Press Releases

    WOM/1502
    10 March 200

    Youth Perspectives on Promotion of Gender Equality Focus of Women’s Commission Panel

    Told Gender-Based Discrimination Starts Young; Men, Boys Must Be Included as Partners, Advocates for Equality

    NEW YORK, 9 March (UN Headquarters) -- Focusing on the issue of youth today, speakers before the Commission on the Status of Women added a new perspective to the discussion, with speakers stressing the need to include boys and men as equal partners and advocates for gender equality.

    In a panel discussion entitled “Future perspectives on the promotion of gender equality:  through the eyes of young women and men”, panellists, representing a range of youth from around the world, joined in calling on the international community to ensure that the issues facing young women and men today featured prominently in the efforts of governments and international organizations to implement the provisions of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

    Noting that gender-based discrimination started young, Michael Flood, post-doctoral fellow at LaTrobe University’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, said boys learned gender at an early age and developed patterns of behaviour during adolescence that persisted well into adulthood.  It was important, therefore, that boys be seen as partners in the problem.  A key challenge in the process was articulating a vision for boys’ involvement in gender equality without being thwarted by simplistic notions of male disadvantage.  In the context of an increasingly vocal backlash against feminism centred on claims of male victimization, giving public attention to boys or men and gender would fuel that movement.

    Young women with disabilities often suffered from multiple forms of discrimination, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, staff member of the Disability and Inclusive Development Team of the Human Development Department, Latin America and the Caribbean Region, of the World Bank, said.  Being a woman, in itself, was a risk factor for disability.  Marginalized not only in their societies, but also by youth and women’s organizations, girls with disabilities had fewer opportunities to participate in school and social events.  With no model on which to base their model of sexuality, adolescent girls with disabilities faced even greater challenges.  She also noted an enormous trend towards forced sterilization, especially for women with an intellectual or psycho-social disability.

    Describing the “commodification of women”, Ingrid Tharasook, student of anthropology and women’s studies, said the mainstream media was one of the most notorious perpetrators of gender inequality.  She was ashamed of the “pop culture” that her generation had fuelled and fostered.  While it served a greater historical purpose, for women of her generation, they would be remembered as those who were incredibly subordinate to men’s standards and were “nonchalant gender-role conformists”.  Women her age would probably go down in history textbooks as the ones who set back feminism by several decades.  The strongest evidence of that could be found in the “dismemberment” of the female form in television and music videos.  The woman was no longer a human being, but just a sum of her body parts.

    The Commission also concluded its high-level discussion today with speakers taking the floor throughout the day-long meeting.  Highlighting the effects of conflict on women, the representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the plight of women whose lives were touched by war could be improved only if the political will existed.  War -- if it ever was -- was no longer a man’s business.  The sooner the international community treated the protection of women as an obligation, rather than an aspiration, the sooner concrete change would occur.

    Having just emerged from a protracted period of instability, Liberia’s representative noted that beneath today’s fast expanding atmosphere was a glimmer of hope for women, whose already disadvantaged position and low status had been exacerbated by years of armed conflict.  The rapidly unfolding atmosphere of peace had enabled her Government to intensify efforts towards improving women’s situation, such as by strengthening the institutional capacity of her Ministry, the ratification of the Women’s Convention in 1998 and the establishment of a legislative standing committee on gender, equity and child development.

    In other action this afternoon, the Commission heard the introduction of two draft resolutions on “indigenous women beyond Beijing+10” and the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan.  Introducing the texts were the representatives of Bolivia and Luxembourg, on behalf of the European Union, respectively.

    Also participating in the panel discussion was Frida Ohlsson, Secretary-General of the Swedish non-governmental organization “Young Folk’s Association”; Srdjan Stakic, Adolescent and Youth Specialist with the Adolescent and Youth Cluster, Reproductive Health Branch, Technical Support Division of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); Felicitas Martinez Solano, Director of Mexico’s National Coordination of Indigenous Women; and Edford Gandu Mutuma, Chairperson of Lentswe LaRona Young African Advocates for Rights and Director of Programmes at Youth Vision Zambia.  Rima Salah, Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF, moderated the panel.

    Participating in the high-level discussion were the representatives of the Central African Republic, Benin, Vanuatu, Georgia, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Chad and the Sudan.

    Also participating were representatives of the African Women’s Caucus; the Asia Pacific Caucus; the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security; Human Rights Advocates; the International Federation for Human Rights; Amnesty International; the Ad Hoc Peace Caucus; the All India Women’s Conference; the International Planned Parenthood Federation; ISIS International, Manila; the Ecumenical Women 2000 Coalition in Support of the Beijing Platform for Action; the International Labour Organization (ILO); and the Global Unions Caucus.

    The Commission will meet again Thursday, 10 March, at 10 a.m. to convene a panel discussion on the integration of gender perspectives in macroeconomics.

    Background

    The Commission on the Status of Women met today to continue its high-level general discussion on implementation of the Beijing agenda, and to convene a panel discussion entitled, “Future perspectives on the promotion of gender equality:  through the eyes of young women and men”, which would be moderated by Rima Salah, Deputy Executive Secretary, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

    Statements

    GABRIELLE NANCHEN, of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said that the plight of women whose lives were touched by war -- be they actively engaged in hostilities or inadvertently caught in the midst of conflict -- could be improved only if the political will existed.  If women continued to suffer in situations of armed conflict, it was not because there were insufficient laws to protect them, but rather because those laws were insufficiently respected.  The sooner the international community treated the protection of women as an obligation, rather than an aspiration, the sooner concrete change would occur.  Meanwhile, there were risks to which women and girls were particularly exposed.  One horrific example was the continuing use of sexual violence as a method of warfare, to shatter, not only individual lives, but entire communities.

    She said that war was no longer, if it ever was, a man’s business.  The war-wounded were not limited to soldiers struck by bullets.  Today, entire populations were swept up in situations of non-international armed conflict, where rape, though often inconspicuous, was among the wounds of war.  The ICRC had, on many occasions, emphasized the need to listen to the voices of the victims of armed conflicts.  The words might be simple, but they spoke volumes about the reality of war for women.  In the face of small arms and light weapons proliferation, women were further disempowered.  They might be reduced to submitting to whatever suffering they must to simply save their lives.  In wartime, that meant, not only enduring sexual violence, but also forced displacement inappropriate detention, exploitation and abuse.

