Governments Called Upon to Redouble Efforts towards Gender Equality, Empowerment, as Commission on Status of Women Concludes General Discussion

Civil society groups today urged Governments to redouble their efforts towards gender equality and women's empowerment in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, as the sixtieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women completed its general discussion.

Several speakers took the opportunity to emphasize the role of sexual education and women's reproductive rights in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The representative of the International Planned Parenthood Federation said that, despite six decades of debates, women and girls were still being denied the right to control their bodies, the size and spacing of their families and the right to decide their future. Today, there was a chance for change, he said.

The representative of the Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights said that sexual and reproductive rights had been excluded due to an unacceptably narrow approach to development. Nowhere was that more evident, she said, than in Governments' initial responses to the Zika virus. The delegate of the International Federation of Medical Students' Associations said limited access to family planning and safe and legal abortion services had contributed to rates of unintended adolescent pregnancies, maternal mortality and deaths - all of which could be prevented through full implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

The representative of the Action by Churches Together Alliance, a network of churches and faith based groups in 140 countries, said that, while religion could obstruct progress towards gender justice, faith could be harnessed for good. The delegate of Solar Cookers International described how solar energy could free women from hours of daily labour. And a speaker from the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts said that girls and young women - experts on their own needs and experiences - could contribute to the 2030 Agenda so long as they were given the tools and space to do so.

The Commission also heard today from several Member States, with the representatives of Pacific island States in particular underscoring the vulnerability of women and girls to climate change and climate-related disasters. "How could we talk of sustainable development and empowering women when we might not have islands and homes to live in in the future?", Kiribati's delegate asked.

In other business on the penultimate day of its annual session, the representative of Thailand, speaking for the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, introduced a draft resolution entitled "Situation of and assistance to Palestinian women" (document E/CN.6/2016/L.3).

Also speaking were ministers, senior officials and representatives of Albania, Bangladesh, Senegal, Barbados, Guatemala, Algeria, Benin and Fiji.

Also participating in the general discussion were representatives of Union for the Mediterranean, Sovereign Order of Malta, Inter-Parliamentary Union, International Trade Centre, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Labour Organization (ILO), Amnesty International, Asia-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, Baha'i International Community, Center for Reproductive Rights, Centre for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society, Coalition against Trafficking in Women, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, International Federation of University Women, International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific, United Nations Association of the United States of America, Regional Centre of Human Rights and Gender Justice, World Young Women's Christian Association and The Grail.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 24 March, to take action on draft texts and conclude its session.

Introduction of Draft Resolution

The Commission on the Status of Women first heard the introduction of a draft resolution entitled "Situation of and assistance to Palestinian women" (document E/CN.6/2016/L.3).

Introducing the text, the representative of Thailand, on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, said most of its 23 preambular paragraphs and nine operative paragraphs were identical to the 2015 resolution, but some had been amended to reflect developments on the ground. She looked forward to its adoption by consensus with the hope that it would contribute to alleviating the "disastrous" situation of women in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem.

Statements

Mr. KLOSI (Albania) said that women's participation in decision-making was a key indicator of sustainable development. He was proud to share the fact that, in his country, there were eight women cabinet ministers and 10 deputy ministers. Approximately 33 per cent of its Parliament and 50 per cent of its mayors were women. Gender equality was at the centre of the Government's agenda and many improvements had been realized. Gender equality was no longer an objective, but essential for sustainable development.

MEHER AFROZ CHUMKI, Minister for State, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs of Bangladesh, said her Government remained steadfast in its efforts to break down all political and social barriers standing in the way of achieving the equality of men and women. The country had adopted the First National Women Development Plan in 1997 and updated it in 2011. It had achieved a nearly 100 per cent school enrolment rate at the elementary level with girls outnumbering boys. Reproductive health-care services were provided through some 14,000 community clinics in addition to hospitals. The country had further created an environment conducive to women joining the national workforce by ensuring safety and security, providing accommodation facilities and introducing day-care centres. Describing a number of other achievements, including in the area of political empowerment, she nevertheless said that incidents of violence against women, child marriage and trafficking still occurred, and the country was working to overcome those challenges.

