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Policymakers from Africa, Asia Highlight National Progress in Bolstering Normative, Legal Frameworks for Women’s Empowerment, as Commission Continues Session

The Commission on the Status of Women continued its sixty-fifth session today, with policymakers from Algeria, Mongolia, Egypt, Rwanda and the United Arab Emirates presenting national achievements in building out the normative, legal and policy frameworks essential for supporting women in all spheres of life.

The presentations — made during an interactive dialogue with delegates on the theme of “women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development” — came ahead of the continuation of a general discussion on the topic, with delegates throughout the day embracing calls for change as vital to the successful recovery from COVID-19.

In opening remarks, Åsa Regnér, Deputy Executive Director for Normative Support, United Nations System Coordination and Programme Results of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the review theme of its sixtieth session, “Women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development” (document E/CN.6/2021/4), which she said draws on information received from 53 Member States.  The report considers the impact of COVID-19 on women’s empowerment and sustainable development, covering State actions in such areas as:  strengthening normative, legal and policy frameworks; enhancing national institutional arrangements; financing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; and strengthening women’s leadership.

“Member States have made important progress towards the implementation of the agreed conclusions,” she said.  However, significant gender gaps persist, particularly in the rates of extreme poverty, violence against women and girls, unpaid care and domestic work and the availability of robust gender statistics to monitor and report progress.  Insufficient strategic and financial investment in gender equality and women’s empowerment likewise threatens gains made.  As such, the report underscores that significantly increased financing will be required if the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to be achieved.

Kawthar Kriku Arlama, Minister for National Solidarity, Family and Women’s Issues of Algeria, said her country is pursuing gender equality and women’s empowerment with the aim of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.  She described gains made in the context of various African programmes established for this purpose, including the African Union Agenda 2063, the African Women’s Decade 2010‑2020, and more broadly, support for women in parliament, with two parliaments on the continent headed by women, as well as one country.  In Algeria, quotas are used as a transitional measure of positive discrimination, she said, allowing 30 per cent and 26 per cent of women to be registered in the National People's Assembly during the past two years, respectively.  Establishing a statistical network would improve the effectiveness of collecting and analysing data, and in turn, encourage positive results for empowering women.

Ayush Ariunzaya, Minister for Labour and Social Protection of Mongolia, said her country has been “progressive” in creating an enabling legal environment for gender equality — an idea that has been reflected in four constitutions, the first adopted in 1924 and subsequently in 1940, 1960 and 1992.  Article 5.2 of Mongolia’s gender equality law, adopted in 2011, outlines the need to end gender discrimination, she said, noting that, today, gender equality guarantees are reflected in laws covering the family, labour, employment, education, health, child protection, combating domestic violence and trafficking in persons.  Nine sectors have approved gender-responsive sectoral policies, while 20 provinces and 8 districts of the capital city are implementing gender-responsive local development subprogrammes.  The National Committee on Gender Equality, led by the Prime Minister, meanwhile, is the main vehicle for mainstreaming gender in development programmes and coordinating relevant cross-sectoral issues.

Maya Morsy, Head of the National Council for Women of Egypt, said the national strategy for women’s empowerment was endorsed by the President in March 2017.  Outlining legislative gains, she said an amendment to the law against female genital mutilation now subjects perpetrators to harsher penalties.  A recent presidential decree allows incarcerated women to keep any of their children under the age of four with them, while a civil service law has granted working mothers four months maternity leave, up from three.  An amendment to the inheritance law imposes stricter penalties for those who deny a family member their lawful inheritance rights — a move that protects women, in particular — and a cyberlaw protects women against stalking and bullying.  There were two major pieces of legislation in 2020, she added, pointing to law 177, which adds a provision to the criminal code on the confidentiality of data about victims of sexual harassment and assault, and law 151, aimed at promoting the security of personal data processed and stored online.

