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Confronting Gender Stereotypes, Closing Pay Gap Critical, Speakers Stress, as Commission on Status of Women Concludes Session’s Fifth Day

The sixtieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women resumed its general discussion today with speakers emphasizing the need to tackle deep-rooted gender stereotypes and close the gender pay gap while keeping women’s empowerment at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“We do not meet here today to discuss what women want, but rather what the world needs,” the representative of Lebanon said, emphasizing — like so many other delegates — the importance of a gender-responsive approach to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Romania’s representative, among others, drew attention to the gender gap in pay between men and women.  While that gap had narrowed in her country, gender stereotypes and pre-determined roles in the family and society remained a challenge, she said.

Her counterpart from Georgia said it was essential to confront gender stereotypes and overcome prejudice that prevented women from active participation in public life.  The representative of the United States said community opposition to girls’ learning was one factor preventing some girls from going to school.

The representative of Seychelles, where women drove buses and flew airliners, said there could be no equality if traditional harmful practices were the norm.  Government could not legislate its way into private spheres, she added, emphasizing that individuals had a duty to know their rights and make it their responsibility to fulfil them.

Malta’s representative spoke of new legislation in his country that addressed the rights of transgender people.  Another law, unique in the world, protected intersex persons against invasive surgeries performed for cultural or social reasons.  Saudi Arabia’s representative said his country would express reservations if the Commission’s outcome documents referred to gender in terms other than man and woman.

Still other speakers highlighted concerns specific to their countries and regions.  Sierra Leone’s representative spoke of Ebola’s impact on women and Tajikistan’s representative discussed the nexus between gender and water resources.  Their counterpart from Cyprus cited women’s growing role in peace negotiations.  Niger and the Marshall Islands raised the issue of climate change.

Also speaking today were representatives of Australia, Greece, Lesotho, Malaysia, Colombia, Burundi, Uruguay, Italy, New Zealand, Samoa, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Eritrea, Slovakia, Turkey, Panama, Ecuador, Rwanda, Libya, Sudan, Maldives, Cameroon, Armenia, Bulgaria, Myanmar, Cabo Verde, Iran, Jamaica, Singapore, Croatia, Iraq, Andorra, Ireland, Togo, Tuvalu and Venezuela, as well as the Permanent Observer for the Holy See.

Representatives of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, League of Arab States, African Union, International Olympic Committee, International Development Law Organization, World Health Organization, Economic Commission for Africa, International Association Media and Communication Research, Fundación para Estudio e Investigación de la Mujer, International Trade Union Confederation, Presbyterian Church, International Federation for Home Economics, Women for Women’s Rights – New Ways, Association for Women’s Rights and Development, Widows for Peace and Pacific Disability Forum.

The Commission on the Status of Women will reconvene in a closed meeting on Wednesday, 23 March, at 10 a.m. before proceeding in plenary.

Statements

IOANA LIANA CAZACU, Deputy Minister and Head of the National Agency for Gender Equality of Romania, associating herself with the European Union, said women in her country earned 9 per cent less than men, better than the Union’s average of 16.4 per cent.  However, gender stereotypes and pre-determined roles in the family and society remained a challenge.  Expectations that men should be the sole providers was a cause of gender inequality, but a lack of balance between professional and personal lives had an impact on all workers, regardless of gender.  The Government was making efforts to reconcile work and family, including the development of a supportive infrastructure that included childcare.

ISATA KABIA, Acting Minister for Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs of Sierra Leone, associating herself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, as well as the African Group, said 52 per cent of her country’s population were women, which was a reason for them to be fully involved in decision-making.  The Ebola outbreak had fuelled new concerns about gender equality and women’s empowerment. Sixty per cent of Ebola survivors in her country were female, and the epidemic had created 6,000 orphans.  However, the Government had shown sustained political will to ensure full implementation of a post-Ebola recovery plan.  That plan would soon expire, but mechanisms were being finalized for a follow-up plan that would take effect on 1 April.

MANANA KOBAKHIDZE, First Deputy Chairperson of the Parliament of Georgia, said human rights had always been a priority for her country.  Sustainable development could not be achieved without women’s empowerment and the elimination of violence against women.  Georgia had signed and would soon ratify the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.  There was a clear link between sustainable development and ensuring women’s full participation at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.  Describing many measures her country had taken in that respect, she said that it was essential to challenge gender stereotypes and make efforts to overcome prejudice that prevented women from active participation in public life.  “Investing in women’s economic empowerment greatly contributes to gender equality, poverty eradication and boosts economic growth,” she said, describing Government policies focused on improving their socioeconomic conditions.

NATASHA STOTT DESPOJA, Global Ambassador for Women and Girls of Australia, said the international community had the opportunity to weave together the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action to develop a clear path to gender equality.  Noting that a major impediment to gender equality and sustainable development was the global pandemic of violence against women, she stressed that there was no excuse for violence against women and girls in any form.  In 2015, her Government had announced a $100 million domestic Women’s Safety Package, which would help to make women safer on the streets, at home and online.  That was in addition to a nearly $200 million investment in the country’s National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children.  In addition, under Australia’s presidency, G20 leaders had agreed to reduce the gender gap in workforce participation by 25 per cent by 2025.  Through the country’s aid programme, its new Investing in Women initiative supported partnerships with Governments and the private sector in South-East Asia to expand women’s economic participation.

