Press Releases

    WOM/1545
    6 March 2006

    Commission on Status of Women Concludes General Debate with Focus on Economic Issues

    Speakers Stress Need for Removal of Obstacles to Women's Participation in Labour Market, Equal Pay for Equal Work

    NEW YORK, 3 February (UN Headquarters) -- With women representing half the global population and a powerful economic potential, achieving gender equality was smart economics, the Commission on the Status of Women was told as it concluded its general debate today, having heard from over 100 speakers in several days.

    Defining the obstacles to women in the labour market, the representative of the World Bank noted that women faced large gaps in sectors that were critical for both poverty reduction and economic growth.  In that regard, women globally needed improved economic opportunities, including access to quality employment and access to and control over productive resources, such as credit, land and technologies.  Increasing women's labour force participation was key for both poverty reduction and economic growth.  In Latin America, a woman's participation in the labour force often determined whether a family lived above or below the poverty line.  In India, the states with high female labour force participation were the states with the fastest growth and where growth was most effective in reducing poverty.

    The representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO) added that while the growing proportion of women in the labour force had been a recent trend, women still faced many obstacles to equal opportunities and treatment in the world of work.  Labour force participation was an integral part of women's self-perception and sense of identity.  Those jobs, however, must be underpinned by rights for labour, social protection for families and communities, and dialogue and partnership for lasting solutions.

    Gender-based discrimination persisted practically everywhere and at all levels, she added.  In the formal economy, labour markets remained highly segregated, with many women caught in traditionally "female" jobs which tended to be more low-status, insecure, unsafe and poorly paid.  Even for similar work, women were still paid on average 20 to 30 per cent less than men in both industrialized and developing economies.  Women were also disproportionately concentrated in the informal economy with 60 per cent or more of female workers in developing countries in informal employment outside of agriculture and without the protection of international labour standards.

    Uruguay's representative noted that women in that country received on average 65 per cent less than what men earned, even highly skilled workers.  Indeed, the current situation presented something of a paradox in that the greater the qualifications of the woman, the greater the salary gap.  Laws to empower women were merely instruments.  The question of gender-based discrimination had to do with deeply entrenched cultural issues.  Improving the situation of women was both an ethical imperative and a daily necessity.

    Describing the situation of women in certain parts of the world as unbearable, Algeria's representative stressed the need for the international community to foster greater international cooperation to further economic and social development, especially for the millions of women living in extreme poverty in the South.  Gender equality and the empowerment of women were essential for attaining the Millennium Development Goals.  As women were the hardest hit by poverty, armed conflict, a lack of basic services and HIV/AIDS, the international community must eliminate the negative conditions which made women more vulnerable.

    Sri Lanka's representative noted that while women's representation at the highest decision-making levels was improving in that country, the gap was formidable, especially in the area of work.  To address the issue, the Government had mobilized more rural women into economic activities through special savings, credit and skill development programmes.  The Ministry of Women's Empowerment had taken action to mainstream gender into tsunami reconstruction and recovery policies by a Cabinet directive.

    Reporting on the status of women in the United Nations, Rachel N. Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said progress towards gender equality in the Secretariat and in the United Nations system in general had slowed down and had even started to show signs of reversal.  While there had been many calls for the United Nations to achieve gender parity in staffing, that goal remained elusive.  Women represented some 37.2 per cent of Professional staff, and some ground had been lost at the senior levels.  Among the 31 individual departments and offices with 20 or more Professional staff, only five had exceeded or met the gender balance target.  The lesson was clear.  More concerted attention was needed to maintain even the current representation, particularly at the D-1 level and above, she said.

    Also speaking in today's debate were the representatives of Venezuela, Mozambique, Morocco, Qatar, Guatemala, Iran, Cameroon, Saudi Arabia and Kyrgyzstan.  The Observer of Palestine also made a statement.

    The representatives of Israel and Palestine made statements in exercise of the right of reply.

