At Day Two of Women’s Commission, Delegates Offer Innovative Suggestions on Ways to Integrate Gender Equality into Post-2015 Goals
Time to Establish ‘Old Girls’ Network’ to Help Future Generations, Says Netherlands’ Education, Culture, Science Minister
The urgency of integrating gender equality and women’s empowerment as a stand-alone goal, as well as a cross-cutting element of the post-2015 development agenda, dominated the second day of the fifty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, with some speakers suggesting specific ways of advancing the overarching spirit of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
Efforts to end early and child marriage should be included in the new agenda, as that practice deprived girls of their rights and physically and mentally harmed the world’s most precious assets, Canada’s Minister for the Status of Women said.
Several speakers, including ministers and senior government officials, said that despite the progress achieved since the Declaration’s adoption in 1995, significant challenges remained in closing the gender pay gap, securing equal political and economic power between women and men and eliminating all forms of gender-based violence.
Women who occupied leadership positions should understand that they were the agents of change for an egalitarian society, the President of the National Council of Women of Argentina said. “When women work together they can bring about great change,” she said. “Now they need to change not the course of history, but history itself.”
While economic and social indicators for women had been improving across the world, few women had the power to make decisions about their lives, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands said. The time had come to establish an “old girls’ network” to help future generations live a life without having to constantly look over their shoulders, she added.
Some speakers highlighted context-specific challenges to the advancement of women and stressed the need for targeted responses. Nauru’s representative said that as a small island developing State, the country was vulnerable to economic shocks and its efforts to offer women opportunities could be quickly reversed when forced to deal with a volatile world economy.
Issuing an urgent call, Iraq’s Minister of State for Women’s Affairs asked the international community to urgently address the question of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS), which was today a challenge for everybody. “We have not received enough support in this war,” she said, adding that the situation was rapidly exacerbating problems for women across her country.
Also speaking today were ministers and high-level officials from Kenya, Mexico, Liberia, Japan, Tunisia, Iceland, Guinea, Paraguay, Burkina Faso, Haiti, Sudan, Togo, Nicaragua, Peru, Kuwait, Guinea-Bissau, Poland, Malawi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Burundi, Namibia, Italy, Portugal, Russian Federation and Kazakhstan.
In the morning, the Commission held four high-level round-table discussions, where ministers and other senior Government officials exchanged views on: making the economy work for women and girls; investing in gender equality and the empowerment of women; transforming politics and public life to achieve gender equality; and accountability for realizing de facto equality for women and girls.
The Commission will meet at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 11 March, to continue its discussions.
Round Table A
The first round table focused on the theme “Making the economy work for women and girls”, with ministers and other high-level participants describing how their countries’ efforts in that regard were part of an overarching goal of promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.
In her opening remarks, Chair of the session, MASHAAIR AHMED ELAMIN ALDAWALAB, Federal Minister of Welfare and Social Security of Sudan, stressed the importance of addressing specific obstacles to achieving equality and empowerment of women. Efforts aimed at raising overall economic growth had not helped to bridge the gender gap, she said, adding that the post-2015 development agenda would have to chart ways to support macroeconomic policies that were sensitive to women’s needs and ensured respect for their rights.
The moderator, ELIZABETH TANG, General Secretary of the International Federation of Domestic Workers, underscored the importance of implementing national policies that encouraged investment in infrastructure, protection measures and services allowing women to become equal partners in society.
Taking the floor, speakers exchanged views on ways of ensuring that policies supported the generation of decent work for women and protected their rights in the workplace. While more and more women were attaining leadership positions over the years, several speakers noted, far more remained excluded from full and equitable participation in the labour market.
Several ministers highlighted how their respective Governments had put in place institutional mechanisms to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as specific policies relating to shared parental leave, better childcare services and cash allowances to increase women’s participation in the labour force. Some speakers cited other measures, including conducive tax policies and easier access to soft credit.
The growth in the enrolment of girls in primary, secondary and higher levels of education was a recurrent theme during the discussion, with some speakers stressing the need to encourage more women to take up studies in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Several speakers emphasized the need for joint action among Governments, civil society and women to chart the way towards balancing work and family. Bringing women from the informal to the formal sector was critical to ensure the protection of their rights, many speakers suggested.
Efforts to promote gender equality had been stymied by the crisis and instability in the global economy, some speakers noted, while others pointed to the importance of addressing the needs of those displaced internally by conflict or disasters. Speakers also emphasized a need to frame international development assistance around the imperative of decent employment for women, describing it as the key to sustainable development.
