Press Releases

    WOM/1490
    2 March 2005

    Progress in Advancing Women’s Rights, Expanding Economic Opportunities Highlighted, as Women’s Commission Begins High-Level Debate

    49 Speakers Focus on 10-Year Review of Beijing Action Plan; Told Impossible to Have Democratic Society without Gender Equality

    NEW YORK, 1 March (UN Headquarters) -- The time had come for a concerted effort by the international community to ensure that women were accorded the status that was rightfully theirs and for which they had worked so hard, the Commission on the Status of Women was told today, as it commenced its high-level debate aimed at a broader and more systematic implementation of the Platform for Action adopted in Beijing in 1995.

    In two meetings today, 49 high-level officials, including Ministers and First Ladies from throughout the world, focused on a 10-year review and appraisal of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, and the General Assembly’s 2000 special session on gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century.  The Beijing Conference culminated in a groundbreaking Platform for Action, which offered a global framework for countries to end discrimination against women and close the gender gaps in 12 critical areas, including health, education, employment, political participation and human rights.

    Country representatives outlined their nations’ progress in the advancement of women and shared their experiences in introducing gender-equality legislation, expanding women’s economic and growth opportunities and promoting their training and education.  They also described measures to ensure women’s full participation in political and public life, as well as efforts to combat gender-based violence and trafficking in women and children.

    Addressing the Commission on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs of Jamaica stressed that an enabling environment was an important prerequisite to the full realization of Beijing.  The Group was, therefore, concerned that the accomplishment of some of its goals had been hampered by natural disasters, armed conflict, terrorist threats, occupation and unilateral coercive measures.  Today’s globalized environment had not only presented opportunities, but also resulted in shrinking economies and declining employment rates, making it difficult for women, particularly in developing countries, to enjoy equality.

    Sweden’s Minister for Democracy, Metropolitan Affairs, Integration and Gender Equality said that gender equality was essentially an issue of democracy, as it was impossible to have a democratic society without it.  The rights of half the population could not be ignored.  Gender equality was also a tool for reaching society’s other political goals, such as economic growth.  Gender equality and the protection and promotion of human rights must be connected to poverty reduction in “one coherent undertaking”.  Promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment was not only a matter of justice, but also of political, social and economic good sense.

    Numerous speakers agreed that, although important advancements had been made since 1995, including introduction of more equitable laws to protect women from discrimination, abuse, and violence in many countries, some critical issues still needed to be addressed.  Among those, many singled out HIV/AIDS, which continued to pose serious global challenges to realizing the goals set for the advancement of women.  The majority of women in the developing countries lacked access to affordable drugs to treat the disease and faced stigma from being infected.  A growing number of children were being orphaned as a result of the epidemic.  The international community, therefore, must spare no effort in the battle to solve the problem of the spread of HIV/AIDS, speakers said.

    Toure Lobbo Traore, Special Envoy of the President and First Lady of Mali, said the question of reproductive health for girls should be elevated on the national agendas, in the context of HIV/AIDS and neo-natal mortality.  With support from its development partners, Mali needed to strengthen its ability to care for the sick and, above all, emphasize prevention of HIV/AIDS.  That was a matter of follow-up on her continent, which was currently the most affected in the world.  Maternal mortality also remained high in Mali, which was hard to accept at a time when the means for preventing women’s death during childbirth were well known.

    Many speakers also emphasized the linkages between the Millennium Development Goals and the Beijing commitments, noting uneven progress on gender equality targets.  They insisted that the outcome of the 10-year review undertaken by the Commission would be a vital input into the United Nations General Assembly’s High-Level Millennium Review in September 2005.

    In that connection, the representative of the United Kingdom said that all of the Millennium Development Goals were relevant to women, and women were relevant to the achievement of all the Goals.  As achieving the Millennium Development Goals would also require reliable and predictable finance, the United Kingdom was calling on all countries to join it in implementing a new International Finance Facility to offer the immediate, predictable longer-term aid needed to meet those goals.  It was the responsibility of all to ensure Beijing was not simply humankind’s shared history -– it must also be its shared present and its shared future.

    New Zealand’s Minister of Women’s Affairs said that with the Women’s Convention, Beijing and the Millennium Development Goals, the international community had the tools to combat HIV/AIDS, combat violence against women and eliminate poverty, thus, achieving peace, equality and empowerment for women.  Member States were not here to re-litigate or reinterpret Beijing.  New Zealand would not accept an outcome declaration that would contain anything less than a clear, unambiguous and unqualified reaffirmation of that Conference’s outcome.  She called on all States to reaffirm the Beijing Platform for Action without equivocation.

    Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Luxembourg’s Minister for Equality and Opportunities said that much work remained to be done in the area of employment and economic rights, with women’s employment rates, unemployment, the gender pay gap and segregation in the labour market among the main challenges.  Members of the Union had agreed in a ministerial declaration of 4 February to strengthen efforts in those areas.  The declaration reaffirmed that full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms was essential for the empowerment of women and the achievement of real democracy.  Women’s equality was also of great importance for the achievement of sustainable development and the eradication of poverty.

    Also highlighted in the debate was the role of women in conflict prevention and resolution.  The Minister for Education, Culture and Sports of Israel drew applause when she suggested that peace might have more of a chance, if placed in the hands of women.  Calling on the Palestinian Minister of Women’s Affairs to join her in finding a path to cooperation, she expressed willingness to encourage dialogues between Israeli and Arab women.  “Let’s not only humanize peace -- let’s womanize peace”, she said.

    Statements were also made today by the First Ladies of Panama and Suriname and Ministers from Jordan, Gambia, Croatia, Kyrgyzstan, Tonga, Uzbekistan, South Africa, France, Austria, Morocco, Ireland, Honduras, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, United Republic of Tanzania, Iceland, Cyprus, Brazil, Cape Verde, Andorra, Italy, Peru, Burkina Faso, Finland, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Indonesia, Cambodia, Bahrain, Ghana, Nigeria, Malaysia, Eritrea, Antigua and Barbuda, Netherlands, Tunisia, as well as the Palestinian National Authority.

    The Commission will continue its general discussion at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 2 March.

    Background

    The Commission on the Status of Women this morning began its high-level general debate on the follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and the General Assembly’s 2000 special session on gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century.

    Statements

    Speaking on behalf of the European Union, MARIE-JOSEE JACOBS, Minister for Equality and Opportunities of Luxembourg, said that members of the Union confirmed their strong support for and commitment to the full and effective implementation of the Beijing Declaration, the Platform for Action and the outcome document of the twenty-third special session of the Assembly, as well as the agreed conclusions adopted by the Commission since Beijing.  Gender equality was an important goal in itself and essential for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  A gender perspective should be fully integrated at the high-level review of the Millennium Declaration.

    Continuing, she said that gender equality could not be achieved without guaranteeing women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.  Therefore, expanding access to sexual and reproductive health information and health services were essential for achieving the Beijing agreements and the Millennium Development Goals, as well as for combating HIV/AIDS.  She also encouraged active involvement of men and boys in the achievement of gender equality.  All measures should be consistent with internationally recognized principles of non-discrimination, including in relation to discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion, disability, age or sexual orientation.

    Much work remained to be done in the area of employment and economic rights, she said.  Women’s employment rates, unemployment, gender pay gap, sex segregation in the labour market and the unequal burden of unpaid labour between women and men were among the main challenges.  Members of the Union had agreed in a ministerial declaration of 4 February to strengthen efforts in those areas.  The declaration of the Union’s member States reaffirmed that full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms was essential for the empowerment of women and the achievement of real democracy.  Women’s equality was also of great importance for the achievement of sustainable development and the eradication of poverty.

    The Union had agreed to ensure full enjoyment of all human rights and freedoms by all women and girls, including migrant women, and to develop specific strategies and benchmarks to measures progress.  The Union also reaffirmed its will to develop preventive methods to combat gender-based violence and trafficking in human beings for sexual and other forms of exploitation.  Most concretely, the Union had agreed to strengthen measures to address all the factors that encouraged trafficking by strengthening existing legislation to provide better protection of the rights of women and girls and prosecute and punish the perpetrators through both criminal and civil measures.  Measures would also be taken to discourage demand.

    Gender equality was a fundamental principle of the Union, and gender mainstreaming was an essential part of its policies, she stressed.  On that basis, its members would mainstream a gender perspective into national immigration and asylum policies, regulations and practices, as appropriate.  They would also encourage initiatives and programmes to promote the roles of women and men in conflict prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace-building and post-conflict democratic processes in accordance with Security Council resolution 1325.  Among other Union’s priorities, she listed women’s education and the eradication of harmful traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation, early and forced marriage and crimes committed in the name of honour.  The aim was to achieve equal participation of women and men in decision-making to ensure equal political, economic and social participation of women in all spheres.

    GLENDA SIMMS, Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs of Jamaica, on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that the political will expressed at Beijing and Beijing+5 had been translated into action at various levels by many governments all over the world. However,a 10-year assessment of the Platform for Action and the outcome of the twenty-third special session of the Assembly indicated that, although important advancements had been made, there were still some critical issues that needed to be addressed.  HIV/AIDS continued to pose serious global challenges to realizing the goals set for the advancement of women, for example.  For the majority of women in the developing world, there were several problems, including lack of access to affordable drugs to treat the disease, the growing number of children being orphaned, and the stigma from being infected.  The international community, therefore, must spare no effort in the battle to solve the problem of the spread of HIV/AIDS.

