Press Releases

    WOM/1494
    3 March 2005

    Gender Discrimination’s Disastrous Effects Starkly Illustrated by HIV/AIDS Pandemic, Women’s Commission Told

    Two Panel Discussions Explore Connections among Beijing Platform, Women’s Convention, Global Anti-Poverty Goals

    NEW YORK, 2 March (UN Headquarters) -- Nothing illustrated the disastrous effects of gender discrimination more starkly than the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and in every part of the world the number of women with the virus had increased, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, told the Commission on the Status of Women today.

    Speaking to the first of two panel discussions, she said that women were increasingly vulnerable to the virus because States had failed to eradicate widespread gender inequality, resulting in the denial of women’s human rights.  Violations of women’s health rights had severe consequences in relation to HIV/AIDS, and many States’ failure to protect women’s rights to own or inherit property had exacerbated the effects of HIV/AIDS.  Forced and early marriages were common, and violence against women was alarmingly prevalent.

    Women’s sexual and reproductive rights were at the heart of ensuring protection against the pandemic, she said.  Like all human rights, women’s human rights were universal, inalienable, indivisible and inter-dependent.  While they had been spelled out in binding treaties and national constitutional provisions, their implementation had been not been sufficiently enforced.  The women’s movement had inspired a normative framework for the articulation of women’s rights.  It must now lead in the struggle for implementation and enforcement.

    The Commission is meeting through 11 March to conduct a review and appraisal of implementation of the 1995 Beijing agenda, which set out 12 critical areas for action to improve women’s status worldwide.  Today’s panel discussions followed a two-day high-level debate.  The first panel, in the morning, was on synergies between national-level implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

    Participating in the morning panel discussion, along with Ms. Arbour, were:  Rosario Manalo, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; Dubravka Simonovic, Head, Human Rights Section, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Croatia; Melanie S. Griffin, Minister for Social Services and Community Development of the Bahamas; Valerie Knowles, a representative of a non-governmental organization in the Bahamas; and Sanja Sarnavka, from a Croatia-based non-governmental organization.

    In the afternoon, discussion focused on the links -- and progress, gaps and challenges -- between the implementation of the Beijing agenda and globally agreed development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration.  The panellists were:  Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini Zuma, Minister for Foreign Affairs of South Africa; Zephirin Diabre, Associate Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Naila Kabeer, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex; Caren Grown, International Center for Research on Women, Washington, D.C.; and Susana Chiarotti Boero, Institute for Gender, Rights and Development, Argentina.

    The South Africa’s Foreign Minister, Ms. Zuma, said that, despite advances in medical sciences and the availability of resources in the world, women in many countries continued to be casualties of diseases, such as HIV/AIDS.  Women’s poverty compounded that situation.  Ten years after Beijing, women in many parts of the world still lived in conditions of abject poverty, and they comprised 70 per cent of the 1.3 billion people who lived on less than $1 a day.  Central to poverty reduction among women was increased educational opportunities, yet many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, were still far from meeting the goal of gender parity in enrolment between boys and girls.

    A panellist from the Institute for Gender, Rights and Development of Argentina said that 10 years after Beijing, the women of her region were facing a most disquieting landscape.  The measures envisaged had become mere dreams and not the starting point that everyone had thought, at first.  As for the Millennium Development Goals, they had time-bound targets, obliging governments to ensure their full implementation.  But they were obliged to report on gender issues only in the context of Millennium Development Goal number 3.  She viewed with concern the “gender blindness” of most targets, especially since governments were attaching more importance to the Millennium Development Goals than to Beijing.  And that ran the risk of casting the Beijing Platform into oblivion.

    Many delegations participated in the two panel discussions, as well as representatives of several non-governmental organizations, among them:  Japanese Association of International Women’s Rights; Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies; non-governmental organizations supporting the special rapporteur on laws discriminating against women; United Cities and Local Governments; Global Unions Caucus; International Council of Women; All India Women’s Conference; Women’s Environment and Development Organization; Amnesty International; and African Women’s Caucus.

    The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m., Friday, 4 March, to commemorate International Women’s Day.  It will hold another panel discussion in the afternoon, followed by adoption of a draft declaration.

    Background

    As the Commission on the Status of Women met in two meetings today, it was expected to convene panel discussions entitled, “Synergies between national-level implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women”, and “Addressing the linkages between the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome document of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly and the internationally agreed development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration:  Progress, gaps and challenges”.

    Presentations by Panellists

    Participating in the morning panel discussion were Louis Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights; Rosario Manalo, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; Dubravka Simonovic, Head, Human Rights Section, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Croatia; Melanie S. Griffin, Minister for Social Services and Community Development of the Bahamas; Valerie Knowles, a representative of a non-governmental organization (NGO) in the Bahamas; and Sanja Sarnavka, an NGO representative from Croatia.

    High Commissioner for Human Rights LOUISE ARBOUR said that, while the progress in recognizing women’s human rights since the First World Conference on Women 30 years ago was a cause for celebration, women continued to suffer pervasive human rights violations.  The international community had to send a strong message of renewed commitment to the promotion and protection of women’s human rights.  The global women’s human rights movement had accomplished extraordinary feats at the international level, as well as at the national level.  The movement had reinforced basic human rights principles, such as respect for diversity and the indivisibility of rights.  It had also expanded the traditional understanding of human rights to better protect women’s rights, as well as the rights of other marginalized groups.

