Fifty-ninth Session,
7th & 8th Meetings (AM & PM)

Targeted Attacks, Rape, Displacement Threaten Women in War Zones, Commission Hears as Delegates Call for Swift Action, Sustainable Solutions

The plight of women in situations of armed conflict should remain at the forefront of the international community’s agenda, the Commission on the Status of Women heard today as it continued its general debate.

Calling attention to the foreign occupation of their territories, a number of speakers highlighted the impact of conflict on women and girls.  Some speakers called on the international community to take a firm stance on related issues, including the situation of displaced populations and targeted attacks.

Providing a range of examples of conflict-related challenges, speakers described situations unfolding in their countries.  Some speakers, including Ukraine’s representative, said women and children were disproportionately affected by conflict, accounting for a large percentage of displaced populations.

Indeed, the right to life and the security of women remained an urgent matter, which should be addressed, advocated and protected above all other rights, said Turkey’s representative, citing Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, alongside the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.  The United Nations should take a more effective stance to find a sustainable solution to the issue of displaced persons, she continued, noting that her country was hosting approximately 2 million people fleeing the Syrian conflict.  Referring to the situation of women remaining in Syria, that country’s representative said threats they faced included collective rape, forced marriage with foreign terrorists and restrictions on their education.

Speakers also raised concerns about displaced women and girls in occupied areas.  Georgia’s representative said as 20 per cent of her country’s territory was being occupied, addressing the needs of conflict-affected women and girls was among the Government’s priorities.  Similarly, Eritrea’s representative said women in her country continued to face enormous challenges that were compounded by the occupation of sovereign territory and imposition of unjust sanctions.  Yet, women could still organize themselves even in situations of armed conflict in order to defend their rights, she said, emphasizing that women should “never kneel down” to affirm their equality and must remain resolute and determined to advance what they had set out to achieve.

The importance of addressing women’s health-care issues also featured prominently in the debate today.  Speakers shared significant gains in improving access to comprehensive health care, providing specialized services for sexual and reproductive health, including care for domestic violence survivors and reducing infant and maternal mortality rates.

In the afternoon, the Commission held a panel discussion that focused on results of the United Nations regional commissions’ Beijing+20 events.

Also delivering statements during the general debate were ministers, other high-ranking officials and representatives from Norway, El Salvador, United Republic of Tanzania, Senegal, Czech Republic, Brazil, Estonia, Tajikistan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, United States, Latvia, Colombia, South Sudan, Botswana, Panama, Uruguay, Albania, Malaysia, Slovakia, Seychelles, Belarus, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Sierra Leone, Suriname, Israel, Bulgaria and Lebanon.

The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 13 March to continue its work.


SOLVEIG HORNE, Minister for Children, Equality and Social Inclusion of Norway, said that women and girls around the world suffered from widespread and serious human rights violations.  They continued to be underrepresented and discriminated against, she said, adding that “neither religion, nor cultural traditions, should be used as excuses for denying girls and women their rights”.  Some 35 per cent of women around the world had experienced sexual violence, including in the home.  To stop that abuse meant ending harmful traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation and early and forced marriage.  She commended countries and regional bodies that had liberalized their legislation, in particular the African Union, which had shown great leadership in establishing a women’s rights instrument that included access to medical abortion.  Abortion was on the agenda in other countries.  In that regard, she wished countries the “best of luck” and assured them of Norway’s strong support for universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

YANIRA ARGUETA, Minister for Women’s Affairs of El Salvador, said that the world was now examining the historic struggle and progress made over the years to ensure that women were more visible and empowered.  A number of legislative and other measures had been implemented in El Salvador, such as comprehensive and integral care for women, including specialized services on sexual and reproductive health and care for domestic violence survivors.  The country was also mainstreaming a gender focus across many national policies, she said, adding that “we have reduced maternal mortality to 38 per 100,000 live births” and had increased women’s health-care access to 92 per cent.  Other efforts including a national commission was focused on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, consultative councils and a network of human rights defenders for the rights of women.  Combating violence against women remained a major challenge, she said, as women were seen as “sexual trophies” and objects of revenge.

SOPHIA M. SIMBA, Minister for Community Development and Member of Parliament of the United Republic of Tanzania, said her country had made major strides in the advancement of women by amending its Constitution of 1977 and the Zanzibar Constitution of 2003, guaranteeing effective implementation of relevant legal frameworks.  A number of laws had been reviewed or enacted in order to improve gender equality.  Various structures had been established to deal with gender-based violence, including one-stop centres for victims and child helplines.  Several financial institutions had been established as well to provide soft loans and entrepreneurship skills training to women.  Over the last two decades, there had been steady progress in women’s participation in the political, legislative, executive and judiciary spheres and in peacekeeping missions.  Strides had also been made in education, with her country offering free primary education and soon secondary education would be free, as well as in the area of health care, which had resulted in declining rates of infant and maternal mortality.