    Also participating in the meeting were representatives of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU); International Organization for Migration (IOM); World Food Programme (WFP); United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO); Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS); United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT); and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

    Representatives of the Commonwealth Secretariat the Council of Europe also made statements.

    The Commission will meet again at a date to be announced.

    Background

    When the Commission on the Status of Women met this morning it was expected to conclude its general debate on the priority themes of its fiftieth session.

    (For background on the current session, see Press Release WOM/1538 issued on 24 February.)

    Statements

    RACHEL N. MAYANJA, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, provided an oral report on resolution 59/164 of 2004 on the improvement of the status of women in the United Nations.  There had been many calls for the United Nations to achieve gender parity in staffing.  The Beijing Platform called on the United Nations to achieve overall gender equality by 2000.  Yet, that goal remained elusive.

    Regarding women's representation in the Secretariat at the Professional level, she noted that women represented some 37.2 per cent of Professional staff.  Some ground had been lost at the senior level.  Among the 31 individual departments and offices with 20 or more Professional staff, only five had exceeded or met the gender balance target.  The lesson was clear.  More concerted attention was needed to maintain even the current representation, particularly at the D-1 level and above.  Recruitment and retention must be targeted by level.  As of December 2004, women represented some 37 per cent of staff in the Professional category, which was the same as the year before.  Gender balance had been achieved in two organizations, including the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).  A strong system for the administration of justice was key.  The issue of discrimination and sexual harassment affected women disproportionately and several policies had been promulgated in that regard.

    Concluding, she noted that progress towards gender equality in the Secretariat and in the United Nations system in general had slowed down and had even started to show signs of reversal.  Those trends called for the strengthening of mechanisms and the implementation of new policies.  She appealed to the Commission to recommend qualified women to help the Secretariat to achieve the goal entrusted to it.

    SAFIYE ÇAĞAR, delivering the statement of the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said research showed that investing in reproductive health improved maternal health and reduced maternal and child mortality in line with the Millennium Development Goals.  Current programmes providing contraceptives to 500 million women in developing countries who did not wish to become pregnant each year already prevented 187 million unintended pregnancies; 60 million unplanned births; 105 million abortions; 22 million miscarriages; 2.7 million infant deaths; 215,000 pregnancy-related deaths; and 685,000 children losing their mothers.  The benefits were tremendous.  Yet, today there were 200 million women with an unmet need for contraceptive services, and poor reproductive health remained a leading cause of death and disability for women in the developing world.  Clearly, greater commitment was urgently needed.  Greater investments in sexual and reproductive health would greatly contribute to reducing poverty, curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS and to advancing women's empowerment and gender equality, all basic human rights.  It would not be possible to make poverty history unless gender discrimination and violence were made history.

    IMERIA NÚÑEZ DE ODREMÁN ( Venezuela) said women in her country were in the process of transformation.  The Government recognized the importance of its international commitments and supported any effort to implement the measures of the Beijing Platform.  The basis for the whole process to achieve gender equity was found in the country's 1999 Constitution.  The Government had, among other things, enacted the Violence against Women in the Family Act and the official standard for comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care.  It had also reformed the Penal Code and land and agrarian act.  Offices had been delegated to provide free legal assistance to the victims of violence.  In 2005, the gender perspective had been included in the national budget, and in the area of health, community-based programmes had been created to provide primary preventive health treatment.  Comprehensive diagnosis centres would also be set up directly in the communities with state-of-the-art diagnostic systems.  In the last year alone, over 8 million women had benefited from such services, representing some 49.74 per cent of the total population.  There had also been an increase in the coverage of prenatal care.  To tackle violence against women in the family, the national women's institute worked with municipal and regional institutes for women.  Progress had also been achieved in terms of political rights, as was seen by the increased number of women in the national assembly.  A recent achievement was the approval by the President of an allocation of 80 per cent of the minimum wage to homemakers whose incomes were 40 per cent below the minimum wage.  Without gender justice there could be no social justice.

