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Statements to Commission on status of women

News and Press Release
Originally published



The Commission on the Status of Women met today to continue the discussion of its two thematic issues -- women and the media, and violence against women (for background information see press release WOM/1386, issued on 28 February).


NILOFER BAKHTIAR (Pakistan) said the single biggest step taken by her country to empower women and achieve gender equality had been in the field of political reform. Some 33 per cent of seats in all local bodies were now reserved for women, and more than 40,000 women councillors had been elected across the country. In addition, 60 seats in the National Assembly and 128 seats in the provincial assemblies (18 per cent of seats) were reserved for women. Thirteen women were elected to the National Assembly on general seats and 10 to the provincial assemblies. The recently concluded elections for the Senate saw 17 women elected to the upper house.

The Government was also carrying out an ambitious programme of economic empowerment of women, she continued. Providing economic opportunities to women was among the priorities of the country’s poverty alleviation programmes. Special schemes had been launched to provide poor women access to micro-credit to help them start businesses. A special lending institution, the Khushhali Bank, had been set up to provide micro-credit to the poor. Pakistan had also established the First Women’s Bank, which could best be described as "of the women, by the women and for the women".

Turning to violence against women, she said that crime was still being used as an instrument of vengeance and subjugation. It had been extensively used by Indian troops over the last 12 years to suppress the legitimate Kashmiri struggle for self-determination. Brutalities against Kashmiri women under Indian occupation had been recorded in the reports of several international organizations and non-governmental organizations. While the Commission on the Status of Women was in session last year, the forces of hate were playing havoc with Muslim women in the Indian state of Gujrat. The violence lasted for months and left hundereds of women dead, gang raped and battered. She believed an international criminal tribunal should be set up to bring to justice those responsible for ghastly crimes in Gujrat.

MARGARETA WINBERG, Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden, asked why, in the year of 2003, did male violence against women still exist? Why was the most dangerous place for a woman her own home? The truth was - society was still unequal. It was a society where the oppression and discrimination of women by men still prevailed and where men were seen as superior to women. It was a world where men created the norms, and in which men used different forms of violence to control the lives of women and girls. Male power structures continued to shape the world, she continued.

One important area where women constantly faced massive inequalities was in the labour market, she continued. In working life, women all over the world were confronted with higher rates of unemployment, fewer possibilities for a career, and lower wages. In Sweden, the Government was currently focusing on mending the wage gap between women and men. The root cause of wage inequalities was the difference in how women and men were valued in a patriarchal society. The most serious expression of those inequalities was when men physically abused, raped, and forced women and girls into prostitution and sold them as common goods or commodities.

In many countries, women lacked access to sexual and reproductive health care services, she said. That issue needed to be addressed politically, in the educational and health care systems, as well as in society at large. In that context, she expressed her deep concerns about countries that had taken measures, both inside and outside the United Nations system, aimed to counteract previous successful work, thus making the continuing struggle for women’s reproductive health and sexual rights much harder. She was especially concerned about the recent cuts to funding for different projects aimed to promote and improve reproductive health and sexual rights for women and girls. In that context, she expressed her deep appreciation for the important work done by the United Nations Population Fund, United Nations Children's Fund and United Nations Development Programme.

JACKIE KELLY (Australia) said that Australia’s commitment to gender equality could be measured by the continuing important advances for women in Australia and around the world. Over 4.2 million women were engaged in paid employment in Australia, with 68 per cent of working age women and 56.3 per cent of all working age females participating in the paid work force. In addition, 55 per cent of students commencing higher education courses in 2001 were female. Women also held 33.9 per cent of the Commonwealth Board positions.

Concerning domestic violence, the Australian Prime Minister had launched the first National Summit on Domestic Violence and established the Partnerships Against Domestic Violence initiative - a $50 million commitment. In 2001, the Australian Government established the national initiative to combat sexual assault - a commitment of $16.5 million. The initiative aimed to promote changes in attitudes and behaviours to reduce the incidence of sexual assault, and to establish an early intervention and prevention framework across all levels of Government and the community.

