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Women's Poverty, Empowerment Must Be Addressed to Meet Development Goals, Commission on Status of Women Told, as 46th Session Opens

March 4, 2002

The Commission on the Status of Women opened its forty-sixth session today hearing in a high-level segment from the heads of related United Nations bodies and departments, including the Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs and the Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, followed by a morning and afternoon general debate. Speakers highlighted, among other issues, that to meet the world’s general development goals outlined at a number of United Nations conferences, women’s poverty and empowerment must be addressed.

The thematic issues of the current session, which is due to conclude on 15 March, are: the integration of a gender perspective in environmental management and the mitigation of natural disasters, and the eradication of poverty, through women’s empowerment. Established in 1946 as a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council, the Commission seeks to promote gender equality. The current session will also consider the situation of Palestinian and Afghan women.

Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Nitin Desai highlighted the remarkable progress achieved during the 1990’s in policy development at the United Nations, through the “great” Conferences. Now, the focus must be on the dimensions of implementation and accountability. Any contribution that the Commission could make in that regard would be of great value. What was accomplished at the current session would impact on upcoming summits in important ways.

Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women Angela King said that the Commission had a historical opportunity to contribute to the capacity of Afghan women to reclaim their rightful place in their country’s reconstruction. With violations of women’s rights a frequent indicator of festering conflict, Afghanistan had provided a valuable lesson: conflict prevention depended on an early and careful reading of the signs of tension and the unraveling of social cohesion.

Deputy Executive Director of United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) Joanne Sandler warned that failure to deliberately and proactively address women’s poverty would mean a failure to achieve the critical Millennium Development goals. Bridging the artificial divide between economic and social policy was essential for achieving gender equality. As an afterthought, social policies could not redress the adverse effects on women of reduced public spending or privatization of government services.

The President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Ivan Simonovic, said his presence at the Commission’s opening session was a clear sign of the increasing interaction between the ECOSOC and the Commission, and he hoped his statement would help lay the foundation for even closer cooperation in the future. Steady progress had been made in the past five years at the intergovernmental level and throughout the United Nations system to strengthen women’s integration into all programmes.

During the general debate, speakers, including at the ministerial level, drew attention to increasing poverty, especially among women, as a result of globalization, and called for a transformation of “power relations” to minimize the effects. Concern was also expressed about older women, whose situation had been exacerbated by broad demographic changes. On the theme of natural disasters, concern was expressed that the developing world had been bearing the brunt of the casualties and structural and ecological damage. Calls were heard, in that regard, for women to take an active part, not only in the aftermath of natural disasters, but also in their prevention and mitigation.

Introductory remarks were also made by: Director, Division for the Advancement of Women, Carolyn Hanna; Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Charlotte Abaka (Ghana); and outgoing Chairperson of the Commission, Dubravka Simonovic (Croatia).

The newly elected Chairperson and the first man ever to be elected to the position, Othman Jerandi (Tunisia), said that the Commission had at its core the aspirations of women worldwide who were endeavouring to improve their status and upgrade their equality. He would spare no effort to ensure the success of that body’s work.

In other business, the Commission adopted its agenda and programme of work this morning and elected a new Bureau for a two-year term: Kyung-wha Kang (Republic of Korea); Fernando Estellita Lins de Salvo Coimbra (Brazil); and Birgit Stevens (Belgium), as Vice-Chairmen. The election of the remaining Vice-Chairperson, from the Eastern European Group of States, would be postponed, pending the outcome of ongoing informal consultations. Also, Seraphine Toe (Burkina Faso) was designated to serve on the Working Group on Communications.

Statements in the general debate were made by: Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Sweden, Peru, Republic of Korea, Norway, Rwanda, Venezuela (on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China), South Africa, Thailand, Israel, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, Jamaica, Germany and Japan. The Permanent Observer of Switzerland also spoke.

Statements were also made by representatives of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), as well as the following non-governmental organizations: The Working Group on Girls, Project 50, Youth Caucus and the International Health Awareness Network.

The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m., Tuesday, 5 March, to continue its general debate.


The Commission on the Status of Women met this morning to begin its forty-sixth session. It had before it its provisional agenda and six reports of the Secretary-General. They include his report on implementation of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) and the special session of the General Assembly on Women entitled “Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-First Century,” especially in mainstreaming a gender perspective in entities of the United Nations system.

Other reports address: the situation of Palestinian women; the release of hostage women and children in armed conflicts; discrimination against women and girls in Afghanistan; the joint work plan of the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, the Division for the Advancement of Women and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; and improvement of the status of women in the United Nations system. His report on thematic issues before the Commission concerns the gender perspective in environmental management and poverty eradication.

Also before the Commission is a letter of the President of the Economic and Social Council drawing attention to Commission matters relevant to the Council, and a Secretariat report on follow-up to Council recommendations and decisions. Finally, the Commission has before it statements submitted by non-governmental organizations having either a standing, special or roster consultative status with the Council.

(For background on the reports and the Commission, see Press Release WOM/1321 of 1 March.)


Dubravka Simonovic (Croatia), the outgoing Commission Chair, reviewed the Commission’s accomplishments during her two-year tenure. She noted the work of the United Kingdom in establishing a group of “friends of gender mainstreaming,” and also that of Canada in establishing a group on “Women, Peace and Security.” Both would contribute greatly to the Commission’s work, she said.

She said the Commission’s last two sessions had been instrumental in preparing and incorporating the outcome document of the Assembly’s twenty-third special session, and for the adoption of the multi-year work programme for 2002-2006. Its work had also been instrumental in development of the system-wide medium-term plan for the advancement of women, which served as the coordinating and monitoring tool for gender mainstreaming in the United Nations system.

In addition, she said, the Commission had responded to the challenge of upholding its central role in assisting the Economic and Social Council in monitoring, promoting and policy making on all questions relating to women. She stressed the importance of the Council’s decision to devote a coordination segment, before 2005, to the review and appraisal of its implementation of gender mainstreaming and said that during the current session, the Commission would provide inputs and recommendations to the Council’s high-level and coordination segments for 2002. The Commission would also prepare recommendations on developing human resources in the areas of education and health for the Council’s high-level segment.