MARIAMA SARR, Minister for Gender, Family and Children of Senegal, said the international community needed to step up efforts to mainstream women’s issues into public policy.  Her country’s policy on the empowerment of women and gender equality integrated gender into broader activities.  With a long-term goal of eradicating poverty, the Government had helped to establish several programmes, including in health care, social justice and education, and had also taken bold steps to facilitate women’s access to emergency obstetric care.  Concerning HIV/AIDS, it had worked to reduce the pandemic and specifically to reduce the rate of mother-to-child transmission and adopted a national action plan that took into account the most vulnerable populations.  In education and training, multiple efforts had been undertaken to keep girls in formal schooling.  The participation of Senegalese women in public life could be seen in the high posts of responsibility held by the Prime Minister and President of the Economic Council.

MARTINA ŠTĚPÁNKOVÁ (Czech Republic) said that more efforts were needed to ensure equality worldwide.  Her country had adopted a national action plan for gender equality and women’s empowerment and worked closely with civil society to advance its goals.  A recently adopted gender equality strategy would outline those goals for the next six years, including disaggregated data collection, gender-related surveys and awareness-raising campaigns.  However, challenges remained, she said, noting that women in her country earned approximately 20 per cent less than men, were underrepresented in politics and faced issues related to work-life balance.  It was clear that gender mainstreaming brought more effective public policies, she said, adding that the practice was a matter of democracy and social justice.  “Equality for women is equality for mankind,” she said.

LINDA GOULART (Brazil) said that she came to the Commission with a message of firm commitment from President Dilma Rousseff to the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.  Brazilians had re-elected a female President for a second term, which was a “telling fact” demonstrating how the country was engaged in achieving gender equality.  However, there were challenges ahead, she said.  “We see with concern the strength of global consensus and commitment is weakening year after year at this Commission,” she said.  Pointing to the Political Declaration adopted, she said Brazil expected it to influence the negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda, consolidating the treatment of the gender themes therein.  “We support a stand-alone goal on gender equality and mainstreaming gender across the agenda,” she concluded.

MARINA KALJURAND (Estonia) said “business as usual cannot continue”.  Human rights for women was the basis for peace and in that regard, the international community should intensify its actions.  “The situation of women and girls was complex and could not be fixed with one magic solution,” she continued.  Progress was a universal challenge that called for close cooperation among all actors.  Stressing the importance of raising awareness, she said the prevalence of stereotypical attitudes and social norms and practices that promoted violence against women, including through social media, must be stopped.  Education needed to promote gender equality, she said, adding that access to quality education was the main tool to empower women and girls and could also create more versatile labour markets.  The rapid development of digitalization could bring positive effects and offer classes online where more students could be taught at the same time, including in remote rural areas.

TEKEA TESFAMICHAEL (Eritrea) noted the mixed progress made by many nations on the 12 critical areas of concern identified in Beijing.  Many of the generational issues sought to be addressed were deeply entrenched in the minds and practices of societies.  It was possible for women to organize themselves even in situations of armed conflict in order to defend their rights.  Women should “never kneel down” to affirm their equality and must remain resolute and determined to advance what they had set out to achieve.  To address the root causes of gender equality and poverty, Eritrea had taken a holistic approach that integrated policy and action across key critical sectors.  Still, women in her country continued to face enormous challenges, which were compounded by the occupation of sovereign territory and imposition of unjust sanctions.  That constituted a denial of the people’s right to peace, security and development and must be rejected by all peace-loving people and advocates of the post-2015 agenda.

MAKHFIRAT KHIDIRZODA (Tajikistan) said that since its early days of independence, her country had been making comprehensive efforts to efficiently implement gender policies aimed at providing equal rights and opportunities for women.  Taking into account the specifics of Tajik society, the leadership of the country had developed concrete measures, including national legislation, mechanisms and strategies.  The framework aimed at protecting the rights of women in the fields of politics, education and economy, as well as in the family, in particular, protection against violence, ensuring motherhood and child rights and reproductive health.  In 2005, Tajikistan had adopted a law guaranteeing the equal rights and opportunities of men and women, she said, adding that there was also now a State programme on education, selection and personal administration of executives of the Republic of Tajikistan from the pool of gifted women and girls for the years 2007 to 2016.