FOTEINI KOUVELA, Secretary-General for Gender Equality in the Ministry of Interior of Greece, said that women were severely affected by the serious economic and social crisis in her country.  The unemployment rate for young women was more than 60 per cent.  Other factors contributing to poverty among women included unequal access to paid work, lower earnings, gender stereotypes and a lack of social protection.  Migrant women and refugees faced multiple forms of discrimination, including racism and xenophobia.  Partnerships were, therefore, being established with relevant stakeholders to provide such women with appropriate living conditions.

LAOUALI AISSATOU ABDOA, Secretary-General for the Ministry of Population, Advancement of Women and Protection of Children of Niger, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said that maintaining peace and security were a major concern in the face of threats from criminal organizations in the region.  Without security, there could be no progress.  In Niger, 78.3 per cent of women lived in the countryside, 90 per cent were illiterate and four out of five lived in poverty, although the overall rate of poverty had been declining in recent years.  Niger had set out a women’s empowerment strategy that called for the provision of microcredits and lightening the burden of domestic tasks.  Climate change was having a significant impact, with women and children particularly affected by food insecurity and limited access to potable water.

MMAREFUOE MMUSO, Deputy Minister for Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation of Lesotho, aligning herself with the Group of 77, the African Group and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said her country was working to address institutional arrangements that would help to strengthen ownership, responsibility, monitoring and accountability with regard to the 2030 Agenda.  It was mobilizing women’s organizations, as well as men’s groups, to advocate for the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the 2030 Agenda.  The capacity of those organizations was also being built in order to participate in peace processes in line with Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).

WAITCHALLA R.R.V. SUPPIAH, Under-Secretary, Policy of Women, Family and Community Division for the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development of Malaysia, aligning herself with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Group of 77, said the empowerment of women continued to be the key agenda of the Eleventh Malaysia Plan.  The Government was working to build a more conducive working environment to promote gender diversity and increase female participation in the labour force through measures such as work-life balance promotion and flexible working arrangements.  It was also working to increase the number of women in decision-making positions, she said, pointing to the establishment of a Women’s Advisory and Consultative Council in that respect.  There was also a National Action Plan to Empower Single Mothers and programmes to combat violence against women.  Steps to deter violence against women included special train coaches for women, women taxi drivers for women passengers and women-friendly parking spots at shopping malls.

MARTHA ORDÓÑEZ VERA, Senior Adviser on Equality to the President of Colombia, said that the 2030 Agenda was a historic opportunity to ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment.  “We must always focus on being more ambitious.”  By 2030, all women should be able to exercise their rights, including their sexual and reproductive rights, with equal opportunities and equal access to resources and power.  The Commission was central to attaining that goal.  Her country had a national public policy that addressed women’s concerns in a comprehensive way.  Recently the Government adopted legislation on femicide that called for tougher sentences for perpetrators.  A policy to lift rural women out of poverty was also in place.

GODELIEVE NININA HAZWE, Member of Parliament of Burundi, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said women’s empowerment was a pillar of social reconstruction.  International and regional instruments were crucial.  Her country was making efforts to combat poverty and stimulate the business environment with greater women’s access to microcredit.  It was also addressing gender violence and working towards a quota of 30 per cent of women in all decision-making bodies.

MARIELLA MAZZOTTI, Director of the National Institute of Women of Uruguay, said her country’s new Administration was working to align with international commitments made around the Sustainable Development Goals.  Describing progress made in the area of sexual and reproductive rights, women’s labour rights and other areas, she nevertheless said that challenges remained.  Among other things, gender-based violence continued and there was a low representation of women in decision-making positions.  The country had created a National Gender Council that set the agenda on gender policies and was working through it to highlight awareness about the rights of women.  It also had an action plan to address violence against women and a national health plan that dealt with the sexual health of women and men, mental health, chronic illnesses and other issues.  In the area of labour and economic empowerment, there was a programme to address the wage gap and sexual harassment in the workplace, among other things.

BENEDETTO DELLA VEDOVA, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Italy, associating himself with the European Union, said all countries were now called to address the structural causes of discrimination against women and girls and to ensure their full participation in public life.  Women continued to be disproportionately affected by war and conflict, and were more vulnerable to trafficking, as well as sexual and gender-based violence, including in their own homes.  It was essential to strengthen the legal and policy frameworks for gender equality and women’s empowerment, he said in that regard.  Italy was at the forefront of international action to end harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and early and forced marriage.  It actively supported the wide ratification of the Istanbul Convention and had adopted a new national plan addressing all forms of violence against women through a holistic approach.  Around the world action was needed to address sexual violence in conflict and in emergencies.

JO CRIBB, Chief Executive of the Ministry for Women of New Zealand, quoting a Maori proverb, said international commitments were crucial for advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality worldwide.  All countries had work to do, including hers.  New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the right to vote and women continued to play a pivotal role in its political, social and economic life.  During its term in the Security Council, it tackled the gender impact of conflicts and the role of women in sustainable peace.  In the Pacific region, where the country spent 60 per cent of its development budget, increasing the participation and leadership of women through its aid programme was a priority.  Domestically, the Government was committed to addressing family and sexual violence, most of which was committed against women.

FUIMAPOAO BETH ONESEMO TUILAEPA (Samoa), associating herself with the Group of 77, the Pacific small island developing States and the Pacific Island Forum, said that in the past year, cross-sectoral efforts had intensified to not only encourage and support more women to run for Parliament, but also to educate and raise awareness on the value of inclusive and gender-equitable governance at all levels.  As a result, there was a 200 per cent increase in the number of women candidates for Parliament, compared to the last elections held in 2011.  Ending gender-based violence was a priority for Samoa, having established community education programmes that utilized not only modern technologies, but also took advantage of traditional Samoan learning methodologies.  A new programme targeting women and girls with disabilities had also improved access to information and services on sexual reproductive health.