Participating in the round table were ministers and senior representatives from Serbia, Azerbaijan, Canada, China, Australia, United Kingdom, Hungary, Germany, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Peru, Kenya, Bangladesh, Pakistan, South Africa, Mali, Dominican Republic, Malta and Belgium.
Round Table B
Also this morning, the Commission held a high-level round-table discussion on “Investing in gender equality and the empowerment of women”, moderated by Amina Mohamed, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning. Marina Kaljurand, Deputy Foreign Minister of Estonia, chaired the meeting.
Opening the discussion, Ms. KALJURAND recalled that the Millennium Development Goals had not referred to macroeconomic policies. Investments should be increased for the advancement of gender equality and improved tracking of budgetary allocations and expenditure. Gender responsive budgeting should be institutionalized across policies and sectors.
“We have a year of action in 2015,” said Ms. MOHAMED in her introductory remarks, noting that the run-up to the September adoption of a new development agenda offered a timely opportunity for discussing investments in gender equality and women’s empowerment. The Beijing Platform for Action required political commitment to make available the human and financial resources for women’s empowerment. Yet, financing that supported implementation of gender equality commitments was inadequate, both in scale and quality. Efforts to increase investment were needed on multiple fronts and Governments bore the primary responsibility in that regard. Fiscal policies, including tax policies, should be gender responsive, while private financing should align with national gender priorities.
In the ensuing discussion, ministers and senior officials from around the world outlined national policies, legislation and programmes designed to improve financing for gender equality. Many offered best practices and examples. In that context, the representative of Viet Nam said 80 per cent of the $50 million spent on its national strategy and programme was financed from the State budget, with the remainder from international organizations and a community fund. Since 2009, $13.8 million in official development assistance (ODA) had been spent on gender equality.
Along similar lines, the representative of Nigeria described a pilot programme to support disadvantaged women and girls, carried out by the ministries of agriculture, communications, technology, health, and water resources and works. Between 2013 and 2015, the programme had attained “good practice status” by the World Bank and African Development Bank. On the legal front, the representative of Eritrea, who said she was from a patriarchal society, said “equal pay for equal work”, as well as women’s land and property ownership, was guaranteed by law.
Others said some of the most important policy reforms had been simultaneously implemented in the labour market, as well as in family and social welfare services. The representative of Sweden described the lasting positive effects of reforms made in the 1970s, saying that the abolition of the joint tax system, expansion of elderly care and passage of an abortion law had been crucial for advancing gender equality, economic growth and a large labour force.
Others honed in on the challenges ahead, underscoring the pressing need to examine underinvestment in gender activities and identify ways to nationalize the goals of the Beijing Platform for Action. Several noted the need for international partnerships. The United Nations, some said, could help in that regard. “We have not achieved the goals we wanted in Beijing,” said the representative of Paraguay, requesting information on resources allocated for international cooperation. “It is not as much as we would like in working towards post-2015 agenda.” More studies on unpaid work were also needed. The representative of Ghana similarly asked the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to engage with the Heads of State and Government about conducting gender analyses of national budgets.
Throughout, speakers said it was vital for donor support to be aligned with national development priorities, plans and strategies. Several noted the need for gender-disaggregated data, which was lacking, making it hard to monitor progress. In that context, the representative of India said work was under way to transform statistical systems to better reflect information on women. Pledges at conferences were not enough, the representative of Egypt emphasized. Countries needed to adopt gender-sensitive planning and budgeting, which was an important tool for fostering transparency and accountability.
Ms. MOHAMED then summarized the discussion, saying that Governments must increase their capacity to raise revenues for social protections and decent work. They also should carry out reforms to eliminate gender discrimination, especially in tax policies, and set up accountability mechanisms to increase transparency. “We need to know where the money goes and how it is spent,” she concluded.
Also speaking today were ministers and senior officials of Thailand, Angola, Sudan, Nigeria, Iran, Nicaragua, Senegal, Ireland, Papua New Guinea, Mozambique, Indonesia, Philippines, Fiji, Palau, Mongolia, South Africa, Spain and Uruguay.
Round Table C
Also this morning, the Commission held a round-table discussion on the theme “Transforming politics and public life to achieve gender equality”, which was moderated by Aminata Touré, former Prime Minister of Senegal.
Opening the discussion, Ms. TOURÉ said that women remained significantly underrepresented in political and public spheres at all levels. In political work, there was often an inherent gender bias that manifested as an “old boys’ network”, long working hours or lack of available childcare. Indeed, she said, going forward in the post-2015 era, the participation of women in public life must be a central issue.