    The power of the women’s human rights movement emanated from the diversity of its participants and concerns, she said.   Women were not a homogenous group and their priorities differed widely according to categories such as region, class and ethnicity. The women’s movement had sought to embrace the diverse perspectives and adopt a holistic approach to social justice.  Possibly the greatest impact of the women’s human rights movement on the human rights agenda had been the expansion of the focus from violations in the public sphere to violations in the private sphere, including the family.  Inspired by the work of the Committee monitoring the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention, the movement emphasized that “the personnel was political”, leading the way in taking the human rights agenda into the private sphere and supporting the establishment of the “due diligence” standard to hold States accountable for acts committed by private individuals. 

    Ten years after Beijing, the Platform for Action remained the most complete paradigm for State action needed to protect women’s human rights, she said.  Women’s activism in standard-setting dated back to the drafting of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The value of the human rights framework rested in its legally binding standards.  Every State in the world had voluntarily accepted human rights obligations through being a party to one of more of the seven core human rights conventions.  The Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention, accepted by 179 countries, was the principal treaty protecting women’s human rights.

    Despite the establishment of international standards for protection, women’s rights were still not adequately guaranteed, she said.  Making human rights a reality for individual women required political will, especially at the national level, to implement the Convention and the Beijing Platform.  States had to guarantee women’s access to justice, ensuring that women were aware of all their human rights.  States were also obliged to exercise due diligence investigating, prosecuting and punishment violations of women’s rights by private actors.  At the international level, it was necessary to increase efforts to support women’s use of international human rights machinery.

    She said nothing illustrated more starkly the disastrous effects of gender discrimination than the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  Recent statistics revealed that, in every part of the world, the number of women with HIV/AIDS had increased.  Women were increasingly vulnerable to the virus because States had failed to eradicate widespread gender inequality, resulting in the denial of women’s human rights.   The right to education was particularly important for girls and women to achieve equality and realize other human rights.  Many States did not adequately protect women’s rights to own or inherit property, also exacerbating the effects of HIV/AIDS.  Forced and early marriage constituted serious and common human rights abuses.  Violations of women’s right to health had severe consequences in many respects, but particularly in relation to HIV/AIDS.  Violence against women was a fundamental human rights violation, which remained alarmingly prevalent in every State.  Women’s sexual and reproductive rights were at the heart of ensuring protection against the pandemic.

    HIV/AIDS was only one example of the gap between the international legal and policy framework and the reality of women’s lives, she said.  It was also necessary to address the obstacles women faced in using national and international legal frameworks to realize their rights.  Efforts to dilute women’s rights must be vehemently opposed.  The current session should result in a resounding reaffirmation of a political commitment to the Beijing Platform and should provide a vision of equality for women in the twenty-first century.  The majority of human rights violations against women were rooted in discrimination based on sex.  Like all human rights, women’s human rights were universal, inalienable, indivisible and inter-dependent.  While they had been spelled out in binding treaties and national constitutional provisions, their implementation had been not been sufficiently enforced.  The women’s movement had inspired an appropriate normative framework for the articulation of women’s rights.  It must now lead in the struggle for implementation and enforcement.

    ROSARIO MANALO, Chairperson, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that the Women’s Convention contained human rights standards for women and girls in the civil, political, economic, social, cultural, and many other areas.  Its comprehensive scope underlined the interdependence and indivisibility of human rights.  The Convention aimed at the universal enjoyment of those rights by all women, in all parts of the world, in public and private life.  It created legally binding obligations to pursue “by all the appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women”.  It also constituted a powerful tool for advocacy and raising awareness.  On the occasion of the Convention’s twenty-fifth anniversary, the Committee had found significant progress in the recognition and implementation of the human rights of women.  Such progress had included the strengthening of the constitutional and legal framework for equality, establishment of institutional mechanisms that acted as catalysts for the promotion and protection of women’s human rights, and the inclusion of gender equality in the courts.

    At the same time, she said, in no country of the world had women’s full “de jure” and “de facto” equality been achieved.  Discriminatory laws were still on the statute books of many States parties.  The coexistence of multiple legal systems where customary and religious laws governed personal status, and private life prevailed over positive law and even over constitutional provisions of equality, was a source of “great concern”.  Nationality laws also continued to discriminate against women by curtailing their capacity to confer their nationality to their children.  Women continued to experience disadvantage in terms of their rights to own and inherit property, to have access to economic resources and social benefits and services.  Women were “far from enjoying equal and full participation in political and public spheres”, especially at decision-making levels.  Criminal law, especially in relation to sexual violence and crimes, remained discriminatory, inadequate or poorly enforced.  Discriminatory social norms, cultural practices, traditions, customs, and stereotypical roles of women remained major impediments to women around the world.

    In addition, insufficient political will to bring about gender equality, the extensive under-representation of women in decision-making posts, and a lack of resources to support mechanisms entrusted with gender equality work were further impediments.  Women themselves were often unaware of their rights under the law, and they might not be empowered to claim them effectively.  Women’s lack of empowerment to assert their rights was often compounded by insufficient or ineffective means of redress for violations at the national level.  Although violence against women was now widely recognized as a public concern, it remained pervasive in all societies and was aggravated in situations of conflict and other forms of social upheaval.  The Women’s Convention and the Beijing Platform were legally binding obligations and policy commitments towards the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and the realization of gender equality.  The Committee would continue to work with States parties to enhance implementation of the Convention, and highlight opportunities for using the Platform to achieve the common goal.

