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Numerous Opening Statements

Call for Economic Equality, Elimination of Violence against Women

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A regional preparatory meeting for the United Nations 2000 Review of the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action on gender equality opened this morning with a series of statements calling for greater action to spur women's economic progress in Europe and to end gender-based violence.

The session, sponsored by the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), the United Nations Development Programme, UNIFEM, the Council of Europe, and the European Commission, will continue through Friday. Its purpose is to provide European input for a special session of the United Nations General Assembly entitled "Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-First Century" to be held in June in New York. The General Assembly gathering will focus on progress made in the wake of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing five years ago.

Making introductory statements this morning were Chairperson Patricia Flor of Germany; Danuta Huebner, Deputy Executive Secretary of the ECE, reading a statement by Angela King, United Nations Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women; Yakin Erturk, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women; Anna Diamentopoulou, Commissioner for Social Affairs of the European Commission; Odile Sorgho-Moulinier, Director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Office in Geneva; Noleen Heyzer, Executive Director of UNIFEM; Pierre-Henri Imbert, Director-General for Human Rights of the Council of Europe; Renate Bloem, of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women; and Yves Berthelot, Executive Secretary of the ECE.

Mr. Berthelot said he hoped the efforts made over the next three days would encourage everyone to shoulder real commitments and would discourage any false pretenses. Progress had been made, he said, but it had been too modest while some problems were reaching worrying proportions. Economic progress for women had been scant, he said, and in many cases, such as in countries with economies in transition, there had not been progress but the opposite.

The issue of violence against women was mentioned repeatedly and universally condemned as unacceptable and requiring immediate, effective, and high-priority response from Governments and the international community. Ms. Heyzer told the gathering that more women died of domestic violence than died of cancer.

A panel discussion then began on the topic of "Women and the economy". Members of the panel were Sheila Regehr, Economic Policy Coordinator for Status of Women of Canada; Eva Zimny, Associate Professor at the Warsaw School of Economics, of Poland; and Oksana Kisselyova, of "Mama '86", of Ukraine. Following their introductory statements, questions from the floor were requested for the afternoon session, beginning at 3.

At the beginning of the meeting, officers for the regional preparatory meeting were elected. Chosen Chairperson was Ms. Flor; Vice-chairpersons were Rusudan Beritze (Georgia); Dunja Pastizzi Ferencic (Croatia); Patricia Schultz (Switzerland); and Linda Tarr Whelan (United States).

The preparatory meeting will reconvene at 3 p.m. The panel discussion on women and the economy will continue throughout the whole afternoon session.

Introductory statements

PATRICIA FLOR (Germany), Chairperson, said the intent of the meeting was to make a regional contribution to the implementation and follow-up to the plan of action of the Fourth World Conference on Women; this was a chance to look at some of the crucial questions on the matter -- did everyone know more than they did in 1995 regarding the challenges women faced? Had better solutions been found, or could everyone at least agree on better approaches to find such solutions? Stock-taking was required; also it was necessary to provide a regional perspective from Europe to the global follow-up to be held by the General Assembly in June in New York. It was furthermore important to discuss how to cooperate across borders, and between transition economies and other European economies; and to look at the division of labour between Government and civil society in the common endeavour to ensure gender equality. She hoped for a sound final-outcome document when the preparatory meeting concluded on Friday.

DANUTA HUEBNER, Deputy Executive Secretary of the ECE, read a statement by Angela King, United Nations Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, saying the Special Session of the General Assembly on Women 2000 was less than five months away; much remained to be done; the process of review and appraisal of the five-year follow-up to the Beijing Platform for Action was many-faceted. A comprehensive analysis was needed of information provided by many member States on efforts to achieve gender equality; much progress had been made in most European countries in meeting the platform's strategic objectives: most women in these countries now lived longer, had greater institutional power, and participated more in decisions affecting them and in society at large. There also were many challenges to women in Europe in coping with such matters as violence against women and in coping with economic equality and economic transition. A gender perspective had to be integrated into all programmes and policies.

YAKIN ERTURK, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, said the regional preparatory meetings would broaden everyone's understanding of the achievements and problems encountered in implementing the Platform of Action of the Beijing Women's Conference five years ago. Some 135 reports had been submitted by member States and observers on implementation of the Platform; the reports revealed that profound changes had occurred: laws had been changed, knowledge generated and disseminated, and new modes of resource allocation developed in response to the recommendations of the Platform, even if such allocations generally lagged behind what was needed.

Still, in most countries the representation of women in decision-making structures remained low; even in Europe, where a critical mass had in some cases been reached for women in public-sector positions, women were woefully underrepresented on the boards of major private corporations. Rising transboundary economic activity raised new challenges and opportunities for women; there was need to focus on the mobilization of young women and men who would be the leaders of tomorrow; and traditional perceptions and stereotypes had to be changed in relation to gender -- old preconceptions were repeatedly cited in national reports as problems blocking implementation of the Beijing Platform of Action. Gender analysis of budgets, including national budgets, needed to be carried out so that the true state of gender equality could be determined.

