As Ageing Population Rapidly Grows, Rights of Older Women Must Be Prioritized, Speakers Say on Commission Session’s Third Day

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Commission on the Status of Women, Sixtieth Session,
7th & 8th Meetings (AM & PM)

Women outnumber men in older age, particularly in the developing world, and designing relevant polices is a challenge that States must embrace, the sixtieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women heard today.

Yanira Argueta, Minister for Women of El Salvador, speaking for the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said that between 2015 and 2030, the number of people older than age 60 was expected to grow by 56 per cent — from 901 million to 1.4 billion, and to more than 2 billion in 2050.

That represented an opportunity to benefit from the contributions that older persons could make to society, she said, adding: “The situation of older women must be a priority in all of our actions.”

Noting that neglect, abuse and violence against older women often went undetected, she called upon States to ensure the full and equal participation of older women in decision-making, and advocated for the creation of an international instrument for the protection of older persons’ rights.

Continuing their general discussion, representatives reflected on the theme of this year’s session — women’s empowerment and its link to the Sustainable Development Goals — from several angles.

Germany’s delegate stressed the importance of communication and information sharing in combating violence against women. Her counterpart from Finland said women could have more time for social and economic life if men and boys did more domestic chores. Burkina Faso’s representative noted how difficult it could be for women to access microcredit, while Kuwait’s delegate urged all peace-loving nations to join forces for peace and to “dry out” the resources of terrorism.

Also participating in today’s general discussion were ministers and other senior officials from Bolivia and Nicaragua.

Representatives from the State of Palestine and Curaçao, a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, also spoke.

The representative of Israel spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

In the morning, the Commission held an interactive ministerial dialogue on “Building alliances for gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. In the afternoon, it convened an interactive expert panel discussion on “Key strategies for gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda”.

The Commission will meet again on Thursday, 17 March at 10 a.m. to continue its work.

Interactive Ministerial Session

In its morning session, the Commission gathered for an interactive ministerial dialogue on the theme “Building alliances for gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.

TATAU GODINHO, Secretary of Policies for Women’s Work and Economic Autonomy of Brazil chaired the discussion. In her opening statement, she noted that many conservative organizations had tried to take away the rights of women, which made it all the more important that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development resulted in improvements in the situation of women worldwide. As had been highlighted time and again, there was no sustainable development without gender rights and equality between men and women.

ANTONIO DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA (Brazil), Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, moderated the discussion which was aimed at sharing examples of good practices, modalities and planned initiatives to strengthen gender equality. Governments, parliaments, local authorities, civil society, the private sector, academia and the media all had a role to play in advancing gender issues. He hoped the session would enhance collaboration among all stakeholders to achieve better results for women and girls and noted that non-governmental organizations would be invited to participate in the latter portion of the discussion.

The dialogue would centre around two main questions, he said. First, given the comprehensive nature of the 2030 Agenda, what alliances and partnerships were Governments and women’s organizations planning to enter into to strengthen the gender-responsive implementation of the Agenda? Second, how could Government or national mechanisms support and empower women’s organizations and create an enabling environment so they could contribute to the national implementation and monitoring of the Agenda and what were the challenges that needed to be taken into account in that process?

In the ensuing discussion, many speakers emphasized that sustainable development could only be achieved by forging broad partnerships among all those that had influence over people and societies.

The representative of Norway said that civil society and the private sector had made important contributions and would continue to be valuable partners in the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. The role and impact of volunteers deserved particular commendation.

The representative of Poland said his country had put in an action plan to advance women’s empowerment and gender equality. Social partners were considered important actors for both the implementation and monitoring of that initiative.

The representative of Colombia said that institutional mechanisms on gender equality must be open to all relevant stakeholders. Steps had to be taken to promote accountability and protect the human rights of women. Further, efforts must be made to ensure that the private sector was socially responsible.

The representative of Liechtenstein noted that the right to vote had only been extended to women in her country 30 years ago. Women’s empowerment had improved in Liechtenstein since then, noting that two out of her country’s five ministers were women. However, only 20 per cent of parliamentarians in Liechtenstein were women.

Representatives speaking on behalf of non-governmental organizations emphasized that in the global push to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, there had to be concerted efforts to ensure that resources and actions were distributed equally and would lead to the elimination of gaps between men and women. Speakers emphasized the need to change cultural patterns that maintained the subordination of women and girls. As one speaker stated, gender equality was not actually a problem, but was indeed part of the solution to the many challenges facing societies today.