    MELANIE S. GRIFFIN, Minister for Social Services and Community Development of the Bahamas, said it was clear that synergies existed between implementation of the Beijing Platform and the Convention, and those synergies provided opportunities to enhance and strengthen implementation.  To capitalize on them, it was essential to collaborate with all sectors of the country, including other relevant government agencies or civil society organizations.  In her country, attention had been focused on legal reforms, women’s health, violence against women and constitutional reform.  While the Bahamas had undergone reviews of several laws and had enacted new legislation, there was perhaps one particular act that was a prime example of the use of both the Women’s Convention and the Beijing Platform at the national level, namely, the Bahamas Employment Act 2001.  Labour policies alone were not sufficient.  Hence, legislation was enacted to provide maternity leave benefits from eight to 12 weeks, establish equal pay for equal work, grant parental leave, establish minimum wages and address unfair dismissal.

    She said that legal reform had also been extended to inheritance.  At the time of accession to the Women’s Convention, the Bahamas registered some reservations, particularly to article 16, which required States parties to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations, and the same rights would be ensured for both men and women in terms of the ownership, acquisition, management, administration, enjoyment and disposition of property.  The old inheritance law had not permitted women to inherit from a person who died intestate, until or unless the entire male line of the family had been exhausted.  To address that inequity, the country received international funding from the Organization of American States (OAS) Inter-American Commission of Women, which assisted it in hosting town meetings to review the law.  The result of the collaboration was the new inheritance legislation, enacted in 2002, which now permitted men and women to inherit equally.  The Bahamas could now consider removing its reservation to article 16.

    Following Ms. Griffin’s detailed review of women’s health, violence against women, training, protection and support services, public education, constitutional reform, and challenges and constraints, she reiterated the importance of education and raising awareness.  Laws could be changed, but persons must be educated on the scope of the changes and what impact they would have on them.  So much could be accomplished through collaboration, and governments must maintain an open channel of communication with community actors to ensure that the limited resources were maximized.  That talent of community members, coupled with a government’s resources, could tremendously advance an awareness campaign.  The Bahamas had experienced that with campaigns on violence against women.  Her Government had learned from the preparation for reporting to the Committee that monitors the Women’s Convention that a national blueprint was imperative to ensure a more cohesive and comprehensive approach to implementing the Beijing Platform and the Women’s Convention.  Countries could not make true advances for women without taking into account the existing synergies between the two texts and all other relevant international instruments, she said.

    VALERIE KNOWLES, of the Bahamas Family Planning Association, said significant efforts had been expended by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in supporting women in the Bahamas, including the establishment of income-generating businesses and the provision of services to balance the demands of employment and parenthood.  Non-governmental organizations in the Bahamas had also supported women by helping them to establish home-based employment.  Women also had access to numerous workshops on money management and financial planning.  Health-based NGOs had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the Government’s HIV/AIDS initiatives.  For example, NGOs had sponsored health walks and training seminars.

    When reviewing the situation of women in the Bahamas, it could be said that a comfortable environment had been provided for women, she said.  She was concerned, however, that the social discourse on the issue of male dislocation had been revived, without women having acquired a thorough understanding of international instruments for the advancement of women, such as the Convention.  Women risked losing everything they had gained.  Attention needed to be focused on the socio-economic practices affecting men, without the assumption that women’s gains adversely affected men.  There had also been a failure to generate passion among young women.  While women had entered the workplace, men had not assumed greater responsibility in the home.  Another issue was the fact that women were becoming grandmothers at earlier ages.  Women were more often the single parent of not one family, but of many.

    Synergy suggested multiple forces working together to achieve a goal that neither force could fully attain on its own, she said.  The realization of the goals of the Beijing Platform for Action ensured that women, freed from discrimination, were strategically positioned and equipped to exploit that freedom.  Women freed from discrimination were fully free only when the structural environs in which they functioned supported, rather than undermined, their power and the quality of life to which they were entitled.

    DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, Head of the Human Rights Section, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Croatia, said that acceptance of the two instruments -- the 26-year-old Women’s Convention and the 10 year-old Beijing Platform for Action -- had been accepted by a large majority of States, making clear that there was a global awareness and an almost universal political will that the principles of non-discrimination of women and gender equality should be upheld at the national level through implementation of those tools.  Both instruments had had significant, although different, impacts with regard to the development of laws, standards and policies for the promotion and protection of women’s rights in Croatia.

    She provided a detailed review of measures taken by her Government to implement those instruments.  In so doing, she outlined the country’s preparations for the Beijing Conference of 1995, as well as the submission to and subsequent review of Croatia’s reports to the Committee.  Significant gains had been made in her country.  The Parliamentary Gender Equality Committee was established in 2001, and the Gender Equality Act was adopted in 2003.  The law on gender equality established an ombudsman for gender equality and the Government Office for Gender Equality.  Other laws and policies were adopted on protection from family violence, on same-sex unions, as well as a National Strategy against Human Trafficking.  Very recently, the new strategy to combat violence against women was prepared in close collaboration with NGOs.  In January, the Committee commended Croatia for the adoption of the package of anti-discrimination laws, but expressed its concern that insufficient measures had been put in place to ensure their speedy, consistent and effective implementation.

    The significant influence of the Beijing agenda and the Women’s Convention at the national level was evident, she said.  Progress in Croatia had included the establishment of the national machinery and adoption of various laws for the elimination of discrimination against women and the protection of gender equality.  In Croatia, the two instruments were mutually reinforcing, and interaction between the Government and civil society on their implementation had been a fruitful learning experience.  More integrated implementation of the Women’s Convention and the Beijing Platform, and enhanced cooperation between the Government and NGOs, was needed for the successful promotion of gender equality.  “It does not matter if we see the glass half empty, or half full right now, as long as we successfully cooperate in filling it up”, she said.

