Global Instrument Must Hold States Accountable, As Violence Against Women, Girls Remains Pervasive, Widespread, Special Rapporteur Tells Women's Commission [document] (allAfrica.com)

Top United Nations Official: No Country Has Totally Eradicated Those ‘Abhorrent’ Crimes
Violence against women and girls remained pervasive and widespread throughout the world, with no one country able to say that it had eradicated those “abhorrent” crimes, ministerial-level speakers said as the Commission on the Status of Women continued its general debate today.
“Most countries have put in place measures in an attempt to curb the prevalence of violence against women,” said Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, as she briefed the Commission. However, she warned, many of those measures went unimplemented and a number of civil society groups had argued that the problem was not only increasing, but reaching epidemic proportions.
“The adoption of a United Nations international instrument on violence against women and girls, with its own universal monitoring body, would ensure that States were held accountable for the protection of women and girls globally,” she went on. She had mapped “soft law developments” and found that the lack of a specific, legally binding instrument constituted a major challenge. Further obstacles included the lack of transformative remedies that addressed the root causes of violence against women.
“Violence against women and girls in all its forms is an abhorrent crime and must be eradicated,” said Lindsay Northover, Minister for International Development of the United Kingdom. In her country, national measures addressed domestic violence prevention and allowed women to check their partners’ criminal history, she said.
Many speakers described a range of national laws, measures and action plans aimed at combating the scourge of gender-based violence. In that connection, Palau’s Minister for Community and Cultural Affairs — speaking for the Pacific Islands Forum — said that significant strides had been made in his region in breaking the silence on violence against women and girls, increasing women’s access to justice and initiating a dialogue on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Among other countries that had adopted legislation to root out gender-based violence was Mongolia, whose Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs said that a national law aimed at combating domestic violence was currently being amended in order to make it more effective. Egypt’s president of the National Council of Women said that much had been achieved in her country through legislation, policies and a national strategy targeting violence against women. However, she stressed, challenges remained, including those rooted in traditions, customs and poverty.
A number of speakers brought up the increasing number of violent, targeted attacks against women and girls by extremists. “The kidnapping, selling and systematic rape of women and children should horrify us all,” said Australia’s Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women and Senator. She added that it was an “outrage” that the world was still struggling to ensure the full realization of human rights for women and girls.
This afternoon, the Commission held three panel discussions, moderated by Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The discussions tackled the role of national mechanisms in a number of key areas, ranging from legislative change and accountability to advocacy and awareness raising and increasing women’s participation and leadership, and featured panellists from Government ministries, civil society and other arenas.
Also speaking during this morning’s general debate were ministers and other high-ranking officials from Palau (national capacity), Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Cameroon, Nepal, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Uganda, Rwanda, Spain, Ireland, Bangladesh, Hungary, Belgium, Benin, Switzerland, India, Sri Lanka, Venezuela, Romania, Pakistan and Lithuania.
Representatives of Japan and the Republic of Korea spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 12 March, to continue its work.
Statements
RASHIDA MANJOO, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, said that she had studied the measures undertaken by Governments in their attempts to meet obligations, mainly through legislation and awareness-raising and capacity-building activities. “Most countries have put in place measures in an attempt to curb the prevalence of violence against women,” she said. However, despite those efforts, such violence remained a pervasive and widespread phenomenon and no single country could claim that there was progressive elimination of the abuse occurring. In fact, many women’s rights activists argued that the problem was increasing and had reached “epidemic proportions”.
In her 2014 thematic report to the Human Rights Council, she had mapped “soft law developments” in the United Nations over the past 20 years and critically analysed the challenges of normativity without legality. “The lack of a specific legally binding instrument on violence against women, to hold both States and non-State actors accountable, constitutes one of the challenges that my mandate has identified over the last five years,” she said, adding that States must take positive steps to effectively meet their responsibility to respect, protect and fulfil human rights obligations. “In my view, the adoption of a United Nations international instrument on violence against women and girls, with its own universal monitoring body, would ensure that States were held accountable for the protection of women and girls globally.”
The 2014 report to the General Assembly addressed the issue of violence as a barrier to the realization of women’s civil, political, economic, social, cultural and developmental rights. Violence against women often obstructed the realization of women’s citizenship rights, thereby precluding women’s participation, autonomy and agency as full citizens in their communities, she said. Other challenges remained, including the shift to gender neutrality, the persisting public-private dichotomy in responses to violence against women and the failure of States to act with due diligence to eliminate violence against women. Further obstacles were the lack of transformative remedies that addressed the root causes of violence against women and the financial crisis, including austerity measures and cuts. Also a concern was the situation of Palestinian women living in the occupied territories. In closing, she said it was “disappointing” that there was no stand-alone goal on violence against women and girls in the post-2015 development agenda, despite it being acknowledged as a pervasive and widespread human rights violation.