Finally, she said, the Commission had excellent opportunities to incorporate a gender dimension in all United Nations activities. That was due to the combination of follow-up to the Beijing agenda, of the outcome document from the special session, of gender mainstreaming as a cross-cutting issue, and of the focused thematic approach on two topics per session.

Othman Jerandi (Tunisia), newly elected Chair of the Commission, said that the Commission, for a long time, had been in the forefront of the promotion of human rights and it had continued to play an important role in that regard. It had, at its core, the aspirations of women worldwide who were endeavouring to improve their status and upgrade their equality. He would spare no effort to ensure the success of that body’s work. He paid special tribute to the outgoing Chairperson, Dubravka Simonvic (Croatia), who had served the Commission well for the past two years.

Ivan Simonovic (Croatia), President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), said his presence at the Commission’s opening session was a clear sign of the increasing interaction between the ECOSOC and the Commission and he hoped his statement would help lay the foundation for an even closer cooperation in the future. He provided progress reports on recent meetings between the two bodies and noted the excellent record of the Commission regarding follow-up of ECOSOC resolutions and decisions. Also, its coordination with the Commission on Human Rights was highly commendable. The Commission was also taking steps to share more systematically the outcome of its work through Secretariat briefings.

A further area of interaction between the Council and the Commission concerned the Council’s invitation to Commission members to provide inputs to a high-level meeting of ECOSOC, which concerned the contribution of human resources development to the development process overall, he said. The coordination session had as its theme the further strengthening of the ECOSOC. The theme of the high-level segment would enable the Commission to provide inputs on the theme of resources development from its particular expertise.

He congratulated the Commission’s timely themes this year, namely environmental management and the eradication of poverty through the empowerment of women. Council resolution 2001/41, on mainstreaming a gender perspective into all policies and programmes of the United Nations system, had been based on a proposal by the Commission. He had been pleased that the Council had been able to respond to that very good suggestion. Since the decision on gender mainstreaming five years ago, steady progress had been made at the inter-governmental level and throughout the United Nations system to strengthen women’s integration.

He said that the resolution adopted last year would allow for a critical look at the Council’s own work. Indeed, further progress could and should be made to systematically reflect gender perspectives in all of the Council’s outcomes, including the humanitarian affairs segment. Increased interaction between the two bodies showed that they had not worked in isolation, but benefited from integrated strategies.

Nitin Desai, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the Commission’s work during this session would impact on three major events this year. Those were the Conference on Financing for Development to be held later this month in Monterrey, the World Assembly on Ageing in Madrid, and the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development. “What you do here will impact on those three important events in important ways,” he said.

He recalled the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro and said it had marked a new direction for women, because women had come out with a strong voice on approaches to development. They had presented substantive proposals on a substantive agenda. In that way, they had brought notice to themselves for the first time as a group. Today, the situation was different. Women’s issues were no longer seen in isolation, but in terms of cross-cutting issues. Women’s development was now accepted as a central element in the development of global society as a whole.

Noting that the Johannesburg conference would centre on poverty eradication, sustainable development and management of natural resources, he said the cross-cutting issues to be considered there were the relationship of health and development, globalization, the special needs of small island States and the development of Africa. Women were central in each of those areas, as well as to issues of sustainable consumption and production, and sustainable management of natural resources.

Reviewing the Commission’s potential contributions to the other two conferences, he noted that he didn’t like calling ageing a problem. “We want to live longer, so why is it a problem when we do?” he pointed out. Still, he said it should be kept in mind that a significant part of poverty eradication was to address the situation of older women. Many older women in Africa, for example, were living in poverty because they were taking care of grandchildren whose parents had died of AIDS.

Finally, he noted that the Commission had been more successful than many groups with regard to implementation of conference decisions. The Commission should look particularly during this session at the following question: How effective are we in holding people accountable to the decisions they make at conferences?

Angela E.V. King, Assistant Secretary-General, Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said that attention to gender equality issues was unprecedented. At the community level, women -- sometimes together with men -- had mobilized access to clean water and energy, more secure land tenure, and better education and health services. They had worked at local and national levels to formulate legislation to promote women’s human rights. Through the creative use of new information and communication technologies, they had created networks across regions and globally, and campaigned for women’s empowerment and full and equal participation in decision-making tasks.

She said that it was now recognized that the achievement of gender equality was not the sole responsibility of women. That was the responsibility of all -- governments, international organizations and civil society. Women’s initiatives must go hand-in-hand with a societal commitment to gender equality. Those activities must be matched by governmental actions and initiatives to eliminate discrimination against women and create an environment where progress towards gender equality was not a daily struggle, but an explicit and automatic part of all actions in all areas.

Several critical measures had been adopted by the United Nations, including Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security. That text had inspired Member States and the United Nations to take forceful action to reduce the victimization of women in armed conflict and strengthen their role in peace-building and reconstruction. The study commissioned by the text to assess the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, as well as the role women could play in peace processes, would be submitted to the Council later this year. That "pathbreaking" resolution, together with the Millennium Declaration, was a framework for addressing the challenges in conflict-ridden areas, including in Afghanistan.

Since 1998, the Commission had dealt with the situation of women in that country, she went on. This year, it had a historical opportunity to contribute to the capacity of Afghan women to reclaim their rightful place in their country’s reconstruction. Afghanistan was at a unique moment in its history and the practical and targeted action-oriented recommendations should ensure that women’s concerns were an integral part of all actions to rebuild the country and put it on a path of sustainable peace and development. Violations of women’s rights were frequently an indicator of festering conflict in societies. Indeed, Afghanistan had provided a lesson: conflict prevention depended on an early and careful reading of the signs of tension and the unraveling of social cohesion. Indeed, the situation and treatment of women could be symptomatic of a breakdown in that regard.