Australia was very concerned about the continuing escalation of trafficking in women and girls and continued to support international, regional and national efforts to tackle that serious crime, she said. The Government funded a range of anti-trafficking projects, including one that provided information exchanges for early warning systems and the apprehension and prosecution of traffickers in Asia. In conclusion, she said that women’s access to media and information and communication technologies was also a very important priority for Australia. The Government, therefore, supported a suite of information resources for women, including a women’s portal, providing a single point of entry for access to online government information, research, services and resources relevant to women.

ARNI HOLE, Director General, Ministry of Children and Family Affairs of Norway, said her country had been referred to as ‘a haven for gender equality’ by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Norwegian women had had success in gaining political influence and there were important results through the country’s welfare system and its policy for reconciliation of family and working life, for both women and men. There was a well-functioning national machinery for gender equality. Nonetheless, there still had not been improvement in the gender wage gap. In that regard, all sectors, not the least trade unions and employers associations, must be engaged to achieve faster improvement.

One of her main concerns was the lack of women in decision-making positions in the corporate world, she said. The number of women on boards and in top management showed no progress. In order to increase the number of women in the boardrooms of private companies, the boards of all public limited companies in Norway would be required to have 40 per cent women by 2005, in order to be registered and to operate legally. A recent study had revealed very different situations in the home sphere for female and male board members. For women, a spouse was a burden, while for men a spouse was a prerequisite. She recommended that others undertake similar studies.

Noting that, according to international and national law, it was the responsibility of the State to combat domestic violence, she announced that her country would prepare its second plan of action this year, with important input from a governmental-appointed commission representing non-governmental organizations. That plan would have a stronger focus on male perpetrators, children growing up with a violent parent, and the situation of immigrant women who were victims of domestic violence. A cross-sector plan of action, involving nine ministries, had been launched to combat trafficking in women and children. As Norway was a country of destination, as well as a country with high purchasing power, there was a strong focus on men as buyers of sex in the plan. Close international cooperation was a prerequisite in preventing that modern slave trade.

AUDRONE MORKUNIENE (Lithuania) said her Government had made the knowledge society and development of the newest information technologies a priority over the past few years. Development of the information society was a global process, which did not exclude Lithuania. Among other projects, a project for e-business promotion among small- and medium-sized enterprises had been initiated by the country’s Development Agency, and the necessary funding for the implementation of the project had been appropriated.

Until now, women used the newest information technologies less than men and it was more difficult for them to obtain access to necessary sources of information, she said. Women saw the necessity for change and had requested support to strengthen their organizational skills, as well as increase their access to information through the use of information and communication technologies tools. The draft national action plan on equal opportunities for women and men would include separate parts on women and the information society, which outlined activities to encourage women’s access and participation in the development of the information society.

DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC (Croatia) said that Croatia had been developing its legal framework in the field of gender equality. In addition to previous constitutional changes, the Croatian Government was currently preparing a new law on gender equality. A few important ideas contained in the new draft law on gender equality were: the inclusion of a definition of discrimination on the grounds of sex; and the obligation of all State administration bodies and legal entities with public competencies to apply policies and action plans aimed at the promotion and establishment of gender equality.

She said the law would also include the establishment of the office for gender equality as an expert body in charge of the implementation of the law, as well as the establishment of the ombudsperson for gender equality. Concerning the other thematic issue before the Commission, she stressed that in today’s world of globalization and new information, people were increasingly influenced by media and felt pressure to conform to particular images.

One could say that images mattered in the formation of gender identity, as well as in the formation of a "gender equality climate", she said. There was an urgent need to use the power of the media and information and communication technologies as "gender equality tools". Through its activities, the Government’s Commission for Gender Equality, together with civil society, promoted the active participation of women in the creation and implementation of media related policies. The Government also encouraged women to utilize information and communication technologies and promoted continuing education for media professionals.