BAKLAI TEMENGIL, Minister for Community and Cultural Affairs of Palau, speaking for the Pacific Islands Forum, said regional gains included the adoption in 2012 of the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration, which called for urgent action, annual reporting and accountability measures. Significant achievements had been made in breaking the silence on violence against women and girls, increasing women’s access to justice and initiating a dialogue on sexual and reproductive health and rights. The Pacific was also the first to adopt a regional plan of action on women, peace and security. However, key challenges remained, which were recognized in the Samoa Declaration in 2014, she cautioned, noting that the region’s environmental challenges, exacerbated by multiple risks brought about by natural disasters and climate change, continued to be a critical issue.
With widening gender inequalities aggravated by multiple internal and external factors in the region, more work was needed to ensure that commitments became a reality for women and girls. Hence, the critical areas of concern identified 20 years ago in Beijing remained at the forefront of the global, regional and national development agendas. Proposing greater global political and financial commitments to achieve the 12 critical areas of the Beijing Platform for Action, with a particular focus on women and girls in small island developing States, she said the Forum also supported a stand-alone goal on gender equality in the post-2015 framework.
Speaking in her national capacity, Ms. TEMENGIL said Palau was pleased with achievements gained in Millennium Development Goal 3 to promote gender equality and empower women. Gender parity in education was clearly mandated in Palau’s Constitution and 13 per cent of the national budget was allocated to public education. There was also a strong basis for empowerment of women in the country’s customs and traditions. While protective services for victims of domestic violence were still inadequate, gains had been made through the enactment of new laws. In closing, she said the post-2015 agenda must put in place measures to accelerate the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and make everyone accountable.
DELILAH GORE, Minister for Religion, Youth and Community Development of Papua New Guinea, associating herself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the Pacific Islands Forum and the Pacific Small Island Developing States, said that the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action continued to serve as a “beacon of hope for achieving gender equality and empowerment”. Papua New Guinea, therefore, renewed its commitment to the Platform and pledged its support for the Political Declaration the Commission adopted this week. National policy, legislative and administrative measures had been undertaken in her country to help achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment, including criminalizing domestic violence, legislative reform exercises, developing a gender-based violence strategy for 2015 to 2050 and economic empowerment through the establishment of small- and medium-sized enterprises providing microcredit schemes. Other measures were free education and primary health care.
MICHAELIA CASH, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women and Senator of Australia, said that it was an “outrage” that “we are still struggling to ensure the full recognition and realization of human rights for women and girls”. Sustainable development would not be achieved without a stand-alone goal on gender equality and gender mainstreaming across all of the sustainable development goals. During its term on the Security Council, Australia had been a strong and consistent advocate for action to address the gender impacts of conflict. Turning to violent extremists and their targeting of women and girls, she said “the kidnapping, selling and systematic rape of women and children should horrify us all”, and demanded the international community’s response. Australia had also used its presidency of the “Group of 20” to reduce by 25 per cent the gender gap in participation rates in G-20 countries by 2025.
TANGARIKI REETE, Minister for Women, Youth and Social Affairs of Kiribati, said her country’s varied progress in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action, with gains in areas including ending violence against women, strengthening gender equality and good governance, and increasing women’s participation in leadership and decision-making positions. Yet, progress had not happened overnight and had come from collaborative efforts and hard work of women’s groups and regional and development stakeholders. However, Kiribati faced many challenges, including isolation and lack of data and access to rights and services. The smallness of islands and their geographical dispersion across a large ocean area made access a major challenge and the cost of replicating services exorbitant. Further support was required in building local capacity and strengthening existing structures. However, her country could not achieve its aims under the Platform for Action without addressing the challenges triggered by climate change and natural disasters, as they affected the very basis right of its people to survive.
MARIE THÉRÈSE ABENA ONDOA, Minister for the Advancement of Women and Family of Cameroon, said her country had firmly pursued the reform of its legislative and institutional framework for the promotion of gender equality and had reinforced measures concerning the management of women’s specific challenges. Cameroon had also increased advocacy for girls’ education, which had resulted in a rise in enrolment levels and an improvement of gender parity. In the fight against poverty, credit grants were being extended to women and training was provided in small businesses and appropriate technologies. Statistics on health had evolved positively and women had been playing a more prominent role in politics and decision-making. However, several sociocultural barriers were hampering further progress, which required an increase in development funding, she said.
