Press Releases

    WOM/1497

    8 March 2005

    Women Continue to Face Host of Persistent Obstacles to Advancement, Commission Told, as High-Level Debate Continues

    Forty-Nine More Speakers Heard in Review of Progress 10 Years after Beijing Conference

    NEW YORK, 7 March (UN Headquarters) -- While many countries had made significant efforts to empower women in the past decade, including through sweeping legislative and institutional changes, women continued to face a host of persistent obstacles to their advancement, including the unrelenting threat of violence and emerging dangers such as trafficking, the Commission on the Status of Women was told today.

    Beginning the second week of its deliberations, the Commission on the Status of Women, which will conclude its work on 11 March, has been focusing on a 10-year review and appraisal of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, and the General Assembly’s 2000 special session on gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century.

    Noting that the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action predated his country’s independence, the representative of Timor-Leste said that country had greatly benefited from its recommendations in the creation of its national policies and institutions.  Timor-Leste had ratified seven international human rights treaties, including the women’s anti-discrimination convention, which it ratified just six months after achieving full independence.  As a new nation, Timor-Leste had had to face up to the fact that violence against women was not just an element of its difficult past, but was a “highly prevalent force” today, which was based on strong traditional practices.

    Taking into account the catastrophic situation facing Rwanda at the time of the Beijing Conference, that country’s representative said, her country’s efforts to advance women and gender equality had been positive.  Seminars on violence against women and girls had been organized, and laws had been introduced against the rape of women and children.  She was grateful for United Nations resolution 59/137 of December 2004, which had called on the United Nations system to step up efforts to aid the survivors of the 1994 genocide, particularly the women, orphans and victims of sexual violence.

    Pointing to his country’s experience, the representative of the Republic of Korea said the enactment of measures to prosecute all aspects of prostitution signalled the changing perception that violence against women, in whatever form, went beyond a personal tragedy and affected society as a whole.  In the end, the State was responsible for eliminating all forms of violence against women.  The Beijing Platform had provided invaluable guidance for his Government in translating political will into action.

    The Philippines had also made gains in promoting women’s human rights through progressive legislation, that country’s representative said.  Women held critical positions in such non-traditional fields as foreign affairs, finance, and science and technology.  The past 10 years had also seen the passage of laws against sexual harassment, rape, trafficking and domestic violence.  Trafficking of women and girls remained a serious problem exacerbated by the use of cyber-technology.  As Filipino women now comprised more than half of the land-based overseas workers, the Government was undertaking major reforms to better protect migrant women workers before departure and in their places of employment.

    Urging the international community to “wake up” to the issues of growing inequalities in a globalized world, Winnie Byanyima, Director of the Women, Gender and Development Directorate of the African Union Commission, noted that, in the decade since Beijing, millions in Africa had died from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other preventable diseases.  Violence against women was still rampant.  Many countries had inadequate laws, while others did not enforce them.  “Caught between armies of rebels and governments locked in civil wars”, women’s voices were seldom heard in peace negotiations.  They were the majority in Africa’s humiliating internally displaced persons and refugee camps and faced rape and other forms of sexual violence, which often went unpunished.  That was not a positive picture of the lives of African women, but it was the reality, she said.

    Also speaking today were the representatives of the Russian Federation, Slovenia, Cuba, Malawi, Nepal, Burundi, Niger, Fiji, Gabon, Angola, Samoa, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Colombia, Yemen, Togo, Mauritius, Liechtenstein, Myanmar, Thailand, Belize, CzechRepublic, Hungary, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Ecuador, Jamaica, Malta, Ethiopia, Libya and Guyana.

    Representatives of the Holy See delegation, the European Community, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the International Organization of the Francophonie, the International Association of Economic and Social Councils, the International Organization for Migration, the Executive Committee of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), Kiribati on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) also made statements.

    Also making a statement was the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons.

    The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again tomorrow, 8 March, at 10 a.m. to observe International Women’s Day and continue its work.

    Background

    The Commission on the Status of Women met this morning to continue its high-level discussion.

    Statements

    SERGEY BEREZNIY, Director of the Department of the Ministry of Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation said globalization, terrorism and environmental problems had particular effects on women.  Today’s meeting was extremely important.  Measures for gender equality were major prerequisites for social development.  The Russian Federation had seen significant political and socio-economic changes.  Gender equality was now discussed at all levels of government and society.  The transition to a market economy had affected women in particular.  Economic growth in recent years, however, had positively impacted the situation of women, bringing them new employment opportunities and benefits.  There had been targeted efforts to broaden women’s role in the economy.  Women represented some 30 per cent of all business people, and more than 50 per cent of those in higher education were women.

    The main instrument for the situation of women in the Russian Federation was the national plan of action for 2001-2005, he said.  The gender dimension was taken into account in the formation of State programmes.  Gender statistics had also been developed, and academic research was carried out.  Efforts had been stepped up to address the issue of violence against women and trafficking in human beings.  The criminal code included a new provision on trafficking and slave labour.  A social welfare system had been developed.  The Russian Federation was determined to meet its obligations under the Beijing Platform.

    TANJA SALECL, Director of the Equal Opportunities Office of Slovenia, said the declaration and platform for action and outcome documents of the five-year review had paved the way of the process of making gender equality an important part of social development in her country.  The process had been fuelled by Slovenia’s commitment to meeting its other international obligations.  In Slovenia, meeting challenges in the post-Beijing process had been marked by two main sets of activities, including the elimination of discriminatory legislation.  Equal treatment and gender-equality provisions had been included in family- and employment-related legislation.  Legislative changes had also been introduced for women victims of violence, and the constitution had been amended to promote gender balance in public and political decision-making.  Special equal-treatment legislation had also been adopted.  Two new acts, one aimed to promote gender equality and the other a general act to ensure implementation of the equal treatment principle, provided a comprehensive gender-equality and equal-treatment legal and policy framework.  Other outcomes of the two acts included the introduction of positive obligations for special measures and the strengthening of the role of the Government office for equal opportunities.

    A second set of activities regarded awareness raising and included research and analysis to understand current imbalances between men and women in policy fields, she said.  To overcome cultural barriers, the Government had focused on designing communications strategies including the provision of information on new legislation.  The most recent work was aimed at changes of the role of men in family responsibilities and the role of women in decision-making.  Slovenia had transformed its commitments into action.  The quality of her country’s performance qualified it as a protagonist of a world factory producing a new vision by which gender equality would be not only a goal but an absolute principle guiding future development.

    YOLANDA FERRER, Member of Parliament of Cuba, stressed that the Beijing agreements could not be questioned and were irrevocable.  Cuba would not allow any regression.  The outcome of the current Commission session must necessarily promote a real and deeper awareness of the tremendous gaps between the purposes and goals agreed in Mexico until now.  Successes had been achieved in the area of raising awareness of gender issues, and sexual and reproductive health rights had been added to the public agendas of governments, social movements, and political parties.  Many countries had set forth a legal framework to promote women’s advancement.  Nevertheless, within the current and unjust economic order, women’s situation had worsened, also owing to the effect of neo-liberal policies imposed by centres of economic, military and political powers.  Not only had there been a feminization of poverty, but also a feminization of social marginalization.  She was horrified at the negative consequences of structural adjustment programmes, which had weakened States and restricted their sovereignty and independence.

    She said she was equally dismayed at the wars and genocidal acts, which had seriously jeopardized the very existence of the planet and its inhabitants, with the killing and torture of innocent, women, girls and boys, and elderly persons.  That danger had expanded to the darkest corners of the planet.  At the same time, women’s importance in Cuba continued to be emphasized.  Women comprised 62 per cent of technicians and professionals, and 51 per cent of those employed in science and technological fields.  They comprised 5 per cent of all workers, and 30 per cent of elected representatives.  There was an equality of opportunity and parity at all levels, and women were favoured with respect to health programmes.  Women also had equal access to the media, social services, and they could decide family planning and exercise their reproductive and sexual rights.  A national action plan following up the Beijing Platform for Action had been promulgated in 1997 and had contributed to all of those gains.  Achievements across the board had been made despite the unjust and unilateral economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on Cuba for the past 35 years by the United States Government.

    JOYCE BANDA, Minister of Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services of Malawi, said that education was critical to the attainment of gender parity.  In that respect, free primary education was introduced in 1994, resulting in a significant increase in the enrolment of girls in primary schools.  Also, gender equality could not be achieved without guaranteeing women’s reproductive health rights.  Through its comprehensive sexual and reproductive-health programme, the Government provided maternal and neonatal care services, family planning and programmes to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.  Among the challenges still faced were high maternal mortality and a critical shortage of skilled health personnel.  Committed to addressing gender-based violence as a priority, Malawi had, among other measures, a network against such violence in place with men as active partners.

    Malawi, she continued, had also created a policy and institutional framework for enhancing women’s participation in decision-making.  Women made up 13 per cent of Parliament, up from 8.5 per cent in 1999.  While Malawi had made progress in the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, a lot of work remained to be done to attain gender equality.  Women’s position in society remained subordinate.  Their access to information and communication technology was an emerging issue that needed to be addressed to improve their access to development and market information.  Also, HIV/AIDS continued to decimate the gains made in all aspects of women’s advancement.  The majority of women lacked access to affordable drugs to treat HIV/AIDS.