MARION THIELENHAUS (Germany) said her Government was supporting its Women in the Information Society and Technology Centre of Excellence as a coordinating body on the national level. The Centre handled a wide range of tasks in the fields of information, counselling and networking. For example, it was responsible for a "Women on the Web" campaign, which had more than 100,000 female participants. As a result, female Internet access was boosted from 32 per cent in 1999 to 43 per cent in 2002. Another important project was "Girls Day", when girls were invited to visit their parents’ workplaces. In addition, to bolster girls’ interest in information professions, a public-private partnership project, "Idea-IT", had been launched in 2000.

The country’s national programme of action combating violence against women would be further elaborated this year, she continued. The programme aimed to control violence against women in a sustained manner by means of an integrated master approach. Important steering panels in that context were the two national working groups on trafficking in women and the "Federation-Laender" working group against domestic violence. On those panels, all actors in charge on both governmental and non-governmental sides were represented.

DATIN FAIZAH MOHD TAHIR (Malaysia) said, given the trends of globalization, women must be provided with skills and knowledge to ensure that they were not left behind. However, those tools could only be successful if one ensured that gender inequalities were not further exacerbated by the new technologies. Information and communication technologies, being the enabler in the knowledge economy, had the potential to divide society into the "info-haves" and "info have-nots". In Malaysia, the digital divide was addressed by the National Information Technology Council, chaired by the Prime Minister.

On the theme of women’s human rights, she supported the proposal that more studies be done on the issue of masculinity, in efforts to eliminate domestic violence. She informed the Commission that her Government made substantial financial allocations to enhance efforts to eliminate gender-based violence. At the regional level, the Government, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the Commonwealth Secretariat, had organized the Asia Regional Workshop on Violence Against Women in May 2002.

In conclusion, she turned to the Secretary-General’s report on the situation of and assistance to Palestinian women. Her delegation was not convinced that the recommendations contained therein would solve the grave humanitarian crisis faced by Palestinian women. Malnutrition was increasing; with a 10.4 per cent increase in the incidence of low birth weights, and a staggering 52 per cent increase in the rate of stillbirths. The recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s report must not only seek to address the symptoms, but also tackle the root causes of the problem.

ANGELIQUE NGOMA (Gabon) said her country was currently carrying out a national study on gender equity, and was attempting to enhance the lives of widows and orphans through legislative reform. It was also making available micro-credit for women, to support those who had no access to traditional banking credits, although funds provided through those credits were insufficient to meet the needs of the female population. In addition, her country was seeking the necessary funds to carry out an illiteracy project.

Lack of access to information technologies continued to widen the gap between rich and poor, cities and the countryside, and men and women, she said. It was necessary to conduct information campaigns on information and communication technologies and allow women more access, because it was clear they had a great deal of interest in the area. She called on other nations to appreciate Gabon’s level of development, and said it was counting on multilateral cooperation to further that development.

LILY CARAVANTES (Guatemala) said statistics in her country showed that a growing number of women were joining the workforce, but inequality in salaries remained. Some estimates suggested that men earned 30 per cent more than working women and in rural areas the situation was even worse. There, men were the only ones paid, even though both children and women participated in the work. Further, only 54 per cent of the population could read and write. Actions by government agencies had been moving forward, in the sense that there was a political will. That political will would eventually impact on the national budget, to ensure that the necessary resources were made available for the advancement of women.

She stressed the importance of gender perspectives, to make advances in the media. For those changes to make a difference, they must be made on both a long-term and short-term basis. She formally proposed the holding of a regional meeting to explore the scope of transitional and long-term changes, as well as the exchange of national experience. She suggested a focus on four main principles: guaranteeing an increase in the number of women involved in the media; further emphasis on training activities; limiting the stereotyping of women, including pornography; and raising awareness, to ensure that society eliminated violence and discrimination against women.

LESLIE WRIGHT, of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts and Conference of non-governmental organizations, said that follow up to various women’s conferences was an importance concern for her organization. She stressed that there was a need to focus more attention on the critical concerns for women raised at the major conferences in the 1990s and those that have emerged since. Also, young women needed more chances to participate in bringing their issues and concerns to the attention of their governments. Of particular concern, she said, was the plight of the women of Afghanistan, and she urged all nations to provide assistance in raising support for them.