She noted that women constituted the majority of the 1.22 billion poor today. The gender dimensions of poverty, as well as the capacity to escape it, were now well known. Those factors must be addressed more forcefully if the Millennium goals of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015 were to be achieved. The Commission had the chance to contribute to that work. The forthcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development, to be held in Johannesburg in August, provided an opportunity to flag women’s concerns and expectations in the context of the global sustainable development debate. Similarly important was the integration of gender perspectives in the International Plan of Action on Ageing, to be adopted next month at the World Assembly on Ageing; demographic changes worldwide called for urgent action to address the needs of older persons in a gender-differentiated way.

Carolyn Hannan, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, recalled that the thematic issues were the core substantive part of the Commission’s work. She said the two topics chosen for this year, those of environmental management and poverty eradication, were directly related to the World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held in Johannesburg. The Commission should consider those themes in terms of preparing for the Summit.

Toward that aim, she said specific points might be kept in mind about both. First, gender differences in environmental management, and particularly in terms of the impact of natural disasters on women, had not previously received in-depth consideration. The Commission had an opportunity to strengthen the policy framework for integrating gender perspectives in environmental management and in disaster mitigation. It could also develop concise and action-oriented recommendations that would contribute to the Summit process.

On poverty eradication, she recalled that two weeks ago the Commission on Social Development had emphasized the inseparable nature of goals to eradicate poverty, empower women and achieve sustainable development. While an extensive basis for action already existed, she said better measurements were needed for both poverty and empowerment, so that governments and other stakeholders had the desired impact. That should lead to reducing poverty among women throughout the life cycle and it should include the prevention of inter-generational transfer of poverty.

In considering both those themes, she suggested that the Commission focus on strengthening the overall implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the special session’s outcome document. It could also refine the global policy framework for gender equality as it pertained to those two themes, to insure action at all levels. In addition, the Commission could be a catalyst in other intergovernmental processes, such as those on sustainable development, to ensure that gender-specific recommendations for action were formulated.

Joanne Sandler, Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), said that women’s poverty might stay the same or worsen if local, national, regional and global initiatives were not taken to address what was known about gender inequality. Failure to intentionally and proactively address women’s poverty would mean a failure to achieve the critical Millennium Development goals that had emerged from the past decade of global consensus-building on priorities. Looking back on the Fund’s 25-year history, a number of lessons could inform future strategies.

First among them, she said, gender-responsive macroeconomic policies should be developed. Bridging the artificial divide between economic and social policy was essential for achieving gender equality. As an afterthought, social policies could not redress the adverse effects of reduced public spending or privatization of government services. The numerous biases in macroeconomic policy-making, which had negatively affected women, included the reduction of taxation and public expenditure to the minimum possible levels, male breadwinner bias, and the replacement of State-based entitlements with market-based individual entitlements for those who could afford them.

A dramatic example of those biases could be seen in the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, she continued. UNIFEM’s pilot studies in Zimbabwe, for example, had shown that girls were being pulled out of school to care for the sick and dying. Also, grandmothers were increasingly taking on the burdens of care. A gender perspective showed a mostly invisible and largely unaccounted for “care economy” in the parts of the world most plagued by HIV/AIDS. Indeed, older women and young girls were sacrificing their lives to fill the care gap left by governments and the global community. That “care economy” was growing, supported by billions of hours of wageless labour that had not appeared anywhere in the indices of gross domestic product (GDP) and figured nowhere in calculations for international aid or debt relief.

She highlighted the need to address women’s participation and social dialogue related to economic policy-making. Analysing the impact of government expenditure and revenue on women and girls as compared to men and boys was becoming a global movement to increase accountability for implementing the Beijing Platform for Action, among other outcome texts. UNIFEM’s participation with women’s networks, and its inter-agency partners in monitoring the financing for development process, had had the potential to increase women’s participation in that regard. Also, broadening and deepening the linkages and responsibilities for promoting women’s rights and gender equality must continue. The follow-up to the themes of the current session should be linked to those of the upcoming conferences, including development financing, sustainable development, and the information society.

Charlotte Abaka, Chairperson, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, recalled that her 23-member body had been established under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. At its last session, a month ago, she said three important statements had been adopted.

One of those was a statement of solidarity with women in Afghanistan, a country that had signed the Convention in 1980, she continued. Two others served as the Committee’s contribution to the preparatory processes for the second World Assembly on Ageing and the World Summit on Sustainable Development, respectively. The first had urged the focus of attention on the special needs of older women. It had emphasized that discrimination against women in all areas of their lives throughout their lifespan had a severe impact that became compounded in older age. In the second, the Committee had emphasized the essential role of women in sustainable development, particularly in the area of peaceful management and resolution of conflicts at the national and international levels.

Reviewing the Committee’s working methods, she said the Committee had devoted considerable efforts to establishing the groundwork for receiving petitions under the Convention’s Optional Protocol. Overall, both the Committee and the Commission were at an exciting state in their development. The Committee had adopted a decision to work more closely with the Commission, since both were pursuing the same goals and the work was complementary and could be mutually reinforcing.

Ms. Pulido (Venezuela), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that despite recent progress made towards the advancement of women, serious challenges and obstacles had remained, and poverty eradication was among them. Globalization, and the transformations of the world economy associated with it, had had a profound impact on the parameters of social development. In many instances, poverty had worsened around the world, particularly in developing countries. One of the most significant trends had been the increased poverty of women. In that context, women’s empowerment should be understood as one of the central means of eradicating poverty. As the Secretary-General had indicated, women’s empowerment meant a transformation of “power relations.”

She said that the Group of 77 had great interest in examining the situation of older women living in poverty, which had been exacerbated by broad demographic changes. She hoped the Commission would pay particular attention to that problem during the current session, so as to contribute to the negotiations of the Programme of Action on ageing. Concerning natural disasters, it was a matter of great concern for the Group of 77 that the past 10 years had seen the developing world “take the brunt” of the casualties and structural and ecological damage of natural disasters. Also, the world community had yet to address the increasing frequency of small- to medium-impact disasters, such as floods or landslides, as well as the slow onset of such disasters as drought and land degradation.