Throughout the discussion that followed, many high-level representatives echoed that sentiment, pointing to the post-2015 sustainable development goals as an opportunity to enhance the participation of women in politics and public life, from the grass-roots level to the top echelons of government. In that regard, consensus emerged on the need for “temporary special measures”, or quotas, for the percentages of women in government. Many speakers described specific quota systems that had helped to dramatically raise the number of female politicians in their countries. In that connection, the representative of Iceland stressed that “gender equality does not come on its own accord” but because people pushed for it and asked for it, including through laws and quota systems.
However, a number of speakers, including the representative of Chile, said a major challenge to the achievement of gender equality in public life lay not in the implementation of gender equality quotas or laws, but in deeply rooted stereotypes and sexist ideas of what careers were suitable for women and men.
“There is not a single woman representative in our current parliament,” said the representative of Tonga, noting that his country had among the lowest levels of women representatives in the Pacific, a region with historically low female government representation. However, he said, civil society organizations were petitioning for laws and constitutional amendments — including a quota system — which would lay the groundwork for combating stereotypes and allowing for women’s higher participation in public life.
Still other speakers stressed that attitudes could change, and that significant strides could be made in a short period of time. In that regard, the representative of Liechtenstein said that her country had given women the vote only 30 years ago; today, a high number of women participated in public life. However, she said, “we still have a very long way to go”, as women’s participation was still hampered by their family responsibilities.
A discussion also emerged about the “quality” versus the “quantity” of female politicians, with a number of speakers emphasizing that high levels of women’s participation in public life did not necessarily mean that those women were well-trained or effective politicians. In that regard, the representative of Jamaica said that “we can’t just throw women into situations where they are going to fail”. Apart from quotas, female politicians needed the requisite training and education to allow them to rise in their parties, from the grass-roots levels upward.
Other speakers agreed, but stressed that the “quantity” of female politicians needed to come first, before their “quality” could be addressed. Still others, including the representative of France, wondered why the question of quality had even been raised, asking whether that discussion would have emerged if today’s round table was discussing the role of men in politics.
On training and education for women, a number of speakers called for those elements to be present across a number of sectors — such as business and labour — and not just in the political sphere. Strong leaders came from a range of different sectors, said the representative of the European Union Delegation, adding that “good politicians do not come from political test tubes”.
Also participating were vice-presidents, ministers and other high-level representatives from Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Luxembourg, Algeria, Samoa, Mexico, Mozambique, Iraq, Cuba, Poland, Ghana, Brazil, Nauru, Costa Rica, Morocco, Ecuador, Argentina, Belgium, Japan, Slovenia, Georgia and Estonia.
Round Table D
At a high-level round table focusing on “Accountability for realizing de facto equality for women and girls”, Benno Bättig, Secretary-General of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, presided over the meeting. The interactive dialogue was moderated by Elizabeth Broderick, Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner of Australia.
In his opening remarks, Mr. BÄTTIG said that while ostensibly all countries had national mechanisms on gender equality, many were not effective. As the full realization of the Beijing Platform for Action was necessary to realize the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 development agenda, such mechanisms must be adequately resourced, both in terms of financing and human resources. In addition, review mechanisms were crucial to accountability.
Opening the interactive discussion, Ms. BRODERICK said commitments carried little credibility unless they were implemented, backed by accountability and produced tangible results. She challenged participants to present one new idea and explain how it worked, so that delegates could take home fresh concepts for their own countries. Offering two such examples from Australia’s experience, she said strategies had initially been directed at women when the power rested with men. Instead, she had engaged powerful men, asking them to step up to speak beside women, and prompting them to produce targets that had subsequently triggered a significant shift in the number of women in leadership positions.
During the ensuing discussion, speakers presented their own national strategies to address a variety of gender equality issues. Zambia’s representative stressed the importance of tracking funds for gender equality to ensure they had been used for that purpose. Providing several examples, Guatemala’s representative explained that a Ministry of Health satellite body worked with the Bureau of Statistics and the Central Bank to track the level of women in the labour market. Citing another initiative, a monitoring programme for unpaid work women did in the home had aimed at giving such work a monetary value and had consequently boosted the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 18 per cent.
Several themes emerged during the discussion, among them women’s empowerment. The representative of the Netherlands described an “empowerment tour” that held meetings to raise awareness about women’s needs for economic independence by making agreements with local and regional authorities, businesses and other groups. Giving a voice to citizens was another topic of discussion, with Norway’s speaker saying that an ombudsman examined discrimination cases in his country and Belgium’s delegate saying her Government had established a public body to which men and women could bring issues of gender equality.
A number of representatives pointed out that some countries did not have gender equality laws. Some speakers, including the representative of Madagascar, had issued calls for national laws on gender equality. Yet, as the representative of Malawi pointed out, legislation for gender equality would not suffice without the provision of resources.
