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Progress towards Gender Equality Under Threat, World Leaders Warn as General Assembly Marks Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of Landmark Women’s Rights Conference

Targeted Measures Crucial for Fulfilling Beijing Promise, Secretary‑General Says, as Speakers Spotlight Gains, Setbacks in Health, Human Rights, Economic Empowerment

Twenty‑five years after the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women, global societies need an unqualified push to meet the elusive promise of gender equality that had brought millions to Beijing in 1995 to demand action, Secretary‑General António Guterres told a High‑level General Assembly meeting to review progress.

“It starts with the equal representation of women in leadership positions — in Governments, boardrooms, in climate negotiations and at the peace table — everywhere decisions are taken that affect people’s lives,” he said.  “This is fundamentally a question of power.”

Fulfilling the ambitious vision outlined in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action — adopted at the Conference — will require targeted measures, he said.  One woman in three still experiences violence in her lifetime.  Every year, 12 million girls marry before the age of 18.  In 2017, 137 women were killed daily by a family member.  The World Bank estimates it could take 150 years to achieve gender parity in lifetime earned income — and that closing that gap would generate $172 trillion in human capital wealth.

To be sure, the Beijing Declaration spurred 274 legal and regulatory reforms in 131 countries, said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN‑Women).  At the founding of the United Nations in 1945, there were no women Heads of State or Government.  In 1995, there were 12 — and today, there are 22.  “All in all, progress, but not yet enough, and too slow,” she said.  Parity is needed in all spheres — including cabinets, corporate boards and throughout the economy.  “We need big bold steps,” she said, warning those gathered that modest gains made since 1995 are under threat.

On that point, Hilary Gbedemah, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, described a changed global rights landscape since Beijing, amid attempts to dilute the Convention and focus on “traditional values” that seek to undermine sexual and reproductive health.  Women human rights defenders face violence, including online, and women’s organizations face obstacles to both funding and registration.

“We need to focus on pushback movements,” said Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, who drew attention to abuse in intimate partner relationships and domestic settings, which is “invisible, unreported and normalized” — and as a result, not adequately addressed.

Ixchel Adolfo, a young leader from Guatemala, pressed world leaders to create safe environments — “from childhood to adulthood” — so girls do not have to fear what people say or endure violence, even death.  Girls need holistic education throughout their lives so they can become women leaders.  “Give us spaces for dialogue” she said, and open conversations.  “The people who know about our needs are us.”

Addressing the gathering, Assembly President Feridun Hadi Sinirlioğlu (Turkey) urged participants to use their voices and votes on behalf of those who entrusted them to sit behind their country placards.  “The onus is upon you to shift the status quo,” he said.  It is time to accept a simple fact:  “A woman empowered is not a threat.”

Encouraging boys to understand that they are equal in every way to their sisters, he spoke directly to his granddaughters — and all girls — reminding them that there is nothing that women cannot do.  “Never doubt your personal power,” he said.  “Assert your power.”  He asked how long it would take to fully reach gender parity.  “Why wait” for the centenary of the United Nations or the fiftieth World Conference on Women.  “It is time to level the playing field.”

During the day‑long debate, more than 100 leaders spoke in pre‑recorded videos fed into a physically distanced General Assembly Hall.  Many reviewed progress — or the lack thereof — in 12 critical areas laid out in the Beijing Platform for Action, including combating poverty and violence against women, ensuring all girls receive an education and involving women at top levels of business and Government, as well as at peacemaking tables.

In that context, President Emanuel Macron of France acknowledged that “it’s no secret that, in 2020, the Beijing Declaration would have no chance of being adopted.”  All over the world, women’s rights — alongside the human rights from which they are indivisible — are being reversed, with the denial of women’s rights to make decisions about their bodies, and the right to abortion, among the most contested.

Katrin Jakobsdottir, Prime Minister of Iceland, likewise warned of efforts to roll back victories on women’s sexual and reproductive rights and expressed concern about increased politicization.  The COVID‑19 pandemic has only emboldened those seeking to curtail such freedoms.  “We see an increase in existing inequalities, an alarming rise in gender‑based violence and a sharp increase in extreme poverty among women,” she said, calling for gender‑inclusive pandemic responses.

Taking a contrasting view, Damares Alves, Brazil’s Minister for Women, Family and Human Rights, said that despite what is said in United Nations forums, there is no alleged right to terminate pregnancy.  Nor is there anything in international law or international human rights law regarding the hypothetical right of women to abortion as a family planning option.  She underscored Brazil’s efforts to increase women’s involvement in politics.

As the Prime Minister of the world’s first feminist Government, Stefan Löfven of Sweden said “no society will prosper if half of its population is denied access to education, to the possibility of working and to supporting a family.” Sweden will remain a progressive country for women’s rights and gender equality, he assured, noting that having an income of their own is decisive for women’s economic independence.

Many world leaders highlighted the gains made in the 25 years since the Beijing Conference, with Georgia’s President Salome Zourabichvili, noting that her country established women’s voting rights more than 100 years ago, and in 2018, elected the first female President in the region.  Efforts must focus on the social stereotypes that nurture discrimination.  “If we do not address men and boys, our endeavours will not give the required effects,” she said, invoking the memory of United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose legacy as one of the most fervent fighters for women’s rights will live on.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta likewise touted his country’s hosting of the 1985 Third World Conference on Women, which defined the Nairobi Forward‑Looking Strategies for achieving gender equality at the national level. “Gender equality remains central to the development agenda of my Administration,” he asserted, and enshrined in Kenya’s constitution.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi pointed out that his was the first country to issue a policy paper responding to the special needs of women and girls in the context of the COVID‑19 pandemic.  Emphasizing the importance of women’s involvement in peacebuilding negotiations, he said Egypt has participated in the development of the Arab regional strategy for implementing Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security.

On the subject of education for women and girls, Mauritius’s Minister for Gender Equality and Family Welfare, K.D. Koonjoo-Shah, said that free education for all is a reality in her country.  That is the case not only at the primary and secondary levels but also at the tertiary level, she noted, underscoring that Mauritius boasts a literacy rate of 89 per cent.  In fact, girls’ academic achievements are better than boys at all levels.

Michelle Bavy Angelica, Minister for Population, Social Protection and Promotion of Women of Madagascar, drew attention to the progress that her country has made for women and girls in the legislative sphere.  One of Madagascar’s laws allows women the right to decide on the size of their families, while another gives girls control over their reproductive health.  In 2016, a nationality law was enacted that permits women to pass their Madagascan nationality onto their children.  Legislation that defines sexual abuse and marital rape as seriously punishable acts was signed into law in 2019.

Also addressing the topic of sexual violence, Ayanna WebsterRoy, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, said that her country has made new legislative and policy changes as part of its Sexual Offences Act 2019, as well as its sexual harassment policy to ensure that gender equality remains at the heart of the country’s socioeconomic policy.

Everly Paul Chet Greene, Antigua and Barbuda’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Immigration and Trade, told Member States that his country has established a support and referral centre for gender-based violence and, with funds from the Government of Canada, a court to address sexual offence cases.

Teodro Locsin Jr., Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, said that while his country is ranked number two in its region for gender equality, in much of the world, “the depravity of the strong sex knows no limits”.  This makes international action vital, especially regarding the implementation of measures to protect migrant women and girls from trafficking and violence.  Noting that his country is a major producer of child pornography, he underscored the need to combat that scourge.

The high‑level plenary debate also featured video remarks by Heads of State and Government, and senior officials of Ethiopia, Switzerland, Finland, Nepal, Ghana, Botswana, Nigeria, Bolivia, Slovenia, North Macedonia, Turkey, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Kiribati, South Africa, Costa Rica, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Colombia, Comoros, Seychelles, Uruguay, Iran, Ecuador, Sierra Leone, Tuvalu (also on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum), Norway, Spain, Fiji, Bangladesh, Sweden, Denmark, Tonga, Germany, Iceland, Eswatini, Estonia, Italy, Canada, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Armenia, Serbia, Thailand, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belgium, Viet Nam, Uzbekistan, Netherlands, Portugal, Australia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Peru, India, Austria, Tunisia, Cuba, Chile, Czech Republic, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Myanmar, Iraq, Algeria, Namibia, Luxembourg, Bhutan, Cabo Verde, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Mongolia, Congo, Guyana, Israel, Venezuela, Indonesia, Ireland, Côte d'Ivoire, Liechtenstein, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Malaysia (also on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Chad, Dominican Republic, Sudan, Croatia, Panama, Suriname, Maldives, Hungary, Moldova, Cyprus, Paraguay, Andorra, Republic of Korea, Malta, Haiti, Kuwait, Rwanda and Qatar, as well as the European Union.

The opening segment also heard a video address by President Xi Jinping, President of China, as well as by Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); Elizabeth Broderick, Chair of the Human Rights Council Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Nomzamo Mbatha, eminent high‑level champion of gender equality; and Sascha Gabizon, Director of Women Engage for a Common Future.

Opening Remarks

FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, said it is a rare circumstance when each member of society has a role to play in making the world a better place.  It is even rarer when all people can take a small step that can lead to a huge change.  In that spirit, he called on each world leader to continue taking action to meet the challenges of a rapidly developing world.  “Your commitment to meet people’s needs will help accelerate gender equality,” he said.  “It is up to us to bridge the digital divide, provide more girls with education and provide more opportunities to women.”  To those in the General Assembly Hall today, “the onus is upon you to shift the status quo”, he said, urging them to use their voices and votes on behalf of those who entrusted them to sit behind their countries’ placards.

He called on Member States to implement past resolutions — on the girl child, on women migrant workers and on improving the situation of women and girls in rural areas — stressing that action requires more than simply passing legislation.  “We need to shift established norms,” he said.  Thanking civil society leaders, he said “we would not be here without you” and urged them to continue raising their voices.  Were it not for COVID‑19, they would be in the General Assembly Hall today and “your seats remain open”.  To health‑care and social workers who have worked throughout the pandemic — and the women who make up 70 per cent of the labour force – “we thank you”, he said, also hailing daily efforts by peacekeepers to uphold women’s rights in the most challenging environments.  “Now is time to up the ante,” he asserted.

To people around the world, he said it is time to accept a simple fact:  “A woman empowered is not a threat.  In celebrating diversity, everyone prospers.”  When women are engaged in peace processes, peace is more likely to last.  He encouraged boys to know they are equal in every way to their sisters — no better or worse.  And to his granddaughters and all girls, he encouraged them to remember “there is nothing that women cannot do.  We need women in power.”  There is power in a podium, in information, data and science, in girls’ words and in sharing their lived experiences.  “Never doubt your personal power,” he said.  “Assert your power.”  He encouraged everyone to reflect on when the world will actually reach full gender equality, whether it will be at the fiftieth anniversary of the World Conference on Women, or perhaps in celebrating the centenary of the United Nations.  “Why wait?” he asked, calling for full buy‑in from Governments, civil society, private sector, the United Nations and “you at home”.  Multilateralism is fuelled by decision makers at all levels, he said.  It is time to level the playing field.

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary‑General of the United Nations, recalling the landmark moment represented by the Fourth World Conference on Women and noting that more girls are in school than ever before in history, said that despite such gains, the ambitious vision of the Beijing Declaration remains unfulfilled.  One woman in three still experiences some form of violence in her lifetime and females are still frequently excluded from peace negotiations, climate talks and decision‑making roles of all kinds.  Further, women and girls are bearing the brunt of the massive social and economic impact of COVID‑19.  Twenty‑five years after Beijing, he said, “we are facing a women‑led recession” as females employed in the informal economy are first to lose their jobs.  While women nurses and caregivers are on the front lines of the pandemic response, men occupy 70 per cent of leadership roles in health care, he pointed out.

Also drawing attention to “a shadow pandemic of gender‑based violence during COVID‑19”, he cautioned that the pandemic could wipe out a generation of fragile progress towards gender equality.  Noting that the systems and structures of the world are based on millennia of male domination, he said that meeting the unfulfilled promise of Beijing is fundamentally “a question of power”.  Calling for targeted measures including affirmative action and quotas, he noted that the United Nations achieved gender parity in its leadership at the beginning of 2020, with 90 women and 90 men as full‑time senior leaders.  The Organization is now working for parity at all levels, not simply for the sake of female staff, but because women’s leadership makes institutions more effective, he stressed.

The current catastrophe, he added, is also an opportunity to put women front and centre of the recovery.  Stimulus funds should put money directly into women’s hands through cash transfers and credits, and Governments should expand social safety nets to women in the informal economy and recognize the value of unpaid care work.  Noting that in recent times, there has been a pushback against women’s rights, he said, “now is the time to push back against the pushback.”  Also correcting a common misconception, he said, “the Beijing Conference did not only concern women.  It concerned women, men, girls and boys.”  Women’s full human rights and freedoms are fundamental to peace and prosperity on a healthy planet.