Mr. PATRIOTA said in his closing statement that the good news was that the international community was not “starting from scratch” with regard to promoting gender issues, as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action had already encouraged States to put in place some structures. He noted that most speakers throughout the dialogue had highlighted that equality would be a key driver towards the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.

Ms. GODINHO, in closing the event, noted that many speakers had highlighted that building alliances was a key component of promoting an effective and progressive gender perspective. The feminist movement had been of critical importance for changing societies around the world.

Also speaking today were ministers and other senior officials from South Sudan, Republic of Korea, Uganda, Indonesia, Jordan, Dominican Republic, France, Argentina, Portugal, South Africa, Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador, Egypt, Liberia, Japan and Pakistan.

Representatives of the non-governmental organizations Chirapaq Centro de Culturas Indígenas del Perú, Sveriges Kvinnolobby, Association of War Affected Women, Bahrain Women Society, International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific, Fundacion para Estudio Investigacion de la Mujer, Centre for Social Research, International Federation of Business and Professional Women on behalf of CSW/NY, Women Against Violence Europe and International Alliance of Women also spoke.

The Commission then continued the general debate of its sixtieth session.


YANIRA ARGUETA, Minister for Women of El Salvador, speaking for the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said that between 2015 and 2030, the number of people older than age 60 was expected to grow by 56 per cent, from 901 million to 1.4 billion, and to more than 2 billion in 2050. Women outnumbered men in older age, with the increases greater in the developing world. The opportunity was to benefit from the contributions older persons could make to society, while the challenge was to design relevant policies. “The situation of older women must be a priority in all of our actions,” she said, noting that the high incidence of poverty among them was related to lack of economic resources — especially credit and land ownership — lack of access to education, and minimal participation in decision-making. Older women in rural areas were especially vulnerable, as their role was around unpaid family care and dependent on others for their survival. The neglect, abuse and violence against them often went undetected, a risk that must be reduced by increasing awareness and protection, she said, underscoring the importance of general recommendation No. 27 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. That recommendation recognized the gendered nature of ageing and the disproportionate impact on older women. States must ensure the full and equal participation of older women in decision-making, while UN-Women must mainstream their situations across its work. She advocated for the creation of an international instrument for the protection of older persons’ rights.

VIRGINIA VELASCO, Minister of Justice of Bolivia, associating herself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said her country had in 1999 ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development had “decolonized” multilateral development agreements, notably by stressing that Governments could be inclusive and reflect the needs of the international community as a whole. It was “pro-humanity”. In that context, she pointed to a global gender equality and women’s empowerment event held in September 2015, where Bolivia had called on States to understand that women were not limited to one theme. “We have a presence in all themes being developed,” she said, and as such, must be considered in a cross-cutting manner throughout the Agenda. For its part, Bolivia had a law against harassment in the workplace, and her Government was working to protect all women’s rights, committed to ensuring that the norms adopted were all aligned to benefit women and girls, especially in the indigenous cultures.

LAURE ZONGO-HIEN, Minister for Women, National Solidarity and Family of Burkina Faso, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, outlined several measures that her country had taken with regard to women’s empowerment. Remarkable progress had been made, but a number of challenges remained such as unequal access to basic social services and microcredit, as well as gender-based violence and discrimination. Special attention was being given to women with disabilities, refugees and those living in conflict zones. In the coming years, Sustainable Development Goal 5 would be integrated into the national gender policy, resulting in such measures as a strategy to promote the land rights of rural women. The Government was also reviewing legislation to raise the quota for women on electoral lists.

LATEEFAH F. AL SABAH, Minister and President of the Women Affairs Committee of Kuwait, said her country was working to achieve gender equality and empowerment through development plans and programmes. Kuwaiti women had shouldered their responsibilities and cooperated with organizations to leverage their experiences in training and development. Kuwait had achieved real gender equality in education well before the 2015 target date, she said, stressing that her country felt deep pain about the challenges women faced around the world. Those included violence, oppression, displacement and terrorism, she said, pointing in particular to the plight of Palestinian women. She called upon States to find solutions to those challenges and to provide assistance to women in affected countries. Kuwait had become a centre for humanitarian work in the Middle East. It was necessary for all peace-loving nations to join forces to achieve peace, security and stability worldwide, and to “dry out” the resources of terrorism.