BOUACHANH SYHANATH, Vice-President of the Lao Women’s Union of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), described progress in her country in reducing poverty, increasing life expectancy and literacy rates, and improving gender equality.  The country had six female ministers or their equivalent, 15 female vice-ministers or their equivalent, four female provincial vice-governors and a number of female heads of district and village chiefs.  There were three institutions to ensure gender equality in the country:  the Lao Women’s Union, the National Commission for the Advancement of Women and the Women Parliamentarian Caucus.  Equal rights between men and women were guaranteed by the country’s laws and regulations, she said, adding the further promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment would be mainstreamed into its Vision 2030, Strategy 2025, the eighth five-year national economic and social development plan, and development plans of the national women’s machineries.

TEKEA TESFAMICHAEL, President of the National Union of Eritrean Women of Eritrea, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said her country was building a solid basis for sustainable development underpinned by social justice with priorities that included education, health, agriculture, industrialization, infrastructure, science and technology.  Describing work in her country to champion gender-related international commitments, and hailing progress made in many parts of the world towards gender equality and women’s empowerment, she nevertheless said that daunting tasks remained.  “We cannot expect different results by doing the same thing year in and year out,” she said, calling on States to address the conditions that affected the human rights of women worldwide, such as conflicts, poverty, global income inequality and environmental degradation.

DAISY ALIK-MOMOTARO, Senator and Member of Nitijela (Parliament) of the Marshall Islands, associating herself with the Pacific Islands Forum and the Pacific small island developing States, said domestic violence remained a challenge in her country, with one survey showing that nearly 70 per cent of women had experienced physical, sexual, emotional or economic abuse.  While prenatal and postnatal programmes had been strengthened, it was hard to retain skilled health practitioners.  Due to social and cultural factors, the uptake of sexual and reproductive rights was unacceptably low.  The impact of climate change amplified issues already faced by women and girls.  Goal 5 was highly ambitious, but the sheer scale of the Sustainable Development Goals could easily overwhelm the country’s limited national capacity, including in the area of data and statistics.

OLGA PIETRUCHOVA, Director of the Ministry for Labour, Social Affairs and Family of Slovakia, said her country had reduced its gender pay gap from 27 per cent in 2005 to 18 per cent last year.  However, it was still a major inequality factor, so next week an “equal pay day” would be observed.  A national project, put into place last year, addressed the work-life balance, particularly for mothers with young children, with such measures as flexible working conditions.  The country was preparing to ratify the Istanbul Convention and, in anticipation of its upcoming presidency of the Council of the European Union, it was drawing up initiatives on such issues as female poverty and implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action in European Union member States.

GÜLSER USTAOĞLU, Director-General of the Ministry for Family and Social Policies of Turkey, said “as long as half the world’s population is excluded from economic and social life, sustainable development will be nothing but a dream”.  Under Turkey’s presidency last year, the G20 had begun activities aimed at narrowing the gap between men’s and women’s rates of labour participation by 25 per cent by 2025.  That would help to integrate 100 million women into the labour market.  The country had laid the legal groundwork required to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including by establishing the principle of equality of men and women.  It had been one of the first countries to sign the Istanbul Convention on violence against women, she said, adding that it was organizing wide-scale awareness activities and training for public officials — particularly police officers and related officials — to translate legal and administrative measures into action in an efficient way.

LIRIOLA LEOTEAU, Director of the National Institute for Women of Panama, associating herself with the Group of 77, the Network for Human Security and the Group of Friends of Older Adults, said her country had adopted the Sustainable Development Goals as a step towards its national development.  It had undertaken significant commitments to close the gender gap and ensure economic growth.  It had in place a national mechanism for women, which guided public policies for equal opportunities and had created 13 centres for opportunities for women.  The country had further implemented a policy for the prevention of violence against women, which held perpetrators accountable and ensured the collection of relevant data.  Related laws on violence against women also criminalized femicide and created safe spaces to women, especially in rural areas.  Significant progress had also been made in ensuring the rights of girls, in particular through the elimination of the practice of child marriage.

MONICA HERNANDEZ, Adviser to the President of Ecuador, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said that “living well” was mandated by the Constitution in her country.  That goal could only be achieved through equality.  A strong and committed State was not possible without the participation of women.  A labour justice law in Ecuador recognized unpaid work.  Women working at home had a right to a pension and their contribution to the economy was acknowledged.  Empowering women and girls required significant cultural transformations.  Girls had to stop looking at men and boys as authority figures and mothers as inferior.  Global indices had shown a reduction in the nation’s gender gap and there were more women in education, including higher education, which used to be an almost exclusive right of men.

MARIE-JOSÉE BONNE, Special Adviser of Social Affairs at the Ministry for Social Affairs, Community Development and Sports of Seychelles, said empowered women in her country were driving buses, heading the central bank, piloting Airbus A330 airliners and serving as Chief Justice.  Worldwide, de facto equality could not exist when traditional harmful practices were the norm, domestic violence persisted, rape was used as a weapon of war and human trafficking satisfied the pockets of a few.  Seychelles was on the road to transition, but Government could not legislate its way into private spheres.  Individuals had a duty to know their rights and to make it their responsibility to fulfil them.

