Press Releases

    WOM/1283
    14 May 2001

    CONCLUDING ITS RESUMED SESSION, COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN EXPRESSES "PROFOUND CONCERN"
    OVER IMPACT OF HIV/AIDS

    NEW YORK, 11 May (UN Headquarters) -- The Commission on the Status of Women, expressing "profound concern" over the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls, this afternoon urged governments to take measures to empower them, including economically, to better protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections, particularly HIV/AIDS.

    Upon the conclusion of its resumed session, the Commission adopted a revised series of draft agreed conclusions on strategies to counter the devastating impact of AIDS on women, who constituted 55 per cent of all HIV-infected adults, and on teenage girls, who were infected at a rate of five to six times greater than their male counterparts.

    The first part of the Commission's forty-fifth session was held at Headquarters from 6 to 17 March. It was suspended on its final day, pending further negotiations on a number of texts, including versions of the one adopted today.

    That text recognizes that full enjoyment by women and girls of all human rights is of crucial importance in preventing the further spread of HIV/AIDS. Gender inequalities render women and girls more vulnerable in the area of sexual and reproductive health, thus increasing their vulnerability to HIV infection and disproportionate suffering from the consequences of the epidemic. For that reason, governments must adopt a long-term, timely, coherent and integrated AIDS-prevention policy that includes public information and life-skills-based education programmes tailored to the needs of women and girls.

    Prior to adoption of the text, the meeting was suspended to allow more time to reach consensus on a paragraph concerning women's empowerment. Agreed language called for the empowerment of women "to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality in order to protect themselves from high risk and irresponsible behaviour leading to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS".

    Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, Angela King, speaking before action on the draft-agreed conclusions, said there could be no more urgent problem than that of HIV/AIDS and its gender dimensions. She noted that the Secretary-General had earlier today addressed the pressing need for AIDS funds with United States President George Bush, and was awaiting the outcome of the present meeting. The millions of women and girls who were HIV positive and who have counted on the voice of the Commission to speak for them and to champion their plight, were also awaiting the outcome.

    During the first part of the session, the Commission adopted five resolutions, four decisions, and draft-agreed conclusions on the topic "gender and all forms of discrimination, in particular racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance", as well as the report of the first part of its session.

    At the resumed session this week, members adopted a draft resolution concerning comments on a proposed system-wide plan for the advancement of women, as well as a draft decision concerning a proposed programme of work for the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Division for the Advancement of Women. Adoption of a text on the gender aspect of HIV/AIDS was the focus of much of the week's discussion.

    Background on Commission

    The Commission, established in 1946 as a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council, has, as its objective, the promotion of equal rights between men and women. Following the Fourth World Conference on Women, the General Assembly further mandated it to integrate into its work a follow-up process to the Conference. In that context, the Commission should play a catalytic role regularly reviewing the critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action.

    The Commission consists of 45 members elected by the Council for four years. Members, who are appointed by governments, are elected on the following basis: 13 from African States; 11 from Asian States; four from Eastern European States; nine from Latin American and the Caribbean States; and eight from Western European and Other States. The Commission normally meets annually.

    The current Bureau is comprised of the following members: Dubravka Simonovic (Croatia), Chair; Kirsten Geelan (Denmark), Vice-Chair; Atsuko Nishimura (Japan), Vice-Chair; Loreto Leyton (Chile), Vice-Chair; Mankeur Ndiaye (Senegal), Vice-Chair.

    Background

    As it met to conclude its resumed forty-fifth session, the Commission on the Status of Women had before it draft-agreed conclusions on women, the girl child and HIV/AIDS (document E/CN.6/2001/L.11, draft 12) that describe the problem and prescribe three kinds of actions to be taken by governments, the United Nations system and civil society. Those actions include the empowerment of women, prevention of infection, and the treatment, care and support of women and girls living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. They also include the creation of an enabling environment for regional and international cooperation on the issue.

    According to the text, full enjoyment by women and girls of all human rights is of crucial importance in preventing the further spread of HIV/AIDS. Gender inequalities render women and girls more vulnerable, thus increasing their vulnerability to HIV infection and leading to disproportionate suffering from the consequences of the epidemic.

    For that reason, according to the draft, the Commission would call on governments, the United Nations system and civil society to promote the advancement and empowerment of women, with the enjoyment of all human rights. These include the right to development and women's right to have control over, and decide freely and responsibly on, matters related to their sexuality, and, the right to equal relationships between women and men in which women have the power to insist on safe and responsible sex practices. The Commission would urge governments to take all necessary measures to empower women and strengthen women’s economic independence. They should also protect and promote full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, in order to allow women and girls to better protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections, including the HIV virus.