XI JINPING, President of China, said women are at the forefront of the fight against the COVID‑19 pandemic and deserve admiration for their heroism.  He said that at the height of the pandemic in China 40,000 health‑care workers rushed to the epicentre to address the crisis; of those, two thirds were women.  “Women medical workers in China, through their devotion and work, played a key role in maintaining the integrity of the country,” he said, also calling for increased efforts to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on women, especially front‑line workers, to ensure the success of COVID‑19 recovery efforts.

He said COVID‑19 responses offer a platform for women to take leadership roles, adding that the success of those efforts hinges on minimizing the effects of the pandemic on females, especially front‑line workers.

Calling for an end to discrimination and violence towards women, he stressed that their rights and interests are central to sustainable development.  He urged enhanced global cooperation in advancing the rights of women and called on the United Nations to redouble efforts to address emerging challenges for females, including bridging the gender‑digital divide.  To that end, China pledged to donate $5 million to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN‑Women) over the next five years.  “We must work harder to build a world in which women are free from discrimination,” he said, urging renewed efforts to advance the global cause of their development.

PHUMZILE MLAMBO‑NGCUKA, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN‑Women), said the Beijing Declaration spurred 274 legal and regulatory reforms in 131 countries and has increased the role of women in peace processes.  She noted that, at the founding of the United Nations in 1945 there were no women Heads of State or Government, adding that in 1995 there were 12 and that today there are 22.  “All in all, progress, but not yet enough, and too slow,” she said, adding that women’s leadership is vital to the success of COVID‑19 recovery efforts.  Women are calling for parity in all spheres, including cabinets, corporate boards and throughout the economy, she stated.

Ms. Mlambo‑Ngcuka said the basic elements needed to roll back extreme poverty are in place.  “We need big bold steps, not incremental ones,” she said, warning those gathered that modest gains made since 1995 are under threat.  She made a call to action, stressing that now is the time to change the course of history for women and girls, especially those between the ages of 25 and 34 who are more likely to live in extreme poverty than their male counterparts.  She urged bold leadership, unwavering political will and urgent investments to ensure that the girls of today can become thriving young women.  She closed by noting that the pandemic has a disproportionate effect on women, who are the majority of those saving lives.

NATALIA KANEM, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said protecting women’s sexual and reproductive rights is essential for their empowerment.  “As the potential of women and girls is diminished, so too is humanity.”  While positive strides towards the goals of the Beijing Declaration have been made, daily stories that unfold, including continued female genital mutilation practices and adolescent marriages, show that there is a long way to go.  UNFPA co‑leads the Coalition on Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and data shows that only 55 per cent of women worldwide can make their own decisions about their reproductive health, she said, adding that 280,00 adolescents and young women became infected by HIV in 2019.  The COVID‑19 crisis threatens to set progress further back and strong political action and international support are needed to prevent such rollback.  Investing in women and girls is smart economics with benefits to society many times the cost.

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that between the fortieth anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the twenty‑fifth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference, the world has marked two historic milestones for women’s rights.  Today’s review offers an opportunity to recommit to these two landmark documents.  Over 25 years, the Committee has interpreted the rights in the Convention through its jurisprudence and in its General Recommendations on women in political life, health, education, older women, women migrant workers, rural women, women in conflict, harmful practices and gender‑based violence against women, among others.  They require States to actualize their legally binding Convention obligations and their corresponding political commitments under the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

“Both the Convention and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action are driving forces for transformative change,” she said, recalling that significant progress has been made over the years, with gender parity in education achieved on average at the global level and the maternal mortality ratio 38 per cent lower in 2017 than in 2000.  “Sustainable development cannot be achieved without women’s equal participation in decision‑making and leadership across all areas of the Convention, Beijing Platform for Action and the Sustainable Development Goals,” she assured.

Since Beijing, the global rights landscape has changed, with attempts to dilute the Convention and focus on “traditional values” that seek to confine women to the family and undermine sexual and reproductive health.  Women human rights defenders face violence, including online, and criminalization of their work or restrictions on registering and funding women’s organizations.  Drawing attention to the guidance note on COVID‑19, which provides States with tools to promote women’s rights in their pandemic response and recovery plans, she went on to underscore the importance of strengthening the human rights treaty bodies.  Without the necessary resources, they will fall behind in their work — with dire consequences for many rights holders.  She pressed States to “grasp this moment in history” as an opportunity to adopt transformative strategies based on principles of non‑discrimination and solidarity to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

ELIZABETH BRODERICK, Chair of the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, said that, while important progress has been made towards the goals of the Beijing Declaration, discrimination against females and impunity for violations persists.  The pandemic is having a disproportionately negative impact on women and anti‑gender equality actors across all regions are threatening hard‑fought gains, she warned.  On behalf of the Working Group, she asked the international community to use its power and influence to deliver on the promises of the Declaration and prevent rollback and reassert gender equality.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, noting her long history in different roles at the United Nations, said that 2020 was expected to be a big year for women.  However, due to COVID‑19, everything has been scaled down and “we are meeting in this half‑empty room, missing the presence of the women activists whose participation is crucial,” she said.  Noting the pandemic’s effect on her schedule of country visits, she added that in the past five years, she conducted 11 country visits.  All of them revealed huge gaps between the realities of women and girls on the ground and international standards.  Further, she said, based on 274 inputs from countries, she has also prepared a report on the intersection between COVID‑19 and gender‑based violence.

“We need to focus on pushback movements,” she said, calling gender‑based violence a structural pandemic.  Violence against women, especially in intimate partner relationships and domestic settings, is “invisible, unreported and normalized,” she said; as a result, it is not adequately addressed by States.  The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action should be implemented in conjunction with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and regional treaties, using synergies between them to accelerate the elimination of violence, she said. Also noting new forms of violence such as online violence and violence against women in politics, she stressed that it is also vital to harmonize national laws with international standards and implement a United Nations systemwide approach to combat violence against females.

NOMZAMO MBATHA, eminent high‑level champion of gender equality, said 25 years ago, through the Beijing Declaration, the world promised to achieve equal rights for women and girls everywhere.  Today, the Declaration remains as relevant as ever, she said, stressing that efforts to ensure equality must account for the interests of realities of women and girls forced to flee their homes.  Gender equality remains the biggest human rights challenge on Earth and over half of those forced to flee their homes due to hardship are women and girls.  Women and girls in refugee camps offer inspiring stories, she said, citing a young girl’s desire at one such camp to become a doctor.  That girl was forced to flee her home due to war, she said, noting that access to education for refugees is critical to development.

Refugee women and girls suffer disproportionately in the face of the COVID‑19 pandemic, she said, noting that over half of females enrolled in schools will likely not return after pandemic‑related school closures end.  “Forcibly displaced women are agents for change, using their voices to demand equality,” she said, noting that gender equality is at the heart of the work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  “There can be no future without the equal participation of all women and girls,” she closed.

SASCHA GABIZON, Director of Women Engage for a Common Future, recalling that she was one of the 30,000 participants at the Beijing Conference, noted with regret that 25 years later, in many countries, “instead of progress we see regress”.  Sexual and reproductive health rights are under attack, and women human rights defenders, indigenous women, women of colour and trans women are imprisoned, assassinated and discriminated against.  “We need you all to push back against this pushback,” she said, adding that the combined crises of armed conflicts, COVID‑19, the climate and environmental crisis made it vital to stand up even stronger for women’s rights.

Women are at the front lines fighting these multiple crises, she noted, adding that they are the majority of health sector workers.  However, they are also under attack from increased sexual and gender‑based violence as a result of the COVID‑19 lockdowns.  Gender‑based violence and discrimination are systemic, growing out of colonialism, slavery and patriarchal traditions that perpetuate violence against people of colour, Dalits, sex workers, people with disabilities and gender non‑conforming persons.  Acknowledging the victories of the #MeToo campaign and the new International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 190 on violence and harassment, she called on all Member States to ratify that agreement.  “And we won’t let you off the hook on your past commitments either,” she said, demanding the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention), 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Goal 5 on gender equality.

Intersectional feminists are insisting on structural transformation, she said, adding that it is necessary to defund the military and invest in health care, social protection and women’s rights.  Reiterating the Secretary‑General’s call for a global ceasefire, she said that the Security Council must contain women and men impacted by conflicts, not the arms‑exporting nations.  “That is clearly a conflict of interest,” she said, calling on countries to divest from plastics, pesticides, mineral and nuclear industries.  Stressing the need for debt cancellation, an equal share of COVID‑19 vaccines for countries in the global South and a tax convention to end the downward spiral of tax paradises, which profit billionaires whilst 3.7 billion people suffer in poverty, she added, “let’s not wait until the United Nations turns 100”.

IXCHEL ADOLFO, young woman leader, explaining her volunteer work ensures that the voices of young girls in Guatemala are heard around the world, said she is also a leader of the Coalition for Action on Gender‑Based Violence.  Women make up 51.5 per cent of Guatemala’s population — 33.4 per cent of them are aged 0 to 14 years.  Yet, women and girls have not been considered in decision‑making, due to machismo, inequality and inequity.  Noting that 40 per cent of COVID‑19 cases are among women, she said there have been other effects on women’s education, health, mortality and safety.  Between January and May, for example, 1,962 teen pregnancies were reported in girls aged 10 to 14 years old, and 44,000 reported among those between 15 and 19 years old.  “I ask all leaders, as well as decision makers who are listening today, to create safe environments — from childhood to adulthood — in which we do not fear what people say, violence, enforced disappearance or death,” she stressed, also pressing them to provide holistic education throughout their lives to ensure they are empowered as future women leaders.  Governments also must provide holistic health services in which women and girls are not stigmatized for asking for contraception, family planning or the means to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.  Comprehensive public policies and training must be developed that cover national laws and the international treaties signed by Governments.  “We need to work together” — as girls, adolescents and young people.  She encouraged decision makers to “give us spaces for dialogue” and to open conversations.  “The people who know about our needs are us.”


URSULA VON DER LEYEN, President of the European Commission, reported that the European Union’s College of Commissioners was on the brink of complete gender balance.  “In business, politics and society as a whole, using only half of the population, half of the ideas or half of the energy is not good enough.”  She went on to emphasize the importance of eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls as well as supporting their empowerment in all areas of work.  The issue of equal pay has been in European treaties since the foundation of the community in 1957.  Even so, there remains a 16 per cent pay gap in the European Union, she said, calling for pay transparency so women can prove they are underpaid.

SAHLE-WORK ZEWDE, President of Ethiopia, said that women in her country are getting better access to education and health services, with their reproductive rights protected by law and barriers to engagement in economic life addressed.  Women constitute half of Ethiopia’s Cabinet members and 38 per cent of its Parliament.  Even so, Ethiopia’s women face structural barriers and discrimination, and gains made over the past two decades are at risk due to the COVID‑19 pandemic.  Today, there is an uphill struggle to prevent millions of women and girls from falling into extreme poverty, she cautioned, saying the current challenges cannot be overcome without stronger partnership between relevant stakeholders, including Government, civil society and the private sector.

EMMANUEL MACRON, President of France, acknowledged that “it’s no secret that in 2020 the Beijing Declaration would have no chance of being adopted.”  All over the world, women’s rights, alongside the human rights from which they are indivisible, are sliding back, he noted, highlighting the denial of women’s rights to make decisions about their own bodies, and the right to abortion.  Inequalities in education and political representation continue, he said, adding that gender equality is a major policy issue in his mandate and foreign policy.  Calling for sustained action, he said the international community owes it to the 11 million girls who may never return to schools after the pandemic and the 7 million women who will have fallen pregnant in 2020 without wanting to.  Looking forward to the Generation Equality Forum France is hosting in Paris in 2021, he said it will bring together international organizations, civil society and private sector to consider how to make the next generation the generation of true equality.

SIMONETTA SOMMARUGA, President of Switzerland, noting that the Beijing Declaration addressed previously neglected issues such as the recognition of unpaid work, added that, 25 years later, it is mostly women who are on the front line in hospitals and homes while men continue to be in charge.  During the general debate of the General Assembly, barely a dozen countries were represented by women, out of 193 Member States, she pointed out.  Recalling her experience working in a women’s shelter, she said she learned there that the most dangerous place for females is not on the street, it is at home.  Switzerland has ratified the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, she noted, adding that the demonstrations that took place in her country in 2019 led to many women being elected to the Swiss Parliament.  With its candidacy for the Security Council for 2023‑24, Switzerland wants to strengthen its multilateral commitment to women, peace and security in the world, she underscored.