NILAM K.C. KHADKA, Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare of Nepal, said that, during the two-decade-long journey since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, her country had made significant progress in the realization of all economic, social and cultural, civil and political rights for promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. As Nepal was currently drafting a new Constitution, it was a historic opportunity to establish the fundamental principle of substantive equality between women and men. Describing some existing measures, she highlighted the establishment of “one-stop” crisis management centres and rehabilitation homes for survivors of gender-based violence. Women also made up 30 per cent of the current Constituent Assembly, she said. While significant challenges remained, she said Nepal had made major achievements in obtaining gender parity at the primary education level and in the areas of child and maternal health.
ANNE DÉSIRÉE OULOTO, Minister for Solidarity, Family, Women and Children of Côte d’Ivoire, aligning herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said recent achievements in the areas of gender equality and women’s empowerment included a revision of legal texts, including on marriage, that were in line with international recommendations. A Council on Women and platforms for combating gender-based violence had also been established. In tackling poverty, the country had increased funds available to women. In addition, the Government offered free education and had built thousands of primary schools in under-served areas. In health, there was a target for the free provision of gynaecological and obstetric care, and in the political sphere, 17 per cent of Government positions were now held by women. Looking ahead, new initiatives were targeting early marriage and teenage pregnancy, she said.
OUMOU SANGARE BA, Minister for Women, Children and Family of Mali, said her country was in the midst of negotiations to end internal conflict and foster reconciliation with the assistance of the international community. The Government was committed to finding a lasting solution to the scourge of terrorism in order to lay the foundation for sustainable development. Considerable progress had been made in Mali in achieving some of the goals established in Beijing, including in primary education, health, gender-sensitive planning and increasing women’s participation in decision-making processes. Much, however, remained to be done and the Government had embarked on programmes to empower women through ensuring greater access to land and loans, among other initiatives.
MERVAT TALLAWY, president of the National Council of Women of Egypt, said global agreements aimed at ensuring women’s equality and empowerment had been achieved over the decades based on hard work, consensus and the recognition of national contexts and laws. Much had been achieved in diverse fields in her country through legislation, policies and a national strategy targeting violence against women. Despite those achievements, there were challenges, including ones rooted in tradition, custom and poverty. More broadly, she said the occupation of Palestine had brought tension and suffering in the wider region, which underscored the urgency of continued collective action. Only by empowering women could humanity be empowered, she concluded.
LINDSAY NORTHOVER, Minister for International Development of the United Kingdom, said that “women’s greater economic independence and participation are crucial to gender equality and global development”, a concept her country had prioritized at home and overseas. In the United Kingdom, there were more women in work than ever before, including in senior decision-making roles and as heads of businesses. The wage gap was closing and new legislation was being introduced to help women into work, including flexible hours, shared parental leave and tax-free childcare. “Violence against women and girls in all its forms is an abhorrent crime and must be eradicated,” she went on, adding that national measures addressed domestic violence prevention and allowed women to check their partners’ criminal history. This year presented a unique opportunity to enhance gender equality and empowerment, she said, stressing that the sustainable development goals must demonstrate a “strong and explicit” commitment to achieving gender equality and the realization of the human rights of women and girls.
RUKIA ISANGA NAKADAMA, Minister of State for Gender, Labour and Social Development of Uganda, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said her country had promulgated a gender-sensitive Constitution immediately following the fourth World Conference on Women. That document entrenched the principle of equality between men and women, outlawed gender-based discrimination, protected the rights of women and guaranteed affirmative action in favour of marginalized groups, including women. “Uganda’s vision is to become a modern and prosperous country by 2040,” she said. In that regard, the country had achieved the Millennium Development Goal target of reducing by half the number of people living in absolute poverty. Uganda had also registered significant progress in women’s literacy and women’s land ownership, the latter rising to 39 per cent in 2011 from 7 per cent in 1995.
ODA GASINGIZWA, Minister for Gender and Family Promotion of Rwanda, citing gains, said women held 64 per cent of seats in Parliament and accounted for 50 per cent of Supreme Court judges and 40 per cent of provincial governors. Women’s access to resources and land should not be separated from the broader macroeconomic policy context. With that in mind, Rwanda had established a legal framework guaranteeing equal rights to land ownership and property inheritance. As for financial inclusion, a trend in accessing financial services had prompted a shift from women’s economic dependence to self-reliance due in part to affirmative action. Also, women had participated in Rwanda’s post-conflict reconstruction and social cohesion and national unity efforts, representing more than 30 per cent of the judges in the transitional justice system and 50 per cent of community mediators. In addition, the Government had integrated financing for gender equality into national planning processes, with the adoption of a gender-sensitive “organic” budget law.