Ms. KEBE (Senegal) said that significant progress had been made since the evaluation of the five-year review of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995). The advancement of women was one of her Government’s main priorities. A recent study on gender-equality had stressed the need to mobilize and fully appreciate the role of women in society. Concerning women’s access to media and information technologies, she said that Senegal had developed several national measures. Those measures had led to the establishment of a women’s radio station; a women’s monthly magazine; and the provision of airtime for women, allowing them to express their opinions.

She said the Government had also been involved in setting up a computer support system for women, training them both in urban and rural areas. That was a first step in bridging the gender gap in her country. With regard to the national initiatives taken, she stressed that it had become clear that only a collective responsibility could provide a solution.

Concerning violence against women, she informed the Commission of laws enacted addressing female genital mutilation and rape. The Government was now attempting to achieve the total elimination of the practice of female genital mutilation. Other plans by the Government included the establishment of an observatory of family rights, which would include the protection and promotion of women’s rights, and a national centre for assistance and training of women. The latter aimed to increase women’s knowledge in health care and technology, aimed in particular at improving reproductive health. In conclusion, she stressed that the participation in and access of women to information and communication technologies would enhance the role of women in society and provide a better world for all.

PATRICIA ESPINOSA TORRES (Mexico) said her country had binding criteria on furthering the rights of women. Recently, it had increased attention on women’s health by creating women’s hospitals. It had also promoted funding in urban and marginalized rural areas, and was providing special support for adolescent mothers. In addition, Mexico had reformed its electoral law, which now guaranteed women at least 30 per cent participation in the country’s Congress.

In compliance with the principles of the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention, Mexico gave free care to the victims of violence, had set up a system of indicators on violence and had established a universal registry on violence in the family in Mexico. The Government had set up institutional groups under the Ministry of the Interior, with the participation of women, which dealt with victims, non-governmental organizations and others in seeking solution to the issue of violence against women.

RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI (Israel) said that despite the significant strides towards the advancement of women that the State of Israel had made, regional and worldwide security and economic concerns impeded the full realization of those undertakings. The past two and a half years had seen the unfolding of national, communal and personal tragedies, during one of the most difficult periods for Israel, as well as for the whole region. Israel was no exception to the universal phenomenon of women suffering in situations of armed conflict. Women suffered as immediate victims of terror attacks, women suffered as mothers, spouses, daughters and sisters.

When the lion’s share of the budget went to immediate security needs, and the market was in recession, she said, there were just not enough resources left for women. Indeed, women’s rights were human rights, and she believed that all States, certainly Israel, had realized that by now. But within the broad sphere of human rights, it was not women’s civil and political rights that were in jeopardy any longer. Current women’s concerns and interests fell within the category of social and economic rights. Unfortunately, there were not good times for the advancement of such rights, not in Israel, nor it seemed worldwide. Notwithstanding those impediments, significant progress was indeed being made in Israel, on all fronts, and the State of Israel was deeply committed to the Beijing Platform for Action.

ELLEN SAUERBREY (United States) noted that women were breaking new ground and increasingly assuming leadership positions in government, business, academia, law and the sciences, the media and the arts. However, they continued to be subjected to discrimination and violence. That violence came in many forms, including trafficking in women and girls, domestic violence, harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, so-called "honour crimes", rape and other horrific violence. Throughout the United States, local governments were passing tough new laws to criminalize abusers and protect and provide social services for women and children who were victimized. The private sector, including non-governmental organizations and faith-based groups, were paying an active role in providing shelters and counselling.

Media and information technology had great potential to advance women’s economic well being, she continued, allowing women in the poorest countries to communicate among themselves and with women in other countries to exchange ideas, gain new knowledge and skills and pursue new economic and political opportunities. The United States had funded exchange programmes for West Africans that gave women non-governmental organization leaders training with special attention to the Internet and networking capability. It had also recently hosted a video conference linking women in Afghanistan with business leaders in New York and non-governmental organizations in Washington. By taking action now to address women’s access to information technology, she said, the international community could progress towards a world where technology empowered women, as well as men, both economically and socially.