BUNDITH PRATHOUMVANH (Lao People’s Democratic Republic) associating with the “Group of 77” and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), highlighted a number of achievements made in her country in the areas of gender equality and women’s empowerment.  National policies and strategies, including a plan of action to reduce maternal morality and increase women’s nutrition, were being implemented.  The Government had also endorsed a national action plan on violence against women and children.  Yet, some challenges remained, including poverty reduction, cultural and traditional norms, high maternal mortality rates, early marriage and lower levels of education for women.

CATHERINE M. RUSSELL (United States) stressing that gender-based violence was a global pandemic, said her country was committed to ending sexual violence in conflict by investing in efforts to bring justice to communities and increase access to holistic resources for survivors.  As women were important agents of change, her country was pouring resources, energy and expertise into leading the call for women’s participation in decision-making on peace and security, including in peace talks in places like Burma, Syria and South Sudan.  It was building business networks for women in Africa, the Americas and Asia and opening women’s entrepreneurship centres with the belief that those investments would open doors for women today.  Also, it had made efforts to help adolescent girls around the globe attend and complete school.  On sexual and reproductive health, her country was working to significantly reduce new HIV infections in adolescent girls and young women.  Citing other activities, she called on the international community to improve its efforts in promoting gender equality, noting that “progress for women and girls is progress for all”.

SERGIY USTYMENKO (Ukraine) said the problem of women in times of armed conflict remained a vital issue for the international community.  Stressing the importance of protection of women’s rights during and after conflict, he said the annexation of Crimea had resulted in a horrifying increase in human rights violations.  Women and children had been disproportionately affected by military intervention in Ukraine, where they accounted for more than 60 per cent of internally displaced persons.  Additionally, there was no sufficient monitoring facility to register the real scale of the humanitarian disaster in the uncontrolled territory.  While Ukrainian women were serving as military medical personnel and volunteers, they were underrepresented in formal peace negotiations and policymaking processes.  Stressing that women were powerful peacebuilders, he expressed hope that the international community would take more effective steps to prevent armed conflict in the future.

REINIS UZULNIEKS (Latvia) said that since 1995 three policy-planning documents had set the framework for implementing gender equality on the ground in such fields as employment, working conditions, social protection, accessible education, protection against harassment and domestic violence.  In addition, work and family life balance was being addressed so that both parents, but especially women, could become economically independent, she said, pointing out the important role of men and boys in advancing gender equality.  Women made up about 70 per cent of university graduates and held 44 per cent of senior management positions.  As Latvia held the presidency of the Council of the European Union during this anniversary year, she said that gender equality was high on its agenda.  Earlier this month, Latvia had hosted a high-level conference on women’s economic empowerment in sustainable development that called for a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the post-2015 agenda.

MARTHA ORDOÑEZ (Colombia) said that today, Colombian women could say that they were building a more just and inclusive society.  Colombia was making significant progress in terms of gender equality, women’s empowerment, ending violence against women, and equal rights.  She spotlighted a national plan guaranteeing the empowerment of women and ensuring that their lives were free from violence.  “We have learned that a gender focus in education is key to increasing equality between men and women,” she said.  Fostering equal access to women in full employment in decent work, as well as closing the wage gap, was a major priority.  Development initiatives, including those using information and communications technology and those involving women, were on track.  New challenges had arisen.  It was time to “take a step beyond laws” towards a society that was more fair to women.  She supported the stand-alone sustainable development goal on gender equality and the cross-cutting nature of gender across the entire agenda.

GUGULI MAGRADZE (Georgia) said that his Government was closely monitoring the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.  Gender equality had been incorporated into the country’s national plans.  There was a new law against all forms of discrimination on the basis of gender.  A standing council on gender equality had been created at the national Parliament in 2010.  This year, an inter-agency council on the elimination of gender-based violence had been re-established.  In addition, the public defender of Georgia had begun incorporating gender across his office’s work.  Priorities going forward included ensuring the effectiveness and functionality of all national mechanisms on women’s rights; the prevention and combating of all forms of violence against women and girls; ensuring women’s political participation; and a strong focus on meeting the needs of conflict-affected women and girls, as well as those who were internally displaced.  He also raised concerns over the foreign occupation of 20 per cent of Georgia’s territory, which had increased the number of internally displaced women and girls.

NESRIN ÇELIK (Turkey) said her country had strengthened gender equality in its Constitution and legislation and worked to implement those measures.  In its development plan for 2014 to 2018, the focus was on reconciling work and family life and promoting social awareness through formal and non-formal education to eliminate violence and discrimination against women.  National action plans had been implemented to combat such violence and address critical areas in the Beijing Platform for Action, with ongoing updates to ensure their sustainability.  There were also ongoing awareness-raising activities for public officials and improved services for women victims of violence.  Turkey also provided approximately 2 million displaced persons fleeing conflicts the same services as citizens, assuming almost all costs.  The United Nations should take a more effective stance to find a sustainable solution to that issue, she said.  As stipulated in Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) and the women and armed conflict section of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the right to life and the security of women in such situations remained an urgent matter, which should be addressed, advocated and protected with priority above all other rights.