    On violence against women, she said that the Secretary-General had referred to it as the most persistent human rights violations, the elimination of which must remain a high priority.  Member States were encouraged to deal with violence at multiple levels and sectors of society simultaneously and to address the root causes of violence, including women’s poor social and economic status. An enabling environment was an important prerequisite to the full realization of Beijing.  The Group was, therefore, concerned that the accomplishment of some of its goals was hampered by such circumstances as natural disasters, armed conflict, terrorist threats, occupation and unilateral coercive measures.  Today’s globalized environment had not only presented opportunities, but had also resulted in shrinking economies and declining employment rates, making it difficult for women, particularly in developing countries, to enjoy equality.

    The linkages between the Millennium Development Goals and the Beijing commitments were clearly established, she continued, but there was limited and uneven progress on gender equality targets.  The time had come for a concerted effort by the international community to ensure that women were accorded the status that was rightfully theirs and for which they had worked so hard.  While appreciating the importance of national efforts, the Group was also convinced that accelerated implementation of the Beijing commitments could be further enhanced by international cooperation, including in honouring obligations undertaken on overseas development assistance.  The Group supported the revitalization and strengthening of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) and encouraged the international community to support it.

    BASMA BINT TALAL, Chairperson, Jordanian National Commission for Women, in her national capacity, as well as on behalf of the Consultative Committee for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), said that UNIFEM’s programme addressed critical gaps in the follow-up to the Beijing outcome and the Millennium Declaration.  The UNIFEM contributed to building capacity at the country level and through United Nations country teams to pursuing key commitments, ranging from translating Security Council resolution 1325 into practice to strengthening accountability by encouraging gender-responsive budgeting.  The Fund also addressed feminized poverty, advocated women’s participation in democratic governance and worked to end violence against women.

    In 2004, she said, the Consultative Committee had commissioned an assessment to determine when the Fund’s status and resources were commensurate with its expanded role as provider of technical assistance and as an advocate for gender equality and women’s rights.  One conclusion drawn was that the very expertise that was needed was positioned in a way that limited UNIFEM’s ability to respond to all the expectations of the system.  That was likely also true for many of the national machineries represented at the current meeting.  The study also concluded that UNIFEM was under-resourced to meet the demands of its expanded role.  The Consultative Committee hoped, therefore, that Member States would fully fund UNIFEM’s four-year programme by doubling its core base, which had remained at approximately $20 million annually for the past four years.

    Speaking in her national capacity, she said that Jordan, like other countries of the region, had been affected by major global and regional events of the past five years.  That had not weakened her country’s commitment and resolve to implement the Beijing Platform for Action.  Indeed, through the high-level political will expressed by King Abdullah II, there had been major breakthroughs in terms of legal amendments and in establishing a system of reserved seats for women’s representation in Parliament. The headway achieved in gender mainstreaming had prompted a commitment from the Government to mainstream gender perspectives into all future national development plans, as well as all government institutions.  Those breakthroughs had been achieved despite “exacting” circumstances.  If Jordan was aiming for the change in women’s status to be permanent, societal understanding and acceptance of the process must be ensured.

    ISATOU NJIE-SAIDY, Vice-President and Secretary of State for Women’s Affairs of the Gambia, said that much more needed to be done to attain women’s full empowerment and their protection against poverty, ignorance and want.  Exposure to diseases such as HIV/AIDS, domestic and other forms of gender-based violence, discriminatory legislation and unhelpful socio-cultural practices, and unequal opportunity with men in society must be defeated.  Her country was keenly aware of the need for vigilance and for conscious efforts to be made to pursue gender equality, equity and women’s empowerment.  The President himself was fully committed to that cause and had ensured that government policy remained focused on women’s advancement.  As a result, it had been possible to register “significant gains” in the efforts to mainstream women’s and girls’ issues in the country’s development process.

    She said that adoption of the constitution in 1997 had marked a turning point in the empowerment of Gambian women and girls, as that had accorded them the right to marriage based on consent, full and equal dignity in marriage, and citizenship to children born outside the Gambia to Gambian mothers, irrespective of their father’s nationality.  Gambia’s VISION 2020, its poverty reduction strategy and other national policies also addressed the concerns of women and girls.  Given the importance of health and education to the socio-economic development and empowerment of women and girls, her Government had committed more than 20 per cent of its national budget to the social sectors, apart from the contributions of its development partners.  That had resulted in marked improvements in the development of the infrastructures for education and health, and the delivery, quality and accessibility of services.  With the existing network of health facilities countrywide, some 80 per cent of the population had health services coverage.

    Girls’ enrolment in schools had increased dramatically following a policy drive to improve access, especially in rural areas, she said.  In 1995, girls’ enrolment at the primary level was only 41 per cent, 36 per cent at the middle school level, and 26 per cent at the senior secondary level.  Those figures had increased significantly over the last decade to, respectively:  49 per cent; 44 per cent; and 37 per cent.  Women also had greater access to productive resources and institutional support services in the form of credit, inputs, technology and capacity-building.  In addition, they were now playing key roles in politics and decision-making at the national and local levels.  The number of women with ministerial portfolios, as well as in other key positions, had also increased appreciably.  The increase in women’s representation in the legislature was an indication of the heightened gender sensitivity of the population and of the Government’s resolve to ensure women’s increased participation in those spheres.

    JADRANKA KOSOR, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Family, Veterans’ Affairs and Intergenerational Solidarity of Croatia, said the Beijing Platform for Action had had a long-standing effect on the policies and practices in the field of gender equality and the status of women worldwide.  There were positive developments in fighting discrimination against women, but there were still many gaps and areas for improvement that were going to be examined during the current session of the Commission.  Gender mainstreaming was a key strategy for the advancement of women and one of the most important outcomes of the Fourth World Conference on Women.  It was important to take a gender-sensitive approach to all activities and accelerate de facto equality between men and women.

    Her country had recently presented its report on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women to a United Nations committee monitoring the implementation of that instrument, she continued.  In recent years, Croatia had adopted significant laws to promote gender equality, including the family act and the act against family violence.  Under the gender equality act, the Parliament of Croatia had appointed its first ombudsman for gender issues.  Recently, the Government had adopted a national strategy on protection against domestic violence.  Efforts were also made to improve women’s situation in the labour market.  Strong participation of women in the public and political life of the country was of utmost importance.  Today, almost 21 per cent of the Parliament and 25 per cent of ministers in Croatia were women.  The participation of women at the local level was also increasing.

    TOKTOBUBU AITIKEEVA, Vice-Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan, said that since independence, her Government had acceded to more than 30 international conventions.  The State’s political will towards women’s advancement had been supported by institutional reform.  A national council on women’s issues had been established, and a national plan of action had been adopted to achieve gender equality.  Another important achievement had been the strengthening of legislation in favour of women’s rights.  The Government was earnestly seeking to provide guarantees of gender equality by providing training and expertise.  Temporary legislation was now in place in the Internal Affairs Ministry to cover cases of family violence.  Strides were also being made to improve women’s status in Government, by bringing them in at the decision-making level.  Women were being appointed to ministerial-level positions and to that of regional governors and administrators.

    Nevertheless, she highlighted women’s under-representation in Parliament as a persistent and serious problem.  Parliamentary elections were under way, and she was very concerned that women would have only minimum representation.  In contrast, the social development process was integrating women and their concerns.  Women were also represented in the army, where they were consolidating their presence.  The level of girls and women in education was extremely high, and girls were being encouraged to enrol at the university level.  Medical assistance and free first aid was guaranteed, as well as help with pregnancy.  There was now a reduction in child mortality, although maternal mortality remained a problem.

    With more than 90 per cent of the country’s territory in the high mountainous region, she called for stepped up international support, in order to better assist the women of that region.  Trafficking in women and girls and violence against them must be combated, and HIV/AIDS must be prevented.  Urgent measures were also needed to counter the negative impact of the modern threats, namely, terrorism, extremism and social instability.

    JAMES CECIL COCKER, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister Responsible for Women Affairs of Tonga, said that significant gains had been achieved in his country since the Beijing Conference, including the establishment of a multi-sectoral advisory committee on gender and development in 2000.  Together with the country’s non-governmental organizations, the Government had approved the national policy on gender and development in 2001.  Progress had been achieved in moving towards the ratification of the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention, and the Government was considering a proposal for upgrading the Women and Development Centre of the Prime Minister’s Office into a full-fledged department.

    Tonga recognized the need to fully address many challenges in order to enhance the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, he continued, including the need to increase the number of women in decision-making at all levels.  It was also necessary to strengthen women’s national machinery and institutional mechanisms.  Also required were improvements in the allocation of financial and human resources, development of gender-sensitive indicators and sex-disaggregated statistics for measuring progress.  It was necessary to address the negative impact of globalization and trade liberalization.  In conclusion, he reiterated his Government’s commitment to full implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.

    SVETLANA INAMOVA, Vice-Prime Minister of Uzbekistan, said that, since independence, her country had attached great importance to the issues of women’s advancement in society, seeking to protect their social, economic and political rights.  In countries in transition, such as her own, women could not be guaranteed protection without prioritizing it at the level of State policy.  In the absence of common efforts of the whole of society, women’s rights and interests could not be fully ensured.  In difficult stages of a country’s development, women and children became economically and socially vulnerable.  That was why steps were being taken by the Government to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.  Also, like other countries of the world, Uzbekistan was consistently striving to implement the Millennium Development Goals, aimed, first and foremost, at reducing poverty and improving people’s lives.