SAULI NIINISTÖ, President of Finland, acknowledged progress made towards gender equality since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration, including in the field of women’s political participation.  Still, States must think of new ways to ensure efforts to achieve equality advance rather than regress, especially in the face of emerging crises.  Finland has emerged as a leader in gender and digital equality, he said, adding that the country is working to bridge the gender‑digital divide to improve the lives of all women and girls.  “To have a more sustainable future, the world must be more gender equal,” he concluded.

BIDHYA DEVI BHANDARI, President of Nepal, said the Beijing Declaration “serves as a transformative blueprint for gender equality and empowerment of women and girls”.  She warned the Assembly that structural gaps and challenges to gender parity persist, adding that the coronavirus pandemic risks further aggravating inequalities.  It is essential to ensure the timely medical care, equal access to vaccines and robust recovery plans that account for the social and economic needs of women and girls.  For its part, Nepal — where 41 per cent of elected officials are women — has mainstreamed the gender agenda into its Constitution and national development plans.  She said the objectives of the Declaration can be achieved by removing gender stereotypes and rectifying long‑standing inequalities.  “The movement of women’s empowerment must continue until we achieve full and substantive equality,” she said, adding that gender equality is the only path to justice, peace and progress.

NANA ADDO DANKWA AKUFO-ADDO, President of Ghana, said 2020 represents not only the twenty‑fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, but the twentieth anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).  It also marks the deadline for ratification of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa — commonly known as the Maputo Protocol.  As Co‑Chair of eminent Advocates for the Sustainable Development Goals — as well as the African Union’s champion on gender and development issues — one of his core responsibilities is to ensure that the world, and especially the African continent, does not relent in the fight against gender inequalities.  Today, there are more girls enrolled in school than ever before.  More females than males are enrolled in tertiary institutions worldwide.  Meanwhile, 75 per cent of countries have established legislation against domestic violence, over 130 nations have instituted laws that condemn gender inequality and discrimination, and there has been an increase in women’s political participation at the highest levels.  However, he joined other speakers in noting that more remains to be done and issuing a call to action to take positive steps forward.

MOKGWEETSI ERIC KEABETSWE MASISI, President of Botswana, outlined progress made by his country to implement its commitments, notably by putting in place legal instruments and strategies to address gender inequalities.  While key targets have been reached — among them, gender parity in schools and greater access to health care — Botswana is not where it aspires to be on the gender equality track.  “We need to tackle systemic barriers that impede socioeconomic opportunities,” he said, describing it as “disheartening” that COVID‑19 interventions have put an additional strain on women, as they faced increased burdens of care.  To close such social gaps, Botswana has provided social relief benefits, such as food packages, to households affected by lockdowns — most of which are headed by women.  He expressed deep concern that gender‑based violence has increased since the pandemic’s onset, which contravenes the aspirations of Goal 5 (gender equality).  The Government also has intensified implementation of the national strategy to end gender‑based violence, which involves the Government, law enforcement and civil society.

MUHAMMADU BUHARI, President of Nigeria, said sustainable development is impossible if women and girls are denied their human rights.  Since the Beijing Fourth World Conference, Nigeria has made concerted efforts to ensure women’s participation in nation‑building by expanding access to education and economic resources.  To address gender‑based poverty, he drew attention to an enterprise and empowerment programme that provides zero‑interest and collateral‑free credits to traders, artists and farmers — many of whom are women.  A signatory to the Convention, Nigeria also has adopted a national gender policy (2007), a national gender policy strategic framework (2008‑2013), and an action plan to implement Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) and related resolutions on women, peace and security.  He also highlighted plans for universal basic education, and a girl education project, which is credited with increasing girls’ enrolment in school.  Nigeria also ratified the Safe Schools Declaration and has launched related initiatives across the country, as well as established a cash transfers initiative for people and families across the country.

JEANINE AÑEZ CHÁVEZ, President of Bolivia, said promoting the principles of the Beijing Declaration will have a big impact on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  Today, millions of women and girls continue to face discrimination and marginalization, particularly minority groups.  The lockdown and the socioeconomic consequences of the COVID‑19 crisis have exacerbated violence against women and girls and hampered their ability to seek protection.  In addition, many women have lost jobs or had to interrupt their studies due to the pandemic.  In that context, she called for urgent international action such as financial loans, basic social protections and access to training and professional development for women.  On the national front, Bolivia bolstered the protection of women’s rights through legislation that punishes human trafficking and violence against women, as well as laws that protect adolescents.  Additionally, Bolivia has created programmes that combat gender‑based violence, promote the development of safe cities and grant land titles to women.

BORUT PAHOR, President of Slovenia, said that, despite some progress, real change has been to slow to come for most women and girls across the globe.  Not a single country can yet claim to have achieved gender equality.  Slovenia consistently ranks high on a range of gender equality indexes, with one of the lowest pay gaps between men and women in the world.  Many women in the country thrive as politicians, managers, engineers, soldiers and in any other profession of their choosing.  At the same time, he said, there is plenty of room for improvement.  Welcoming the Council of Europe’s adoption of a Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, he pointed out that domestic, sexual and gender‑based violence are again on the rise amid the COVID‑19 pandemic and related lockdowns.  Women — who make up a large share of the health and care sectors — are also on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus.  Spotlighting the crucial role of men in overcoming the barriers to substantive gender equality, he emphasized the need to do more to change social behaviours and cultural patterns.

STEVO PENDAROVSKI, President of North Macedonia, said the COVID‑19 pandemic is deepening gender inequality and emphasizes the relevance of the transformative vision laid out in the Beijing Declaration.  He said North Macedonia has sustained its commitment to gender equality and the Declaration and to removing systemic barriers to gender parity.  North Macedonia has improved gender‑related legislation and established institutional mechanisms for advancing gender equality.  “Seventy‑eight per cent of national development plans are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality,” he said of North Macedonia, while calling for global efforts to overcome discrimination of women in the labour market.  “It is crucial to demonstrate political will and tangible effort to empower women and girls,” he said.

RECEP TAYYİP ERDOĞAN, President of Turkey, said his country has taken historic steps to strengthen the role of women based on the principle of “Strong Women, Strong Family, Strong Society”.  Among other things, it has enhanced women’s and girls’ education and encouraged the participation of women in the labour force, resulting in an increase of nearly 4 million female workers.  When he took office, the female literacy rate in people aged 6 and above was 79.9 per cent; that rate rose to over 95 per cent by 2019.  “We can never tolerate even a single woman in our country being exposed to violence, incurring the violation of her rights, law and dignity,” he said, expressing support for the priorities — including “improving the living standards and the rights of women” — determined by the President of the General Assembly for the seventy‑fifth session.  Noting that COVID‑19 has shown how fragile women’s rights still are, he said Turkey has opened new guesthouses for women facing deplorable acts of domestic violence amid the pandemic and opened a social support helpline and a related mobile app to report cases of abuse.

LAZARUS MCCARTHY CHAKWERA, President of Malawi, associating himself with the African Group, commended the progress on the implementation of the 12 themes of the Beijing Declaration.  His country has made progress towards empowering women and girls over the past 25 years, he said, noting the adoption of progressive gender‑related laws to prevent child marriages and guarantee equal opportunities at all levels, including land ownership and economic empowerment.  The fight against child marriages has been intensified through a Constitutional Amendment raising the minimum age from 15 to 18, he said, noting that the COVID‑19 pandemic poses a threat against the gains of the past two decades.  The closure of schools in the past five months has led to an unprecedented surge in early pregnancies, child marriages and gender‑based violence, he lamented, calling for an objective evaluation of how all stakeholders can bring about sustainable and resilient changes.

SALOME ZOURABICHVILI, President of Georgia, said that the promise of women’s empowerment has been kept in the 25 years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration.  Georgia has a history of gender equality, she said, pointing to the granting to women of the right to vote 100 years ago and the election of the region’s first woman President in 2018.  Since the adoption of the Declaration, Georgia has adopted legislation to end violence against women, combat human trafficking, eradicate child marriage and enact quotas for women’s equal participation in politics.  “Georgia has demonstrated throughout these years its strong commitment to gender equality and women’s rights with obvious improvements in prevention and response to violence against women,” she said.  However, the COVID‑19 pandemic poses serious challenges to achieving gender equality as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals, she said, calling for efforts to counter adverse social stereotypes that perpetuate inequality.

EMMERSON DAMBUDZO MNANGAGWA, President of Zimbabwe, said the pandemic and illegal sanctions have reversed gains made in women’s equality in his country.  Zimbabwe is implementing legislation to ensure the socioeconomic inclusion of women, including in the business sector.  He said that agriculture is a mainstay of the economy and that the Government is promoting women‑centered agricultural processing and value addition initiatives with a particular focus on export markets.  Stressing the relevance of science and innovation technology, he said programmes have been developed to foster these skills among girls and women and that his administration is facilitating the participation of women in politics and decision‑making processes.

ABDEL FATTAH AL SISI, President of Egypt, reported that his country has taken steps to promote gender equality and female empowerment in law and practice including through new legislation and amendments to existing laws.  Those efforts have yielded positive results including an increase in female representation in Egypt’s Parliament and in the financial inclusion rate, which has increased from 9 per cent in 2015 to 27 per cent in 2017.  He went on to say that Egypt was the first country in the world to issue a policy paper responding to the special needs of women and girls in the context of the pandemic.  As for international and regional cooperation, he said Egypt currently hosts the headquarters of the Arab Women’s Organization of the Arab League and the Organization for Women’s Development and will preside over the Conference of Women Ministers in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) over the next two years.  Emphasizing the importance of women’s participation in peacebuilding negotiations, he said Egypt has participated in the development of the Arab regional strategy for the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).

TANETI MAAMAU, President of Kiribati, expressing full support for today’s theme and its significance in accelerating and realizing gender equality and sustainable development, said females constitute 51 per cent of the nation’s population, and the participation of women in the labour force is 58 per cent.  Yet, about 68 per cent of women are vulnerable to domestic violence, despite substantial progress in addressing women and girls’ issues.  The Kiribati Vision 20 years (2016‑2036) promotes gender mainstreaming to improve equal opportunities through such efforts as improving women’s access to microfinance credit and transport, an essential services programme to address gender-based violence and the Strengthening Peaceful Villages project to mobilize communities to work together to address domestic violence.  Achievements include the development of protocol and tools on gender-based violence and a COVID‑19 work plan.  But, gaps needing urgent attention include equipment and tools and expertise to fully implement and monitor policies and legislation.  Further support is also required in local capacity-building and other areas, given such challenges as remoteness, over population, lack of marketing opportunities, cultural mindsets, climate change and natural hazards, he said, thanking partners for their support in implementing gender equality and women’s empowerment programmes.

UHURU KENYATTA, President of Kenya, said the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action is a powerful source of inspiration for advancing the rights of women and girls.  The Government is committed to building global momentum for realizing the Beijing goals.  “Gender equality remains central to the development agenda of my Administration” and is enshrined in Kenya’s Constitution.  He pointed to a robust policy legal framework for reporting on, enforcing and monitoring gender equality and women’s empowerment, with interventions reinforced by the Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union Agenda 2063, notably aspiration 6, to ensure people‑focused development.  Recalling that Kenya hosted the 1985 Third World Conference on Women, which defined the Nairobi forward‑looking strategies, he said its implementation of the Beijing Declaration and the 12 critical areas is on track.  Its $600 million catalytic fund has equipped 300 million women in entrepreneurship skills, while cash transfer programmes benefit 500,000 vulnerable households.  In terms of representation, women comprise 33 per cent of the Cabinet, and head critical parliamentary committees.  In the judiciary, women represent 28.6 per cent of the Supreme Court, 48.8 per cent of the High Court and 53.3 per cent of magistrates.  For communities practicing female genital mutilation, Kenya is working to communicate that there are better ways of achieving cultural goals, notably by encouraging girls to pursue their education.  With Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania, Kenya signed a declaration to curb that practice across borders.

MATAMELA CYRIL RAMAPHOSA, President of South Africa, stressed that meeting the aspirations of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and Sustainable Development Goal 5 (gender equality) demands a more decisive response from all countries.  For South Africa, women’s empowerment is a national priority and central to its development strategies.  Today’s session should as an outcome be a commitment to end all forms of violence against women and girls — whether domestic violence, femicide, child abuse, child marriage or female genital mutilation.  Pressing Governments also to prioritize the ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment, he said that, in line with the African Women’s Decade, African Union members agreed to put in place policies for increasing women’s economic participation, access to finance and land ownership.  South Africa has earmarked 40 per cent of all public procurement for women‑owned businesses and greater financial services should be offered to women who run small and medium‑sized enterprises, through the provision of low‑cost finance, credit lines and digital finance instruments.  Women’s participation in decision‑making also must improve — in Parliaments, corporate boards and management teams — he said, stressing that “equal representation in all structures is not a favour to women, it is a fundamental matter of justice and redress.”