    SANJA SARNAVKA, of the Croatian non-governmental organization “Be Active, Be Emancipated”, said that women’s NGOs in Croatia had only learned about the Convention after the Beijing Conference.  When serious work had begun to build awareness on the need to implement women’s human rights, non-governmental organizations had used both the Beijing Platform and the text of the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention.  Summarizing her organization’s activities, she said it had worked in the public sphere by trying to persuade decision makers to enforce change.

    At first, being a feminist in Croatia had been very difficult, she continued.  It had taken a long time for Croatian feminists to receive support from both women and men.  Following years of experience, she had learned that significant positive change was impossible without a multidimensional approach.  When dealing with women’s human rights, it was always necessary to go beyond figures.  Attitudes needed to be changed and stereotypes deconstructed. The most important and most difficult challenge was to change cultural and value systems.  Non-governmental organizations were hopeless without governments.  While NGOs could make certain demands, only joint efforts could bring about change.

    Dialogue

    In the ensuring discussion from the floor, the point was emphasized that women’s rights should not be viewed as divisible, but part of an integrated, legislative process.  Speaking from an Arab-Muslim country (Tunisia), one delegate noted that a law banning polygamy had been on the books, which had been instrumental in opening new opportunities to women in all walks of life.

    The point was also made about the critical nature of partnerships between the governments and the non-governmental organizations, whose partnerships had set in motion practical measures towards improving women’s status.  Civil society organizations were crucial to implementing national programmes devised by the State, and constructive dialogues between them must be encouraged.

    Issues of employment, education and health were once again stressed, as was the importance of providing reproductive health services, including to young women, and educating them in school about their rights.

    Aspects of complementarity between the Women’s Convention and the Beijing Platform were also highlighted, and the two instruments were seen as mutually reinforcing.  Implementing them both at the national levels should take into account those synergies, and the importance of both, simultaneously, should be grasped in the struggle to eliminate gender-based discrimination.  National efforts, however, were distinct from cooperation at the international level, which was deemed essential, especially for developing countries.  In addition, countries that had not done so were urged to ratify and accede to the Women’s Convention.

    Responding to some of the issues raised, Ms. ARBOUR noted the critical need to reinforce the interpretation of the Millennium Development Goals in the context of the Millennium Declaration.  She also stressed the need to pursue objectives for the advancement of women in the broader context of the enforcement of human rights.

    Ms. MANALO said she was heartened by the substantive comments from States parties and NGOs, in particular from the Asia-Pacific group of non-governmental organizations.

    Ms. GRIFFIN also endorsed the call from the Asia Pacific caucus for States parties to ratify and remove reservations to the Women’s Convention.

    Ms. KNOWLES acknowledged the important work being done by NGOs at the community level.  One could not downplay the importance of cultural, traditional and religious influences in efforts to eliminate discrimination against women.

    Ms. SIMONOVIC stressed the importance of fully implementing the Beijing Platform and the Convention.  She agreed with the need for constructive dialogue between non-governmental and governmental organizations.  National plans for implementation of the Beijing Platform and the Committee’s concluding comments should be mutually reinforcing instruments at the national level.

    In a second round of questions and comments from the floor, one speaker noted the need to create synergies between the reports of the regional commissions for the Beijing Platform and the reports on follow-up to the Committee’s concluding comments.  If those guidelines were drawn up together, it would be much easier to create synergy.  Several speakers echoed the call to consolidate reporting obligations and to define the various mechanisms created to follow up to the obligations under international conventions and the Beijing Platform.

    Another representative stressed the critical need for political will in making the Beijing Platform and the Convention a reality.  To achieve political will, women needed to be empowered.  She also stressed the need for solidarity between the women of the North and the South.

    Given the increasing importance of the Women’s Convention, another speaker asked the panel to describe progress in eliminating discriminatory laws.  One speaker, noting that her country had recently submitted a bill proposing the incorporation of the Convention into national legislation, urged other States to do the same.

    A representative of the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies, said non-governmental organizations and experts from several countries of the Middle East, North Africa and South/South-East Asia had come together to advance, promote and defend sexual, bodily and reproductive rights as human rights.  Many governments had fallen short of delivering the outcomes to which they had committed.  Human rights violations such as sexual and gender-based violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation, honour crimes and forced and early marriages continued to affect women in the region.  Religious right ideologies had increasingly misused religion and culture to maintain and extend their power over both public and private domains.  She called on governments to, among other things, adopt and implement “rights-based” programmes and policies to ensure access to comprehensive, affordable and quality sexual and reproductive health services and sexuality education and information for all.  She urged the international community to take a stand against the manipulation of political and economic power perpetuating socio-economic and social injustices.

    Ms. ARBOUR, regarding the synergies that should be developed between the Convention and the other human rights instruments, said she agreed with the need to work more closely together and enhance communication among the treaty bodies through the various chairs, including at their upcoming meeting in June.  Better synergies should also be improved through the various procedures of the Commission with the many relevant special rapporteurs, including the special rapporteur on violence against women, on migration, trafficking, the right to health and food, and so on.  She looked forward to increased cooperation with the Committee’s Chairperson, and hoped those synergies could be better developed in the future.