    She said that her country had recently made significant progress in education and health care for women, gender equality and related trends.  It had reaffirmed its attention to women’s advancement through a presidential decree aimed at encouraging the activities of the Women’s Committee of Uzbekistan and a government programme to implement it.  Active work was also under way to protect women’s rights by ensuring their full participation in political and public life, as well as in the social and economic life of the country.  The Law on Supplementary Privileges for Women, adopted in connection with the Year of the Family, the Year of Women, the Year of Mother and Child, the Year of Healthy Generation, and the Year of Health, had been another important step.  A national monitoring system had been established to guarantee women’s and children’s rights, and an ombudsman had been put in place.  The Government’s main policy directions were to systematically assess the situation of women, elaborate and implement measures to ensure their employment, and prepare steps to encourage their public, political and social participation.  It also sought to engage non-governmental organizations as an active part of the country’s public and political life.

    VIVIAN FERNANDEZ DE TORRIJOS, Special Envoy of the President and First Lady of Panama, supported the position of the Group of 77 and the Rio Group and said that since the Beijing Conference, her country had undertaken major commitments to implement its outcome.  Initiatives by women’s organizations received particular attention from the Government.  Among the efforts for the advancement of women, she mentioned legislative reform, ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, and the establishment of the Ministry on Youth, Women, Children and the Family and the National Women’s Council, which monitored the implementation of gender-related policies in the country.  Efforts were being made to address violence against women.

    Despite great strides forward, many challenges remained, she continued, including the need to overcome traditional stereotypes and address women’s poverty.  Women needed access to economic resources and land.  Education, training and empowerment of women were among the priorities. One of the greatest challenges was promotion of equality within the family.  The Government was taking measures to eliminate discrimination against women.

    TOURE LOBBO TRAORE, Special Envoy of the President and First Lady of Mali, said that her Government, in cooperation with non-governmental organizations, had drawn up a plan of action for 2002 to 2006, which sought to reduce the level of illiteracy among women and to better protect them, namely, in terms of reproductive health, strengthening of gender equity, combating the feminization of poverty, and improving women’s image.  Considerable efforts had been undertaken with respect to increasing the enrolment of girls in school, which had grown markedly in recent years.  In public life, the advent of democracy had allowed women to occupy high-level positions formerly reserved for men.  More than 400 women held seats in the community councils.  They were also more prominent in the media, and many more women were employed in the press.  In the legislative sphere, Mali had ratified, without reservations, the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention.

    She said she wished to see elevated on the national agendas the question of reproductive health for girls, in the context of HIV/AIDS and neo-natal mortality.  Concerning HIV/AIDS, Mali, with the support of its development partners, must strengthen its ability to care for the sick and, above all, to emphasize prevention.  That was a matter of follow-up on her continent, which was currently the most affected in the world.  Maternal mortality also remained high in Mali, which was hard to accept at a time when the means for preventing women’s death during childbirth were well known.  The necessary resources must be mobilized -- financial, material and human -- to reduce neo-natal maternity rates in Mali and elsewhere.  Meanwhile, her country was currently organizing an African day for safe motherhood.

    NKOSAZANA DLAMINI ZUMA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of South Africa, associated herself with the position of the Group of 77 and China and said that the struggle for the emancipation of women in her country had always been an integral part of the broader struggle for liberation of the people of South Africa.  In that regard, women had suffered triple oppression:  as blacks, as workers and as women.  Fifty years ago, in adopting the Freedom Charter, her people had boldly declared that “the rights of the people shall be same regardless of race, colour and sex”.  Accordingly, the people of South Africa had affirmed that women’s rights were human rights.  That principle was enshrined in the new Constitution of the country.

    Outlining her country’s progress in the advancement of women, she said that more than 30 per cent of the members of Parliament and 40 per cent of the Cabinet were women.  Enrolment in primary schools was now almost universal, and more girls than boys completed primary and secondary education.  Primary health care was free for all at State institutions.  Women had reproductive rights and free access to reproductive health services.  The Government was involved in various initiatives to overcome poverty, and its interventions had brought tangible benefits to the women of South Africa.  The country had also made enormous strides in the area of human rights.  The enforceable bill of human rights had opened opportunities for the eradication of many laws, policies and practices that violated women’s dignity and rights.  Measures were being taken to equalize opportunities for women in such areas as equal pay for equal work.

    As indicated by President Mbeki in his state of the nation address last month, one of the eight objectives of the second decade of the country’s liberation was transforming the country into a genuinely non-sexist society.  That would include the full participation of women in the expanded economic and growth opportunities.  Among the main challenges, however, were violence against women and the need to match the country’s resolve with adequate resources.  Neither South Africa nor the world could reach their full potential without women’s participation.  Her Government, therefore, remained dedicated to the long but necessary journey of fully implementing the Beijing Platform for Action.  Women must be equally involved in the implementation of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and NEPAD’s programmes must also benefit women. 

    JENS ORBACK, Minister for Democracy, Metropolitan Affairs, Integration and Gender Equality of Sweden, said there was a lot to do to change the power structures between women and men in the world.  According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), half the world’s population was under the age of 25.  That meant a great responsibility for politicians to create a society with equal rights for all those young women and men, and to renew their ideas about gender equality, again and again.  Issues relevant to the new generation, including women’s equal right to participate in decision-making, sexual reproductive health and rights, and equal pay for equal work, should be addressed.  Women had the right to claim efforts and commitment “from outside”.  It was also fundamental to show the next generation that change was possible.  Thus, it was vital to fulfil the Beijing goals and those of the Millennium Declaration; women must be guaranteed economic independence, human rights enjoyment, and access to sexual and reproductive health care and services.

    He said that gender equality was essentially an issue of democracy, as it was impossible to have a democratic society without gender equality.  The rights of half the population could not be ignored.  Gender equality was also a tool for reaching society’s other political goals, such as economic growth.  Gender equality and protection and promotion of human rights must be connected to poverty reduction in “one coherent undertaking”.  Promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment was not only a matter of justice, but also of political, social and economic good sense.  Gender inequality severely constrained the productive and democratic potential of households, communities and nations.  It also constrained access to jobs and well needed income and growth at all levels.  Despite women’s undisputed contributions to local and national economies, women still lacked access to productive assets.  Although women worked on the land, they did not own it.  Men could inherit, while women often could not.  Educating a woman meant better health for the whole family, yet girls were often denied schooling.

    NICOLE AMELINE, Minister of Parity and Professional Equality of France, stressed the need to accelerate international efforts to achieve equality between men and women.  While progress had been made in 10 years since Beijing, many women around the world still suffered from discrimination.  Along with other members of the European Union and La Francophonie, France was committed to gender equality.  Along with other members of the United Nations, the country also participated in the efforts to promote equality at the global level.

    Among the main issues that still required attention, she listed violence against women, trafficking in people, poverty and women’s vulnerability in conflict.  She was convinced that the Millennium Development Goals could not be met without implementing the Beijing Platform for Action.  That document should be placed among the main pillars of action that were required for the implementation of the Millennium Declaration.  Fighting for equality meant pushing back poverty and working for sustainable development, peace and democracy around the world. The majority of people affected by poverty were women; women suffered from HIV/AIDS and were among the main victims of conflict.  To address those issues, a new commitment was needed to achieve gender equality and advance the implementation of the outcome of the Beijing Conference.

    MARIA RAUCH-KALLAT, Federal Minister for Health and Women of Austria, stressed that the representation of women at the top level of political decision-making was of crucial importance.  Gender mainstreaming needed a “top down” approach for effective implementation.  For the first time, women had achieved their fair share in the Austrian Government:  50 per cent of the ministers were women, and they were in charge of key policy fields, such as external relations, justice, education and science and health.  The Austrian member of the European Commission was also a woman.  As of July 2000, her Government had broadly implemented gender mainstreaming and was moving on to apply instruments like gender budgeting.  Regarding women’s participation in business, women were increasingly “catching up”.  With mentoring another key to women’s empowerment, she had started a nationwide business-mentoring programme, with her ministry acting as an umbrella organization.

    To combat domestic violence, she said her Government had adopted the Protection against Violence Act, which allowed police to expel a perpetrator from the family home and to issue a barring order.  Civil law courts could also issue interim injunctions.  In addition, the Ministry of Health and Women and the Ministry of Interior Affairs were funding intervention centres against violence in the family, which actively contacted the victim and offered legal counselling and socio-psychological services.  Women’s health required a rights-based approach, and essential health services should be available, accessible and affordable.  At the same time, a gender perspective should be integrated into the review of the Millennium Development Goals.  By early April, she would present the second national report on women’s health, which aimed at giving a full picture of the health situation of women in Austria.  While the European Union had already developed indicators to operationalize five of the 12 strategic objectives of the Beijing Platform, her country would continue that work during its presidency in 2006 by developing indicators for measuring progress on women’s health.

    LIMOR LIVNAT, Minister for Education, Culture and Sports of Israel, said her country was proud to be among those nations where gender equality was a pillar of democracy.  Although not all issues had been resolved, Israel had ensured gender equality under the law.  Women had made significant contributions to the country’s society as members of Parliament, ministers and Supreme Court justices.  The Government’s efforts focused on such issues as equal pay for equal work, domestic violence and rights of single mothers.  Israel’s legislation on sexual harassment of women was among the most progressive in the world.  In 1994, the High Court had ruled that equality could only be achieved through affirmative action.

