European Governments Commit to Full Implementation of Platform,
Declare Achievement of Gender Equality an International Priority
A three-day European meeting on women's issues ended this afternoon with the adoption of a series of agreed conclusions committing Governments of the region to full implementation of the Platform for Action they first pledged to enact at the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women. The conclusions also call for special attention and support for women in European countries in transition to market economies, noting "disproportionate negative impacts" there on women's lives and livelihoods.
In addition, the agreement asserts that Governments bear the primary responsibility for putting the Beijing Platform for Action and its twelve areas of concern into effect and that the promotion of equality between women and men is a matter of priority for the international community.
Along with a preamble, the adopted document has sections on women and the economy, women and violence, women and girls in armed-conflict situations, women in power and decision-making, and institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women -- all of which were the subject of panel discussions either earlier in the week or this morning.
Agreed conclusions on the topic of violence against women call, among other things, for a comprehensive approach that combats all forms of such violence and includes basic principles, strengthened research and information-sharing, and increased action by police, judicial bodies, educational and health-care institutions, NGOs and the media; and for greater steps to combat domestic violence. Measures related to "women and girls in armed conflict situations" urge, among other things, development of relevant international and national legislation and greater protection and support for the victims of such violence.
The section on women in power and decision-making remarks, among other things, that an "enabling environment" must be created to allow increased participation of women at higher levels of Government and other centres of policy formation.
The preparatory session, formally entitled the Regional Preparatory Meeting on the 2000 Review of the Implementation of the Beijing Platform of Action, adjourned after closing statements by Chairwoman Patricia Flor (Germany) and Economic Commission for Europe Executive Secretary Yves Berthelot.
Through the agreed conclusions, the gathering, which was organized by the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the UN Division for the Advancement of Women, the Council of Europe, and the European Commission, has provided 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 will focus on progress made in the wake of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing five years ago.
The afternoon meeting began with completion of a panel discussion on institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women. An NGO representative said it was the unanimous recommendation of the NGO Caucus of the preparatory session that a Fifth World Conference on Women should be held in the year 2005. A Vice Chairwoman of the session responded that European Governments could not yet take a position as they would need time to consider the proposal. Also participating in the debate were representatives of Moldova; Denmark; Estonia; Kyrgyzstan; Slovakia; San Marino; and Dutch Council on Youth and Population.
The preparatory session adopted by consensus a series of conclusions and recommendations.
A preamble states, among other things, that Governments of the ECE region reaffirm their commitment to the goals and objectives of the Beijing Platform for Action in their entirety and to the full implementation of all twelve critical areas of concern cited in the Platform, and that Governments accept primary responsibility for the full implementation of the Platform; that human rights of women and girls are an inalienable and indivisible part of universal human rights and must therefore be protected and realized at all stages of the life cycle; that the countries of the ECE region with economies in transition and emerging democracies remain fragile and require special attention and support, particularly to address the disproportionately negative impacts of transition processes on women's lives and livelihoods, and that women from those countries have the right and capacity to play active parts in the development and governance of those States; that ECE member States will continue to overcome obstacles and undertake further action to implement the Platform for Action; and that NGOs play an important role in implementation of the Platform and that additional NGOs involved in women's issues should be accredited to participate in the Beijing review process.
A section on "women and the economy" states, among other things, that ECE member States reaffirm their previous commitments concerning equal participation of women and men in the economy; and that members of the Council of Europe and the European Union reaffirm previous commitments to the 1992 EC Directive on Maternity Leave; the Council of Europe Recommendation R (96) 5 on reconciling work and family life (1996) and a series of other directives, declarations, and social charters. To eliminate discrimination in the labour market, the conclusions call, among other things, for further development and application of legislation and rules to that end; for elimination of gender-based vertical and horizontal segregation in the labour market; and for establishment of a sound system of monitoring and evaluation. To create increased employment opportunities for women, the conclusions call for further development of the employability of women, for fostering women's access to self-employment and entrepreneurship, and for Government and private-sector support of women's employment. Steps recommended to promote gender equality in social protection include developing a new approach to social protection in response to new trends in employment, including the rise of atypical jobs and increased work flexibility, and for measures to meet changing needs for dependent care.
A chapter on "violence against women and girls" calls, among other things, for a comprehensive approach that combats all forms of such violence and includes basic principles, strengthened research and information-sharing, and increased action by police, judicial bodies, educational and health-care institutions, NGOs and the media; for greater steps to combat domestic violence, including making the phenomenon more of a public matter, developing and enforcing laws, and providing appropriate assistance and protection to victims; and for an end to trafficking in women and girls through strengthening of laws and their enforcement, preventive measures, and protection and support of victims of trafficking.
A section on "women and girls in armed conflict situations" urges, among other things, development of relevant international and national legislation and enhanced implementation of such legislation; calls for protecting and supporting the victims of such violence by ensuring the human rights of women and girl victims of violence during and after armed conflicts and by improving rehabilitation and reintegration programmes; and recommends creation of an enabling environment for lasting peace through recognition and promotion of the role of women in peace processes and promotion of peace in general through such steps as support for the reconstruction of democratic institutions and gender-sensitivity training to enable women to take roles at the highest levels of peace-building processes.
A chapter on "women in power and decision-making" calls for creation of an enabling environment for increased participation of women in power and decision-making through promotion of public awareness on the positive role and contribution of women in decision-making positions and establishment of a sound system of monitoring and evaluation; and calls for steps to foster women's participation in political bodies and elected bodies, and in high-level positions in government and appointed bodies, and
for promotion of women's access to high-level decision-making positions in economic and social spheres.
The final section, on "institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women", urges strengthening such mechanisms through making their mandates more powerful, ensuring their continued role and strength and the influence of mainstreaming policies, and providing support to national mechanisms in countries with economies in transition and developing countries; calls for the development of tools for enforcing and monitoring policies of equality; and recommends strengthening the synergy between civil society and institutional mechanisms for gender equality.
PATRICIA FLOR (Germany), Chairperson, said the meeting had accomplished a great deal in three days and that the progress achieved was largely a result of the cooperation and flexibility shown by national delegations and NGOs. With regard to women and the economy, it was clear that practical measures needed to be found to enable women and men to reconcile work and family obligations; on the subject of violence against women, it was apparent that zero-tolerance campaigns were necessary -- such violence simply couldn't be accepted; in war and conflict situations, it was encouraging that international legal standards were being developed, but such measures would be of little use if they weren't enforced. When it came to enhancing the role of women in positions of power and decision-making, she said, it was clear that the setting of targets and time-bound goals was a useful tool. Institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, finally, required not only announced Government commitment but sufficient funding.
YVES BERTHELOT, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe, underlined the remarkable dialogue between governmental officials and NGOs throughout the meeting. He hoped it would set a precedent for the participation of the civil society in future meetings. He quoted two sentences from the debate which will shape the action of ECE: "The mainstreaming of gender issues is the responsibility of men as well as women" and "Gender mainstreaming has to be organised". He was pleased to announce that he has had preliminary conversations with a number of Member States to see how to secure resources for organising gender mainstreaming in the core activities of ECE and to provide assistance to interested countries with economies in transition. In this endeavour he will pursue the co-operation with NGOs, UNDP, UNIFEM, the Council of Europe and the European Commission which were fully involved and precious in the preparation and conduct of this meeting.
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