Jacqueline Kamanzi Masabo, Executive Secretary of the National Women’s Council of Rwanda, said that, after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, the Government decided to place gender equality and women’s empowerment at the forefront of sustainable development.  In a bid to strengthen normative, legal and policy frameworks, the 2003 Constitution, which was revised in 2015, guarantees equal rights for all Rwandans, a provision affirmed by the requirement to reserve at least 30 per cent of all decision-making positions for women.  Recalling that gender-responsive budgeting was instituted by the Organic Law of 2013 on State Finances and Property, she also pointed to improvements in gender-responsive data collection, follow-up and review, noting that the National Institute of Statistics regularly generates gender statistics as part of its three-year household and living conditions census.  To address patriarchal attitudes, Rwanda is engaging men and boys through campaigns, instilling gender‑equality principles into children and youth, and creating jobs that target women.

The Director of Policy Planning, General Women’s Union of the United Arab Emirates, said her country constantly working to strengthen normative, legal and policy frameworks, in line with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.  The Constitution guarantees women’s rights, including to education, employment, social assistance and health benefits, she said, while the Act against Discrimination and Hatred was amended in 2019 to include a ban on sexual harassment.  Citing various measures, she said the Government repealed article 53 of the penal code which had justified a husband punishing a wife, and an article which had permitted a mitigated penalty in cases of honour killings.  Article 30 of the penal code was amended to ban employers from terminating women who become pregnant.  She also cited legislation ensuring equal pay, stressing that the United Arab Emirates is keen to enhance women’s role in decision-making, and drawing attention to the 2015-2021 national strategy for women’s empowerment, which aims to increase their participation in all fields.

During the interactive dialogue, delegates outlined national measures taken to create a level playing field, with some asking about the strategies devised and obstacles encountered along the way.  Cuba’s representative asked about strategies to empower women with a view to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals, while Tunisia’s delegate asked panellists about strengthening the status of women through national legislation.  Indonesia’s delegate enquired about protecting women during the pandemic, given the disproportionate fallout from the virus.

The representative of Canada asked panellists how to ensure that progress at the legal and policy levels would translate into substantive equality in practice.  She was particularly interested in steps to ensure that sector-specific gender policies have the human and financial resources required for implementation.

Qatar’s representative asked panellists to explore the legislative frameworks beyond the creation of gender‑equality laws, while the representative of the United Arab Emirates asked about best practices for engaging men and boys in efforts to empower women.

A speaker from the Global Fund for Widows — who rounded out the dialogue as the only civil society representative to participate — asked about efforts to ensure that widows and female heads of households are represented in policies, notably those designed to overcome the massive socioeconomic impact of the pandemic.

The Commission on the Status of Women will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 24 March, to continue its sixty-fifth session.

General Discussion

I GUSTI AYU BINTANG PUSPAYOGA, Minister for Women Empowerment and Child Protection of Indonesia, said mainstreaming gender perspectives is part of the Government’s effort to ensure that women and girls will benefit from all development programmes.  Twin strategies — establishing a grand design to increase women’s representation in legislative institutions and enhancing women’s leadership in rural communities — boost existing affirmative action programmes aimed at closing gender gaps in public life.  Highlighting several initiatives, she said a comprehensive strategy to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls focuses on prevention, institutional capacity-building, service provision and empowerment through skill-based knowledge to ensure the independence of survivors.

Regarding protection for women in the labour sector, she said Indonesia established the Women Labour Protection Safe House since 2019, a collaborative effort to provide reporting mechanism and case assistance.  Integrated efforts are under way to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 among women and children, she said, pointing to the Sejiwa Programme to ensure the public, especially women and children’s mental health, is well taken care of, and Berjarak, a flagship collaborative programme to protect them against the coronavirus.  In addition, online training and social assistance programmes encourage women to venture into micro-, small and medium-sized entrepreneurship.  Relief kits, procured and distributed in collaboration with the private sector, focus on fulfilling the specific needs of women and children.