RUTHMILDA LARMONIE-CECILIA, Minister of Social Development, Labour and Welfare of Curaçao, constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, said gender mattered all throughout her kingdom. Indeed, gender equality mattered in all aspects of life, which intersected and were intertwined. Those aspects must be addressed one by one while realizing that attitudes about gender were deeply entrenched. Gender equality was not self-evident; instead, it required ongoing emphasis. As long as inequality between women and men persisted, the Beijing Platform for Action would remain relevant. Her kingdom’s shared commitment to gender equality had been evidenced by its hosting, in 2015, of the Third World Conference of Women’s Shelters. At that event, participants had built new alliances to end violence against women.

HAIFA AL-AGHA, Minister of Women Affairs, State of Palestine, said women were present in small percentages in decision-making positions. For example, the percentage of women in the Palestinian Legislative Council had reached 12.7 per cent, and in the diplomatic corps, 4.5 per cent. She questioned whether it was possible to empower women living under occupation given Israel’s constant aggression in confiscating land and building an apartheid wall. The participation of Palestinian women in the labour force was among the lowest in the world, despite high education rates, at 19 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2015, versus 53 per cent at the global level. Her Government was working to increase women’s participation in all fields, including the labour market, as well as to improve education and health services, infrastructure and energy sources.

MARIA RUBIALES DE CHAMORRO, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nicaragua, associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, CELAC and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals agenda, must be a particular aim for women. The Sandinista Government was committed to transforming Nicaragua and promoting women’s dignity and equity. Without women, there was no revolution. Nicaragua’s commitment to gender equality was part of State policy, with a family code that comprised various laws aiming to “give women back their rights from a family perspective” by combating violence through family counselling offices. She cited a Japanese media study showing that Nicaragua was a top country in terms of women’s political participation.

ELKE FERNER, Parliamentary Secretary of State of the Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth of Germany, said sustainable development was necessary to improve the situation of women around the world. Following the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, the next step was to carry out the Goals and “find solutions together”, she said, underscoring the importance of civil society in that process. The normative framework for deliberations included the Beijing Declaration and Programme of Action, the 2030 Agenda, Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) and other relevant women’s rights documents. Noting that her office had prioritized combating violence against women, she underscored the importance of communication and information sharing in that regard, as well as equal salaries, women’s participation in the economy and women’s empowerment.

JARI PARTANEN, Vice-Minister for Family Affairs and Social Services of Finland, said realizing the 2030 Agenda would be difficult if women were excluded. The Sustainable Development Goals, including for women, required a global approach to ensure that no one was left behind. Sustainable development required a change in attitude, as well as putting in place public services, infrastructure and social protection systems that responded to women’s specific needs. In addition, men and boys should share in domestic work to allow women time to participate in social and economic life, and in turn, improve their situation. Women’s full enjoyment of sexual rights was most important for equality between the sexes, he said, urging the elimination of harmful practices in that regard.

Right of Reply

The representative of Israel, in exercise of the right of reply, said the Palestinian delegate had mistaken the Commission for another political debate. Rather than focus on solutions to improve the situation of Palestinian women, the delegate had demonized Israel. “This will do nothing for the women and girls this Commission has pledged to help,” she said. While Israel was open to criticism, today’s comments were “revolting” accusations that aimed to delegitimize her country. Gender equality and women’s empowerment were pillars of Israeli society. Her Government had invested in initiatives to empower all women and was committed to ending violence against women. By contrast, women in Palestinian society faced gender-based violence, as well as limited access to employment, higher education and health care. Those were the words of the Secretary-General. Rather than focus on the roots of such mistreatment, Palestinians blamed Israel. She hoped such behaviour would be replaced with a commitment to Palestinian women within their society.