ANNA DIAMENTOPOULOU, European Commissioner for Social Affairs, said the meeting could make an important contribution to the Special Session of the General Assembly. The Beijing Platform for Action had been the culmination of an intensive consultation process; now it was time to take stock -- to evaluate progress, to renew commitments, and to intensify efforts to implement the Platform. Women's lives had improved over the past five years in Europe; but, as with all nations, there were many aspects of the Platform that had yet to be implemented. There were still discrepancies between men and women in such major areas as employment, health and human rights.

Problems had to be identified in a quantifiable way, and efforts to rectify them had to be intensified. New "tools" were available, such as the recent step taken by the European Commission to publish annual assessments on gender advancement, using comparable statistics -- these figures were now telling a consistent story: that women were underrepresented in all significant fields, and especially in high-level decision-making positions. Indicators and targets were necessary to tackle this inequality and to train a clear spotlight on the situation in five years' time. Another serious matter that needed attention was physical violence against women -- and yet this extremely serious problem, which was found throughout the countries of the region, was understudied; reliable statistics simply had to be developed on violence against women. It was a sad fact that current policies could not reflect the root causes of such violence; new and better approaches were needed. The Beijing Platform did not need to be changed; rather better and more intensive efforts were needed to implement it.

SORGHO MOULINIER, Director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Office in Geneva, reading a statement from UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown, said UNDP and UNIFEM were co-sponsoring the meeting; a major focus was the gender issues facing the transition countries and the nations making up the Commonwealth of Independent States; UNDP had numerous programmes under way in these regions and was wholly engaged with gender-equality matters in such regions as Eastern Europe.

Powerful engines were available within UNDP to promote gender-mainstreaming activities; internal gender advocates were creative and dedicated, and the organization considered gender mainstreaming a cross-cutting issue. Efforts were focusing on legislative and governmental gender-equality programmes and on poverty eradication. UNIFEM meanwhile had shown a willingness to take a lead role in coordinating overall efforts to implement the Beijing Platform for Action. UNDP had participated in upstreaming a number of UNIFEM's good practices.

NOLEEN HEYZER, Executive Director of UNIFEM, said the major crises of the world could not be solved without women's involvement as equal partners in Government, society, and economy. National gender-action plans had been developed; much progress had been made. Yet more women still died of domestic violence than died of cancer, poverty was still overwhelmingly feminine, and women were badly underrepresented in Parliaments. Economic globalization posed new challenges -- many women were experiencing it not as an agent of progress but as a force that deepened existing inequalities. In Eastern Europe, 80 per cent of laid-off workers were women. Economic restructuring policies should not exacerbate discrimination against women and should not reduce social accountability.

Fragmentation and conflict were increasing, too, and the use of violence against women, especially rape, had become a weapon of war, especially in ethnic conflicts. Effective interventions were critical to end such atrocities. Trafficking in women and children, which was now global, the spread of AIDS, and similar borderless problems also had to be attacked in an effective international manner. Accountability and measurement of progress was vital for implementation of the Platform for Action. A new UNIFEM report, "Progress for the World's Women", would soon be launched. UNIFEM also had concentrated on identifying and developing good practices in the field of gender equality and on spreading the word about such good practices.

PIERRE-HENRI IMBERT, Director-General for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, said the Beijing Conference had been an excellent opportunity to ensure that the question of equality was given the political priority it deserved; much progress had since been made, but in this world nothing was permanent and more needed to be done. Progress, among other things, had come too slowly; the Platform for Action deserved quicker and more thorough implementation. In Europe, a great deal of legal progress had been made, among other things, to the European Charter and its 1988 protocol, including a clause on the right to dignity at work, which included preventing sexual harassment. A general prohibition of discrimination based on gender was expected to be approved soon.

Much action had also been taken against violence against women and against trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation. There had been an increase recently in Europe in this criminal and extremely profitable trade in human beings, and it was high time it was thoroughly outlawed. As for violence against women, there should be a policy of zero tolerance of such violence. The Council of Europe was taking steps to make it easier to develop and apply policies related to achieving gender equality.

RENATE BLOEM, of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, said she was pleased to present the report of the NGO working session preceding today's conference; over 600 persons had participated; the NGO forum involved a plenary and workshop sessions with the intent of allowing NGOs to participate as equals with Governments in this preparatory meeting; the objective was to complement the draft agreed conclusions of the meeting.