ROSE RWABUHIHI, Chief Gender Monitor of Rwanda, said the strong political and gender-friendly environment had enabled her country to achieve tremendous results.  The Government had recognized women’s land rights, contributing to their control over productive resources and access to loans.  Thanks to Government policies, women’s financial exclusion had decreased from 32 per cent in 2012 to 13 per cent in 2016.  Additionally, concrete programmes had been set up to improve women’s participation in the economic sector.  The accessibility and use of information and communications technology had transformed the delivery and quality of health, education and other services in Rwanda.  For example, modern innovative mobile technologies, including short message services for emergency labour and tracking of maternal and child health, had led to a considerable drop in maternal and infant mortality rates.

CHRISTOPHER GRIMA (Malta), associating himself with the European Union, said there had been an increase in the employment rate of women thanks to concrete Government initiatives, such as free childcare for all working parents, before- and after-school services and the strengthening of several other family-friendly measures.  Everyone, regardless of gender, should be equally recognized, educated, empowered, protected and ensured full dignity and respect.  The country had recently adopted a far-reaching law entitled, Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act, which allowed transgender people to enter into a simple public deed and have the gender on official documents rectified to reflect it.  Similarly, the country had protected intersex persons against invasive surgeries or treatment that were not medically necessary, but which were usually performed for cultural or social reasons.  That law was unique in the world, he said.

NAWAF SALAM (Lebanon), associating himself with the Group of 77, said “we do not meet here today to discuss what women want, but rather what the world needs”.  A gender-responsive implementation of Agenda 2030 required, among other priorities, equal access to education, information and technology, the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health — including sexual and reproductive health and rights — economic and financial resources, markets, and political participation.  It also required protection for women and girls from all forms of discrimination and violence.  Civil society had an important role to play, he said, stressing the need for a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders to promote and protect human rights, democracy, good governance and the rule of law.  Despite the challenges facing the country, including the presence of more than 1.2 million Syrian refugees, the Government had been working to address the aspirations and commitments relevant to women’s and girls’ rights.

IBRAHIM DABBASHI (Libya) said that women were central to the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as a pillar for peace and prosperity.  It was troubling to see that they were always victims of discrimination based on negative stereotypes and all forms of violence.  His country was undergoing tough times, but despite institutional and financial chaos and uncertainty, it was committed to defending women’s rights and respecting international instruments.  Gender equality was enshrined in law.  Women’s participation in politics was lagging, but a great effort was under way to ensure they were not marginalized in society.

OMAR DAHAB MOHAMED (Sudan), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, apologized for the absence of the head of his country’s delegation, the Minister of State for Health, who had not been issued a visa by the Headquarters country.  The door was wide open for more women in Sudan to fill decision-making positions, over and above the proportion guaranteed in the Constitution.  Free health care, including free caesarean sections, was part of a Government strategy for safer pregnancies.  Programmes to reduce poverty among rural women were in place, and significant efforts to eradicate all forms of violence against women had been made.  Coercive universal sanctions remained a challenge, however, and they had to be lifted.

AHMED SAREER (Maldives) said today, more girls were enrolling in schools, more women were participating in the labour force, and laws and public policies were addressing violence against women.  However, progress had been challenged by such issues as rising levels of violent extremism and growing conflicts.  At the national level, his country had adopted a new gender quality bill aimed at prohibiting discrimination against women, and set up a national technical committee to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.  It had also launched a Comprehensive Gender Equality Policy (2016-2021), aimed at creating a conducing environment for achieving gender equality, and adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of gender-based violence.  “We must place women and girls at the centre of sustainable development,” he said, calling on States to invest in girls and women and, thereby, in the future.

MICHEL TOMMO MONTHE (Cameroon) said women’s empowerment must be a cornerstone of development policies around the world.  His country had taken a number of related actions, including by establishing the Ministry for Women and Family, creating gender focal points and setting up training networks for women.  It had unreservedly ratified all international instruments relating to the equality of women.  In recent years, the gender parity rate in education was improving, as was the rate of women’s participation in Parliament.  The country had also stepped up efforts to confront early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation and sex-based discrimination.  It had put in place new programmes on maternal and neonatal health and provided antiretroviral drugs free of charge.  Looking towards 2030, it was critical to focus on the education of girls, providing women better access to information and communications technology, addressing school dropout rates and providing adult literacy courses.

NICHOLAS EMILIOU (Cyprus), associating himself with the European Union, said in his national capacity that Cypriot women had, since the division of the island in 1974, experienced the disproportionate effect of war.  From early on, they realized the importance of making their voice heard in peace efforts.  In recent years, more women had become directly involved in negotiations, often in leading positions.  Efforts to increase their participation would continue.  The negotiating team for a solution to the Cyprus problem had also set up a bicommunal committee on gender equality to bring gender-specific issues to the forefront and provide input on what needed to be done.

AISA KACYIRA, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat, said women and girls made up the largest segment of urban residents facing such vulnerabilities as inadequate housing, poor access to water and sanitation, gender-based violence and harassment, and widespread discrimination in urban labour markets.  Rapid, unplanned urbanization added to the problem.  To be gender responsive, cities had to become places where gender identity no longer fuelled gender-based violence, harassment or restrictions on movement.  For UN-Habitat, urbanization was an opportunity, not a problem to be controlled.  The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in October in Quito, Ecuador, would work towards an agenda of promoting cities that were safe, inclusive and gender-equal.

