Eradicating patriarchal laws and forging strong partnerships across all sectors of society were key to removing barriers blocking progress on gender equality, delegates stressed, as the Commission on the Status of Women entered the second day of its sixty-second session with two high-level interactive dialogues.
Focusing on the session’s priority theme of achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls, both discussions featured ministers, senior Government officials and civil society representatives, sharing their experiences, challenges and obstacles as they unpacked ways to level the playing field.
During the dialogue on building alliances to achieve gender equality and empower rural women and girls, many Government representatives outlined their strategies, while some civil society organizations called for more efforts to reach rural women and girls, who had the potential to act as dynamic agents of change.
Urging Member States to show increased political will to empower them, a representative of the Centre for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society of India expressed distress at shrinking spaces for civil society organizations, which provided a valuable window for Governments to reach marginalized populations. To ensure progress, she asked Member States to build more effective partnership mechanisms, recognize the critical role rural women could play as agents of change in economic growth and development, and eradicate patriarchal laws currently blocking women’s empowerment.
As Sustainable Development Goal 17 stated, only by joining forces would all stakeholders be able to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, said a representative of Fundación BBVA para Microfinanzas, which served 1 million members in Colombia, Peru, Chile, Dominican Republic and Panama.
Sharing her perspective, Rwanda’s Minister for Health, Solidarity, Social Protection and Advancement of Women said mobilizing a broad range of stakeholders, from civil society to the private sector, had proven to be a key driver for change that had triggered broad achievements in gender equality. Built upon a nationwide reconstruction plan that hinged on alliances between women and men, Rwanda’s approach had reaped such gains as digital literacy across genders and inclusive labour market participation.
Summing up a common observation heard during that discussion, Australia’s Minister for Revenue and Financial Services said any significant social change depended on building strong alliances. Coordination among ministries and national women’s coalitions were forging partnerships to address a range of concerns. With a rural women’s coalition, efforts were being made to advance access to technology to improve their livelihood. As women normally did not receive their fair share of profits from farming, initiatives were ongoing to address that trend.
During the dialogue on accelerating implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and achieving concrete results by 2020, Government representatives and members of civil society provided a snapshot of progress on implementing the landmark Beijing Declaration, which had been adopted at the 1995 fourth World Conference of Women. They also addressed challenges in reaching the 2020 deadline for further concrete results.
Many speakers stressed the importance of speeding up women’s economic empowerment and enhancing their participation in labour markets, describing those as critical strategies that could help deliver concrete results. Costa Rica’s Minister for the Status of Women and Executive President of the National Institute of Women pointed to her country’s innovative credit, loans and banking programmes tailored to the needs of rural women.
Hungary’s Minister for State for Family and Youth Affairs, stressing the need to provide affordable and accessible childcare to support women’s full participation in the labour force, outlined incentives put in place by her Government to compel companies to help mothers achieve an appropriate work-life balance. Early retirement was also permitted in many cases, allowing grandmothers to assist in childcare duties.
The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 14 March, to hold interactive dialogues on the review theme “participation in and access of women to the media, and information and communications technologies and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women”.
High-Level Interactive Dialogue 1
In the morning, the Commission held a high-level interactive dialogue on “building alliances to achieve gender equality and empower rural women and girls”, chaired by David Stanton, Minister for Equality, Integration and Immigration of Ireland.
Mr. STANTON, delivering opening remarks, invited participants to share examples of good practices, planned initiatives and other efforts to build and strengthen alliances among gender equality leaders and advocates across all sectors. Offering several discussion points, he asked about the key trends in rural development that were affecting rural women and girls’ livelihoods and for examples of effective multistakeholder collaboration among governmental authorities and rural women’s organizations, cooperatives and enterprises.
Ministers, high-level officials and representatives of countries then offered their perspectives, challenges and achievements. Many agreed that cross‑cutting gender issues must seek out partnerships in other sectors to achieve concrete progress on common goals, including the objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Ministers from developing countries described obstacles and solutions to accomplishing those objectives and their counterparts from developed nations demonstrated how their Governments were supporting related efforts at home and abroad.
The Minister for Health, Solidarity, Social Protection and Advancement of Women of Rwanda said national efforts began with a nationwide reconstruction plan that hinged on alliances between women and men. Today, the results were tangible, demonstrated by strong public-private sector partnerships, digital literacy across genders and inclusive labour market participation. Men were key partners in those achievements, she stressed. Mobilizing such a broad range of stakeholders, from civil society to the private sector, had proven to be a key driver for change in Rwanda, triggering gender equality.
Indeed, alliances and building partnerships was the only route to take, said Jordan’s Minister for Social Development. Describing several ongoing initiatives, she said a national commission for women was helping to ensure that gender issues were being considered across all sectors. Addressing a law that permitted alleged rapists to marry their victims, she said efforts were being made to challenge that legislation. Other challenges that were being addressed included harnessing technology to address high unemployment levels.