OYUNDARI NAVAAN-YUNDEN, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mongolia, said since the Beijing Conference her country had witnessed remarkable achievements in improving gender equality and empowering women and girls. A major legal and institutional reform saw the establishment of a national committee on gender equality. A new law resulted in a marked increase in the number of women elected to Parliament. The country had also achieved a number of targets set in the Millennium Development Goals and was committed to ending violence against women and girls. A law on combating domestic violence was being amended in order to make it more effective. Since spending on gender issues had not increased proportionally and poverty tended to target women, there was much work to do, she said.
SUSANA CAMARERO BENÍTEZ, Vice-Minister for Health, Social Services and Equality of Spain, said the Commission had convened at a decisive moment in terms of ensuring meaningful progress in the lives of women and girls. Yet, she expressed regret that gender had not been established as a more explicit goal in the new development agenda. Spain had seen significant improvements in the status of women in the social, economic, political and cultural spheres. However, there was a need for continued action through institutional and policy measures in partnership with women’s associations based on a cross-cutting approach.
AODHÁN Ó RÍORDÁIN, Minister of State for New Communities, Culture and Equality of Ireland, said the Beijing Platform for Action had prompted a sustained public focus on gender equality in his country, where laws had been introduced to prohibit gender discrimination. The Government had established new offices to address domestic violence, sexual and gender-based violence and human trafficking, and a national women’s strategy had been put in place to address key empowerment themes outlined in Beijing. Among other gains, female employment in Ireland had risen by 50 per cent since 1995 and women today accounted for more than 45 per cent of the workforce. In the political sphere, however, only 16 per cent of seats in the Lower House of Parliament were held by women, a situation being addressed through legislation enacted in 2012. Ireland’s foreign policy promoted gender equality, and as a member of the Human Rights Council for the 2013-2015 term, the country had prioritized efforts to address those concerns.
MEHER AFROZE CHUMKI, Minister for State, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs of Bangladesh, said that, since the Beijing Conference, her country had made relentless strides in translating promise into action. Education for girls up to the twelfth grade had been made free, textbooks had been distributed free of cost and girl students were receiving stipends. Those measures had brought successful results in advancing gender parity in primary and secondary schools, keeping girls in the classroom and thus delaying child marriage. Also, her country was one of the few that had a female Prime Minister, speaker of the national Parliament and leader of the opposition, among other female officials. The Government had reserved one-third representation for women in the lowest tier at the local level and had made it mandatory for all political parties to ensure the same quota in female leadership in all their committees by 2020. Those initiatives had placed her country in the seventh position globally in terms of political empowerment, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Gender Gap Report. However, issues remained to be tackled, including violence against women, child marriage and nutrition deficiency.
KATALIN NOVÁK, Minister of State for Family and Youth Affairs, Ministry of Human Capacities of Hungary, said policies aimed at strengthening families could effectively contribute to improving the situation of women. While it was the duty of States to establish relevant legislation, much remained to be done to increase female participation in politics and decision-making and in strengthening institutional mechanisms. Negative stereotypes must also be eliminated to promote the acknowledgement of “invisible” work. Her country’s policies were focused on reconciling work with family life. In recent years, a number of measures had been taken to enhance women’s employment, reduce employment-related obstacles faced by mothers and develop an institutional system to provide day care for children.
ELKE SLEURS, State Secretary for Equal Opportunities for All, Disabled Persons and the Fight against Poverty of Belgium, said that Governments were responsible for achieving gender equality, but also for the empowerment of women and girls through the full and accelerated implementation of all critical areas of concern in the Beijing documents. “The commitments are clear, but now legislation, programmes, plans and the effective means of implementation are required,” she said. “No tradition, no religion, no value, nor any custom or culture can ever justify gender discrimination, violence against women and girls, or violations of their rights.” That implied the availability of confidential sexual and reproductive health information, as well as sexual education. Violence against women and girls was one of the worst violations of women’s rights and caused intolerable suffering, she said, stressing that Belgium had honoured on its commitment to combat gender-based violence through a national action plan. In addition the country had adopted a law in 2014 designating sexism as a criminal offense.
MARIE-LAURENCE SRANON SOSSOU, Minister in Charge of Microfinance, Youth and Women Employment of Benin, said the 12 areas identified in the Platform for Action were goals to be achieved. Accordingly, Benin had integrated its national policies on women with the outcome of the Beijing Conference. The country paid particular attention to increasing women’s access to credit and reducing the gap in enrolments between girls and boys. There were many sources of exclusion and marginalization, including lack of access to justice and deprivation of inheritance rights, she said, noting that her country was committed to dealing with those and other challenges through coordination with civil society organizations.