EPSY CAMPBELL BARR, First Vice‑President of Costa Rica, said her country is working to address gaps across three dimensions of women’s autonomy:  decision‑making, economic autonomy and control over their own bodies.  In addition, Costa Rica has incorporated the principle of parity into its electoral code and has formed the first parity‑based cabinet.  The COVID‑19 crisis is threatening progress made on the women’s equality front and global human development could slide back, disproportionately affecting women.  The pandemic is also driving an increase in violence against females and unpaid care work for women and girls, she warned.  Women and girls must be the beneficiaries and agents for forging a new normal because it is the only way to grow, boost economies and ensure lasting change.  Achieving gender equality will be one of the main tasks for achieving sustainable development, she emphasized, adding that women play a key role in protecting the environment and fighting climate change.

GEORGE MANNEH WEAH, President of Liberia, said his country is working to make progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 5 with policies that promote gender equality and social economic development.  Following consultations with national legislators, a domestic violence bill was passed in 2019 that protects the vulnerable and specifies punitive measures for the perpetrators of such violence, he said.  Additionally, Liberia took measures to halt the practice of female genital mutilation and created a gender‑responsive security sector.  Liberia put women at the head of its national response to COVID‑19 and has thus far managed to contain the spread of the virus.  However, the pandemic has caused an increase in gender‑based violence, he said.  In response, his Government convened a meeting with civil society representatives, declared a national emergency and appointed a special prosecutor for rape.  It also established a national sex offender registry and allocated $2 million towards a road map to fight rape and gender‑based violence.

DAVID KABUA, President of the Marshall Islands, noting that, while there remains much to accomplish, the global community has accomplished great strides in the journey to gender equality.  The mark of success is the ability to effect measurable change, he said, noting that in 2019 his country passed the Gender Equality Act which guarantees the fundamental freedoms of women.  A recent review of laws found opportunities for amendments in dozens of pieces of legislation, and the Government is actively seeking to enhance social protections and make infrastructure sustainable for gender equality.  Securing women’s economic stability is crucial, he said, acknowledging that violence against women is at a shocking rate in his country and the Pacific region.  Calling for more political will at all levels, he highlighted the importance of addressing the gender impact of climate change.

MARTA LUCÍA RAMÍREZ, Vice‑President of Colombia, highlighting the opportunity to renew the international community’s commitment to gender equality, said that the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action has been uneven.  The development agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals presented a chance to streamline gender into all spheres of action.  Noting that she was the first female Vice‑President of her country, she added that ministries in her Government are making steady progress towards gender equity.  There is a budget for gender in all departments and Colombia is also supporting women’s entrepreneurship by creating a trust to ensure the survival of women‑owned companies in the pandemic.  “This is the moment for Colombian women,” she said, reaffirming her Government’s commitment to cultural, structural and economic reforms.

AZALI ASSOUMANI, President of Comoros, reiterated the importance of the participation of women in all matters of human endeavor.  “Such participation must be incorporated at all levels of society,” he said, adding that Comoros is implementing a national policy on gender parity.  However, challenges remain, and the Government is working to preserve customs and traditions that advance the rights of women and girls.  The Constitution accounts for the need to promote gender parity in politics and business, he said, noting that women participate in decision‑making at the highest levels of Government.

DANNY FAURE, President of the Seychelles, said that amid COVID‑19 people around the world are experiencing stress on their economic resources, amplified negative social impacts and deepened pre‑existing inequalities.  The most vulnerable are the most exposed.  However, Seychelles’ progress in implementing policies to achieve gender equality goals by 2030 has not halted amid the pandemic, with policies aimed at empowering women and girls still at the forefront of its work.  Governmental priorities have been realigned to redirect funds towards assistance for the most vulnerable people, and the country’s social welfare programme continues to respond to requests — more than half of which have been from women.  The Government has worked to alleviate the burden on families by reducing housing loan repayments by 25 per cent, and food assistance is provided at the district level where necessary.  He also described a recently launched national platform, known as “50 Million African Women Speak”, which provides Seychellois women with access to more economic opportunities, training and mentoring opportunities in a virtual context.

BEATRIZ ARGIMÓN, Vice‑President of Uruguay, said her country has adopted measures to protect the most vulnerable women from the effects of the COVID‑19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown.  The Government has developed a protocol so that public and private medical services can detect cases of possible situations of domestic violence and has also focused on the economic autonomy of women and their participation in decision‑making.  “Gender‑based violence is an absolute priority,” she added, noting that Uruguay leads international efforts on the matter at a time in which such violence is on the rise due to the pandemic.  Uruguay is strengthening frameworks and institutions to combat gender‑based violence, including through the implementation of a national action plan on the matter, she said, also noting that policies are in place to ensure the inclusion of rural women.  Against the backdrop of the pandemic, it is imperative to achieve the full participation of females within their societies, including as part of the women in peace and security agenda, she concluded.

MASOUMEH EBTEKAR, Vice‑President for Women and Family Affairs of Iran, said that, since the establishment of her country, life expectancy for women has increased by 25 years. Through an intersectoral process, Iran developed national indicators for gender equity and launched the first result‑based plan for women and family advancement in 31 provinces.  As well, at least 2,700 women‑focused non‑governmental organizations are currently active throughout the country and the economic empowerment of thousands of women heads of household is being advanced through microcredit funds and cooperatives.

MARÍA ALEJANDRA MUÑOZ, Vice‑President Ecuador, said COVID‑19 has led to reversals of gains made in the living conditions of rural women.  The pandemic has made it more difficult for these women to earn a living, while continuing to face discrimination.  Women working on family farms, for example, often must exclusively care for children, restricting their ability to become entrepreneurs.  Pointing out that rural women work six hours more than women in urban areas, she described Ecuador’s “Rural Superwoman Strategy”, which aims to reach 30,000 women in its rural countryside.  In the COVID‑19 era, it is crucial to analyse the new causes of poverty, she said, calling for strong leadership by Governments, the private sector, civil society and academia.  “We need to pool forces,” she stressed.

MOHAMED JULDEH JALLOH, Vice‑President of Sierra Leone, said the Secretary‑General’s policy brief on the impact of COVID‑19 on women is guiding his country’s efforts to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on women and girls.  Although the pandemic has threatened what little gains have been made in advancing the equality of women and girls, the Government is committed to achieving the goals of the Beijing Declaration.  Recent efforts include the lifting of bans on pregnant girls in school and the creation of a free telephone hotline to assist victims of rape, as well as continued political will to advance the women, peace and security agenda.

KAUSEA NATANO, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, speaking for the Pacific Islands Forum, underscored that accelerating gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls is everyone’s responsibility.  Members of the Pacific Islands Forum have mainstreamed gender equality into priority issues such as climate change and sea level rise.  In addition, over the past 25 years major advances have been made in the region to combat violence against women.  Forum members have expressed their commitment to universal access of education and to gender‑responsive curricula.  However, participation in national decision‑making by women in the region is decreasing and women and girls are facing an increased burden of emerging crises.  He called for increased support to mitigate gender‑based violence and to ensure COVID‑19 responses build resilience to climate change and strengthen women’s capacities to support disaster relief initiatives.

ERNA SOLBERG, Prime Minister of Norway, said that, thanks to the Beijing Platform for Action, women play a greater role in economic life, more girls are in school than ever before and fewer women die in childbirth.  However, COVID‑19 has highlighted how easily these achievements can be reversed.  Child marriage is on the rise, while violence against women and girls has increased across the world.  “We will not be able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals without investing in women and girls,” she said, before passing the floor to a youth delegate who acknowledged:  “We stand on the shoulders of women and queer people for the rights we enjoy today.”  To fulfil the 2030 Agenda, decision makers must be pressured by the impatient voices of young people.  States must ensure youth participation in decisions that affect them.  “Nothing about us, without us,” the youth delegate stressed.

PEDRO SÁNCHEZ PÉREZ‑CASTEJÓN, Prime Minister for Spain, said that because the COVID‑19 crisis threatens to reverse gender equality gains, the gender perspective must be prioritized in combatting the pandemic.  The anniversary of the Beijing Declaration presents an opportunity for all States to unite forces and renew their commitment to gender equality.  Women devote three times more time to domestic housework, which economies depend on, yet leaves them with less income and fewer opportunities for personal and professional development.  Highlighting the importance of women’s participation in decision‑making, peace process negotiations and combating climate change, he called for income equality and safe education for all women.

JOSAIA VOREQE BAINIMARAMA, Prime Minister and Minister for iTaukei, Sugar Industry and Foreign Affairs of Fiji, highlighted Fiji’s gains in the past 25 years in education, maternal mortality, access to health services and women’s representation in leadership positions.  The Government has also led a relentless effort to end violence against women by changing the laws governing sexual assault.  “Today, a 15‑year old Fijian girl has more opportunities than ever before,” he pointed out, adding that more girls in the country’s classrooms and universities will translate into more women participating in the formal economy, having greater access to financial resources and serving as Government and business leaders.

SHEIKH HASINA, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, said that under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a progressive Constitution was crafted that guaranteed equal rights for men and women.  Today, girls’ education is a priority, and women’s economic and political empowerment a necessity.  “We see women as active agents of development, not as passive recipients,” she said, noting that there are 50 Parliamentary seats reserved for women.  The Leader and Deputy Leader of the House, the Opposition leader and Speaker of Parliament are all women — and 30 per cent of seats are earmarked for women in local government bodies.  Gender budgeting and microfinance initiatives, meanwhile, have ensured women’s financial inclusion.  Some 20 million women are engaged in the agriculture, industry and service sectors, and more than 3.5 million are working in the ready‑made garments industry — the largest export‑earning sector.  Nearly 1,500 women military and police officials have served in United Nations peacekeeping operations to date.  In the COVID‑19 context, female workers — including migrant workers — must be protected across global supply chains, she stressed, pledging to increase women’s participation in the workforce leading to 50‑50 by 2041.

STEFAN LÖFVEN, Prime Minister of Sweden, said gender equality is not only a moral or legal obligation, it is also a question of common sense and smart economics.  “No society will prosper if half of its population is denied access to education, to the possibility of working and to supporting a family,” he said, warning the Assembly that the COVID‑19 pandemic has increased gender inequality.  The pandemic — throughout which women have served selflessly on the frontline — has resulted in an increase in sexual abuse and violence against women, as well as in the numbers of girls leaving school to be married off.  Sweden has the world’s first feminist Government and will remain a progressive country for women’s rights and gender equality, he said, noting that having an income of their own is decisive for women’s empowerment and economic independence.

METTE FREDERIKSEN, Prime Minister of Denmark, pointed out that women and girls are not always safe when they go online and warned that cases of gender‑based violence have increased during lockdowns, while access to health services has declined.  To address those issues, Denmark donated over $30 million to support women’s access to reproductive and sexual health services in developing countries during the COVID‑19 pandemic.  Change is possible if the international community listens to the largest youth population the world has ever seen, she said.  She then gave the floor to a Danish youth delegate, who went on to say that youth must have a seat at the decision‑making table if real change is to be accomplished.  The advancement of digitalization has created an environment in which women are not always safe online, therefore preventing them from participating in collective discussions.  Comprehensive sex education is essential to address that issue, she stressed.

POHIVA TU’I’ONETOA, Prime Minister and Minister for Public Enterprises of Tonga, said the Beijing Declaration remains the most transformative global agenda for the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.  He expressed commitment to foster environments where gender is mainstreamed and to increase the representation of women in leadership positions.  He noted that women hold key cabinet positions, including in leading COVID‑19 responses.  Tonga continues to combat domestic violence against women, he said, adding that the COVID‑19 pandemic emphasizes the importance of building back better and with a focus on gender equality.

ANGELA MERKEL, Chancellor of Germany, recalling a memory she had when elected, said that 26 years ago, the then Secretary of State for Education and Science in the United Kingdom had said:  “No woman in my time will be prime minister”, and five years later, she herself, Margaret Thatcher, took up office.  These days, the very States that are successful economically, socially and in terms of peaceful conflict resolution are often those where women are among those shouldering responsibility.  While the Beijing Platform for Action and Declaration were instrumental in bringing about this progress, she said:  “we still have a long way to go to achieve our Sustainable Development Goals in this field.”  The COVID‑19 pandemic exacerbates inequalities and highlights a paradox — that women play an integral role in the State yet are not involved in key decisions as equals.  “We need parity at long last in all spheres, whether in business, science or politics,” she said.  Germany is working globally to promote fair labour standards, supporting the Generation Equality process and focusing on securing economic justice and combating violence against women.  Equality is a question women and men must answer together and which they can only resolve together, she said, adding that real equality can be achieved only if society, business and Governments pull in the same direction.