    DURGA SHRESTHA, Minister for women, Children and Social Welfare, Nepal, said her country supported the United Nations’ efforts to link the Millennium Development Goals and the Beijing Platform for Action through concerted actions by MemberStates and the international community.  Nepal had reaffirmed its commitment to gender equality and women’s advancement, and had accorded high priority to those goals in the development of its plans, policies and programmes.  A national action plan, formulated in 1997 and updated in 2004, focused on the
    12 critical areas of concern of the Beijing Platform and on the overall advancement of women.  Several national institutions had been put in place, including her Ministry, the National Coordination Committee and the National Women’s Commission.  There was also a countrywide network of gender focal points, and a working manual on gender mainstreaming at the district level had been adopted.  In addition, women development offices and district coordination committees had been set up in all 75 districts in that regard.

    Noting that significant progress had been made in increasing female life expectancy, as well as in improving female literacy levels and primary and secondary school completion rates, she said that many challenges still lay ahead in translating into reality the commitments made at Beijing and its five-year review in 2000.  Nepal, as a least developed country, had been suffering from atrocities committed by terrorists for the past 10 years.  That very difficult period in its history had affected the lives of each and every citizen, including women.  The concepts of development, gender equality, gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment could be built only on a foundation of peace.  It was in that context that her country had made peace the main national agenda.  The Government, mindful of the importance of peace and security on the country’s development, was committed to restoring it.  She was confident that the international community would extend its support and assistance to complement those efforts.  She commended the work of the United Nations in strengthening the capacities of national machineries, in order to enhance their effectiveness and efficiency.

    MARIE GORETTL NDUWIMANA, Ministry of Social Action and for the Promotion of Women for Burundi, said her country had undergone war since 1993.  While the crisis had spared no one, women had been the victims of indescribable violence.  Burundi had focused on six areas of the Beijing Platform, including health, poverty and education.  Women were now members of the national commission to reintegrate the victims of war.  Women had contributed greatly to the return to peace by supporting displaced persons.  They had also been integrated into the Arusha negotiations.  Regarding health, women were the greatest victims of HIV/AIDS.  With the assistance of non-governmental organizations, work was being done to disseminate antiretroviral drugs.  To promote synergy, the country’s first lady had dedicated her efforts to the fight against HIV/AIDS.  Inadequate infrastructures formed a major obstacle to women’s health.

    Regarding poverty reduction, she noted that Burundi’s women were beginning to travel abroad to trade.  Barriers still existed, however, including access to land, lack of training, lack of awareness among women about credit and saving and scant access to credits and loans.  International bodies had supported Burundi’s efforts in the area of education, and great progress had been made.  The constitution enshrined a 30 per cent quota for women’s participation in decision-making.  The national labour and family code had also been reviewed.  All public and private radio stations had women-oriented programming.  The Ministry of Social Action to promote women used financial support mechanisms to promote programmes in rural areas.  While Burundi had not found the path yet to gender equality, progress had been made, and there was much hope.

    OUSMANE ZEINABOUMOULAY, Minister of Promotion of Women and Protection of Children, Niger, said that high priority had been given to promotion of women’s issues.  At the institutional level, for example, there was the creation in 2000 of a national observatory for the promotion of women within her Ministry.  Gender advisers had been appointed to both the President’s and Prime Minister’s cabinets, and gender focal points were now in place.  Niger had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, as well as its optional protocol, and the 1999 Constitution had enshrined the principle of gender equality.  In terms of combating violence against women, the Government had reviewed the criminal code in 2003, in order to prosecute and punish the crime of slavery, genital mutilation of women, and sexual harassment.  In 2000, a law had been adopted to create a 10 per cent quota for elective positions in government, and a 25 per cent quota within state administration.  At the recent elections, women had achieved the following results:  661 had been elected out of 3,747 counsellors, or 17 per cent; 14 women had been elected out of 113 parliamentarians, or 13 per cent; and six out of 16 ministers recently appointed had been women, or 24.5 per cent.

    She said that that had been clear improvement over the previous parliament where only one woman had served out of more than 80 representatives.  Women also held high-level positions in other spheres.  Among the many examples was that the Vice-President of the Supreme Court was a woman.  At the social level, 36.8 per cent of girls attended school.  In 2002, the country had adopted a 10-year programme for developing education, which attached priority to the girl child at school.  In the area of health, a reproductive health programme was prepared and implemented, making it possible for the Government to promote the concept of reproductive health and to ensure that it was applied throughout the national health system.  HIV/AIDS also received much attention from the highest authorities and, in order to strengthen health coverage, 1,000 health clinics had been built, and hundreds of health agents had been trained.  Women’s economic power was also being upgraded, through implementation of the 2002 poverty reduction strategy paper.  In addition, the President’s special programme to provide credit to women had resulted in more than 10 billion “CFA” francs being made available to women.

    Programmes such as those cited above were evidence of the Government’s belief that the country’s development rested on the economic independence of women, she said.   Very encouraging results had been recorded, with the support of her country’s development partners and civil society; however, there were still challenges ahead.  Those included, in particular, controlling the rapid population growth, continually improving access to and the quality of health services, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, improving the educational levels and literacy rates of women, and drafting and adopting a statute on women’s rights.  She appealed to all of Niger’s partners to support those efforts in the context of poverty reduction.

    ADI ASENACA CAUCAU, Minister for Women, Social Welfare and Poverty Alleviation of Fiji noted that through Fiji’s National Strategic Development Plan for 2003-2005, her Government was committed to creating an enabling environment for women to be able to fully participate in socio-economic development.  Legislative improvements included a review of the family law in 1997, the establishment of a human rights commission in 1999 and a new bill, to be tabled by the Parliament, providing for equal opportunities in employment.  Mainstreaming gender perspectives in the planning process had been partially achieved through the engendering of policy documents and project appraisals.  Gender audits had also been conducted in two line ministries.  Promoting the establishment of small and micro-enterprises was a key strategy for providing employment opportunities.  Providing disadvantaged women with access to savings and credit mechanisms had met with some success.

    She said the number of women in Government boards and committees had increased, with women comprising some 22.8 per cent of those bodies.  In 1999, the public service commission had put in place an equal employment opportunities policy, and women comprised about 46 per cent of those employed in public service.  Violence against women was still largely viewed as a domestic issue to be resolved by the family.  Due to increased efforts, however, that view was rapidly changing.  The Government would continue to work in that area, and she urged the United Nations to assist more countries in the Pacific region in that regard.  While Fiji had made substantial progress in implementing the Beijing Platform, critical concerns remained, including gender and poverty reduction, HIV/AIDS, the feminization of migration and peace and security.  Fiji had undergone political upheaval and the present Government placed great importance on peace and security.

    DENIS DANGUE REWAKA (Gabon), on behalf of Angelique Ngoma, Minister for Family, Child Protection and Advancement of Women, said that, since the adoption of the Beijing agenda in 1995, his Government, in partnership with non-governmental organizations and women’s associations, had set out a national plan of action whose principle objectives were women’s social, political and economic enhancement.  That plan had enjoyed the technical and financial support of a number of United Nations agencies and other development partners in Gabon.  In implementing the action plan, the Government had created an observatory on women’s rights and gender equality in 1999, with the main objective of promoting, with civil society, the drafting of laws and regulations for the promotion and protection of women’s rights.  His Government had also undertaken several awareness-raising campaigns against all forms of violence against women.

    He said that, in order to set up income-generating activities, his Government had implemented several measures, including the creation in 1998 of the President’s Prize, by which women were awarded several projects in such areas as fisheries, agriculture, and handicraft each year on National Women’s Day.  It had also implemented a microcredit project in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and credit had also been given to women’s associations to expand their economic activities for the development of small- and medium-sized enterprises.  He paid tribute to the important contributions of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in preparing projects for literacy campaigns and the professional training of women.  In countering the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the Government had, among other things, created a treatment fund, which took particular account of the situation of women living with HIV/AIDS.

    The President had also instructed the Government to take account of the gender dimension by appointing women as civil servants at management levels, he said, adding that, recently, the Government had appointed at least five women in each ministerial office.  Given the country’s heavy debt burden, however, the financial and human resources Gabon had been able to mobilize had not allowed it to achieve the desired results in implementing the national plan for women.  Only by strengthening international cooperation could it achieve better implementation.  He called the international community’s attention to the particular problem of migrant women, who also played a part in the development of the host countries.  He continued to believe that it was through a chain of solidarity between men and women, and States, and national and international organizations that women’s problems would be properly addressed.

    MARIA FILOMENA F.T. DELGADO, Deputy Minister for Family and the Advancement of Women of Angola said her country had promulgated legislation to promote gender equality, including in its family, nationality and penal codes, among others.  The main obstacle for women’s full enjoyment of their human rights was inadequate resources.  Strategic plans for rural development, education, reproductive health and the elimination of poverty, among others, addressed the specific needs of women and girls.  Gender-based violence was more rampant than ever, despite services such as legal aid.  Women were most affected by HIV/AIDS.  Strategies to contain the pandemic included gender mainstreaming in HIV/AIDS programmes, and the creation of a national commission.  Women’s participation in decision-making was also being promoted.

    Her Government reaffirmed its commitment to the emancipation of women in general.  Although there were challenges in its implementation, the signing of the Luena Agreement in 2002, which had brought peace to the country, was a positive development that could usher in peace, greater security and opportunities for women’s empowerment.  With the war an issue of the past, Angola now lived in a new era.  The Government was still taking measures to improve the living conditions of the people and to strengthen human rights and the rule of law.   That trend was an opportunity for strengthening women’s access to civil, economic and political rights and legal protection.  The 2006 general elections would be an occasion to increase the number of women in decision-making positions.  It would not be easy to put all the services in place to guarantee women the full enjoyment of their rights.  In that regard, Angola looked to partners in the developed countries to come to the aid of the least developed nations.