    Discrimination against women and girls in terms of access to food, water, shelter, social and health services, as well as political power, continued in times of war.  In such circumstances, access to those commodities was greatly diminished, due to scarcity, prevailing insecurity and the fact that mechanisms for the maintenance of law and order might be held in abeyance.  If, for socio-cultural reasons, women were economically and socially dependent on men, they might find themselves ill-equipped to support themselves and their families when their menfolk took up arms, were missing, captured or killed in combat.  That continuum of discrimination against women -- from the private to the public sphere, from times of peace to times of war -- demonstrated the importance of the role and work of the ICRC in situations of armed conflict.  The ICRC’s work was complementary to the work of human rights and development organizations in peace.

    VABAH KAZAKU GAYFLOR, Minister, Gender and Development of Liberia, said her country was just emerging from a protracted period of instability -- an instability that had its roots in the gross social, economic, political and cultural abuses, which had impeded, not only women’s advancement, but also the peace and stability of the subregion.  She reiterated her country’s deepest gratitude to the United Nations system and the Secretary-General for their ongoing collaborative efforts to restore lasting and sustainable peace to Liberia.  Those efforts were also aimed at facilitating a process that would eventually set the pace for democratic good governance, which was extremely critical for the attainment of gender equality, women’s empowerment and the Millennium Development Goals.

    She said that beneath today’s fast expanding atmosphere was a glimmer of hope for women, whose already disadvantaged position and low status had been exacerbated by years of armed conflict.  That, in turn, had adversely affected their lives in the areas of poverty eradication, education and health.  Nevertheless, the rapidly unfolding atmosphere of peace had enabled her Government to intensify efforts towards improving women’s situation, such as by strengthening the institutional capacity of her Ministry.  Further efforts had included ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Women’s Convention) in 1998, establishment of a legislative standing committee on gender, equity and child development, and the passage of an act to govern the devolution of estates and to establish inheritance rights for spouses in both statutory and customary marriages.

    A representative of the African Women’s Caucus requested that financial resources assigned to weaponry be used to improve the living conditions of women.  All of the new challenges facing women, such as trafficking, disease and prostitution, were the result of inequality and poverty.  While international solidarity existed, African women were not feeling the effects of it.  The women of the world must pool their efforts to change the course of history.

    A representative of the Asia Pacific Caucus said the Beijing Platform was fundamental to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  Poverty reduction and development goals would not be achieved if women did not have access to reproductive health services.  Governments had to provide an enabling environment for all women to make informed choices and decisions on matters affecting sexuality, health and lives.  She urged governments to, among other things, stop privatizing public health care and withdraw user fees in all public health sectors; provide safe abortion services for all women; provide access to emergency contraception; and recognize mechanisms to support diverse forms of families and relationships, including common-law and same sex marriages.

    A representative of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security urged Member States to seize the opportunity to draw upon the expertise of civil society participants and increase transparency in negotiating the language and progress of all tabled resolutions.  She also called for strengthened resolutions, including provisions for, among other things, committing to the full participation of women in power structures and at all levels of decision-making, eliminating impunity for human rights violations, and promoting peace and human rights education to foster a culture of peace.  She urged civil society to ensure that explicit commitments paired with timelines and budgetary allocations to support gender equality and women’s empowerment were the result of the high-level review.  Gender equality and women’s empowerment were central to achieving the human security and development goals of the high-level summit.  Gender must not be allowed to be “mainstreamed” into obscurity at the summit.

    Panel Discussion

    Moderating the panel on future perspectives on the promotion of gender equality, RIMA SALAH, Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF, recalled that the Beijing Platform for Action had noted that discrimination against women began at the earliest stages of life and must be addressed from that point onwards.  It recognized youth organizations as important partners in development programmes, and young women were particularly encouraged to participate in organizations and in their communities.  The vulnerability of young women and adolescents was also addressed, as well as the need for special measures to ensure that young women had the necessary life skills for active and effective participation in all levels of social, cultural, political and economic leadership.  The Platform had also enumerated the benefits of non-discriminatory education for both girls and boys and its contribution to the more equitable relationships between them, and to promoting non-stereotyped images of women and men.

    She said UNICEF fully promoted meaningful participation of children and young people around issues affecting their lives.  The Fund also strove to provide opportunities and facilitate adolescents’ access to politicians and policy makers, so that their concerns and experiences could shape national policies and programmes.  The objective this morning was to address the priorities and strategies of young women and men to promote gender equality, as well as the ways and means of enhancing and supporting the engagement of young women and men.

    FRIDA OHLSSON, Secretary-General of the Swedish non-governmental organization Young Folk’s Association, said gender equality was imperative for sustainable development and democracy.  An organization or country that only included parts of the population or members was not a democracy.  The capacity, knowledge and experiences of both women and men were a prerequisite for sustainable development.  Democracy must be nourished by each generation.  Sweden had a long history of co-education schooling and other activities.  Looking more closely at structures and systems, it was clear that opportunities for influencing decision-making and organizational politics were far from gender equal.

    For many years, she said, Sweden had been seen as one of the most gender-equal countries in the world.  The truth was, however, that in many areas, there was still much to do.  Her organization had developed a tool to gather statistics as a basis for self-critical discussions, self-discovery and collective reflection.  While feelings were difficult to explain, statistics made circumstances hard to ignore.  Statistics revealed the unequal participation of girls and boys in decision-making.  Young people today would continue to be interested in working with gender-equality issues.  Those who worked with young people must help them to discover critical analytical tools for understanding the workings of the world around them in gendered terms.

    INGRID THARASOOK, student of anthropology and women’s studies, said, “I do not mind living in a man’s world, as long as I can be a woman in it.”  In order to overthrow centuries of gender inequality, the root of the problem must be confronted first.  The question was not whether sexism existed in today’s world; regardless of how civilized and developed a society might claim to be, there were discrepancies between how its men and women were treated, and that was true of virtually every culture.  Perhaps one of the most notorious perpetrators of gender inequality was the mainstream media, which contributed largely to the perpetuation of sexist stereotypes.  She was ashamed of the “pop culture” that her generation had fuelled and fostered.  On the one hand, it served a greater historical purpose, but for women of her generation, they would be remembered as those who were incredibly subordinate to men’s standards and were “nonchalant gender-role conformists”.  Women her age would probably go down in history textbooks as the ones who set back feminism by several decades.