ZOHRAB MNATSAKANYAN (Armenia) said the success of the present session would be the first testimony of the world’s collective determination to ensure the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.  In his country, women played a prominent role.  Armenia had recently reorganized the Council on Women into a national mechanism that would mainstream the implementation of gender equality policies into all aspects of social, economic and political life.  The country also had a strong civil society, which would contribute to the effective enforcement of gender equality.  For economic, financial and social inclusion and empowerment of women and adolescent girls, it was also necessary to work closely with the private sector.  He underlined the priority of promoting their participation in peace processes at all levels, noting that his Government had been successfully integrating women and girl refugees and internally displaced persons who were forced out of their homes in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a result of aggression and ethnic cleansing unleashed against Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh.

STEPHAN TAFROV (Bulgaria), associating himself with the European Union, said there was a long way to go to achieve true gender equality.  “We are very far from our goal,” he said, noting that hundreds of millions of women were still subject to violence around the world.  His country had committed to creating consistent policies for gender equality, and had enshrined a new law in that respect.  Reiterating his appeal for the enjoyment of all rights by women and girl, he said that the Government had taken concrete and tangible measures to put an end to the major obstacles facing gender equality in the country.  The world was now faced with growing instability, including major population movements and other alarming phenomena, which contributed to increasing violence against women and girls.  As such, it was vital to give a new impetus to gender equality and the empowerment of women, as well as to the realization of women’s human rights.

U KYAW TIN (Myanmar), associating himself with the Group of 77 and ASEAN, said women played a “crucial” role in his country’s socioeconomic life.  “We believe that promoting welfare and empowerment of women should occupy a place of priority in the Government,” he stressed, noting that Myanmar’s embrace of democratic values had created a more conducive environment for partners to work for the protection of women and girls.  His Government was working closely with international organizations and non-governmental organizations for promoting gender equality and reproductive rights and protection from violence.  The country had stepped up efforts to eliminate discrimination, notably through the National Committee for Women’s Affairs.  Gender-based violence in conflict areas was being addressed through strong legal action against perpetrators of reported cases.

FERNANDO WAHNON FERREIRA (Cabo Verde) attached great importance to the inclusion of gender equality and women’s empowerment in the outcomes of 2015 United Nations conferences, prioritizing universal access to education, safe drinking water, and improved family planning and reproductive health services.  Special attention had been paid to promoting teenagers’ rights in terms of sexual and reproductive health information and services.  Moreover, gender parity had been achieved in most education levels, as well as in literacy.  While Cabo Verde lagged in women’s representation in decision-making positions, it had committed to implement its national gender equality plan, enhance gender-responsiveness in economic strategies and devise social care policies to help women advance.

BERNARDITO AUZA, Permanent Observer for the Holy See, said it was important to focus on women who were most prone to be left behind and those whose potential was often the least appreciated and realized.  The world continued to face old and new forms of violence against women and girls, in particular rape as a weapon of war during conflicts, the trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation, forced abortion, forced conversion and forced marriage.  An exaggerated focus on economic productivity and the decline of family values left elderly women even further behind, he said, leaving them vulnerable to the pressures in favour of assisted suicide.  In many places, women were forced to choose between profession and motherhood.  In addition, the practices of abortion and in-vitro fertilization with pre-implantation genetic diagnosis were being used to selectively eliminate girls, leading to an unnatural sex-ratio-at-birth disparity.  Access to education and adequate health care were areas in which the international community must ensure that no woman or girl was left behind.

GHOLAMALI KHOSHROO (Iran) said “we must seize this opportunity presented by the Sustainable Development Goals and strive for women’s development and women’s empowerment in tandem with social and economic progress”.  Extraordinary challenges, such as violent extremism and forced mass migration, were among the biggest obstacles to sustainable development and had slowed — or, in some cases, stopped — progress in affected areas.  Women in some parts of the world were witness to the collapse of their families as a result of aggression and invasions, and there would be no room for their empowerment and development under such circumstances.  His country had launched efforts in line with the promotion of women’s status and empowerment, family sustainability and bridging gaps and disparities between men and women.  Describing a number of those efforts, he nevertheless recognized the need to further promote women’s participation in political and decision-making areas and in the labour market, in particular.

SHORNA-KAY MARIE RICHARDS (Jamaica), associating herself with the Group of 77, CELAC and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said women’s empowerment was essential for achieving sustainable development.  That was a matter of critical importance as far too many women faced discrimination, violence and denial of their human rights.  Jamaica, decades ago, had pioneered legislation on equal work for equal pay, and for paid maternity leave.  It had amended legislation to ensure that citizenship by descent could be acquired matrilineally in the same way it was obtained through paternal lines.  In school attendance and education outcomes, girls outperformed boys, while in the labour market, women occupied 60 per cent of managerial roles.  February elections had seen 25 female candidates, with the 11 successfully elected representing an increase over the last polls.

KAREN TAN (Singapore) said that since independence her country had been committed to the advancement of women as integral and equal members of society.  The Government had invested in promoting healthy living and preventive health programmes and maintaining high standards of living.  Aside from granting women equal access to health-care resources, the Government had paid special attention to women’s health needs such as the provision of subsidized breast and cervical cancer screenings.  Further, all children had equal access to a high standard of education.  Singapore had achieved a high literacy rate for women with 94.9 per cent in 2014, and female students had made up 50.9 per cent of the full-time enrolment in the universities.  In fact, women were well represented in subjects that were traditionally viewed as male domains.  For example, in 2014, women had made up 71.4 per cent of health sciences graduates and 58.4 per cent of natural, physical and mathematical science graduates.