    LUIS FREITAS LOBATO, Vice-Minister of Health, Timor-Leste, reminded delegations that, when the Beijing Platform was adopted in 1995, Timor-Leste was not yet an independent nation.  It had greatly benefited, however, from the recommendations contained in the Platform and in other international declarations and treaties on human rights, as well as in the creation of its own national policies and institutions.  Primarily, the Constitution had been drafted to guarantee that equality should exist between men and women.  In order to fulfil that guarantee, the Office of the Adviser to the Prime Minister for the Promotion of Equality had been established with four core programme areas:  gender mainstreaming, the promotion of a culture of equality, addressing gender-based violence and the empowerment of women.  Gender mainstreaming had been a particular priority, for which the Office for Promotion of equality had established gender focal points in the planning departments of each Minister.

    He said that that had proved to be a strong and sustainable mechanism for promoting equality in each Ministry’s work plans and budgets.  The strategy had so far borne some very tangible results.  The first national development plan, for example, included targets and indicators for the achievement of gender equality within each Ministry’s overall strategy and annual action plans.  The Millennium Development Goals and their inherent gender concerns had also been mainstreamed throughout the national development plan.  Timor-Leste had ratified seven international human rights treaties, and just six months after achieving full independence, it signed and ratified the Women’s Convention.  His country called attention to violence as one of the greatest obstacles to the achievement of women’s advancement.  As a new nation, it had had to face up to the fact that violence against women was not just an element of its difficult past, but was a “highly prevalent force” today, which was based on strong traditional practices and beliefs that subordinated women and made domestic violence the “single most common grievance” brought before the law enforcement agencies.

    Domestic violence was impeding women’s full participation in the economic, social and political life which the country was endeavouring to develop, he said.  In response, Timor-Leste had drafted its own domestic violence law, which would deal directly with the needs of the victims of violence.  It also outlined responses and responsibilities for the State and its partners.  The Office for Promotion of Equality had worked very closely with civil society and the Church, and had consulted with the population at all levels to inform the development of that law, and to put in place multi-sector projects and services to assist the victims.  Once the law was approved, a legal mechanism would be in place to prevent and tackle that destructive phenomenon.  Timor-Leste was also experiencing extremely high maternal mortality and fertility rates, among the highest in the world.  The eradication of poverty was the primary goal, and that was directly linked to the ability to improve women’s reproductive health and the overall health of the families.  The country had already established family planning and reproductive-health policies in line with the goals and targets of the Millennium Declaration and the outcome of the Cairo population conference.

    IMELDA NICOLAS, Secretary-General and Lead Convenor for the National Anti-Poverty Commission of the Philippines strongly affirmed the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and rejected any attempt to betray the spirit of Beijing.  The Philippines had made gains in the promotion of women’s human rights and in the elimination of violence against women through legislation and programmes and through the ratification of international conventions.  The past 10 years had seen the passage of laws against sexual harassment, rape, trafficking and domestic violence.  An inter-agency coordinating committee on violence against women had been created.  Another cause for celebration was the increasingly prominent role of women in decision-making in both the public and private spheres.  Women managers had risen from 33 per cent in 1995 to 59 per cent in 2003.  Women held critical positions in such non-traditional fields as foreign affairs, finance, budget, science and technology and justice.  With the current decade, the Philippines had had its second woman president.  Women’s leadership was also evident at the grass-roots level, where they participated in local governance and community affairs.

    Gains had also been made in mainstreaming through the systematic development of mechanisms and instruments, she said.  Milestones in gender mainstreaming would not have been possible without a strong national machinery for women.  That winning formula -– gender mainstreaming along with strong institutional mechanisms that served as advocates for gender equality and empowered gender focal points --provided leadership and passion.  Achievements in women’s empowerment had been the result of the strong partnerships among various stakeholders, including government agencies, the judiciary and civil society groups.  Gender empowerment, family planning, social safety nets, and entrepreneurial and business development were becoming integral parts of microfinance.

    While celebrating such gains, the Philippines confronted persistent and emerging challenges, she continued.  The trafficking of women and girls remained a serious problem exacerbated by the use of cyber-technology.  As Filipino women now comprised more than half of the land-based overseas workers, major reforms were being undertaken by the Government to better protect migrant women workers before departure and in their places of employment.  At the international level, the Philippines would contribute to strategies aimed at prompting the rights and welfare of women migrant workers.  While the Philippine Government continued its peace negotiations with rebel groups, the role of women in the prevention of conflict, as well as in post-conflict situations was being addressed, she added.

    SAFUNEITUUGA NERI PAAGA, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development of Samoa, said that, over the last decade, the Government had implemented a comprehensive programme of legislative, economic and public sector reforms which had directly benefited women in many ways.  They included new citizenship laws which allowed Samoan women to pass on their citizenship to their foreign spouses on an equal basis with men, as well as measures to improve access to credit facilities.

    Public sector reforms had resulted in the realignment of the former Ministry of Women’s Affairs with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry for Youth Affairs, creating the new Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development.  The new Ministry’s first Corporate Plan (2004-2007) focused on enhancing the role of women in the development of their families and communities.

    Among measures included the “Safer Samoa” campaign initiated in 2004 by Samoa’s Police Services, embodying a major shift in policy from reactive law enforcement to proactive crime reduction and the promotion of community safety and confidence.  Domestic violence was one of the critical areas of the campaign.  In March, the Government would open its first dialysis centre to provide low-cost treatment for diabetes patients.  Diabetes was a serious health issue in Samoa, affecting a significant number of women.

    FLAVIA GARCIA (Dominican Republic) said that the current Commission session was full of meaning, as it combined 30 years of efforts at the international level to build the paradigm of equality between men and women and transcend differences among values, visions and social structures.  The legacy of the Fourth World Conference on Women had been the adoption of a tremendous action plan to improve women’s situation throughout the world.  That had been a prime tool with which to work towards recognition of women’s rights.  Her country had defined a national action plan to improve the living conditions of Dominican women and enhance their status in society.  It was based on four key areas:  women’s empowerment; the elimination of poverty; education, culture and the media; and health and violence.  On women’s empowerment, the principle achievements had been the adoption of three electoral laws which, among other things, had established affirmative action quotas for women at 25 per cent of congress and municipally-elected positions.  The second law raised that figure to 33 per cent, and the third established alternates among the candidates for different municipal posts.

    She said that mechanisms had also been established to, among other tasks, coordinate women’s political training, and the quota for women on the Supreme Court of Justice had also been established.  A law on poverty reduction had given women an equal right to land on an equal footing with men.  Her Government had also implemented a social policy of inclusion, which covered 200,000 households with short-term intervention strategies, including on health, nutrition, food and education.  Sixty per cent of those who had benefited from the programme so far had been women of very limited means.

    In the area of education, the State Secretary of Culture had been created, establishing gender parity as a fundamental cultural value, she continued.  An important gain also had been the passage of a law on violence within the family and the creation of mechanisms to punish that.  An AIDS council had been created, as well as a national system of social security.  A quota had also been established for equal access to rural training programmes.  She restated the President’s commitment to bring about women’s empowerment, eliminate poverty, universalize quality education, and construct new cultural paradigms to promote equal access to health and to eliminate the scourge of gender-based violence.

    EDUARDO J. SEVILLA SOMOZA (Nicaragua) said his government recognized that it was necessary to continue crafting policies to overcome poverty and prevent violence against women.  While it recognized the link between poverty and violence, the Government also acknowledged that more needed to be done to prevent violence and support victims.  Nicaragua’s national plan had been a tremendous achievement in that respect.  The country’s health programme included a cross-cutting gender perspective.  The country had also implemented a sexual- and reproductive-health programme which attached high priority to issues such as reducing maternal mortality and promoting access to family planning.  While progress had not been as rapid as hoped, Nicaragua had seen changes in its legal framework and in social behaviours.

    Compliance with the measures of the Beijing Platform meant compliance with the international instruments in the field of human rights, he said.  Nicaragua renewed its commitment to the platform and the outcome of the special session as a way to promote development and reduce social inequality.  In that regard, the Millennium Declaration had established a set of goals to bring about a more equal world.  His delegation accepted all documents arising from the current session and reiterated its reservations regarding terms that were not in line with Nicaragua’s constitution.  His country was fully committed to creating awareness of the full dignity of Nicaragua’s women and to working towards reducing inequality based on sex and ethnicity through the implementation of public policy consistent with the Beijing Platform.

    EVELYN JACIR DE LOVOT, Ambassador at Large for Women’s Issues, El Salvador, said her Government’s commitment to women’s progress had been actualized through its efforts to implement the commitments it undertook at Beijing and again in 2000.  The Government had elevated the political weight of the national authority for women’s development by participating in the three organs of State at the highest level.  It had strengthened inter-institutional coordination by “officializing” conventions, and creating local networks to prevent inter-family violence against women and assist the victims.  It had also promoted the creation of a legal commission to review legislation, in order to promote reforms that enshrined gender equality.  It continued to promote initiatives to ensure that policies and the national action plan for women were truly the policies of the State across the spectrum of government.  In addition, the Millennium Development Goals had also been enshrined as national aims.

    She said that awareness-raising campaigns had sought to create conditions of equality between men and women, boys and girls.  The Government was also striving to expand women’s access to decision-making positions.  In 2004, the first woman Vice-President had been elected, and the rate of women’s participation in the executive branch had risen enormously.  Also, the Government, in coordination with local governments and financial institutions, had provided microcredit to women.  The country was intent on promoting development with a human dimension.  The progress made must be sustainable and provide the necessary resources to achieve development with equity, giving special attention to generating better opportunities for women.