    FILIPE CHIDUMO ( Mozambique) said that in accordance with the Beijing Declaration, his country had adopted political, social and economic measures aimed at protecting and promoting the rights of women, ensuring their participation and taking gender perspectives into account as it embarked towards economic and social development.  The Government had concentrated its efforts on improving and promoting access to education, since educated women would improve children's education and increase space for the development of women entrepreneurs, with tools that enabled them to achieve higher levels of income.  At the same time, it was promoting female teacher's training aimed at ensuring that educated women became sources of inspiration for girls to continue with their education.  The successful outcome of initiatives would ultimately contribute to the achievement of a better future for all.  In the political sphere, he noted that 35 per cent of parliamentarians were women, and one of the Deputy Speakers and the Prime Minister were also women.  The enhancement of gender equality, he added, required strong leadership and women-to-women solidarity.

    Ms. BENCHAKROUM ( Morocco) said her country's commitment since the Fourth World Conference was reflected in the implementation of numerous reforms.  In the area of education, Morocco had worked to ensure that legislation was in keeping with the Constitution and to ensure that mandatory schooling was enforced.  The Government was also focusing on gender mainstreaming as a planning tool in school enrolment.  Also, a national charter of education had been established as a strategic way to fight gender inequality in education.  Regarding women's economic empowerment, joint action had been taken by public authorities and civil society organizations to set up support funds for the development of women's entrepreneurship.  On women's employment, the right of women to work had been strengthened by the reform of the Labour Code.  Several other measures had been taken, including the enactment of a law on microcredit and the promotion to professional training programmes.  In the area of health, public authorities had set up various programmes, including the promotion of no-risk maternity, family planning and the fight against sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.  Many legal reforms had also been carried out, including the reform of the Family Code.  The new Criminal Code ensured the human rights of women and their better protection.  A new Electoral Code had enabled 35 women to become parliamentarians in 2002.  The finance ministry had also introduced gender mainstreaming in the national budget.  Gender focal points for gender equality had also been created in several Government departments.

    NADJEH BAAZIZ ( Algeria) reiterated that gender equality and the empowerment of women were essential for attaining the Millennium Goals.  There were still regions in the world where the situation of women was unbearable.  Women were the hardest hit by poverty, armed conflict, a lack of basic services and HIV/AIDS.  The international community must continue efforts to eliminate the negative conditions which made women more vulnerable.  Algeria had worked to implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action through the drafting of a national plan and mobilizing considerable resources.  It was continuing efforts for gender quality in the educational, cultural and social spheres.  Women were present in the political, economic and social scenes thanks to the Government's policies. Examples of progress included the establishment of institutions for gender issues, such as the Ministry for Family and the Status of Women.  Today, women made up 60 per cent of medical personnel, 46 per cent of teachers and 55 per cent of journalists in Algeria.  Women were also well represented among senators, ambassadors, the courts, political parties, the army and the police.  The international community had to foster greater international cooperation to further the economic and social development of the millions of women living in extreme poverty in the South.

    ABDULLA EID AL-SULAITI ( Qatar) said that as a result of positive steps taken by the Government, women now participated in Qatari society on an equal footing with men in economic, social and political life.  Relations between men and women were governed by Islamic precepts and inherited custom, and were buttressed by policies, programmes and strategies directed at the empowerment of women.  In addition to progressive legislation in the form of the Social Security Law, the Retirement and Pension Law and the Housing Bill, Qatar had launched a comprehensive general and higher education development plan.  The goal of the international community should be to achieve de facto and de jure gender equality within families and in society at large.  The two main pillars of gender equality, jobs and educational opportunities, ensured that both women and men could influence, participate in and benefit from development processes.  Further investments in those areas were vital.