SAAD ABDULLAH N. AL SAAD (Saudi Arabia), stressing the need for the Commission to work towards a better, brighter future for women, said the term sex in any United Nations document would be taken to mean a man or a woman, and marriage a union between a man and a woman.  If not, his country had a sovereign right to express its reservations, based on the principles of its religion.  In December 2015, women in Saudi Arabia participated in municipal elections for the first time.  They enjoyed quality, free education at all levels and participated in all commercial activities.  Sharia prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, sex or colour, as well as the violation of women in any way.  His Government deplored the situation in several regions where women faced violence and exploitation, especially the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  It was also saddened to see the rights of Syrian women violated.  Rapid action from the international community was needed to halt such crimes and bring perpetrators to justice.

MAHMADAMIN MAHMADAMINOV (Tajikistan) discussed the role of women in the implementation of internationally agreed goals relating to water.  Getting more women to participate in water-related programmes and projects was one of the purposes of a high-level international conference held in Dushanbe in 2015 where the gender water nexus was a priority theme.  The conference was preceded by a forum on women’s participation in water resources management that called upon member States to ensure that all citizens lived healthy and productive lives in harmony with nature.  Tajikistan was proposing to consider the possibility of proclaiming a new water decade in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals and it hoped all member States would support the idea.

VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia), associating himself with the European Union, said in his national capacity that sexual violence committed during times of conflict could not be separated from inequality between men and women in peacetime.  Laws such as the Law on the Rights of Victims of Sexual Violence in the Homeland War, adopted by his country’s Parliament in 2015, were significant.  “But laws in themselves are not enough if attitudes don’t change.”  Entrenched inequalities, discriminatory social norms, harmful customs and dominant patterns of socioeconomic development could undermine the implementation and impact of such legislation.  A new political culture, conducive to equal participation by women, was needed in order to change gender stereotypes.  More women were needed in politics and business, but men also had to support the advancement of women’s rights and empowerment.

MOHAMMED SAHIB MARZOOQ (Iraq) said the national plan to implement Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) included a special operations room linked to the Prime Minister’s office.  Progress had been made in terms of women holding managerial positions that included:  83 female parliamentarians, one minister and 86 female judges, as well as one university president.  Further, gender equality was in all school curricula and police academy syllabi.  Domestic violence legislation had been enacted, and in Kurdistan, a law on violence against women.  Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) had subjected women and girls to the most heinous terrorist acts, including the kidnapping of 3,000 Yazidi women, subjecting them to sexual violence and torture.  Female internally displaced persons also needed support.

GEMMA RADUAN (Andorra) said the new development agenda must include achievement of gender equality.  This year, an event organized by the education ministry would focus on the Sustainable Development Goals, to inform people about opportunities and challenges, including the challenge of guaranteeing the enjoyment of human rights for half of the world’s population.  Change and commitment must go along with a strong civil society.  Andorra believed in equality, having moved from a rural society with a clear division of labour, to a modern one, with a gender-sensitive Parliament.  It would soon adopt a law on equality.

TIM MAWE (Ireland), associating himself with the European Union, said his country was fully committed to ensuring that no one was left behind in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  While it was at an early stage, the fight for gender equality was not.  The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the 2030 Agenda were interdependent, he stressed, adding that the international community must break down silos as implementation plans were designed and rolled out.  While it had made progress towards achieving equality at home, and had made gender equality a priority issue in its foreign policy, Ireland’s new universal commitments challenged the country to make its national and international strategies more robust.  Last month, the country had for the first time held a general parliamentary election with quotas for female candidates.  The share of women among those elected had risen, from 15 per cent in the previous general election to over 22 per cent.  The Agenda provided the opportunity to realize a new future without early marriage, female genital mutilation and turning a blind eye to domestic and sexual violence.

WAKÉ YAGNINIM (Togo) said his country had implemented initiatives and strategies designed to achieve progress for women.  New national policies laid out clear-cut guidelines in the areas of health, education, employment and literacy.  In the socioeconomic sphere, measures had been put in place to ensure women’s access to financial resources, means of production and social and productive infrastructure.  There had been an increase in women-run businesses, and, between 2011 and 2014, the percentage of women in public service had increased significantly.  Furthermore, a campaign to speed up the reduction in maternal and child mortality had been launched and mobile clinics were established to reach women living in hard-to-reach areas with health care.  Finally, in the areas of education and literacy, the country had achieved parity in primary school enrolment, in particular through measures to reduce schooling costs and the provision of scholarships to girls.

SUNEMA PIE SIMATI (Tuvalu) said women had always been the foundation of families in her country, long before the word “gender” was in the vocabulary.  While largely undocumented, their contributions had had a major impact on the sustainable development and overall economy in Tuvalu.  Supporting women was a matter of policy and Constitutional integrity.  The Government had addressed a culture of impunity around violence against women through a zero-tolerance approach under its family domestic violence bill, and police powers act.  Gender mainstreaming was a priority in the new development plan, where institutional strengthening, women’s economic empowerment and female political participation were measures towards which Tuvalu would strive in the next five years.