    A current review and updating of national policies for women was seeking to render them more productive, while also expanding women’s legal protection, she continued.  In a “women in action” plan (2004–2005), priority was given to women heads of households.  Her Government had also recognized the important role played by migrant women, which were responsible for a “novel” family legacy that impelled development programmes in communities of origin.  The United Nations system should strengthen women’s role in national development strategies in coordination with those United Nations bodies entrusted with gender issues.

    MARIA ANGELA HONGUIN (Colombia), noting several achievements, said Colombian women enjoyed equal access to education; had joined the job market in great numbers; and had increased their number in decision-making positions.  The political will for institutionalizing gender mainstreaming had resulted in the elaboration of a State policy in that regard.  The country had gender equality legislation, including laws on quotas, rural women and national development.  Several international instruments had also been ratified, and public policies to mainstream the gender perspective included a social reactivation policy.  Political participation had been promoted, and violence against women had been prevented.  The work of the presidential adviser for women’s equality included the development of a new institutional strengthening programme through an observatory for gender issues.

    She said her country was committed to protecting human rights.  Colombia had suffered tremendous violence in the last several decades.  The current Government wanted to extend the rule of law throughout the country.  In that regard, it was promoting a democratic security policy, which was benefiting men and women alike.  In 2004, the number of homicides had decreased, as had the number of kidnappings and internally displaced persons.  Women had also been trained in conflict resolution.  While Colombia’s political commitment was evident, violence against women remained a challenge.

    RASHIDA AL-HAMDANI, Chairperson of the Women’s National Committee of Yemen, said she felt encouraged that women were able to benefit from an international agreement which provided them with their rightful role, not only in terms of human rights, but also in contributing to the achievement of sustainable development and peace.  While they should be proud of their accomplishments to date, women also reaffirmed their commitment to the important goals set out by the Beijing Platform of Action given regarding women’s equality.

    She said the political leadership in Yemen was eager to advance women’s role in society, because it was understood that there would be no sustained development without women -- who represented half of the country’s population and who were the mothers of the other half.  Women had felt privileged to participate in the last Yemeni elections -– a first for the region.  Women had also become partners in other aspects of political life, having risen to ministerial, ambassadorial, and director positions, in addition to having gained membership in the Shoura Council, the Parliament and local council.

    The political leadership was making every effort to encourage collaboration among women’s organization, and the Yemeni Women’s Union was one of the most important non-governmental organizations in addition to some 200 other non-governmental organizations working with women’s rights and women’s development, she stated.  Additionally, Yemeni women had become real partners in combating poverty, and her country was among the first to embrace that fight and directly link it to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  Specific targets had been established to reduce population growth, combat illiteracy and early marriage, enhance women’s health, promote effective partnerships for poverty reduction, and coordinate efforts supporting women’s issues.  She added that women in Yemen aspired to the same high standards and values as others and asserted that their Islamic religion had preserved human rights, but it had been understood that they faced significant development challenges.

    JUDITH KANAKUZE, Member of Parliament, Rwanda, said that 10 years after the Rwanda genocide and the Beijing Conference, efforts to advance women and gender equality had been positive, if one took into account the catastrophic situation in which the country found itself at the time of the Beijing Conference.  Rwanda was convinced that women’s participation in development was not only a fundamental right, but that gender inequality was a serious handicap to economic growth and the effective alleviation of poverty.  Like most developing countries, Rwanda had introduced a poverty reduction strategy programme, which had integrated the gender dimension into the whole process.  Furthermore, the process of gender budgeting had been instituted at all levels.  The “20-20 Vision” plan was a long-term development framework, which took into account the Millennium Development Goals and focused on poverty reduction and the elimination of all forms of gender equality.  Education was an instrument of equality, and Rwanda had made considerable progress in equal access to schooling on a non-discriminatory basis.

    She said that infant and maternal mortality rates remained the highest in sub-Saharan Africa, so many programmes had targeted maternal and children’s health.  There was voluntary screening for HIV/AIDS, in an attempt to stem transmission of the virus from mother to child.  Seminars on violence against women and girls in various forms and in various environments had also been organized, and laws had been introduced against the rape of women and children.  Moreover, those persons responsible for rape during the genocide had been listed in the first category of crimes against humanity.  She was grateful for United Nations resolution 59/137 of December 2004, which had called on the United Nations system to step up efforts to aid the survivors of the 1994 genocide, particularly the women, orphans and victims of sexual violence.  Geared towards women’s empowerment, the Government had also sought to promote the management of and access to the country’s natural resources, which would ensure economic independence.  Also, since 1995, it had made considerable efforts to ensure women’s full access to decision-making positions.  In 1996, a national council of women was set up to provide a framework for information exchange and advocacy, and a national mechanism was established to follow up Beijing.

    AKAKPO AKUAVI LEONTINE, Director-General for the Promotion of Women of Togo, said the Government had made efforts to ensure progress in eight priority areas of the Beijing Platform, including poverty, health, education, the environment, the media and the girl child.  In general terms, there had been progress at all levels.  There continued to be a gap, however, between expectations and achievements.  The non-observance of the principle of gender equality was the main reason for that gap.  For that reason, Togo was determined to implement the gender strategy “by all and for all” in all areas.  Efforts against gender violence included a law against female genital mutilation.  Laws had also been adopted for positive discrimination.

    She said Togo was pleased that it could support the UNDP for promoting the rights of women.  Despite assistance, considerable challenges remained, notably HIV/AIDS, growing poverty, the education gap, the persistence of “social baggage”, access to legal services and the need for a family code.  She appealed to other United Nations bodies to support in specific areas.  In doing so, Togo would be able to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and the objectives of other internationally agreed-upon instruments.

    RAJESWARA DUVA PENTIAH, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Women’s Rights, Child Development and Family Welfare of Mauritius, said that, in implementing the priority areas of the Beijing Platform, his country had fully committed itself to the ideals of equality, respect for human rights and justice, and had spared no effort to sustain gender equality.  Some pertinent gains had been made in education.  Primary- to tertiary-level schooling was now free, and the Education Act, amended last year, now provided for compulsory education to the age of 16.  There had also been a massive investment by the Government in the construction of 34 new secondary schools with modern facilities throughout the country.  That would ensure that all girls had access to quality education through age 16.  The Government was also committed to the formulation of policies to encourage girls to take up non-traditional subjects, including science and technology, and to encourage them to choose careers formerly considered male domains.

    He said his Government had also accorded priority to women’s health status, in which considerable improvement had been recorded in the past decade.  Women were now more informed about their health in terms of reproductive rights through a joint programme with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).  Under the national HIV/AIDS Coordinating Committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, equal and due attention was being given to women in the support of primary prevention and health education, which remained the backbone of the national programme to address HIV/AIDS.  Efforts to implement the Beijing Platform had also included enactment of legislation banning domestic violence and sex discrimination.  The Government had signed the optional protocol to the Women’s Convention in 2001, and was reviewing other laws discriminatory to women.  Through additional programmes, the Government had been able to provide women in poverty access to economic resources, and a microcredit scheme had been established.  Also, the National Women Entrepreneur Council had been actively involved in women’s capacity-building.

    KIM SAM-HOON (Republic of Korea) noted that, since the Fourth World Conference on Women, gender mainstreaming had been firmly established as the key strategy to achieve gender equality.  The Beijing Platform had provided invaluable guidance for his Government in translating its political will into action by setting up the necessary machineries for the advancement of women’s status.  The Republic of Korea had just made a big step towards a gender-equal society by abolishing the family headship system.  Beginning with the enactment of the Women’s Development Act in 1995, his Government had implemented a comprehensive plan for the advancement of women.  The Ministry of Gender Equality, as a full-fledged government body, had seen a major overhaul of its budget, staff and mandate.  Since its inception, the Ministry of Gender Equality had spearheaded efforts to create a gender equal society both in the home and in the workplace.  Gender mainstreaming tools had helped to usher in a truly gender equal policy-making process.

    He said his Government had made headway in the promotion of women’ human rights and eliminating violence against women through a series of major legislative acts, including the enactment of the 1994 Act on the Prevention of Sexual Violence and Protection of Victims.  In 2004, the Act on the Punishment of Procuring Prostitution had been enacted to address the issue of sexual exploitation of women.  Those acts encompassed sweeping measures to prosecute all aspects of prostitution.  They also signalled the changing perception that violence against women, in whatever form, went beyond a personal tragedy and affected society as a whole, and that the State was responsible for eliminating all forms of violence against women.

    Women’s equitable representation at the political economic, social and cultural sphere had to be reinforced in order to bring about change, he said.  The role of women in the public sector was of particular importance.  His Government had, in that regard, taken measures to bolster women’s participation through the use of quotas, for example.  Fostering women’s leadership in the political arena was another important objective, and the Government was furthering the goal by mandating that a certain percentage of candidacies be allocated to women.  The future of a nation depended in large part on how well it used its human resources.  In most instances, that meant greater participation of women.  Korean women had been witness to rapid changes in gender roles in virtually every aspect of society, including the women’s status itself.

    CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein) reiterated the Secretary-General’s view that there was no tool for development more effective than women’s empowerment.  In addition, there was also an inextricable link between development and peace and security, as stated both in the High-Level Panel report and the Millennium Project report.  Women’s empowerment and active involvement was crucial for conflict prevention, as well as post-conflict reconciliation and peace-building.  It was important, therefore, to strengthen the role of women as peace agents in all stages of the peace processes.  In Liechtenstein, a detailed action plan had been devised for the implementation of the outcome of the Beijing Conference, and that was subjected to an annual review.  Two critical areas of concern of the Beijing Platform had been identified as requiring special action at the national level:  women’s representation in politics; and violence against women.