    Ms. MANALO, responding to a request to highlight some of the legal reforms that had been enacted in various countries, cited the following:  the family laws, especially with respect to the marriage age for women and the freedom to choose her partner and the abolition of arranged marriages; the freedom to pursue a profession and to seek employment without the permission of a husband or “any other male who wishes to control her”; the exercise of the right to vote and run for public office; combating violence against women and defining marital rape clearly in the penal codes; defeating harassment in the workplace; allowing women the right to transmit their nationality to a spouse or child, or to retain hers; and the freedom to acquire and manage property, including the marital property in the case of her husband’s death.

    Still, she stressed, many countries needed additional legal reforms and her list was just the “tip of the iceberg”.  Further reforms should be enacted, using the Women’s Convention as the legal framework to carry out that noble aim.

    Ms. GRIFFIN said she supported the need for better collaboration between the treaty bodies, but sought specific information on financing and technical assistance for implementation, which was important to many States parties.

    In the course of the ensuing discussion, in which NGO representatives also participated, Morocco’s representative, highlighting the many legal reforms in such areas as the family code, labour code, civil code and penal code, announced that her country would be lifting its reservations to the Women’s Convention, since they no longer applied in light of the legal reforms.  Strategies and measures had been put in place, including for women’s political empowerment and to combat violence against women.  Also, a gender strategy would be implemented, but that did not mean that all problems had been resolved.  There were still outstanding challenges, including the struggle against illiteracy, which was still rampant in the countryside, and improving health services and education.

    A speaker suggested that societies must be educated on the negative effects of some traditional social values, which did not favour gender equality, and it was also suggested that the national machineries should be tasked with that matter.  The need for family planning, as well as respect for aboriginal status and for differing sexual orientations, was also raised.

    Responding to comments from the floor, Ms. MANALO praised the work of non-governmental organizations, noting that the Committee worked with NGOs in numerous ways, including report preparation, the implementation of general recommendations and the provision of shadow reports.  She congratulated States parties who had asserted all efforts to meet the Convention’s obligations.  Although the Convention did not have a specific provision on violence against women, it took up the issue whenever it considered reports of States parties.

    Ms. GRIFFIN emphasized the need for governments and NGOs to engage in open dialogue.  Non-governmental organizations might have different views, but that should not stifle dialogue.  Ms. KNOWLES also stressed the crucial role of NGOs.

    Ms. SIMONOVIC said it was important to explore synergies at the national level.  Ms. SARNAVKA expressed satisfaction that progress was faster when the need for greater synergy between the Convention and the Beijing Platform was understood.

    Afternoon Panel

    The panel entitled, “Addressing linkages between the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome document of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly and the internationally agreed development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration:  Progress, gaps and challenges”, had, as panellists, the following:  Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini Zuma, Minister for Foreign Affairs of South Africa; Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the United Nations Millennium Project; Zephirin Diabre, Associate Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Naila Kabeer, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex; Caren Grown, International Center for Research on Women, Washington, D.C.; and Susana Chiarotti Boero, Institute for Gender, Rights and Development, Rosario, Argentina.

    The Foreign Minister of South Africa, NKOSAZANA CLARICE DLAMINI ZUMA, said that through the Beijing Platform and the Millennium Declaration, the world had made a collective global commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment.  In so doing, it had committed itself to the promotion of human rights, sustainable development, peace, security, democracy and good governance.  It had identified the promotion of gender equality as one of the most effective and sustainable ways of combating poverty, hunger and disease.  Gender equality and women’s empowerment were objectives in themselves and the means to achieve overall development progress.  That recognized the pivotal role of women as “engines of development and agents for change”.  Without women’s empowerment and gender equality, societies would not be able to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and their full development potential.

    She recalled that the Beijing Conference had identified the persistent burden of poverty on women as one critical area of concern. A central objective of the implementation of the Goals was also to address poverty and underdevelopment.  Yet, 10 years later, women in many parts of the world still lived in conditions of abject poverty; they comprised 70 per cent of the 1.3 billion people who lived on less than $1 a day.  Women still spent more time as men in unpaid work.  Furthermore, most of the female labour force was in the informal sector.  Indicators further showed that poverty occurred in every society, including in the most industrialized countries, where more than 10 per cent of the population lived below the poverty line of less than 50 per cent of median income.  The Beijing Platform also recognized women’s important role in decision-making, but so far not more than 15 countries had reached the critical mass of 30 per cent representation of women in parliaments.  South Africa had met the critical mass of women in decision-making with more than 30 per cent representation in Parliament and 40 per cent in the cabinet.

    Central to the reduction of poverty among women was increased educational opportunities, she said.  Many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, were still far from meeting the goal of ensuring gender parity in enrolment and completion rates between boys and girls.  Gender parity ratios remained below 0.9 per cent in those countries and, thus, more efforts should be made in that area.  Women’s education decreased child mortality and improved family health.  It also improved women’s chances for employment and, therefore, the welfare of families in general.  Women became more aware of their rights and could contribute to increasing their level of political participation.  The challenges lay in providing the necessary infrastructure, such as classrooms and qualified teachers.  National budgets also needed to be structured to enable women’s access to education, and cirriculums should be reformed in a way that was gender sensitive.