BENNO BÄTTIG, Secretary-General of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, described progress made in his country in the area of gender equality, including the legal prohibition of all gender discrimination in the workplace, access to early pregnancy termination, the provision of maternity leave and the prosecution of domestic violence. Nevertheless, challenges remained, he said, noting that women were paid less than men and reconciling work and family life was still a problem. In addition, domestic violence persisted and girls and boys continued to be limited in their aspirations by gender stereotyping. It was Switzerland’s firm belief that the Commission had played a major role in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action and should continue to play a central role in promoting the post-2015 goals regarding gender equality and in evaluating their implementation. He called on States to immediately and unconditionally ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol, and to increase financial contributions to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), as well as relevant non-governmental organizations.
VINAY SHEEL OBEROI, Vice-Minister for Women and Child Development of India, said that women were equal partners and agents of sustainable socioeconomic change and development. The principle of gender equality was firmly enshrined in India’s Constitution, which also provided for affirmative action for empowering women. Over 1.3 million Indian women at the grass-roots level had been brought into decision-making political positions by ensuring a 33 per cent quota in local governance, he said, noting that some states had raised that level to 50 per cent. Education for all and poverty eradication were at the heart of India’s efforts to overcome gender gaps and obstacles in development, he said, pointing out a recent 12 per cent increase in literacy rates among women. In 2015, the Prime Minister’s launched a nationwide multisectoral campaign “Save the Girl Child, Educate Her”, which aimed at addressing discrimination against women in a life cycle continuum. Finally, he stressed the importance of enabling the use of information and communication technology tools in advancing gender equality and empowering women.
CHANDRANI BANDARA JAYASINGHE, Minister for Women’s Affairs of Sri Lanka, said her country had been working towards achieving gender equality for women in all spheres and sectors by introducing legal reforms, implementing policies and mainstreaming gender-related priorities into action plans. The new Government had launched several important initiatives to address some serious gender issues by identifying them as priority areas in its 100-day programme. Those included laws to combat violence against women and girls, and special protection measures for war widows. Women’s contribution to alleviating poverty and upgrading the status of their families was remarkable, she said, emphasizing the Government’s commitment to their economic empowerment, eliminating violence against them and increasing their engagement in public and political life.
YEKUANA MARTÍNEZ, Vice-Minister for the Protection of Women’s Rights of Venezuela, said her country had been addressing the issue of the growing feminization of poverty through targeted strategies, plans and policies. The country’s law addressing violence against women was being expanded to include other manifestations of the scourge and special prosecutors and courts had been established. She said the country also needed to work against the depiction of women as symbols in commercials in order to ensure their dignity. Although the country had suffered 16 years of an “imperial siege”, it had taken remarkable strides towards ensuring women’s equality and empowerment. Criticizing the United States’ recent designation of her country as a threat to national security, she said that such moves would not divert Venezuela from its path of service to the poor and marginalized.
IOANA LIANA CAZACU, Deputy Minister and Head of the Gender Equality Department, Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Protection and Elderly of Romania, aligning herself with the European Union, described national progress and challenges. Since 1995, Romania had taken a number of steps that included adopting a legislative framework for gender equality and creating institutional mechanisms for the implementation of strategies and governmental policies on equal opportunities and the equal treatment of women and men. In addition, gender mainstreaming spanned all policies and national programmes and Government efforts focused on the promotion of gender equality, protection and support for victims of domestic violence and violence against women and the development of integrated services regarding the prevention and elimination of domestic violence. “The world has changed since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration,” she said, but no country had achieved gender equality and the Platform for Action remained relevant today.
ZAFARULLAH KHAN, Minister for State in the Office of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, said that the Beijing Conference had been a landmark event in pursuit of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Pakistan was working to make women equal and active partners in development and in public life. Among its efforts, his country had signed and ratified relevant human rights conventions and had taken practical steps, including drafting a national plan of action for women’s social, economic and political empowerment. Institutional mechanisms had also been established, including women’s departments. Other measures included a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy, gender-responsive budgeting and cash transfers for the poorest households. A business loan programme for youth reserved 50 per cent of its funds for women. Female representation in national and provincial legislatures ranged from 17 to 20 per cent, he said, adding that seven laws deemed discriminatory to women had been amended and new laws had been established.
GINTARAS KLIMAVIČIUS, Vice-Minister for Social Security and Labour of Lithuania, said his country’s national programme on equal opportunities for women and men was aimed at ensuring systematic gender equality in all areas. Lithuania was one of the countries where two out of the three highest positions had been held by women since 2009. The country actively participated in the European Union and international gender-equality activities and shared its experiences and good practices with non-Union member States. The practical implementation of gender equality required good governance, including well-functioning institutional mechanisms and sufficient human and financial resources. In closing, he said women, as equal partners, should play a pivotal role in conflict management, conflict resolution and sustainable peace.