    CONNIE TARACENA ( Guatemala) said her country had made headway in the process of empowering women.  The peace agreements concluded in 1996 had constituted an important platform for promoting women's participation in all spheres of society and their human rights, especially those of Mayan, Xinca and Garifuna women.  The specific strategic guidelines on gender equality in the 2005 National Decentralization Policy had been key to incorporating the needs of women in Government policies and programmes.  Also, actions had been taken to implement a training programme for women leaders, which aims to empower their capacity in public policies, public investment and social auditing.  Thanks to the coordination between institutions, it had been possible to include gender equity in national policies and strategies, particularly regarding work policies, decentralization, human rights, prevention of juvenile violence and rural development.  Various Government agencies had developed initiatives to prevent and sanction crimes against women.  In an effort to deal with the upsurge in such crimes, at the end of 2005 a commission had been established to tackle the problem of the killing of women in Guatemala.  Working in coordination with the Presidential Secretariat for Women, the commission aimed to formulate a specific strategy to cope with the problem.

    PAIMANEH HASTEH ( Iran) said the empowerment of women in such fields as education, health and the economy was directly related to the strengthening of the family.  Iran was doing its utmost to create a conducive and supportive atmosphere for the family so as to benefit future generations.  She said women's participation in decision-making processes must not be cosmetic.  In a dynamic and democratic system of governance, such participation started at the lowest echelons of the decision-making process and rose to the highest offices.  At the national level, Iran had taken many steps to facilitate the presence of women in different fields, and had promoted their participation in decision-making processes.  The measures taken included financial support for women who took care of the household, adoption of general policies to alleviate poverty, expansion of national women's organizations and women's non-governmental organizations, and revision of laws deemed discriminatory against women.  Implementing those policies had not been without obstacles, including the negative impacts of globalization, the dire consequences of unilateral economic sanctions and inadequate access by women to new technologies.

    NADYA RASHEED, Observer for Palestine, noted that in 2003 the Ministry of Women's Affairs had been created to ensure the mainstreaming of women's rights in all Palestinian Authority institutions.  Since then, it had worked to address all types of violence against women as a crosscutting issue in all of its programmes.  As a result, Palestinian women had been able to heighten their involvement in the political arena.  The Ministry had the potential to improve the situation of Palestinian women, but only if it received the necessary resources.  However, all the resources and support could not overcome the permanent state of insecurity, tension and fear Palestinian women had lived in during Israel's 38-year occupation.  Their suffering had exponentially multiplied due to the intensification of Israel's illegal polices and practices.  Indeed, Palestinian women had borne the brunt of the suffering, compounding the pressures and constraints to which Palestinian women were subject in the traditional Palestinian patriarchal society.  Palestinian women fell victim to multiple forms of discrimination and violence and been forced to bear the additional burden of worsening political, social and human rights conditions.  Palestinian women's lives were not only exposed to difficult conditions in their families, but also in their day-to-day activities.  One particularly horrifying effect of those restrictions was pregnant women being forced to give birth at military checkpoints.  There could be no justification, including that of security, for such inhumane and cruel acts.

    MARTIN BELINGA-EBOUTOU ( Cameroon) said the fundamental concern of his country was to create an environment that fostered the full enjoyment of women's rights.  That concern was reflected in mainstreaming the gender perspective in the drafting of legislative and regulatory texts, such as the country's Penal, Family and Electoral Codes.  That concern was also reflected in the integration of international texts on the promotion and protection of women.  The second concern of Cameroon was to ensure the full enjoyment by women of their civil rights.  The Government realized that that was a long-term struggle, which, if to be successful, demanded true political resolve at all levels by both men and women.  A real political will among women was needed, as they made up the majority of the electorate.  The advancement of women and the gender perspective would be a collective work involving all of society; otherwise, it would not be achieved at all.