ESTHER IKERE ELYZAI (South Sudan) said commitment to gender equality was enshrined in the country’s Constitution.  In that regard, it had increased women’s political participation in the executive and legislative arms of Government had increased despite disparities in the judiciary sector.  The Government’s 2013 national action plan provided guidelines for mainstreaming gender equality principles and empowerment of women in national development processes.  Specific policies that had been enacted demonstrated commitment to addressing past inequalities, violations of the human rights of women and children, and the rights of people with disabilities.  It also provided clear rules to institutions and ministries in their responsibility to protect victims of gender-based violence.  The country’s ratification of the Women’s Convention in 2014 was another milestone it had achieved.  However, it continued to struggle with insecurity and faced issues such as internally and externally displaced women, victims of violence, and poor sanitation.  Other challenges included a limited institutional framework and human resource capacities, a weak legal and justice sector, and stereotypical attitudes against women.

PEARL N. MATOME (Botswana) said her country had adopted strategies which focused on addressing systematic inequalities between women and men across all sectors.  Those efforts had been recognized in the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Gender Gap Report and Index, thereby confirming that the country had been making great strides towards the achievement of gender equality.  In the overall ranking, it had climbed 34 places to 51 out of 142 countries surveyed; while in terms of female participation in the economy, it moved up 40 places to number 8 in the world.  It had over the past five years continued to share first place with a number of other countries for achieving an almost perfect gender balance at all levels of education.  To lighten the burden of poverty on women, the Government had introduced a flagship programme that aimed to eradicate poverty by 2015.  While it had increased women’s participation in leadership positions in the public service, civil society and judiciary, it needed to increase women’s representation in the political sphere where female representation in Parliament stood only at 8 per cent.

LIRIOLA LEOTEAU, (Panama) said it was critical to end the “age-old culture of discrimination” against women, noting that both old and new challenges existed.  For its part, Panama would soon host a workshop on the implementation of women’s human rights, which would gather 35 Heads of State of the Americas.  The country had also taken other steps, including establishing a public policy on equal opportunities for women, holding dialogues to promote women’s participation and conducting an initial survey on the use of women’s time.  In addition, it had hosted the first debate on a draft law reflecting efforts between civil society and Government to reduce levels of teen pregnancy.  There was also a draft law to eliminate child marriage and to correct the imbalance in the age of marriage between boys and girls.  Panama looked forward to strengthened South-South and North-South cooperation, in part through the new post-2015 agenda.

MARIELLA MAZZOTTI (Uruguay) said that her country had endeavoured to deepen efforts to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment.  In recent years, women had been benefitting from a number of national achievements, including in the fields of sexual and reproductive health.  Teenage pregnancy rates had also been reduced and measures were pending on domestic violence legislation.  Women’s participation in employment had increased, though a wage gap still existed and women had trouble finding work — a major challenge for female-headed households.  Other challenges included achieving gender parity in decision-making processes and ensuring women’s participation at the highest levels of politics.  A national plan to address unpaid care was being created, she said.  As accountability was key, Uruguay supported the creation of gender indicators in order to properly measure successes achieved.

BARDYLKA KOSPIRI (Albania) said her country had improved policies and legislation in compliance with international conventions, improved data collection and monitoring mechanisms and established partnerships with boys and men to change stereotypes and to advance a gender equality agenda. It had also increased women’s participation in policy and decision-making processes to help integrate women’s rights.  In Parliament, 21 per cent of members were women.  The Government had taken steps to build and strengthen local structures to address gender equality.  The Ministry of Social Welfare and Youth had worked to combat domestic violence and provided social services, including counselling.  It had in cooperation with Parliament and civil society supported public awareness campaigns, recognizing that men and boys were part not only of the problem but also the solution to combat gender-based violence and stereotypes against women.  Today, women were more likely to break their silence evidenced by a growing trend in reporting cases to law enforcement agencies.

WEE BENG EE (Malaysia) shared his country’s achievements in its implementation of the Beijing Declaration.  On education and training, it had made remarkable progress in gender equality, providing equal access to education.  The achievements of women in formal education had been remarkable as seen by the steady increase in female enrolment rates at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels.  The enrolment ratio of girls was almost equal to that of boys.  On health care, Malaysia had one of the lowest mortality rates among developing countries.  Its poverty rate had dropped to 1.7 per cent in 2012, compared to 3.8 per cent in 2009.  On economic participation, the Government had set forth a plan to increase women’s participation in the labour force to 55 per cent by the year 2015.  The participation rate of women in the workforce had increased to 52.4 per cent in 2013.  Women occupied at least 30 per cent of decision-making positions in the public sector.  To tackle violence against women, the Government had adopted a zero tolerance policy and sought to protect and rehabilitate victims.