Turning to accountability, speakers raised a range of concerns. Representatives of Mali and Guinea discussed the issue of gender equality in a crisis environment. Speaking more broadly, the representative of Jamaica suggested establishing constant reviews with long- and short-term gender equality targets for institutions. Citing a national example, she said an audit of a centre monitoring pregnant teens that showed that rural areas were not being reached had resulted in a project led by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Looking ahead, the representative of Bahrain proposed a special session to show how accountability mechanisms could be set up.
Rounding out the discussion, Ms. BRODERICK pointed to a persistent gap between having gender equality laws and seeing results on the ground. Emphasizing that laws impeding human rights must be repealed, she underlined a need for strong legal frameworks to ensure women’s human rights. She also stressed the importance of good data and for the private sector to understand that enhancing gender equality was good business.
Also speaking during the dialogue were high-level representatives and other officials from Morocco, Cuba and Latvia.
ANNE WAIGURU, Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning, Kenya, aligning herself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China and the African Group, said that her country was proud to have provided leadership to the sustainable development goal process as co-Chair of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, which had proposed a standalone goal on gender equity and the integration of gender across all other goals. “This anniversary is a historical moment for us to act decisively and make unequivocal commitment to intensify our efforts in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration,” she said. Kenya’s implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was on track, she said, describing work undertaken in the areas of economy and poverty; education; health; women in power and decision-making; and an institutional mechanism for the advancement of women. The Kenyan Cabinet was 33.3 per cent female.
BAYAN NOORI TAWFEEQ, Minister of State for Women’s Affairs, Iraq, said that women in her country were fighting to fully access their rights, and to bridge the gap between women and men. The Government was keen to adhere to its related international commitments, including the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Women had become judges and ministers and held other high positions. There were 83 female cabinet ministers and a female mayor of Baghdad. It was “crystal clear” that Iraq was facing major challenges, including the worst terrorist attacks in many years. Women were being abducted, tortured, raped and killed. Internally displaced women also faced very difficult financial and psychological circumstances. The international community should urgently address the question of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS), which was today a challenge for everybody, not just Iraq. “We have not received enough support in this war,” she said, adding that the situation was rapidly exacerbating problems for women across her country.
KELLIE LEITCH, Minister for the Status of Women, Canada, said the Beijing Declaration and Platform remained milestones that should be integrated into the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. Women had gained leadership roles in her country and new criminal laws and penalties were being put in place against violence against women. Canada had also taken a strong stance against early and child marriage, which deprived girls of their rights and physically and mentally harmed the world’s most precious assets. Efforts to end that practice should be included in the new development agenda, she stressed, adding that, on the world stage, more needed to be done to end the prevalence of sexual violence in conflict zones and to bring justice to survivors and hold perpetrators accountable. Gender equality should be a stand-alone goal in the post-2015 agenda, should be incorporated as part of other goals and also be part of measurable indicators, she said.
LORENA CRUZ SANCHEZ, President of the National Women’s Institute, Mexico, recalled that the First World Conference on Women in 1975 was a stepping stone to frame a global action plan. The Political Declaration the Commission adopted yesterday showed the challenges the world still faced in reaching substantive equality, she said, adding that it should have integrated proposals and contributions in line with the spirit of Beijing. Her country had achieved successes that were possible thanks to the Beijing Platform. Mexico recognized that teen pregnancy was a serious problem that impacted the life prospects of thousands of young women and required tailored projects. Reducing maternal mortality was still a major objective of Mexico, she said, adding that violence against women and the multiple forms of discrimination they faced must be eradicated to ensure genuine gender equality.
JULIA DUNCAN-CASSELL, Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Liberia, said “the quest to achieve gender equality is an endless one”. In Liberia, the onset of progress had begun with the development of a national gender policy in 2009 and a gender equality and women’s economic empowerment programme. Strides had also been made in the progress of rural women through the establishment of rural women structures in all of the country’s 15 counties. Liberia had twice elected a female president. Nevertheless, many challenges remained, including inadequate budgetary allocation to the national gender machinery; ineffective implementation of the national gender policy; inadequate human resource and technical capacity; increased rape and other gender-based violence offenses; and the impacts of the Ebola epidemic. That epidemic had had a devastating impact on the lives and livelihoods of women, including by interrupting schooling and health care for girls.