In the past decades, disasters had claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and affected hundreds of millions more, she went on. The complexity of the aftermath of natural disasters required a multidisciplinary approach that incorporated a gender perspective. So far, that perspective in the context of disaster mitigation had been focused mainly on the vulnerability of women or their community involvement. But, women’s ability to take an active part in disaster prevention and hazard mitigation, as well as their role in the coping and recovery stages, had not been taken sufficiently into account.

She said that the Group of 77 was concerned about the persistent large gaps in the international community’s knowledge regarding the links among gender, environmental management and disaster risk reduction, from climate change to local small emergencies. Where knowledge had existed, there had been little coordinated application of research results at the national and international levels, particularly with respect to climate change, desertification and drought. Effective risk reduction called for interlinkage between sound environmental management and sustainable development, which must be part of an overall development process that was gender-sensitive.

Concepcion Dancausa Trevino (Spain), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said women played an important role in preventing and resolving conflicts and in the peace-building process. The situation in Afghanistan brought attention to the issue of women’s full participation in crisis management and in promoting peace and security. Because of the more favorable political situation, it was “now the moment” to ensure full respect for the rights and freedoms for Afghan women and girls and ending the discrimination they had suffered. They should be given full access to education and control over resources, so as to integrate themselves into the political, social and economic reconstruction of their country. Welcoming the Plan of Action adopted by the international round table on women’s leadership role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, she called on the United Nations to appoint a gender adviser to Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi.

Stressing that women’s human rights were an integral part of human rights, she reviewed the Union’s work in promoting those rights. She said the insufficient presence of women in the decision-making process, both at the public and private level, was a significant obstacle to gender equality, development and peace. Governments and the international community must step up efforts to increase the representation of women in decision-making posts. Governments must intensify efforts to ensure women’s full enjoyment of their political, civil, economic and social rights.

In addition, since an integrated and coordinated implementation of conference outcomes was essential, she said all segments of the global community and the United Nations system were invited to mainstream a gender perspective into all follow-up activities. The Commission should send a clear message to both the financing conference and the sustainable development summit that they should mainstream a gender perspective and should take into account the outcome of the Commission’s thematic discussions.

She said that the mainstreaming of a gender perspective based in participatory and consultative processes was particularly important in the context of environmental planning, natural disaster mitigation and consumption management. Women played an essential role as producers, users and managers in the field. They should not be regarded solely as victims. They should be given access to information, knowledge and resources. And, since equality between men and women was a fundamental principle in the Union, the strengthening of gender equality would be emphasized for candidate countries in the Union’s enlargement process.

Laila Davoy, Minister, Ministry of Children and Family Affairs of Norway, said that women were active and visible in all spheres of her society, but, admittedly, it was still struggling to close the gender salary gap and eliminate gender-based violence. The battle was “almost won.” Last month, however, she was reminded that young women and girls in Scandinavian society were being threatened and, in some cases, killed by their families because they wanted to live their own lives and decide with their partners what would happen to their own bodies. Those human rights, which had been taken for granted, were deemed a threat to family honour among certain minority groups.

She said her country had been reluctant to address the issue of “honour killings” for fear of criticizing the culture and values of minorities. Now, those girls and women, themselves, were speaking out. The visible effect of that double discrimination, however, had made it necessary to reassess Norway’s national policies. For that purpose, new meeting places and networks were being established. All women must be included in efforts to promote gender equality and protect their human rights. Achieving sustainable solutions, however, was not possible if one ignored the key role of men. As a host society, Norway must offer all immigrants -- women and men -- a worthy life and equal opportunities in the economic, political and social spheres.

Turning to poverty eradication, she said she hoped that the Commission’s work this session would be a step in the right direction, as well as a true contribution to the summits on development financing and sustainable development. Today, her Government presented a plan of action to combat poverty in developing countries, which outlined certain main principles for an effective strategy to combat poverty. In addition to increasing the focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment, priority would be given to the promotion of human rights, democracy and policy coherence. Tomorrow morning, Norway would ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women allowing individual women to report human rights violations against them.

Violeta Bermudez, Vice-Minister for the Advancement of Women and Human Development of Peru, noted that women had achieved a growing acknowledgement of their rights and increased access to new spaces of citizenship participation in recent years. She reviewed her country’s regional experience in promoting women’s rights and said the 21 Ibero-American countries had recently acknowledged the role of women in each of their societies. They had reasserted their commitment to guaranteeing women’s rights and eliminating barriers obstructing their access to resources and participation in society. They had called for special attention to programmes reducing poverty through the creation of professional training opportunities, social security and access to credit, among other measures.

In the context of eliminating poverty through empowerment of women, she said a gender perspective had been incorporated into her country’s anti-poverty programme. The gender perspective was also incorporated into other activities through a harmony meeting, which formulated social policies with the objective of human development based on a social and gender equality approach. A medium-term strategic objective would include a programme aimed at changing attitudes. It would sensitize public opinion to the importance of gender equity for economic development.

She said education, health and violence were other major concerns for her country with regard to advancing the rights of women and implementing programmes for development. Special alphabetization programmes were oriented towards a combined approach to all those issues. They sought not only to reduce illiteracy, but also to educate people for development by including such subjects as reproductive health, citizenship rights and the prevention of family violence. The follow-up process to the Fourth World Conference on Women was the inspiration for those programmes.

Margareta Winberg, Minister for Gender Equality Affairs of Sweden, fully associated herself with the statement made on behalf of the European Union. Women were the poorest of the poor, she said. They worked the land, but they did not own it. Educating a woman meant better health for the whole family, yet girls were often denied schooling. Men could inherit, but women could not. Action against gender-based discrimination would enhance poverty eradication. Poverty reduction and gender equality must be seen as one coherent undertaking.

She said that women were not born vulnerable; they were made vulnerable by persistent gender-based discrimination that started in the womb and followed a woman throughout her life. The structures causing poverty for women must be analysed. In that context, her Government had commissioned a project, to be completed next year, to demonstrate how gender-based discrimination was a root cause of poverty. Indeed, women were pivotal in development and food security. She warmly welcomed the Plan of Action on Gender and Development set out by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). As a side event during the World Food Summit in Rome in June, Sweden and the FAO would focus on the vital role played by rural women in agriculture, rural development and the fight against hunger and poverty.