OLGA PIETRUCHOVA (Slovakia) said that her country had strengthened its legislation and institutional framework for gender equality in line with European Union standards.  Efforts included the creation of the Slovak National Centre for Human Rights and the submission, in 2014, of reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, she said.  Its gender policy for 2014 to 2019 underscored the importance of gender equality and an action plan for the prevention of violence against women had been implemented, with the launch of a new, free phone line for women at risk.  Women took part in the creation of frameworks and action plans, mainly through civil society and non-governmental organizations, she said.  Regarding the development of gender equality in the labour market, she stressed that the wage gap had been greatly reduced.  However, some challenges remained, she said, noting that Slovak society remained highly traditional, with entrenched stereotypes about the roles of women and men.  In addition, only a few women had been elected to top positions in politics.

MARIE JOSÉE BONNE (Seychelles) underlined the importance of the decision taken by Heads of State of African Union members to declare this the decade of African women.  “We love our country, and we do not just want to see the status quo,” she said.  “We want to see it flourish.”  Pointing to a world where both boys and girls had endless opportunities, she said women, as mothers and as the family’s first teachers, had a heavy burden to bear, but it was one they carried with grace.  Still, too many gaps persisted in too many societies, particularly in small island developing States.  All States must give their unequivocal support for a stand-alone development goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment, she said, as well as to streamlining gender across all other goals.  Describing progress made in her country, she said that gender-based violence remained a major source of concern.  One of the major obstacles to eradicating it was public attitude and perceptions.  In that regard, the Government and non-governmental organizations were running awareness-raising campaigns with the goal of changing deeply entrenched attitudes.

IRINA VELICHKO (Belarus) said that in her country, there had been no barriers impeding the realization of women’s rights.  Women were guaranteed full access to education and health care, were more highly educated than men, and occupied 30 per cent of Parliament and over two thirds of posts in public office.  They also enjoyed high levels of employment.  In 2015 her country had introduced measures such as a family allowance to stimulate births.  Stressing that work in gender equality must be done in partnership with men, she said women must not ignore men in the campaign for women’s rights, while men must be ready to share their rights and authorities.  An important role in achieving gender equality belonged to the family as it raised individuals to respect one another, she said, adding that happy people made for families and happy families made for a happy and successful State.  The traditional family today faced challenges, evidenced by the increase in divorce rates, the decline in registered marriages and a new trend to not have children.  The crisis in the family was leading to demographic problems.  In that regard, it was critical to not leave out the subject of family, which must be duly reflected in the post-2015 development agenda.

MOHAMED AL MANSOURI (United Arab Emirates) said his country had achieved significant progress in addressing key areas identified by the Beijing Platform of Action.  It had reduced the child mortality rate to 7 per cent.  Women represented 30 per cent of the public workforce and 18 per cent of Parliament.  A plan had been launched for 2015-2021 to support civil society and to enable women to play leading roles in sustainable development.  His country had also taken measures to achieve gender parity, to empower women and increase their involvement in decision-making in Government and private corporations, recognizing that women were critical partners in development.  In February 2015, Abu Dhabi had hosted an expert meeting of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on the theme of women’s health care.  Also, the role of women in armed conflict must be addressed to alleviate the impact of conflicts.  In that regard, the United Arab Emirates’ mission had launched a number of seminars on peace, development and security.

KAREN TAN (Singapore) said the progress made by women in her country across leading indicators would not have been possible without the concerted efforts of multiple stakeholders and numerous unsung heroes and heroines.  However, as society evolved, a different set of challenges were emerging.  As women became better educated and held good jobs, their expectations of family life also changed.  Recognizing those challenges, the Government had expanded opportunities and resources for women and introduced new programmes to help them balance their work and family commitments.  Greater involvement of fathers, especially in the day-to-day management of children, went a long way in promoting gender equality at home.  Everyone needed to play their part to change negative gender stereotypes, she urged.