    She said that, despite advances in medical sciences and the availability of resources in the world, women in many countries continued to be casualties of diseases, such as HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and other related diseases.  Those were compounded by poverty.  The provision of basic services, such as water, sanitation, electrification, health, education and roads, was important to reducing poverty among women.  Her country was embarking on a process of implementing an expanded public works programme, which should bring tangible benefits to women.  Also vital was to remove wage disparities and make workplaces generally conducive for women’s participation.  Policies and legislation should be put in place to ensure that women were also considered for employment opportunities, even in traditionally male-dominated sectors.  National budgets should be transformed to reflect women’s priorities.  In many countries, there was still no targeted spending aimed at women.

    Persistent conflict was another major impediment to women’s advancement, she said.  Their elimination and the attainment of peace was a prerequisite for the implementation of the Beijing Platform and the Millennium Development Goals.  Wars deepened poverty among women.  They also led to loss of employment and education opportunities, apart from the trauma.  Wars compromised women’s health and increased their vulnerability to sexual violence.  For the creation of a non-sexist society, one challenge was the socialization of boys and girls.  Certain cultural and religious practices should also be re-examined to ensure that they do not perpetuate a “silent oppression” of women.  As developing countries took actions to address those challenges, there was also a need to enhance the global partnership.  For implementation of internationally agreed commitments, particularly in Africa, the international community should also honour its commitments to official development assistance (ODA), as well as commit to debt relief and open market access, especially to women entrepreneurs.

    ZEPHIRIN DIABRE, Associate Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said the Millennium Declaration was an important milestone which had moved the Beijing Platform and other United Nations conferences from a set of commitments to clear set of goals and targets, namely, the Millennium Development Goals.  Developing countries were increasingly linking poverty strategies and the implementation of their national development plans to the Millennium Development Goals, including their plans on women.  Gender equality was critical for the achievement of all the other goals.  For example, women’s access to reproductive health services was critical for poverty reduction.  Small families and wider birth intervals allowed families to invest more in education and health.  Non-discrimination alone would not overcome bias, however.

    To ensure that girls were educated, critical intervention was needed, he added.  They included increased energy services to free girls from household tasks and better protection from unwanted violence.  It was neither the number of indicators nor the accuracy of data that would make a difference in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.  What mattered most was using evidence to make the case for specific action, in keeping with the broad goal of achieving gender equality. 

    He said much more needed to be done on three fronts, namely, the disaggregation of data by sex, analysis of the gender dimension under each goal, and the inclusion of women’s voice in the entire process.  To meet the challenges ahead, several critical elements needed to be addressed, including the need to ensure that there were adequate resources to track results and monitor policies.  Only then would commitment become investment.  The political will leading to the Millennium Declaration and the Beijing Platform had to be followed by political action to accelerate implementation.

    NAILA KABEER, of the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, reported on the deliberations of civil society experts at a meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan, saying they had observed as a group that the Beijing Platform had provided a holistic vision.  It had also noted the very active engagement of civil society in the lead-up to Beijing, during the Conference and in the follow-up to it.  The Platform, therefore, was a broad consensus text with a very high commitment from both governments and civil society.  The absence of specific time-bound indicators, however, had made monitoring difficult.  The group had been encouraged by the reaffirmation of the international community through its endorsement of the Millennium Declaration, but it was concerned about the restrictive interpretation of Goal 3, on women’s empowerment, and the inclusion of the gender perspective into the other Goals. 

    She said that group was also concerned at the low-level presence of civil society in the formulation of the Goals, which was in marked contrast to that which had characterized the international conferences in the 1990s, including Beijing.  Those who had the most at stake in achieving the Goals had yet to feel a very active engagement in them.  Civil society organizations should become far more actively involved in the Millennium Development Goals process, because it had commanded a high level of commitment and had appealed to a much broader range of actors.  That process, therefore, offered a strategic opportunity to integrate Beijing into a wider agenda and to build on the synergies of the goals of the two policy statements.  The economic paradigm embodied in the Millennium Development Goals could be aligned more closely with the vision of the Millennium Declaration.  Mobilization of civil society actors would promote gender equality more centrally into the Goals and help realize their more effective implementation.  Plus, the Millennium Development Goals had time-bound indicators, so monitoring was possible.

    The Group made recommendations in four key areas:  human rights; macroeconomics and poverty reduction strategies; making resources work for women; and civil society’s engagement.

    CAREN GROWN, Director, Poverty Reduction and Economic Governance Programme, International Center for Research on Women in Washington, D.C., said that, while tremendous progress had been achieved in reaching gender equality, there was still a long way to go. With many of the priorities in the Beijing Platform unfulfilled, the year 2005 represented an opportunity like no other.  It was important to find ways to accelerate the rate, pace and the scale of progress.  Business as usual would not help achieve the Beijing Platform or the Millennium Development Goals.  The international development community had set the year as the deadline for reaching a first milestone:  eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education.  Progress had been slow, however, and the first target would be missed in 19 countries for primary education and 24 countries for secondary.  It was not too late, however, to pick up the pace by building women’s capabilities, improving their access to economic and political opportunity, and guaranteeing women’s safety, so that the goal of gender equality could be met by 2015.

    The United Nations Millennium Project’s Task Force on Education and Gender Equality had outlined seven strategic priorities, including strengthening opportunities for secondary education for girls, while meeting commitments to universal primary education; investing in infrastructure to reduce women and girls’ time burdens; and guaranteeing women’s property and inheritance rights.  The world community had the knowledge, technology and resources to reduce gender inequalities and empower women.  To date, global commitments had focused on primary education.  That focus must continue, and international commitments to universal primary education must be met, because primary education resulted in positive health outcomes for girls and women.  The Task Force had identified four strategies to boost education, including building schools closer to homes, making schools more girl-friendly and improving the quality of education by training more women as teachers.

