President on Eve of "Women 2000"

     NEW YORK, 2 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the statement of General Assembly President Theo Ben-Gurirab (Namibia), delivered today at a Headquarters press briefing on preparations for the Assembly special session entitled “Women 2000:  Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-first Century”, which opens at Headquarters on Monday, 5 June:

     I have just returned -- last Wednesday -- from an official visit to China and to Beijing, the site of the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in 1995 -- a conference which pointedly focused worldwide attention on the imperative need to address the specific concerns of women for gender equality, development and peace, as well as, on the other hand, to consider the serious ramifications of the failure by the Member States and the civil society to act.

     I happily join you at this briefing today, imbued with the spirit of Beijing, ready to preside over next week’s deliberations concerning the Women 2000 special session, and ensuring accountability on how far we’ve progressed, over  the past five years, in advancing the rights of women.  The Beijing Conference identified 12 critical areas of concern spelled out in its Platform for Action.  That important document specifically called for effective measures, at all levels, against poverty, violence and armed conflict; for education and training, health care, human rights, institutional mechanisms for women’s advancement and protection of the girl child and of the environment; and for women’s meaningful participation in the economy, in power and decision-making, as well as in the media.

     The 1995 Beijing Conference bore the distinction of being the largest gathering of government and non-governmental representatives ever held, with 17,000 in attendance.  This time around, delegates from all 188 Member States and representatives of more than 1,250 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are expected to gather in New York next week, among them, two prime ministers and  four vice-presidents.

     This twenty-third special session  -- Women 2000 -- is part of the continuum of follow-up to the global conferences organized by the United Nations in the 1990s, on the environment, human rights, population, shelter, social development, women, food security and small island developing States.  The follow-up process will continue in Geneva in a little more than three weeks from now, when we will convene the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly on social development and related people-centred issues.

     In addition, preparations are well under way for September’s Millennium Summit, which is expected to assemble an unprecedented number of world leaders to deliberate on “The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century”.  The drawing of lots for the list of speakers in the plenary debate was held last Friday, 26 May.  Other practical matters concerning the four interactive round tables, as well as the outcome document, are under active consideration for final decision. 

     At next week’s special session, governments will consider what practical actions they can take, individually and collectively, to further the global agenda for the advancement of women through inclusive governance, empowerment and gender equality.  Since Beijing, the United Nations, governments, the civil society and the private sector have all taken some positive actions towards meeting the Platform’s goals.  The special session will focus on these and other demands which the Beijing process has made about the lives and welfare of women all over the world.

     For example, since Beijing and as of 25 May, 16 States have ratified or acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and last October the General Assembly unanimously adopted the Optional Protocol to the Convention.  Women are living longer and are healthier; women have greater access to nutrition; more women are employed; rape in armed conflict has been firmly declared a war crime; and there is greater recognition of the links between women's full involvement in decision-making, development and the eradication of poverty.

     All the above is verifiable.  There are, however, many obstacles and challenges remaining.  Women's concerns are still treated as a second priority virtually everywhere.  In some cases, women’s needs are ignored altogether.  Women continue to face discrimination and marginalization, both subtle and blatant.  Women do not share equally in the fruits of production.  Women constitute 70 per cent of the world's poor.  So, while there has been some progress, during the past several years, in advancing women’s rights, we still have a very long way to go in achieving the goals set out in the Beijing Platform for Action.    

     In many of the documents and the reports that have been prepared for this special session, two factors emerge as the chief obstacles that stand in the way of implementing the Platform for Action:  lack of political will by governments; and their failure to provide the necessary financial resources to implement the agreed commitments.  Governments will, at the conclusion of the five-day session, on 9 June, adopt an outcome document in which they are expected to recommit themselves to the Beijing Platform for Action and the way forward.  It is my fervent hope that the issue of mobilizing human and financial resources for the implementation of the outcome document will also be addressed, as a matter of urgency and renewal.

     We’ve invited you, the distinguished ladies and gentlemen of the media, here today to brief you, and to answer your questions, on different issues concerning the special session.  Your interest may include organizational matters; policy regarding women at the international (including United Nations policy), regional and national levels; the intergovernmental process leading up to the special session; and other substantive issues, including expected outcome and any new issues; and the civil society’s input.
     
     Each day during the special session, my Spokeswoman, Shirley Brownell, will be briefing you on what is happening in the plenary debate and in the ad hoc committee of the whole.

     With these brief opening remarks, I’ll be happy to direct your substantive questions to the experts seated at this table with me.  I will, of course, not dodge any questions directed to me.  But, I believe you would be more interested in the nitty-gritty of the preparations and the role of the media.

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