Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women
550th Meeting (AM)
Adopting its agenda and programme of work for its current three-week session, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women agreed this morning to consider reports from Suriname, the Republic of Congo, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Belgium, Tunisia, Zambia, Ukraine and Denmark. Three of those States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women
- the Republic of Congo, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Suriname - will present their reports for the first time.
During this session, from 3 to 21 June, the Committee will also have before it the report of the Secretariat on the ways and means of expediting its work, which includes decisions taken during a recent seminar in Lund, Sweden; revised draft reporting guidelines; and contributions of one of the Committee's experts - Hana Beate Schopp-Schilling - concerning the impact on the work of the Committee of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Xenophobia and Related Intolerance and the Second World Assembly on Ageing. The Committee will also hold closed meetings with the Special Rapporteur of the Inter-American Commission on the Human Rights of Women, and with States parties to the Convention.
Part of the United Nations human rights machinery, the Committee is one of the treaty bodies monitoring implementation of major international conventions establishing the legitimacy and global reach of human rights in the economic, social, and political spheres. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979 and entered into force on 3 September 1981.
Often described as an international bill of rights for women, the Convention consists of a preamble and 30 articles, which provide a definition of discrimination against women and set up an agenda for national action to end it. By accepting the Convention, States commit themselves to end discrimination against women in all forms. In particular, they undertake to incorporate the principle of equality in national legal systems, abolishing all discriminatory laws and adopting appropriate ones.
Opening the session, the Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, Carolyn Hannah, reported on the events that have taken place since the closing of the twenty-sixth session last February. In particular, she described the outcome of such events in relation to the work of the Committee as the forty-sixth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the fifty-eighth session of the Commission on Human Rights, and the Second World Assembly on Ageing.
She said that among the resolutions adopted by the Commission on the Status of Women were texts on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan and the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls. The Chairperson of the Committee had addressed the Commission on Human Rights during its session in March-April, and a large number of that body's resolutions contained specific reference to the work of the Committee. One of the Committee's experts had also presented its contribution to the main committee of the Second World Assembly on Ageing. Most recently, the Division for the Advancement of Women and the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women had participated in the twenty-seventh special session of the General Assembly on children.
Continuing, she informed the Committee that Solomon Islands had ratified the Convention on 6 May, bringing the total number of States parties to 169. A total of 74 States had signed, and 40 had ratified the Optional Protocol, or acceded to it. [Under the Optional Protocol, individual and groups of people have a right to bring their complaints before the Committee regarding violations of the Convention.]
In her opening statement, the Committee's Chairperson, Charlotte Abaka of Ghana, described various events in which she had participated over the last few months. In particular, during the forty-sixth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, she had had an opportunity "to publicize the Convention and its Optional Protocol, the work of the Committee and the way forward in its future work".
She added that she had also had a fruitful meeting with the African delegates, organized by the representative of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in New York, where she had talked about the status of ratification of the Convention; States parties reporting responsibilities; and possible requests for technical assistance in writing reports. On 8 March, International Women's Day, she had been among those invited to have a breakfast meeting with Laura Bush, the First Lady of the United States. Later that day, the Committee's solidarity message to the women of Afghanistan was read. She had also participated in the latest sessions of the Commission on Human Rights.
She had also been a panellist on a programme organized jointly by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the NGO Women's Caucus, dealing with the impact of racial discrimination on women from the Convention perspective, she said. One of her impressions following that meeting was that some non-governmental organizations in Geneva needed to be updated on the work of the Committee, and, for that reason, it was important to publicize the Web site and ensure that it was regularly updated.
The Chief of the Women's Rights Section, Jane Connors, introduced agenda items 5 (Implementation of article 21 of the Convention) and 6 (Ways and means of expediting the work of the Committee). [Article 21 of the Convention provides that the Committee may make suggestions and general recommendations based on the examination of the reports and information received from States parties. Under this item, the Committee provides opportunities for specialized agencies' representatives to present information related to the Convention.] Ms. Connors said that representatives of specialized United Nations agencies and other bodies had been invited to attend the pre-session working group and had addressed the working group when it met in February 2002.
Goran Melander, Chairperson of the pre-session working group, introduced the group's report. He noted that lists of issues and questions had been prepared by several countries, which focused on themes addressed by the Convention. The report described implementation of the Convention in five States parties and covered several concerns, including the persistence of stereotypical attitudes, violence against women, women's unemployment, their under-representation at all levels of decision-making, and trafficking of women for prostitution. Equality for women had not been achieved, and poverty and deteriorating health were continuing problems for women in several States.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the Committee's Chairperson stressed the importance of the Committee's comments made at the conclusion of its deliberations on each State party's report. To illustrate her point, she informed the Committee that following the presentation of Portugal's fourth and fifth periodic reports, she had received a letter from that country's Secretary of State for Equality regarding dissemination of the Committee's concluding remarks.