SIDY GUEYE, Secretary-General for the Ministry of Women, Family and Children of Senegal, stressed the importance of achieving Sustainable Development Goal 5, which eloquently expressed the collective will of States to achieve gender equality and women's empowerment and to put an end to all forms of gender-based discrimination. His country had placed those aims at the core of its ambitious "Emerging Senegal" plan, he said, adding that it had financed a number of women-run small and medium-sized enterprises. He underscored major efforts in water and energy supply, including a programme to spread the use of improved cooking stoves, which lightened health burdens of women.

KEITH MARSHALL (Barbados) said the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was the compass that guided his country's gender policies. He outlined several measures that his country had taken to address domestic violence and trafficking in persons. A national policy on gender would focus on culture, family life, health, education, employment, poverty, crime and violence, and power and decision-making. Much remained to be done, however. More women than men lived in poverty. Some gender stereotypes remained obstacles to equality. Men needed to participate more in family life, easing the burden of women in unpaid care work.

JOSA� ALBERTO ANTONIO SANDOVAL COJULASN (Guatemala) emphasized a need for international cooperation. Financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women should respond to the needs of Member States. Unpaid work needed to be recognized by society. Statistical analysis made it possible to view inequalities in the labour market. Despite improvements, the ultimate goal of equality had not been reached. His country recognized the importance of sexual and reproductive health, but it had reservations with regard to abortion.

SABRI BOUKADOUM (Algeria) said ensuring the rights of women was a national obligation. His country had joined a number of international treaties on human rights, which had led to Algerian women gaining many rights. The President had recently issued a call to authorities to reconsider reservations to some provisions to the women's rights Convention. Today, more women in Algeria were in ministerial positions and the country was working to curb violence against women. Achieving sustainable development required the inclusion of all segments of society, and the adherence to the rule of law was also critical. Women should be encouraged in the entrepreneurial sector, he added, describing national programmes in that respect.

THIERRY ALIA (Benin) said the session offered an opportunity to take stock of achievements in the areas of gender equality and women's empowerment, as well as to undertake new commitments. There could be no sustainable development if more than 50 per cent of the world's population was excluded from the benefits of development and economic growth. Describing a number of related measures adopted by his Government - including the outlawing of discrimination against women at work and the creation of a Council for Gender Equality - he also described successes in areas such as health and education. "Empowerment must be a lever to ensure that poverty is eradicated," he added, noting that the country needed to better engage women in decision-making positions and transform its cultural values.

MAKURITA BAARO (Kiribati), associating herself with the Group of 77 and several other groups, called climate change a major challenge. Women were responsible for securing water, food and cooking fuel. As such, they were more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which made traditional sources of food more unpredictable and imported food more expensive. Climate change had become a survival issue for the people of her country. "How could we talk of sustainable development and empowering women when we might not have islands and homes to live in in the future?", she asked, calling on the Commission to support those living on the front line of climate change.

AMJAD MOHAMMAD SALEH AL-MOUMANI (Jordan), delivering a statement of behalf of the Union for the Mediterranean, said that women's empowerment was at the heart of the organization's action. It fostered gender equality as a public policy priority, prompted concrete projects and initiatives, and acted as a regional platform to develop strategic partnerships and networks. In a time of radicalism, extremism and terrorism, the role of women as a key vector of peace values and a culture of tolerance had to be enhanced and reinforced. Given the challenge, concrete and strategic measures in that regard needed to be greatly scaled up.

DEBORAH O'HARA-RUSCKOWSKI of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta said the religious order had undertaken many efforts to relieve suffering regardless of sex, race, ethnicity or religious beliefs. Women suffered from violence and discrimination, including human trafficking, and gender inequality remained entrenched in every society - facts which had become even more evident in some of the tragic episodes witnessed during the current migrant and refugee crisis. She went on to describe some of the Order's work in the provision of health care, including in Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, and in Uganda, Zimbabwe and the city of Bethlehem, and said that it placed the highest value on traditional families.