KATRIN JAKOBSDOTTIR, Prime Minister of Iceland, said progressive policies towards gender equality are the foundation of an inclusive and prosperous society where people of all genders can prosper.  She warned the Assembly of increased efforts to roll back previous victories on women’s sexual and reproductive rights and freedoms and expressed concern about the increased politicization of women’s human rights.  She said that of all the Sustainable Development Goals, it is Goal 5 on gender equality that most States lag furthest behind, adding that the COVID‑19 pandemic has emboldened those who seek to curtail women’s rights.  “We see an increase in existing inequalities, an alarming rise in gender‑based violence and a sharp increase in extreme poverty among women,” she stated, calling for gender inclusive pandemic responses.  She closed by calling for a sustainable future where women and girls from all social backgrounds have access to education and health services.

AMBROSE MANDVULO DLAMINI, Prime Minister of Eswatini, voiced regret that serious gaps remain in the quest to realize gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, and that no country has fully achieved these goals.  The socioeconomic effects of the COVID‑19 pandemic have worsened these pre‑existing inequalities, threatening to reverse the gains achieved so far, and there has been an increase in gender‑based violence as many women are confined to their abusive partners.  “We need to commit ourselves to address this social ill, starting with a change of mindsets and harmful social norms that perpetuate gender‑based violence,” he said.  Outlining a range of initiatives implemented by Eswatini, he said its 2018 Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act deals with those issues in a non‑discriminatory manner by providing protection to vulnerable people “across the board”.  The country also maintains a Constitutionally‑required 30 per cent quota for women’s representation in Parliament, he added.

JURI RATAS, Prime Minister of Estonia, said that implementation of the Istanbul convention remains a national priority, and a new Victim Support Act is under development to guarantee better and more flexible support options.  To tackle the unequal sharing of unpaid care work, her country puts special emphasis on a parental leave and benefits system and on promoting active fatherhood.  Gender equality and women’s full enjoyment of all human rights is not just a woman’s issue.  Men and boys are equally important actors and benefit from the change, she said, encouraging men to participate fully in all actions promoting equality.  Estonia, currently a member of the Security Council, takes women’s equal and meaningful participation in peace and security agenda very seriously, she added.

GIUSEPPE CONTE, Prime Minister of Italy, said that the international community must take pride in the huge progress achieved since the Beijing Declaration.  Noting that women are at the forefront of the battle against the pandemic in various roles, he pointed out that women researchers were the first to isolate the COVID‑19 virus in his country.  Unfortunately, they were also bearing the larger brunt of the socioeconomic consequences of the pandemic.  “We should learn our lessons and turn this crisis into an opportunity to shape our future,” he said, calling on Governments around the world to remove the barriers women face throughout their life.  Promoting greater participation of women in decision‑making processes is a priority for Italy, he said, underscoring that the female point of view is a precious good that enriches society.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, Prime Minister of Canada, said that during the COVID‑19 pandemic, women have seen greater job losses and shouldered a disproportionate share of unpaid care work at home.  Now is the time to achieve gender equality and chart next steps.  He advocated carrying out recovery efforts through an intersectional feminist lens, stressing that each person must do their part to ensure women are at the heart of decision‑making, which allows for better results.  During the pandemic, women’s groups rapidly mobilized to provide solutions that were adapted to gender‑based violence challenges and offered crucial health information.  Canada will continue to push the Beijing+25 agenda forward, proud of its participation in the Leadership Action Coalition.  “This is our moment to be accountable, to be ambitious and to work together to build a better, fairer future for everyone,” he emphasized.

LAZZAT RAMAZANOVA, Deputy Prime Minister and Chair of the National Commission on the Rights of Women of Kazakhstan, said her country is implementing the second part of the family and gender policy for the period until 2030.  The Government has established stricter criminal responsibility for those engaged in sex trafficking and sexual violence.  Parliament is considering a draft law against family violence.  Progress also has been made in women’s representation, she said, noting that medical workers on the frontlines of the COVID‑19 battle are afforded social protections.  Kazakhstan has approved crisis measures, including financial and food initiatives, as well as others to support businesses.  Within the United Nations, she recommended the establishment of an anti‑crisis centre that would make recommendations on how to emerge from crises and serve as a forum for sharing information on improving women’s rights.  She also recommended the establishment of a Central Asia knowledge centre for women’s empowerment, to be based in Almaty.

EKATERINA ZAHARIEVA, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, said this is the moment to give a powerful message that realizing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls should be at the centre of the common political agenda, especially in periods of crisis.  The impact of COVID‑19 has proven to be undoubtedly gendered, as women are seriously affected, especially those on the frontline in health care and social services, and risk becoming victims of gender‑based and domestic violence in all parts of society.  Every State has an obligation to achieve gender equality.  Sharing Bulgaria’s experience, she said efforts address the Sustainable Development Goals, and, during the state of emergency due to COVID‑19, the Government enhanced its cooperation with non‑governmental organizations with proven expertise in working with victims of violence.  Other actions include working with the private sector on gender equality and adopting a national action plan on women, peace and security, she said, highlighting that Bulgaria has emerged as a champion on legal rights in the labour market, according to a World Bank study, with women occupying nearly half of all management positions and half of the science and engineering field.  Challenges persist, and no country can be complacent, she said, adding that:  “We need to evaluate on how far we have gotten on the road to gender equality and female empowerment and use the lessons learned as an opportunity to shape the way over the next 10 years declared as the Decade of Action and Delivery.”

OLHA STEFANISHYNA, Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro‑Atlantic Integration of Ukraine, said the significant progress toward gender equality achieved in the past decades is at risk of being rolled back in the face of the COVID‑19 crisis.  While women have been on the front line of fighting the pandemic, millions remain below the poverty line, in need of humanitarian and social assistance, and victims of increased violence amid lockdowns.  As a result, there is a pressing need for gender‑oriented response and recovery plans.  On a national level, Ukraine continues to improve its legislation, and to implement national strategies and plans in the sphere of human rights, poverty reduction and public administration, as well as the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).  In addition, Ukraine’s ranking increased by six steps last year in the Global Gender Gap Report and has formally become a member of the Biarritz Partnership for Gender Equality, she said.

TIGRAN AVINYAN, Deputy Prime Minister and Chair of the Council on Women’s Affairs of Armenia, said that while the COVID‑19 pandemic limited the work of the Commission on the Status of Women’s sixty‑fourth session, chaired by Armenia, the Commission was still able to adopt a political declaration on the twenty‑fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration.  “In Armenia, gender equality policy implementation is ensured at all levels of Government,” he said, noting that a national Council on Women’s Affairs works to ensure equal participation in society of women and men.  The Government continues to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on women and girls, he stated, adding the Armenia will utilize modern technologies to build the capacities of women.  “Enhancing women’s rights will benefit the international community,” he concluded.

ZORANA MIHAJLOVIC, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure and President of the Coordination Body for Gender Equality of Serbia, said her country has a strategic and normative framework in the field of gender equality and has established independent State bodies to uphold the rights of women.  However, women continue to suffer from domestic violence.  In response, the Government is implementing legislation to mitigate gender‑based violence.  She said gender‑responsive budgeting is prioritized at all levels and that Serbia adopted a gender equality index to guide policymaking.  “We will not be satisfied as long as there is one woman suffering from violence,” she said.

DON PRAMUDWINAI, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Thailand, said his country views gender equality and women’s empowerment through the lenses of “promoting possibilities” and “unlocking potentials”.  Thailand is ensuring women have equal access to opportunities and its initiatives have resulted in women being the heads of 44 per cent of Thai companies.  Further, legislation is in place to protect the rights of women in jails and to ensure that comprehensive safeguards are in place against all forms of gender‑based discrimination.  Turning to peace and security, he lauded Thailand’s high proportion of women in peacekeeping missions.  He said world leaders must not allow current crises to roll back gains made towards gender equality and called for united efforts to enable women to realize their power.

LOUIS STRAKER, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, noted that the Beijing Declaration remains a pillar of multilateralism as well as women’s empowerment.  People‑centred economics and climate justice need to be integrated with a gender‑sensitive approach to development.  Outlining his Government’s approach to this, he noted expanded labor market participation, increased access to housing and national oversight provided by the Gender equality commission.  Further, his Government, in partnership with the Caribbean community and various United Nations partners, have taken actions to end gender‑based violence, he said, highlighting the introduction and implementation of a child protection bill.  To date, no country in the world has attained gender equality, he said, noting the plight of indigenous and rural women as well as women from racial and religious minorities.  Calling on all stakeholders to advance policies and actions that centre gender and climate justice, he said that gender budgeting should be part of all COVID‑19 recovery action.

SOPHIE WILMÈS, Prime Minister of Belgium, said that 25 years ago, the international community committed to a world where women and men are equally paid for equal work, with a balanced distribution of daily chores at home.  Despite progress, no country has fully implemented the Beijing Declaration and the Platform of Action.  For too long, gender‑based violence has been absent from the list of priorities, she said, and the toll of harm is unbearable.  The current pandemic also shows an increase in conjugal violence, intimidation and harassment.  More globally, she said sexism must be fought in all areas, including the workplace and digital realm, and from an early age, involving parents and the media, as all such initiatives will benefit men and boys as much as women and girls.  She stated that no tradition, religion, cultural value or custom legitimizes depriving women of their rights.

NGUYEN THI KIM NGAN, Chairwoman of the National Assembly of Viet Nam, said the Beijing Declaration’s implementation has strengthened legislative frameworks that empower women, enabling them to take up decision‑making positions.  It also facilitated more cohesive national, regional and global implementation mechanisms that guide the world closer to an equitable, progressive society where gender barriers cease to exist.  Noting that gender equality is enshrined in her country’s Constitution, she added that Vietnamese women have been a vital force, making contributions to the cultivation of the country’s cultural identity and in its social development.  Further, the National Assembly of Viet Nam has adopted wide‑ranging legal documents to advance women’s empowerment and supervises the implementation of Government policies in these matters.

TANZILA NARBAEVA, Chairperson of the Senate of Oliy Majlis (Parliament) of Uzbekistan, said women’s participation in her country’s Government, public affairs and decision‑making is increasing, with their number doubled in the Parliament.  Not only are more women being appointed as ministers, governors and ambassadors, but there is a continuous effort to create employment opportunities, including through women's entrepreneurship centres.  In addition, the social protection system is being strengthened to provide financial and in‑kind assistance to women.  During the pandemic, an Anti‑Crisis Fund has provided financial assistance, with 200 rehabilitation centers and shelters established to address violence against women.  However, she underscored that pandemic context requires a further strengthening of all efforts to protect women’s rights and interests and ensure gender equality.

MOGENS JENSEN, Minister for Equal Opportunities of Denmark, speaking for a group of countries, said that improvements in women’s rights have been driven by dynamic feminist movements, women’s‑rights organizations and civil society.  Yet, too many women and girls are still denied the right to make decisions about their own life and are subject to gender‑based violence.  Furthermore, women and girls are disproportionately impacted by the COVID‑19 pandemic.  Violence against women and girls, a shadow pandemic, has grown as quickly as the pandemic.  In the last year, 243 million women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 were subject to sexual and or physical violence by an intimate partner.  This pandemic is fuelling millions of cases of child, early or forced marriage.  For women to participate fully in society, women require access to comprehensive and non‑discriminatory sexual and reproductive health services, including on whether they want children or how many children they want.

SIGRID KAAG, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, said that women and girls are disproportionately affected by the COVID‑19 pandemic, with more gender‑based violence, more women and girls losing their livelihoods and more girls sadly not returning to school.  “It’s a shadow pandemic, and it worries me deeply… but we can fight it and we need to stop it,” she said.  She then ceded the floor to Nikkie de Jager who, through her social media alias Nikkie Tutorials, is encouraging millions of people to educate themselves and other so that they can act for change.  Ms. De Jager echoed the Minister that stereotypes must be challenged to promote, protect and fulfil all human rights of women and girls.

MARIANA VIEIRA DA SILVA, Minister of State for the Presidency of Portugal, said that combatting domestic and gender‑based violence is a priority for her country, which is raising awareness of the issue in its judicial system, security forces and social protection mechanisms.  During the COVID‑19 confinement period, Portugal opened new shelter facilities and stepped up the response capacity of its National Support Network for Victims of Domestic Violence.  The gender pay gap is another example of persisting inequality.  Stereotypes still influence educational and professional choices, moving women away from better‑paying careers in such areas as engineering and information and communications technology.  Present inequalities must not project onto the future, she said, adding:  “We will keep working every day to fight discrimination and to guarantee women’s rights.”

MARISE PAYNE, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women of Australia, said that, over the past 25 years her country has made real progress in advancing gender equality and the rights of women and girls, reducing gender gaps in income and increasing the number of girls in education and women in formal employment.  She also noted that she is currently working closely with Pacific women leaders in convening important, regionwide, virtual meetings of women from 18 countries to discuss the impact of COVID‑19 on women’s health, economic security and personal safety.  On women’s sexual health and reproductive rights, she highlighted her country’s support for services that recognize sexual health and reproductive rights as human rights, inextricable from women’s health, development, well‑being, and equality of opportunity.