    He said that the first, women’s equal representation in politics, was particularly urgent in light of the parliamentary elections taking place next week.  In order to promote women’s participation, the Office of Gender Equality had offered a transnational (Austria-Liechtenstein) lecture series about women and politics, as well as a training programme to encourage women to run for political office.  In addition, the Government had established a mentoring programme offering women with interest, but no experience in politics, an opportunity to meet with female political representatives to exchange views and get advice on how to become actively involved in political life.

    His Government also attached great importance to combating all forms of violence against women, particularly domestic violence, he added.  The publication of a manual for relatives and friends of victims, as well as a widely distributed “emergency card” in various languages, provided victims with important information about contact points and had been very successful tools in raising awareness.  The Victims’ Protection Act, which had entered into force in January, ensured protection during the judicial interrogation.

    Afternoon Statements

    U KYAW TINT SWE (Myanmar) said his country had taken effective measures to fulfil the Millennium Development Goals, of which the third was the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.  For centuries, Myanmar women had enjoyed extensive rights, such as the right to inherit, the right to own land, the right to half of all assets in cases of divorce, and the right to retain their maiden name throughout their life, to name a few.  Myanmar could not remain complacent, however, as there were further challenges to overcome.  Several milestones achieved since Beijing included the establishment of the National Committee for Women’s Affairs to systematically carry out measures for women’s advancement, and formation of the Myanmar National Working Committee for Women’s Affairs, and the establishment of the Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation, which was an umbrella organization for the many non-governmental organizations working for women’s advancement.

    He said that women’s participation in the workforce and in the informal labour market had increased significantly.  Women who had traditionally been involved in trade, either as shopkeepers and brokers in general merchandise businesses, had become better educated and increasingly involved in micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises.  They had become more dominant in the expanding informal sector and, as an emerging force of women, were playing an important role in the country’s development.  Some of the most successful businesswomen had become well-known public figures.  In the formal work force, teaching was a popular career of women, and at the primary school level, more than 70 per cent of the teaching force were women.  Also notable was women’s participation in the health profession -- women medical doctors constituted more than half the working force.  Vocational training classes in such areas as weaving, sewing and livestock breeding were held in collaboration with United Nations Agencies to equip women with better skills to generate income and alleviate poverty.

    In the area of violence against women, he said his country practiced zero tolerance.  The subcommittee for violence against women of the national machinery had taken integrated measures to prevent and reduce such violence by studying the causes and consequences, and the effectiveness of preventive measures.  Research was conducted in many states and divisions to explore the magnitude of the problem and, according to the findings, physical violence was at 9 per cent and mental violence was at 12 per cent.  Counselling and training workshops had been organized, as well as educational talks on the laws protecting women.  The most effective form of media -- public television -- also played an important role.  Effective legal remedies were taken against the perpetrators, and punishment fit the crimes.  In order to effectively address the trafficking issue, a new working committee was formed in 2002, and a multi-disciplinary mobile team was also formed that year to combat trafficking in women and children.  Awareness-raising campaigns had also been launched, and last year, Myanmar had acceded to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its two protocols.

    LAXANACHANTORN LAOHAPHAN (Thailand) said that the Platform for Action had been a catalyst for the improvement of legal and institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women in his country.  The country’s Constitution ensured equal rights for women and men in all aspects.  Another step forward was the amendment in the law to grant married women the right to retain the maiden name or to use their husband’s family name.  In the future, the Government intended to introduce legislation on domestic violence and prevention of human trafficking.  In addition to the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, under which the Office of Women’s Affairs and Family Development was to act, mechanisms to promote gender equality had been set up in every ministry and department.

    Thailand believed in the intrinsic linkages between the Beijing documents and the Millennium Development Goals, he continued.  Aiming to reduce the poverty rate to less than 4 per cent by 2009, his country carried out its development plans in a way that ensured greater empowerment of women.  Thailand had achieved Goal 3 of the Millennium Goals by eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education.  Although there might be a small gender gap at the primary level, girls were outnumbering boys in higher education.  Thailand was striving to double the proportion of women in parliament, sub-district administrative organizations and executive positions in the civil service by 2006.  The country was also making efforts to improve women’s health, in particular in the area of combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and to address the problem of human trafficking.  In particular, Thailand supported measures to promote greater international cooperation to stop trafficking and had signed several bilateral memoranda of understanding with neighbouring countries in that regard.

    STUART LESLIE (Belize) said the country’s national action plan to further the goals of the Beijing Platform for Action was guided by the Women’s Agenda and the National Gender Policy.  Both those documents formed the backbone of the Government’s policies in relation to gender equality and equity and reflected the objectives of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Beijing Platform for Action, and the Outcome Document.  All of those documents gave impetus for the implementation of many initiatives that Belize had undertaken.

    He said that, of the 12 critical areas of the Beijing Platform for Action, the country’s work had focused on five:  violence against women, health, education, poverty eradication and women in decision-making.  However, despite gains, violence against women continued to be high on the national agenda, and the Government intended to continue to intensify its efforts to combat family violence, sexual violence and other forms of abuse against women and girls.

    Regarding health issues, he stated that a number of advances had led to improved local access to health services, reductions in mortality and fertility rates, and increases in infant vaccination rates.  Similarly, HIV/AIDS continued to pose challenges.  Of concern was the rapid increase in the number of women acquiring HIV.  Efforts had centred on education and personal development for women through programmes that focussed specifically on HIV/AIDS issues.

    As far as education was concerned, Belize’s education system depended on active cooperation between the Government and churches.  That relationship, while it brought many gains to the education system, had also created some major challenges in relation to gender equality.  The termination of unwed pregnant teachers, which had existed for many years, was one such example.  That problem had just now been addressed, and the Government would continue the partnership in education with the churches, for it was a valuable partnership.

    The provision of training opportunities for women and girls had been addressed through various forms and by government and non-governmental organizations, he continued.  Those programmes equipped them with the needed skills and knowledge to become self-employed or to get jobs.  Belize was proud that, while it had not attained the goal of 30 per cent women in decision-making positions, it was making progress, such as the recent appointment of the country’s first female financial secretary and the first female judge of the Supreme Court.

    ČESTMĺR SAJDA, the Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, and Vice-President of the Government Council for Equal Opportunities of Women and Men of the CzechRepublic, outlined the Government’s achievements in the implementation of the Beijing Platform of Action focusing her attention on three main areas:  development of institutional mechanisms, gender statistics and gender budgeting.

    On institutional mechanisms for the promotion of gender equality, she said that, due to the fact that the most striking gender inequalities were traditionally found in labour-related and social areas, the government in 1998 had established the Gender Equality Unit to coordinate government policy in that field.  To strengthen the promotion of gender equality, a new body, the Government Council for Equal Opportunities of Women and Men had been established in October 2001.  That Council had an advisory role to the Government and was a platform for designing conceptual gender equality policy.

    Regarding women’s status in political life, changes after the general elections of 2002 represented a positive signal in Czech society, she said.  The newly elected Chamber of Deputies resolved to set up the Permanent Family and Equal Opportunities Commission in July 2002 whose 10 members represented all parliamentary political parties.  On gender statistics, she pointed out that the Government realized that gender statistics reflected the situation of women and men in all social areas and pointed out the gender relationships in the society and were an important tool for decision-making.  Two publications had been issued on the subject:  one for the expert community and the other for the general public.

    On gender budgeting, she said one of the biggest obstacles faced by her Government was still the low awareness of society concerning equal opportunities of women and men.  In her country’s present stage of progress, it was vital to extend information on that matter to the Czech public, as well as to the decision makers on the use of public finances.  Before 2003, the method of gender budgeting was known but had not been theoretically developed in the CzechRepublic.  In agreement with Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Beijing Platform, the Government had asked the Ministry of Finance to develop an informatory methodology of gender budgeting.  She said the Government was convinced that gender budgeting was an essential tool in promoting equal opportunities.

    KINGA ENDRESZ, Ministry of Youth, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Hungary, said her Government had ratified the Women’s Convention very early at the start of the 1980s, as well as the optional protocol in 2001.  Progress had been made in such areas as legislative reform and enhancement of national machinery, among other areas, but challenges lay ahead in eliminating poverty and violence against women and children.  The national mechanism ensuring women’s equal status had been established in 1995, and the first Minister without Portfolio of equal opportunities had been established in 2003.  In 2004, several ministries had merged into hers, and promotion of equal opportunities for women and men had become one of the Minister’s basic responsibilities.  Constitutional and other legal regulations prohibited discrimination, and the act on equal treatment and promotion of equal opportunities, of paramount importance, had been adopted in 2003.

    She said that the parliament’s 2003 resolution on the development of a national strategy to prevent and effectively manage domestic violence rejected all forms of violence within families.  It highlighted the priority of protection of human rights, to which everyone was entitled, stating that violence within families was not a private matter.  The resolution also expressed recognition that a national strategy should be developed to prevent violence within families.  It also stated that the activities of social institutions were absolutely necessary in terms of prevention, victim assistance and education, and it called for cooperation between public and social organizations.  A draft law on restraining orders, applicable to violence in families, was being prepared, and improvement of the institutional system for victims of domestic violence was already in the implementation phase.  Low employment levels among both men and women remained a major challenge.  The Government was seeking to facilitate women’s employment by improving their “employability” and paying special attention to the disadvantaged.

    ONECHANH THAMMAVONG, Vice-President of the Lao National Commission for the Advancement of Women, President of the Lao Women’s Union, of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, noted that after a decade of implementing the Beijing Platform, her country had achieved major things.  The Lao National Assembly had adopted an amended constitution, which clearly stipulated the responsibility of the public sector, society and the family for the advancement of women.  The Lao Government had established the Lao National Commission for the Advancement of Women with the mandate of assisting Government in formulating policy and strategy to promote the advancement of women.  In conformity with the Millennium Development Goals, the Government continued to implement the National Growth and Poverty Eradication Strategy.  To address the existing gender disparities in education, the Government had developed policy and strategy through its Plan of Action for Basic Education for All.

    Despite such achievements, she said, efforts to advance the status of Lao women faced several challenges.  Traditional beliefs and ancient stereotypes, especially in rural areas, were still a problem.  In that regard, the Government would continue to implement the Beijing Platform, as well as the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention.  Among other measures, it would mainstream gender concerns into all government institutions and organizations.  In that endeavour, it hoped that the international community would continue to provide the support her country needed.

    ROCIO ROSERO GARCES, Executive Director, National Council of Women, Ecuador, said that, despite the deep political and economic crisis and a persistent male culture, the country had made important steps since 1995 in legal reform and gender equality, mainly in the consolidation of a favourable judicial framework and strengthening gender-related institutions at the central and local levels.  As a result of the Beijing process, the first equal opportunity plan (1996 to 2001) had been formulated in line with the recommendations of the Beijing Platform.  The National Council of Women had been created in 1997 as a national mechanism at the highest level of the State to deal with public policies leading to women’s full exercise of their rights.  The Commission of Women at the National Congress, the Direction for Women and Children at the National Attorney’s Office and the Commissions of Women, Gender and Equality at different sectoral entities and local government offices effectively complemented the public affairs gender sector.

    Following a 30-year struggle, Ecuadorean women’s demands had been converted into guaranteed rights by the 1998 Political Constitution, which incorporated, throughout the entire text, gender issues and the protection of women’s human rights.  The Women’s Convention, the Cairo Programme of Action and the Beijing Platform were, without a doubt, valuable instruments of justice and empowerment in the following ways by establishing:  the fundamental principles of non-discrimination and legal equality in Ecuador; the right to dignity and a life free from violence; the right to sexual options; sex and reproductive rights; the right to equal pay; equal rights and job opportunities; access to production resources and properties; non-discrimination of pregnant women; and the right to equal participation in decision-making.  So-called “secondary” legislation had been among the other remarkable achievements.  That had included a law against domestic violence, the law for free maternity, penal code reform and procedural penal law reform, and the law of quotas.  Clearly, 10 years after Beijing, efforts had focused on fortifying the institutionalization of gender-sensitive public policies.  She would honour her commitments to Ecuador’s 6 million women.

    MARY ANN GLENDON, President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences of the Holy See, said a stark reminder that women’s journey still had far to go was the fact that three quarters of the world’s poverty population was composed of women and children.  Even in affluent countries, the faces of the poor were predominantly women and children.  There was a strong correlation between family breakdown and the feminization of poverty.  The world had become increasingly careless about life at its beginning and endings.  For the first time in history, humanity could end hunger and poverty.  The Holy See reaffirmed its long standing dedication to the health care and education of women and children and pledged redoubled efforts to awaken the conscience of the privileged.

    Harmonizing women’s aspirations for public and family life was another problem to which society had not found a satisfactory solution, she said.  None of those problems could be resolved without major changes in attitudes and institutions.  Such attitudes would have to begin by listening to women’s own accounts of what was important to them.  Caregiving would have to receive the respect it deserved as one of the most important forms of work.  The world would have to be restructured so that women would not have to pay for their advancement at the expense of children.  Those changes would have to be revolutionary.  So close to making vision a reality, the world should have the courage to go on to the end.

    PRUDENCE KIDD-DEANS, Senator, Jamaica, said that a review of 42 pieces of legislation by the national machinery had resulted in legislative reforms aimed at eliminating discriminatory practices against women and girls.  Notable among them was the passage of the Property Act, or Rights of Spouses Act, which provided for the equitable distribution of property between spouses in the case of divorce.  It also recognized common-law unions and women’s work in the home.  The domestic violence act had also been strengthened to cover a wide range of persons, including those in visiting relationships, and now permitted applicants to apply for maintenance and to seek relief from a wider range of actions, such as the malicious destruction of property.  The development of instruments and checklists to monitor the status of gender equality had facilitated the formulation of a national gender development index and a gender empowerment measure.  The index indicated that the quality of life of Jamaican women had improved in terms of life expectancy, combined gross enrolment ratios and estimated earned income.  On the other hand, it indicated that there was still a considerable disparity between men and women in power-sharing at the highest levels.

    She said her Government had also strengthened institutional mechanisms for women’s advancement with the appointment of a gender advisory committee to advise the Government on strategic policy directions for its gender portfolio.  The committee also had a mandate to develop, through a broad-based consultative process, a national gender policy.  In Jamaica, some women had taken greater control of their sexuality and reproductive health.  That had been reflected in reduced fertility rates, which had increased women’s opportunities for education and employment.  The greater involvement of women in higher education, in Jamaica, as well as universally, was consistent with the fact that education had been promoted as the vehicle for women’s social, economic and political empowerment.  Those increased opportunities, however, should be viewed against the background of the systemic, structural and resilient nature of patriarchal systems, which, despite the best efforts to reverse cultural norms and expectations, continued to serve traditional interests.

    Unfortunately, in Jamaica, women’s higher educational level did not readily translate into improved social status or economic and political empowerment, she said.  Jamaica, therefore, was fully committed to vigorously pursuing an agenda for women’s empowerment.  That required, among other things, urgent attention to:  issues of poverty, particularly among rural women; the protection of the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls; the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS; reducing all forms of violence against women and girls; addressing negative constructions and expressions of what it meant to be male and female; and engaging men and boys more directly in the continuing struggle for more equitable access to and distribution of power and resources in all spheres.  Realization of those goals was possible through strengthening partnerships between the private and public sectors, coupled with international support and a commitment by all stakeholders to transform the long-entrenched cultural norms into gender equality.

    DEBORAH ATTAARD-MONTALTO, speaking on behalf of the Permanent Representative of Malta to the United Nations, reaffirmed her country’s reservation made to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on those sections that directly or indirectly related to induced abortion.  The interpretation given by Malta was consistent with its national legislation, which considered the termination of pregnancy through induced abortion as illegal.  Any recommendation made relating to development assistance should, in no way, create an obligation on any part to consider abortion as legitimate form of reproductive health or rights.

    TERUNEH ZENNA (Ethiopia) said that progress had been made in terms of developing policies, operational programmes, legislation and institutional frameworks in support of gender equality.  Achievements in the 12 critical areas of concern, particularly education, health and employment, had been commendable.  The havoc wrought by HIV/AIDS and trafficking in women was alarming, and it must be recognized that achievements towards gender equality had been uneven.  Women in sub-Saharan Africa were shackled with extreme poverty and inequality.  Their lives were also affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic unlike in any other part of the world.  Scaling up in the seven priority areas identified by the Secretary-General’s task force on education and gender equality would go a long way towards ensuring gender equality, particularly in the world’s poverty-ridden regions.  International development cooperation on gender issues should also focus on those priority areas.

    In Ethiopia, he said, the Women’s Convention had been ratified in 1980, and a Constitution had been adopted in 1994 that guaranteed gender equality.  The family code had been revised in 2003, and now set the minimum age for marriage for both girls and boys at 18.  It also recognized the equality of spouses in the personal and pecuniary effects of marriage, and granted adjudication power in divorce petition to the courts.  The code also introduced the community property regime in relationships where a man and woman cohabited like husband and wife without the bond of marriage.  The labour law and civil service law had been revised to entitle women to 30 consecutive days of parental leave and 60 consecutive days of leave after confinement.  The previous such laws had entitled women to only 45 days of post-natal leave.  The penal code had also improved, and now included provisions on abuse by family members, rape, female circumcision and abduction.  It also promulgated conditions for abortion, and provided punishment for trafficking women and children.  It repealed the restriction on the promotion of contraceptives.

    ALI ABDUSSALAM TREKY (Libya) said that, while there was no doubt that some progress had been achieved among all Member States, there was still much to be done to advance and empower women.  Libyan legislation stemmed from Islamic law and included noble humanitarian goals to deliver women from abusive practices.  Advancing women was one of the main pillars of achieving development.  Libya had worked to establish a society of liberty for all.  It was among the first to sign the Women’s Convention in 1989.  In 2004, it had joined the Convention’s Optional Protocol, as well as the Protocol to prevent trafficking in persons.  Libya had criminalized trafficking in women and facilitating prostitution.

    He said Libya had also taken appropriate measures to nullify laws that discriminated against women.  Social practices and cultural views had been amended to eliminate gender-based discrimination.  Women had the right to enjoy property ownership and equal employment opportunities.  He called on the international community to support, in particular, African and Palestinian women.

    GEORGE TALBOT (Guyana) reaffirmed his country’s commitment to the full implementation of the Beijing Platform, which was integral to its national development strategy.  In evaluating the status of women in Guyana, it was evident that the greatest gains had been made in the areas of education, health and participation in power and decision-making.  Equality of opportunity and access to education had given rise to high levels of enrolment in primary, secondary, and tertiary educational institutions by females.  Traditionally, women had been very active in Guyanese politics and currently accounted for 31 per cent of parliamentarians.  Women were also well represented in the state system of Guyana.