    SUSANA RIVERO ( Uruguay) noted that translating into practice international commitments was the only way to improve the quality of life of women.  Uruguay had taken specific measures to mainstream a gender perspective in public policy.  The new Ministry of Social Development was pursuing a draft national law on equality of opportunity and rights, which should be adopted soon.  Every woman was entitled to live free of violence in both public and private life.  Every nine days a woman died due to domestic violence.  In that regard, she welcomed the emphasis on the need to end impunity for violence against women.  Another issue was the feminization of HIV/AIDS.  HIV was increasing among women in all regions of the world.  Women, especially young women, were particularly vulnerable, as their rights were denied and neglected thanks to socio-economic and cultural factors.  Women's empowerment should lie at the heart of any crosscutting response to the global pandemic.  It was essential to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health.  Laws were merely an instrument.  The question of gender based discrimination had to do with deeply entrenched cultural issues.  Uruguayan women, even those highly skilled, tended to be concentrated in the lowest levels of the labour market, receiving some 65 per cent less than what men earned.  Indeed, the greater the qualifications of the woman, the greater the salary gap.  Improving the situation of women was an ethical imperative and daily requirement.

    SWARNA SUMANASEKERA, Chairperson of the National Committee on Women of Sri Lanka, said several far-reaching measures had been taken by her Government to promote gender equality, including the establishment of national machinery for women, the use of quotas for local government bodies, providing social security and supporting women's economic empowerment programmes.  An enabling environment for achieving gender equality had been created in the fields of education and health with the implementation of progressive policies.  However, the gaps remained wide for women in the area of work.  More rural women had been mobilized into economic activities through special savings, credit and skill development programmes.  She said the Ministry of Women's Empowerment had taken action to mainstream gender into tsunami reconstruction and recovery policies by a Cabinet directive.  Women's representation at the highest decision-making levels was improving but the gap was formidable.  There had been significant contributions by women to the political process at the grass-root level, particularly organizing election campaigns and political demonstrations.

    JOAN FRASER, President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Coordinating Committee of Women, noted that in 1995, women accounted for 11.3 per cent of legislators in world parliaments.  In 2005, they represented 16.3 per cent, a small 5 per cent increase over 10 years.  In 1995, Sweden had topped the ranking of women in parliament with 40.4 per cent.  By 2005, Rwanda had taken over with 48.8 per cent.  Also in 2005, some 20 countries had reached or surpassed the Beijing Platform target of 30 per cent of women in parliament.  While one might say that the situation was moderately encouraging, if current incremental rates continued, an average of 30 per cent women in parliament would not be reached until 2025.  True parity would have to wait until 2040.  The first objective should be to increase the number of women in parliament.  That was merely a quantitative goal and attention should be squarely focused on enhancing women's input into decision-making.  Women's presence in parliament and their active participation in legislative process were also necessary for the articulation of women's issues.   Women parliamentarians brought several changes to the institution of parliament, including transforming the physical premises, changes in institutional culture and influence of the legislative agenda.

    RAWIDA BAKSH, Director of the Social Transformation Programmes Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat, said that millions of women and girls did not benefit equally from development programmes, and the Millennium Goals and other globally agreed gender equality targets were seriously off track.  That was of particular concern for the Commonwealth, where 60 per cent of global HIV/AIDS cases and 60 per cent of maternal deaths occurred.  It was necessary to act now to ensure that additional resources for development actually reached the poorest.  In particular, it was important to ensure that development resources reached disadvantaged women and girls.  The Commonwealth would continue to deepen its gender mainstreaming approach, particularly in addressing persistent and emerging challenges such as women's political representation; women's participation in peace processes; gender-based violence; gender-responsive budgets and debt management; trafficking in women and girls; and HIV/AIDS.

    NDIORO NDIAYE, Deputy Director-General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that women accounted for almost half of the 200 million migrant population globally.  While there was a tendency to focus on the vulnerability of migrant women, they should increasingly be considered important agents for change and development.  Migration could have an empowering impact on women through the physical and financial independence they often enjoyed abroad, as well as the greater self-esteem they gained by being perceived as providers by their family and community.  The principal links between gender equality and migration included the contribution migration could make to, first, the empowerment of women and, second, the promotion of gender equality by making use of newly acquired coping skills as potential resources for change and development.  Empowered female role models encouraged future generations in key development areas such as health and education, family welfare and the local environment.  Also, female migrants tended to remit a larger share of their income that, in turn, could contribute to poverty reduction for their families and communities.