YORIKO MEGURO (Japan) said violence against women was a global problem that persistently created obstacles to the promotion and protection of women’s rights. The Government of Japan had promulgated the "Law for the Prevention of Spousal Violence and the Protection of Victims" in 2001. That was the first law in Japan to include comprehensive provisions on the issue of spousal violence, including the establishment of spousal violence counselling and support centres, which had been providing victims with consultations, counselling, temporary protection and information since last April.

Combating trafficking required multidisciplinary cooperation at the national, regional and international levels, based on an in-depth understanding of the causes of each phenomenon, she said. In February, a symposium on trafficking had been held in Japan, in cooperation with UNICEF. The symposium had been attended by key non-governmental organizations and other active players in the fight against child trafficking in South-East Asia and other regions. Among the many issues raised, the one that attracted the greatest attention was the necessity to address root causes, namely, poverty and economic disparities in developing countries.

It was clear that poorer people, in particular women and children living in less developed areas, were socially and economically the most vulnerable, she said. Another serious concern was the fact that scarce opportunities for employment and education in countries of origin might lead to sexual exploitation and trafficking in women and children. Japan had, accordingly, been actively extending bilateral and multilateral assistance to the countries of origin, with a view to increasing opportunities for the employment and education of those vulnerable people.

ELIZABETH QUEROL CAMPOS DE ARANA (Peru) said that her country had continued to support programmes to improve the skills and abilities of women living in poverty. In the field of health, coordinated work between the State and international institutions had led to greater efficiency and quality in the country’s health services, giving priority to care for the poorest sectors. In that respect, the Ministry of Health had implemented free health insurance favouring male workers, women, boys, girls and future mothers. Regarding education, the Government was making an immense social investment in that area. That meant beginning to reduce weapons purchases, to create education programmes at all levels.

Literacy programmes in Peru were oriented to decrease or eradicate illiteracy, and also to offer education for development in such areas as reproductive health, the duties and rights of citizens and the prevention of family violence, she said. The Government approved in 2001 the National Plan against Violence towards Women for the period 2002-2007, which provided for the recognition, immediate attention and comprehensive recovery of women victims of violence. It also offered training for professionals in the treatment of women victims. As a complement to that Plan, the Government had also created the National Programme against Family and Sexual Violence, which had a total of 37 centres at the national level offering prevention, awareness and rehabilitation to the victims of family violence.

LAURA VELASQUEZ (Argentina) said in this session it was the task of the Commission to deal with such issues as violence against women and the trafficking of women. Instruments signed on those issues had been approved and ratified by the Government of Argentina. National laws were now being modified to adhere to international instruments. The Government was attempting to promote campaigns and policies to eradicate those crimes, she said. The crime of international trafficking in persons was severely punished. The Government was cooperating on issues of trafficking on a bilateral basis with the Governments of Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru.

When looking at women’s access to information and communication technologies, it was clear that men continued to control information. In that connection, the National Women’s Council had conducted a journalism meeting on some of those issues, as well as discrimination in publicity. It was with great satisfaction that she told the Commission of new laws promulgated in 2002 promoting the advancement of women.

SUSAN NKOMO (South Africa) said her country had continued to work towards achieving true participation in and access for women in the media and information and communication technologies -- in decision-making positions, setting agendas and determining content. It currently had a legislative and policy framework allowing: diversity of ownership of media with particular emphasis on women; skills development to create a critical mass of women at all levels in the sector; and community radios, a multi-purpose community centre combining telecentres and public Internet terminals in post offices to ensure access to rural communities. It had also set up the Presidential National Commission on the Information Society and Development and the International Advisory Commission on the Information Society.

South Africa had enjoyed some success in its endeavours to make information and communication technologies more accessible, she said. For example, it was expanding projects currently underway at the University of the North West to develop a glossary for information and communication technologies in South Africa’s indigenous languages. To date, the Zulu glossary had been produced. The country was also working to ensure that government language portals and heritage sites included gender-sensitive content and information relevant and specific to women’s concerns.