One common line ran through the working sessions -- NGOs wanted Governments to make renewed commitments and to take steps to fully implement the Beijing Platform for Action, including targets and statistics. The NGOs also called for a preamble to the draft conclusions. Subregional NGO reports had been examined during the working session; some 16 workshops had been held. Lunchtime workshops were held on other critical issues, including health issues. NGOs felt that over the past five years, policies pursued by Governments had exacerbated existing economic inequalities. At international institutions, they felt, there must be greater steps to ensure that macroeconomic policies furthered the aims of gender equality.

YVES BERTHELOT, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe, said he hoped the efforts made over the next three days would encourage everyone to shoulder real commitments and would discourage any false pretenses. Progress had been made, but it had been slim, and some problems were reaching frightening proportions. Progress had been most notable in terms of heightening public awareness, thanks in part to the work of NGOs. Some legislation to eliminate discrimination against women had been accomplished, but far too little.

Meanwhile economic progress had been scant, and in many cases there had not been progress but the opposite. Women still held the greater part of low-paid, low-security work, and there had been little change in stereotypes and task-sharing between men and women. In the transition countries, which were experiencing major economic difficulties, equality efforts had withered, and problems such as trafficking in women for purposes of prostitution, and domestic violence, had grown worse. And it was worth noting that trafficking in such women generally meant their recruitment for purposes of prostitution in western European countries. It was vital to implement existing rules, furthermore -- making new rules was of little use if those now in existence were not put into effect.

Statements of panel members

SHEILA REGEHR, Economic Policy Coordinator for the Status of Women, of Canada, said it was necessary to become more adept at living in a complex world of change and diversity by making this environment a source of strength rather than of fear or difficulty. Governments often were weak in this area. It was wrong to think that earlier times were simpler, that people were closer and families worked better -- if you looked closely, that generally wasn't true. Always there was an environment of change. One way to approach this matter more successfully was to concentrate on educating and strengthening the situation of children and youth. Among issues to be faced here were those connected to women's economic rights and enabling these to be advanced while simultaneously bolstering women's abilities to care for and advance the needs of their children.

Two avenues to gender equality were becoming more important: improving the access of women to male-dominated areas, and getting men more fully involved in female-dominated areas, such as child-rearing. Undervaluation of the activities in which women were traditionally engaged had to be corrected -- child-rearing work needed greater valuation; obviously this activity wasn't simply a matter of money. Working efficiently for gender progress was vital as well: there were so many challenges and such limited time and resources that choices had to be made; one had to pick areas where progress could be made and then to be persistent.

OKSANA KISSELYOVA, of "Mama '86", an NGO, of Ukraine, said economic rights were the basis of gender equality and vital for human rights. Women's independence could not be achieved without such rights, yet the past five years had been very difficult for women living in countries in economic transition. High-level involvement of women in labour markets in these countries had diminished -- many layoffs had had disproportionate effects on women.

Women in the region always had been overloaded with duties related to work and child-care; working hours had been longer than in the West, and they always were saddled with housekeeping and child-care responsibilities. They always had had lower positions and salaries than men. Since then, economic restructuring and the closing of factories had hit women harder than men; many had been reduced to poverty -- poverty in the region had a woman's face. Children were in difficulty, too, as families always had depended on women's incomes. As a result informal economic work by women had increased -- such activities as subsistence agriculture, carried out without machinery and in all weathers. Work, when it was found, tended to be low-paid, insecure, and demeaning in character. In transition countries these days, women had no confidence in the future; they woke up in the morning only with thoughts of how and where they would get money, and how the insufficient amount they would get would be spread to meet overwhelming needs. At this point, some "positive discrimination" for women was needed -- when job applicants were otherwise equal, women should get the position. And international agencies should take much more effective action to establish and promote labour rights for women.

EVA ZIMNY, Associate Professor at the Warsaw School of Economics, of Poland, said the Beijing Platform of Action review was taking place in a new context -- that of globalization, which had become an overwhelming issue since the world conference had been held. The social effects of globalization were coming more and more to the fore and were being discussed constantly. In addition, more interesting data on gender factors related to work were becoming available; it was now becoming possible to truly value women's contributions to national economies in Europe and it was becoming clear that women's labour was vital to sustaining economic growth in the region. A major question was whether or not progress could be measured: participation rates in the labour market varied widely between transition economies and Western European economies and the economies of North America. But was it fair to say progress had been made in western countries and regression had occurred in transition countries? Certainly not, because the necessary data was lacking -- there was a shortage of gender statistics, which still made such conclusions irresponsible. The truth was progress was difficult to properly assess given the current state of data, benchmarks, and instruments.

Among areas of concern in the ECE region, which seemed to apply to all countries, were discrimination against women in the labour market; equalizing child and household care among men and women; and finding methods for improving "employability" of women, including increasing access to education and promotion of self-employment and entrepreneurship.

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