SITHEMBISO G. G. NYONI, Minister for Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development of Zimbabwe, said the Government has taken many steps, including adopting a new Constitution in 2013, which contains provisions for gender equality and their participation in decision-making and politics, including a quota for 60 seats in Parliament.  As a result, there has been an increase of 31 per cent representation of women in the National Assembly and 43.7 per cent in the Senate.  Legislative reforms are under way, including the Public Entities and Corporate Governance Act.  Women’s economic empowerment remains paramount to their confidence to participate in decision-making.  Establishment of the Zimbabwe Women’s Micro-Finance Bank and the Women’s Development Fund has given women access to affordable capital.

However, violence against women remains a key obstacle to their full and effective participation in decision-making, she said.  To address this, the Government has implemented measures to address gender-based violence in electoral processes and adopted a Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Candidates which seeks to promote free and fair elections.  A Gender Observatory has been put in place to monitor and document women’s experiences throughout the electoral process, and the Government is working towards the development of a comprehensive Sexual Harassment Act.  As Zimbabwe was not spared from the negative impact of COVID-19, which has disrupted livelihoods, the Government adopted stringent measures to contain the pandemic, and among other things, introduced a $500 million stimulus package, of which 42 per cent was given to women-owned businesses.

GALE T. C. RIGOBERT, Minister for Education, Innovation, Gender Relations and Sustainable Development of Saint Lucia, citing achievements including the first-ever female Governor General, Speaker of the House and President of the Senate, said she is the first woman to serve as the leader of the Opposition, and there are four women who form part of the Cabinet of Ministers.  Despite national gains in women’s participation in decision-making positions, participation in Parliament has never reached 30 per cent, and a recently concluded report points to uneven progress in the academic advancement of women and the level and quality of their participation in the workforce.  If structural barriers persist for women’s participation in truly power-transforming roles, then all the advancements will not result in gender‑equality outcomes.  Indeed, COVID-19 has reversed some hard-won gains for sustainable development and has led to widening inequalities.

As leaders, the challenge is to consider the cost of that inequality and do what is necessary to steer development to a more sustainable path, she said, emphasizing that:  “We remain cognizant that building back better includes building back equal.”  The Government is now reviewing a transformative gender‑equality policy and strategy.  It launched a package of essential services for women and girls facing violence, which remains the greatest threat to empowerment efforts.  Expressing her honour to head a team of women leading climate change action, she cited recent efforts, including a recent gender mainstreaming initiative, which has further recognized the transformative leadership of local women.  As climate change is cross-cutting, gender‑responsive processes for climate action in small island developing States like Saint Lucia guarantee women’s empowerment across sectors, she said, calling on States to consider strengthening related gender-responsive processes as one of the goals towards sustaining the full and effective participation of women in decision‑making and public life, and women’s empowerment more broadly.

ARIUNZAYA AYUSH, Minister for Labour and Social Protection of Mongolia, citing significant achievements, said victims of gender-based violence have received protection services at 37 shelters thanks to efforts to ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment.  While women play a key role in national economic development by comprising 47.1 per cent of the workforce, they have inadequate property ownership and low labour value.  Labour law reform will address the protection of their rights and gender sensitivity in labour relations, she said, noting that Mongolia has adopted electoral gender quotas, with a minimum 20 per cent of election candidates from political parties allocated to women.  In addition, the Law on Gender Equality includes quotas for decision-making positions in public administration.

Showcasing some of the results and challenges ahead, she said political parties met the minimum female candidate threshold in the 2020 parliamentary election, with 13 women elected, comprising 17 per cent of Parliament members.  Women also hold 25 per cent of Cabinet Minister posts.  Despite progress, a lot more needs to be done to raise public awareness and end gender stereotyping.  To address this, the Government launched the National Programme on Gender Equality and a new credit system was introduced in the curricula of 17 universities and colleges.  In 2020, the “Family” channel debuted on national television to raise public awareness of gender issues and provide systematic training to provide family-focused financial education.