    Laws alone could not ensure gender equality, however, she continued.  Education was no less important.  Her ministry sought to instil democratic values in children, including equality of women.  The country’s democratic roots went back to biblical teachings, to Jewish life over the centuries and to the principles of the Zionist movement.  Having suffered from anti-Semitism and survived the Holocaust, the people of Israel were determined that their State would be based on democratic, humanitarian and moral values.  She believed that the spread of democracy would benefit the entire Middle East and would be an anchor of peace.  Much of the world’s attention had been riveted on the conflict in the region, but a close look at Israeli society clearly showed that there was much more to the country than the scenes seen daily in the media.

    Unfortunately, millions of women around the world were denied the opportunity to reach their potential, she said.  In the spirit of the Beijing Platform for Action and under Israel’s international cooperation programme, 4,000 women from 123 countries had taken economic and social empowerment courses in Israel.  For too many years, the Middle East had been an arena of conflict.  Her country had been compelled to defend itself and protect its citizens from terrorist atrocities.  Although that was the country’s history, it did not have to be its future.  Just as Israel had overcome adversity and progressed, so could the entire region.  The recent summit in Sharm al-Sheikh between Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had been encouraging.  The opportunity existed to achieve cooperation, peace and a brighter future for the Middle East.

    The Government’s decision to carry out the disengagement plan showed its commitment to peace and security, she added.  Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas must demonstrate his commitment, as well.  Peace could be advanced by the leaders and by the people, as well.  It might have more of a chance, if placed in the hands of women.  She stood ready to encourage dialogues between Israeli and Arab women.  She called on the Palestinian Minister of Women’s Affairs to join her in finding a path to cooperation.  “Let’s not only humanize peace -- let’s womanize peace”, she said.

    YASMINA BADDOU, Secretary of State in Charge of the Family, Children and Disabled Persons of Morocco, said that Morocco’s Constitution provided for respect for human rights and had made women’s improved status a key objective, flowing from the belief that achieving equality between women and men was a prerequisite to laying down the foundations of good governance and the rule of law.  Since Beijing, her Government had cooperated with civil society, including all women’s groups, and with the United Nations system in shaping an action plan to further gender equality and fight all forms of gender-based discrimination.  The decade since 1995 had been distinguished by a strong Moroccan political will that placed the issue of guaranteeing women’s justice and removing all discrimination against them among the pivotal issues, in the quest to build a modern and democratic Morocco.  Her Government had also undertaken major policy reform, seeking to align its programmes with national and international values and obligations.

    Last year, she said the Government formulated a new family law, and adopted laws concerning employment, civil liberties and abandoned children.  All of those recognized gender equality and sought to abolish all forms of gender-based discrimination.  The family code enshrined the principles of a modern democratic society; it ensured equality for all in family matters and raised the legal age for marriage.  Polygamy was now bound by several legal regulations, and a guardian’s authorization for a woman to marry had been abolished.  Family courts had been created, media campaigns had been launched and Morocco was set to review some of its reservations to some of the articles of the Women’s Convention.  It was considering the removal of some of them, especially those related to civil liberties, which regulated family relations.  The Government had also established a gender-based approach to national programmes and policies, especially in the areas of education and health, and it was implementing a national strategy to combat violence against women.

    FRANK FAHEY, Minister for Equality Issues of Ireland, said that his country’s approach to gender equality closely followed the European Union model and involved legislation, gender mainstreaming and positive action.  In 1999, his Government had made a landmark decision to gender mainstream the national development plan for 2000-2006, thus, introducing a gender perspective to almost every area of public administration of the country.  The plan had acted as a vehicle for strengthening the country’s gender equality work in such traditional areas as employment and training, as well as such new areas as physical infrastructure.  From the outset, all the “people” indicators across the plan were gender disaggregated.  As a result, the country now had valuable information on how women and men were benefiting from the plan.

    Continuing, he said that two new units had been set up to support the implementation of the gender mainstreaming process in Ireland, one within his department and one in the Department of Education.  The units were co-financed by the European Union.  Among the Government’s priority areas, he listed promotion of equality of opportunity within education, training and employment.  Supported by the Union, the Government had developed a child-care programme, on which over half a billion euro would be invested by the end of 2006.  Complementary work/life balance was being supported through the social partner structures.  Efforts were also being made to increase gender balance in decision-making and address the problem of violence against women.  The country was committed to poverty reduction and placed emphasis on the dialogue and partnership with developing countries and non-governmental organizations.

    On women’s health, he said that priorities in that regard included screening programmes for breast and cervical cancer and implementation of a strategy to address crisis pregnancy.  Attention was also now turning to gender differences in mainstream health provision, such as the incidence of cardiovascular disease among women.  Rather worryingly, heterosexual transmission had replaced drug use as the biggest cause of HIV infection in Ireland.  In the fights against HIV/AIDS, Ireland adopted a multifaceted approach, which included funding for sexual and reproductive health information, services and research.  The level of smoking among young girls was also a cause of concern.

    MARCELA DEL MAR SUAZO, Minister for Women’s Affairs of Honduras, said she had brought to the Commission an agreed, committed position, in order to hasten implementation of the Beijing Platform.  Implementing the global agenda nationally had required the establishment of a legal framework that promoted and protected women’s rights.  Her Government had also sought to combat violence against women, and promote their active participation in the country’s political life.  Women also required economic power and autonomy.  It had been proven that women invested their resources in their families –- to include children’s education and the overall living conditions of their households, thereby contributing to ending the cycle of poverty.  Thus, women should have access to financing, well beyond microcredit, so that they could own the farms and not just work them.  That was critical to reducing poverty.  Last year, the national congress had approved a political quota for women of 30 per cent.  For the first time, recent primary elections had a large number of women among the candidates, including two for the presidency.

    Still, she said, the persistent challenges to women’s advancement must be taken up both in Honduras and elsewhere in the world, where women still carried the largest burden of poverty, violence and reduced access to health and education.  The meeting here should identify how to approach the common challenges collectively, while taking into account the specific characteristics of each region.  Everyone must unite in that quest –- all governments, including of rich countries, global trade institutions, the United Nations system, and the private sector.  Jointly, they could turn the agreed global agenda into a reality.  The proper resources must be allocated and the proper policies, promoted.  Only then could national efforts have an impact on poverty.

    PASCAL COUCHEPIN, Federal Councillor of Switzerland, said that the rights of women were an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Nonetheless, women continued to suffer disproportionately from extreme poverty, accounted for three quarters of the illiterate population and were increasingly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.  They were also subjected to many forms of violence.  The international community must redouble its efforts, notably in the areas that were still neglected, such as sexual health and reproductive rights.  Consistent implementation of the Cairo and Beijing Programmes for Action was an essential prerequisite for achieving the goals set out in the Millennium Summit.  Together with international organizations and civil society, Switzerland was determined to achieve those goals.

    The country focused on women’s access to resources and their situation in the economy and supported numerous projects in the area of microfinance, he continued.  The challenge in the coming years was to reduce economic disparities.  The fight against gender-related violence and trafficking in women and girls were among the country’s priorities.  His country also supported projects and organizations that protected women in conflict situations and promoted their greater participation in peace processes.  The Government made efforts to promote women’s education, decriminalize abortions and introduce an HIV/AIDS prevention policy based on the specific needs of young men and women.  Measures were being taken to reconcile the professional and family lives of women and tackle the problem of domestic violence.

    “Although we have not achieved all our goals, I remain optimistic”, he said in conclusion.  “We have everything to gain from a real partnership between men and women.  Let us find practical and effective means of bringing this about.”

    LAILA DAVOY, Minister for Children and Family Affairs of Norway, said the national experience had shown that targeted measures and positive action were effective in combating gender segregation.  Her country was determined to end the almost total male dominance in large Norwegian companies.  By June, the 560 public limited companies would require 40 per cent representation of either sex on their boards.  If that was not done voluntarily, the companies would be legally obliged to do so within a two-year period.  Norway was also working to enhance men’s role as care providers.  Twelve years ago, it had established a four-week parental leave for fathers.  The Norwegian Parliament had now decided to extend that period and to continue to focus on men’s role in caring for their children.  Although most Norwegian women enjoyed equal rights “to an increasing extent”, issues of inter-sectionality and multiple discrimination must be addressed.

    She said that persons with disabilities, lesbians and ethnic minorities were vulnerable to multiple forms of discrimination and violence.  The Government was presently updating its gender equality policy to take account of discrimination based on the intersection of gender and other axes of discrimination.  It also saw the need to focus on gender equality within the family.  Men’s cooperation and a change in their role in the family were necessary to achieving gender equality.  Since the adoption of the outcome texts at Beijing, greater emphasis had been placed on women’s role in conflict.  She wondered whether governments were making full use of Security Council resolution 1325, adopted five years ago, and she called for an evaluation of its implementation.  Clearly, women’s equal rights and active participation were vital for democracy and peace.  Women’s participation was also essential in the fight against poverty and in efforts to ensure sustainable development.  The Millennium Development Goals could not be achieved without confronting gender inequality, she asserted.

    EVA KJAER HANSEN, Minister for Gender Equality of Denmark, said that the Beijing framework had been a fruitful outcome of a long global process to promote the advancement of women and obtain gender equality worldwide.  It still remained the single most important source of inspiration for national efforts.  To date, Denmark was one of only four countries in the world that had achieved the third Millennium Development Goal on gender equality.  Some 80 per cent of the country’s students left the education system with professional competencies either for the labour market or for further studies.  About 50 per cent of the girls and 37 per cent of the boys went on to further education.

    Among the problems, she mentioned domestic violence against women.  It was the responsibility of her Government to combat domestic violence and break the taboo and stigma by bringing the issue from the private to the public sphere.  In 2002, an action plan had been initiated to combat violence against women, which addressed both victims and perpetrators in a holistic manner.  Supported by public awareness campaigns, it engaged the police, the social authorities, women crisis centres, young people and non-governmental organizations.

    She also elaborated on the country’s “Women and Management” programme.  A well functioning partnership with Danish employers’ organizations had been established.  The Government had used statistics to demonstrate to companies the financial profitability of employing more female managers and include gender equality as part of the business strategy.  The results were impressive, and many companies were now working to improve the gender balance in managerial positions.

    MOENG R. PHETO, Minister for Labour and Home Affairs of Botswana, said that the meeting was not just an opportunity to review the Beijing outcomes, but for participants to rededicate themselves to their goals and principles.  In order for the meeting to achieve any meaningful goals for women worldwide yearning for empowerment and equality, it should devise clear, effective and concrete strategies to further implementation.  Since the Beijing objectives were consistent with the Millennium Development Goals, a review of the Beijing Platform should also contribute to the review of the Millennium Declaration in September.  Ten years after Beijing, it should be possible to show, both collectively and individually, the achievements in implementing its outcome.  For its part, Botswana had made significant progress in women’s advancement and empowerment, although challenges and constraints remained, for which the Government had developed a very sound national policy and institutional architecture.

    He said that attainment of gender equality was not the sole responsibility of the Government, however, but also one of civil society.  Together, they had initiated a process of developing women’s skills in the area of gender analysis and planning.  That close collaboration with civil society had also reached into other areas of the action platform.  Since 1997, the Government and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had been providing financial assistance to projects that empowered women economically.  In recognition of women’s vulnerability to poverty, the two had undertaken to mainstream gender in all poverty reduction strategies and programmes.  Chief among the remaining challenges, however, was gender-based budgeting, particularly in identifying the methods and tools to be employed in the budgetary process aimed at eliminating gender inequality.  Botswana also still lagged behind in achieving the 30 per cent target of women in power and decision-making posts, but women occupied a high percentage in leadership and managerial positions, publicly and privately.

    JEANNE POEUHMOND, Minister for the Family, Women and Children of Côte d’Ivoire, said that her country was committed to reducing gender disparities through the implementation of measures in 12 areas identified in Beijing.  Among the country’s accomplishments, she listed efforts to strengthen the national machinery for the advancement of women, improve women’s education and improve women’s economic situation.  Violence against women and girls, forced unions, sexual harassment and genital mutilation were among the areas that required attention.  Also in effect was a national reproductive health programme.

    The true impact of the Government’s efforts could be measured in terms of awareness by women themselves, she said.  Women were now present at the highest decision-making levels in the country.  For example, three out of Côte d’Ivoire’s nine ministers were women.  Despite the achievements, however, many challenges remained.  Many of them could be attributed to the long-term crisis that the country had undergone.  With the help of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the United Nations, Côte d’Ivoire was trying to overcome the impact of conflict and consolidate national reconciliation achievements.  Further international assistance would allow the country to achieve peace and real stability.

    ASHA ROSE MTENGETI MIGIRO, Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children of the United Republic of Tanzania, said that the National Gender Machinery had been established shortly after the Nairobi Women’s Conference on Equality, Peace and Development.  Thus, after the Beijing Conference, the major task of the National Machinery became implementing the Beijing Platform for Action and, later, the Millennium Declaration and Development Goals.  Ten years after Beijing, she was satisfied that the country was on the right track, although much more remained to be done.  Immediately following Beijing, her Government began working on the 12 critical areas, with an initial focus on four:  enhancing women’s legal capacity; improving access to education; empowering women economically and eradicating poverty; and empowering women in political and decision-making positions.

    She said the Constitution provided a solid foundation to enable women’s representation in Parliament, set to reach 30 per cent by the end of the year.  In fact, that critical mass would be attained by October when the country held its general elections.  The Constitution also provided that at least five of the 10 members of Parliament nominated by the President should be women.  At the local government level, a threshold of 33 per cent women had already been attained.  In the area of education, gender parity in the primary schools was now “50/50”.  Similar efforts were being made at higher education levels through the institution of special programmes to increase girls’ access.  In terms of women’s economic empowerment, the Government had enacted two critical pieces of legislation, both in 1999:  the Land Act; and the Village Land Act. Those laws gave women equal access to land use and ownership.  Among the remaining challenges was to ensure that the other eight areas of the Beijing Platform were tackled quickly.

    ARNI MAGNUSSON, Minister for Social Affairs of Iceland, said that women’s rights were affected by different factors in different parts of the world.  In countries affected by armed conflict, women’s rights needed special attention.  Conflict brought poverty and increased health problems, while also destroying health infrastructures.  In post-conflict situations, human rights of the most vulnerable were also given low priority.  All countries had their responsibilities when it came to trafficking in women.  It was also necessary to be aware of the importance of equal access to primary education, property rights and employment.  The United Nations goals would not be reached, unless gender equality strategies were incorporated into the efforts at both global and national levels.

    He proceeded to give a brief overview of his country’s activities in the field of gender equality.  Iceland had one of the highest rates of female labour participation in the world.  That indicated some success, but many challenges still remained.  One of his greatest concerns was how to bridge the gender pay gap.  As the first step, the country had assessed the extent of the problem.  Now it was involved in a project to establish comparable methods of measurement in all the Nordic countries.  Prevention of gender-related wage discrimination was one of the key objectives of the current gender equality action plan adopted in Iceland.  Among other pieces of progressive legislation, the country’s Parliament had also passed a new maternity leave act, giving both women and men an equal non-transferable right to take three months’ leave in connection with the birth of the child.

    DOROS THEODOROU, Minister for Justice and Public Order of Cyprus, said that three major factors had played a catalytic role on advancing women’s status in Cyprus.  First, the Beijing Platform had given a new impetus, strengthened the political will and intensified efforts to create legal and de facto gender equality.  The accession process for Cyprus to the European Union, since 1998, was moving at a very intensive pace and had necessitated the harmonization with the Acquis Communautaire, which had resulted in the enactment of important legislation affecting women’s lives.  Parallel to that had been the creation of the necessary administrative infrastructure for the implementation of relevant legislation and policies.  The third factor had been the partial restoration of freedom of movement since April 2003, along with the Government’s efforts towards the reunification of the island, which had boosted women’s initiatives.

    He said his Government had also ratified the Optional Protocol to the Women’s Convention, as well as Protocol No. 12 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.  Through the National Machinery for Women’s Rights, it had formulated a national action plan covering areas corresponding to the national priorities and Cyprus’ declared commitments made at Beijing.  Progress towards improving women’s status had been achieved in the following areas:  legal reform; harmonization with the Acquis Communautaire of the European Union in the social sector; women’s economic empowerment; the tackling of violence against them; and encouragement of the balanced participation of women and men in politics.  The national machinery for women had been strengthened with human and financial resources, and the ombudsman’s competences had been expanded as well, including through the creation of an independent extrajudicial mechanism to investigate complaints of discrimination.

    NILCEIA FREIRE, Special Secretary for Women’s Policy of Brazil, said that the implementation of the Beijing priorities throughout the world had been hindered by economic difficulties and conflict, as well as violations of human rights.  For its part, Brazil had been taking steps to implement its national plan on gender equality, basing its efforts on the Beijing Platform for Action.  The plan focused on such issues as the empowerment of women in the workplace, reproductive rights, confronting violence against women, promoting women’s health and advancing their representation at the decision-making level.  Among her country’s efforts for the advancement of women, she listed steps to eliminate illiteracy and promote the situation of indigenous women.  As part of the plan, the country also intended to improve coordination among various branches of Government and introduce a new law on violence. The country’s many new legislative initiatives would seek to benefit women.

    MARIA CRISTINA FONTES LIMA, Minister of Justice of Cape Verde, said that since the country’s independence in 1975, it had included sustained action to promote gender equality through the launch of public policies.  Governance and democracy was strengthened, and legislative reforms, together with a strong investment in the area of combating illiteracy and promoting education and health, had created a favourable environment for the progressive integration of women in the country’s development.  That climate had also heightened women’s recognition of their rights.  The national development process had seen a per capita growth and a rise in the human development indices.  The United Nations had recommended recently that Cape Verde be reclassified among the middle level of developing States.  Institutional mechanisms were also created in the post-Beijing period, as the country worked hand in hand with its public and private development partners and civil society organizations.  And, as of 1996, national action plans for the promotion of gender equality, built on the Beijing outcome, had been launched.

    She said that there had been remarkable progress in certain areas of the Beijing agenda.  For example, there was now gender parity in basic education, and there were more and more women in higher education.  The illiteracy rate had declined from 63 per cent in 1975 to 25 per cent in 2000, and more so since then.  Broad family-planning measures had been made available, as well as prenatal care, and following the population conference in Cairo, the concept of reproductive health had taken hold.  The fertility rate had dropped to 3.3 children per woman, compared to seven in 1975, and five in 1990.  There had also been a considerable increase in the demand for prenatal services, and 91 per cent of the births were assisted.  Recently, the fight against HIV/AIDS had intensified, as manifested by the broad mobilization of society and the free distribution of anti-retroviral medications.  Major challenges remained, however, including socio-economic disparities, women’s low-level participation in decision-making posts, and continuing gender-based violence against women and girls.

    EMYR JONES PARRY (United Kingdom), speaking on behalf of Jacqui Smith, Minister of State for Industry and the Regions and Deputy Minister for Women and Equality, said much of recent work in his country had concentrated on women and the economy.  One of the key elements of achieving gender equality was for women to be economically empowered and play a full and equal part in the economy.  To do that, it was necessary to place women at the centre of economic and social thinking. It was also necessary to break down stereotypes, eliminate disadvantages and ensure that workplaces increasingly became an environment that actively welcomed and nurtured women.  It was important to ensure that more women were playing a full role and making the decisions that affected the country’s economic life.  The United Kingdom was committed, for example, to increasing the numbers of women joining the boards of its top companies, to supporting women in starting their own businesses, and helping women combine their work and family lives.

    All those issues were at the centre of the European Union’s Lisbon Agenda, which aimed not only to make Europe’s economies competitive and rich in skills and innovation, but also to achieve equal partnership of men and women.  Gender equality was also central to the achievement of all the Millennium Development Goals.  Poverty eradication programmes needed to address the special position of women.  It was also important to work for the implementation of the Cairo goal of universal sexual and reproductive health rights and make progress on sustainable development to protect the environment women lived and worked in.  All of the Millennium Development Goals were relevant to women, and women were relevant to the achievement of all the Goals.  “Let us not forget this as we look forward to the Millennium Review Summit later this year”, he said.

    Achieving the Millennium Development Goals would also require reliable and predictable finance, he said.  That was why the United Kingdom was calling on all countries to join it in implementing a new International Finance Facility to offer the immediate, predictable longer-term aid needed to meet the Millennium Development Goals.  Implementation of the Beijing outcome was important, if the international community were to achieve the Goals.  It was the responsibility of all to ensure Beijing was not simply humankind’s shared history -- it must also be its shared present and its shared future.

    MONICA CODINA TORT, Minister of Health and Welfare of Andorra, said that in the last 10 years, her country had made a great effort to promote and consolidate women’s social and legal status.  The main steps in promoting gender equality had been in the legislative and regulatory spheres, and in women’s empowerment.  The gains included:  adhering the Women’s Convention; amending the marriage law, which had required that widows or divorced women wait 300 days before remarrying; ratification of the European social charter in those articles relating to the protection of the rights of national and immigrant working women and their families; defining, for the first time, domestic violence as a crime; reforming the social security service in a way that improved conditions for elderly women; and drafting a law on social care, which underlined that the promotion of real equality between women and men was a social concern, and that it was the Government’s responsibility to see to its achievement.

    She said that 2001 was a banner year for efforts by the Government to promote women’s rights, and the first Secretary of State for the Family had been appointed; its well defined structure fully included all aspects related to women.  With regard to equality between women and men, the executive power entrusted the Secretary of State for the Family with the task of setting out directives to develop projects on the basis of an analysis of the influence which the economic, social, political and cultural contexts exerted on the structure of the family and its members.  A survey had been carried out on gender inequality in the domestic, labour and health environments, which could orient priorities.  Efforts were also under way to combat domestic violence.  An awareness-raising campaign aimed at Andorra’s whole population bore the slogan, “Do you believe it?  Together we are on our way to equality.”

    STEFANIA PRESTIGIACOMO, Minister of Equal Opportunities of Italy, said that her country had set up the Ministry for Equal Opportunities, which was assigned to deal exclusively with equal opportunity issues.  The Ministry had the power and the duty to indicate a scale of cross-cutting priorities involving every area of the public administration and to align the Government’s actions at the national and international levels with the culture of Beijing.  Although Italy had achieved significant progress in the area of empowerment, however, the “glass ceiling” had remained intact, restraining women’s participation in local and national elective offices.  For that reason, the Government had modified the Constitution to include the principle of equal opportunities in access to elective assemblies.  That would be implemented through a quota system.

    Italy and Europe had an equally important mission on the international arena, she continued.  It was up to the richer countries to make a concrete contribution to the developing countries.  Also, countries in which the rights of women were stronger and more widespread had a greater chance of influencing international policy.  That implied maximum respect for, and protection of, diversity.  Only strong international cooperation could eradicate trafficking in human beings, for example.  In Italy, 3,000 foreign women, many of them minors, had been rescued from slavery over a three-year period and given job placement.  She also advocated greater commitment in the fight against genital mutilation, saying that international commitment should be increased.  Slavery and mutilation offended the conscience of every woman, and every person, in the world.  She hoped that in 10 years the international community would be able to speak of those evils in the past tense.

    RUSSELA ZAPATA ZAPATA, Vice-Minister of Women of Peru, reaffirmed her country’s commitment to Beijing and the General Assembly’s twenty-third special session.  Peru’s policies and strategies drew on a human rights- and gender equity-based approach.  In the past decade, significant progress had been achieved in implementing Peru’s commitments aimed at guaranteeing women’s political, social and economic rights by forging a consensus in policies and norms.  In addition, new institutions had been established and progress had been achieved in the social field.  The Ministry for the Advancement of Women and Human Development was responsible for designing policies to combat poverty, inequality and exclusion.  The national agreement, a consensus-based document, laid down the policies to be enacted towards attainment of gender equality.  The Government was also seeking to eradicate all forms of violence against women and to ensure their full participation in and enjoyment of the country’s development.

    She said her Government was committed to closing the “gender gap”.  In education, Peru sought to ensure equal access for boys and girls, as well as the elimination of all forms of gender discrimination.  The legal act on education was aimed at eliminating all forms of discrimination against the girl child and teenage girls.  The Government had also implemented a programme to ensure that girls remained in school.  Regarding health, the Government was committed to ensuring universal access to free and quality health services, by focusing on the pockets of poverty and addressing the most vulnerable sectors of the population.  Efforts to reduce maternal mortality were bearing fruit, and an improved health coverage for birth care now covered nearly 75 per cent of pregnant women.  HIV/AIDS remained a serious challenge, for which the Government was striving to develop prevention programmes and reduce the price of medication.  The “zero tolerance” policy on violence against women had resulted in the establishment of 42 emergency centres and 20 safe homes for women.

    RUTH DYSON, Minister for Women’s Affairs of New Zealand, said that putting the words of the international community into action required intensified political will.  Her country unequivocally reaffirmed its commitment to implement the promises made in Beijing.  She added her voice to the growing calls for full implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.

    New Zealand took its responsibilities seriously and had in the last 10 years addressed them directly, she said.  Among the country’s successes, she listed better access to primary health care, secure and affordable housing, improvement opportunities for employment, and the introduction of violence prevention programmes.  The country was also promoting affordable and accessible quality child care and paid parental leaves.  It was also addressing pay and employment equity issues and increasing support to families.  More remained to be done, however.

    New Zealand recognized the important role of the civil society and non-governmental organizations and strongly supported the sexual and reproductive health rights identified at Cairo and Beijing, she said.  Too often, women suffered or died in circumstances that were preventable.  Beijing contained clear commitments on women’s sexual and reproductive health rights, and the right to control their own sexuality.  Those commitments must be implemented.

    With the Convention, Beijing and the Millennium Development Goals, the international community had the tools to combat HIV/AIDS, eliminate violence against women and girls and eliminate poverty, thus, achieving peace, equality and empowerment for women, she said.  Member States were not here to re-litigate or reinterpret Beijing.  New Zealand would not accept an outcome declaration that would contain anything less than a clear, unambiguous and unqualified reaffirmation of Beijing.  She called on all States to reaffirm the Beijing Platform for Action without equivocation. The international community had laboured too long over language in human rights treaties, declarations and resolutions.  It was time to take action, and Beijing provided the right platform for doing so.

    LIESBETH VENETIAAN, Special Envoy of the President and First Lady of Suriname, said that the year 2001 had been significant for gender equality in her country.  The Government had initiated a nationwide information programme on gender equality, as part of its effort to formulate a gender-mainstreaming programme, and a gender-management system had been put in place.  It had also ratified an Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Elimination of Violence against Women.  Also that year, a commission on gender legislation was formed to advise the Government on, and submit draft legislation in conformity with, the spirit and aim of the Women’s Convention and the Inter-American Convention on violence against women.  And, in December 2001, the Government presented its integral gender action plan based on the gender-mainstreaming action plan and the views of non-governmental organizations.  In addition, it initiated an “effective personal leadership programme” for gender focal points across the country.

    Still, she said, her country and others in the Caribbean region had to fight the increasing number of HIV/AIDS infections.  Another great concern was natural disasters, which had a devastating impact on all segments of society.  It was important to include an explicit gender perspective in all humanitarian and recovery needs assessments.  Trafficking in and the sexual exploitation of women and girls was another major concern.  The sixteenth intercessional meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), held in February, had paid attention to the HIV/AIDS problem in the region, as well as all other challenges cited above.  It also considered the creation of a disaster plan for the Caribbean, including the establishment of a disaster fund.  Women’s empowerment and the promotion of gender equality, a main goal of Beijing, were also included in all eight Millennium Development Goals.  Participants at the current session owed it to “our sisters, to our peoples” to lobby the governments, the developed world, and the international financial institutions to realize the concrete implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.

    MARIE GISELE GUIGMA, Minister for the Promotion of Women of Burkina Faso, said that out of the 12 priority areas of the Beijing Platform, 10 had required her Government’s attention, including poverty among women and the issue of women’s health.  Following the Conference, a ministry had been set up in the country to advance the socio-economic well-being of women.  The national plan adopted in the country included measures to promote development and increase women’s income.  Specific programmes had been introduced to improve women’s training and education, overcome illiteracy and reduce women’s mortality.

    One of important problems was women’s vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, she continued.  Burkina Faso banned abortions, except for therapeutic purposes.  Among other important issues, she mentioned genital mutilation.  Also, thousands of women were losing their lives giving birth, and she appealed for international attention to that issue.

    Actions had been taken to increase women’s participation in decision-making, she added.  Greater financial support was being provided to women candidates in elections.  As for the institutional arrangements to advance women, the Government had demonstrated its resolve to achieve gender equality.  There was also greater civil society participation.  Working together with its partners, the country would seek to fully implement the Beijing Platform for Action.

    SINIKKA MONKARE, Minister for Social Affairs and Health of Finland, said her country had a long history of women’s political participation and, today, it had a female President, and women comprised 38 per cent of Parliament.  To a large extent, Finnish women and men agreed that the responsibilities for providing financial security for the family, the everyday running of the home, and parenting should be shared.  Yet, some challenges remained.  Female employees’ pay was adversely affected by their gender, and women’s wages still averaged just 80 per cent of their male counterparts.  That was partly due to the fact that men and women were employed in different sectors, which had been valued differently.  Women still used most of the statutory parental leaves, and those leaves were still viewed as women’s rights, rather than men’s. Clearly, the role and attitudes of men and boys were essential in achieving gender equality, which, in turn, benefited men and boys, as well as women and girls.

    She said her Government had instituted an action plan for gender equality (2004 to 2007), in order to further promote the equality between the sexes.  It included programmes and other measures; all ministries had participated in drafting it and were currently implementing it.  A core element of the action plan was gender mainstreaming in State administration.  The Government was also renewing its law on gender equality.  Many of the challenges for the future, both nationally and globally, remained that same as in Beijing.  Nationally, for Finland, those included equal pay, elimination of segregation at work, and elimination of violence against women.  Globalization had caused serious imbalances in some countries, the extent of which in some countries had depended on the level of equality prevailing in the institutions and policies.  In many countries, deeply rooted gender inequalities meant that the social cost of globalization had fallen disproportionately on women.

    AGVRAN VARDANIAN, Minister for Labour and Social Affairs of Armenia, said that the process of obtaining independence and the economic transition in Armenia had affected the situation of women and children in the country.  However, many steps had been taken for the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.  The country had signed numerous international instruments, including the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention.  New national machinery had been introduced, and measures were being taken to promote such issues as equality in the workplace.  A national programme had been adopted last year to enhance women’s role in society.  Programmes had been introduced to combat trafficking in women, overcome AIDS and address the problem of refugees.  A project had been initiated to address the rights of children.  While much remained to be done, the Government was doing its best to protect the rights of all its citizens.  All people, men and women, had been created equal and all had equal rights, including the rights to freedom, life and happiness.  He wished all women happiness.

    LJERKA MARIC, Minister of Finance and Treasury of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that a national action plan for women was being prepared, and progress had already been achieved in improving protection of women’s and girls’ basic rights in the areas defined by the Beijing Platform.  Since 2000, or “Beijing plus 5”, her country had adopted a significant range of laws in the field of gender equity and equality.  Among them were the gender equity law, family law, and law on protection against domestic violence.  The gender equity law defined both direct and indirect discrimination, gender-based violence, and sexual disturbance, and it introduced sanctions against offenders.  Its reach extended to the following areas:  education; work; access to all kinds of resources; social protection; health care; sports and culture; public life; media; and gender-based violence.  Increasingly, gender equality was a criteria for shaping policy, strategy, work programmes, laws, and so forth.

    She said it was critical to mainstream gender at all levels -- State, entity, cantons, and municipalities -- as well as to ensure that all institutional mechanisms were functional.  The Gender Equality Agency had been established at the State level.  At the entity level, expert bodies were set up to report directly to Prime Minister, and focal points had been nominated in each entity ministry, as well.  Coordination boards for gender equality were operational at the canton level, as were commissions for gender equality at the municipal level.  Institutional mechanisms for gender equity and equality worked in partnership with non-governmental organizations on the following activities:  building gender awareness; improving relevant statistics; eliminating trafficking in women; eliminating domestic violence and gender-based violence; media promotion of gender issues; empowerment of women and young girls in the area of health; and gender mainstreaming in education at all levels. 

    MEUTIA FARIDA HATTA, State Minister for Women Empowerment of Indonesia, said that the earthquake and tsunami in Aceh and north Sumatra had not only caused the loss of many lives, but also destroyed most of the island.  She expressed appreciation and gratitude to all international donors and countries for their support to the victims and her Government during that emergency.  Since many natural disasters were caused by poor environmental management, she proposed to have a look at existing gender differences and inequalities in the use of management of natural resources and the impact of such activities on the environment.

    Continuing, she provided a detailed outline of her Government’s efforts to advance gender equality.  In particular, steps had been taken to support poor women’s economic activities and promote their productivity.  Among the Government’s priorities were access to credit, improvement of women’s marketing skills and encouragement of women entrepreneurs.  In dealing with poverty alleviation, especially among women, she was convinced that the matter should not be approached as a philanthropic gesture, but as honourable strategy to build the capacity of women and boost their self-esteem.

    The country’s policies in education were generally not gender biased, she continued.  However, at the implementation level, discriminatory practices against women occurred.  The decision-making process for educational policy did not benefit sufficiently from women’s participation.  The Government hoped to minimize and, if possible, eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005 and achieve gender equality in education by 2015.  Despite many achievements, however, the Government had identified some gaps and challenges, such as women’s disproportionate representation among the poor, the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS among women, and women’s low participation in decision-making.

    KANTHA PHAVIING, Minister of Women’s Affairs of Cambodia, said a new five-year strategy for the period 2004-2008 had been announced last July, as well as a new “Sub Decree” on the organization of the Ministry, and the role and responsibilities of its departments.  The Ministry was established in 1996, and the Beijing Platform had been influential in setting its priorities.  Beginning in 2004, it was in a position to “slightly reorder” those priorities on the basis of progress made in the past six years.  The promotion of gender mainstreaming in the formulation of national policies and programmes and the legal protection of women and girls from all forms of violence and trafficking would have greater prominence.  In health and education, the Ministry would be very selective about its focus.  Since 2000, when the country promulgated major policy developments, it had been increasingly successful in mainstreaming gender into those policies.  As a result, the Women’s Ministry had become one of the six priority ministries. 

    She said that poverty underpinned many of the challenges facing Cambodia.  The Ministry had a programme to generate income among women and, in some cases, to improve food security.  Those activities included value adding to agricultural production; finding reliable markets for agricultural and handicrafts production; and ensuring better post-harvest storage facilities.  Women’s empowerment centres would conduct multifaceted training programmes in micro- and small enterprise skills, including market research, business planning, and assistance in accessing credit, as well as literacy and life skills development.  Violence against women and the trafficking in women and girls was growing significantly in her region.  Her Ministry was responsible for drafting a law against domestic violence, but that was still being discussed in the National Assembly.  Once passed, a number of activities would be launched to implement a prevention plan and train counsellors to assist the victims.  Several programmes involving Cambodia and the countries of the Mekong region were focused on preventing trafficking.

    NADA HAFFAD, Minister of Health of Bahrain, said that her country had pursued development of human resources as one of the main pillars of its development policy.  Emphasis was placed on equal opportunities and rights for men and women.  The country’s legislation protected women’s rights in the political, social, cultural and economic spheres, without contradicting the Shariah.  Specific policies were being put in place to promote women in Bahrain.  A national strategy for the advancement of women had been launched in the country, giving priority to such areas as education, training, raising awareness and health services. Women were also promoted for high-level positions within the Government.  Women had been nominated as ministers for health and family.  Restructuring of the education system was under way to give women a larger role in the development of the country.  Also, efforts had been initiated to address violence against women.

    ALIMA MAHAMA, Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs of Ghana, said that the promotion of gender equality and enhancement of women’s status were very high on Ghana’s development agenda.  With the elevation of the national machinery to ministry status and the advent of a central management agency, gender-equality issues had received attention at the highest level of decision-making.  Since 2001, her Ministry had spearheaded a vigorous national drive to overcome the challenges to gender equality.  Gender focal points had been designated in all sector ministries to ensure gender mainstreaming at all levels of the government machinery.  At the local level, the quota system for women appointees had been increased from 30 to 50 per cent.  In 2002, the Government, with the support of its development partners, established a Women’s Development Fund to deliver microcredit to women, and the results had been positive.

    She said that the challenge now was to move women from operation at the micro-level to becoming owners of small-, medium- and large-scale enterprises.  The President’s special initiative for accelerated industrial growth responded to that gap by facilitating growth of economic activities where women were the principal actors.  The initiative, which supported production of cassava-starch, salt, oil palm, textiles and garments, and crafts, was strategically designed to support rural food-crop producers and dressmakers to move into modern mainstream industrial/entrepreneurial activities.  The first such cassava-starch factory, worth $6 million, was owned by 10,000 farmers, of which 55 per cent were women.  Emphasis in education had been placed on improving the enrolment and retention of girls at the pre-school, primary and secondary levels.  A Girls Education Unit had been established with the Minister of State at its helm, in order to provide institutional support for needy, but brilliant girls.