SARAH MENDELSON (United States) said gender issues should be incorporated not only into Sustainable Development Goal 5 but into the other Goals and targets as well.  “We cannot lose this focus,” she said, meaning it must be top-of-mind in the diagnosis of challenges and design of solutions.  Many development challenges affected girls and women in unique ways.  Some girls were unable to attend school, for example, because they were held back for such reasons as community opposition to girls’ learning or family choices to pay only for educating sons.  Once those challenges were identified, specific obstacles preventing girls’ school enrolment must be targeted, through cash-transfer programmes, for example, to incentivize families.  The $385 million “Dreams” partnership aimed to lower HIV/AIDS in the highest-burden areas of African countries by 25 per cent by year’s end.  Gender-disaggregated data was crucial in that regard.  Advancing Goal 16 involved recognizing that issues such as access to justice were experienced differently for girls and women than for men and boys.

ROBERT OUEDA BRITO (Venezuela), associating himself with the Group of 77 and CELAC, said the 2030 Agenda was an opportunity for women to become the fundamental subjects of law and to participate in sustainable development.  Indeed, there would be no development or social justice without the involvement of women.  His country had long had a sound and cutting-edge policy to provide women with dignity in line with its democratic, fair, inclusive and peace-loving model of Governance.  In the context of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and other international instruments, the country had implemented national measures with a view to promote gender equality and prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women.  For example, there existed a law on the rights of women to a life free from violence and a law for the protection and promotion of mothers and family, among other related measures.  Finally, he stressed that the feminization of poverty was a crisis that needed to be addressed in a holistic manner.

MERVAT TALLAWY, Director-General of the Arab Women Organization of the League of Arab States, listed a number of instances of women’s progress in the Middle East.  For example, the speaker of Parliament in the United Arab Emirates was a woman and 89 seats had been won by women in Egypt’s recent election.  The Arab Women Organization had recently convened the first regional conference addressing the status of women in the development agenda, and the League of Arab States had adopted a strategy for the advancement of women.  The Arab region today was going through unprecedented challenges due to war and conflict, which had led to a large and growing number of refugees and internally displaced persons, as well as to the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.  She raised a number of questions in that regard, including why the international community had not yet provided an adequate response to those challenges.  The Arab Women Organization would convene a high-level conference in May 2016 on refugee issues, she said in that regard.

MAHAWA KABA-WHEELER, Director, Women and Gender Development Directorate, African Union, said 2016 was a milestone year in her organization’s gender agenda, marking the second year it had placed gender equality and women’s empowerment at the top.  Full realization of the Union’s Agenda 2063 was grounded in women’s representation in decision-making structures across all layers of society in all 50 Member States.  Reaffirming the Union’s commitment to all international and regional policies on gender equality, she said it had also committed to the gender goals and targets in the Beijing Declaration and Programme of Action, and Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).  The Union continued to provide leadership in gender equality and women’s empowerment, having adopted a 10-year implementation plan for Agenda 2063, seeking to accelerate economic, social and technological transformation.  The centrality of women’s role in African development was also seen in “aspiration 6” of Agenda 2063.

NICOLE HOEVERTSZ, Head of Delegation, International Olympic Committee, supported the accelerated implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, noting that, without resolute efforts by key actors, the journey towards a “50-50 world” would not succeed.  “Gender parity at the Olympic Games is not enough,” she said, stressing that more women must be brought into sports leadership.  Efforts needed to be redoubled to tackle gender inequalities, such as unequal participation and other forms of discrimination.  For its part, the Committee was creating a mentorship programme with iconic sports figures, involving young female athletes in youth sessions at the organization’s world conferences.  Sport also had an important role in eliminating violence against women, improving self-esteem, body control, leadership and assertiveness.

FEDERICA SCALA, of the International Development Law Organization, said the rule of law was essential in advancing gender equality and enabling women’s empowerment.  In many countries, however, the legal system instead of facilitating gender equality created structural barriers to women’s empowerment.  Ninety per cent of the world’s economies still had in place discriminatory laws across a range of areas, such as traveling outside the home, opening a bank account, registering a business and owning property.  In addition, in many places, women’s access to justice remained inaccessible.  Women were unable to avail of courts or get fair outcomes due to costs, illiteracy, distance, limited social support, stereotypes or even violence.  Legal empowerment strategies not only increased women’s legal literacy, but could also enhance women’s capacity to claim their rights, engage in legal, development and service delivery processes, and improve the quality of legal protection they did receive.

VERONICA MAGAR, Gender, Equity and Human Rights Team Leader under the Family, Women and Children’s Unit of the World Health Organization (WHO), said addressing health inequality had become a major policy priority.  Multilevel factors, including gender, ethnicity, globalization, migration, geography and age affected women’s experiences with health and well-being.  She described WHO programmes in a number of areas, including a programme to address the high burden of maternal deaths by implementing surveillance and assisting countries to implement interventions.  The outbreak of the Zika virus was another pressing health concern, in particular for pregnant women, she said, calling for a multisectoral effort to combat the disease.  Welcoming the inclusion of targets on violence against women in the Sustainable Development Goals, she said that WHO had drafted a global plan of action to strengthen health systems in that area.  She also described projects aimed at tackling non-communicable diseases, and household air pollution, which largely affected women and children.

DIOP NGONE, of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), speaking also on behalf of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), said regional commissions played an important role in the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment.  ECA’s continent-wide initiative on gender equality and women’s empowerment aimed to ensure that work affected the life of “every woman in Africa” irrespective of her geographical location, status, ethnic group.  ECE promoted women’s economic independence through support for their entrepreneurship, while ECLAC promoted women’s autonomy as a driver of sustainable development, through support for country efforts to mainstream gender-equality into policies.  ESCAP in February organized a regional seminar on transformative financing for gender quality, while ESCWA provided tailored technical assistance to achieve gender equality.

