Press Releases

    WOM/1463
                                                                            26 July 2004

    Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee Wraps up Final Session for 2004, Takes up Historic “First” Complaint under Optional Protocol

    Experts Ask General Assembly for Longer Session to Tackle Work Backlog

    NEW YORK, 23 July (UN Headquarters) -- Concluding its three-week session, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today adopted its draft reports, as amended, making recommendations for the advancement of women in Angola, Bangladesh, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Latvia, Malta, Spain and Argentina.

    Acting in their personal capacities, the Committee’s 23 expert members monitor compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which is often described as an “international bill of rights for women”.  Adopted by the General Assembly in 1979, the Convention entered into force in 1981, faster than any other previous human rights treaty.  To date, 177 countries have ratified the Convention and 62 countries have ratified its Optional Protocol, which allows for individuals or groups of individuals to petition the Committee.

    By adopting its draft reports this afternoon, the Committee decided that its thirty-second session would be held from 10 to 28 January 2005.  It also decided to request the General Assembly to authorize the Committee to meet for an additional week at its thirty-third, thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth sessions, in July 2005 and January and July 2006, respectively, and to hold three annual three-week sessions, rather than two, starting in January 2007. 

    In closing remarks, Carolyn Hannan, Director, Division for the Advancement of Women, said she hoped that the Convention’s twenty-fifth anniversary later this fall would bring new momentum to the goal of universal ratification originally set for 2000, as well as to more systematic implementation of the Convention by all States parties. She also noted that preparations for the 10-year review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action were accelerating at national, regional and global levels.  The review would occur during the forty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York, to be held from 28 February to 11 March 2005.

    The Committee Chairperson and expert from Turkey, Ayse Feride Acar, said the Committee’s thirty-first session had been marked by some vary salient “firsts” in its history, including completing consideration of the first communication and the first inquiry under the Optional Protocol. The Committee had also taken the first step in drafting a new general recommendation to article 2, which deals with policies and measures to eliminate discrimination against women, and had adopted new working methods to be implemented at the next session. The Committee had considered three initial reports, namely, those of Angola, Latvia and Malta, as well as the fifth periodic reports of Bangladesh, Dominican Republic and Spain. Equatorial Guinea had presented its combined second and third and fourth and fifth period reports. She also thanked Argentina for responding to the Committee’s unprecedented request for a follow-up report.

    The Committee also heard from two long-standing experts who were completing their tenure with the Committee at the end of the year -- Aida Gonzalez Martinez, the expert from Mexico, and Maria Yolanda Ferrer Gomez, expert from Cuba.

    Ms. Gonzalez noted that through information provided to the Committee, she had learned that differences in women’s rights around the world were due to differing stages of development, cultural traditions, levels of integration and demographic situations. The Committee and other treaty bodies now formed part of a vigorous group that must be supported and encouraged in their invaluable work.  Ms. Ferrer also stressed the importance of the Committee’s contribution to women’s advancement and gender equality.  In a world where unjust wars and other conflicts continually violated women’s rights, where they were marginalized and excluded from development, she hoped the Committee would continue to perform its excellent work in monitoring implementation of the Convention.

    At the end of the meeting, several experts expressed their gratitude and appreciation to Ms. Gomez and Ms. Ferrer, as well as to the Chairperson. Those included: Françoise Gaspard, expert from France; Salma Kahn, expert from Bangladesh; Fatima Kwaku, expert from Nigeria; Victoria Popescu Sandru, expert from Romania; and Hugette Bokpe Gnancadja, expert from Benin.

    The other members of the Committee are: Sjamsiah Achmad, Indonesia;  Meriem Belmihoub-Zerdani, Algeria; Dorcas Ama Frema Coker-Appiah, Ghana; Cornelis Flinterman, Netherlands; Naela Gabr, Egypt; Christine Kapalata, United Republic of Tanzania; Rosario Manalo, Philippines; Göran Melander, Sweden; Krisztina Morvai, Hungary; Pramila Patten, Mauritius; Fumiko Saiga, Japan; Hanna Beate Schöpp-Schilling, Germany; Heisoo Shin, Republic of Korea; Dubravka Šimonovic, Croatia, and Maria Regina Tavares da Silva, Portugal.

    Statements

    CAROLYN HANNAN, Director, Division for the Advancement of Women, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, noted that 177 States parties had ratified the Convention and 62 had ratified the Optional Protocol, but the goal of universal ratification by 2000 remained elusive.  She hoped that the Convention’s twenty-fifth anniversary later this fall would bring new momentum to that goal, as well as more systematic implementation of the Convention by all States parties.  The Division would continue to provide technical assistance to States in implementing the Convention and fulfilling reporting obligations.