MUNAH E. PELHAM-YOUNGBLOOD of the Inter-Parliamentary Union said that her organization's annual meeting, held last week, had focused on the status of discriminatory laws worldwide; the power of parliaments to end such laws; and the opportunity presented by parliaments' oversight role to effectively enforce laws prohibiting violence against women. Multiple forms of legal discrimination persisted around the world and presented major barriers to sustainable development. While change was on the way, progress was slow. More should be done to address violence against women and harmful practices. The meeting had highlighted the fact that parliaments were responsible for ensuring women's rights were protected by law, she said, adding that "real change can only come from within the countries". Furthermore, better participation by women was needed in parliaments and other decision-making bodies around the world.

PUVAN J. SELVANATHAN of the International Trade Centre called women's economic empowerment a game changer at the macroeconomic level. If women participated in the economy on an equal footing with men, it would be like adding a new United States and China to the global economy by 2025. However, research showed that women owned only one in five exporting companies. Women entrepreneurs also faced discriminatory barriers to trade when exporting. The Centre had launched a "SheTrades" initiative with a goal to bring 1 million women to markets by 2020.

JALEEL PARTOW of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said that HIV was driven by inequalities, making the achievement of Goal 5 essential to ending the AIDS epidemic. "Gender inequality [] has direct implications for women's risk of acquiring HIV," she said, stressing that the virus was the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age, with women constituting 56 per cent of new infections in 2014 among young people aged 15 to 24 years. She urged States to ensure that laws and policies upheld women's rights, transform gender norms, ensure that HIV responses addressed links with gender inequality, and scale up interventions to reduce forced marriage, sterilization and abortion.

ISABEL GARZA RODRIGUEZ of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said major developments had unfolded since the Commission's 2015 session, including the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and other important international agendas. There was a growing awareness that enhancing women's empowerment was critical to driving the structural transformations of societies. States should support gender-sensitive polices in trade, development, labour and other related areas. Trade, sustainability and women's empowerment were interlinked, and UNCTAD was working to study the gender-differentiated impact of trade in several countries. In addition, the Conference's entrepreneurship programme had served thousands of small business people, including many women, around the world.

ANNE CHRISTENSEN of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the attention paid to conflict in relevant outcomes of the Commission remained an important and valuable emphasis. However, she urged that that was balanced in this year's Agreed Conclusions with an emphasis on natural disasters and other emergencies. She then turned to three aspects of gender-responsive humanitarian action to which the Federation paid particular attention: addressing sexual and gender-based violence and strengthening collective action. During and in the aftermath of crises, sexual and gender-based violence increased, she said in that regard, noting that her organization's national societies were taking practical action at the local level to address violence in emergency preparedness, response and recovery. "We must do better to reach women, children and adolescents affected by humanitarian crises" and to ensure that they had access to essential, good-quality health services, she said.

KEVIN CASSIDY of the International Labour Organization (ILO) said that decent work was key to women's economic empowerment, poverty alleviation and addressing inequalities. The world of work was a unique and powerful point of entry to stimulate the changes called for by the 2030 Agenda. A recent ILO report revealed gaps between men and women in such areas as pay, job quality, working hours and social protection. Those gaps had to be addressed by the international community now for the Sustainable Development Goals to be realized.

PETER THOMSON (Fiji) said that the creation of more and better opportunities for women was critical for sustainable development. However, no such development would be possible without attention to climate justice. Recalling a tropical cyclone that had recently cut a path through his country, he said women and girls were particularly vulnerable to climate-related disasters. The international community was encouraged to include the participation of women in disaster planning and response.

The representative of the Action by Churches Together Alliance, a network of 146 churches and faith based groups working in 140 countries, stressed the need to implement Sustainable Development Goals on gender equality and reducing inequalities. While religion could obstruct progress towards gender justice, faith could be harnessed for good. She urged full implementation of existing agreements and commitments, adequate financing to implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the Goals and both women's and faith-based groups, and reference in the agreed conclusions to domestic resource mobilization through gender sensitive tax policy. States should recognize the role of faith-based groups in emergency responses.