ELLEN MARGRETHE LOJ (Denmark) said that in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the principles of non-discrimination and equality, together with a general recognition of the human rights of women and men, were clearly stated. Those rights also included the right to decide on sexual and reproductive matters. Women all over the world must have access to information and preventive measures that enabled them to decide freely on matters relating to their sexuality and health. That was a central issue, not least in years when gender inequalities fed the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It was very important to further recognize the connection between HIV/AIDS and women’s human rights.

Violence against women and girls could take many forms, she continued. A specific kind of violence was female genital mutilation. In Denmark, female genital mutilation was a crime and was treated as such. A working group appointed by the Government was considering existing legislation on professional staff’s obligation to report on cases in which girls had been victims of that crime. Proposals to strengthen support for those girls, and non-governmental organizations working to prevent the crime, had emerged.

Trafficking in women and girls for the purpose of sexual exploitation was a blatant violation of women’s human rights, she said. In December 2002, the Danish Government had launched a national plan to combat trafficking in women. The action plan paid special attention to the prevention of trafficking and support to victims. Those activities were based on the definitions in the Protocol to prevent trafficking in human beings, part of the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Last year, she said, trafficking had been criminalized in a specific paragraph in the Danish Criminal Code and traffickers faced up to eight years imprisonment.

Ms. FATIMATA (Burkina Faso) said women in her country were the victims of violence on a daily basis. That violence took the form of early or forced marriages, harmful traditional practises, and domestic violence. Despite the technological revolution, radio and television had continued to play an important role in raising awareness with respect to violence, but such information was still not reaching a sufficient number of women. Many women in the country had no income and were unable to acquire radios or television.

Conditions of life for women in Burkina Faso had remained precarious, she continued, despite efforts made by the political authorities and partners in development. State strategies to improve such conditions included the creation of a national effort to benefit rural women, a fund to assist women farmers, and a 10-year development plan to raise the educational enrolment rate to 58.5 per cent of children, with girls making up 62 per cent of that. The country had also recently launched a broad literacy programme for women and girls, developed state and private radio programmes, and developed a strategic plan for reproductive health. Plans to improve women’s living condition existed in the country, but the road to achieving that was long.

BOB F. JALANG’O (Kenya) said Kenya had gone through very successful and peaceful general elections in December 2002. The new administration had committed itself to adhere to the principles of democracy, good governance and, promotion and protection of human rights, including rights of women. The general election had seen a marked improvement in the number of women in decision-making positions. The Ninth Parliament had a total of 17 women parliamentarians, the largest in the history of the country. The Government of Kenya had continued to demonstrate a concern for the welfare and special needs of women. It had also committed itself to ensuring that gender equality and equity was promoted as a necessary precondition for national development and the realization of the full potential of each and every Kenyan.

In that respect, the Government had undertaken to ensure the removal of social, cultural and legal obstacles faced by women. Legal initiatives towards combating violence against women included: the Criminal Amendment Bill 2003 that removed the inconsistencies between penalties for sexual offenders against minors and women; the Public Officers Ethics Bill 2003 that outlawed all forms of sexual harassment in the public sector; and the Equality Bill of 2002 that outlawed sexual harassment in all other sectors. Concerning female genital mutilation, he said the Government had enacted the Children’s Act 2002, which made it criminal to circumcise a child below the age of eighteen years.

SERIEL BEJI (Tunisia) said her country had mainstreamed gender-specific measures into all sectors of society. Some one fourth of its active population were women, who also held a large proportion of professional positions in the country.

She believed that information and communication technologies provided opportunities for economic growth and development, but noted that the gap between men and women in access to such technologies had remained wide. Most of the population of the world lived in poverty, without information and communication technology access, and that would be the main topic of the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society. Tunisia had adopted a strategy to increase access to information and communication technologies, which was based on monitoring and developing human resources in the field. The Government wanted to make computers affordable for every family, provide access for all to the Internet, and popularize technologies for children and youth.