    OBANG RITA AKPAN, Minister of Women Affairs of Nigeria, said that in her country the implementation of the Platform for Action in practically all critical areas of concern had been a remarkable experience.  While incremental progress had been recorded in some areas, there were monumental challenges in others.  Those were attributable to cultural, ethnic and religious diversity of the country.  Much progress had been achieved in the formulation of national policies and action plans to promote gender equality.  Nigeria had legislated against traditional practices that had a negative impact on women.  When it came to the rights of women, African leaders had put in place an effective mechanism -- the African Protocol on the Rights of Women.  Nigeria had signed and ratified that instrument, as well as other international treaties, including the Women’s Convention.

    Some gaps in the implementation of the Beijing programme remained, however, she continued, which included the limitation of financial and human resources, the low level of women’s participation in decision-making and violence against women.  Non-governmental organizations played an important role in the country’s efforts.  One of the challenges before the Government was to continue to expand and strengthen the cooperative links with the civil society to advance the cause of women.  Efforts were under way to address the problem of trafficking in women.

    The time had come for women to move beyond being on the agenda to setting the agenda themselves, she stressed.  Nigeria had made tremendous inroads in women’s education, in spite of cultural and ethnic difficulties.  Economic empowerment of women had now been put on the front burner with the introduction of poverty-alleviation measures.  Women’s empowerment and the eradication of feminized poverty called for generous allocation of resources and their effective utilization.  The reform agenda of the present democratic Government was meant to generate funds for the enhancement of the lives of the downtrodden in the country’s society, especially women.

    DATO’ SERI SHAHRIZAT ABDUL JALIL, Minister of Women, Family and Community Development of Malaysia, said that, due to the far-sighted vision of its leaders, coupled with strong political will and societal support, Malaysia was well on its way to making good on its obligations through numerous policy measures and programmes.  In the legal domain, Malaysian legislation was constantly reviewed and amended, where necessary, to ensure that women were not discriminated against.  A major achievement had been the inclusion of the principle of non-discrimination into the federal Constitution.  All legislation was being reviewed to ensure adherence to the constitutional amendment that prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender.  In other legal advances, amendments to the income tax act allowed wives to elect for separate assessment of their income for tax purposes.  Amendments to the penal code increased the penalties for rape and other sexual offences, and amendments to the pension act now allowed widows to continue to receive pensions even after they had remarried.

    She also highlighted amendments to the Guardian of Infants Act, which gave full parental rights to mothers, and the repeal of immigration regulations formerly discriminatory to Malaysian women who married foreigners.  The Domestic Violence Act provided protection for battered wives and other victims of domestic violence.  To create greater awareness of gender issues within society, the Government, in collaboration with non-governmental organizations, had embarked on a comprehensive gender-sensitization programme, which included a legal literacy programme to educate women of their rights, programmes to sensitize policy makers, and establishment of a gender-disaggregated information system.  The programme also sought to mainstream the gender perspective into national development plans, including into the budgeting processes through a pilot project on gender-budget analysis.  To bridge the gender-based digital divide, efforts were being made to improve women’s access to information and communications technology, both in urban and rural areas.  With greater commitment by the Government and other relevant stakeholders, the target of 30 per cent participation of women in decision-making processes could be achieved.

    LUUL GHEBREAB TEDIA, President of the National Women’s Union of Eritrea, shared her country’s experiences in advancing the cause of women.  The Government had ratified the Women’s Convention.  The fundamental guarantee of women’s equal rights was enshrined in the Eritrean Constitution.  The country’s legal reform included the Labour Law, which provided unprecedented legal protection for women workers.  The country’s priorities included promotion of women’s participation in public life and the efforts to address disparities in education.  The female illiteracy rate among adults had dropped from 65 per cent in 1990 to 55 per cent in 2000.  It had not been easy to find the right institutional set-up for an effective and relevant national gender mechanism.  The country had opted for an arrangement where the National Union was officially mandated to play that role, supported by a number of government institutions.

    Pondering on the theme of the meeting -- peace, development and equality -- she said that none was as urgent and profound as peace.  Upon signing the peace agreement in 2000, Eritrea and Ethiopia had agreed to resort to international arbitration to resolve their border dispute.  The decision had been announced in The Hague on 13 April 2002.  Eritrea had accepted the decision in its entirety, but the Ethiopian Government, after initially declaring its enthusiastic acceptance, had later started making pronouncements of reservation and finally declared its rejection of the decision.  The lack of peace had a devastating effect on the civilian population, especially children, women and the elderly.  Ethiopia had to unequivocally agree to the demarcation of the border in accordance to the ruling of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission without delay to end further human suffering.

    JACQUI QUINN-LEANDRO, Minister of Labour, Public Administration and Empowerment of Antigua and Barbuda, said her Government had been in power less than a year after succeeding a government that dominated the political landscape for 28 years.  Her Government, metaphorically referred to as the “sunshine government”, today reaffirmed its commitment to the “gender agenda” and looked forward to finding ways to accelerate implementation of the goals and objectives of the Beijing Platform.  Her country’s participation at the global level was critical to guiding the work on gender equality and for strengthening the links between the global policy-making level and the national level, where implementation of the Beijing Platform had to take place.  As part of the process of promoting women’s advancement in Antigua and Barbuda, a national mechanism was established in 1980, namely, the Directorate of Gender Affairs.  Its mandate was to work towards women’s advancement, and the Beijing Platform formed and informed its work.

    She said that the Directorate had played a pivotal role in fostering partnerships between government departments, stakeholders, civil society groups and non-governmental organizations.  It had taken a strong leadership role in facilitating partnerships in the development of policies and programmes to address the issues of women in politics and decision-making.  It also sought to eliminate violence against women and poverty.  In concert with civil society, five critical areas for action had been prioritized:  poverty alleviation; education; health; women in decision-making; and violence against women.  The latter had been recognized as a scourge, for which awareness programmes and support services had been put in place at the national level.  The remarkable progress made in the area of grass-roots participation of women in politics was directly linked to the Beijing process.  In her country, the “long drought” that kept women out of decision-making came to an end last March, when, for the first time in the country’s history, three women ran in the general elections and one was elected to the House of Representatives.

    ZAHIRA KAMAL, Minister of Women’s Affairs of the Palestinian Authority, said that the situation of women in Palestine since Beijing had been seriously affected by the situation in the region.  Palestinian women played an integral part in their people’s struggle for freedom and the end of occupation.  Women and children in Palestine faced many difficulties, in a large part due to the lack of stability and Israel’s policies of repression and occupation.  Over 3,000 Palestinians had been killed since 2000, and 6 per cent of those martyrs were women killed in their homes or on the way to work.  Medical help was often not allowed to reach the wounded.  Israeli authorities had detained over 6,000 people, including many children under 17 and a number of women.

    Many people were now homeless as a result of home demolitions, she continued, and travel restrictions and closures prevented the movement of people and goods, in many cases, leading to the loss of jobs.  Students could not reach schools, and workers could not reach their places of work.  The separation wall had also added difficulties for the Palestinian people.  Women were seriously affected by living in the situation of conflict.  Emphasizing the role of women in conflict resolution, she stressed their contribution in peace negotiations.  True security could not be achieved by military force.  To live in peace and security, she called on the international community to provide protection for her people and monitor implementation of relevant international conventions.

    JOAN THEODORA-BREWSTER, Minister of Health and Social Development of the Netherlands, said she was convinced that gender equality and women’s empowerment were indispensable to achieving sustainable development.  It had been extremely encouraging that the Secretary-General yesterday had called on all parties to take targeted actions on seven interdependent strategic priorities, including reproductive health and rights.  He had said that that was the minimum necessary to empower women and alter the historical legacy of female disadvantage that remained in most societies of the world.  The Minister appealed to all to show the same strong political commitment at the highest level in September.

    For the Netherlands, she said, diversity and equal rights must coexist.  Men and women must have the opportunity to build an independent existence on the basis of equal rights, opportunities and freedoms, in which differences in ethnicity, religion or conviction, marital status, physical ability, age and sexual preference played no role.  The freedom of choice of men and women was an essential condition at every phase of life.  Every individual must make claim to an economically independent existence and to a fair distribution of work, care and income, free from poverty and violence.  Since Beijing, global policy had shifted towards a two-track approach directed at agenda setting and monitoring, while aiming to mainstream gender.  Also since Beijing, the Netherlands took gender mainstreaming on board as a core business.  Women’s empowerment and gender equality could not be achieved without civil society’s involvement, which was why the Government stimulated civil society’s role through the provision of project grants.  Another special concern was promotion of balanced work and family life.

    HOURIA ABDELKHALEK, Deputy Secretary General, responsible for Women’s Issues, Constitutional Democratic Assembly, Tunisia, said the world was living through a transformation, which cast shadows on women.  It was high time to implement the commitments agreed at Beijing, without which the Millennium Development Goals would never be achieved.  Tunisia had spared no effort to meet its commitments towards women, through a communal project that considered women’s rights human rights.  It was also underpinned by the notion that development would never be achieved without women’s participation.  The President had first promoted legal and institutional reforms in 1992, which promoted women to the level of an equal partner in development, and which underscored solidarity as a basic principle for achieving development.

    She said that the approach had opened prospects for women to enhance their individual development.  A broad plan for women had been integrated into the national plan, as an indication of the advancements achieved by Tunisia in the area of women’s empowerment and participation in decision-making.  Tunisia had moved from legislation to implementation, owing to its President’s political will.  Women now represented 22.7 per cent in Parliament and 15 per cent in the cabinet.  They also occupied high positions in administration and the judiciary, as well as other political posts.  Women were seen, not only as partners in the establishment of a cohesive family and balanced society, but as elements of change, which enhanced democracy and promoted tolerance and solidarity.

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