Sixty-eighth Session,
10th & 11th Meetings (AM & PM)

Critical Inequalities Remain in Reaching Gender Parity in Education, Digital Access, Assistant Secretary-General Tells Commission on Women

Member States Deliver National Voluntary Presentations, as Session Continues

Representatives of Member States today delivered voluntary presentations on their national efforts on the review theme “Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls” as the Commission on the Status of Women continued its sixty-eighth session.

The session meets through 22 March under the priority theme “Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective”. The United Nations largest annual gathering on gender equality and women’s empowerment brings together representatives of Member States, UN entities and civil society and non-governmental organizations from across the globe (for background, see Press Release WOM/2231).

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, Assistant Secretary-General and 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 (document E/CN.6/2024/4) on the theme: “Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls”.  The report drew on information received from 31 Member States, an indication of their commitment to the provision of social protection and increasing access to public services.  The report reviews their implementation of the agreed conclusions on social protection systems, access to public services in sustainable infrastructure for gender equality, and the empowerment of women and girls covering the five years since its adoption.

She further noted that it considers the combined impacts of COVID-19, climate and environment emergencies, cost of living, and food, fuel and debt crises on women and girls.  “It is heartening to see that Member States have advanced the implementation of the agreed conclusions,” she stated; however, there remains uneven application and results across countries and thematic areas.  Significant progress has been made in strengthening the normative legal and policy frameworks to advance gender equality and eliminate gender-based discrimination — with specific attention to social protection care provision and gender-based violence.  However, she warned that this was not matched by the scope and pace of implementation, hampered by immense investment and financing gaps.  She stressed that critical gender inequalities remain in extreme poverty, food insecurity, and in reaching gender parity in education and digital and mobile access.

Kateryna Levchenko, Government Commissioner for Gender Equality Policy of Ukraine, then delivered her national voluntary presentation, affirming that ensuring gender equality remains a priority for the Government in the context of the war and post-conflict recovery.  In the third year of unprovoked full-scale war, and the tenth year of Russian Federation aggression, Ukraine suffers huge losses every hour:  according to the UN, 29,330 civilians, including 1,822 children, have been killed — 29 per cent of them women — with 6.5 million Ukrainians temporarily under the jurisdictions of other countries, most of them women and children, and around 5 million internally displaced persons.

Despite these “screaming figures”, Ukrainians continue to fight and implement international standards on women rights and gender equality.  The country has ratified the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention).  Further, in the face of war crimes committed by Russian military forces against women, including the use of sexual violence as a weapon, Ukraine became the first country to establish a comprehensive coordination mechanism to combat sexual violence.  The State is working to identify cases of violence so that perpetrators cannot escape justice.  Stressing that no victims should be left to face the consequences alone, she cited Survivor Relief Centres created to respond to the challenges of the ongoing war. Qualified specialists provide the necessary social, psychological, legal or informational support in a comprehensive and confidential manner, free of charge.

Ensuring gender equality remains a priority for the Government in the context of the war and post-war recovery, with the Ukraine Facility Plan providing €50 billion in financial assistance throughout 2024 to 2027.  She noted that the section of the “Human Capital” plan includes a thematic subsection “Achieving Gender Equality”.  “We are not resting on our laurels,” she stated, “making every effort to mobilize internal resources and rely on the further support of our international partners and friends”.

Responding to questions from the representatives of Spain and Georgia, Ms. Levchenko noted that the Istanbul Convention entered into force in Ukraine on 1 November 2020, with a range of measures to protect women from all forms of violence and prosecute perpetrators.  Efforts have been made to change the procedure for providing evidence in court, reducing the burden of proof on the victims and the risk of re-traumatization.  The country is changing old and developing new curriculums free from gender stereotypes, introducing liability for sexual harassment and recognizing children who witness violence.  She stressed that policies aimed at reducing the consequences of conflict-related sexual violence should be developed together with survivors. 