TAKASHI UTO, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Japan, said that his Government had been formulating and implementing domestic policies based on the Third Basic Plan for Gender Equality 2010. For example, in order to end violence against women, Japan had taken legislative action in the area of protection from spousal abuse, the protection of youth, tackling human trafficking, and other areas. “We sincerely hope that our commitment to contribute $3 billion to developing countries in the course of three years will plant a row of seeds that will sprout and grow into a more prosperous future for women and girls,” he said. Furthermore, the country’s contributions to UN-Women had increased tenfold compared to its contributions two years ago, and a UN-Women Tokyo office would open in the next few months.
MARIANA GRAS, President of the National Council of Women, Argentina, aligning with the position of the Group of 77, detailed the policies and programmes her country had been implementing to improve the status of women, including those belonging to indigenous groups. However, major challenges remained that required changing the discourse. Democracy without equality was not democracy because women were rights holders and not beneficiaries. Women needed to be empowered from grass roots to decision-making levels and institutional discrimination needed to be eliminated. The rights of women were part of human rights as a whole, she said, and sustainable development could be achieved only through partnerships and cooperation. Women who occupied leadership positions should understand that they were the agents of change for an egalitarian society. When women worked together they could bring about great change. Now they needed to change not the course of history, but history itself, she concluded.
SAMIRA MERAI FRIAA, Minister for Women, Family and Children, Tunisia, stressed the need to reaffirm the world’s collective commitment to the Beijing Platform for Action and related efforts based on lessons learned and incorporated through the post-2015 agenda. Tunisia’s women were gaining political leadership roles in recent years, but there were still gaps in their representation at all levels. The Constitution enshrined the equality of men and women and provided the basis for Government policies and programmes in key areas, including violence against women. Going further, efforts to reduce the gender gap in rural and urban areas, promote health services and to increase economic opportunities required the formulation of policies that would represent a genuine breakthrough towards equality and empowerment, she said.
EYGLO HARDARDOTTIR, Minister of Social Affairs and Housing, Iceland, said that nearly 80 per cent of her country’s women were now active in the paid labour force, and their contribution had been decisive in ensuring economic growth and development. The country had ranked at the top of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index for six consecutive years. However, Iceland was not an equality heaven for women. Challenges remained, including closing the gender pay gap, securing equal political and economic power between women and men, and eliminating all forms of gender-based violence. The right to sexual and reproductive health was a key element in empowering women and girls to take charge of their own lives. “We are at a critical moment and we must maintain high ambitions for gender equality and human rights for women and girls in the negotiations of the post-2015 development agenda,” she said.
CAMARA SANABA KABA, Minister of Social Action, Advancement of Women and Children, Guinea, said that her country was working to bring the concerns of women to the centre of its national priorities. Taking into account the lag in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, Guinea had announced an interim plan in 2014 to fill in those gaps. One year later, the plan had allowed the country to draft a specific policy on women and agriculture; strengthen and outfit four centres for women, including out-of-work women and young mothers; adopt a road map to reduce maternal mortality and neonatal mortality; draft a law on gender equality; and make a number of other advances. The Ebola epidemic had particularly affected women, as they were victims, widows, orphans and also often cared for Ebola orphans. The health crisis had seriously crippled the momentum of the country’s political and economic reform. Unfortunately, that progress had been seriously compromised. Guinea needed strong, specific and broad-based assistance from the international community to overcome that crisis.
ANA BAIARDI QUESNEL, Minister of Women Affairs, Paraguay, said the decades after the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action had witnessed considerable progress worldwide in the improvement of the status of women. However, there could be no cause for celebration amid growing violence against women and their exclusion from the mainstream. So the question became one of whether the world had done all it could to empower women. Paraguay had worked with other nations to improve its legislative structures and institutional mechanisms to achieve the targets set forth in successive conferences. The priorities focused on ending poverty, gender-based violence and lack of political participation and representation, among other areas. Those efforts needed to be continued through the post-2015 agenda, particularly by ensuring that women gained access to resources so that they could be effectively utilized.
BIBIANE OUEDRAOGO BONI, Minister for the Advancement of Women and Gender, Burkina Faso, aligning with the Group of 77 and China and the African Group, said her country had attained positive results in ensuring equality of women, including in the workplace. The Government had started a programme specifically targeted to promote education for girls and had been working to reposition health-care services to improve accessibility. A jobs programme for women aimed to promote decent employment and training. However, much work remained to develop female entrepreneurship as a way of promoting gender equality and empowerment.
YVES ROSE MORQUETTE, Minister of the Status of Women, Haiti, aligning with the Group of 77 and China, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Community of Caribbean States (CELAC), said that huge progress had been made in achieving the rights of women and girls at the national level. Haiti had worked hard to support the fundamental rights and freedoms of women, including improving access of girls to school and improving school retention rates for girls; reducing the mortality rates of women and girls; and ramping up judicial reforms on gender-related issues. On the latter Haiti had overhauled its criminal code on violence against women and decriminalized female adultery. It had created a national bureau to tackle violence against women and girls, and had adopted a five-year plan to combat violence against women, as well as care and support services for victims. Haiti encouraged all countries to work harder to deliver gender equality.