PAIMANCH HASTEI (Iran) said one of the most influential elements in the globalization process had been the explosion of information and communication technologies. Communication networks could foster advances in health and education, she said, and the Internet had enabled the interconnection of civil society. In that way, it was of the utmost importance to create an enabling environment for the use of information and communication technologies by women and girls, to engage them as active participants in the information society.

Concerning violence against women, she said it was one of the most critical issues that stood as a major obstacle to the advancement of women. The Beijing +5 outcome document provided that violence against women and girls must be a punishable criminal offence and that steps needed to be taken at the international level to stop the abuse of women and end the impunity of those committing such crimes. In that connection, she stressed that the steady growth of the phenomenon of decriminalizing and legalizing prostitution, in some parts of the world, created an enabling environment for the promotion of violence against women in a legal context. It also stimulated the expansion of the demand side, which was considered to be the main interest source for pimps, criminals and traffickers of women.

JEAN AUGUSTINE (Canada) stressed that State commitments regarding the rights of women were as relevant as ever. The international community must be vigilant in maintaining the strength of such commitments to gender equality and focus attention on their implementation. At a time of increased focus on threats to global security, it was vital that the protection and promotion of women’s human rights and the elimination of violence against women did not fall off the agenda. Women’s human rights were integral to peace and security, and the involvement of women in reconstruction and reconciliation efforts were essential to their success.

Eliminating violence against women remained a priority for the international community, she continued. Canada’s experience had highlighted the need to address the root causes of such violence, as well as the need for long-term prevention and improved mechanism for the treatment of survivors. Regarding trafficking in women and children, the global nature of that crime required a coordinated approach, such as that outlined in the Palermo Protocol to the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. In Canada, the new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act imposed fines up to $1 million and imprisonment up to life for such trafficking.

Computer use in Canada was quite high for women, she said. Internationally, women’s electronic networks worldwide allowed them to converse about the outcomes of conferences that had been held. However, many women worldwide were living in poverty, had little education, or lived in isolated geographic areas and to them the promise of the information society was barely a dream.

MOMINAT OMAROVA (Azerbaijan) said the decree of the President of March 2000 on gender policy and women’s empowerment had had an impact on evoking the structure of the capacity-building of the national machinery. The practice of the Inter-Agency Council, comprised of focal points from relevant ministries, leading non-governmental organizations and media had proved to be a successful experience in implementing the equality National Plan of Action. She added that the terms of gender mainstreaming had been altered considerably from the strategy of gender enlightenment. The acknowledgment of gender policy as integral to decision-making remained one of the Government’s priorities.

On trafficking in human beings, she said that it was one of the most horrifying violations of human rights. Trafficking in human beings was one of the negative consequences of Azerbaijan’s transition period. The fact that 20 per cent of the Azerbaijani territories remained under occupation, and were not controlled by Azerbaijan, remained a deep concern. Azerbaijan’s geographic location, unfortunately, made it vulnerable to such crimes as trafficking in persons, drugs, and weapons. In that connection, she wanted to inform the Commission that the new Criminal Code of Azerbaijan regulated such crimes, including crimes related to trafficking as slavery, sexual abuse, forcible sexual activity, and sexual coercion of minors into prostitution.

NAJAT AL-HAJJAJI, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, said both the Commission on Human Rights and its Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights had worked on the issue of trafficking in women and girls for several years. In its most recent resolution, the Commission had addressed a broad range of actors in fighting the phenomenon, including Member States, Special Rapporteurs, United Nations agencies, Internet service providers and business generally. In addition, trafficking had been examined by the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women in her report to the Commission in 2000.

The Commission on Human Rights had also worked in the area of women’s human rights and eliminating violence against women and girls. The Special Rapporteur on the issue based her mandate on the General Assembly’s Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It was one of the oldest of the current special procedures of the Commission on Human Rights, and the current Special Rapporteur would be presenting a "state of the world" report on her mandate before she left this year. The synergy of that report, together with the outcome of the panel discussion on the issue at the current session of the Commission on the Status of Women, would provide a powerful impetus for action in the area in 2003 and beyond.