    Like other developing countries, Guyana continued to grapple with disproportionate levels of poverty among women, particularly female-headed households; domestic violence; and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among females.  Patriarchal norms and societal attitudes had, to some extent, affected further progress resulting in the necessity of involving men and boys in the dialogue on gender equality.  Economic constraints and the lack of resources had also negatively affected the Government’s ability to convert policy into action.  The persistence of violence against women, high levels of poverty and HIV/AIDS, and trafficking in women and girls were strong indications that more needed to be done.  The Beijing Conference had provided the blueprint for the advancement of women.  The task now was to adopt bold measures to strengthen implementation.

    JOHN B. RICHARDSON, head of the delegation of the European Commission, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said he had spoken during the past week on assessments of national progress towards gender equality, but he wished to highlight the added value brought to the national dimension by the Union itself.  A lot was owed to the Beijing Platform.  With its twin principles of gender mainstreaming, combined with specific actions to achieve equality, it had both informed and transformed policy approaches in many fields.  In the Union, that transformation had been seen in areas as diverse as education, research, environment, employment and social welfare, and development cooperation.  The European Commission’s integrated approach to gender equality had been based on a combination of legislative proposals, gender mainstreaming tools, and positive actions backed by specific financial instruments.

    He said that the starting point had been legislation.  Over the years, the fundamental principle of equality between men and women, enshrined in the “EU” Treaty, had been reinforced by a range of legislation on equal pay, maternity and parental leave, equal treatment in the labour market and equal access to goods and services.  The transposition of that legislation into national laws had been one of the prerequisites for accession of the 10 Member States to the Union last May.  It would remain the same for the next round of accession.  The challenge and responsibility now was to ensure effective implementation of those laws.  The Union was fully committed to ensuring that all of its members had adequate capacity in place to fulfil their obligations arising from the legislation, in a process that involved civil society, non-governmental organizations, citizens, social partners, research institutes, the judiciary and administration.

    Gender equality and effective mainstreaming required political commitment from the highest level downwards, he said.  That was why the universal declaration issued by the Women’s Commission on Friday had been so important.  Clear goals and objectives should be set, as they were in Beijing, and targeted policies and actions should be put in place.  Progress should be monitored with statistics and indicators, for which the Union had been building a base of comparable and reliable statistics, with core indicators in three key areas:  women and the economy; women in decision-making; and the monitoring of violence against women.  Starting last year, annual reports on gender equality in the Union were submitted to the heads of State and government for their review and action.  As a result, the Union was starting to see concrete progress, as well as a growing consensus on the central contribution of women to the achievement of a dynamic economy based on more and better jobs, to higher living standards and a better equality of life.

    WINNIE BYANYIMA, Director, Women, Gender and Development Directorate, African Union Commission, said that, in the decade since Beijing, millions in Africa had died from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other preventable diseases, and millions more had perished, victims of senseless wars raging on the continent.  Hundreds of thousands of children had lost a future because they were malnourished and stunted, and others were orphans, fending for themselves and heading families.  Poverty had increased, and more women than men were among the poorest people.  More women than men were infected with the HIV/AIDS virus, and the burden of care fell disproportionately on women.  Access to treatment and care was still extremely limited, and African women farmers were not able to get a fair price for their hard labour because of agricultural subsidies in the rich North.  The total amount of aid to other countries was four times less than what could be earned if trade was fair.  Moreover, falling levels of official development assistance (ODA) and the debt burden were taking away scarce resources.

    She said that violence against women was still rampant.  Many countries had inadequate laws, while others did not enforce them.  The majority of African women, which constituted more than 80 per cent of its farming labour, still did not own land and property, and could not access safe water, finance, technology, information and other vital assets and resources for development.  Women and children were “caught between armies of rebels and governments locked in civil wars”.  Their voices were seldom heard in peace negotiations, and their needs and interests were not considered.  They were the majority in Africa’s humiliating internally displaced persons and refugee camps and faced rape and other forms of sexual violence, which often went unpunished.  That was not a positive picture of the lives of African women, but it was the reality.  The world had to “wake up” to the issues of growing inequalities in a globalized world.  Inequalities between and within nations would not allow anyone to live in safety anywhere in the world.

    Against both external and internal constraints, African women had continued to mobilize and advocate for their rights and to hold together their families and communities, she said.  Within the limits of scarce resources, governments, too, should take innovative steps to address structural barriers to women and girls, especially in the area of education, decision-making, policy-making and through the establishment of gender-mainstreaming mechanisms.  There were many attempts to integrate a gender dimension in poverty reduction strategies, but economic frameworks still reflected the orthodox economic thinking of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and did not include gender as a variable in macroeconomic analysis.  Trade liberalization, privatization, fiscal and other economic policies recognized market-oriented work and ignored non-market work.  In sub-Saharan Africa, most of that work was the unpaid subsistence and care work poor women did in households.  The international financial institutions had an important role to play in integrating gender concerns in poverty eradication and macroeconomic frameworks.  The Commission on the Status of Women should challenge them to integrate gender into all their programmes and projects.

    SIGMA HUDA, Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, said that by its very definition, trafficking in human beings constituted a gross human rights violation.  Crucial standards had recently been set, including the 2003 United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.  The Platform for action further recommended appropriate measures to address the root factors, including external ones, that encouraged trafficking in women and girls for prostitution and other forms of commercialized sex.  Unfortunately, some countries still continued to treat victims of trafficking as criminals rather than victims.  Victims of cross-border trafficking were criminalized and prosecuted as illegal aliens.  Trafficking as a crime needed to be prevented, the perpetrators prosecuted and the rule of law strengthened.  It was crucial, however, that the human rights of the victim remained paramount and at the centre of interventions.

    She said the human rights dimensions of trafficking were evident.  A human rights approach to trafficking in persons was based on two interrelated principles, namely that human rights must be at the core of any credible anti-trafficking strategy and that anti-trafficking interventions must be developed from the perspective of the trafficked person.  A human rights approach also demanded an acknowledgement of the responsibility of governments to protect and promote the rights of all persons within their jurisdiction.  A human rights approach to trafficking also required enhanced bilateral and multilateral cooperation between countries of origin and destination to address the root causes of trafficking.  As Special Rapporteur, she would focus on the human rights dimension of trafficking and encourage a human rights approach to the phenomenon.

    Ms. KEELING, Commonwealth Secretariat, said that the Commonwealth Plan of Action for Gender Equality (2005–2015) provided the framework by which the Commonwealth would contribute to advancing gender equality in the next decade.  It built on past achievements and sought to close persistent gaps.  It formed part of the Commonwealth’s contribution to the 10-year review of the Beijing agenda, and it reinforced members’ commitment to the Millennium Development Goals and the promotion of a rights-based approach to gender equality.  The action plan also recognized that socio-economic development, democracy and peace were inextricably linked to gender equality.  Thus, gender equality was viewed, not only as a goal in itself, but also as a key factor in enhancing good governance, eradicating poverty and violence against women, ensuring education for all, improving maternal health, reducing child mortality and combating HIV/AIDS.

    She said that the Commonwealth, as the largest intergovernmental organization within the United Nations system, with 53 member countries representing nearly one third of the United Nations membership and spanning five regions, was well-positioned to contribute to the achievement of gender equality around the world.  The Secretariat’s strategy was based on working closely with national women’s machineries, relevant ministries, key constituencies, and multilateral and bilateral agencies.  It addressed four critical areas for the advancement of gender equality:  gender, democracy, peace and conflict; gender, human rights and law; gender, poverty eradication and economic empowerment; and gender and HIV/AIDS.  Numerous positive achievements had been recorded.  To combat violence against women, the Commonwealth had adopted a rights-based approach that recognized the norms and principles of international treaties and declarations.  Country initiatives had included Canada’s commitment to reduce family violence through the introduction of the family violence initiative.  In Singapore and Seychelles, domestic violence courts had been established, and in Belize and Jamaica, domestic violence legislation had been introduced.

    VIVIANE YOLANDE COMPAORE, representative of the Secretary-General of the International Organization of the Francophonie, said the world had seen a spectacular leap toward gender equality in the past decade.  The new millennium, however, had not yet spelled the end of gender-based inequality.  There was much to be done.  Women were still hard-hit by poverty and gender-based violence, which had not significantly declined and, along with access to political life, were the major stumbling blocks to women’s empowerment.

    It was crucial that all segments of society, not just women, promoted equality, she said.  Sustainable progress could only be achieved if women were represented in society.  She reaffirmed the Francophone community’s commitment to the Beijing Platform and the 2000 outcome document.  The Francophone community would redouble efforts to achieve equality, as equality was critical to development.

    FRANCESCA SANTORO, on behalf of the International Association of Economic and Social Councils, and similar other institutes, said that the Councils had stressed, throughout their work, the importance of civil society participation in affirming gender equality in both national and international institutions.  In many parts of the world, social cohesion was severely hindered, particularly by armed conflicts, the use of violence to regulate human relations, and an increase in territorial imbalances and poverty.  Women had been doubly affected because, in many fields, their rights were not recognized and because they had to carry the burden of child bearing without suitable safety nets, and because they were largely dependent on men.  Even in many of the more developed countries and countries with a greater participation of women in the labour market, social cohesion had been put in doubt because of a tendency to consider that a hindrance to the demands of competition in the global markets.  There was a risk of affirming a model of unregulated competition, which aimed solely at innovation and lowering cost.  That phenomenon penalized women, above all.