    She said, “We are hereby witnessing the commodification of women.”  Strongest evidence of that could be found in the “dismemberment” of the female form in television and music videos.  The woman was no longer a human being, but just a sum of her body parts.  She had, simply put, become a product of consumption.  Those grossly degrading images were indeed harmful.  At the same time, women accounted for an average of only 38 per cent of all characters onscreen, even in developed countries.  If some 40 per cent of those were portrayed in a vulgar, sexually indecent manner, then the number of “feminism-friendly” role models would dwindle to 23 per cent.  Moreover, research showed that men were three times more likely than women to be features in television appearances that enhanced their strong convictions.  Girls, on the other hand, were four times more likely than boys to be in the limelight for their frivolous emotions, soft-spoken gentility and romantic selves.  Granted, there were touch girls and rebellious boys, but the problem arose that personality traits became associated with gender.

    In addition, year after years, statistics had showed that women earned significantly less income than men, she said.  While they comprised 75 per cent of the world’s work, they earned only 10 per cent of the world’s wages and owned a mere 1 per cent of the world’s property.  One must ask, what exactly constituted the global work force?  Contemporary economists were responsible for misleadingly categorizing jobs into one or two categories -- either productive or non-productive.  While the former was done for money, the latter yielded no dollars.  It was for that reason that women said, “I don’t work.  I’m just a housewife.”  They were mistaken or dangerously modest.  Such a statement blatantly dismissed all the important tasks those women did at home as trivial.  She was not suggesting that the world should revert back to marital divisions of labour, in which women faithfully remained at home, while men brought bread to the table.  She was simply saying that feminism was a matter of choice, and the power of choosing was a role model in and of itself.

    SRDJAN STAKIC, Adolescent and Youth Specialist with the Adolescent and Youth Cluster, Reproductive Health Branch, Technical Support Division of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that young people in Serbia and Montenegro -- educated, organized and involved -- had been a determining factor in his country’s development.  Serbia and Montenegro in the early 1990s was only one example of the positive influence that young people could have, if given the chance.  Gender inequality was not an issue of concern for developing countries only.  Gender-based discrimination started at birth.  Even in countries where gender inequalities were more extreme, men often did not view them as injustices.  Young people from the developing countries were widely under-represented within the United Nations system and did not receive the same opportunity through internships.

    He said young men had to be at the head of the gender-equality promotion efforts and had to take responsibility for promoting sexual and reproductive health, eliminating gender-based violence and ensuring HIV/AIDS prevention and care.  The power of the media in promoting gender equality and equity was clear.  Thus, the UNFPA had partnered with MTV’s “Staying Alive Campaign” which concentrated on HIV/AIDS prevention.  The UNFPA was also supporting the “Faces of Young People and the Millennium Development Goals Initiative” during 2005.  Together with partners, the UNFPA would work with young people from around the globe to document their lives as they related to the Millennium Development Goals through photojournalism.  He asked participants what they had done in their own working environments and homes to ensure gender equality.

    CATALINA DEVANDAS AGUILAR, staff member of the Disability and Inclusive Development Team of the Human Development Department, Latin America and the Caribbean Region, of the World Bank, said it had been previously established that women had always been discriminated against, but when the social label of “disability” was added, then women faced “double discrimination”, based on both gender and disability.  Moreover, to be a woman was, in itself, a risk factor for disability.  Women were more likely to be in situations that might disable them throughout their lives, including lack of access to resources, poverty, and lack of power-relationships.  Young women with disabilities faced many of the same discriminatory practices that their counterparts without disabilities faced.  For example, in childhood, the fundamental problem was the overprotection of girls by societies and families.  Girls were believed to be incapable and were made even more so by not being allowed to take their own decisions.  Many societies and families perceived girls as fragile, and, therefore, girls, especially those with disabilities, had fewer opportunities to participate in school and social events. 

    She said that adolescence brought an additional issue of sexuality.  In particular, adolescent girls with disabilities had no model on which to base their model of sexuality.  Often, they were not allowed access to education or medical care, and they were more often exposed to HIV/AIDS.  Girls and adolescents with disabilities did not have access to contraceptives, infrastructure, flexible curriculums or resources.  They lived without training and scarce job opportunities, although women with disabilities made a large contribution through informal work.  At the same time, however, they were the subject of violence in the family, institutions, and in the community to a greater degree than their peers without disabilities.  That violence might be greater, more constant and more serious.  Such a negative environment made it very difficult to denounce those who violated those women’s human rights.

    There was also a lack of respect for the maternity of young women with disabilities, and there was an enormous trend towards forced sterilization.  “We are currently being sterilized in greater numbers.  That is especially true for women with an intellectual or psycho-social disability”, she said.  Women with disabilities in developing countries faced more difficulties than their “sisters” in developed countries, and those women from certain religious or ethnic groups had even less access to resources and opportunity in their societies.  There had been some important progress, but, overall, the resources were either insufficient or had not been allotted to females with disabilities.  In addition, the plight of young women with disabilities was not even contemplated by youth organizations, women’s organizations or even organizations of persons with disabilities.

    MICHAEL FLOOD, post-doctoral fellow at LaTrobeUniversity’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, said that in building gender equality there were three reasons to intervene early.  Boys learned gender at an early age and developed patterns of behaviour during adolescence that persisted well into adulthood; boys had their own gender-related needs that deserved support; and boys and young men generally had better attitudes towards gender equality than older men.  Small numbers of young men had become public advocates for gender equality.

    Regarding violence, he said that well designed education programmes could produce lasting change in attitudes and values.  Effective violence-prevention programmes were comprehensive, intensive and relevant, and offered positive messages, focusing on healthy, non-violent behaviours and norms.  School programmes were most effective when grounded in partnerships.  Social marketing campaigns were needed to shift cultural norms. 