YOUNG AI CHUNG, Minister for Gender Equality and Family of the Republic of Korea, said COVID-19 presents a new set of challenges to gender equality, and each country must reflect on their progress thus far and work collectively to find practical ways for addressing discrimination women are experiencing.  The Government adopted the Framework Act on Gender Equality in 2014, and to incorporate gender responsiveness across all policy areas it is enhancing a gender‑mainstreaming system, widening the scope of gender-sensitive education for public officials and establishing gender statistics disaggregated by policy area.  Among strenuous efforts to enhance women’s representation and decision-making authority, she cited a road map adopted in 2013 that set targets for hiring women in the public sector.  Policies aim at alleviating the burden of care, and comprehensive employment and entrepreneurship support services are reaching women who are on a career break due to marriage and childcare.  The 2018 Framework Act on Prevention of Violence against Women reiterated the State’s roles and responsibilities in preventing violence against women while supporting and protecting victims.

Building on these achievements, she said the Government will remain committed to intensifying policy efforts to combat discrimination experienced by women due to the COVID-19 crisis.  This includes tackling the employment crisis facing women with tailored job packages and scaling up an emergency care service system to relieve women of their disproportionate care burden.  But, much work remains, she said, emphasizing that the Government will continue to be steadfast in its commitment to move in lockstep with the international community in achieving gender equality for all.

SHIREEN MAZARI, Minister for Human Rights of Pakistan, said the pandemic has highlighted the disproportionate burdens that women confront, particularly during public health and economic emergencies, while creating an important opportunity to take stock of global progress in advancing the protection and promotion of their rights.  It also is a chance to reflect on the challenges that continue to stand in the way of women’s rights and equal participation in decision-making in all facets of public life, she said, adding that the protection and promotion of the rights of women is a key pillar of Pakistan’s development paradigm.  In accordance with Islamic injunctions, the Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to both men and women and provides ample guarantees to women against all forms of discrimination, exploitation and marginalization.  It also ensures their equal rights and opportunities to grow and lead a healthy and prosperous life.

Citing several national efforts, she said the number of women in key leadership and decision-making positions has risen steadily, and concrete steps have been taken towards strengthening legislation intended to address issues from gender-based violence to inheritance rights.  The Government has passed laws, including the Protection of Women’s Property Rights Act and amendments related to anti-women practices, acid crimes and offences in the name or pretext of honour, and it adopted the National Policy for Development and Empowerment of Women and a National Plan of Action on Human Rights.  Pakistan has also been working towards strengthening and establishing an institutional framework to protect women’s rights.  In addition, the Gender Crime Centre now gathers and analyses data on violence against women, which helps policymakers to develop comprehensive and effective measures to control such violence.

MARTHA ELENA RUIZ SEVILLA, Minister for Defence and Assistant Secretary of the Private Secretariat for National Policies for the Presidency of Nicaragua, highlighted national efforts and progress, including the launch of a unit to promote women, who make up 57 per cent of the National Assembly.  Since 2017, affirmative action has resulted in women serving as mayors, deputy mayors and municipal councillors.  A national plan ensures that women are not left behind.  Reducing inequality between men and women and set to bridging the gender gap in the next decade.

Across all sectors, women play a role in a range of efforts, she said.  Women are also included in initiatives to, among other things, combat poverty.  Citing several economic programmes to boost gender equality, she said a strategy for mother and child centres has won prizes for its effective formula to reach those in need.  Family and community health-care models continue to guarantee women access to free services, she said, noting Nicaragua’s low maternal mortality rate.  As the Latin American and Caribbean region is among the worst affected by climate change, she said efforts are under way to address related challenges, alongside plans to eliminate poverty, promote gender equality and ensure the equal rights of all women and girls.

MARIE-CELINE ZIALOR, Minister for Youth, Sports and Family of Seychelles, highlighting significant achievements, said there is almost full enrolment of boys and girls in primary and secondary schools.  Girls have been outperforming boys at both levels.  The number of women in leadership roles, including as head of the Central Bank has also expanded.  Thanks to free primary health care established in the 1980s, the health and well-being targets of Sustainable Development Goals have been realized.