BÉATRICE LOMEYA ATILITE, Minister for State and Minister for Gender, Family and Children of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, emphasized the need to accelerate the implementation of the Beijing Declaration.  Since 1995, Democratic Republic of the Congo has made progress on a number of fronts in that regard, including through a variety of instruments implemented to meet the guidelines of the Beijing Platform.  The determination of the Government remains very high, particularly in areas of the country where armed groups exist, she said, adding that perpetrators of violence against women will be brought to justice.

ROSARIO SASIETA MORALES, Minister for Women and Vulnerable Populations of Peru, underlined that her country has made great advances in recognizing women’s rights.  Highlighting the approval of a national gender equality policy in 2019, the modification of the elections law and the prohibition of pay discrimination between men and women, she stressed the importance of guaranteeing a life free of violence for women.  As well as having a specialized system of justice for cases of violence, a budgetary programme aimed at reducing violence against women has just been approved.  The pandemic has curtailed women’s autonomy and access while causing a global increase in domestic violence, she observed, reiterating the Peruvian Government’s commitment to women’s rights.

SMRITI IRANI, Minister for Women and Child Development of India, said that in her country seats reserved for women in local governance has ensured that more than 1.3 million elected women representatives provide leadership in formulating and implementing gender‑sensitive public policies at the community level.  More than 200 million women are participating in the formal banking system through the Government’s Financial Inclusion Initiative, among other efforts.  “Celebrating Girl Child and Enabling Her Education” is a multisectoral package of interventions and awareness campaigns that challenge gender stereotypes and realize girls’ right to education.  The Government took a series of measures for ensuring safety, security and well‑being of women during the COVID‑19 pandemic, including one‑stop centres providing medical, psychological, legal, police and shelter facilities under a common roof.  The “National Nutritional Mission” launched to improve nutritional status of children, adolescent girls, pregnant women and lactating mothers aims to make India malnutrition‑free by 2022.

SUSANNE RAAB, Federal Minister for Women and Integration of Austria, noted that gender mainstreaming has become a national strategy and is enshrined in the Constitution.  Gender budgeting has been introduced to ensure women and men benefit equally from public resources.  In 2020, the annual budget of the Division for Women and Equality in the Federal Chancellery was substantially increased.  Reducing violence against women remains a key policy priority.  Her Government has established violence prevention centres and counselling centres for victims of sexual abuse in every province.  A new Corona Work Foundation will provide training and education to mitigate the pandemic’s impacts on the labour market.  Women will benefit from the program worth up to 700 million euros.

IMÈNE HOUIMEL, Minister for Women, Family, Childhood and Seniors of Tunisia, said her country ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and lifted its reservations on it in 2014.  Tunisia also mainstreamed the 17 Sustainable Development Goals into its 2016‑2020 development plan and is designing strategies to empower development in rural and urban areas.  Women’s rights must be foregrounded under all circumstances, especially as the pandemic reveals women are the group most affected by crises.  Equal rights must be at the core of all public policy and budgets, she said, noting the country’s Constitution affirmed the principles of inclusion, non‑discrimination and gender‑based violence.  She offered two proposals – one that re‑examines the Goals through a gender perspective and the second for an international fund for women’s business initiatives in all Member States.

TERESA AMARELLE BOUÉ, Member of the Council of State of Cuba, highlighted several national initiatives that have steered progress in advancing women’s rights.  However, the blockade imposed on the country constitutes the major obstacle to the realization of human rights and works against women.  Citing broad achievements, she said Cuban women receive equal pay, enjoy legislation guaranteeing their rights and benefit from a range of social programmes.  Women also make up 53 per cent of parliamentary seats, 70 per cent of judges, 69 per cent of public health positions and the majority of personnel working on health brigades around the world.  In the battle waged against COVID‑19, women have been essential in developing a vaccine and providing health services.  But gaps must be closed to ensure gender equality worldwide, she said, as women must enjoy their full rights under the Beijing Platform for Action and other major instruments.

MÓNICA ZALAQUETT, Minister for Women and Gender Equality of Chile, said that, in her country, the effects of the pandemic have been significant for women.  In the past few months, women’s participation in the labour market has decreased by 10 per cent, gender‑based violence is up and women devote significantly more hours than men to domestic tasks.  In Chile, her Government has worked to make a gender‑based approach cut across all departments that are responsible for the pandemic response.  It has approved a law for protective parenting that safeguards the jobs of parents and legal guardians for children under the age of 6.  Chile is working with UN‑Women on a community care programme that aims to reintegrate women into the labour market.  In fact, 58 per cent of households that receive a COVID‑19 subsidy are spearheaded by women.

JANA MALÁČOVÁ, Minister for Labour and Social Affairs of the Czech Republic, said that, 25 years later, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action remains a source of guidance and inspiration.  While the pandemic has laid bare existing gender inequalities and threatened to halt progress, it also presented an incentive to transform job routines and accelerate long‑called‑for changes, proving that flexible working time, home offices or telecommuting are feasible on a much larger scale.  Parenthood or its perception is a key factor contributing to the unequal position of men and women in the labour market, with Czech women at a disadvantage due to long career breaks and the lack of early childcare facilities, but she expressed hope the current crisis will lead to a long‑term improvement for all parents who wish to work.  Given that in 2019 there was a 15 per cent gap in the employment rates between men and women, there remains a waste of human potential in the Czech Republic, she said, noting that related issues must be addressed going forward in addition to current steps, including a seven‑day paternity leave, the possibility of job sharing and a proposal to make childcare facilities more accessible to parents.  Attaining full gender equality is not possible without focusing on all 12 critical areas of the Beijing Platform for Action to break the current vicious cycle of inequality, she said, adding the Czech Republic is currently in the process of adopting its gender equality strategy for 2021‑2030.

DINESH GUNAWARDENA, Minister for Foreign Relations of Sri Lanka, said the pandemic has had a negative impact on women and girls worldwide across every sphere, from health to the economy.  Historically, his country has demonstrated a political will to promote gender equality and empowerment of women, noting they have achieved social development indicators including literacy rates, social inclusion and life expectancy on par with developed countries.  He noted that Sri Lankan women were granted voting rights in 1931, producing the world’s first female Prime Minister in 1960.  Since then, Sri Lankan women have continued to hold high‑ranking positions in Parliament and local government as secretaries to ministries, heads of diplomatic missions and in the judiciary.  Women represent half of the working population and excel in higher education.  They represent 34.5 per cent of the labour force and 39 per cent of the expatriate work force.  He pointed out the Government’s national policy framework has identified 10 key policy areas to achieve a fourfold outcome of “a productive citizenry, a contented family, a disciplined and just society, and a prosperous nation”.

MAKHDOOM SHAH MAHMOOD HUSSAIN QURESHI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, said that, while the women’s rights movement has made tremendous strides in the past century, much more is desired worldwide in achieving gender equality.  He noted that in conflict situations, especially in territories under foreign occupation, sexual violence is being used as a weapon of subjugation.  Pakistan’s approach to gender equality is rooted in its religion, cultural ethos, vision of its founders and its Constitution.  He emphasized the gender‑sensitive aspect of Pakistan’s national development strategy, adding:  “We can — and we must — learn from each other’s experiences on our journey to women’s empowerment.”

WIN MYAT AYE, Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement of Myanmar, said his country is trying to control the pandemic while undergoing a democratic transition that includes female engagement at all levels.  In addition, measures to address gender‑based violence have been implemented and a national mechanism aimed at gender equality that includes Government and women’s organizations has been promoted.  The mechanism’s plan of action has been developed and will be implemented over the next two years.  In addressing gender‑based violence, Myanmar is paying special attention to conflict‑related violence against women.  As for a COVID‑19 relief plan, economic and social plans are being enacted that are gender‑responsive, he said.

FUAD HUSSEIN, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iraq, reaffirmed his country’s commitment to achieving gender equity and empowerment for all women in the country, highlighting, in particular, the plight of the Yazidi women who have been oppressed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).  The Government is taking steps to ensure they have a decent life and is also actively rebuilding the infrastructure in the affected regions.  Noting a recent bill against domestic violence, he said it will enable Iraqi children to grow up in households free from violence so they can be fully developed citizens who can contribute comprehensively to society.  Further, Iraq continues to promote women’s empowerment through its national development plans, especially in regions affected by war.

SABRI BOUKADOUM, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Algeria, stressed that efforts are needed to ensure that 2020 Agenda objectives are reached, particularly Sustainable Development Goal 5.  In this vein, Algeria has taken a number of steps, including adopting principles of non‑discrimination, which are enshrined in legislation.  In addition, an empowerment initiative for women is seeing them involved the political sphere and holding high‑ranking positions.  In a country where 65 per cent of university graduates are women, the Government is working on improving labour market opportunities and implementing reform.  Building on women’s empowerment, a project in the Government aims at achieving gender equality in a range of fields while promoting their participation in economic development.  Women are also agents for peace and are involved in various capacities, in line with goals set out in the African Union’s 2063 Agenda.

DOREEN SIOKA, Minister for Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare of Namibia, said the full implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women are mutually reinforcing in achieving gender equality.  The COVID‑19 crisis offers the opportunity to place gender at the heart of the global response, including through gender‑responsive economic and social policies.  In order to fulfil the goals of the Beijing Declaration, States must eliminate discriminatory laws and structural barriers; mainstream a gender perspective across the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development; strengthen accountability for the implementation of commitments to gender equality; and engage men and boys as partners and agents of change.

JEAN ASSELBORN, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg, said his country’s national action plan for 2020 recommends many actions to ensure the equitable sharing of responsibilities, while its Ministry for Gender Equality is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year.  However, the pandemic is a reminder that equality in daily life has not been reached.  For many women who are managing professional and family life, home‑schooling has made this even more complicated.  In addition, lockdown measures around the world have led to an increase in domestic violence.  Women suffer more from conflicts and from the negative effects of climate change and even the internet is not a safe space.  The international community must not resign itself to this state of affairs, he said, noting that in 2018, his country implemented a feminist foreign policy.

TANDI DORJI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bhutan, agreed that progress in implementing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action has been neither fast nor deep enough.  “The COVID‑19 pandemic has further pushed to the precipice the limited gains achieved, and as often is the case, the impacts are exacerbated for women and girls,” he said.  Reiterating Bhutan’s unwavering commitment, he described its ratification of the Convention as a turning point that helped to focus and intensify national efforts in line with the letter and spirit of the country’s Gross National Happiness policy.  He outlined efforts to promote women’s equal and meaningful participation in decision‑making, including through the National Plan of Action to Promote Gender Equality in Elected Offices which has begun yielding encouraging results in the Parliament.  Amid COVID‑19, the Government is prioritizing the implementation of its contingency plan on gender and child protection; inclusive and equitable education and training continues; and the Health Minister is working with a group of formidable Bhutanese leaders — including women — to “build back better” in the wake of the pandemic.

MARITZA ROSABAL PENA, Minister for Education, Family and Social Inclusion of Cabo Verde, said the effects of the pandemic means the Beijing Declaration “should be uppermost in our minds”.  Figures indicate that women have been on the front lines in dealing with the crisis as caregivers and educators and are overrepresented in the informal sector and those involving unpaid labour.  She stated that Governments must strive against structural inequalities affecting women and girls, noting that 62 per cent of Cabo Verdean Government programmes on sustainable development are aligned with Sustainable Development Goal 5.  The country has a national care system and is strengthening the female role in the fight against climate change, but she acknowledged that, despite progress, challenges remain.

HESSA BINT ESSA BUHUMAID, Minister for Community Development of the United Arab Emirates, said that as part of efforts to ensure full participation of women towards the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, the United Arab Emirates adopted legislation guaranteeing equal pay for equal work and protecting women and girls from domestic violence.  She said women comprise 50 per cent of the country’s parliamentary body and 80 per cent of the scientific team that launched a spacecraft to Mars this year.  To accelerate implementation of the Beijing Declaration, she called on States to use all appropriate means to promote and protect the fundamental freedoms of women and girls.  Development, peace and prosperity depend on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, she said, calling for the economic empowerment of women. 

DAMARES ALVES, Minister for Women, Family and Human Rights of Brazil, reiterated her country’s commitment to women’s sexual and reproductive health, adding, however, that international recommendations on that topic must be implemented by States in line with their respective domestic laws.  Despite what is sometimes said in United Nations forums, there is no alleged right to the termination of pregnancy, nor is there anything in international law or international human rights law regarding the hypothetical right of women to abortion as a family planning option.  She underscored Brazil’s efforts to increase women’s involvement in politics, adding that it is past time to eradicate violence against women.