    Another priority was to guarantee women’s reproductive and sexual health rights, she said.  Women must be guaranteed universal access to sexual and reproductive health services through the primary health-care system, including full access to sexual and reproductive health services through the primary health-care system.  Easing time burdens was also a priority.  In many cases, women’s and girl’s abilities to go to school and participate in paid employment were limited by their responsibilities at home, including walking for water and collecting firewood.  The time burden could be dramatically reduced by efficient energy services.  Increasing women’s participation in the implementation of infrastructure projects was also critical.  Another priority was to guarantee women and girls property and inheritance rights.  Women were far less likely to own or control assets.  While there had been growing awareness of the issue, there was no easy fix.

    Combating violence against women was also a priority, she said.  While no single intervention would eliminate violence, interventions such as in the health and education sector could significantly reduce violence.  Violence must be viewed as a violation of women’s rights.  To accelerate progress towards the strategic priorities, a new set of targets was needed.  The next 10 years provided an opportunity to empower women, as a part of achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  With passion, action and resources, women’s organizations could transform societies.

    SUSANA CHIAROTTI BOERO, of the Institute for Gender, Rights and Development, Argentina, said there had been agreement, within the feminist movement, that the Beijing Platform for Action had not expressed the maximum aspirations.  Five years later, in 2000, the world met again and realized the tremendous obstacles to implementing the Platform.  Under the measures required in the 2000 document was the recommendation to mainstream gender in the Millennium Declaration and Summit.  Ten years after Beijing, and five years since its first review, the women of her region were facing a most disquieting landscape.  The measures envisaged had become mere dreams and not the starting point that everyone had thought, at first.  Poverty and human rights violations were widespread on the planet.  The eight Millennium Development Goals and their targets had represented the concerns of all social movements.  Moreover, the targets had deadlines, obliging governments to ensure their full implementation.

    She said, however, that one need that had not been addressed was that of mainstreaming gender in all documents and indicators surrounding the Millennium Development Goals.  That meant that most governments were obliged to report on gender issues only in the context of Millennium Development Goal number 3, whereas gender parity was essential to all of the Goals.  She viewed that approach with concern and noted that most targets were “blind” to gender differences.  Governments and government agencies were attaching more importance to the Millennium Development Goals than to Beijing, which ran the risk of casting the Platform into oblivion.  The countries’ Millennium Development Goals follow-up reports in parts of her region had reflected that “gender blindness” in seven of the Goals.  The Goals did not fit within the human rights framework, which should be a theoretic framework and an indivisible goal within the Millennium Development Goals.  Moreover, the Goals had nothing to say about racism, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination, which affected the way in which people related to each other, their access to resources and their exercise of their rights.  On poverty, the Goals did not consider the possibility of looking into its causes.

    Although all of the Millennium Development Goals were part of the social agenda, they actually lacked a social justice approach, she said.  That was not a minor issue, especially in the Caribbean.  Failing to close the gap between the richest and poorest nations, and between men and women, would not yield development.  If obstacles like land ownership, for example, were not removed, the struggle to overcome poverty would worsen.  And there was no doubt that women had regressed when it came to poverty.

    Dialogue

    In the discussion that followed, several speakers stressed the importance of the full implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action for attaining the Millennium Development Goals.  Several speakers addressed the issue of women’s reproductive health rights.  One representative said she was pleased to see a series of quick wins, including the call for expanded health and reproductive health services.  Given the comments made today, how would sexual and reproductive rights be addressed in the General Assembly’s high-level session in September? she asked.

    Another speaker noted that the Millennium Development Goals would only be achieved by changing global economic policies.  Most poor people were women, another speaker said.  Living in poverty, women were deprived of goods, rights and control over their lives.  She agreed that gender equity was essential for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  The only way to eradicate poverty was to empower the poor, another speaker said.

    A representative of the non-governmental organization United Cities and Local Governments said local governments were in a unique position to contribute to the global struggle for gender equality.  The systematic integration of women augmented the democratic basis, efficiency and quality of local government activities.  The link between women’s participation in governance, gender advancement and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals had been underestimated.  Indeed, women’s participation in local political bodies should be an indicator of progress in achieving the goals.  Local governments were not waiting for change, but leading it.

    Responding to the first round of questions, Mr. DIABRE said a consensus had emerged that without “engendering” the Millennium Development Goals there would be no hope of achieving them.  While there had been some controversy regarding the process for the selection of the goals, much had happened since 2000.  The real question was the issue of the strategy that stakeholders should use to reach the goals.

    Ms. ZUMA said the Millennium Development Goals were a minimalist approach.  Beijing went further.  Reproductive rights were enshrined in South Africa’s Constitution.  Reproductive health was a right.  It gave women choices, reduced maternal mortality, improved health, and increased the ability of women to engage in other productive activities.  It was a very important centrepiece of her country’s approach to gender equality.

    Ms. KABEER said she had been struck by the convergence of views on the importance of reproductive health rights.  She stressed the importance of a human capabilities approach to the Millennium Development Goals.

    Ms. GROWN said the Millennium Development Goals Task Force had recognized the linkages between the Millennium Declaration, the Beijing Platform and the Convention.  Regarding the September Summit, a new target on sexual and reproductive health had been recommended, as well as a new set of indicators to track progress.

    Ms. CHIAROTTI BOERO said the framework for Governments in September to track maternal heath was through the Women’s Convention and general recommendations 21 and 24.