Right of Reply
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Japan said the issue of “comfort women” had been explained objectively many times. Japan had expressed deep remorse and had made the greatest possible effort to provide compensation. The victims had consented to receive compensation, as well as a letter of apology. All this had been done despite the fact that the issue had been resolved as part of the normalization of relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea. He hoped there would be a constructive understanding of the issue in order to foster better bilateral relations.
Also speaking in exercise of right of reply, the representative of the Republic of Korea said the fact that those women were forced to serve as sexual slaves must remain at the core of the issue. Moreover, the issue had never been settled in the 1965 bilateral agreement, as it emerged only after victims began speaking out in the 1990s. The issue was not about compensation, but one of confession and Japan should accept its responsibility.
Taking the floor for a second time, the representative of Japan said his country’s longstanding position on the matter was sufficiently clear.
Speaking again, the representative of the Republic of Korea said conclusions and recommendations by international human rights treaty bodies clearly underlined that the perpetrators had not been held accountable. Only by squarely facing up to history could recurrence of such outrages be prevented.
Panels on National Mechanisms
The Commission then held three panel discussions under the theme “National mechanisms for gender equality: advocates for action and accountability, catalysts for change”.
Panel I
Moderated by Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the first panel on “the role of national mechanisms in legislative change and accountability” featured presentations by: Makhfirat Khidirzoda, Chair, Committee on Women and Family Affairs of Tajikistan; Maria de Lurdes Martins de Sousa Bessa, member, Women’s Parliamentary Group of Timor-Leste; Rose Rwabuhihi, Chief Gender Monitor, Gender Monitoring Office of Rwanda; Nicole Ameline, member, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
Opening the discussion, Mr. ŠIMONOVIĆ said the range of women’s mechanisms had increased over the years. Today, it included focal points, working groups across ministries and gender monitoring offices and observatories, as well as mechanisms that were part of the legislative branch or Parliament. The aim today was to get a better sense of the new mechanisms and their gender-equality outcomes. The challenges included low technical capacity and a lack of political will to prioritize gender mainstreaming across all policies and programmes.
Ms. KHIDIRZODA, asked how the Government machinery worked with parliamentary bodies to reform discriminatory legislation, said Tajikistan had taken various measures to ensure women’s rights that aimed at shaping national legislation and strategies. The national women’s mechanism played an important role in coordinating work among State institutions and civil society. Citing other efforts, she said in 1998 a national action plan to enhance women’s role in society outlined measures to assess legislation and training. Between 2001 and 2010, a State equal rights programme covered a range of issues, including women’s roles in politics and the family, as well as preventing violence against women. The Government had also issued presidential quotas for gifted girls from remote areas. A national strategy for the 2011-2020 period established economic opportunities for women.
Ms. DE SOUSA BESSA then described how her country had, in a post-conflict context, made considerable progress through legislative reform aimed at gender equality. Ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 2002 after gaining independence, Timor-Leste had created strategic development plan that set out priorities, which envisioned a “gender-fair” society by 2030. Priorities included investing in women and girls to achieve sustainable development, adopting a law on domestic violence and establishing a national action plan to tackle gender-based violence. UN-Women had provided technical assistance to strengthen the capacity of the Ministry of Justice, Office of Ombudsman and relevant civil society organizations, so that laws could be drafted and reviewed from women’s human rights perspective and those rights could be integrated into draft laws. Highlighting that women now made up 38 per cent of the national Parliament, the highest percentage in the Asia-Pacific region, she said advocacy from the women’s movement and machinery had made that change possible.
Ms. RWABUHIHI, on establishing a nation founded on accountability and democratic and human principles, said Rwanda had established a legal framework that underscored the importance of women’s participation and representation in all aspects of development that had paved the way to attainment of various gender gains. It had put in place a gender-sensitive Constitution entrenched in the ideology of women’s empowerment and breaking away from the former discriminatory legal framework. The process to create the Constitution had been all-inclusive and participatory and provided for national dialogue and negotiation. That involved the critical engagement of women caucuses, strong partnerships, as well as alliances with gender-sensitive men and women in the constitutional commission. Ground-breaking laws had been enacted to ensure equal rights for all in a number of areas, including land and inheritance. The Government had also enacted a law on preventing gender-based violence, including marital rape, and punishing perpetrators. Parliament could not pass a budget without it being assessed for gender sensitivity. Noting that all those mechanisms and many more had contributed to gender-sensitive legislation and accountability, she called for increased support to strengthen accountability mechanisms that ensured sustained gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Ms. AMELINE, on how national mechanisms worked with their international counterparts, said the best tool for ensuring women’s rights was the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The role of Parliament was essential, while the law provided the foundation for such work. Quotas served to “speed up history”, she said. Ongoing evaluation was indispensable and there was a need for more sophisticated indicators in order to show, for example, that increasing the number of girls in school positively impacted the gross domestic product (GDP). Other technologies, such as iPads, should be used more effectively so that people could access every recommendation that had been made.