MOIJUE E. KAIKAI, Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children Affairs of Sierra Leone, said that his country was still grappling with the remnants of a decade of civil conflict when the Ebola epidemic struck.  Nevertheless, Sierra Leone had made some significant strides towards gender equality and women’s empowerment.  He described a number of practical measures in that respect, including fulfilling the country’s reporting obligation to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and the adoption of national action plans on the impact of war on women.  Measures at the operative level included the enactment of relevant legislation, in line with the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a domestic violence act, an education act and others.  The country offered free childcare and education, as well as free health care for new mothers and children under 5.  All Government ministries must now allocate 20 per cent of their annual budgets to gender-related issues.  However, many challenges still remained, including underresourcing, persistent poverty and challenges in the effective implementation of gender-related laws.

CHITRAWATIE MOHANLAL (Suriname), highlighting the gains her country had made since the Beijing Conference, said substantial progress had also been achieved in building and strengthening the national legal framework relating to women and girls.  It was important to engage boys and men in the elimination of violence against women, as well as in the achievement of gender equality.  There were still many disparities in access to education, health, social protection, and the protection of basic human rights that were closely related to the persistent impact of structural socioeconomic and cultural barriers.  Weak mechanisms for gender-budgeting, limited financial resources, and lack of data and expertise also posed obstacles.  Despite those challenges, the Government would continue its efforts through collaboration with non-governmental, grass-roots and faith-based organizations, as well as the private sector.

RON PROSOR (Israel) said that, on International Women’s Day, he had become a grandfather to a baby girl.  The reality was that a baby girl born today would face inequality and discrimination, no matter where she grew up.  The ideals that drove the Beijing meeting still, therefore, rang true today:  that women’s rights were human rights, and that the “silver bullet of development” was gender equality.  A community that was not safe for women was not safe for anyone.  It was no coincidence that so many of the countries that threatened global security were the very places where women were deprived of dignity and opportunity.  Israel was leading by example. The country had recently welcomed its first female Major General, elected a female chairman to its federal bank, appointed three women to head the country’s leading banks, and appointed a woman as president of Israel’s Supreme Court.  “Israeli women haven’t just broken the glass ceiling, they have shattered it,” he said.  It was the duty of the international community to realize the dreams of parents and grandparents of girl children:  to create a world where women had equal rights and opportunities, where women were respected and regarded as equal partners, and where there were no limits to the dreams of women and girls.

STEPHAN TAFROV (Bulgaria) said much bolder policies were needed in order to make a significant difference in the lives of women and girls.  His country’s Constitution favoured equality before the law.  Women and men enjoyed equal economic, civic, social and political rights.  The country’s legislation was in line with its international obligations with respect to human rights.  The Government had constantly endeavoured to improve national policies in gender equality.  In addition, European norms in gender equality had been made part of national legislation and strategic policies to improve the status of women.  The Government had set up an interministerial committee on the rights of women, and adopted a plan of action to accelerate implementation of gender-equality policies.  The gender dimension had been mainstreamed into all aspects of society and was present in all policies and programmes.

NAWAF SALAM (Lebanon) said that his country was working with a number of actors to achieve the goals set forth  in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.  The year 2015 marked an important step.  The world should rejoice over the progress that had been made, in particular of countries enacting national legislation to remove gender discrimination.  However, progress had been slow.  Much remained to be done, especially in the areas of education, empowerment and representation of women in decision-making.  The international community also needed to address the needs of female internally displaced persons and those women living under occupation.  Lebanon reaffirmed its commitment to Council resolution 1325 (2000).  His country welcomed the inclusion of a stand-alone sustainable development goal on gender equality, as well as the mainstreaming of gender across all other goals.  New challenges had emerged, as well as new opportunities for empowerment.  “It is time to reflect on the root causes of violence and discrimination against women and girls,” and to involve men and boys in the struggle for equality, he said.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said that many “fires” presently besieged Syrian women:  collective rape, extremism and terrorism; forced marriage with foreign terrorists; and restrictions on their education, among others.  That situation had emerged after generations during which Syrian women had been role models for their peers in the Arab region.  Indeed, women and girls suffered from the worst Fatwas, including sexual jihad, whose effects were expanding day after day “in the face of international silence”.  Some States, which had condemned the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS), continued to ignore the fact that Government involvement facilitated terrorism, including through the establishment of training camps for terrorists.  He called on the United Nations system to recognize the “barbaric” fatwas and to take concrete actions to prevent the “shameful phenomenon” facing women and girls in Syria.  Member States should support women and girls in occupied Palestine and in the occupied Golan, where occupation itself violated their human rights.

Panel Discussion

In the afternoon there was a panel discussion titled “Results of regional Beijing+20 events of the United Nations regional commissions” chaired by Kanda Vajrabhaya, Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women of Thailand and moderated by Phumzile Mlambo-Ncguka, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women).  Before the Commission were a report of the Secretary-General on the Review and appraisal of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcomes of the twenty-third special of the General Assembly (document E/CN.6/2015/3) and a note by the Secretariat containing a Discussion guide for the ministerial round tables to be held under the overall theme “Priorities for future action to realize gender equality, the empowerment of women and the human rights of women and girls” (document E/CN.6/2015/4).