    MARTA REQUENA, Director-General of Human Rights for the Council of Europe, said the Council was the oldest international organization in the continent.  It was composed of 46 member States, representing some 8 million women and men.  Its primary concern was to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law.  In that context, equality was a fundamental criterion of democracy.  For a long time, gender equality in Europe had been defined as giving women and men de jure equal rights.  It was now recognized, however, that de jure equality did not automatically lead to de facto equality.  While the legal status of European women had improved over the last 30 years, effective equality was still far from being reality.  Women's human rights were still being violated.  Despite significant achievements, effective gender equality remained an on-going challenge.  Only six States -- Austria, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Spain and Norway -- had the recommended minimum of 40 per cent or more women in their Governments.  Only Germany had a woman Head of Government.  Finland, Ireland and Latvia had elected women Heads of State.  In line with its pioneering role in standard-setting, the Council was currently drafting a recommendation on minimum European standards in the field of gender equality, including gender equality machinery.

    SHEILA SISULU, World Food Programme (WFP), said women were the guardians of food security for most families around the world.  For more than 10 years now, the WFP had been working at every level -- policy, practice and advocacy -- to ensure that women not only had equal access to food, but also that food aid helped to empower them.  In 9 out of 10 of WFP nutrition projects, it provided food specially designed to meet the vitamins and minerals needed by pregnant and lactating women.  That was helping to reduce the number of women who died in pregnancy or labour owing to iron-deficiency anaemia.  Today, that number stood at 300 women every day.  Also, 48 per cent of the 17 million students that the WFP reached through its school feeding projects were girls.  The Programme was also working to give women more say in how food aid was used.  One area of continuing struggle was ensuring that women were fairly represented on food distribution committees for emergency relief.  The Programme had recognized that when food was scarce, putting it in the hands of women could put them at risk.  It had done what it could to minimize the risks to women, and had taken a particularly tough stand against sexual exploitation of its beneficiaries.

    ZOFIA OLSZOWSKA, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said the 2005 World Summit had reaffirmed the nexus of the political and economic empowerment of women, gender equality and sustainable development.  As the lead agency for the United Nations Decade for Sustainable Development (2005-2014), UNESCO sought to integrate sustainable development, as a prime objective, into all aspects of education and learning.  The UNESCO was actively participating in the United Nations inter-agency initiative to develop a system-wide gender mainstreaming strategy with related accountability mechanisms.  The UNESCO was equally committed to intensifying efforts in its own house to move towards the equal participation of women in decision-making processes and to increasing the percentage of women in decision-making levels to 40 per cent by 2015.  The UNESCO had provided expertise in enhancing capacities and the participation of women in the interconnected fields of education, health and work.

    MARCELA VILLARREAL, Director of the Gender and Population Division, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that 75 per cent of world's poor -- or 900 million people -- lived in rural areas and depended on agriculture for their livelihoods.  Reaching Millennium Goal 1, relating to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, would not be possible without taking into account the specific needs of the rural population, and giving special attention to the constraints of rural women.  In all regions of the world, women made substantial contributions to agricultural production.  Land was a key social and economic asset, crucial for maintaining cultural identity, political power and participation in decision-making.  Equality in the access to and ownership of land must be at the centre of all national and international development policies.  When women were denied equal property rights, they had reduced social, economic and political status.  By contrast, having land rights increased rural women's power and allowed them to participate more easily in the decision-making processes of their society.