Turning to the issue of violence against women, she said a recent study revealed that 58 per cent of women participants experienced some form of violence, with most occurring in domestic settings.  Based on those findings, the Government has set up programmes promoting prevention.  The findings also prompted the Ministry to continue its prevention campaign with secondary schools, men’s groups and women themselves.  The Ministry, along with its partners, has lobbied for stand-alone legislation to end domestic violence, she said, highlighting that a draft was agreed to in June 2020.  The Government’s plan is to empower women and families to be resilient in the current turbulent times as the world grapples with COVID-19.  For its part, her Ministry, in partnership with other ministries, are collaborating to lead projects that promote family businesses and women-owned enterprises.

DAO NGOC DUNG, Minister for Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs of Viet Nam, said a wide range of women’s empowerment efforts has already led to progress.  A national action plan to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development focuses on ensuring women’s full participation, with efforts to reduce the gender gap in business and politics already yielding encouraging results.  As of September 2020, the rate of female deputies of the National Assembly was 27.31 per cent, higher than the average global rate, and women occupy the positions of Chair of the National Assembly and Vice‑President.  Regarding the prevention and response to violence against women and girls, policies and laws have been gradually enhanced towards issuing stricter, more prompt sanctions.  Since 2016, the Government has organized annually an Action Month for Gender Equality and Prevention and Response to Gender-based Violence nationwide, and in 2018, Viet Nam was among 10 countries that piloted the United Nations Joint Global Programme on Essential Services Package for Women and Girls Subject to Violence.

Thanks to these efforts, he said, violence against women and girls has so far tended to decrease, and all returned victims of trafficking have received support and community reintegration services.  However, COVID-19 has slowed the process of women’s engagement in leadership, management, ownership and decision‑making in public life, he said, adding that:  “The challenges posed by COVID-19 are also a global problem, therefore it requires our greater efforts, solidarity, and mutual support, in which women and girls must be the centre of every recovery effort and must have equal access to health care and protection services, especially access to COVID-19 vaccines.”  Women's representation, voice and role are even more indispensable in all national decisions, he said.

JULIE KUMARI MAHATO, Minister for Women, Children and Senior Citizens of Nepal, said gender equality and women’s empowerment have been a top development priority, with the Constitution guaranteeing their rights, including the rights of sexual minorities, from equal lineage and property rights to safe motherhood.  Currently, women’s representation at the elected federal, provincial and local levels has reached 32.7 per cent, 34 per cent and 41 per cent respectively.  Amid a rising proportion of women in civil service jobs and as schoolteachers, female labour force participation is now 26.3 per cent, and the Gender Development Index has climbed to 0.886 per cent.  Nepal has been implementing a zero-tolerance policy on gender-based violence, criminalizing it alongside all forms of sexual discrimination, including the Domestic Violence (Crime and Punishment) Act, Crime Victim Protection Act and the Acid and Other Lethal Chemical Substances (Regulation) Ordinance.

She said Nepal is the pioneer in South Asia, having introduced the concept of a gender-responsive budget and a national action plan to implement the goals set forth in Security Council resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008) on women, peace and security.  Gender-responsive programmes now comprise 38 per cent of the total national budget.  Nepal is also committed to combating human trafficking, having ratified the Palermo Protocol in 2020 and amending existing related laws.  The Government has already achieved gender parity in schools by implementing a comprehensive school safety package, including the construction of separate toilets, free distribution of sanitary pads and scholarship schemes.  To protect and ensure women’s reproductive health rights, a free helicopter service has been effective in bringing pregnant women facing maternity-related complications in remote parts of the country to areas where they can receive proper care.  Nepal’s newly adopted National Gender Equality Policy is expected to be a milestone in establishing a gender-friendly governance system, she added.

Also delivering statements were ministers from Djibouti, Venezuela, Burkina Faso, Mauritius, North Macedonia, Mali, Suriname, Thailand, Madagascar, Malaysia and Sudan.

For information media. Not an official record.