    Noting key challenges in engaging boys and young men in gender equality, he said the overall challenge was to speak to boys and men.  In Australia, community education programmes had drawn on masculine sports to educate men about violence against women.  A second challenge was articulating a vision for boys’ involvement in gender equality without being thwarted by simplistic notions of male disadvantage.  In the context of an increasingly vocal backlash against feminism centred on claims of male victimization, giving public attention to boys or men and gender would fuel that movement.  Boys must be seen as partners in the problem and work with them must undermine powerful constructions of masculinity and sexuality which supported violence against women.  It was also necessary to replace sexist and violent norms with norms of gender equality and respect.

    FELICITAS MARTINEZ SOLANO, Director of the National Coordination of Indigenous Women, Mexico, said that poverty and the systematic violation of human rights took on the face of all forms of poverty -- endemic poverty among the poorest countries, an island of poverty in economically prosperous countries, sudden impoverishment following disasters, natural or manmade, or structural poverty caused by neglect, exploitation and discrimination among peoples and nations.  Poverty was no accident, nor was it temporary.  It was a “structural daily poverty”, which was the result of unequal correlations of power, unjust markets, wars and discrimination, all of which were constant features of the planet.  Through a system of inequality, socially engineered, the indigenous woman was discriminated against in all public spaces, thereby limiting her overall development, her access to education, and her right to know and exercise her rights.  Unlike boys, girls had no free time or moments of recreation, and women’s work often went unrecognized, both economically and culturally. 

    She said that in indigenous communities and in the vast majority of societies, women bore the greatest responsibilities, but their participation in and distribution of benefits was not equitable.  That had led to alcohol abuse and was further compounded by domestic violence.  Basic education was lacking, and, together with malnutrition and the breakdown of the family from migration, that was severely impeding the indigenous woman’s advancement.  Moreover, the physical and psychological violence suffered by them in situations of conflict or militarization was further damaging.  Each of 60 women present in similar situations, from the Americas, Africa, Asia, North America and Europe, could testify to the same experience of inequality and discrimination in each of their regions.  They had proposed a resolution, which was being supported by a variety of countries.

    EDFORD GANDU MUTUMA, Chairperson of Lentswe LaRona Young African Advocates for Rights and Director of Programmes at Youth Vision Zambia, said young people were now empowered with the confidence that they could strongly change the course of their destinies, nations and continents.  The world’s best chance for finding lasting solutions to its most pressing problems rested in today’s youth.  Young people, regardless of sex, race or religion, needed the capacity, support and opportunity to lead and to develop the skills needed to assume leadership roles.  Current policies polarized the needs of young women and men, setting them in competition against each other.  Young men and women needed to be understood within the context of interrelations between them.

    While Africans valued the importance of culture and tradition, practices that had once protected them now put them at special risk, he said.  They included female genital mutilation, virginity testing, and certain pregnancy and birth rituals.  Culture and tradition should not be used to violate the rights of young women and men.  As an important aspect of African society, culture and tradition should be used as tools to improve the lives of all individuals.  The Commission should encourage and support programmes aimed at changing the roles of men in societies, and men should change their attitudes and perceptions towards gender.  They should be made to see the importance of equal partnership between women and men.  Young men should also be encouraged to understand the dynamics of gender equality.  Women’s movements should fully engage young women and men as equal partners in their programmes and initiatives.

    Discussion

    Several representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) participated in the ensuing discussion.  One speaker highlighted young people’s special needs and perspectives, suggesting that gender inequality, as seen through the eyes of young people, illuminated the barriers and obstacles to gender equality.  Corresponding measures should be submitted to solve those problems, and the youth perspective should be incorporated into national gender policies.

    The voices of young people must be listened to, another speaker asserted.  They must be provided with the opportunity to participate in the decision- and policy-making forums that affected their lives.  Governments should be encouraged to see young people as partners in policy makers, and governments should consult them, for consulting young people empowered them.

    A representative of Jamaica said that her part of the world was experiencing a backlash against women’s empowerment, and men were asking what was meant by “deconstructing masculinity”.  There were asking if women wanted to turn men into wimps.  Black people of the diaspora were connected to their African roots, and many men who held power in the Caribbean communities were from Africa.  They spoke about the effects of colonialism and slavery on their masculinity and how they did not want women to deconstruct that.  She asked Mr. Flood to define the qualities of the emancipated man.

    Speaking for a consortium of some 90 NGOs, one young woman said that governments should support programmes that eliminated social and cultural barriers to education.  Girls were more vulnerable than boys because of their low economic and social status, and they suffered from sexual exploitation and harmful traditional practices.  Of the estimated 10 million young people infected with HIV/AIDS, 6 million of them were girls.  She, therefore, called for increased sex education for boys and girls, and for action to be taken to prevent early forced marriage.  Violence against girls must be eliminated, and impunity for the perpetrators must be stopped.  Trafficking in women and girls must also cease.

    She said that girls suffered more than anyone else in conflict and post-conflict situations.  So, Security Council resolution 1325 should be put into practice, and not just remain a paper of promises.  There were no grounds for gender inequality, whether social, economic or moral.  The future for humanity now was bleak.  Governments must work together with civil society to ensure that a human rights-based approach was taken with respect to girls.  That meant eliminating girls’ poverty, and guaranteeing the human rights and protections of migrant girls and girls with disabilities.

    Responding to the first round of questions and comments, Mr. FLOOD said it was no longer possible for traditional forms of men’s lives to be sustained, as they were unfair and unjust for women and girls and because they were limiting for men themselves.  It was in men’s own interests to abandon traditional forms of masculinity.  Social changes in western countries had made it impossible for men’s lives not to change.  Men had to be involved in the process of changing masculinity in ways that were meaningful for boys themselves or else the process would fail.

    Regarding the qualities of an emancipated man, he said the particular forms would vary with socio-economic differences.  They might include, however, partnerships rather than privilege, emotional sensitivity rather than stoicism, sexual consent rather than contempt and violence.  It would be necessary to abandon traditional forms that were oppressive for women and limiting for men.

    Ms. STAKIC said consulting young people should take place not only on the issues involving them, but on all issues.