Han Nyung-Sook, Minister of Gender Equality of the Republic of Korea, said the United Nations set the standards for action with regard to women’s rights. Gender mainstreaming was the guideline, and much progress had been made in numerous entities of the United Nations system. Setting standards in that regard had been achieved in emergency relief efforts in Afghanistan, peacekeeping activities and the preparatory processes of global conferences.

She said the outcome document of last year’s world conference on racism had reflected the impact of multiple discrimination of race and gender on women. The Second World Assembly on Ageing should actively address the issue of women and ageing, since older women had been found to be particularly vulnerable to marginalization. The Commission had shed light on issues of critical importance to advancing the rights of women, and this year was no exception, with the two themes being discussed. Against the odds of economic turmoil and calamities, women around the world had demonstrated tremendous resilience in rebuilding homes, communities and nations. Empowered with knowledge and means, women could be as resilient and creative in the fight against poverty.

Reviewing her country’s programmes in the field of women’s rights, she highlighted the establishment last year of a Ministry of General Equality. During its first year, it had revised laws to increase women’s paid maternity leave from 60 to 90 days and to increase both State and private-sector assistance in childbirth and child care. Efforts this year were picking up, with an emphasis on developing and using women’s full potential. Immediate target goals had been set to consolidate women’s leadership role in society. Those included such steps as setting recruitment quotas for women in the science and technology fields, increasing the employment of women on university faculties and appointing quotas for women in management-level public offices.

“Women’s capacity-building” was a well known phrase, she summed up. Yet, the concept was not just an objective, but a means to guaranteeing women’s rights in all spheres, she said. It was none other than making sure that girls and women went to school, that they were given adequate health care and participated in the decision-making processes that affected them.

Dumisani S. Kumalo (South Africa) welcomed the themes on eradicating poverty, including through the empowerment of women, and environmental management and mitigation of natural disasters from a gender perspective. He said that that discussion was critical for South Africa and its subregion, where poverty eradication and the elimination of all forms of institutionalized inequality were national priorities. The most important challenge facing his democracy was making a better life for all. Towards that goal, the major programmes aimed at addressing poverty eradication, which had been integrated into rural development and urban renewal strategies, had fundamentally addressed the issue of women’s economic empowerment.

He said that in April South Africa would release the second report on “Men and Women” in South Africa. That was a critical study, which contained sex disaggregated figures and attempted to analyse the situation of women and men. It considered those factors that had an impact on the daily lives of women, including access to piped water and electricity, the main sources of fuel, and so forth. His country had acknowledged that poverty and inequality threatened sustainable development. It further acknowledged that there was a need to support women’s contribution to sustainable development through their integration in social, economic and environmental decision-making.

At the same time, the protection of the natural environment and atmosphere, together with the mitigation of natural disasters, was a major global concern. South Africa was a party to several international conventions addressing the protection of the natural environment and had initiated programmes in that context to establish early detection and warning, as well as response systems to mitigate the impact of natural disasters. Their impact on women’s livelihood should also be addressed, and measures concerning environmental risks to women in the home and the workplace should be taken. National legislation had encouraged women -- as the traditional custodians of natural resources -- to participate in the design and planning of related environmental programmes and projects.

Jackie Shapiro, Working Group on Girls, a non-governmental organization, said that she represented a coalition of more than 80 international and national non-governmental organizations concerned with the rights of the girl. The unabated “feminism of poverty,” or the disproportionate increase in the number of women and girls living in poverty, was a trend that was being ignored by societies at their own peril. When a child lived in poverty, it enveloped every aspect of their existence: nutrition; access to clean water; health; learning capacity; family and social relationships; employment options; and life expectancy. Moreover, studies had shown that poverty was skewed towards youth.

Indeed, she continued, the girl child was most susceptible to low levels of education, infanticide, trafficking and sexual exploitation. Girls were also victims of many other forms of violence and were disproportionately contracting HIV/AIDS. The relationship between their impoverishment and militarization and war should not be ignored. The global military build-up separated families, diverted resources from education and health, and increased the number of girls subjected to prostitution and trafficking. The Commission should abide by the Security Council’s resolution on women, peace and security, which called attention to the special needs of girls in conflict situations, as well as to the egregious violations of their human rights. It should also help coordinate other United Nations initiatives. Without an integration of those broad areas, “we are bound to fail,” she said.

Piromsakdi Laparojkit (Thailand) said poverty eradication was among the highest priorities for his Government. The national economic and social development plan for the years 2002 to 2006 aimed to reduce absolute poverty from 15.9 per cent of the population to less than 12 per cent by the end of that period. Empowerment at the grass-roots level was key. A Village and Urban Revolving Fund was being established as a loan facility for individuals and households to borrow for local investment and supplementary vocations. An equal proportion of men and women on the executive committee of each village fund would ensure women participated in decision-making on matters affecting their everyday lives. In addition, a “One Village, One Product” project would enable each community to develop and market its local products, using local ingenuity to augment rural people’s income. Micro-credit schemes would also benefit small entrepreneurs.

A major cause of rural poverty and an aggravating factor in natural disasters was the depletion of natural resources and environmental resources, he said. Thailand’s Queen had arranged for landless people to build settlements as an incentive for them to end the slash-and-burn practice that had been leading to the degradation of forest areas in Thailand. Her dedication to resource management and conservation had inspired the people of the entire country. Further, a National Commission on Women’s Affairs considered gender mainstreaming a high priority in strategic efforts to advance gender equality at the national level. Measures were also being taken to end violence against women and increase their participation in decision-making.

Pnina Herzog, Projects 50, on behalf of five international women’s organizations, said that successful development needed an approach that was multifaceted, multisectoral and comprehensive. Advances in globalization and technology must also serve poor people. Poverty was not just a lack of material items, but a lack of independence, power and voice. Poverty also subjected poor people to exploitation and humiliation. There were millions of women in all continents that were affiliated with her non-governmental organization, which sought to empower women of all ages, in order to help them help themselves. That was being done through raising awareness, empowerment workshops and facilitating developmental projects for women.