Presentations were made by:  Christian Friis Bach, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE); Rima Khalaf, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA); Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) (via videoconference) and Thokozile Ruzvidzo, Director of the ECA African Centre for Gender; Shamshad Akhter, Executive Secretary, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) (via videoconference) and Nanda Krairiksh, Director of the ESCAP Social Development Division; and Antonio Prado, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) (via videoconference) and Pamela Villalobos of the ECLAC Gender Equality Division.

Opening the discussion, Ms. MLAMBO-NCGUKA said today’s discussion focusing on how to implement agreements reached at the regional review meetings would contribute practical answers and the review outcomes must find an appropriate place in the post-2015 development agenda.

Panellists presented key findings in their regions and highlighted major outcomes.  Overall, despite progress reported in the regions, challenges remained, among them prevalent violence against women and obstacles blocking women’s economic empowerment.  Many agreed that gender and equality and the empowerment of women and girls should be at the core of the post-2015 agenda.

Kicking off the discussion with a focus on the Arab States region, Ms. KHALAF said that no accurate socioeconomic picture could be clearly drawn without a reflection of the conflict and violence due to the occupation of Palestine.  Despite that, the region had experienced progress, with most instruments on women’s rights adopted or ratified by Arab countries and 20 of its 22 countries joining the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, to which only Palestine had acceded without reservations.  Laws and mandatory measures on education and other areas had yielded results, with more girls enrolled in primary education, rising female youth literacy and greater life expectancy for women.  However, Arab women’s participation in politics and the labour force continued to be the lowest globally, with only 23 per cent economically active and 17 per cent holding parliamentary seats.  Further, despite measures to fight gender based violence, 35 per cent of Arab women had suffered physical and/or sexual violence and 60 million women and girls had been subjected to genital mutilation.

Most of the key steps required had been spelled out in the Declaration endorsed by Arab States at the conclusion of the Beijing+20 Conference in Cairo, she said.  Among those steps, were comprehensive legislative reviews, new laws to eliminate gender discrimination and prevent harmful practices, mechanisms to protect women from violence and secure their human rights and for systematic support towards their greater political and economic participation.  The Declaration also called for lifting all remaining reservations on the Convention and emphasized the need for effective and efficient coordination between United Nations entities.  In conflict settings or in areas under occupation, all financial, human and technical resources to sustain achievements and protect rights of women must be provided, she said, adding that the political will and concrete strategies to overcome resistance to change and bring about awareness of women’s rights as human rights were also needed.

With regard to the Asia-Pacific region, Ms. AKHTER said much had been achieved in gender equality.  However, in an area representing almost 60 per cent of the world’s women and girls, progress was mixed and challenges remained.  Gender parity had been achieved in primary education, the gender gap had been reduced at the secondary level and there were more women than men at some tertiary educational institutions.  In terms of health, gains were seen in reducing maternal mortality at a rate faster than the global average.  Life expectancy had risen for women in every country of the region, although many women still died from complications during pregnancy or childbirth.  The number of women parliamentarians had also gone up, although it was still the lowest percentage in the world.  Regarding violence against women and girls, she said that between 25 and 70 per cent faced violence at the hands of an intimate partner.  Women and girls were also disproportionately impacted by climate change and natural disasters and there were attempts being made to integrate that issue into action plans.

As to outcomes, she said that strengthening equality and empowerment for women should be at the forefront of all actions.  Realizing gender equality was central to the post-2015 agenda, ESCAP would focus on strengthening gender statistics to track the implementation of the regional declaration on advancing gender equality.  To build capacity, greater financial investments and appropriate allocation would contribute to forwarding women’s equality and empowerment and the Commission intended to research that funding.  In support of such initiatives, ESCAP would establish an online gender resource equality facility, providing stakeholders with cross-cutting and sector-specific support.

In the European region, Mr. BACH said there was a lot to celebrate, as many improvements had been made.  Civil society had grown stronger and was able to hold Governments accountable to ensure gender equality, he said, emphasizing that violence against women had been criminalized in almost all countries.  Women even outnumbered men in most universities except in scientific and technological fields.  However, many young women were feeling increasing pressures, such as with the rise of eating disorders and depression.  It was tough to be a young woman, even in his region, where half of all women experienced sexual harassment and many suffered physical or psychological violence before the age of 15.  Many women were forced into vulnerable, low-wage and part-time work, where there was discrimination against them and the glass ceiling above.  Best practices should be shared and implemented and it was about time to do so, he said.