MASHA’ER AHMED ELAMIN ALDAWALAB, Federal Minister of Welfare and Social Security, Sudan, welcoming the Political Declaration adopted yesterday, said that major developments had been made at the national and regional level with regard to the empowerment of women. The National Strategy 2007-2032, as well as the Sudanese Constitution, now secured equal rights between men and women. Sudan had conducted legal reforms attuned to women’s issues, including changing the definition of rape and adding sexual harassment as a new article in the national Constitution. Sudan had also conducted reforms to reduce maternal mortality and to prevent the early marriage of girls and female genital mutilation. Strategies were in place to combat poverty and empower women, aiming at developing their skills and financing their entrepreneurial projects. Nevertheless, Sudan was still faced with daunting challenges. She called, in that connection, for the international community to support peace and assist the victims of conflict around the world.
DEDE AHOEFA EKOUE, Minister for Social Action, Advancement of Women and National Solidarity, Togo, said her country considered empowerment of women as a prerequisite for national development. Togo’s institutional and legal contexts were becoming increasingly conducive for women’s rights, and policies had been put in place for their economic development. The net rate of girls’ enrolment had grown and female literacy had increased through Government subsidies, while efforts were under way to make medical services more accessible. Women’s political participation and representation had been growing thanks to the efforts of the Government in partnership with all segments of society. There was much more to do, she said, adding that the post-2015 development agenda must focus on improved financing for development.
MARCIA RAMIREZ, Minister for Family, Nicaragua, said her country’s legal framework reflected the centrality of the women’s role in the family. Women were beneficiaries of Government policies and programmes aimed at promoting economic and political equality. The country could, therefore, take pride in having taken the first steps towards the goals established by the United Nations. Women’s participation in society was guaranteed by their status as holders of basic rights and the country was addressing the scourge of violence against women through a holistic approach.
MARCELA HUAITA ALEGRE, Minister of Women and Vulnerable Populations, Peru, said that the present forum was a place to reach agreement on a future agenda for sustainable development that focused, among other things, on gender equality. Peru had established the Ministry for Women and Vulnerable Populations, a special Government unit for women, and an institutional framework to make tangible progress towards gender equality. Peru continuously reviewed its legislation to prevent and punish incidents of gender-based violence and to provide support and care to victims. The country was currently seeking to provide similar support to women living in rural areas, as well as to indigenous women and girls. While illiteracy still had a “female and rural face”, many strides had been made to enrolling girls in school and keeping them there. Access to modern contraceptives was increasing. She offered her country’s support for a stand-alone sustainable development goal on gender, to be adopted this year. In that connection, Peru was working hard to harmonize its national efforts with international goals and targets.
CHARMAINE SCOTTY, Minister for Education, Home Affairs and Land Management, Nauru, said Governments must create a framework in which families could thrive. As such, Nauru had ratified several treaties to protect the rights of the marginalized, including the Women’s Convention, and continued to make every effort to implement such instruments through legislation and programmes, including the “Self Help Ending Domestic Violence” programme, which helped men “shed” their violent behaviour to create a healthier family environment. Women’s economic empowerment was also a central focus and the Government was working to provide more qualitative employment opportunities for women. As a small island developing State, Nauru was vulnerable to economic shocks and its efforts to offer women opportunities could be quickly reversed when forced to deal with a volatile world economy. Climate change also was an existential threat.
JET BUSSEMAKER, Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Netherlands, citing the case of Malala Yousafzai, said millions of girls and women lived under great danger every day as they went about their lives. While education, life expectancy and other indicators for women had been improving across the world, few women had the power to make decisions about their lives. Society needed to take responsibility across the board, from Governments to schools to sports clubs. The time had come to establish an “old girls’ network” to help future generations live a life without having to constantly look over their shoulders.
SHEIKHA LATEEFAH F. AL-SABAH, Minister and President of Women’s Affairs Committee, Kuwait, reaffirmed her country’s support for the Secretary-General’s efforts to improve the status of women around the world. Kuwait was taking steps to speed up implementation of the Beijing Declaration and remove impediments to women’s participation in work and contribution to national development. Kuwaiti women were effective participants in civil society. The Government had recently set up a family court, a long-standing demand of women’s civil society organizations that was expected to alleviate much suffering. The United Nations must take steps to involve women in the fight against terrorism and violence.