In the ensuing discussion, delegates described national institutions dedicated to advancing women’s rights, including those that had championed gender-sensitive legislation, with the representative of Pakistan noting that the responsibility of reviewing and amending laws rested with the national women’s commission, which played a “watchdog” role to ensure the Government complied with its constitutional and international commitments. The commission also coordinated work across provinces and with the women’s parliamentary caucus and had pioneered such legislation as anti-sexual harassment and domestic violence bills.
The representative of Bahrain underscored the need to strengthen evaluation for donor countries, both in terms of technical assistance and transfer of national success stories to the international community. She urged a reallocation of funds and expertise offered to national mechanisms. Along similar lines, the representative of Mozambique highlighted the need for resources to finance personnel to improve coordination and monitoring.
Also speaking in the discussion were the representatives of Mexico, Nepal, Uganda, Finland and Italy.
Panel II
Moderated by Mr. Šimonović, the second panel on “the role of national mechanisms in achieving increased resources and service delivery” featured presentations by: Rosana Alvarado, First Vice-President of the National Assembly of Ecuador; Absa Wade Ngom, Director, Department of Women, Equity and Equality, Ministry of Women, Family and Children of Senegal; and Anna Arganashvili, Project Manager, Partnerships for Human Rights of Georgia.
Ms. ALVARADO said Ecuador had been forced to examine the role of national mechanisms, not only as technical bodies, but in their political role. Since 2007, the Government had prioritized women above capital, emphasizing the rights of girls rather than corporate interests. It had also prioritized social investment in its budget and sought to pay “social” rather than external debt. In 2012, a mechanism was introduced to link Government programmes with gender equality goals. A budgetary planning mechanism based on the rights of women and related programmes sought to reduce inequality, she said, adding that public investment had increased by 80 per cent between 2006 and 2014, making gender equality a viable goal.
Ms. NGOM said that, since Senegal’s independence, women’s empowerment had been a priority. In 2008, gender issues had been included in the budgeting process, while a national observatory for gender equality had also been established. Further, sectoral ministries had been urged to mainstream gender issues into their work as dedicated gender units liaised with national offices. In turn, the national mechanism worked with the gender units through a partnership agreement to incorporate a gender perspective into policies and programmes. Senegal sought to complement the regular budget with extra-budgetary resources, with the help of its partners, to advance women’s issues. Challenges included strengthening capacity, indicators and resource mobilization, she said, emphasizing that it was important to work with civil society.
Ms. ARGANASHVILI, on lessons learned through partnering within and outside the Government, said it was important to remember the price women had paid for establishing national machineries. “Unless we count the costs, we easily forget what women had to give up in order to serve the public good,” she said. Every step forward had been taken at a great human cost and it was clear why women had become angry with the indifference over the results. Governments appeared to be positive about national machineries, but only a few of those bodies operated as had been envisioned in Beijing. In Georgia, for example, there was a standing council on gender within Parliament, a special post to the Prime Minister and a human rights council. Yet, there were few services for abuse victims — only shelters. Moreover, there was no gender-sensitive budget and women were not benefitting from gender-sensitive health and social systems. In short, the national machinery was failing, enjoying thick layers of “gender equality paint”. It was marginalized within the Government, lacking executive power, as well as human and financial resources. It could not influence any entity. Those who created women’s entities were from the women’s movement and civil society, she said, noting that their vision for national machinery had not been realized.
In a discussion on how national mechanisms had facilitated gender-sensitive service delivery, speakers described national landscapes. South Africa’s delegate underscored a need for a “critical mass” of women in national legislatures — the first step towards ensuring that a gender agenda would be acted upon. In terms of service delivery, two developments had made a difference to women: the 1994 announcement that all children would have compulsory education for 10 years; and that all expecting mothers would have access to free health care. Ensuring that vulnerable workers would enjoy basic working conditions also had made an impact.
China’s representative said Hong Kong’s Government had implemented the Convention, in line with its basic law and local legislation. In 2001, a women’s commission was set up to advise the Government on important issues, while gender focal points had been appointed in all departments — 85 per cent of being at the “directorate” level.
Other speakers said national statistics were needed to get a precise picture of how public actions would be effective. In that context, Switzerland’s delegate said women in her country were still paid less than men and that a bill had been put forward requesting companies to show they were closing that pay gap.