    When the floor opened for a second round of comments, one speaker said gender was an empty word -- it was behaviour.   Patriarchal behaviours had to disappear.  One way to do that was through education, including in the home.  Another speaker agreed with the need for better understanding the role of the media, and how it had enslaved the mentality of young and old alike.

    Several speakers asked the panel to elaborate more on the issue of women with disabilities and indigenous women.  Should the issue of women with disabilities be incorporated into the general context of the women’s movement or should it be dealt with as a separate issue?  In that regard, should the Convention on disabilities include a specific section on women?  Speakers also noted the importance of empowering women economically.

    A representative of the Commission on the Status of Women Youth Caucus said the economic empowerment of young women was intrinsically linked to their sexual and reproductive rights.  The lack of economic empowerment and job opportunities for women had led to the rise in trafficking and violence globally.  Full access to sexual and reproductive services and education for women was critical to the fight against HIV/AIDS.  Regarding the proposal for a Special Rapporteur on Discrimination against Women, she believed that such a mechanism would give young women a voice within the Commission.  She also believed that the Commission should be revamped and its role strengthened.  When talking about Security Council reform, the implementation of resolution 1325 should be an integral part of the discussion.

    Panellists

    Responding to a series of comments about governments’ responsibilities, Ms. OHLSSON stressed that governments had a responsibility to support and value the work being done by youth organizations, including by recognizing youth’s informal political organizations. 

    Ms. DEVANDAS AGUILAR said that the issue of disabilities must not remain the object of an isolated policy.  Persons with disabilities should be part of the entire national development agenda.  It was important for all needs to be included in all policies and programmes in every field because persons with disabilities were not present in only a few aspects of society; they were part of all.

    Moreover, she stressed, the question of women with disabilities should be incorporated into the convention presently being drafted at the United Nations.  Matters such as forced sterilization and other problems for women with disabilities deserved special attention in all articles of that text, or problems like those would remain invisible.

    Discussion from Floor

    One speaker said it was a challenge for young women to ensure their concerns were not neglected.  She challenged the status quo within the women’s movement by stressing that the movement was not only for older women.  The relationship between older and young women should be addressed, and platforms should be created at the local, national and regional levels so all women could “dialogue” with each other to ensure that the programmes that were created were better informed. 

    She said she had personally seen, in the 10 years since she became involved in the youth sector, how young women had taken governments “head on” to incorporate the concerns of young women and youth, in general, into all their policies and programmes.

    Another speaker worried that young men were ill-prepared to meet the demands of being husbands and fathers in a gender-equal society, but gender equality would not be improved if the process focused only on one of the genders.  The main challenge was to reach boys at an early age.

    A representative of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts said the Association had a membership of 10 million girls and young women worldwide.  For them, “equality” should be spelled out, as follows:  “e” was for empowerment; “q” was for quality of life; “u” was for understanding; “a” was for awareness; “l” was for literacy and education; “i” was for involvement in decision-making; “t” was for transforming women’s image on the media; and “y” was for young women enjoying life.

    Introduction of Drafts

    Bolivia’s representative, introducing a draft resolution entitled, “Indigenous women beyond Beijing+10” (document E/CN.6/2005/L.10), said her Government was deeply concerned at the situation of indigenous women of all ages, not only regarding those in her country, which made up 63 per cent of the population, but also the 3 million worldwide.  It was important for governments and the international community as a whole to adopt an instrument ensuring the inclusion of indigenous women in the full implementation of the Beijing agenda.

    She said that the draft resolution called for the full and effective participation of indigenous women.  Yesterday, her delegations had held the first informal consultations on the text, which had been attended by many representatives.  That, in turn, had helped to enrich the document.  Consultations would conclude tomorrow, and then a new text would be issues as a “Rev.1”.  She sought its adoption by consensus. 

    Introducing the draft on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan (document E/CN.6/2005/L.11) on behalf of the European Union, the representative of Luxembourg said that the Union was submitting the text again this year, in light of the continuing difficulties facing women in Afghanistan, which deserved the attention and assistance of the international community.  The Minister for the Status of Women in Afghanistan, in her statement to the Commission, had mentioned problems in the areas of health, education and the economy.  She had also stressed the need to improve women’s legal protection and ensure the full exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms of Afghan women and girls.  In addition, she had stressed the importance of continuing efforts to increase women’s participation in the democratic process. 

    Luxembourg’s representative said that Afghanistan had seen certain positive developments, particularly the presidential elections last fall, which had been peaceful and fruitful.  Moreover, women’s participation had been encouraging, and women voters had represented 40 per cent of all registered voters.  The new Afghan Government included three women ministers and the first woman to hold the post of provincial governor.  Sources of concern remained, however.  As the Secretary-General had pointed out in his recent report, progress in Afghanistan had been uneven.  The challenges to women in terms of security and traditional values continued to limit women and girls in the public sphere and prevented them from fully exercising their rights.  The Constitution would cement those rights, but effective legislation and a strong judiciary were required.

    She said that the composition of the judiciary and the balance between men and women would be crucial.  The international community should fulfil its commitments in support of the Afghan Government.  The draft resolution invited the United Nations and all other relevant stakeholders to assume their roles in that respect.  The draft was an integral part of a constructive dialogue with the Afghan Government, whose delegation had been consulted on the text, in a process that would continue over the next few days.  Hopefully, it would be adopted by consensus, as in previous years.

    NESTER M. NALI, Minister of Public Health and Population of the Central African Republic, said his country’s Constitution guaranteed both men and women equal rights in all areas.  Various committees had been set up towards that end, including committees on reproductive health, combating harmful practices, violence against women, victims of rape and violence, education, agriculture and poverty eradication.  The national commission to combat harmful practices was decentralized and carried out many programmes.  In certain regions of the country, girls’ school enrolment had doubled.  Women were also being increasingly hired in higher-level positions.  The number of women in the civil service, however, still remained very low.