On combating violence against women, the Minister for Women and Child Affairs of Sri Lanka said close cooperation between the ministry and police was helping to build capacities to address gender-based violence. Among other efforts, women’s bureaus at police stations were being set up nationwide and training programmes for officers had been offered since 2017.
Similarly, the Minister for Justice and Human Rights of Ecuador said laws had been passed on ending violence against women and improving their access to justice. Targeted programmes were reaching rural women through partnerships, including in the finance sector, to improve their access to funding and land.
Highlighting the difficulties conflict-affected countries faced, the Minister for Women and Human Rights of Somalia said tailored responses were required. In Somalia, support and alliances had been built with the Ministry of Finance and other sectors to strengthen coordination of gender-related efforts. In addition, ministries in charge of elements of the national development plan had established a gender focal point. Her ministry had also helped to strengthen partnerships based on a common strategy.
Summing up a common observation, Australia’s Minister for Revenue and Financial Services said any significant social change depended on building strong alliances. Coordination among ministries and national women’s coalitions were forging partnerships to address a range of concerns. With a rural women’s coalition, efforts were being made to advance access to technology to improve their livelihood. As women normally did not receive their fair share of profits from farming, initiatives were ongoing to address that trend.
Several members of women’s organizations shared their perspectives on forming alliances to reach common goals. Rural entrepreneurs suffered more than their urban counterparts in terms of financing, said a representative of Fundación BBVA para Microfinanzas, which served 1 million members in Colombia, Peru, Chile, Dominican Republic and Panama. Targeted programmes were reaching many of its 300,000 rural members and efforts were being made to strengthen partnerships and alliances with public and private sector to promote best practices. As Sustainable Development Goal 17 stated, only by joining forces would all stakeholders be able to achieve the 2030 Agenda.
More alliances were needed, said a representative of the Centre for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society of India. Urging Member States to show increased political will to reach rural women and girls, she said civil society organizations provided a window for Governments to reach marginalized populations. Distressed about the shrinking space for those organizations, she asked Member States to build more effective partnership mechanisms, to recognize the critical role rural women could play as agents of change in economic growth and development, and to eradicate patriarchal laws that currently challenged women’s equal rights.
Also participating in the dialogue were ministers and other high-level officials of Liechtenstein, Zimbabwe, Finland, Hungary, Costa Rica, Iran, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Dominican Republic, Ukraine, Brazil, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, Spain, Philippines, Qatar, Uruguay, Eritrea, Congo, Afghanistan, Mexico, Benin, Morocco, Egypt and United Republic of Tanzania, as well as the European Union.
Representatives of the following non-governmental organizations also participated: Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, FEMNET Kenya, World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, Comisión para la Investigación de Malos Tratos a Mujeres of Spain, Canadian Labour Congress, Youth Bridge Foundation of Ghana and World Information Transfer.
High-Level Interactive Dialogue 2
This afternoon, the Commission convened a second high-level dialogue on the theme “Accelerating implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and achieving concrete results by 2020”. Chaired by Commission Vice-Chair Koki Muli Grignon (Kenya), it featured many ministers and other high-level Government officials, as well as expert speakers from regional organizations, national human rights institutions and functional commissions. They included: Melchiade Bukuru, Chief of the Liaison Office of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification; Bineta Diop, Special Envoy of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission on Women, Peace and Security; Karen Gomez-Dumpit, Commissioner of the Philippines Commission on Human Rights; Michaëlle Jean, Secretary-General of la Francophonie; and Carla Mucavi, Director of the United Nations Food and Agriculture (FAO) Liaison Office to the United Nations in New York.
Other experts participating included: Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights; Bruno Ríos Sánchez (Mexico), Vice‑Chair of the Commission on Social Development; Sima Samar, Chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission; Florence Simbiri-Jaoko, lecturer at the University of Nairobi School of Law and Special Envoy for the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions; Ekaterine Skhiladze, Deputy Public Defender of Georgia; and Melissa Upreti, Member of the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice, fellow at the University of Toronto Law Faculty’s International Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Programme, and Senior Director of Programme and Global Advocacy at the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University, United States.
Ms. GRIGNON, at the outset, asked all speakers to focus on concrete examples and share insights in responding to several guiding questions. First, which key actions and investments would Governments undertake to achieve results for women and girls by 2020, and how such progress would be measured; second, how Governments could strengthen collaboration and partnerships to overcome specific persistent challenges and accelerate the realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls; and third, how Governments had demonstrated leadership and undertaken good practices in prioritizing the realization of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
Throughout the discussion, many speakers underlined the importance of accelerating women’s economic empowerment and enhancing their participation in labour markets, describing those as critical strategies that could help deliver concrete results.
Among those emphasizing the importance of women’s financial inclusion was the Minister for the Status of Women and Executive President of the National Institute of Women of Costa Rica, who spotlighted her country’s innovative credit, loans and banking programmes. Several Costa Rican policies – supported by the Central Bank and other national institutions — provided such economic support to rural women through integrated, strategic, gender-focused and tailored programmes, as well as cash transfers. The country’s largest commercial bank also had a specific programme to provide comprehensive financial services to women-owned enterprises, she said.