BILONY NHAMA NANTAMBA NHASSÉ, Minister of Women, Family and Social Cohesion, Guinea-Bissau, associating herself with the Group of 77 and China and the African Group, said that the present discussion was taking place as the new post-2015 development agenda was being formulated. It also took place during the Year of Women’s Empowerment, as declared by Africa. The number of women in high leadership positions in Guinea-Bissau was increasing. The national strategy to improve gender indicators had created a political platform for women in 2008, which was aimed at improving women’s participation in decision-making. Affirmative action programmes had been undertaken, increasing the quota for women in Parliament to 40 per cent, and working to increase girls’ access to education throughout the country. New laws, including on reproductive health and family planning, had been passed, as had measures against early marriage and female genital mutilation.
MAŁGORZATA FUSZARA, Secretary of State at the Chancellery of the Prime Minister, Poland, associating herself with the European Union, said her country engaged in initiatives to promote and protect women’s rights regionally and internationally, and advocated for gender mainstreaming in all United Nations system initiatives. Domestically, work was ongoing to create a legal framework to allow further implementation of gender equality policies and to ensure gender mainstreaming strategy throughout Government at the national and local levels. The National Action Plan for Equal Treatment 2013-2016 facilitated cooperation among many Government institutions and monitoring of policies concerning equal treatment and non-discrimination. Mechanisms were being established to monitor the persistent pay gap between men and women. The Government was in the final stages of ratifying the Istanbul Convention. Quotas requiring that men and women constituted at least 35 per cent of candidates on electoral lists for the Polish and European Parliaments and regional authorities had resulted in 24 per cent of members of the Polish Parliament being women. The major driver of social change in the field was Poland’s large women’s movement. The grass-roots initiatives of women’s rights activists, combined with an ability to effectively communicate with those in political power, was the best way to advance the cause of women’s rights in a modern democracy.
PATRICIA KALIATI, Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Malawi, aligning herself with the African Group and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said her country had many female politicians. Lessons needed to be shared on how to be leaders, not victims. Priorities in the area of gender had included peace and HIV/AIDS, among others. The proportion of women in agriculture had more than doubled in recent decades, and the representation of women had increased to 22 per cent in 2009 from 5.6 per cent in 1984. Enrolment of girls in secondary school was increasing significantly. The Gender Equality Act had helped to create an enabling environment for such successes, as well as for the adoption of several gender-specific laws. Gender equality had been made a part of the country’s development strategy and was understood as such by both women and men. Nevertheless many challenges, including budgetary constraints, still remained.
BIJOU MUSHITU KAT, Minister of Gender, Family and Infants, Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that the country had faced a long armed conflict just after the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Policies for strategies for growth and poverty reduction had nonetheless been adopted, and some positive progress had been seen. The country had implemented strategies to combat gender and sexual violence, and Congolese women were taking part in all peace negotiations. Concerning women and health, there had been a reduction in maternal mortality for more than a decade. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS among women had significantly deceased. In the area of the media, women were a “true social force” with great numbers of female media professionals. Measures targeting the promotion of girls’ rights had also been taken by raising the legal age of marriage age to 18.
SAYEDA MUZHGAN MUSTAFAWI, Acting Minister of Women’s Affairs, Afghanistan, said her Government was working to advance women’s empowerment in a context of uncertainty, conflict, poverty, large numbers of internally displaced people and high unemployment. Those constraints, along with traditional views on women’s roles, presented many challenges. Nonetheless, her Government was currently reviewing its 10-year national action plan, created in 2008 to empower women in such areas as education, health and political participation. The plan was likely to be extended to 2020. In 2009, Afghanistan had established a landmark law to eliminate violence against women, which had been followed by a related regulation on prevention of the scourge. In addition, the Government amended more than 22 laws in favour of women. Turning to public life, she said that four women would hopefully join the Cabinet in the National Unity Government. Women’s access to basic services — such as health care and education — remained a priority. Noting that 2.2 million girls were out of school, she said reaching children in remote areas was another challenge. Yet despite three decades of war, “Afghan women are resilient and determined to grasp a better future,” she said.
GODELIEVE NININAHAZWE, Minister of National Solidarity, Human Rights and Gender, Burundi, associating with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said her country in 2012 had updated its national gender policy to cover the 2012–2025 period. In the area of education, Burundi had a national policy ensuring free primary schooling and had achieved gender parity in 2011. An expansion of health infrastructure aimed to improve children’s access to health care. To combat violence against women, the Government had implemented in 2012 national comprehensive care for victims of gender-based violence. A draft bill on the prevention of such abuse was currently before Parliament. In addition, a national action plan to implement Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) was created in 2011, while a gender strategy had fostered women’s participation in peacekeeping missions. Political participation also had increased, she said, noting that 32.1 per cent of representatives in the National Assembly were women.