Nadine Umutoni Gatsinzi, Chief Gender Monitor at the Gender Monitoring Office of Rwanda, highlighted her country’s social protection programmes, which are in alignment with various global frameworks, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.  Rwanda’s Vision 2050, a national strategy for transformation, is in its second generation, she said.  Detailing a 2021 law which guarantees equal rights for both men and women, she said it also guarantees women access to a financial allowance.  Sharing the findings of a situation analysis, she said women contribute up to 77 per cent while men contribute 22 per cent to household care work.  “Obviously this limits women’s participation in productive and paid economic activities as well as in political leadership,” she said.  The Government has put in place maternity leave benefits for both men and women, she said, adding that this helps support women’s employment and protects children.

The representative of Morocco asked for more information concerning how gender mainstreaming affects the planning and budgeting of social protection programmes while the representative of Hungary asked how Rwanda ensures accountability on the gender equality agenda.

Responding, Ms. Gatsinzi said budgeting and resource allocation consider disparities between men and women.  Also highlighting the importance of gender mainstreaming sustainable infrastructure, she said the Government considers the different needs and priorities of women and girls when improving access to clean water or sanitation facilities or expanding transport networks.  On accountability, she highlighted the policy and legal frameworks put in place to ensure that gender-based violence is investigated and punished.  Highlighting partnerships with civil society, she said “we work with the community” to address specific gender inequalities.  Rwanda is also investing in collecting accurate data to ensure that policymakers have access to high-quality information about the populations they are serving.  Ensieh Khazali, Vice President for Women and Family Affairs of Iran, noted that its Constitution stipulates the abolition of undesirable discrimination and the provision of equitable opportunities for all citizens, including women.  The Government is obliged to lay the necessary grounds for the development of women’s personality and the realization of their material and intellectual rights.  A large number of women in Iran are disinclined to engage in full-time employment outside the home because men customarily act as breadwinners and tend to pay for life expenses; however, she cited national laws to ensure that women and girls enjoy the benefits of development.  She noted that 1 per cent of the total budget of all executive bodies was assigned to woman’s and family affairs.  However, the progress of women in all dimensions of personal and social life is impacted by “economic terrorism and unilateral unlawful and coercively-imposed sanctions” which have imperiled and jeopardized the lives and livelihood of Iranians, especially women.

Responding to questions from the representatives of Belarus, Jordan and Malaysia, Ms. Khazali stated that coercive unilateral sanctions against Iran “have been merciless towards the most oppressed and the most vulnerable”.  The country has been pushed towards self-sufficiency, now producing 90 per cent of its pharmaceuticals, but must still import other supplies.  “This is considered a form of American terrorism,” she said, called for international fora to stand against such discrimination. In another register, Iran is trying to create women’s employment and help them strike a balance between professional life and family obligations through flexible working hours and day care options.  Women heads of households formerly could not apply for loans, but the Government stands as a guarantor.  She recalled that Iranian law dictates that men bear the cost of living, with women having no responsibility in that domain.

Mariam Maiga Coulibaly, Minister for Advancement of Women, Children and Family of Mali, thanked UN-Women and other partners for their support and expressed her country’s commitment to gender equality.  Another official from her Government then took the microphone, adding that the country’s achievements and challenges in social protection and empowerment of women and girls takes place within a context marked by security challenges, economic sanctions and inflation of food prices following conflicts.  Nonetheless Mali has invested in continued implementation of its commitments, strengthening its normative and institutional framework.  A new Constitution was adopted in July 2023, reaffirming the guarantee of same rights to citizens of both sexes, without discrimination, she said, adding that the document contains a provision in its preamble concerning the protection of woman’s and children’s rights and cultural and linguistic diversity.

Highlighting a revision of the Penal Code to criminalize all forms of violence against women, including terrorist acts, she said the process of rebuilding the State is under way under the vision of a stable Mali engaged in sustainable development and peaceful coexistence.  Drawing attention to a road map for integrating the gender dimension into Mali’s electoral processes and administrative reforms, she highlighted improvements to health coverage as well as cash transfers.  Social protection programmes consider the specific needs of men, women, children, youth, older persons, persons with disabilities and the poor.  Mali is also strengthening social safety net projects, she said, noting that her country has expanded social security and medical insurance scheme coverage of the population.  Further, it is investing in tackling violence against women and girls, she said, noting the establishment of centres to care for women and girl survivors of gender-based violence and reintegrate them socioeconomically.