    PAULINE MUCHINA, Senior Women and AIDS Advocacy Officer, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said that today, over 40 million people were living with HIV.  Just under half of those were women -- more than twice as many women as just a decade ago -- the vast majority of whom lived in developing countries or on the margins of society in industrialized nations.  In sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls made up nearly 60 per cent of those living with AIDS.  Poverty, gender discrimination and violations of their human rights increased women's risk of contracting HIV, with women who were subjected to violence at even greater risk.  Two years ago, UNAIDS launched the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS -- a worldwide alliance of Governments, United Nations agencies and programmes, civil society groups and networks of women living with HIV -- which highlighted the impact of HIV and AIDS on women and advocated to make the global AIDS response work better for women and girls.  Among the Coalition's key advocacy goals were universal access to education and achieving zero tolerance for violence against women.

    AXUMITE GEBRE-EGZIABHER, Director of the New York Office of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), on behalf of UN-HABITAT Executive Director, Anna Tibaijuka, outlined recent initiatives by UN-HABITAT to promote women in decision-making.  The rapid gender assessments conducted in 2005 through the programme on gender mainstreaming into the Water for African cities programme had revealed, among other things, the serious absence of women in decision-making positions in the 16 water utilities under study.  The Urban Sector Profile Study carried out so far in 22 African and Arab States, examined four areas, including gender, secure tenure, urban governance and the environment.  The study had identified the lack of women or gender mainstreaming policies in municipalities in most countries, coupled with lack of collaboration between municipalities on the one hand, and gender experts, Women's Affairs Ministries and women's organizations on the other.  To that end, UN-HABITAT was developing a two-year programme on gender mainstreaming in municipal development in Africa in 2006-2007.  It had also documented pro-poor and gender responsive legislation and policies that promoted sustainable human settlements.

    XENIA VON LILIEN-WALDAU of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) said the Commission had acted as a catalyst for defining the agenda for the advancement of women.  Giving women secure access to land could transform their lives both economically and socially.  The IFAD financed development projects in some of the poorest rural areas of the world where increasing pressures on land threatened the loss of land rights by the rural poor, particularly women and indigenous women.  Defending women's rights required comprehensive action at different levels, including information and capacity-building, organization and empowerment measures and legal assistance and advocacy.  For IFAD, an enabling environment to achieve gender equality had three dimensions, namely economic empowerment, participation in decision-making and improved well-being.  Economic empowerment meant access to productive assets, land, water, markets, finances and technologies.  Improved well-being for rural women required improved infrastructure and essential services, changes in women's workload, and better health, training and education.  Women were more likely to participate in both private and public sector decision-making if they had greater knowledge, economic assets and income-earning capacity.

    GASPARD CURIONI, World Bank, said women still faced large gaps in sectors that were critical for both poverty reduction and economic growth.  Women globally needed improved economic opportunities -- access to quality employment and access to and control over productive resources, such as credit, land and technologies.  Research showed that increasing women's labour force participation was key for both poverty reduction and economic growth.  During the 1990s, the main difference between the average Latin American family living above the poverty line and those living below it was women's labour force participation in the former.  Recent World Bank work on pro-poor growth showed that states in India with high female labour force participation were the states with fastest growth, and where growth was most effective in reducing poverty.  The President of the World Bank had recently highlighted the centrality of gender equality to economic growth and productivity by noting that new evidence demonstrated that achieving gender equality was smart economics.

    EVY MESSELL, Director, Bureau for Gender Equality, International Labour Organization (ILO), said labour force participation was an integral part of women's self-perception and sense of identity.  But those jobs must be underpinned by rights for labour, social protection for families and communities, and dialogue and partnership for lasting solutions.  While the growing proportion of women in the labour force had been a recent trend, women still faced many obstacles to equal opportunities and treatment in the world of work.  Gender-based discrimination persisted practically everywhere and at all levels.  In the formal economy, labour markets remained highly segregated, with many women caught in traditionally "female" jobs which tended to be more low-status, insecure, unsafe, poorly paid and without opportunities for advancement than those held by men.  Even for similar work, women were still paid on average 20 to 30 per cent less than men in both industrialized and developing economies.  In addition, women were disproportionately concentrated in the informal economy with 60 per cent or more of female workers in developing countries in informal employment outside of agriculture and without the protection of international labour standards.