The representative of Amnesty International said that, with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, United Nations Member States had reaffirmed their commitments to gender equality and the achievement of women's and girls' human rights - including their sexual and reproductive rights. "Making these a reality is of paramount importance," she said. High global rates of gender-based violence persisted and refugee women and girls, in particular, lacked protection. Women were excluded from conflict resolution and peacebuilding processes without equal access to reparations and decision-making. States were also failing to provide access to health-care information, goods and services needed by women and girls, such as safe abortion, emergency contraception, family planning and comprehensive sexuality education. Among other things, she urged States to dismantle gender stereotypes, reform discriminatory laws, policies and practices, and ensure that women and girls were able to effectively participate in the planning, implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The representative of the Asia-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women said an integrated multidimensional framework that included economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being and kept women and girls at the centre of implementing the 2030 Agenda was critical. Equally significant was ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls and addressing historical and structural inequalities. Many countries continued to have high rates of child, early and forced marriages and female genital mutilation and cutting, which affected all aspects of girls' well-being, while narrow and patriarchal interpretations of religion were used to justify such practices. Investing in sexual and reproductive health and rights would have high payoffs for sustainable development, she said, adding that "leaving no one behind" should be more than just a catchphrase.

The representative of the Baha'i International Community said no one part of society would realize the goal of gender equality in isolation. Faith-based groups had a pivotal role to play. Change would require dismantling social structures that perpetuated inequality, with religious and secular actors working together.

The representative of the Center for Reproductive Rights, speaking also on behalf of Amnesty International, the Center for Economic and Social Rights and Human Rights Watch, said that, without good monitoring and accountability, it would not be possible to fully achieve such goals as reducing maternal mortality among the most marginalized groups. The human rights framework clearly set out what States were expected to do with regard to gender equality, maternal health and universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The representative of the Centre for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society said women in developing countries were among the most important stakeholders in achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda, yet they remained among the most vulnerable groups in the world. Poor health status, lack of economic and educational opportunities and stringent cultural norms restricted the ability of women in developing countries to realize their potential. The empowerment of rural women should be at the core of national plans to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, she stressed, adding that women's rights to land entitlement should be supported by resource-distribution. Furthermore, technology advancement in rural areas should focus on the needs and capacities of women.

The representative of the Coalition against Trafficking in Women urged Governments to implement policies that provided women and girls with education and economic opportunities, as well as to abide by international law and ensure that the commercial sex trade was never included as labour in plans to empower women. As that trade relegated women to sexual merchandise, Governments should also eliminate the demand for prostitution, as a measure for achieving gender equality. Such abuse violated human rights, and States needed to adopt and fund programmes that ensured equal access to education, as well as reject the sex trade as a means of economic opportunity.

The representative of the International Federation of Medical Students' Associations said that the Millennium Development Goals had left the world with unfinished business, including the lack of proper access to sexual and reproductive health services. Limited access to safe and legal abortion and family planning services contributed to rates of unintended adolescent pregnancies, maternal mortality and deaths. Those could all be prevented by fully implementing the 2030 Agenda. Gender equity and discrimination both within and outside the medical field contributed to poorer health outcomes. Immediate and sustained action was required to achieve equal representation, opportunities and pay rates in the medical profession. The Federation called on all countries to ensure that women and girls could live free from violence and gender-related stigma, regardless of their age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation or gender identity.

The representative of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers said none of the Sustainable Development Goals would be attainable without including women and girls as valuable partners and leaders. She, therefore, called upon the United Nations to establish or strengthen cooperation worldwide so that the framework for the financing, implementation and evaluation of action plans on the sustainable development agenda became more reliable and effective; called upon Member States and United Nations agencies to introduce gender budgeting and indicators to the 2030 Agenda; and to work together in developing, financing and implementing regional action plans to address sensitive issues such as water and health, agriculture and urbanization, education and job creation, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. Among other things, she urged States to promote the selection of a woman as the next Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The representative of the International Federation of University Women called for access to quality education, as gender equality in education reduced poverty, increased job opportunities and fostered sustainable development. She urged States to commit 6 per cent of their gross national product to education, provide education for all indigenous women and girls - including through sharing traditional knowledge - and use gender-disaggregated data to inform education policy. Further, they should address gender pay gaps through social and industrial change programmes and introduce monitoring mechanisms to ensure accountability.