    Continuing, she said that preparations for the 10-year review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action were accelerating at national, regional and global levels. The review would occur during the forty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York, from 28 February to 11 March 2005. A questionnaire to Member States on implementation at the national level would provide an important basis for the Secretary-General’s report to the Commission. The questionnaire focused on major achievements, gaps and challenges, as well as priority areas for further action to ensure full implementation. In many of the replies, women’s human rights violations and violence against them -– two of the critical areas of concern of the Platform -- were prominently addressed. In addition, many States had included information on measures taken to implement the Platform that would also facilitate the work of the Committee in monitoring women’s ability to enjoy rights guaranteed by the Convention.

    The Division for the Advancement of Women would hold two expert group meetings prior to the Commission’s convening on the role of national mechanisms for gender equality, as well as achievements and challenges in linking implementation of the Platform for Action and the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals. Regional review processes were also being organized by United Nations regional commissions, and reports would be prepared on the basis of responses to the questionnaires submitted to States.

    AYSE FERIDE ACAR, Committee Chairperson and expert from Turkey, said the Committee had considered three initial reports, namely, those of Angola, Latvia and Malta, all of which had been significantly delayed. The Committee had also considered the fifth periodic reports of Bangladesh, Dominican Republic and Spain, as well as the combined second and third and fourth and fifth period reports of Equatorial Guinea.  She expressed appreciation to Argentina for presenting a follow-up report -- at the Committee’s request -- to its fourth and fifth periodic reports, which had been considered in 2002.  At the time, the Committee had been dissatisfied with the information provided on the impact of the economic crisis on the situation of women. As the Committee’s request had been without precedence, Argentina’s willingness to respond had been a welcome expression of support of the international human rights treaty system. By adhering to the Committee’s request, the State party had not only adhered to its international obligations under the Convention, but had also strengthened the international monitoring mechanisms.

    While the Convention’s implementation was specific to each reporting State, several commonalities had emerged, she said. In four of the States, namely, Angola, Argentina, Dominican Republic and Equatorial Guinea, particular socio-economic circumstances had had a salient impact on the situation of women and had been among the causes of the violations of women’s human rights and discrimination against women. The Committee had asked those States parties to make the promotion of gender equality an explicit component of their national development plans and policies. The Committee had called on those States to emphasize women’s human rights in all development cooperation programmes with multilateral and bilateral donors, so as to address the causes of discrimination against women and to ensure the practical realization of women’s rights.  Social and cultural patterns, the persistence of customary practices, and stereotyped roles of women and men remained a challenge to the achievement of gender equality. While the actual forms of such stereotypes varied from country to country, their disastrous consequences, including women’s limited access to decision-making positions, were the same.  States parties had an obligation to act forcefully and creatively to eliminate such discrimination as “de jure”, as well as “de facto”.

    Continuing, she noted that the Committee had also commenced work on a new general recommendation on article 2 of the Convention. It had also focused its attention on the situation of women in Iraq, calling on the Interim Government to do its utmost to ensure the equal participation of women in the reconstruction process. As elections were being prepared, the Committee had emphasized the need to adhere to article 7 of the Convention so that women could fully exercise their right to vote and to stand for election. The Committee had also emphasized that the entire legal framework of the country, including its personal and family laws, must be in conformity with the Convention.

    The Committee had also adopted significant changes to its working methods, she said. It had agreed to request the General Assembly to authorize additional meeting time for the Committee, so as to enable it to implement all its responsibilities effectively and in a timely manner. That request included an additional week for the 2005 July session and for the two sessions in 2006. As of 2007, the Committee was requesting the Assembly to authorize three annual sessions. The large number of reports awaiting consideration would keep the Committee occupied until the summer of 2007. The Committee had also agreed to consider initial reports in the same format as periodic reports, namely, in two meetings, in a direct dialogue and supported by a list of prepared issues and questions. The role of the country rapporteur had been strengthened, and the methodology for adopting concluding comments had been further streamlined.

    Regarding the Convention’s Optional Protocol, the Committee, upon the recommendation of its Working Group on Communications under the Optional Protocol, had taken action on its first communication, she said. The Committee had completed, during the session, its first inquiry under article 8 of the Convention. The Committee’s thirty-first session had been marked with some vary salient “firsts” in its history, including completing the consideration of the first communication and the first inquiry under the Optional Protocol.  The Committee had also taken the first step in drafting a new general recommendation to article 2 and had adopted new working methods to be implemented as of January.

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