    Outlining challenges to gender equality, he stressed, in particular, women’s literacy, maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS.  Cultural obstacles would also have to be overcome through the continued education of men and women.  He reaffirmed his country’s full support for the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, as well as the outcome documents of the 2000 special session.  Gender equality was essential for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

    KRISTINA ZINNEN, Human Rights Advocates, noted that in the past two decades, more women had been migrating alone.  The right to collective bargaining was essential for basic labour standards.  Migrant domestic workers were often unprotected from national labour laws. Many countries violated their international regional treaty obligations.  Although nations were free to determine their own immigration laws, national labour laws must protect documented and undocumented workers alike.  She urged the Commission to ask the Special Rapporteur on migrant workers to include information on the relationship between labour rights and discrimination on the basis of status.

    SARAFATOU INOUSSA OLODO, on behalf of Lea Hounkpe, Minister of Family, Social Protection and Solidarity of Benin, said the country’s adoption of its fundamental law had enshrined gender equality at all levels.  Political resolve had grown, as had the determination of Benin’s development partners and civil society organizations.  The quest for gender equality had been consolidated by the establishment of an institutional framework and a legal environment conducive to that aim.  Benin had also implemented a family code, which punished genital mutilation, as well as a law on sexual and reproductive health.  It was also spearheading a movement for accession to the optional protocol of the African Charter.  The country continued to strive to improve the living conditions of women and the girl child, in the context of the 12 critical areas for action identified at Beijing.

    In the field of education, for example, she said that a law had been enacted providing for the equal opportunity of boys and girls at school.  In support of that decision, the Government had initiated several incentives to support girls’ enrolment.  In the area of women’s health, strong emphasis had been placed on reproductive health, particularly regarding HIV/AIDS.  Towards women’s involvement in decision-making, the President had just increased the number of women in Government and entrusted them with overseeing some very strategic sectors, such as management and industry.  Women also held some key positions in the courts, and they controlled more than 80 per cent of the trade sector.  Much progress had been made in 10 years, which would not have been possible without the support of Benin’s development partners.  Despite that glowing picture, many challenges remained, especially reducing the level of illiteracy among women and eliminating maternal and neo-natal mortality.

    AMAL BASHA, International Federation for Human Rights, noted that, although the number of ratifications to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was high, reservations also remained high and implementation had been weak.  Nearly one third of the countries that had ratified the Convention had notable violations of women’s rights.  Many of the Convention’s new signatories had also entered reservations, many of which violated the spirit of the Convention.  The level of the Convention’s integration into national law also remained weak.  She condemned the offensive of the most reactionary governments to question the right to abortion.  She also called for the creation of a special mechanism to monitor discriminatory legislation.

    ISABELLE DONALD, Minister for Comprehensive Reform Programme, Women’s Affairs, People with Disabilities and Children’s Rights of Vanuatu, said her Government’s philosophy of working in partnerships for equality had resulted in the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Government and NGOs involved in women’s issues to implement a wide range of programmes.  Such programmes were designed to empower women to better care for their families, become aware of their rights, encourage their participation in decision-making, develop their economic ability, raise their awareness about health and human rights issues, and promote knowledge concerning the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

    In terms of gender and economic empowerment, she said that since the inception of the women’s microfinance scheme in 1997 to provide loans to poor and disadvantaged women, that scheme had been transformed from a small project into a financial institution.  This year, the institution had lent more than $540,000 to more than 50 such disadvantaged women.  Further, as part of this year’s new initiatives, the institution had signed a contract with Habitat for Humanity to build houses for those who were its members.

    To encourage progressive development on education for women, the Government of Vanuatu had recently completed feasibility studies on online tertiary studies for women, and had appointed a committee to develop strategies to implement the recommendations highlighted in the report.  It was envisaged that that type of education would be another way of providing opportunities to women who wished to pursue their tertiary qualification.  Additionally, her Government had appointed an equity officer as part of its public sector restructuring to coordinate and provide advice on equity issues.

    SARAH SULLIVAN, Amnesty International, noted that last year, Amnesty International had launched a six-year global campaign to stop violence against women, aimed at highlighting the continuum of violence against women in times of war and peace, at the hands of the State or the family.  The initiative stressed the need for preventive measures, as well as the need to bring the perpetrators to justice.  Women faced discrimination and violence at the hands of the State, the community and the family.  Rape and sexual abuse, by relatives, security officials or armed combatants, were inflicted on millions of women and girls every year.  Violence against women was not confined to any particular political or economic system, but it was prevalent in every society in the world and cut across boundaries of wealth, race and culture.

    She said that the underlying cause of violence against women lay in the discrimination that denied women equality of rights with men.  In some countries, the State enforced gender-based violence against women, and discrimination was written into the law.  In others, the laws were inadequate, and even where the laws were not discriminatory, the practices of government authorities, agencies, police and prosecutors often fostered that phenomenon.  Some women were at particular risk of violence by virtue of a multiplicity of factors, including discrimination, based not only on gender, but also on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation or identity, health, age or physical or mental ability.  Those dimensions of discrimination intersected, forcing many women into situations of multiple marginalization.  Amnesty International placed the fight against gender-based violence within the human rights framework, and emphasized the obligation of governments to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and punish all such acts.

    KETEVAN MAKHARASHVILI, Member of Parliament of Georgia, noted that after regaining its independence in 1991, Georgia had suffered a dramatic socio-economic downturn, further compounded by civil war and armed conflicts.  After the November 2003 Rose Revolution, Georgia’s new Government had accelerated the reform process, reaffirming its commitments to fulfil its international obligations.  Substantial progress had been made, including in the area of women’s participation in political decision-making.  Women chaired Georgia’s Parliament, the majority faction and two out of 13 parliamentary commissions.  In 2004, the Parliament had formed the Advisory Council on Gender Equality Issues.

    Despite such achievements, a vast amount of work remained, she said.  The gender mainstreaming process needed to be more effectively integrated, especially in the Government’s economic policy.  Female economic activity also needed to be enhanced through implementing various programmes and promoting professional training.  Emphasizing the important role of international organizations, United Nations agencies and bilateral donors, she said her Government valued their moral, technical and financial support.