She said that, even when legislation provided for equal access to financial credit, in practice discrimination against women still existed in some areas. The wage gap also prevailed, thereby making it difficult for women to raise capital, save and invest. Older women were often left behind; poor, vulnerable, and unable to afford medicine or food. The answers lay in the provision of easily accessible health care, education, vocational training, information dissemination, and appropriate legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of services, implementation of laws, and monitoring. Governments should be accountable to the United Nations. The United Nations, in turn, should monitor the activities of countries and circulate its findings to all Member States.

Mina Westman (Israel) described her country’s programmes to promote gender equality and mainstreaming in all areas of life. Despite the difficult security situation, she said Israel now saw gender equality as a challenge to the society as a whole. Worldwide, while some women were fighting the glass ceiling, there was a tendency to forget that others were stuck to the floor. Poverty was one of the strongest glues keeping women there. The Beijing Platform provided the blueprint for how to relieve women of that burden.

Describing Israel’s macroeconomic policies to reduce poverty, she said the establishment of small businesses was a major tool in that area. Civil society, including Israel’s many non-governmental organizations, was an important player. Recently, a fund of micro-loans for women had been established through cooperation between a non-governmental organization and an Israeli bank. In the last decade, Israel’s Centre for International Cooperation within its Ministry for Foreign Affairs had been holding courses for hundreds of women trainees from around the world, including Palestinian women. A 2001 symposium on the impact of women’s training on socio-economic development had been held in Haifa. Legislative changes had helped create the tremendous progress in gender equality by creating an extensive infrastructure for a broad range of services from child care to training to legal aid and health care.

Florence Ievers (Canada) said that reducing poverty and creating opportunity for all Canadians had presented persistent challenges. Gender analysis was integral to understanding the composition of those groups most vulnerable to poverty. Many women were at risk because of their economic, social and/or geographic circumstances. In Canada, aboriginal women, visible minority women, immigrant women, women with disabilities, older women and lone-parent women were among those at particular risk of experiencing poverty in their lives. Her Government was striving to create a more inclusive society. It was taking a targeted, multifaceted and life-cycle approach to address persistent poverty and foster a society that valued all of its members.

She said that in the past five years Canada had experienced serious natural disasters, including floods in several regions and a crippling ice storm. When the human rights of women were fully respected and when they were involved in decision-making, a stronger and more resilient community emerged. Governments should ensure the development of appropriate disaster preparedness strategies with women’s full involvement, and the United Nations and other organizations should ensure that a gender perspective was integrated into their disaster prevention and response policies. Of course, issues of environmental management and the mitigation of natural disasters were embedded in the broader issue of sustainable development, for which a comprehensive approach was needed.

Bernd Niehaus (Costa Rica) said humankind had taken an important step towards equality between women and men with the Beijing Conference of 1995. Unfortunately, the 2000 review had shown that the agreed goals had not been reached and serious obstacles remained to create disadvantages for women. The gender perspective must be included in the design and execution of public policies and in strategies for economic and social development, a well as for strengthening democracies. An exchange of experiences, information and programmes on institutional modernization should take place to give greater value to the role of women in all areas.

Further, he said, instruments and mechanisms for action must be created to offer development opportunities to women and eradicate poverty. Those must constructively take advantage of opportunities offered by globalization. Women had an important role to play in development. Floods, desertification and land exhaustion had specific impacts for women. The effect of climate change on gender must be studied. That called for greater investigation, information and statistics on the differentiated impact upon men and women in addressing those problems. The role of civil society must be appreciated.

Ellen Margrethe Loj (Denmark) said that women’s full enjoyment of their human rights was a prerequisite for their empowerment and a trademark of democracy. She stressed the importance of strengthening women’s right to natural resources, including the right to own and inherit land. It must also be remembered that the human rights of women and girls included the right to decide on sexual and reproductive matters. Women around the world must be empowered to decide freely on matters relating to all aspects of their lives, including their sexuality and health. All forms of violence against women must be addressed at both the national and international levels, and social, cultural or religious factors provided no defence.

She said that on 8 March her Government would launch a national plan of action to combat violence against women. Its primary goal would be to support and protect victims and, by means of a coordinated and holistic approach, involve both professionals and non-governmental organizations in an effort to end domestic violence. Particular emphasis would be placed on children, women from ethnic minorities and disabled women. She hoped the discussions in the current Commission session would provide an important input to the upcoming United Nations Conferences on Financing for Development and the World Summit on Sustainable Development. In terms of sustainable development, environmental management and the mitigation of natural disasters, women should be accepted as equal social actors and agents of change.

Jeno Staehelin, Permanent Observer of Switzerland, announced that his country had yesterday voted to become a Member of the United Nations. He said Switzerland had always belonged to the family of nations. His country had taken another important step in adopting the first and second reports on the Women’s Anti-discrimination Convention. His country had taken numerous steps to mitigate inequalities between men and women, but areas of inequality remained. During the current session, the Commission should focus on eliminating poverty through the empowerment of women during the entire life cycle.

His country had a particular problem in women working from the home, he said. A programme was being undertaken to promote women’s involvement in professional roles. It involved the combining of work at home and out in the workforce. Other steps being taken to promote women’s involvement in society outside the home were related to child care and child assistance programmes.

Mr. Jerandi (Tunisia) Commission Chair, noted that Switzerland had received a hearty round of applause on announcing it would become the 190th Member State. Switzerland had already been an important participant in the Organization’s work, he added.

Patricia Durrant (Jamaica), on behalf of the UNIFEM Consultative Committee, said that the overarching framework for UNIFEM activities remained focused on supporting implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The Fund had an ambitious dual mandate: investing in activities at the national and regional levels; and being a catalyst for gender mainstreaming in the United Nations system, with limited financial and staff resources.