    GULNAR HIJAZI ( Saudi Arabia) said women were an indivisible and integral part of society and must be allowed to enjoy all economic and social rights.  Saudi Arabia had endeavoured to preserve the dignity of women and to ensure their inheritance rights.  Saudi women and men had the same rights in the family.  The Government rejected violence against all people.  The Government also reaffirmed the right to basic education for all, including university education.  In that regard, it provided a certain amount of money for all students to complete university education.  The same applied to the area of health care.  Women participated in all sectors of work without discrimination, including in terms of salary.  Measures had been taken to ensure that pregnant women were not fired, but received benefits such as maternity leave and day care at work.  The Government also tried to protect women from social ills that were the fruit of extramarital relations.  The Government had enshrined the right to marry and to choose a spouse.  Both men and women had the right to divorce.  Women were able to divorce when they needed to.  In such cases, women received custody of children up to a certain age.

    NURBEK JEENBAEV ( Kyrgyzstan) said many wonderful women had played an important role in strengthening Kyrgyz society.  Today, Kyrgyz women played an active role in many fields and were making their voices heard in, among others, politics and business.  He emphasized that in recent decades, the Government had done a great deal to enhance the legislative base for women's rights, to expand those rights and ensure gender equality in society.  Evidence of that was the country's accession to over 30 international human rights instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol.  It had also adopted a law on State guarantees to ensure gender equality.  In order to implement that law, an analysis of all existing laws was being carried out.  He also mentioned a law on social and legal protection from violence by family members, as well as the development of sex-disaggregated statistics on violence in the family.  Among the strategic areas defined in the national action plan to for gender equality were national mechanisms and maintaining a gender balance.  Also, the State ensured the provision of free health care for women.  While infant and child mortality rates had been stabilized, maternal mortality rates continued to be of concern.  Persistent challenges included the vulnerability of populations who lived in high mountainous areas, which experienced difficulties in access to education and health care.

    Statements in Right of Reply

    Ms. SIMOVICH ( Israel) relayed to the Commission several examples of suicide attacks against Israelis that were carried out by young Palestinian women.  She said the desire of Palestinian women for a peaceful life for themselves and their children was one that was shared by, and the right of, Israeli women as well.  Since September 2000, at least eight Palestinian women had carried out suicide attacks against Israel, and more than 50 who were believed to have intended to carry out attacks had been arrested by Israeli forces, thus preventing the murder of many Israeli civilians.  The Israeli Defense Forces were well aware of the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian civilian population.  A specific emphasis had been given to freedom of movement for those requiring medical care.  However, there were many cases of Palestinians abusing the neutrality of ambulances to carry out attacks.  There had also been many attacks carried out against checkpoints, including by Palestinian women.  The allegations by the Palestinian representative of sexual abuse by Israeli military personnel against Palestinian women were completely baseless.

    Ms. RASHEED, observer for Palestine, said it was necessary to remind Israel that it was an occupying Power, and that was the context in which everything that happened should be viewed.  Occupation had negated the rights and existence of the Palestinian people.  Any attempt to distort that reality must be rejected.  The Palestinians continued to condemn suicide attacks and the loss of life on both sides.  The real problem was that Israel had not done the same.  She had yet to hear the Israeli side condemn the killing of Palestinian civilians.  The facts on the ground were very telling about the death and destruction imposed on Palestinians.  Mothers and infants should not be killed in their homes, die at checkpoints, or be made homeless while their homes and shelters were destroyed.  As for the Israeli claim about taking humanitarian measures towards Palestinians, she stressed there was nothing humanitarian about the military occupation of a civilian population.  It was high time for Israel to end the occupation and allow the Palestinian people to live in peace and security.

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