Cameroon’s delegate asked for more information about how Mali set up universal health coverage.

The representative of Canada asked for more details about programmes to tackle violence against women and girls and barriers to that.

Qatar’s delegate asked about advances made in social protection since the sixty-third session of the Commission.  Are there any mechanisms for evaluation of progress, she asked.

Responding, Ms. Coulibaly said her country has put in place three social protection mechanisms, including mandatory health insurance.  Noting a significant increase in the population covered by these three schemes, she said the Government has made a special effort to bring 3 million people under coverage in 2021.  There are evaluation mechanisms in place to follow up on support measures and monitor their impact, she said.

Highlighting barriers to tackling gender inequality, she highlighted the low levels of access to financing.  “Everyone understands I’m sure that access to financing is one of the key drivers for promoting women’s economic empowerment,” she said, adding that other barriers include illiteracy among women, difficulty in accessing land and the informal nature of their economic activities.

Diana Gomez Correal, Vice-Minister for Women of Colombia, cited the commitment of her Government in achieving the rights of women, with the creation of a vice-ministry for women and for equity and progress made in the national care system.  “We’ve recognized women as key actors and agents for change, as the protagonists in defence of peace,” she said, as building a democracy starts from a position of real inclusion.  The Government has established key ministries in areas including intersectionality and gender and established a stronger budget to prevent violence against women, with economic empowerment guaranteeing the rights of sex workers and heads of household.  She highlighted flagship programmes for economic employment, combating violence, and sexual and reproductive rights, recognizing women’s knowledge in building them.

With more than 16 million people in the country requiring care as a priority, she emphasized that 86 per cent of caregivers are women, and most of this work is not remunerated.  The Government recognized the unfair burden carried by women and the correlation that exists between care and women’s economic independence, and has committed to a national care system.  Work is also under way to overcome poverty, with a concrete programme for the empowerment of women, strengthening popular economy initiatives and launching five community care projects.  Eradicating inequalities between men and women requires efforts including strengthening a gender-responsive budget for transformative actions in women’s daily lives.  She cited concrete infrastructure projects including:  the Ministry of Equality, building community aqueducts; building greater Internet and telephone connectivity, which is crucial in reporting cases of violence; and a pilot project related to women’s dignity where there are care spaces for boys and girls.

The representative of Brazil asked how the vice-ministry guarantees the necessary attention to the realities and needs of women.

Mexico’s delegate asked how the vice-ministry implemented the intersectional approach.

Responding, Ms. Correal noted that there are five vice-ministries recognizing the need to work in a joined-up fashion so that policies actually reach the territories and the different populations. There is dialogue with local communities, movements and Governments proposing a joint agenda for the strongest impact.  “It is important to recognize that there are different axes of oppression and when they cross we at the ministry have the task of focusing the lens on the gender dimension,” she stated.

On intersectionality, she emphasized the importance of a specific lens or prism through which to view the other forms of oppression, generating a universalist approach to the needs of women in this regard.  The vice-ministry has also established a high-level working group for the prevention of femicide.

During the interactive dialogue that followed, delegates stressed the importance of expanding social protection.  Youth delegates from Denmark highlighted the importance of SDG 3 on health and expressed concern about the lack of education on sexual and reproductive health and rights.  The representative of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) drew attention to the importance of safety nets for rural women and said effective social protection can catalyse a rural transformation.  “The evidence is compelling,” she said, adding that such gender-sensitive social protection in rural areas can lead to community leadership and economic independence.

Cuba’s delegate said that despite the significant harm caused by the unilateral measures imposed by the United States, her country has put in place a social protection system that guarantees pension and social security.  Highlighting his country’s experience during the pandemic, he said, thousands of affected women were treated and housed by the Government.  For Burundi, that country’s delegate said, gender equality is a socioeconomic issue.  His Government has a range of social assistance including family benefits, unemployment aid, cash transfers and protections for pregnant women.  The Government is working towards universal health care, he said.

For information media. Not an official record.