She then reported on some of the key findings and recommendations of the Consultative Committee for each of the thematic areas in which the Fund worked: strengthening women’s economic security and rights; engendering governance, peace and security; promoting women’s human rights -- including in HIV/AIDS programmes and the elimination of violence against women. With respect to the last, the Committee had noted with concern the growing gap between an ever-increasing volume of grant requests submitted to UNIFEM’s Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence against Women and the Trust Fund’s relatively constant annual resource base. It had also noted the growing importance of UNIFEM’s work on HIV/AIDS and promoting implementation of the Convention.

Marion Thielenhaus (Germany) said that equality between men and women had been considered an effective and central prerequisite in her country’s fight against poverty since the Millennium Declaration had been issued. The Government was using the programme of action to take steps toward halving the number of utterly poor people in the world. Gender equality was high among its aims. All activities within that framework took into account the different needs of men and women. Empowering women was emphasized, with attention to securing equal access to education for women and girls and fighting the trafficking in women and children. Women’s influence in the political process was also being boosted.

Further, she said, the fight against poverty was closely linked to fighting violence against women. A programme of action had been launched towards that end. A law had been instituted to protect women from domestic violence and a large-scale survey of the incidence of domestic violence was about to be undertaken. The Optional Protocol to the women’s anti-discrimination Convention was an important component in securing the rights of women globally. Violence and human rights violations had characterized the lives of women in Afghanistan for many years. Germany would support the reconstruction of Afghanistan with 80 million euros this year. A stipulation of the aid was the equality of women and men in the reconstruction process.

Yoriko Meguro (Japan) said that the feminization of poverty existed in societies around the world, including those with a high level of economic development and institutionalized welfare services. That phenomenon could be seen in systems where there was an unequal gender division of labour, characterized by gender gaps in access to productive resources, women’s lack of control over their own labour and earned income, and gender biases in labour markets and related institutions. More recently, the “empowerment approach” had emphasized a shift from a model of unmet material and physiological needs to a social model of deprivation focused on lack of autonomy, loss of dignity and powerlessness. Hence, it had become increasingly important to combat pervasive sexism and ageism against women.

She said her country had undertaken a number of measures aimed at achieving gender equality, in both the domestic and international spheres. Domestically, the national machinery for gender equality was strengthened, specifically through the creation of the Council for Gender Equality and the Gender Equality Bureau. The Government had also been working towards increasing day-care capacity. An amendment to existing legislation had been adopted that strengthened the right to child care leave and reinstatement in one’s job after such leave. Its main purpose was to promote harmonization of work and family life. Also, recognizing that violence against women was a violation of human rights, a first law against spousal violence was adopted last April.

At the global level, the Japanese Government, in conjunction with the international community and other partners, had focused on women in development, women in Afghanistan, and commercial and sexual exploitation of children, she said. In light of the damage caused to the environment in many developing countries, it was important to pursue development and environmental conservation in tandem. Likewise, in achieving sustainable economic and social development, the role and status of women must be fully considered. A post-Beijing Japanese initiative had focused on women’s education, health and their participation in economic and social activities.

She recalled that, at the international conference on reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan, hosted by her Government, the Prime Minister had announced that Japan’s assistance would focus on realizing peace through national reconciliation and peace-building. He also mentioned education, especially of women, and women’s empowerment, as key words in Japan's assistance programme. On the commercial and sexual exploitation of children, the problem was even more serious when the social status of women was low or when women were excluded from enjoying the benefits of social progress. It was crucial to eradicate the commercial sexual exploitation of children, protect them from being victimized, and undertake efforts to promote women’s empowerment.

Mayssoun Chakir, a representative of the Youth Caucus, said education was a first step to empowering women. Young women who were married at the age of 14 without a choice were not in a position to advance their rights. Further, a representative of the Division for the Advancement of Women should be present in every relevant division of the United Nations and the Commission itself should have a mechanism specifically addressing young women’s rights. Finally, the United Nations must do more to increase youth participation in its activities. For example, the accreditation process for consultative status with the Economic and Social Council did not allow youth non-governmental organizations to be accredited. That severely restricted youth participation in the Council’s activities.

Angelina Muganza, Minister of Gender and Women in Development of Rwanda, expressed the solidarity of Rwandan women with Afghan women, whose suffering was comparable to that endured by the Rwandan women during the 1994 genocide, which killed approximately 1 million Rwandans. Most of the women who had survived had been raped, humiliated and left as widows with a burden of responsibilities. Despite such a deep trauma, Rwanda joined other nations at Beijing to pledge its commitment to the promotion of gender equality and equity throughout the world and in Rwanda.

She said that in order to tackle the “female face” of poverty and promote women’s economic, social and political rights, the Government established the Ministry of Gender and Women in Development in 1999. To specifically address women’s poverty, the Government set up the Women Communal Funds in 1997, with the ultimate objective of contributing to the drastic reduction of Rwandan women’s poverty through the promotion of their access to and control over credit. The Government also used the gender mainstreaming approach as a strategic tool to integrate women’s and men’s concerns into its development agenda. The National Poverty Reduction Programme took into account gender dimensions and the Rwanda Gender Budget Initiative sought to integrate gender issues into resource allocation to implement poverty-oriented programmes.

Turning to environmental deterioration, she said that that was both a cause and a consequence of poverty. Rwanda was a small country with a high population growth and very limited natural resources. The shortage of land and poverty had led to the exploitation of resources and environmental degradation. Rwandan women played a great role in the use and management of agricultural land, water and energy resources. The Government had ratified various international Conventions on the environment and programmes had been elaborated to implement them. Despite such achievements, however, Rwanda was facing many challenges in tackling the feminization of poverty. High illiteracy rates among women, the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS, high maternal mortality and limited access to economic opportunities were among the critical handicaps to enhancing women’s status.