    She said that in the globalization era, it was in everyone’s best interests to assert a high quality and healthy concept of competition and economic and social models based on real social cohesion.  A more stable international balance would put that ideal into practice, both within single countries and within regions.  Because of their nature and composition, the economic and social councils could become ideal incubators for innovative experience and the monitoring of farms, as ways to combat and overcome gender equalities.  Towards the promotion of the global goals of gender equality of development and peace, it was fundamental for the more developed countries to make more concrete efforts to allocate at least 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product to aid development, thereby stepping up the fight to eradicate poverty.  For women’s empowerment to be achieved in the North and South, she advocated respect for the core labour standards, as spelled out in the fundamental declaration of the International Labour Organization (ILO), starting with the principle of decent work.

    NDIORO NDIAYE, Deputy Director-General, International Organization for Migration, said women’s participation in the migration process and the reason for their migrating were evolving.  That change represented the most significant trend in recent migration flows.  There were more women migrants than ever before, and they were increasingly migrating to find jobs.  Women’s roles were also changing, impacting the dynamics driving migration.  Traditionally, women could be empowered by migration.  Education, work experience and economic independence could enable them to exercise their rights more effectively.

    Women played an important role in migration, she said.  As economic decision makers, they were emerging from the margins as key players.  A growing number had high levels of education and participated in entrepreneurship.  In spite of their mobility, migrant women had also maintained close ties with their countries of origin, and the remittances transferred to home countries were represented as contributions to development.  As women were the largest recipients of remittances, their views and behaviour were critical to understanding the impact that remittances could have, not only on women but also on their families.  Female migrants tended to remit a larger share of their income.  Women were more vulnerable when travelling and were more likely to become victims of trafficking.  Origin and destination countries needed to define clear measures to protect female migrants.

    MARGARET MENSAH-WILLIAMS, Vice-Chair, National Council of Namibia, Member of the Executive Committee of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), said that on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Beijing Conference, the 140 member parliaments of the IPU had reviewed progress and setbacks at its last Statutory Assembly.  Among the main points of the resolution that emerged were a reaffirmation of the commitment to the Beijing Platform and a determination that gender equality was still far from being a reality.  The resolution also set out a series of measures for women’s advancement in the political, economic, and social fields, placing a specific focus on human security, conflict resolution and the situation of the girl child.   Underpinning the text was the fundamental role of parliamentarians in the fight for gender equality.

    She said that that last topic had been the subject of a meeting on 3 March at the United Nations of the IPU and the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women, at which more than 200 parliamentarians discussed women’s access to the political process and ways and means of enhancing parliaments’ capacities to facilitate women’s contributions and to meet the Beijing objectives.  The IPU launched the new IPU-United Nations map, “Women in Politics:  2005”, which provided a snapshot of the situation of women in both the legislative and executive branches of government.  With only 15.7 per cent of parliamentarians worldwide now women, and with just 16 per cent of ministerial positions occupied by women, it was clear that parity was far from reached.  Despite significant progress in many parts of the world, women still faced tremendous difficulties in acceding to power.  Women were scarce in the highest levels of decision-making and, more often than not, women ministers headed social portfolios, rather than those dealing with “hard” issues such as defence, foreign affairs and budget.

    KATE WOOD, Special Representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and President of the Canadian Red Cross, recalling the conclusions of the recent World Conference on Disaster Reduction, said that the special vulnerability of women and girls in disaster situations had been highlighted, as well as their special capacity to contribute to community resilience and to recovery and development following a disaster.  There were many contributions that women could make in such situations.  Experience showed that, without the deliberate involvement of women in the planning and implementation of preparedness, response and recovery programmes, overall national performance would suffer.  The International Federation’s key messages to the World Conference had included the need for clear recognition by governments and other stakeholders of the role women commonly played in providing community support after disasters.

    She said the International Federation had expressed the view at the Conference that governments, if they were to prepare effectively for the onslaught of disasters, must reach out to women and other under-represented groups, both as beneficiaries and as participants in the decision-making integral to disaster preparedness and response.  The outcomes expressed in the action programme would have been improved by a more direct reference to the place women occupied in disaster preparedness and response.  The outcome’s main references to women’s place in such situations were in the section dealing with training and education opportunities.  There should also have been clear references in the general objectives section and the priorities for action.  She had been pleased, however, that the United Nations family was taking an active part in developing programmes to combat sexual exploitation and abuse.  That work had begun some time ago, but its urgency had been given fresh expression by reports of serious abuse in some States.  Sadly, when people were in situations of acute vulnerability in times of disaster or poverty, they were all the more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

    LORENA AGUILAR, Senior Gender Adviser, International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, said the past decade had demonstrated that conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources was vital to sustainable human development and poverty reduction.  None of the goals of the millennium would be reached, even partially, unless environmental management were promoted from the gender equity perspective.  No real gender equity would exist while women had access to only 5 per cent of the concessions granted worldwide on natural resource use and management.  The environmental situation was a determinant factor in improving maternal and child health.  Ensuring environmental sustainability implied, among other things, the need to recognize that women were responsible for securing firewood and other household fuel sources.

    Efforts to influence public policy-making needed to be increased in order to ensure a more equitable, effective and fair distribution of benefits from the use of biodiversity, she said.  It was time to get involved and make use of the mechanisms offered by international environmental conventions to ensure that the needs of women were fully considered.  An immediate challenge was to ensure that gender equality would be adequately considered at the forthcoming high-level review in September.

    FATIMA SHAITY KASSEM, Director, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) Centre for Women, on behalf of the five regional commissions (Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and ESCWA), said the regional commissions had the comparative advantage of being in close physical proximity to Member States, which gave them insight of national specificities and an intimate knowledge of sensitivities and concerns.  The regional commissions assisted Member states by developing region-specific indicators to monitor progress achieved in reducing gender imbalances and empowering women, as well as achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  Regional meetings in 2004 had stressed the importance of strong, sustained political will and commitment at the national, regional and international levels for achieving full implementation of the Beijing agenda, and had mapped the way forward to accelerate that process.  The links between Beijing and the Millennium Development Goals had been emphasized, and it had been acknowledged that both were anchored in the framework of the Women’s Convention.

    She said that the regional meetings had produced declarations and resolutions reaffirming the commitment of Member States to the Beijing process and the Women’s Convention.  The meetings had also highlighted the main achievements since Beijing, as well as the gaps and challenges facing implementation of the global instruments.  Some common achievements had been:  establishment of effective national machineries; the signing by many countries of the Women’s Convention and the optional protocol in the last decade; increased political participation of women; and improvements in women’s health, education and employment opportunities in many countries.  Common challenges requiring urgent action were:  improving the relevance and reliability of sex-disaggregated data and statistics; building alliances with men; forging synergies with non-governmental organizations and the private sector; and reducing poverty and mainstreaming gender into development strategies.  A few region-specific challenges of the African Union countries had been increasing poverty among women, gender gaps in education, little progress with respect to violations of women’s human rights, persistently high maternal mortality rates, and the high number of women seriously affected by HIV/AIDS.

    AMBEROTI NIKORA, Minister of Internal and Social Affairs of Kiribati, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum Group, said there had been considerable progress towards gender equality in the Pacific region, with increasing recognition of the importance of gender equality and the necessity to integrate gender into key policy and planning processes.  The region had strengthened commitment to four critical areas, namely strengthening institutions and mechanisms to advance women; focusing on gender equality within the legal and human rights context; access to services; and economic empowerment.  For the Pacific, reaffirmation of the 12 critical areas of Beijing went hand in hand with a renewed commitment to its regional response.

    He said gender equality had been achieved at certain levels of education and in most of the Forum’s countries, maternal health status had improved, constitutional guarantees against sex discrimination existed in many countries, and there were now more women in politics and senior positions in some States.  A vibrant process was taking place in implementing gender policies and strategies in the regional organizations that served the Forum Group.  In all countries, however, much work remained in the implementation of the gender equality agenda.  Emerging issues included the increasing exposure to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the human rights of migrant workers and the growing problem of trafficking in women.

    PHRANG ROY, Assistant President, External Affairs Department, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said that the link between improvement in women’s status, poverty reduction and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals was widely recognized, but more action and resources must follow the words.  It was crucial, for example, to put rural women’s needs and priorities at the centre of the poverty reduction strategies if real progress was to be made towards achieving the Goals, particularly, if hunger and poverty were to be eradicated.  The Beijing Platform stood as a milestone for women’s advancement in the new century, and it had been reinforced by the Millennium Declaration and its development targets.  Indeed, the Beijing Platform and the Millennium Goals were closely interlinked and mutually reinforcing.  The Fund prioritized women’s economic empowerment as the primary means to improve their overall status and contribute to broad-based economic growth and poverty reduction.  For that to occur, women needed secure access to productive resources, such as land, water for agriculture and financial capital.

    He said that in one of the IFAD-funded projects in Bangladesh, women were specifically targeted for credit and training in aquaculture.  Fish ponds in Bangladesh, for example, were traditionally owned by men, but the project was designed to give women control over the fish and the income they generated.  Reflecting on the changes that had occurred there, one woman told IFAD, “My husband is the owner of the pond, but I am the owner of the fish”.  The Fund had learned through such experiences in rural development projects that when women had secure access to such resources, and when they could take advantage of economic opportunities, they had great capacity to become powerful agents of change and social transformation.  With improved economic status, women’s confidence and self-esteem increased.  They tended to become more involved in community decision-making, which could lead to changes in social practices and relationships, and could also mobilize social action.  The IFAD’s work was guided by the recognition that promoting women’s transformational role was central to reducing poverty.

    * *** *