Interactive Expert Panel

This afternoon, the Commission held an interactive expert panel discussion on the theme “Key strategies for gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. Moderated by Šejla Đurbuzović (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Commission Vice-Chair, it featured the following panellists: Alejandra Corchuelo (Colombia), Director for Social Development of National Planning Department; James Heintz (United States), Andrew Glyn Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Philomena Efua Nyarko (Ghana), Government Statistician and Chief Executive of the Statistical Service; Anita Nayar (India), Senior Adviser, Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation; and Sally Moyle (Australia), Principal Gender Adviser, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Opening the discussion, Ms. ĐURBUZOVIĆ said the panel would focus on steps and measures to link implementation of the 2030 Agenda and Beijing Platform for Action. Among the questions to be addressed were: how countries were aligning existing national strategies and policies with the 2030 Agenda, and what steps could be taken to ensure gender mainstreaming in that process; how macroeconomic policy frameworks could support the realization of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; what steps needed to be taken to ensure high-quality data disaggregated by sex, age, disability and other criteria; and what strategies existed to integrate gender equality and environmental sustainability in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Ms. CORCHUELO said her country had recently adopted a national development plan based on the Sustainable Development Goals, and had created a high-level inter-agency institution to implement it. The goal was to fill in gaps in gender equality, and national tools were being established to execute and measure that goal. Financing was needed at the national and regional level in order to eliminate inequalities, as were global indicators and common targets. “We must focus on full participation,” she said, adding that no one should be left on the side-lines.

Mr. HEINTZ said Agenda 2030 called for a global commitment for achieving gender equality. He focused on three main messages: first, greater gender equality had wide-reaching implications for the achievement of Agenda 2030; second, the sustainability of economies and societies could not be achieved without recognizing the economic contributions of women; and third, realizing the benefits of greater gender equality in the future required investments today. Advancing gender equality to achieve the goals of Agenda 2030 required a rethinking of macroeconomics.

Ms. NYARKO said that the 2030 Agenda offered a unique opportunity for statistics. More complex goals called for more disaggregated data. Her Government had set up a mechanism to oversee implementation of the 2030 Agenda, but due to budget constraints, the Ministry for Gender, Children and Social Protection was unable to do its work effectively. Bodies tasked with integrating gender into the Sustainable Development Goals needed the resources to do so. It would be a struggle for most countries to ramp up their capacity to collect and analyse more than 300 indicators. An agreed set of globally accepted standards for measuring gender-related goals was needed, too. Each country would have to find its own way of collecting data, given their respective circumstances.

Ms. NAYAR discussed ongoing strategies to implement, in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, those 2030 Agenda goals that dealt with food security, energy and climate change. She highlighted some of the financial, trade and investment rules that stood in the way of achieving them. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, agriculture was significant for women’s livelihood, but farm productivity had stagnated in many countries and agricultural subsidies in the global North threatened the livelihood of many African farmers. She identified several structural obstacles that needed to be overcome on the path to food security.

Ms. MOYLE said Australia was considering the domestic implications of the 2030 Agenda and how its implementation could be measured. It had introduced several steps to address such issues as violence against women, the gender pay gap and increasing the number of women in the workforce. It recognized that indigenous women suffered multiple disadvantages. The Australian Bureau of Statistics was working to effectively match its own data with the targets of the 2030 Agenda. The Sustainable Development Goals had come into effect only a few months ago, so there was a long way to go towards embedding its provisions into domestic, regional and global agendas and to build effective follow-up and review processes.

Following those presentations, speakers took the floor to describe their national experiences with gender mainstreaming, gender-related data collection and macroeconomic policy in support of gender equality, especially in the context of the new 2030 Agenda.

Among the specific tools put forward were gender audits in Government ministries and agencies, periodic national assessments, reviews of legislation and censuses to collect data. Many speakers described methods of financing gender-related programmes and policies, calling on all Member States to invest in women and “leave no one behind” as they sought to implement the new 2030 Agenda. Some also referred to the challenges of changing deep-rooted social norms.

The panellists then responded to questions and comments. Mr. HEINTZ said substantive differences between men and women could still persist even if indicators showed countries doing well. He also drew attention to the scale of unpaid care work. By one estimate, he said, it accounted for 20 per cent of gross domestic product, yet it was absent from policymaking.

Ms. MOYLE, fielding a question about the provision of resources for gender equality and women’s empowerment, said that she hoped the 2030 Agenda would provide a framework for kick-starting political will. Mr. NYARKO said qualitative as well as quantitative data was needed. Data also had to cut across all sectors, and it was, therefore, important to work very closely with various ministries, departments, agencies and civil society groups. Ms. CORCHUELO emphasized the importance of “information, information, information”, without which effective policies could not be put into place. The goal was not to see which country would win a global competition, but to establish what goals were being attained.

Participating in the Interactive Expert Panel were representatives of Switzerland, Uganda, China, Iran, Indonesia, Italy, Nigeria, Japan and Rwanda, as well as the European Union.

Representatives of the Nehru Foundation for Development — Centre for Environment Education Society, Soroptimist International and the International Trade Union Confederation spoke as well.

For information media. Not an official record.