Sissel Ekaas, Director of the Gender and Population Division of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), said this year’s thematic issues were particularly relevant to her organization, which recognized how differently men and women were affected by natural disasters. Since women often had primary responsibility for families, a handbook had been developed for conducting a socio-economic and gender analysis of the emergency cycle, including in the man-made crises of war and conflict, as in Afghanistan. It had been developed jointly by the FAO and WFP. The FAO would be joining the Commission on 8 March by celebrating a day of solidarity with women in Afghanistan at its headquarters in Rome. The focus would be on rural women and girls, along with their important role in rehabilitating the country’s agricultural centre.

Further, she said, the new FAO Gender and Development Plan of Action for 2002 to 2007 had been approved. It embodied recommendations of conferences and served as a cohesive vehicle for the international community to address the issue of women’s advancement across a broad and interlocking spectrum of concerns. It served as the follow-up to the World Food Summit and the Fourth World Conference on Women, along with the outcome document of the Beijing review. The Plan built on previous experience, which had led to the mainstreaming of a gender perspective in FAO’s programme budgets. Measures to integrate gender into regular programme processes had led to much success. The FAO experience had shown that no enduring solution to society’s most threatening problems could be found without the full participation and empowerment of women throughout the world.

Xenia von Lilien-Waldau, read out a statement on behalf of Annina Lubbock, of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). She said that across the developing world, poor rural women played an essential role in crop production and livestock care. Rural women engaged in multiple economic activities critical to the survival of poor households. They were also responsible for providing the food, water and fuel needs of their families. The quality of care that mothers gave to children influenced the social and economic well-being of the entire family. Child malnutrition was still so pervasive in many developing countries and had far-reaching effects on the capacity of the future generation to lead healthy and productive lives.

She also drew attention to HIV/AIDS, which had changed and was changing the face of poverty and reversing gains in social development. That crisis was fueled largely by inequitable gender relations. Despite the essential economic, food security and care-giving roles of women, they still had significantly less access to financial, physical and social assets and fewer opportunities to improve their knowledge and skills. They also had less influence and choice in decisions that affected their lives and those of their children. Those enduring inequalities affected women’s ability to perform their critical roles most effectively and to the benefit, not only of the household, but also of society as a whole.

In the 25 years of its experience, the International Fund had found that poor rural women, when presented with opportunities, became powerful agents of change in their communities. Targeting resources to women was an excellent investment. On the other hand, if gender differences were not taken into account, related programmes could fail to achieve their objectives. Reducing gender inequalities and increasing the capabilities of poor rural women was not only a matter of social justice and human rights; it was a fundamental necessity if any significant progress was to be made towards the achievement of the Millennium Development goals. Poverty reduction required a change in the volume and direction of development assistance.

Suad Taher Yasin Aldasouri, a representative of the International Health Awareness Network, described a programme her organization had developed to help women out of poverty in Jordan. Major contributing factors to women’s poverty there had been identified as: lack of support for girl’s education, high fertility rates; and social attitudes negatively impacting on women in the work force. Immigration factors had compounded the problems. Projects in the programme had centred on training and employing community college graduates and the teaching of handcrafts.

She said Jordan’s government had become involved in the advancement of women through the national commission for women, established in 1992. Information on the status of women was being gathered and analysed. Steps were being taken to reduce women’s illiteracy rate to below 17.5 per cent. Those steps were critical because the majority of violence against women in the country was related to social attitudes. Many forms of it were considered acceptable, including honour killings of women for alleged sexual impropriety and for being the victims of rape. Data and information on the problem was scarce, due to underreporting of domestic matters. All those factors were made even worse by the spread of poverty and lack of awareness.

Ms. Drumen-Little, of the World Health Organization, said the recent report by the Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, chaired by Jeffery Sachs, offered a new strategy for investing in health for economic development, especially in the world’s poorest countries. The Commission demonstrated how health investments could be managed for the best results. There was simply no way for poor countries to emerge from poverty if their people remain trapped by an enormous disease burden. The world’s political leaders had recognized that interdependence by adopting the Millennium Development Goals. The link of health to poverty reduction and to long-term economic growth was powerful and actually much stronger that was generally understood. The problem of enhancing both at the same time needed to be addressed directly and centrally in any comprehensive development strategy.

There was an important gender dimension to poverty, which was increasingly well recognized, he continued. Because the impact of poverty was influenced by gender, policies and interventions also needed to be implemented to ensure gender equity and mitigate the negative impact of gender inequality. Yet, gender issues were rarely openly acknowledged in national anti-poverty strategies. Nor had there been sufficient acknowledgment of the links between gender inequality and the many forms of impoverishment suffered by women.

The Commission’s report concludes that women’s social status is a major determinant of health outcomes, he said. Research demonstrated that when women had control of resources they invested more in their children’s health and education than men do. It must be stressed that societies that limit girls’ access to education pay a price in poorer health and, thereby, poorer economic growth. It was important, therefore, to ensure that poor women and girls had access to information, services and medicine.

Turning to the effects of globalization, he said the experience to date showed that there was a danger that the gap between rich and poor could increase both within and between countries. That had an adverse effect on the health of the poorest. Globalization had also been associated with, among others, the brain drain from the poorest countries and tax cuts that made it difficult to increase spending on public health. Globalization would surely benefit those women who were able to obtain new jobs. That who did now, however, were marginalized even further. Also, there was growing evidence that policies associated with globalization had resulted in the reduction of public health services, having an adverse effect on the most vulnerable population -- women and children.

Indira Patel, Women’s National Commission of the United Kingdom, said her organization represented several million women throughout the country. In particular, women in the United Kingdom were concerned about the growing disparity between the rich and poor. That disparity had a detrimental impact upon women, many of whom faced compounded discrimination from gender, race and age. Those in positions of authority and influence had a responsibility to understand the nature of poverty, its causes and its gender dimension.

Governments, in particular, had to put in place provisions to allow all members of society to have access to a minimum living income and equal pay. An adequate pension for women must also be provided, especially for those who took on “caring roles” during their lives, which prevented them from working for money or permitted only poorly paid work. Governments must urgently address the gender dimension of poverty and ensure that the needs of all women, married, single, widows, asylum seekers or trafficked women -- were heard and heeded in the formulation and implementation of strategies and policies relating to women.

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