In a similar vein, the Minister for State for Family and Youth Affairs of Hungary spotlighted the need to provide affordable and accessible childcare, which was critical for women’s full participation in the labour force. She outlined Government incentives aimed at compelling companies to assist with childcare and help mothers to achieve an appropriate work-life balance. Early retirement was also permitted in many cases, allowing grandmothers to assist in childcare duties. Noting that the representation of women in Hungary’s political life was still not up to par, she said the percentage of women leaders was nevertheless rising at the local and community levels, and many of the country’s diplomats — including its Permanent Representative to the United Nations — were women.
The Minister for Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs of Qatar emphasized that education was the key to helping women thrive in both a country’s economic and social life. Pointing out that Qatar’s institutions had achieved gender parity, he said the country was currently working to combat poverty and ensure women’s universal access to health care. On the international stage, Qatar had led negotiations on a resolution titled “Follow-up to the fourth World Conference on Women and full implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcome of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly”, adopted by consensus in the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural).
The Minister for Justice and Human Rights of Ecuador said her Government was using the provision of housing as a key driver to speed up Ecuadorian women’s empowerment and self-reliance. Noting that the country had managed to drive poverty down at a faster rate than any other in the region, she said it was also committed to making progress in women’s political participation, and now had a young woman serving as its Vice-President.
Ms. DIOP, citing examples of concrete actions by the African Union to accelerate results for women and girls, said the bloc had recommended several gender-related policies that had been broadly adopted by much of its membership. It had also implemented gender score cards to measure progress and created the quick-impact African Women Fund to support women in post-conflict areas.
Mr. O’FLAHERTY said the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency helped the bloc’s member States address issues affecting women and developing best practices. It had conducted surveys in a number of critical areas, including one on violence against women, and its work had led to the bloc’s decision to sign onto the Istanbul Convention. It was now engaged in a study, and would soon release a report, on discrimination against Muslim migrant women and Roma women in Europe.
Ms. JEAN, echoing the call for specific, tangible results, warned that 2020 was rapidly approaching. States should not shy away from implementing robust policies aimed at ensuring gender parity. The countries of the Francophonie would redouble their commitment to women entrepreneurs; ensure their access to property, credit, education, technical training and health care; and support projects that improved women’s living conditions, especially in rural areas.
Ms. SIMBIRI-JAOKO said her institution brought together more than 100 national human rights institutions and was tasked, among other things, with monitoring their members’ compliance with their various international obligations. National human rights bodies were the bridge between the global arena, the State and work at the local level, she said, outlining several recent studies including one on the protection of human rights defenders — especially women.
Ms. GOMEZ-DUMPIT echoed those sentiments, agreeing that national human rights institutions were critical to holding States accountable for their human rights obligations and identifying gaps where such duties were not met. In the case of women’s rights, some crucial areas included access to reproductive health care and rights and the prevention of gender-based violence and discrimination. The recent “#MeToo” movement had spotlighted a long-standing need to address casual, persistent and everyday sexist attitudes, which hindered women’s meaningful and effective participation in public life.
Ms. SKHILADZE cited several challenges facing women in her native Georgia, including low levels of political participation, high levels of violence against women and domestic violence, and the lack of access to social services. In that context, her institution was working to mainstream gender equality and women’s empowerment in all of Georgia’s rights-defence activities.
Ms. SAMAR, noting that Afghanistan was still embroiled in a long conflict, said her institution was nevertheless committed to studying and taking action against gender discrimination. Afghanistan had not participated in in the 1995 Beijing Conference as it lacked a functioning Government at the time, and as a result, it still lacked a national action plan on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Against that backdrop, her organization advocated for women’s access to education and quality health care — including reproductive health, family planning and access to contraception — all of which would be critical to accelerating their empowerment. More action was also needed to address the issues of “honour killings”, and women needed to become more engaged in Afghanistan’s peace process.
Ms. UPRETI said her working group, a special procedure of the Human Rights Council, contributed to that organ’s debates on gender equality and provided concrete recommendations to States and other stakeholders. It had submitted reports on family and culture, health and safety, and women’s participation in public life, among other topics, and conducted country visits to help identify and address gaps. Citing a “troubling global backlash against women’s rights”, she warned that backsliding must be avoided, and States must press forward towards the full achievement gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Ms. MUCAVI stressed that empowering rural women and girls was central to achieving the eradication of hunger and meeting the targets enshrined in all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Outlining some of FAO’s recent work, she said it was studying women’s participation in the forestry and fisheries sectors, and was working to end discriminatory inheritance and property laws. One major FAO project was aimed at building rural women’s leadership capacities in their households, their communities and at the policy level.
Mr. BUKURU said women bore the brunt of land degradation, desertification and drought around the globe. Noting that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change had recently adopted a Gender Action Plan, he called on international organizations dedicated to promoting gender equality for support in implementing it, as his agency’s own staff was mostly technical. Meanwhile, experts at the national level must work to make results tangible on the ground, and rural women and girls must be both agents of change and beneficiaries of the resulting dividends.
Mr. SