Press Releases

    WOM/1488
    1 March 2005

    No Tool for Development More Powerful than Women’s Empowerment, Says Secretary-General, as Women’s Commission Opens 2005 Session

    Aims to Review Progress 10 Years after Beijing Conference; Speakers Say Much Achieved, but Large Gap Remains between Policy, Practices

    NEW YORK, 28 February (UN Headquarters) -- Sixty years had passed since the founders of the United Nations had inscribed the equal rights of men and women on the first page of the Charter, and since then, study after study had taught that there was no tool for development more effective than women’s empowerment, Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the opening meeting of the 2005 session of the Commission on the Status of Women.  

    The 45-member Commission of the Economic and Social Council, which is required to integrate into its work a follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, is taking up a 10-year review and appraisal of the Beijing outcome during its current session, which is due to conclude on 11 March.  This was the first opportunity, since a follow-up session of the General Assembly five years ago, for an in-depth assessment of women’s status today by high-level  government officials and a wide spectrum of civil society experts.  (For additional details, see Press Release WOM/1486). 

    Opening the meeting, the Secretary-General asserted that no other policy was as likely to raise economic productivity, or reduce infant and maternal mortality, than women’s empowerment.  No other policy was as sure to improve nutrition and promote health, including HIV/AIDS prevention, and no other policy was as powerful in increasing the chances of education for the next generation.  Also, he ventured to say, no policy was more important in preventing conflict or achieving reconciliation after a conflict had ended. 

    The General Assembly’s Acting President, Eduardo J. Sevilla Somoza (Nicaragua), said that the 10-year review would take into account the new challenges in the quest for new strategies to empower women and girls.  Since Beijing, the Assembly had continued to promote gender equality as an effective means towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  Strengthening women’s status had become an ongoing concern and an important topic of all summits and international meetings organized under United Nations’ auspices.  Indeed, gender equality had become part of the global conscience, beyond national responsibility.

    Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Jose Antonio Ocampo, recalled that, through adoption of the Millennium Declaration in 2000, Member States had emphasized gender equality and women’s empowerment as effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease, and to stimulate truly equitable and sustainable development.  The General Assembly had also committed itself to eliminate violence against women and to promote the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention.  The 10-year review would indicate, however, that while much had been achieved in terms of increased awareness, policy reforms, and the creation of institutional frameworks, a “large gap” had remained between policy and practice. 

    Asserting that discrimination against women had also affected children, families, communities, and the progress of the entire civilization, Economic and Social Council President Munir Akram (Pakistan) said that success in the struggle for women’s equality was also essential for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  Despite much progress, however, women still had unequal access to resources and opportunities, and remained victims of abuse, poverty and discrimination.  Certain national measures had signalled Member States’ readiness to respond to the Beijing outcome; all States should not only recommit themselves to those goals, but move faster towards the achievement of gender equality. 

    Among the other speakers who opened the session today was the Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), Noleen Heyzer, who, outlining the progress since Beijing, noted that at least 45 countries today had laws against domestic violence, and at least 21 more were drafting new legislation or amending criminal assault laws to include domestic violence.  Overall, governments were beginning to adopt gender-sensitive laws and policies on HIV/AIDS.  Among her other examples of progress, quotas and other affirmative action measures had increased women’s representation in political decision-making in all regions striving to build peaceful and more democratic societies.

    And yet, while celebrating progress, the international community knew that it had been too slow -- “it is still a woman’s face we see when we speak of poverty, of HIV/AIDS, of violent conflict and social upheaval, of trafficking in human beings”, she said.  To break the cycles of poverty, violence and gender discrimination, it was necessary to accelerate progress and expand its reach.  That would take determined implementation and greater accountability.  Laws and policy frameworks could only go so far.  Women and girls everywhere looked forward to a stronger set of commitments and guidance from this session of the Commission to carry what they had learned since Beijing into the Millennium Summit in September.

    Two parallel round tables were held today, with representation from States largely at the ministerial level, on “Innovations in institutional arrangements for promoting gender equality at national level”.  Speakers from several non-governmental organizations, academia and the United Nations system also participated in the discussion, which looked at national experiences from developed and developing countries alike, along with countries in transition and those emerging from conflict or transforming to market economies, in an effort to illuminate the successes and challenges to women’s advancement in societies. 

    In other business, it was announced that a new Bureau had been elected for a two-year term during the Commission’s last session, but owing to the departure of Carmen-Rosa Arias (Peru), a new Vice-Chairperson was needed for the current session.  The Commission then elected Romy Tincopa (Peru) by acclamation.  Delegations also reviewed the session’s agenda, along with other organizational matters, including the participation of non-governmental organizations in the session’s work.  It then adopted the agenda and draft work programme. 

    Other speakers today included representatives of the countries where the four international women’s conferences had been held:  the First Lady of Mexico; the Minister of Social Affairs and Gender Equality of Denmark; the Minister of Gender, Sports, Culture and Social Services of Kenya; and the Vice-Chairperson of the National Committee on Women and Children under the State Council of China and Vice-President of All China Women’s Federation. 

    Statements were also made by: the Assistant-Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women; the Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women; the Director of International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW); Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); and Chairperson of the Commission for Human Rights.

    The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again at 10 a.m., Tuesday, 1 March, to convene a high-level plenary debate in the General Assembly Hall.

    Background

    The Commission on the Status of Women opened its forty-ninth session, a two-week review of developments in the 10 years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.  (For details of the session, please see Background Press Release WOM/1486).

    Opening Statements

    KUNG-WHA KANG, Chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women, said the session provided a “focused and closely watched opportunity” to review and appraise the accomplishments of the past decade, as well as to discuss the remaining challenges and obstacles and renew the resolve towards full implementation of Beijing and the outcome of the twenty-third special session.  The session’s importance was further enhanced by the input it could provide to the high-level plenary meeting on the review of the Millennium Declaration in September.  Promoting gender equality and mainstreaming gender was not only one of the Millennium Development Goals, but also a vital tool in effectively accomplishing the others.

    She said that the expectations building around the session had been tremendous, as reflected in the enormous turnout today of governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental representatives, both in terms of numbers and levels.  During the past year, everyone had worked very hard to prepare a session that lived up to the expectations and its significance in the annals of United Nations’ efforts to promote gender equality.  The session had been structured in a way that maximized dialogue on timely issues in the ongoing implementation of the Beijing outcomes.  Hopefully, the session would be concluded in a way that reaffirmed all the commitments made in Beijing and galvanized everyone to stay the course with greater resolve towards gender equality, development and peace.

    Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN said that, 10 years ago, women gathered in Beijing had taken a giant step forward.  As a result, the world had recognized explicitly that gender equality was critical to the development and peace of every nation.  Over the decade, there had been tangible progress on many fronts.  Life expectancy and fertility rates had improved, more girls were enrolled in primary education, more women were earning an income than ever before.  The world had also seen new challenges emerge, including the terrifying growth of HIV/AIDS among women and the trafficking of women and children -- an odious but increasingly common practice.  “Yet, as we look back on the past decade, one thing stands out above all else:  we have learned that the challenges facing women are not problems without solutions.  We have learned what works and what doesn’t”, he said.

    Continuing, he stressed the importance of implementing what the international community had learned on a larger scale.  It was important to take specific, targeted action on a number of fronts.  The report of the Millennium Project Task Force on Education and Gender Equality outlined seven strategic priorities for doing just that.  They included strengthened access to secondary, as well as primary, education; sexual and reproductive health and rights; investment in infrastructure to reduce women’s and girls’ time burdens; property and inheritance rights; elimination of gender inequality in employment; increased share of women’s seats in national parliaments and local government; and efforts to combat violence against girls and women.

    “As you recommit yourselves to the full implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, I hope you will reconsider these seven priorities as guideposts that can help shape national programmes,” he said.  Above all, he urged the international community to remember that promoting gender equality was not only women’s responsibility -- it was the responsibility of all.  Sixty years since the founders of the United Nations had inscribed equal rights of men and women on the first page of the Charter, study after study had shown that there was no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.  No other policy was as sure to improve nutrition and promote health, including the prevention of HIV/AIDS.  No other policy was as powerful in increasing the chances of education for the next generation.  And he would also venture that no policy was more important in preventing conflict, or in achieving reconciliation after a conflict had ended.

    “But whatever the very real benefits of investing in women, the most important fact remains:  women themselves have the rights to live in dignity, in freedom from want and freedom from fear”, he said.  When the world’s leaders gathered in New York next September to review progress in implementing the Millennium Declaration, he hoped they would take action accordingly.  He also hoped that the international community would “keep up the good fight” and steer them in the right direction.

    EDUARDO J. SEVILLA SOMOZA (Nicaragua), Acting President of the General Assembly, said that the two-week programme was devoted to questions of great interest to the General Assembly, namely the 10-year review of Beijing’s outcomes, taking into account the new challenges in the quest for new strategies to empower women and girls.  Last December, the Assembly had underscored the importance of the Commission’s forty-ninth session, which commemorated both the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and the fifth anniversary of the twenty-third special session of the Assembly on women.  Since Beijing, the Assembly had continued to promote gender equality as an effective means towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. 

    He said that strengthening women’s status had become an ongoing concern and an important topic of all summits and international meeting organized under United Nations’ auspices.  The high-level plenary meeting in September offered a unique opportunity to underscore the need to achieve women’s advancement.  That meeting would review implementation of the Millennium Development Goals and the outcomes of other international meetings organized by the United Nations in the economic and social spheres.  Today’s meeting was timely.  It was an opportunity to undertake a preliminary assessment of the progress achieved thus far and to see how further progress could be made to strengthen women’s status.  Gender equality had become part of the global conscience, well beyond national responsibility.  All Member States should make achievement of that equality an everyday concern. 

    MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, said that while representing half of humanity, women had been historically discriminated against.  That discrimination affected not only women, but also children, families and communities, affecting as well the progress of the entire civilization.  Thus, the Commission played a particularly important role.  Its wide responsibilities were reflected in its mandate to promote women’s equality, progress and rights in all fields.

    Ten years after the adoption of the Beijing Programme, the world’s leaders would also gather in New York to review the implementation of the Millennium Declaration and observe the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations, he continued.  Success in the struggle for women’s equality was essential for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.  Three of those goals were focused on the issues directly within the purview of the Commission.  Actually, all Millennium Goals were interlinked and interdependent.

    Much progress had been made in the advancement of the rights and equality of women, but considerable challenges still remained, he said.  Women continued to have unequal access to resources and opportunities and continued to be victims of abuse, poverty and discrimination.  It was important to develop a better understanding of the strategies needed to respond to the challenges.  A number of national measures signalled Member States’ readiness to respond to the international goals as set out in the Beijing Declaration and the Programme of Action.  All States should not only recommit themselves to the goals of Beijing, but also move faster for the achievement of equality.  That would considerably enhance the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.  The Economic and Social Council looked forward to the successful outcome of the session.

    Acting Assembly President Mr. SEVILLA SOMOZA (Nicaragua) paid tribute to the past four United Nations world conferences on women, held in Mexico in 1973, in Denmark in 1980, in Kenya in 1985, and in Beijing in 1990.  Their achievements would be celebrated during the present session, starting with statements by the representatives from each of the four host countries, he said.

    MARTA SAHAGUN DE FOX, First Lady of Mexico, said that in the three decades since the watershed event -- the first international conference on women, in Mexico, in 1975 -- a long journey had begun towards ensuring respect for women’s rights.  That first conference had marked the beginning of a useful global dialogue on gender equality.  From that point on, not only had acquired rights begun to be formally recognized, but new trends began to emerge towards mainstreaming women into the social and economic processes that concerned them, but in which they had previously had no say.  The historical importance of that first conference lay in the fact that it had made it possible today to imagine a different world.  Today, the hope of a life of equality between men and women had ceased to be a dream, and had become an imperative.

    She noted that nations of the world were experiencing a gradual, but steady cultural change towards a more just life for women, in the endeavour towards full equality, the elimination of all forms of discrimination, integration and participation in development and peace.  All of that represented the institutionalization of a clear and legitimate path accepted by all countries and opening new opportunities for fulfilling the pressing needs for women’s empowerment.  Nevertheless, she had no false illusions.  As delegations would no doubt report during the session, three decades since Mexico and one decade after Beijing, the reality remained harsh for hundreds of millions of women worldwide.  Through the women’s conferences and their ensuing agreements, the international community had moved in the right direction towards achieving gender equality, development and peace.  Now, “we could not and should not turn back”, she urged.

    EVA KJER HANSEN, Minister of Social Affairs and Gender Equality of Denmark, said that, in 1980, her country had hosted the second United Nations World Conference on Women.  Copenhagen had contributed important building blocks to the Beijing Declaration, the Platform for Action and the Beijing+5 documents.  This year, participants of the Commission on the Status of Women session were here to take stock, fully reaffirm their commitment and demonstrate their readiness to fully implement those three documents.

    International political and normative agreements, objectives and commitments were extremely important, she continued.  They set directions for actors in the international community and standards for the conduct of States.  Most important of all, the created opportunities for individual women and men all over the world.  That demonstrated the strength of the United Nations.  The current session must send a very strong political message to the 2005 Summit.  The Millennium Development Goals could not be reached, unless the Beijing Platform of Action was implemented -- not partially, but in its totality.

    Much had been achieved in the light of Mexico, Copenhagen, Nairobi and Beijing, she continued.  Gender equality was now widely accepted as an important goal in itself, but much needed to be done to realize that goal.  Action was urgently needed in relation to equal rights between women and men.  Realization of equal rights, including sexual and reproductive rights, was a fundamental precondition for sustainable development and economic growth.  The lack of property rights, rights to inherit and the lack of sexual and reproductive rights prevented women from combating poverty, protecting themselves against HIV/AIDS, and taking responsibility for their own lives.  Unconditional ratification and full implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol by all States was a necessary starting point to securing equal rights.

    Action was also urgently needed to eliminate violence against women, she said.  One in four women worldwide would be exposed to domestic violence during her lifetime.  That was outrageous and totally unacceptable by all moral and ethical standards.  Zero tolerance towards domestic violence must be ensured.  It was the responsibility of States to protect all their citizens from violence.  A holistic approach must be applied with strong resolve.  It must include legal measures, law enforcement, information and education.  Measures must address and include the victims, the perpetrators, women and men, the young and the old, civil society, the private sector and the media.  Strong political resolve was also needed to eliminate violence against women during armed conflict.  It was the responsibility of the United Nations, its Member States, regional organizations and all other relevant actors.

    Equal rights and the elimination of violence against women were essential elements of the Beijing framework and were of immense importance to achieving sustainable development, peace and security.  Therefore, the current session must send a clear and unmistakeable political signal to the 2005 Summit.  A strong call must be made to fully integrate into the Summit and its outcome document both equal rights and the elimination of violence against women.  By doing so, the Commission would provide important and substantial value added to the global efforts to achieve sustainable development, implement the Millennium Development Goals and attain peace and security globally.