    Another speaker said that the Millennium Development Goals had not paid great attention to women.  Yet, national strategies for women’s promotion were intertwined with struggles to eliminate poverty, illiteracy, and so forth.  The need for more resources to promote women’s health, particularly in rural areas, was also emphasized.

    Concern was also expressed about the “unjust” nature of international relations and its negative impact on developing countries, as demonstrated by the increasing gap between rich and poor countries, which must be a global consideration.  Filling that “dreadful” gap and halting the catastrophic impacts of globalization were critical, she said. 

    A repeated issue of concern was women and adolescent girls’ sexual and reproductive health, especially in view of the fact that so many young people were becoming sexually active.

    The effectiveness of microcredit for women was also stressed, especially as an aid to eradicating poverty, empowering women, and improving health and access to education.  That tool had been responsible, in Bangladesh, for progress in such areas as access to telecommunications services and financing renewable energy use.

    Clear and visible linkages should be established between the Millennium Development Goals and the Beijing objectives, and should be appropriately reflected in diagnostic tools and other strategic frameworks.  Many programmes were “resource strapped”, requiring that the global community provide a serious and committed response, and live up to its commitments in that regard.

    Mr. DIABRE said he favoured the promotion of social dialogue between governments and their social partners, in order to make some advances in the gender issue.  His organization, the UNDP, had been “brokering” and organizing such dialogue at the national level.  The Programme’s neutrality allowed it to enjoy the confidence and trust of civil society, which had been enormously helpful in shaping national policies.

    He agreed that there was no hope for progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals if the international community was not gearing up to the appropriate response.  In recent years, signals had been sent by the international community of a recognition of the need to enhance that effort.  Still, the economic imbalance flowing from globalization trends was not benefiting everybody, but at least that discussion was no longer taboo -– and that had been a great step forward.

    On capacity-building, he said that capacity gaps were hugely important in many societies and was a call he was hearing “loud and clear”.  He also favoured the promotion of indigenous ideas, such as microcredit.  Clearly, that kind of “local” innovation should be taken into account in developing national strategies and approaches.  In fact, relying more and more on local solutions rather than to the traditional expert approaches was a new sign in the development landscape.

    Ms. ZUMA, returning to the issue of sexual health and reproductive rights, said that both were very important in preventing HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as teenage pregnancies.

    On the question of social dialogue, she said that the dialogue should go beyond trade unions and governments and also include business.  So, that should be a kind of tripartite dialogue, because business needed to provide a conducive environment for women’s opportunities and women in the workplace.  It was, indeed, important that the global partners recognize their responsibilities.

    Ms. KABEER agreed that the needs of adolescent girls were important for a number of reasons.  They were important in terms of the immediate future, because those young women were the future and would soon take their role as citizens in societies.

    Ms. GROWN, returning to the seven strategic priorities advocated in the report of the UN Millennium Project’s Task Force on Education and Gender Equality, said that those were relevant for three sub-populations of women:  poor women; adolescent girls; and women who lived in conflict and post-conflict settings.  Throughout the report’s recommendations, the Task Force had tried to look at those three sub-populations and how they could be targeted.

    On adolescents, the report talked about their needs, not just in terms of health, but in transitioning into paid employment.  Also, young women in certain countries did not have inheritance rights, which would further hinder their advancement in societies.

    Stressing that the needs adolescents and young teenage girls should be dealt with from the beginning and not in some arbitrary way, Ms. CHIAROTTI BOERO said that the conservative sectors in many countries had not agreed with what had been done with their health-care systems, especially in the areas of reproductive health and the use of condoms for young girls.  That was not a minor issue, and some physicians had even gone to court for providing contraceptives to underage girls.  That problem must be addressed, in order to attain the goal of reducing maternal mortality.

    As the floor opened for another round of questions and comments, one speaker said that mainstreaming gender in the implementation of all of the United Nations frameworks was critical.  The Millennium Development Goals could not be fully attained while women and girls did not enjoy equal rights.  She also emphasized the importance of a coherent approach to the outcomes of major United Nations conferences.

    Other participants highlighted the importance of human rights for the achievement of development.  Human rights and women’s rights were key to achieving the Millennium Declaration.  Many women did not know about global instruments for their advancement.  The Millennium Development Goals were merely a set of goals adopted to address the main development issues of the time.  It was by no means a comprehensive agenda for development.

    Another speaker drew attention to the situation of women under occupation.  Living under foreign occupation, women were threatened at the very core of their existence, including in terms of land, property, resources, health and development. 

    A representative of the International Council of Women said her organization had actively promoted the Beijing Platform around the world.  Recent highlights included advocacy for improvement in education for the girl child; the building of a women’s leadership centre in Nigeria; and a workshop on poverty eradication.  With 90 million girls not in school, she stressed the primary responsibility of governments to prioritize basic women’s rights as human rights.

    Responding to the comments from the floor, Mr. DIABRE agreed that human rights issues were key to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  Ms. ZUMA added that mainstreaming was crucial for the attainment of the Beijing Platform and the Millennium Development Goals.  Gender equality could not be the responsibility of women alone.

    Ms. KABEER noted that, in a global economic system, it was important to continue to demand the rights of those who had been at the receiving end.  The task force had applied a gender analysis to the Millennium Development Goals, Ms. GROWN said.  Resources were needed to scale interventions up in a way that built the capacity of critical systems in countries.  There had been enough talk.  It was time for action.  Ms. CHIAROTTI BOERO said she was certain that progress would be seen when the High-Level Summit convened in September.

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