TATJANA SIKOSKA, Officer-in Charge, International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), informed the Commission on the progress of the work of the Institute. A collaborative research project on gender had been undertaken focusing on gender empowerment in relation to information and communication technologies, she said. It had looked into the availability of information, content and language. The results of the research would be made available to Member States during the World Summit for the Information Society.

Another collaborative research project, produced in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had focused on gender-based violence and its causes, she continued. The research concluded that the combat to end violence against women must include male participation. It was hoped that some of those projects would provide stimulating discussion and an exchange of ideas in the international community. She briefly mentioned research undertaken on such other issues as gender and sustainability, women and armed conflict, and gender and financing for development.

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ (Cuba) noted that the segment of the world’s population struggling against globalization and its consequences, including the exclusion of large segments of the population from basic human rights, was increasing worldwide. Within that struggle, women’s movements played an important and singular role, since they were among the most affected by discriminatory, marginalizing and exclusionary policies. In the developing world, economic and social conditions had worsened, although poverty was also to be found in developed countries. Under such conditions, women were particularly affected, due to subordination and discrimination.

Female unemployment rates were higher than those of men worldwide, she said, and women had been most affected by the scarcity of employment. The most precarious positions of employment were often held by women in the informal sector, with no social security or membership in trade unions. Women worked more hours than men, yet women’s incomes were lower - up to 20 per cent in the manufacturing sector. Gender inequality was particularly clear in education, with two-thirds of the 876 million illiterate worldwide estimated to be women.

Turning to her own country, she said that women’s participation in Cuban society had grown in recent years. By the end of 2002, Cuban women made up 46 per cent of the labour force in the civil-State sector. In just one year, 158,389 new full-time jobs had been created, and 44.7 per cent of them were given to women. In the previous school year, 64 per cent of higher education graduates were women, which had increased the presence of women in the technical and professional workforce to 66.4 per cent. Women also occupied 34 per cent of leading positions in the political and administrative spheres. In the recent national elections, women made up 35.9 per cent of all elected deputies.

T.D. OYELADE (Nigeria) said all forms of violence against women were the focus of Nigeria’s deliberations on women’s advancement. Such advancement could be enhanced by according prime consideration to the realistic promotion and protection of the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of all women, throughout their life cycle, without discrimination or distinction. Today, women were said to represent a staggering 70 per cent of those living in poverty. Their basic needs had yet to be adequately addressed by local, national and international policies.

He stressed the negative impact on women of the process of globalization, armed conflicts and the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which also seriously hindered the welfare of women and girls in developing countries. Violence and inequality against women would continue to remain an intractable phenomenon, unless a favourable environment was created. His delegation agreed with the view that the underlying socio-economic and cultural causes and factors that increased inequality and discrimination deepened the vulnerability of women and children to trafficking, violence, exploitation and injustice.

LESEGO MOTSUMI (Botswana), speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), began with conclusions that had been reached at a conference in 2000 in Lesotho, which reviewed implementation of the SADC addendum on the prevention and eradication of violence against women. Those conclusions included the following: domestic violence was identified as the most pervasive of all forms of gender violence; sexual offences against women and children was increasing, and had led to the amendment of laws dealing with sexual offences such as rape in several countries; prostitution and trafficking in women and children was rising within SADC countries; and in most cases of child sexual abuse, there was a conflict between statutory and customary law.

The SADC had also found a link between violence against women and girls and the spread of HIV/AIDS, she said. Due to the unequal power relations between men and women, most women did not have the power to negotiate for safer sex. Greater proportions of young girls were infected with HIV than boys of similar age for several reasons, including violence that made girls particularly vulnerable.

The SADC had carried out a study on gender in the southern African media in September 2002, she continued. That was the most comprehensive regional effort to be undertaken to explore how women and men were represented and portrayed in the media, in what areas, and by whom. The study covered a total of 25,110 news items. Women in the study constituted 17 per cent of news producers, against a global average of 18 per cent. The only news category in which women were comparatively visible was as television presenters. Women journalists wrote less than 20 per cent of the articles in the news monitored.