    ZHAO SHAOHUA (China), Vice-Chairperson of the National Committee on Women and Children under the State Council, Vice-President of All China Women’s Federation, said that the four world conferences on women, organized by the United Nations, had played a significant role in realizing gender equality and promoting women’s development worldwide.  Those conferences had also enriched the host cities.  Clearly, promoting and protecting women’s rights and their right to development were important objectives in the realization of all human rights.  Nevertheless, discrimination against women and the feminization of poverty had persisted, and there was a long way to go in the international community’s promotion and protection of women’s rights. 

    Recalling that 10 years ago, her country had successfully hosted the fourth world conference on women, she said that there had been an extensive exchange of views on women’s empowerment and development, and agreement had been reached on several substantive issues, aimed at accelerating implementation of the Nairobi forward-looking strategies.  The outcome at Beijing had been of far-reaching significance.  In the past decade, the international community had taken concerted actions to implement the Beijing outcome and that of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly.  Gender mainstreaming had been used as an important strategy.  For its part, China had spared no effort in fulfilling its commitments towards implementing the strategic objective of the Beijing Action Platform and had made gender equality a national policy.  Member States should see the anniversary as a “new starting point” to honour their commitments to eliminate discrimination against women and promote women’s advancement. 

    OCHILLO AYACKO, Minister of Gender, Sports, Culture and Social Services of Kenya, recalled that Kenya had hosted the 1985 event in Nairobi.  Today, the international community was reviewing the progress achieved in the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.  Her country had accelerated the implementation of the Platform.  There were now more women at the decision-making level, and the proposed draft constitution included provisions to ensure gender equality and outlaw any form of discrimination.  Women’s access to land and credit and measures to combat gender violence were also among the Government’s priorities.  It was now important to enact the draft legislation and show full commitment to the achievement of gender equality.  Today, her Government was joining the international community in rededicating itself to the goals set in Beijing.

    JOSE ANTONIO OCAMPO, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that gender equality was a fundamental principle of the United Nations Charter.  The commitment made upon the Organization’s founding had been strengthened and further elaborated over the past three decades.  All of the processes since then had underscored the importance of the United Nations as a unique forum for global policy-making on gender equality and women’s empowerment.  The high-level presence today of Member States, United Nations’ entities, and other international and regional organizations, and non-governmental organizations had reaffirmed the role of the United Nations as a privileged global forum.  The unanimous adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action had been a landmark achievement in the history of United Nations’ efforts to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.  The framework of the 12 critical areas of concern established in the Action Platform had continued to guide the work in that sphere.  

    He said that, five years ago, through adoption of the Millennium Declaration, Member States had emphasized gender equality and women’s empowerment as effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease, and to stimulate development that was truly equitable and sustainable.  The General Assembly had also committed itself to eliminate violence against women and to promote the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention.  The 10-year review would indicate that much had been achieved in terms of increased awareness, policy reforms, creation of institutional frameworks, and other aspects of progress.  Positive developments had included the establishment of national policies and strategies for gender equality, adherence to relevant international and regional instruments, increased diversity in mechanisms promoting and monitoring gender equality, and attention to gender-sensitive budgeting. 

    Nonetheless, there was a “large gap” between policy and practice, which should be addressed, he said.  Despite some progress, serious obstacles and challenges had been reported in each of the 12 critical areas, including the persistence of violence against women, their low level of participation in political decision-making, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among women and girls and the disproportionate impact on their lives, the impact of armed conflict on them, and an increase in trafficking.  Women were also increasingly migrating on their own, contributing significantly to the countries of destination and origin, but they were also forced migrants fleeing conflicts, natural disasters and other situations.  They still faced significant risk of discrimination and exploitation.  The overall global framework for gender equality and women’s empowerment remained the Beijing texts and the further initiatives identified at the 2000 review.  The Commission’s challenge was to secure and reaffirm the commitments and enhance action towards their full implementation. 

    RACHEL MAYANJA, Assistant Secretary-General, Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said that 2005 marked the tenth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and would be the culmination of a long process of change for women, which had begun in Mexico.  Today, it was the duty of all women of the world to continue to work hard to implement the Platform for Action and the outcome document of Beijing+5.  Any rollback on the consensus and commitments made at Beijing would be a dramatic setback, not only to the cause of gender equality, but also to the noble goals of the Millennium Declaration.

    Progress had clearly been made in such areas as setting policy, legislative reform, enhancement of national machineries, increased participation in the economy, higher enrolment of girls in primary education, greater awareness of the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls, recognition of the role of women in peace and security, and establishment of mechanisms for the protection and promotion of women’s human rights.  However, despite that progress, a large gap remained between policy and practice.  Innovative action was essential to achieve the goals of gender equality and empowerment of women.

    The international community had the blueprint for action -- the Beijing Platform, she said.  That document emphasized that the primary responsibility for the implementation of the proposed action lay with governments.  The success of the Platform would require a strong commitment on the part of governments, international organizations and institutions at all levels.  It would also require “the establishment of, or strengthening of, mechanisms at all levels for accountability to the world’s women”.  She invited the Commission to look ahead and prepare ground for linking Beijing+10 and the Millennium+5 reviews, particularly in determining future priorities and programmes of work, re-energizing intergovernmental dialogue on gender equality and considering measures for adequate financing.  It was also important to come up with new approaches to bring the Commission’s work more in line with the requirements of the era of implementation.

    Turning to the outcome of the meetings that had taken place in preparation for the Commission session, she said that their results were, perhaps, particularly visible in the field of women’s rights, where Member States’ efforts were monitored by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  The Convention obliged States parties to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all spheres of life and ensure that women were granted opportunities on an equal basis with men.  Governments were increasingly positioning their efforts to achieve the strategic objectives of the Platform within a framework of women’s rights.  The goal of universal ratification of the Convention had not been reached yet, although a growing number of States had ratified and acceded to both the Convention and the Optional Protocol.  She urged all Member States to ratify both instruments and accede to them.

    In July 2004, the Economic and Social Council had held successful discussions in the context of the review and appraisal of the system-wide implementation of its agreed conclusions on mainstreaming a gender perspective into all policies and programmes of the United Nations, she added.  It had also adopted several resolutions, which emphasized progress made in gender mainstreaming since 1997.  In that connection, she commended the work of the Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality at the United Nations system, which had concluded its fourth session last Friday.  In the field of women and peace, the Security Council had adopted its presidential statement, which went beyond its previous mandates for the implementation of its resolution 1325 (2004) and called, among other measures, for a system-wide action plan on that subject, with time lines and enhanced accountability.

    “Now is not the time to tire or tarry”, she said.  “We have a long way to go”.  The imperatives of making gender equality and empowerment of women a reality remained as strong, if not stronger, as at the time of the Beijing Conference.  Swift, bold and uncompromising decisions were needed to search for additional and more effective ways of implementing the Programme for Action.

    CAROLYN HANNAN, Director, Division for the Advancement of Women, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, reminded delegations that, in accordance with its multi-year work programme, the Commission would consider two thematic issues:  review of implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome of the twenty-third special session of the Assembly; and current challenges and forward-looking strategies for the advancement and empowerment of women and girls.  The Secretary-General’s report before the Commission had been based on 135 responses to a questionnaire and other information provided by Member States.  It outlined major trends, achievements, gaps and challenges in relation to the 12 critical areas of concern in the Platform for Action, as well as issues identified as the Assembly’s special session.  It also drew attention to priority areas for future action, as identified by Member States.

    She said that the high-level round table was a chance to share national experience.  Consideration of the two thematic issues would be further enriched by the seven interactive panel discussions over the coming two weeks.  The Division had organized two expert group meetings prior to the present session, in order to be able to provide substantive inputs to the discussions.  It was also tasked by the General Assembly to prepare an in-depth study on all forms and manifestations of violence against women, as identified in the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome text of the Assembly’s special session, disaggregated by type of violence and based on research undertaken and data collected at the national, regional and international levels. The Division was presently collaborating with other United Nations entities, non-governmental organizations and others working on violence against women, and it continued to provide technical assistance, on request, to Member States to strengthen their implementation of the Beijing outcome texts.

    NOELEEN HEYZER, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), outlined the progress made since Beijing, saying, in particular, that at least 45 countries today had laws against domestic violence, while over 21 more were drafting new legislation or amending criminal assault laws to include domestic violence. Governments were beginning to adopt gender-sensitive laws and policies on HIV/AIDS.  Quotas and other affirmative measures had been adopted to increase women’s representation in political decision-making in all regions, including countries emerging from conflict that were striving to build peaceful and more democratic societies.  And yet, while celebrating progress, the international community knew that it had been too slow.  “It is still a woman’s face we see when we speak of poverty, of HIV/AIDS, of violent conflict and social upheaval, of trafficking in human beings”, she said.  To break the cycles of poverty, violence and gender discrimination, it was necessary to accelerate progress and expand its reach.

    That would take determined implementation and greater accountability, she continued.  Laws and policy frameworks could only go so far.  In the area of violence against women, the international community had learned “what this takes”.  In managing the United Nations Trust Fund to Eliminate Violence against Women, established by General Assembly resolution 50/166, UNIFEM had been able to support, track and learn from innovative partnerships in countries worldwide.  Since its establishment in 1997, the Trust Fund had brought United Nations agencies and women’s networks together to support 175 initiatives in 96 countries.  In the next four years, the Fund would focus specifically on securing implementation of the vast array of laws and policies that had been instituted to address the multiple forms of violence faced by women.

    Strategies supported by the Trust Fund worked, because they addressed multiple levels and multiple sectors simultaneously, she continued, transforming power relationships and strengthening women’s organizations to address the social and economic causes of gender violence.  They focused on community ownership and included men as partners.  They must be upscaled and investment increased.  In addition, mainstream institutions must be transformed to make gender concerns integral parts of their policies, programmes and practices. The UNIFEM was working in over 30 countries to support national and local initiatives in that respect.