As for lessons learned, Jordan’s representative proposed an assessment of the effectiveness of national machineries, as they connected the Government and civil society. “We lack sufficient power and sufficient resources,” she said. Estonia’s representative said women’s shelters in her country received money from casinos. “The more people gamble, more women’s shelters receive,” she said. Last year, however, marked the first time the shelters received funding from the State budget and a new victims’ support act would change the practice.
Also speaking in the discussion were the representatives of Sudan, Armenia, South Sudan, Morocco, Cuba and Iraq.
Panel III
Moderated by Mr. Šimonović, the third panel discussion on “the role of national mechanisms in advocacy and awareness-raising, and increasing women’s participation and leadership” featured presentations by: Salma Nims, Secretary-General, Jordanian National Commission for Women; Ing Kantha Phavi, Minister for Women’s Affairs of Cambodia; Alejandra Mora Mora, Minister for Women’s Affairs of Costa Rica and President of the Inter-American Commission of Women; and Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Ms. NIMS said the Jordanian National Commission for Women had been established in 1992 and its mandate had broadened in 1996 after the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action. It had built partnerships and coalitions with the Government and civil society to fulfil its mandate and had played a major role in increasing women’s participation at local and parliamentary levels, with support from UN-Women and with the launch of a media campaign to promote the election of women to public office. Through its legal team, it had also developed a list of legal amendments and reform measures for submission to Parliament. Over the past two decades, the National Commission had succeeded in changing articles and laws relating to women’s equality.
Ms. PHAVI said that increasing women’s political participation and leadership required commitment from Governments. Her country had had a gender equality policy in place since 2004 and there were 27 gender mainstreaming action groups working within ministries and agencies, as well as a technical working group on gender, which worked to harmonize laws and monitor the effectiveness of gender equality measures. Working with Parliament on laws affecting women was also essential, she said. Civil society groups were working to change the mind set within society so that men would not feel threatened. She stressed that using evidence-based advocacy approaches made the work easier. “In practice, women’s rights must be viewed in economic terms,” she said. Otherwise, the ministries did not take the issue seriously, she said, adding that, when provided with information on the economic impact of failure to take action, they moved more quickly.
Ms. MORA MORA said that the national mechanism on women’s rights was responsible for making “invisible women”, such as those in rural areas, visible. It was also important to continuously raise awareness of women’s rights because the patriarchal culture had challenged advances already made. The National Institute of Women, a women’s forum made up of 50 civil society organizations representing all strata of women in society, was a space to express tolerance and respect for women’s diversity. A civil society report, containing a chapter on accountability, was being annexed to a State document to show factors that were impeding women’s progress. The only way to mainstream the issue was for every institution to have a body dedicated to gender equality, she said. Emphasizing the importance of international institutions, she pointed out that alliances with UN-Women, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UNFPA and others were addressing harassment, one of the major issues holding women back.
Mr. BABATUNDE said the Population Fund, its sister agencies and civil society had worked with several Governments to ensure national and regional collaboration to strengthen women’s participation through development and the implementation of national policies. In Lebanon, the Fund had supported national institutions and civil society groups to operationalize a national women’s strategy and provide support to strengthen gender monitoring analysis. In Zimbabwe, the Fund had strengthened institutional mechanisms and sociocultural practices to promote and protect the rights of women and girls. In Turkmenistan, it had provided extensive support and technical assistance through seminars and workshops to expose local officials to international best practices leading to the adoption of the Government’s first national action plan on gender equality. Recognizing that gaps in implementation remained, he called for the provision of adequate resources to governmental organizations and other actors in the field.
In the ensuing discussion, delegates shared ways in which national mechanisms could help improve women’s representation in politics and public life. Awareness-raising was important to gender mainstreaming, said the representative of Finland, who noted that gender equality training should be provided to civil servants. The representative of the Dominican Republic said that four key aspects must be considered when establishing mechanisms: the actual level where the greatest impact could be achieved; the outcome, such as laws or appointments; its budget; and the Government’s political determination. A post-Beijing challenge would have all those elements converge at the same time.
Sharing experiences, the representative of Suriname said the Government had established a gender management system with focal points in each ministry. Monthly meetings were held and aimed at institutionalizing gender mainstreaming, and ministries were encouraged to mobilize resources for gender equality. South Africa’s representative said in the country’s Constitution, the equality clause trumped every other socioeconomic provision, emphasizing that political parties must be committed to including women and noting that quota requirements had ensured that half of all South African parliamentarians were women.
Also speaking in the discussion were representatives of Kuwait, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Dominican Republic, Cameroon and Mexico.
Source: Politics