WILFRIED I. EMVULA (Namibia), associating himself with the Group of 77, the African Group and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said that his country welcomed the year’s priority theme, which provided an opportunity to devote discussions to sharing experiences, achievements and challenges faced in the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. The plight of women, especially in rural areas, had not improved, with many still living in extreme poverty. “While States have adopted sound policies and programmes, their translation into action and concrete changes in the lives of women and girls is still far from realization,” he said. Despite a number of strides made, including in areas such as the adoption of a national gender policy, the introduction of gender-responsive budgeting, the introduction of free primary and soon secondary education and an expanded health-care programme, he said poverty still remained a major challenge.
BENEDETTO DELLA VEDOVA, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Italy, associating himself with the European Union, said, “We all know that plenty remains to be done to see women and girls achieve their fundamental human rights.” The current session presented a great chance to embrace a new opportunity of empowerment. The Italian approach was aimed at overcoming poverty and social exclusion through local empowerment. Italy had mainstreamed gender issues throughout its foreign aid, partnering with local organizations. On the basis of lessons learned, the country supported the inclusion of a transformative sustainable development goal on gender equality, as well as a “twin track” approach that implied specific programmes on women’s empowerment and gender equality. In the last few years, significant internal progress had been made in empowering women and tackling gender-based violence. Italy was committed to repealing any remaining laws that discriminated against women and girls, he said. His country had always been at the forefront in the fight against early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation and had promoted the role of women in peace and security. “We should move from victimhood to empowerment,” he concluded.
TERESA MORAIS, Secretary of State of Parliamentary Affairs and Equality, Portugal, said her country had participated in the Beijing review process in the European Union. Over two decades, growing institutional recognition of gender equality had led to improvements in legal systems. In Portugal, equality was enshrined in the Constitution. The country had adopted equality policies since the 1990s, including to address, among other things, domestic violence and female genital mutilation. Portugal attached the highest priority to addressing domestic and gender-based violence, she said, citing the expansion of the national support network for victims. Her Government had supported the inclusion of stand-alone goal on violence against women in the post-2015 agenda, however, that position did not gain leverage and she regretted it might be a lost opportunity to include that topic among global priorities. In 2013, Portugal was the first European Union country to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. Among the challenges was the unequal sharing of family duties, which constrained women’s participation in political and civic life, as well as the wage gap, which continued to penalize women.
ALEXEY VOVCHENKO, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Protection, Russian Federation, said his country had participated in regional meetings of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) to review the Beijing Platform for Action. Indeed, women played an important role, representing half of labour resources, and were strong engines of entrepreneurship. Women represented 80 per cent of State workers, holding senior posts in the Higher House of Parliament and in the Central Bank, as well as in local authorities and public structures. In terms of education, girls had both the right and obligation to attend school. Education was free at all levels and education among women was higher than among men. His Government was prepared to make use of other countries’ “gender experience” to ensure that women’s rights were realized. With that, he reaffirmed the “Group of 20” pledge to increase women’s economic activities by 2025, saying in that context that the nineteenth International Economic Forum would be held in June in Saint Petersburg, during which the importance of women in the economy would be discussed.
SERIK AKHEMOTOV, Vice-Minister and Head of Secretariat of the State, Kazakhstan, said that gender equality was now recognized as an essential criterion for all societies. Kazakhstan had put in place strategies for preventing gender-based violence, and helped them engage in entrepreneurship through a national programme. In that vein, women represented 40 per cent of owners of small and medium-sized enterprises, and were responsible for about 40 per cent of the country’s GDP. The gender gap had been reduced by 8.5 points. Women’s participation in public and political life was also crucial. Women were being included in decision-making at the highest levels. Health care for mothers and children remained a major national priority. Great attention was being paid to problems related to violence against women; today, 28 crisis centres were set up to combat that scourge and to care for victims. “Kazakhstan has always fought for women,” he said, adding that the country made regular contributions to UN-Women.
Right of reply
The representative of the Republic of Korea responded to the statement of Japan on the issue of “comfort women” — or what he called “sexual slaves” — during the Second World War. Japan should acknowledge that historical fact, he said, stressing the need for accountability. The issue, if prolonged, would exacerbate the sorrow and the trauma of the victims. Japan should, therefore, take concrete steps to resolve the issue once and for all. He urged the Japanese Government to take a “more sincere and courageous stance” that would bring relief to the victims.