    Finally, strengthening the institutional architecture of gender equality within the multilateral system meant investing in a stronger institutional advocate for gender, she said.  It was not just a matter of placing gender experts within those institutions. Increasing gender expertise or other technical measures could not in itself replace a lack of political will or authority to close the implementation gap.  “We know what works, but without a stronger gender advocate with sufficient status, authority and resources, this knowledge and expertise will not be used”, she added.

    Many effective strategies for achieving gender equality had been developed over the past 30 years through efforts to implement the Convention and the Beijing Platform, and those proven approached could be upscaled and utilized in strategies to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  However, the international community could not wait another 30 years.  To find sustainable solutions to the challenges identified in the Millennium Declaration, including human development and security, the world’s women -- one half of the population -- must be empowered to contribute their knowledge and insights to the process. Women and girls everywhere looked forward to a stronger set of commitments and guidance from this session of the Commission to carry what they had learned since Beijing into the Millennium Summit in September.

    CARMEN MORENO, Director of International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), said that now was a crucial moment of change and challenge in the context of reviewing and appraising women’s status since Beijing and identifying areas for future actions.  Since the first world conference on women, held in Mexico, gender equality, development and peace had become a key component of sustainable development.  Subsequent conferences had shown positive results, as well as persistent obstacles to women’s empowerment.  The INSTRAW had been contributing to the 10-year review of Beijing’s outcomes with a series of reports that examined the worldwide advances and the new challenges emerging in each of the 12 critical areas.  The reports built upon the substantive work produced by governments, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, international organizations and the United Nations system.  They emphasized good practices, aimed at strengthening implementation of the Beijing Platform and contributing towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

    She said that achievement of the Goals required gender mainstreaming and progressive actions and changes in economic and social policies, as well as the active participation of all stakeholders.  If the twenty-first century was to become the century of freedom, women’s rights and freedoms needed to be secured and protected, including the right to be free from ignorance, poverty and fear, and the freedom to decide their own lifestyles, choose their owner partners and careers, and decide the size and shape of their families.  Yet, women and girls increasingly had become victims of trafficking and, throughout the world, they were killed simply for being women.  Violence against them was also prevalent worldwide and remained invisible.  That violence was the major obstacle to gender equality, and eliminating it should be the first priority for future action.  Priority must also be given to eradicating women’s poverty, and economic programmes should be engendered with a gender sensitive and multidimensional perspective.  The INSTRAW was addressing those issues as part of its work programme.

    ROSARIO MANALO, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, brought to the Commission’s attention the Committee’s statement on the occasion of the 10-year review, which highlighted the important synergies between the implementation of the Platform for Action and the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention.  A panel discussion later in the session would offer an opportunity to discuss those synergies in detail and to identify ways in which they could be further enhanced for better national-level implementation of States’ legal obligations and political commitments.

    The past 10 years had seen important advances for women in their pursuit of equality, she said.  Some 35 States had become party to the Convention since the Beijing Conference.  While the total number of States parties now stood at 179, the Committee regretted that that number fell short of universal ratification by the year 2000, as called for in the Platform.  However, the Platform’s commitment to provide for a right to petition under the Convention had been realized in 1999.  She congratulated the 71 States that had since become party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention.  Both mechanisms provided for in that instrument -- the individual complaints and the inquiry procedure -- had become operational.  The Committee had issued its first decision and views in relation to complaints by individuals under the Optional Protocol and had completed its first inquiry under article 8.

    Since the Beijing Conference, the Committee had endeavoured to improve its own methods of work, as well, she continued.  It had contributed to the better understanding of the obligations of States parties in relation to various articles and issues of the Convention through general recommendations, most recently on temporary special measures.  During its latest session in January, the Committee had considered reports of eight States parties.  For the first time, initial reports had been considered in the same manner as periodic reports, so as to enhance the interactive nature of the constructive dialogue.  The Committee also continued to receive information from non-governmental organizations on reporting States.  In addition to the statement on the occasion of the 10-year review, the Committee had also adopted a statement on the gender aspects of the impact of the tsunami disaster of last December, calling on all those providing relief and rehabilitation assistance to respond fully to the gender-specific needs of women and girls.

    The increase in the number of States parties to the Convention, the entry into force and use of the Optional Protocol, and the States’ adherence to their reporting obligations were a source of satisfaction, she said in conclusion.  However, as a result of the Committee’s increased workload, the available meeting time no longer allowed that body to adequately discharge its duties in a timely manner.  The waiting period of up to three years until a submitted report was considered created a disincentive for States to report in a timely manner.  She was disappointed that the Assembly had not acted on the Committee’s request for a solution of the question of its meeting time.  The Committee intended to discuss the matter further, with a view to submitting a further request to the Assembly for action at its sixtieth session.

    MAKARIM WIBISONO (Indonesia), in his capacity as Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, said that the issue of the two Commissions – on Human Rights and on the Status of Women -– were issues of common consciences.  Cooperation between the two bodies had deepened in recent years, serving as an example of cooperation among all commissions of the Economic and Social Council.  Ten years since 189 countries came together in Beijing to elaborate the guiding principles for the promotion and protection of women’s rights, the objectives had been further developed.  Also in that time, significant advances for women in many parts of the world had been recorded, owing, in part, to the Women Commission’s dynamic work.  In the area of human rights, the thrust had been to mainstream the gender perspective, which had had a great impact.

    Highlighting some key achievements of the Human Rights Commission in that area, he said that, in 1994, the Commission had created the first Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.  Some years later, it introduced an item on the integration of women’s human rights and the gender perspective.  In 2002 and 2003, the Commission requested all specialized bodies, human rights mechanisms and the subcommission on the promotion and protection of human rights, and relevant treaty bodies, to systematically integrate the gender perspective into implementation of their mandates and to include in their reports information and a qualitative analysis of the situation of women and girls.  The Commission also decided to include the gender perspective in all items on its agenda.  It also created a Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and girls. 

    As a reflection of the high priority that governments, the United Nations system and civil society attached to gender issues, the gender perspective was now routinely considered in the discussion of most agenda items.  In addition, thematic and country-specific resolutions tabled in the Commission also called attention to the relevance of the gender perspective and human rights.  The Commission, in collaboration with the Women’s Commission, had made integration of its agenda in that respect a routine part of its work.  Successes now should be built on and complacency should be avoided.  The Human Rights Commission would follow with interest the 10-year review and appraisal.  The review process was an excellent opportunity not only to celebrate achievements, but also to constructively identify remaining gaps and challenges.  It was critical that the process’ outcome ensured full implementation of the Beijing texts at all levels. 

    Round Table I

    The first high-level round table on the subject of “Innovation in institutional arrangements for promoting gender equality at national level” was moderated by Kang Kyung-wha (Republic of Korea) and chaired by Grace Bantebya Kyomuhendo (Uganda) -- one of the co-chairs of the Expert Group Meeting, held in Rome at the end of last year on the role of national mechanisms in promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.  Among the participants in the round table were representatives -- most at the ministerial level -- of Member States, high-level United Nations officials and representatives of non-governmental organizations.

    In her introductory remarks, Ms. Kyomuhendo said that measures to strengthen national machinery had long been identified as key to the achievement of gender equality.  Despite great achievements in that respect, important challenges remained, however.  While there was increased visibility of gender issues at both international and national levels, and the national machinery had been enhanced in many countries, it was still necessary to address such issues as availability of financial and human resources, introducing clear mandates for national bodies and establishing a global database to enhance monitoring of empowerment measures.  Among the issues that affected gender empowerment efforts, she mentioned the changing nature of governance and the need to strengthen partnerships and provide specialized training for the officials involved.  Closer collaboration with non-governmental organizations and the private sector were needed.

    In a free-flowing exchange of views, which included more than 40 participants, speakers shared their experiences, lessons learned, good practices and challenges at the national level.  Many speakers agreed that political will was indispensable to achieving gender equality.  Among national arrangements for the promotion of gender equality, they mentioned ministries, national commissions and parliamentary committees that facilitated decision-making at the governmental level.

    Within the framework of gender mainstreaming, many countries had put in place focal points and task forces for gender equality and the empowerment of women at various ministries and government structures.  Various quotas were being introduced to promote women’s participation in public life.  Bodies with specific tasks were also being set up to tackle such problems as violence against women and the impact of HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Research centres and offices of ombudsmen on gender issues had been established in many countries.

    Like all political issues, promotion of gender equality needed resources, training and a support structure, as well as adequate data to make informed decisions on the matter, a speaker said.  Actors normally involved in policy-making needed to incorporate the gender perspective in their activities.

    Speakers noted that institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women were one of the 12 critical areas of concern of the Beijing Platform for Action, which proposed strategic objectives with concrete actions to create and strengthen national machinery in that regard.  Also addressed in the discussion were future priorities and strategies for the development of national gender equality mechanisms.  Speakers noted the links between gender and human rights issues and outlined legislative efforts to advance the position of women within their societies.  For example, to tackle feminization of poverty, several countries had promulgated new laws on property ownership and inheritance, as well as provisions to promote equality within the family.  Several governments had also undertaken a review of existing laws to ensure their compatibility with international norms.

    Among the challenges, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) representative mentioned the need to invest in gender mainstreaming and to place national mechanisms at an appropriate level, so that they could influence the decision-making.  Monitoring progress was also important in order “to know that we are going in the right direction”.  It was necessary to be innovative in the building of partnerships and involve modern technology in the efforts to ensure cooperation with various actors.

    Several speakers agreed that issues of gender equality could not be addressed outside of the countries’ development strategies.  The Millennium Development Goals could not be reached without implementing gender equality measures, empowering women and honouring the commitments made in Beijing.  Thus, measures to overcome women’s poverty, create equal opportunities, provide better care for mothers and children, create adequate social security networks and improve women’s education and skill level should be among the governments’ development policies.  Stressed in the debate was the importance of not only creating new mechanisms, but also involving both male and female community members in the efforts to promote gender equality.