NASSER BOURITA, Minister for Foreign Affairs, African Cooperation and Moroccan Expatriates of Morocco, said the Beijing Declaration is to gender equality what the Sustainable Development Goals are to development.  “Gender equality is transformational in that it cuts across all challenges of our time,” he said, adding that gender equality is a barometer of progress.  However, no country can boast of total equality as structural barriers and stereotypes persist.  Noting that progress is not safe in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said women’s rights are the first to fall by the wayside in times of crisis.  Morocco sees gender equality as a social and economic requirement; its Constitution enshrines equality among men and women in all fields.  A quota system was adopted to increase women’s participation at all levels of decision-making. Morocco is also a global leader in gender sensitive budgeting.  “Gender equality must be the foundation of any sustainable development strategy,” he concluded.

ARIUNZAYA AYUSH, Minister for Labour and Social Protection of Mongolia, said that since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, her country’s Government has made commendable progress to ensure gender equality and to strengthen the economic empowerment of all women and girls, including reduced maternal mortality, increased women’s life expectancy, more girls enrolled in high school and better protection and services for victims of domestic violence.  However, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a 78 per cent increase in gender-based and domestic violence cases, according to police statistics, caused by decreased household incomes and psychological instability.  She highlighted the importance of close cooperation between countries to address the consequences of the pandemic and expressed her Government’s readiness to share lessons learned and best practices with others.

JACQUELINE LYDIA MIKOLO, Minister for Health, Population and the Promotion of Women and the Integration of Women in Development of Congo, said that her country has integrated the Beijing principles into its national policies and programmes.   Progress has been made with maternal and infant health‑care centres in rural areas, with the provision of free caesareans and other major operations linked to pregnancy and childbirth.  Gender‑specific brigades have been set up in police stations, along with an emergency number to anonymously report acts of violence by victims or the witnesses to those acts.  In the future, it is imperative to develop strategies to ensure better education for girls, strengthening peacekeeping and mobilizing resources for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

VINDHYA PERSAUD, Minister for Human Services and Social Security of Guyana, said that 25 years after the Beijing Declaration, what is needed is not a better plan, but answers as to why more has not been accomplished to remove persistent barriers of inequality.  Guyana has a national policy on gender and social inclusion that addresses all sectors of society, as inequality directly impedes development.  She pointed out that the country has achieved gender parity in primary and secondary education, is focusing on outreach to indigenous and rural girls and offers childcare assistance to essential workers.  Yet, despite increased representation in political life, women are still massively outnumbered.  It is important to change not only policy but attitudes as the world is still a dangerous place for women and girls.  She also applauded the efforts of women front‑line workers and scientists in the response to COVID‑19.

MEIRAV COHEN, Minister for Social Equality of Israel, said in her country, an increasing number of female entrepreneurs are leading innovative and ground‑breaking start‑ups.  However, one of the major challenges faced by women is the gaps in the labour market.  Gender‑based salary differences persist in Israel, reaching an intolerable gap of 30 per cent.  To reduce these gaps, a new paradigm is needed for the labour market.  Instead of positions tailored for mothers, jobs with hours reasonable for both genders are needed.  Instead of maternity leave only for women, parental leave for men is needed.  COVID‑19 may offer an opportunity for gender equality.  Mothers and fathers have the obligation to educate a generation of independent girls and boys who will support and recognize the importance of gender equality.  “Being a mother, I make sure to do so,” she said.

CAROLYS HELENA PÉREZ GONZÁLEZ, Minister of the People's Power for Women and Gender Equality of Venezuela, stressed that the achievements of the Beijing Conference are at risk of regressing because of the COVID‑19 pandemic.  Her country’s Constitution incorporates the most advanced legal framework for gender equality.  Outlining various national measures taken to battle the feminization of poverty, she said that 20 million houses have been built and women have been guaranteed the right to universal education.  As well, Venezuela set up a national institute for women in 1999 and established a women’s development bank.  Condemning the economic and commercial blockade brought about by the unilateral measures imposed by the United States, she demanded recognition and respect for international law, underscoring that food and medicine should not be used to exert pressure on her country.

I GUSTI AYU BINTANG DARMAWATI, Minister for Women Empowerment and Child Protection of Indonesia, stressed the need for innovative and ambitious targets for empowering women in decision‑making and entrepreneurship, particularly in the rural area.  Women representation in the Indonesian Parliament is at 20.5 per cent, still far from the goal of 30 per cent.  However, as a result of continuous efforts, that number has increased over the years.  In addition, Indonesia has developed women‑based micro-, small and medium economic empowerment programmes which focus on training, market and financing.  Her country has also implemented a gender mainstreaming strategy in national development, which has been integrated into many provisions including health laws and public services.  During the COVID‑19 pandemic, the Government launched “Berjarak”, a program to provide non‑discriminatory and free stigma protection for vulnerable groups, including women and children.

SIMON COVENEY, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ireland, noted that this year marks the twentieth anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security.  Highlighting his country’s own direct experience, he emphasized that a peace process that includes women is more durable.  Noting that Ireland will join the Security Council in January 2021, he expressed his delegation’s firm commitment to advancing women’s inclusion in all aspects of peace and security.  The country’s national action plan on women, peace and security puts women and girls at the heart of work to prevent and resolve conflict.  Gender equality and women’s empowerment are at the centre of its international development cooperation.  The Government is focusing on transformative actions to get all adolescent girls into school and provide them with quality education in safe environments.

LY RAMATA BAKAYOKO, Minister for Women, Families and Children of Côte d’Ivoire, summarized the measures that her country’s Government has taken in recent years to reduce inequality and strengthen women’s empowerment, including making schooling mandatory for all children from the ages of 6 to 16.  Challenges remain, however, including augmenting women’s participation in Parliament.  Côte d’Ivoire’s road to becoming an emerging economy would be smoother if more women were in politics, she stated.

KATRIN EGGENBERGER, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Justice and Culture of Liechtenstein, said the Beijing Platform for Action has helped to promote gender equality and informed such development plans as the 2030 Agenda.  In Liechtenstein, national and international debates have led to many achievements, including gender equality legislation.  However, violence, discrimination and marginalization remain a reality for too many women and girls around the world.  The compatibility of family and career and the underrepresentation of women in politics are persistent challenges in Liechtenstein.  Attempts to weaken internationally agreed human rights standards and to roll back gains in the Platform for Action are not constructive, she cautioned.  Going forward, all stakeholders must honour their responsibility of standing up for women’s rights every single day, she said, pledging Liechtenstein’s strong support in this regard.

PRINCE FAISAL BIN FARHAN AL-SAUD, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, said that his Government has submitted its report on the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Programme for Action.  The report reviews all of the progress made and also the challenges overcome in Saudi Arabia.  At the regional level, his country is chairing the Commission of Women of the League of Arab States this year.  At the international level, Saudi Arabia is Chair of the Group of 20 (G20) and has created a group to review the issue of women’s empowerment as a common priority for all working groups.  Saudi Arabia has undertaken reforms to empower women and to increase their participation in the labour market.

AMADOU BA, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Senegalese Abroad of Senegal, said in the 25 years since the Beijing Declaration, a substantial amount of work on normative and institutional frameworks has been done.  However, the country is still trying to curb the feminization of poverty.  The pandemic has exacerbated the trend, as women are more vulnerable given their greater presence in health care.  Senegal has adopted a regulatory and legal framework favouring women’s rights, with tangible progress including an emerging national plan prioritizing inclusive, equitable and equal participation of all actors in the national picture.  The Government has modified some discriminatory legal provisions, including approving a law on parity in elected and semi‑elected bodies and a 2020 law criminalizing rape and paedophilia.  Still, he acknowledged that challenges remain, including female poverty, exclusion and harmful traditional practices, as well as lack of access to land.

FATOU KINTEH, Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare of the Gambia, cited several statistics demonstrating gains for women and girls in her country, including an increase in the number of girls attending school.  The Government has put into place frameworks to address gender‑based violence, but rape, early marriage and female genital mutilation remain a concern.  The Gambia is developing a national action plan on women and armed conflict, she said, also noting the participation of its women in peacekeeping operations in Sudan and South Sudan.

NAHA HAROUN CHEIKH SIDIYA, Minister for Social Affairs, Children and Family of Mauritania, said the country’s President has created a reference document for the work of the Government regarding women.  Nonetheless, women in Mauritania have a long way to go before they can fully enjoy their rights.  Education and health care are below the required levels.  The Government has been working hard to aid women’s participation and create legal texts that protect women from all forms of violence, as well as protect their rights.  There are also large‑scale projects for women’s empowerment to enable a change in mentalities.  Her country is working to ensure better access for women to reproductive healthcare and needs to ensure their economic empowerment through economic activities.  It is honouring international commitments while taking into account sharia law.

DATUK SERI RINA BINTI MOHD HARUN, Minister for Women, Family and Community Development of Malaysia, said her Government is adopting a whole‑of‑society approach to gender equality.  Stimulus packages have been tailored to be gender‑responsive, incorporating assistance to ease women’s burdens in terms of childcare, work‑life balance and financial need.  Underlining the critical role of technology, she said her Government has allocated $6 million for its Global Online Workforce programme and is collaborating with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UNFPA to find innovative solutions addressing the loss of opportunities for women amid the crisis.  It is also currently drafting a sexual harassment bill and is planning another on gender equality.  “The COVID‑19 pandemic has not bent our commitment,” she stressed; rather it has only strengthened Malaysia’s resolve to prioritize women and girls.

AMINA PRISCILLE LONGOH, Minister for Women and Child Protection of Chad, said the Government has made substantial progress on broad structural transformation, with the Constitution prioritizing the status of women.  The country is adopting a national gender policy focused on issues including parity in official posts, prohibiting child marriage and reproductive health.  However, she noted that 28 per cent of girls are still married before age 15, while 24 per cent of women are victims of domestic violence and 12 per cent subjected to sexual violence.  They also suffer a greater illiteracy rate compared to men.  The maternal death rate remains high and women have an average of 6.4 children as of 2015, partly due to low availability of contraception, with only 2 per cent of girls under 20 using it.  Women also remain more vulnerable to the pandemic, given their larger presence in the informal labour sector.

MAYRA JIMÉNEZ, Minister for Women of the Dominican Republic, recalled that 2020 had been declared the year to achieve gender equality.  However, the pandemic prevented progress and many goals remain to be realized.  As such, efforts must be redoubled, including by putting an end to child marriage and eliminating human trafficking.  Turning to national achievements, she said the Dominican Republic has implemented a range of programmes, including an initiative targeting gender‑based violence and a project promoting entrepreneurship with a view to helping help women to move towards sustainable economic development.  At the global level, efforts must be strengthened.  More investments are needed, she said, emphasizing that “equality is not only necessary, but it is quite possible”.

LINA EL SHEIKH MAHJOUB, Minister for Labour and Social Development of Sudan, said that her country recognizes all human rights, including women’s rights, and works to build peaceful societies.  Sudan has set out goals for the transition period to support women in all fields and to include women in development plans.  It created a working document on the fight against gender-based violence and is also making progress to protect civilians in conflict zones.  In addition, it is prioritizing women and their health despite the pandemic and has taken many steps to stop the spread of COVID-19.  It is also focusing on domestic violence hotlines for legal and psychological support.  Despite the circumstances faced by her country, including recent floods, Sudan has committed to enshrine women’s rights policies in day-to-day life, she said.

GORDAN GRLIĆ-RADMAN, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia, said it is all the more critical during the pandemic to remain committed to integrating a gender equality perspective at all stages and levels of policies.  At the same time, countries should invest in targeted policies aimed at supporting women‑led solutions and labour market equality, including closing the pay gap, flexible working arrangements and recognizing and redistributing unpaid care work.  Croatia is committed to achieving gender equality - from closing the gender‑digital divide and expanding social welfare to increasing women’s political representation, he said, underscoring that those values are also enshrined in the omnibus COVID‑19 resolution that his country coordinated, together with Afghanistan.  Above all, women and girls must be able to live free from violence, he stressed, calling for redoubled efforts on the part of Governments around the world.

EVERLY PAUL CHET GREENE, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Immigration and Trade of Antigua and Barbuda, said Member States must not allow the pandemic to deter from action to fully empower women and girls, addressing structural barriers and social norms.  “We must, I repeat, we must secure the gains we have made,” he said, while acknowledging the new and emerging challenges requiring a paradigm shift on development efforts.  He stated that women are the backbone of societies and the force that holds them together.  Last year, the Government submitted its national report on progress and challenges, noting significant progress in education, with women and girls enjoying universal access, and in addressing violence against women.  The country established a support and referral centre on gender-based violence, and the Government of Canada funded a court on sexual offence cases.  He called on all States to accelerate efforts to achieve progress and enact transformational change across all spheres and levels of society.

MARÍA INÉS CASTILLO LÓPEZ, Minister for Social Development of Panama, praised the work of Panamanian women who faced personal and legal battles to lay the foundation for the recognition of women’s rights.  Her Government is committed to the empowerment of women and girls and prioritizes women so that their lives can be led free from violence and discrimination.  Education is the “bright star” of the Government, as it lights up all women.  Panama economically empowers women through the “Change Your Life” programme and is implementing a safe houses network plan as a space where victims and their children will receive comprehensive care.

K.D KOONJOO‑SHAH, Minister for Gender Equality and Family Welfare of Mauritius, outlined recent national progress in implementing critical areas of the Beijing Platform for Action.  Free education is now a reality — not only at primary and secondary levels but also at the tertiary level — and the country’s literacy rate stands at 89 per cent.  Mauritius has achieved gender parity in school enrolment, and girls’ performances are better than boys at all levels.  Maternal, prenatal, neonatal and paediatric health care have been consistently consolidated, resulting in a reduction in child mortality and increased life expectancy.  A Children’s Bill will soon be introduced in the National Assembly, comprising protection related to marriage age and child trafficking, amongst other issues.  A new National Gender Policy for 2020‑2030 — aligned to existing legal frameworks, international and regional human rights obligations and the Sustainable Development Goals — will shortly be adopted.  Meanwhile, she said, the Government is drafting a Gender Equality Bill to address outstanding gender gaps and a High Level Committee on the Elimination of Gender Based Violence was established.

AYANNA WEBSTER-ROY, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, outlined national achievements, from policy changes to targeted programmes aimed at advancing the rights of women.  With the Gender Affairs Division in the Office of the Prime Minister being a national focal point for gender and development, efforts are being made to promote the principles of gender equality and equity through mainstreaming in all Government policies and programmes as well as in the private sector and civil society organizations.  Gender equality continues to be the core of the country’s socioeconomic policy, as seen through such recent legislative and policy changes as amendments to the Sexual Offences Act 2019 and the sexual harassment policy.  Women play a critical role in governance and decision‑making processes, with many holding non‑traditional portfolios such as Head of State, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.  Through the COVID‑19 pandemic, vulnerable groups have been included in planning, and more than 75,600 families, mostly headed by women, have benefited from social protection measures.  Reaffirming Trinidad and Tobago’s commitment to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, she said:  “We will continue to coordinate our efforts with international and national priorities, ensuring that no one is left behind, as we shape gender equality, now and for the future.”

BRONTO SOMOHARDJO, Minister for Internal Affairs of Suriname, said progress has been made towards achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, but gains remain uneven.  The ILO reports that women have been affected more than men by the COVID-19 outbreak and the following economic crisis, posing a new challenge regarding gender equality and the other Sustainable Development Goals.  The pandemic has also underscored the importance of developing gender-responsive policies at all levels and highlighted that inclusion of women in all recovery efforts and implementation of a gender-responsive approach are prerequisites to realizing the 2030 Agenda.  National efforts since 1995 range from the adoption of legislative and policy measures addressing women, children and youth to the launch of the Gender Vision Policy Document 2021-2035.  Priority areas include labour, poverty reduction, education and health.  Even though Suriname is coping with many challenges, such as an economic downfall, poverty and disparities in access to services, the Government remains committed to advancing women’s rights and places the highest priority in addressing the financial crisis, including the impact on women and girls, he said, adding that:  “It is our shared responsibility to make gender equality, empowerment of women and girls, and thus sustainable development, a reality for all.”

AISHATH MOHAMED DIDI, Minister for Gender, Family and Social Services of the Maldives, said that COVID‑19 has only exacerbated the numerous challenges that women have always encountered.  Yet it is women who repeatedly rally from the front lines, meeting all difficulties head‑on and prevailing and conquering.  In her country, women are leading the National Emergency Operations Centre and the Health Protection Agency.  Women are also working tirelessly in laboratories and managing temporary shelters for vulnerable people.  Recognizing the disproportional impact of climate change on women and girls is essential for a gender‑responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda, she added.  Development gains must be distributed equitably, given that the Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved without gender equality.

KATALIN NOVÁK, Minister for Family and Youth Affairs of Hungary, said her country prioritizes increasing the female employment rate and helping reconcile birth and work life.  She noted a policy that allows mothers to work whenever they want, being employed part-time until the child reaches three years of age, and programmes to increase childcare capacities.  Given freedom of choice is crucial, mothers may stay home until the child turns three or return to work when he or she reaches six months, without losing family benefits.  Also, women with four children or more are completely exempt from income tax until they retire.  She added that female employment in Hungary is at a two-decade peak, higher than the European Union average, and the pay gap with men has decreased.

OLEG ȚULEA, Minister for Foreign Affairs and European Integration of the Republic of Moldova, highlighted progress, from enacting legislation and renewing policy frameworks to establishing national mechanisms and adopting the Comprehensive National Strategy on Gender Equality.  Considerable work has also been done in amending the legislation to address all forms of violence against women, he said, noting that the Republic of Moldova has “improved its score” in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, reflected in more women in national and local leadership and decision‑making roles, a lower maternal mortality ratio and an increased proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel.  In addition, female representation also reached 25.7 per cent in the Parliament and Government and 36 per cent in the local Governments.  Despite these achievements, major gaps and challenges remain, as many women and girls, such as those in the Roma community, from rural areas and those living with HIV, continue to experience various forms of discrimination.  Given that the pandemic threatens to reverse hard‑won gains, he supported the Secretary‑General’s calls to consider gender equality implications in the COVID‑19 recovery actions, and to put women and girls at the centre of the related efforts, adding that:  “Achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is an essential prerequisite to building up the future we want and the United Nations we need.”

NIKOS CHRISTODOULIDES, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cyprus, said despite progress, there is a worldwide backlash against women’s rights, in addition to the pandemic affecting women much harder, moving the world farther from celebrating actual equality.  Women’s rights are a priority for the Government, and efforts are geared toward tackling the challenges and addressing implementation gaps.  Citing achievements, he pointed to national action plans, the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, draft laws criminalizing violence against women and employment and vocational training measures.  “It’s high time to move from words to concrete, collective actions that will bring transformative change in safeguarding women’s rights,” he said.  “Today’s commemoration offers a great opportunity to reaffirm our strong support and commitment to the full and effective implementation of the Beijing Declaration as we move decisively ahead.”

TEODORO LOCSIN JR., Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, said that his country, having played a central role in the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action, is proud that its tenets were becoming reality.  In his country, sexual and reproductive health services were being expanded even in the face of resistance from religious institutions.  In addition, a tough new law counters both sexual violence and harassment.  The participation of women in conflict-prevention and humanitarian relief has been increased and a Business Act makes it easier for the most dependable Filipino breadwinners — that is, women — to feed their families.  As a result, the country is ranked number two in its region for gender equality.  However, in much of the world, sadly, “the depravity of the strong sex knows no limits”, he lamented, which makes international action critical, particularly in implementing measures promoted by his country to protect migrant women and girls in the face of violence and trafficking.  During the COVID-19 crisis, in which many Filipino migrant women are in frontline occupations, this is particularly important.  Flagging the need to fight child porn, of which his country is a top producer, he also emphasized the necessity of a global ceasefire so that women can broker peace in conflict areas.  Avowing his country’s continued commitment to the advancement of women and girls, he stressed that what is most needed is a simple sense of decency.

NILDA ROMERO SANTACRUZ, Minister for Women of Paraguay, said that her country has adopted legislation advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality and has started to shape social law that focuses on a range of issues, including combating violence against women.  The Beijing Declaration continues to influence Paraguay’s national plans, which are also are in line with the 2030 Agenda.  However, there is an asymmetry in such areas as politics, labour and unfairly shared domestic tasks alongside persistent reports of violence against women.  Achieving the 2030 Agenda depends on taking action, she said, encouraging States to reaffirm the principles in the Charter of the United Nations.  In doing so, nations “will never fall back and always move forward”, she said.

VÍCTOR FILLOY FRANCO, Minister for Social Affairs, Housing and Youth of Andorra, said implementing lines of action requires rethinking societal elements previously thought to be safe.  He highlighted the key role of women in the formal arena, noting that although 70 per cent of world health-care workers are female, they hold only 30 per cent of leadership positions in that sector.  Women also perform three times as many unpaid caretaking and domestic tasks.  His ministry is firmly committed to strengthening the prevention of any discrimination based on gender and any violence against women and girls.  Last June, the country enacted an awareness-raising plan, aimed at helping all professionals in the educational sphere implement equal treatment of boys and girls.  In addition, a Secretary of State for equality and equivalent participation was appointed.

JUNG OK LEE, Minister for Gender Equality and Family of the Republic of Korea, said that, in response to the “Me Too” movement, her country enacted a comprehensive Framework Act on the Prevention of Violence against Women that addresses, among other things, new forms of digital sex crimes.  The Government is also increasing public childcare services and encouraging new fathers to take paternity leave.  In addition, the private sector is being encouraged to promote gender diversity.  Going forward, the Government — in ensuring that the COVID-19 pandemic will not aggravate gender inequality — is implementing gender-sensitive employment programmes as well as translation services for multi-cultural families.

MICHELLE BAVY ANGELICA, Minister for Population, Social Protection and Promotion of Women of Madagascar, said that over the last five years there has been a reallocation of public spending towards programmes that aim to achieve the empowerment of women and girls.  In 2016, a law on nationality was passed that allows women to pass their Madagascan nationality onto their children.  Another law grants women the right to decide on the size of their families and to allow girls to have control over their reproductive health.  In 2019, a law was adopted that considers sexual abuse and marital rape to be seriously punishable acts.  The pandemic dealt a blow to what Madagascar has accomplished, but it has been able to establish a hotline for victims of gender-based violence.

EVARIST BARTOLO, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Malta, said that the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened pre-existing inequalities and exposed further vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems.  Reports of increased violence against women and girls around the world, particularly in conflict-affected areas, are particularly worrying.  “Although the situation seems daunting, solutions are available and within reach,” he said, adding that States must fully respect and implement existing commitments and obligations with respect to the achievement of gender equality, the empowerment of all women and their full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

SHEIKH AHMAD N. M. AL-SABAH, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kuwait, noted this year marks the fifteenth anniversary since the passing of national legislation granting full political rights for women in Kuwait.  Stating that women and girls have always been a pillar for development and prosperity, he hailed the strength and dignity they displayed during the 1990 Iraq invasion of his country.  The Government of Kuwait is committed to preventing discrimination against women based on gender, language or religion.  He noted the recent contributions of women on front lines combating the pandemic.  However, there is a great deal to be done, he said, with millions of women and girls worldwide still affected by war and armed conflict, and millions struggling in poverty and displacement.  He affirmed that Kuwait is committed to gender equality protection and empowerment at the regional, national and international levels.

JEANNETTE BAYISENGE, Minister for Gender and Family Promotion of Rwanda, said that her country took the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action — adopted one year after the horrific 1994 genocide — as an opportunity to design gender-sensitive reforms.  The last 25 years have seen many gains for Rwandan women, including their participation in political life, economic empowerment, parity in education, a reduction in maternal mortality rates and comprehensive support to victims of gender-based violence and child abuse through one-stop centres across the country.  In the coming five years, Rwanda will focus on, among other things, bridging the gender digital divide, strengthening mechanisms to eradicate gender-based violence and child abuse, and providing comprehensive information on sexual and reproductive health to both boys and girls.

YOUSUF MOHAMED AL OTHMAN FAKHROO, Minister for Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs of Qatar, said that his country is keen to make women, girls and youth the focus of its development and social welfare programmes.  He outlined the many legislative steps that Qatar has taken to eliminate discrimination and inequality, in addition to integrating the Sustainable Development Goals into its national development plan.  He also pointed to Qatar’s financial contributions to UN-Women and for women, peace and security studies.  Regarding COVID‑19, he said that Qatar has extended medical assistance to more than 20 countries, in addition to $10 million to the World Health Organization (WHO) and $140 million for coronavirus vaccine research.

Concluding Remarks of General Assembly President

In his concluding remarks, Mr. SINIRLIOĞLU said that the current COVID‑19 crisis threatens to erode hard-earned gains.  The international community has a long way to go to achieving gender equality but it is committed to that aim.  He urged Member States to use the convening power of the General Assembly to combat threats to society.  For generations, women have endured discrimination and hardship.  It must be ensured that no woman feels the need to justify her presence or is underestimated for the work she carries out.  He expressed his hope that the women of the world will reclaim their voices, are free from abuse and that they feel safe to be themselves.  Today’s conversation is one step together in the journey towards equality, he said.


For information media. Not an official record.