The representative of the International Planned Parenthood Federation said that, despite 60 years of debates and discussions, women and girls were still being denied the right to control their bodies, the size and spacing of their families and the right to decide their future. Today, there was a chance for change. Through Goals 3.7 and 5.6, the global community had reaffirmed the importance of reproductive rights in achieving the 2030 Agenda.

The representative of International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific said that empowerment was an empty promise without a human rights approach. The human rights regime, with its established standards and norms and its monitoring mechanisms, should be firmly at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals. Beside time-bound outcome indicators, progress should also be measured with indicators anchored in human rights and substantive equality.

The representative of Solar Cookers International said the capacity to capture sustainable, free solar energy for cooking and making water safe to drink, without spending time to either gather fuel or earn money for fuel, freed women from hours of daily labour. Nearly 3 billion people, mainly women and girls, still cooked water with wood, animal dung, crop waste, charcoal and fossil fuels. They suffered disproportionately from the health effects of high-emitting fuels. By cooking and heating water with solar energy first, it was also possible to reduce the negative impact of less desirable, more polluting and more expensive energy sources.

The representative of the United Nations Association of the United States of America said that as the international community transitioned to the implementation phase of the 2030 Agenda, civil society should partner with businesses, the faith community, public officials, youth and others to maintain the driving principle of "no one left behind". The Sustainable Development Goals were meant to be universal and apply to all nations. The United States remained one of the only nations that had yet to ratify Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. As a result, the Association had partnered with other non-governmental organizations and policymakers at the local and state level to work to change the conversation on the Convention across the nation.

The representative of the Regional Centre of Human Rights and Gender Justice said there were several key scenarios to achieving a sustainable development model guaranteeing gender equality and women's empowerment. All sectors should be encouraged to harmonize their objectives towards those goals. There was a need to make institutional and policy adjustments at the national level to empower women; States must make a systematic effort to incorporate a gender perspective into national policies. Those efforts needed to include existing commitments for gender equality and women's empowerment, and address vulnerable groups such as women victims of armed conflict, rural women and others. Lastly, fiscal and tax policies and programming needed specific mechanisms for the realization of the rights of women.

The representative of the Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights said that an unacceptably narrow approach to development continued to be implemented in which the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls were excluded. Nowhere was that more evident than in Governments' initial responses to the recent outbreak of the Zika virus. Her region was characterized by deep-seated patriarchal norms, high rates of unplanned pregnancy, high levels of sexual violence, limited access to contraceptives and sexual health and reproductive health services, and restrictive laws on abortion. Young women and girls who were already made vulnerable by intersecting barriers and forms of discrimination were among those most affected by the consequences of simplistic approaches to development, she said, urging the immediate, comprehensive and intersectional implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The representative of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts said that girls and young women around the world faced double discrimination due to their age and their gender, in a society that valued the lives, needs and ambitions of men and boys over their own. One in three females had experienced gender-based violence. Social media bombarded girls and young women with unachievable versions of themselves. Conflicts, instability and environmental devastation increased their vulnerability to poverty and violence. Steps that Member States could take included aggressive action on climate change, ending all forms of gender-based violence and ensuring meaningful participation of girls and young women in decision-making at all levels. States could also develop health-care services and education that would enable girls and young women to make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. Girls and young women were experts on their own needs and experiences, and could contribute to the 2030 Agenda if given the tools and space to do so.

The representative of the World Young Women's Christian Association said that the Sustainable Development Goals were an urgent call to action. Globally, there were more young women and girls alive than women over the age of 30, yet young women and girls were largely excluded from decision-making. Safe spaces and opportunities for all young women and girls should be created to enable them to actively participate in all aspects of life. Gender-based violence must stop, while young women and girls must be assured equal access to education. Harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage, must come to an end, while the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls must be protected. Women should also be ensured access to decent work and full employment, while their rights with regard to controlling land, property and inheritances must be protected.

The representative of The Grail demanded the full realization of the human rights of women and girls for the successful implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as strong institutional support, quality education and the cooperation of Member States to eliminate gender violence. In addition, she demanded access to proper health care and sanitation for girls, and women's stake in decision-making at the local, national and global levels. "When society abandons education, perpetuates violence and fails to address weak institutions, we are abused, shamed and silenced," she said, calling on leaders to "stand beside us".

Source: United Nation