    HISAKO MOTOYAMA, Peace Caucus, said the Caucus reaffirmed the importance of the Women’s Convention and Optional Protocol, and supported full implementation of Security Council resolution 1325.  It also applauded the 27 Member States that had moved towards preventing the scourge of war by eliminating their military forces.  The group also recognized the importance of the Millennium Development Goals as a global commitment to eliminate poverty and global inequality.  Women also recognized that a culture of violence would make implementation of the Goals impossible and that ongoing conflicts perpetuated underdevelopment.  It could not be denied that ongoing conflicts and massive expenditures on arms fuelled global poverty, or that poverty and economic injustice contributed to the spread of armed conflict.

    She said that the developed countries that begrudged development funding were eager to distribute the arms they manufactured to developing countries, and they continued to demand debt repayment from impoverished States.  It was unconscionable that, after years of commitments, the promise by developed countries to contribute 0.7 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) to overseas development had gone largely unmet.  Moreover, the international community’s inability to accomplish nuclear disarmament, its failure to condemn pre-emptive aggression or to end impunity, and its failure to redress victims of violence, and so forth, supported the contention that “under no condition or circumstance is war legal or just”.  It was undeniable that, in any military action or armed conflict, women and children suffered disproportionately.  Women were concerned about children accepting violence as a way of life as they grew up, and learning very little about peace and justice.

    SWARNA SUMANASEKERA, Chairperson, National Committee of Women of Sri Lanka, said the period under review had been characterized by growing attention to the promotion of women’s rights and empowerment.  There had been recognition of the need for a gender perspective in government activities.  Numerous far-reaching policy and legislative changes had been introduced to ensure the promotion of women’ rights.  Important changes had been introduced in national legislation, including amendments to the penal code, and a domestic violence bill had just been presented to the Parliament.  Education was a major factor in improving women’s status.  Some 80 per cent of the country’s ongoing poverty reduction programme was women.

    Sri Lanka’s women had suffered much during the country’s prolonged internal conflict, she said.  The impact of the tsunami that had devastated three fourths of the coastal belt last December had had serious repercussions on the lives of women, who formed the majority of those displaced by the disaster.  The Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Social Welfare was actively engaged in helping those women rebuild their lives.  She reaffirmed her country’s strong commitment to the Beijing Platform for Action.

    SUDHA ACHARYA, All India Women’s Conference, said she was speaking on behalf of half a billion Indian women whose major interest was reaffirming the implementation of the Beijing Platform.  Despite some efforts of the Government and women’s organizations, there were still gaps between policies and implementation, and the achievements had not been significant.  Women’s poverty level had hardly improved, and women were still waiting for the Government to provide adequate health facilities.  Education remained elusive for women, while violence against them continued unabated.  Women were still insecure in the workplace, both in the formal and informal sectors.

    She said that, despite the obstacles, the Beijing Platform was still the best tool for women’s advancement.  But, it must be ensured that it did not suffer a reversal.  She urged governments gathered in New York to allocate the necessary resources for the implementation of the Beijing agenda; reaffirmation, alone, was not enough.  She also urged governments to recognize that realization of the Millennium Development Goals depended on the full implementation of the Beijing Platform.  She advocated gender-sensitive implementation of policies and programmes; gender-sensitive budget allocations; greater representation of women in government; and improvement of schools’ infrastructure. 

    ALIBVERDIEVA KIMATGUL, Deputy Chair, Committee of Family and Women Affairs of Tajikistan, said her Government had taken steps to develop a target-oriented policy for women’s empowerment.  Her country had ratified the Women’s Convention, as well as numerous other international treaties.  This year, the country would be taking stock of its national plan of action for women, but Tajikistan’s legislative foundation was still insufficient for achieving true gender equality.  The most significant inequality in her country was in the area of the economy, as women’s work still differed from men’s work.  Without women’s active involvement, it would be impossible to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

    Tajikistan had, in the past three years, been implementing its poverty-reduction strategy, she said.  It had also developed microcredit programmes.  Women entrepreneurs now had a firm footing in the country.  Women’s NGOs actively participated in the country’s strategic documents and legislation.  The rapid and active involvement of women’s organizations in socio-political activities had moved women to higher levels in government and in local authorities.

    CARMEN BARROSO, International Planned Parenthood Federation, said her organization worked on the frontlines in 180 countries, battling some of the most pressing issues facing the world’s women.  It understood the value of strong sustained political will and commitment at the national, regional and international levels.  Women must be at the heart of international development.  That had been reflected and reinforced, not only at the Beijing Conference, but also at the Cairo Conference on population and their five-year reviews.  Those two political platforms and agendas were mutually reinforcing -- women everywhere had the right to decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, free of coercion and violence.  Both outcome documents were committed to a multidisciplinary approach to addressing the critical issues facing women today.

    She said the Federation also played a crucial role in reducing poverty globally.  The international community must not ignore or underestimate the vital contribution of reproductive health and rights and gender equality in eradicating poverty.  Unless those rights were promoted and realized, there would be little progress towards reducing poverty.  Women’s empowerment also meant women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services, but, tragically, those basic needs remained unfulfilled in many parts of the world.  At the grass-roots level, her organization had seen how lives could be transformed if women were empowered to act on their reproductive rights and freedoms, indeed, how families, communities and even the world were transformed.  Only through such a guarantee would there be an end to the deaths of half a million women yearly through pregnancy-related causes, and the alarming increase in young women infected with HIV/AIDS would finally start to decline.  Solving the world’s most pressing problems demanded women’s full participation and empowerment.

    ADOUM OYAL, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Social Action and Family of Chad, said her Government was committed to implementing the Conventions it had ratified.  In 1995, the Government had adopted a policy for integrating women into development in 1995.  That plan confirmed the need to promote gender equality for sustainable development.  Chad had adopted the Beijing Platform to support women’s advancement.  The Ministry for Family was responsible for the follow-up to the Platform.  A number of actions had been taken to enshrine gender equality.  Chad used the Millennium Development Goals for developing its plans, including the national strategy on good governance.

    Like many other countries, Chad had faced difficulties regarding the Platform’s implementation, including the establishment of focal points and lack of resources.  Regarding HIV/AIDS, the Government had decided to subsidize anti-retroviral drugs.  It had also implemented a national programme on reproductive health.  With UNFPA’s support, the Government was ensuring the implementation of that programme.  Regarding young girls and the constraints facing them, Chad had established a programme for girls’ school enrolment.  That programme had managed to close the gap between girls and boys.  Peace and security were also a priority for her Government.  The Government was maintaining its efforts to promote women’s advancement.  The struggle for women’s advancement was not only women’s business.

    ANNIE SERRANO, ISIS International, Asia-Pacific NGO Forum, said that, amid growing turmoil, insecurities and crises caused by war, militarism, extremism and neo-liberal globalization, women’s rights, including their sexual and reproductive rights, were being systematically eroded.  Increasingly, human rights defenders and women’s NGOs were at risk from extremists and fundamentalists, who played on ethnic, communal, caste and religious identities and sought to eliminate democratic participation.  That had impacted on the rights of already marginalized groups, including indigenous, Dalit, refugee and migrant women, women from religious and cultural minority groups, lesbian and transgender women, and women with disabilities.  Despite the promises made by governments at Beijing, the gains had been “very uneven”.  There was a lack of political will by governments and other institutions to implement those promises, and the world situation currently was eroding women’s status and keeping them and their families in chronic poverty.

    She expressed her disappointment and concern at the absence of a strong human rights focus at the forty-ninth Commission session.  That was particularly disturbing since human rights was both a cross-cutting issue and central to the Beijing Platform.  She was also perturbed at the “shrinking democratic spaces” for women to have their voices heard.  In order to fully realize women’s rights, spaces for civil society must be included in all international forums, including the forthcoming five-year review of the Millennium Development Goals.  In addition, governments should take all necessary measures at the national and international level to ensure that all women enjoyed their full human rights.  They must share equitably in the world’s resources and be recognized as equal partners in the creation of a just, democratic, humane and peaceful world.  She also asked governments to honour their commitments to Security Council resolution 1325, which guaranteed women’s participation in restoring peace.

    NASRELDIN AHMED WALI (Sudan) said women were active members in Sudanese society.  Women in the Sudan enjoyed their rights without discrimination.  Women had assumed high posts in the judiciary and had entered the field of medicine, law and diplomacy.  They had also joined the military, reaching the rank of general, and women had enjoyed cabinet-level posts since the 1960s.  Sudanese women had guaranteed rights and were represented in political parties, parliamentary bodies and in the executive branch.  Their activities also extended to civil society.  The Sudan had made vast strides to implement the Beijing Platform.

    Women in the Sudan had entered very important fields, including those related to peace and stability, he added.  They had a role in directing negotiations to reach the comprehensive peace agreement.  In the field of education, he noted that the Sudan had started its first school for girls in 1903.  His Government had made important steps in bridging the gap in education between boys and girls, even among Bedouins, and girl students had made significant strides.  Women had a great role in eradicating poverty and in establishing rural women’s projects.  There had also been an increase in the number of business women.  The Sudan called on the international community to support its post-conflict programmes.

    SUSANNE MATELLE, Ecumenical Women 2000 Coalition in Support of the Beijing Platform for Action, said her delegation of women of faith had supported adoption of the political declaration last Friday, which had reaffirmed the Beijing Platform and called for its complete and effective implementation.  The Coalition also supported implementation of the goals pertaining to human rights, gender equality, development and peace, and encouraged unstinting efforts to promote women worldwide, particularly those confronting discrimination.  The Coalition also shared a common commitment and history with regard to social justice, peace building, integrity of creation, and so forth.  It had been involved in the decades to overcome violence against women (2001 to 2010), an initiative of the World Council of Churches in an attempt to achieve unity in a fractured world.

    She said her church must confront patriarchy, but it had been too slow to respond to urgent issues, such as the HIV/AIDS pandemic, racism, environmental degradation, and sexism, among others.  Churches must reaffirm their commitment to the Beijing agenda.  Ten years later, girl children and women worldwide continued to bear the brunt of war, poverty, all forms of violence and discrimination, and economic injustice.  There had been an increase in militarism and trafficking in persons, and neo-liberal policies had disproportionately affected women and girls.  Women’s participation in all levels of “decision-taking” must be guaranteed, as well as women’s access to reproductive health-care services and protection of their reproductive rights.  Military expenditures should be curbed, as well as the arms trade and investing in weapons manufacture.  Resources freed up from a decrease in those outlays should be diverted to development and to promoting human security and women’s advancement.  Gender equality and women’s empowerment were essential to attaining the Millennium Development Goals.

    ELENA GASTALDO, Bureau for Gender Equality of the International Labour Organization (ILO), said increasing numbers of women were entering the labour force worldwide, yet the quality of their jobs was often below the “threshold of decency”.  Women were disproportionately concentrated in the informal economy and outside international labour standards and social protection systems.  Much of women’s work in global production chains was excluded from the scope of social protection and fair compensation.  Despite near universal ratification of the ILO Convention on equal remuneration for work of equal value, there was little progress in closing the gender pay gap.

    While globalization had created new opportunities for some, it had exacerbated the plight of the poorest in the world, the majority of whom were women, she said.  The ILO Decent Work Agenda was an important vehicle for the practical implementation of the Beijing Platform.  Achieving decent work meant creating jobs with rights and social protection through meaningful social dialogue between governments and actors in the business and labour communities.  As women represented half the world’s population, gender equality was fundamental for achieving the Decent Work Agenda.  With rapidly changing systems of production and provision of services in a globalized economy, it was critical to support the organization of women workers and their participation in trade unions and entrepreneurial associations.

    BIRTHE JOSEPHSON, Global Unions Caucus, recommended the following priority areas for policies aimed at producing fair globalization with gender equality in the workplace:  systematic incorporation of the Beijing Platform and Millennium Declaration in economic trade and employment policies at national and global levels, and establishment of a monitoring system; ratification and full implementation of the Women’s Convention and the conventions enshrined in the ILO declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work; full adoption by governments of ILO’s decent work agenda, with mechanisms in place to monitor implementation; guaranteeing fulfilment of pledges made at Monterrey and ensuring that the private sector honoured its responsibilities, consistent with gender equality; and support by governments of HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programmes, including addressing the gender dimension of coercion and violence at home and in the work place.  (She referred participants to a detailed set of recommendations, which she had circulated in the room).

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