    Towards the goal of prevention, the Commission would urge governments, relevant United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations to make the fight against HIV/AIDS a priority on the development agenda and to implement multi-sectoral and decentralized effective preventive strategies and programmes, especially for the most vulnerable populations, including women, young girls and infants.

    According to the text, governments, with relevant international assistance, must adopt a long-term, timely, coherent and integrated AIDS prevention policy that includes public information and life-skills-based education programmes tailored to the needs of women and girls. They must also ensure equal and non-discriminatory access to accurate, comprehensive information on AIDS prevention and public health.

    In the area of treatment, care and support, the Commission would request governments to ensure universal and equal access for women and men, throughout their lives, to social services related to health care, and to work to provide comprehensive health care for women and girls living with HIV/AIDS.

    The Commission would call upon the international community, relevant agencies, funds and programmes of the United Nations system and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations to intensify their support of national efforts against HIV/AIDS. It would also recognize a gender perspective, and an HIV/AIDS perspective, in the various problems of developing countries, including those of poverty and external debt. It would, furthermore, call for increased investment in female-controlled medications against the disease, increased training on all levels concerning the virus and its gender aspects, and a strengthened gender perspective in follow-up and evaluation of the progress made, in the control of sexually-transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, by relevant United Nations entities.

    Commission Chairperson DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC (Croatia) informed members that time was still needed to consult on the draft conclusions on HIV/AIDS, as one paragraph had not yet been agreed to.

    Statement

    ANGELA KING, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said that there could be no more urgent problem than that of HIV/AIDS and its gender dimensions. Citing statistics that show the disastrous impact of the virus on women and girls, especially in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia, she emphasized the importance of the Commission’s final task for the session: a cogent text on women and girls and HIV/AIDS, which had almost been achieved.

    Much depended on the events of the past few hours, she said. The Secretary-General, having put great emphasis on the issue, had, in the morning, addressed the urgent need for funds to President Bush in the White House. The millions of women and girls who were HIV positive and who have counted on the voice of the Commission to speak for them and to champion their plight, were awaiting the outcome of this meeting, as was the Preparatory Committee of the special session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS.

    Quoting Ambassador Penny Wensley of Australia on the frightening threat to everyone posed by the AIDS virus, she charged the Commission to do their part in the struggle. She was confident that the result would be a strong, forward-looking and practical vision statement, which could be transmitted with pride to the special session and to the international community.

    Following a brief suspension of the meeting, the facilitator HENRIK HAHN (Denmark), announced that members were ready to agree on the draft text (document E/CN.6/2001/L.11), as well as on an amended paragraph 1 c, which would replace 1 c and d in the former version of the draft.

    The new paragraph 1 c reads as follows:

    "Ensure that the sexual health and reproductive rights of women of all ages as defined in paragraphs 94, 95 and 96 of the Beijing Platform for Action is an essential part in efforts to promote women's empowerment, bearing in mind that women and girls are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS and in this context, further promote the advancement and empowerment of women and women's full enjoyment of all human rights, including the right to development and to empower women to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality in order to protect themselves from high risk and irresponsible behaviour leading to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS as well as access to health information on and education, health care and health services which are critical to increase the ability of women and adolescents to protect themselves from HIV infection;"

    Prior to taking action on the text, the Committee CHAIRPERSON thanked delegations for their important role in concluding that "very special" paragraph.

    Comments on Text

    NICOLE J. ELISHA (Benin) said that she was disappointed with the weak emphasis on family in paragraph 2 d. She hoped that, in the future, it could be strengthened.

    The representatives of Iran and Libya supported that statement.

    A discussion ensued about the punctuation in the revised paragraph 1 c. Participants included the delegations of Benin, United Kingdom, Iran and the Netherlands. The facilitator, Mr. HAHN (Denmark), reread the paragraph to clarify the question about punctuation.

    Action on Text

    Then, the Commission adopted the draft agreed conclusions on HIV/AIDS, as orally revised.

    The sponsors of a related draft resolution (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia) then withdrew their text (document E/CN.6/2001/L.4).

    Closing Statement

    The Commission CHAIRPERSON said that body's report would be revised to reflect the resumed part of the annual session. Very important results had been achieved, and many documents had been adopted that would guide the future work of the Commission. She thanked all members of the bureau who had worked very hard to conclude the session successfully. She also thanked all delegations, as well as Ms. King and other members of the Division for the Advancement of Women, as well as the Commission Secretary, Kate Starr Newell, for her very important guidance on all matters.

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