Dear delegates and colleagues,

Once again I would like to express my pleasure at seeing such large participation from the 55 ECE member countries and non-governmental organizations. The cause which unites us here today, equality between men and women, is a decisive factor for the future of our societies.

Such an assembly can only take place because of the generous time and ideas given by all those we have called upon. I am thinking of the delegates from Geneva, experts from capitals, non-governmental networks and their liaison office in Geneva and the speakers who will introduce the different debates. I am also thinking of Germany, Finland, Norway, the United Kingdom and Switzerland which have financed the substantive contributions and the presence of the panellists, and, in particular, of the partner institutions, the European Community, the Council of Europe, UNDP and UNIFEM. By facilitating the participation of some 150 NGO representatives from central and eastern Europe, UNDP and UNIFEM, along with the Danish Government and private foundations, have allowed them to make their voices heard, to share their experiences and to strengthen ties.

Let’s hope that over the next three days, these joint efforts induce us to make real commitments and dissuade us from false pretences. Progress is modest in the four themes on which we will focus, economy, violence, decision-taking and national mechanisms to assure equal rights in our region, and in certain cases the problems have reached worrying proportions.

The most important progress has been made in sensitizing public opinion to these questions, progress tied, in all evidence, to the important impulse given by NGOs who devote themselves to the equality and improvement of the status of women. In several countries this has resulted in a better understanding of their contribution to the economy and their capacity to occupy high level responsible posts in public life. It has also increased support for victims of violence and in some countries laws for reducing discrimination have been improved.

However, these advances remain insufficient: the entire situation has evolved little and has too often declined. Women continue to occupy a large majority of low paid precarious jobs with, corollary, unequal access to social benefits. Globalization reinforces this precariousness throughout the entire region. Women are still in the minority in all spheres of decision-making, politics, economics and public functions. Investigations reveal little change in stereotypes and the sharing of tasks between men and women. In countries with economies in transition, which have serious economic difficulties, national mechanisms for equality have weakened and networks for trafficking in women and children have multiplied. This concerns each country of the region, for if poverty can be the cause of the development of prostitution, these networks feed western clients. Too often, States sanction the victims of this trafficking more than the organizers. At least 20% of women in the entire region are victims of domestic violence and the situation is becoming worse in countries where unemployment is rising. Finally, recent conflicts have given rise to massive and odious violence against women.

These developments are serious and that is why the decisions which you take here are important. The first decision goes without saying: to apply the existing laws concerning violence, non-discrimination in recruitment and working conditions in precarious employment. This will already largely improve the situation. It is unrealistic to await new rules to miraculously solve the problems if those which are already in force are not applied.

The second decision is important if one wants to go beyond good intentions and grant each other the means to evaluate actions. It is necessary to develop follow-up indicators and mechanisms. In this matter very little has been done since Beijing although such means are essential for sensitizing, mobilising and correcting policies.

The third decision is practical and will be directly effective: to reinforce the partnerships between actors, the public and non-governmental organizations and support the latter in their operational activities, i.e. lobbying, education and sensitization. Special support, moral, technical and financial, should be given to women’s NGOs in the countries where women have suffered most from the transition process.

The very large presence of NGOs in this assembly shows their dynamism in mobilizing themselves, organizing themselves and taking action. It also shows the confidence and the cooperation which has been established between the secretariat and the NGO community engaged in the question of equality for men and women, notably the NGO Committee on the Status of Women and the NGO Group for Women in the UN/ECE region.

I am convinced that in three days we will leave here satisfied with the work accomplished, you will have adopted strong conclusions, made new contacts. However, the success of this meeting will be measured by the determination with which you follow up on the dialogue, put into place the conclusions in the region itself and promote them as an important contribution to the global review. The UN/ECE, a neutral forum where all the countries of Europe are on an equal footing, is at your disposition to facilitate all these missions: to exchange experiences, facilitate dialogue between governmental and non-governmental actors, take on new engagements and bring a regional perspective to world events.

For further information please contact:

Information Unit

United Nations Economic Commission
for Europe (UN/ECE)
Palais des Nations, Room 356
CH - 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Tel: +(41 22) 917 44 44
Fax: +(41 22) 917 05 05