On outcomes, he said that that the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, known as the Istanbul Convention, was a prime example of an instrument with a clear aim.  All Governments needed to have strategies to protect and support victims and prosecute the perpetrators.  Reporting on wage differences was one effective way to support parity, as well as sanctions or other penalties against countries which did not have equal pay.  Labour market policies were key, as well as paternal leave and day-care services.  The ECE was working hard to mainstream gender in its programmes, focusing on knowledge and communication.  Among its efforts, it supported women’s entrepreneurship through training and other measures and had developed a new set of indicators for gender equality through a database, and he encouraged Member States to look into it and improve it further.

In Africa, significant progress had been made on the Beijing+20 recommendations, said Mr. LOPES.  The goal of enrolment for girls in primary schools had been attained continent-wide, although their place in secondary and tertiary education, while improved, lagged behind.  Maternal health had also improved significantly.  Looking at the Millennium Development Goals, he said that Africa had come further than other regions, given the low level from which it had started.  The region had done best in the political sphere, where there were now three female Heads of State and the percentage of women parliamentarians had doubled to 40 per cent, perhaps the best ratio in the world.  The main concern was for economic opportunities as too few women were engaged in the transformative processes on the continent, a situation the Commission was working to rectify.  The African Union was also focused on mainstreaming women’s empowerment and development.  However, the narrative must be changed to become more about policy rather than proclamations.  Africa was celebrating growth, but that growth did not yet have quality.  For it to have quality, social dimensions must be integrated so that our “better half” would be central to the process.

Ms. RUZVIDZO, speaking on key outcomes, cited the 2014 adoption in Addis Ababa of a plan of action to change the perception of women and girls, particularly stressing violence against women.  She also emphasized the importance for economic ministries and the private sector to provide means for women to participate and stressed the need to focus on countries in conflict.

In the Latin American and Caribbean region, gender equality was at the centre of ECLAC’s work, said Mr. PRADO.  Efforts focused on women’s autonomy, including in political, physical and economic spheres, because those issues were interlinked.  Challenges remained, he said, listing a number of them.  Violence against women and teenage pregnancy were two clear examples of persistent problems.  Women were more educated than men and yet many remained outside the labour market.  While women had similar access to information and communications technology as men did, they lacked access to science and technology careers due to “structural gatekeepers”.  The burden of unpaid work generated “time poverty”, with women working longer hours than men in all countries, much of it unpaid.  Monitoring and accountability of the future development agenda would strengthen governmental capacities to help bridge the gender divide.

Addressing key outcomes, Ms. VILLALOBOS said economic empowerment could not be achieved through social policies alone.  Policies must also be in place and the focus had to move from micro to macro, from microcredit to macroeconomic policies.  In addition gender statistics had generated data, which provided evidence.  “What is not counted does not count,” she said.

Delegates participating in the ensuing discussion stressed the need for women’s economic empowerment and policies to end violence against women and gender stereotyping.  Some speakers emphasized a need for data in shaping effective policies and efforts towards mainstreaming gender equality into all planning.

Other speakers stressed the need for cooperation, with the representative of Bahrain pointing out that a unified Arab report on gender issues could work towards eliminating violence against women.  Similarly, the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania highlighted the need to include men in working towards gender equality.  Agreeing with the panellists, many speakers underscored the importance of a stand-alone goal for gender equality and women’s empowerment within the post-2015 development agenda.  Thailand’s representative reminded delegates that the realization of women’s empowerment and rights was essential to economic development.

Panellists then suggested actions moving forward, based on the discussion.  They suggested that there must be a commitment to move from policies to implementation and to measure progress using data, which must be collected.  In addition, political will must be engendered at the highest levels to include gender equality in all strategies and adequate resources for effective mechanisms.  It was also important to continue cooperating with traditional allies, such as women’s groups, but also to find new ones and to create quota systems to promote women.

In closing remarks Ms. MLAMBO-NCGUKA said that to advance the rights of women and girls, more concrete actions than had been proposed today were needed.  The Political Declaration adopted by the Commission Monday emphasized strengthening the implementation of laws and policies.  It also called for strengthened and increased support for institutional mechanisms, significantly increased investment to close resource gaps, bolstered accountability and enhanced capacity-building, data collection, monitoring and evaluation.

Also participating in the discussion were representatives of Uruguay, Italy, Nepal, Ukraine, Jordan, Sudan, Philippines, Estonia, Uganda, Cuba, Finland, Sri Lanka, Botswana, Fiji and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as of the State of Palestine.  A representative of the Commission’s NGO Committee also participated.

The Commission would next convene at 10 a.m. Friday, 13 March.

For information media. Not an official record.