A representative of the International Association Media and Communication Research urged the United Nations to focus on information and communications technology so that they worked to eliminate violence against women and girls.  Indeed, research had shown that, far from contributing to women’s exclusion, tradition and new media promoted gender-based violence.  Media were part of the problem, rather than the solution.  An increase in gender-based violence indicated that the mechanisms through which such abuse occurred had become more multifaceted.  Another dimension was increasing violence against female journalists.  She recommended producing a comparative report on media and gender-based violence, with a cross-regional perspective, calling on States to introduce policies that eliminated spread of gender-based violence through information and communications technology.

A representative of the Fundación para Estudio e Investigación de la Mujer said all development objectives should be sustainable and that all human rights — in particular those of women and children — were realized.  Latin America was the most unequal region in the world, she said, noting that 5 per cent of the population held more than two thirds of the region’s wealth.  In that context, investment in education and health care should not be seen as an expenditure, but as an investment.  Indeed, without both services, it was impossible to create egalitarian inclusion in development.  She went on to call for the implementation of co-education and the promotion of HIV education for all young people.  The 2030 Agenda offered an opportunity to reverse the current trends of crisis and global economic slowdown, and the international community must come together to end attacks on defenders of human rights.

A representative of International Trade Union Confederation said decent work for women and men was a trade union priority.  Today, labour market participation for women was stagnating and women were concentrated in lower wage jobs.  Gendered perceptions of women’s role in society led to the undervaluing of the work women regularly performed.  Trade unions recognized that affordable health and social care, as well as living minimum wages, among other things, were among the hallmarks of dignified societies.  States needed to invest in infrastructure and provide supportive social services.  To achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4, States needed to remove the entrenched social norms that prevented women from obtaining an education.  Social dialogue, including the right to bargain collectively, could help to ensure individual ownership of the 2030 Agenda.

A representative of the Presbyterian Church said that for 177 years, his church had been a major force in education, through a core belief that each child was created in the image of God.  It was a church of educators, school administrators, school board members and volunteers.  Highlighting Goal 4, he said the objective was to reach 1 million children in four years, by training teachers, developing curricula, developing best education practices, participating in education policy debates, advocating for better education funding and strengthening community capacity to provide quality education.  He recalled the important role faith-based organizations played in women’s empowerment, urging the Commission to identify the importance of education as key component in such work.

A representative of the International Federation for Home Economics recognized the importance of Goal 5, which acknowledged the integration of gender equality in other Sustainable Development Goals.  Indeed, gender equality in education or employment could not be reached without gender equality at home, she said, highlighting the relevance of daily education for girls.  Cultural, political and socioeconomic circumstances influenced women’s and girls’ success, while families were key factors for sustainable development.  To improve women’s empowerment, there needed to be an end to violence against women and girls, as well as education for all girls and women, and partnerships between women and men to improve communities.

A representative of Women for Women’s Rights — New Ways provided a number of recommendations for the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment, including the inclusion of women throughout their life course, as well as women’s and feminist organizations, at every step of the implementation, monitoring, follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.  The Commission needed to be a strong platform to ensure that gender equality and women’s empowerment was undertaken as a cross-cutting issue of all the Sustainable Development Goals, she said, adding that the session and its agreed conclusions would be important milestones towards those ends.  She strongly condemned the recent assassination of the Honduran women’s activist Berta Cáceres, emphasizing that all relevant instruments needed to be mobilized to support the work of women’s human rights defenders.

BERTHA ZÚNIGA CÁCERES, of the Association for Women’s Rights and Development, also condemned the killing of her mother, Berta Cáceres, who had been slain in Honduras.  In her death, the world had been deprived of a great human rights defender who had fought against exploitation and marginalization.  Her killing had not been an isolated incident, as violence had claimed the lives of many human rights defenders in the country and in Latin America more generally.  The implementation of the 2030 Agenda would not be possible if organizations that defended the rights of women and other marginalized groups continued to be threatened.  Honduras should act seriously for the creation of a team of independent, objective experts to shed light on Ms. Cáceres’ killing.  She also demanded that Governments take concrete steps to do away with summary executions and other human rights violations.

A representative of Widows for Peace said never in history had there been such a large increase of widows and wives of the missing, due to conflict, natural disaster, HIV/AIDS and harmful traditional practices, such as child marriage.  In many developing countries, widows were seen as “inauspicious” and unable to access justice systems to obtain their rights to inheritance, land ownership education and training for income generation.  They were often the poorest of the poor, which in turn, drove an increase in child marriage and trafficking.  Widows had been left behind in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and Millennium Development Goals.  Even Security Council resolutions on women, peace and security were silent on widowhood.  It was imperative for Governments to address the cross-cutting issues of widowhood, as failure to do so would be “economic madness”.

A representative of the Pacific Disability Forum stressed the need for empowering women with disabilities.  That issue had been absent from the Millennium Development Goals and that segment had been discriminated against daily, due to their disability and gender, as well as denied their rights to education, health and employment.  She recommended that the advancement of women with disabilities be a cross-cutting theme of the new development framework, ensuring that group could participate in decision-making at all levels.  Women with disabilities must be protected from sexual violence and abuse, notably through child-focused legislation to ensure such abuse was identified, investigated and prosecuted.

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