    Among innovative measures, a speaker outlined efforts to establish dialogue with trade unions and improve professional equality.  Performance today was linked to the diversity of skills and gender equality in the workplace, she said.  Also addressed in the discussion were various countries’ efforts to eliminate sexual harassment and discrimination in professional relations.  A country representative said that anti-discrimination legislation was as important as measures to improve women’s situation in the workplace, including provisions on parental leave.  Mechanisms should be put in place that would tell individuals about their rights under the law and provide employers with information regarding their responsibilities in that regard.

    It was extremely important to ensure that the debate on gender issues was clear to all, a speaker said.  Enhancing capacity and the ability to understand gender issues should be addressed at all levels.  Among future priorities, she listed dissemination of information, awareness-raising campaigns, introduction of institutional mechanisms, both at the government and civil society levels, consistency of efforts and creation of partnerships to mainstream the gender perspective at various levels of education.

    While applauding all the achievements, a speaker cautioned against the complacency of thinking that nothing more needed to be done.  Gender equality should not be just about proclamations of intent or the notion of gender equality per se -- it should be about improving women’s situation in any given country.  Significant progress needed to be achieved in reaching a higher standard of living for women, another country representative agreed, and that was what the institutional reform and budgetary allocations in her country were aimed at.

    Also highlighted in the debate was the issue of regional machinery for the advancement of women, with the Central American Women’s Fund presented as one of the examples.  Members of such African organizations as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) were also supporting each other in such areas as information-sharing.  However, without proper national mechanisms, their efforts would remain fairly weak, a speaker said.

    Parallel High-Level Round Table

    Leading a parallel high-level round table entitled “Innovations in institutional arrangements for promoting gender equality at national level”, were:  Gilbert Laurin (Canada), Chairperson; Rachel Mayanja, Assistant Secretary-General, Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women; and Otto Gustafik, Second Committee (Economic and Financial) Secretary.

    The round table discussion was opened by Nuket Kardam (Turkey), who had co-chaired the Expert Group Meeting in Rome, Italy, late last year on “The role of national mechanisms in promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women:  achievements, gaps and challenges”.  Three major recommendations had emerged, as follows:  enhance regional collaboration in the struggle for women’s empowerment; include private business given the extent or privatization nationally; and improve the synergy between gender-related bodies and human rights commissions. 

    In one intervention, Denmark’s representative said that gender mainstreaming was an ambitious strategy, in which “you have to walk the talk”.  Holding up a hammer, a flashlight and a tape measure, she said that the right toolbox inspired the imagination and helped citizens visualize what gender mainstreaming was all about, namely hard work.  In five years, the world had come a long way, yet there was still work ahead to make gender mainstreaming the norm. 

    More than 30 representatives from the capitals, including at the ministerial level, and from United Nations funds and programmes, regional commissions and non-governmental organizations participated in the discussion that followed.  

    National experiences from developed and developing countries alike, along with countries in transition and those emerging from conflict or transforming to market economies, were shared, in an effort to illuminate both the successes and challenges to women’s improved status in their societies.  Many highlighted the establishment, before and since the Beijing Conference, of a national machinery and national focal points, or ombudsmen, devoted to women’s advancement.  The need for active collaboration between those mechanisms with non-governmental organization s and human rights groups was also emphasized. 

    The education of women and girls was also stressed, as was the importance of poverty reduction and effective training and retraining, especially in the rural areas.  It was important, once designed, to clarify strategies on gender equality and to integrate them into all government policies.  Case law was seen as indispensable to creating the necessary framework to bring about legislative change in Member States.  Improved collection and dissemination of data, disaggregated by sex, was also useful in formulating policies and programmes.  Women’s health, with a concentration on the health of the girl child, was another critical factor, as was eliminating violence against women and girls.  Among some other best practices had been success in public pensions, which had dramatically reduced poverty among seniors, the provision of microcredit to women, and legislative review and reform, including of the penal code.

    Trafficking and the movement of migrants were also challenges requiring prompt and effective solutions.  Increasing women’s participation in decision-making by expanding their participation in government, sensitizing populations to the issue of gender and gender equity and raising awareness of the issues’ importance in society was repeatedly underscored.  In that connection, the need to bring men into the process of promoting gender equality was also highlighted. 

    A member of an Afghan women’s non-governmental organization, one of several that spoke this afternoon, said that the restoration of relative peace in Afghanistan with the fall of the Taliban and the establishment of the Bonn political process in 2001, had brought a ray of hope to end the decades of injustice against women.  Four years later, however, women were still facing serious challenges and human rights violations, from forced marriages to severe limitations on their personal freedoms and mobility.  The illiteracy rate for women was 86 per cent, and her country had one of the highest maternal mortality rates. 

    She said that the Ministry for Women’s Affairs had been set up to confront those challenges.  Although women’s concerns were new to Afghanistan and the road ahead was very long, the Ministry had not been sufficiently equipped with enough resources, personnel or overall capacity.  It was also plagued by a lack of coordination.  There were 34 provinces in the country and the Ministry was the only body dealing with them and the State-level ministries at the same time.  With parliamentary elections ahead, she stressed that women’s representation in the country’s parliament was sorely needed.  She urged governments and the international community to pay close attention to the elections. 

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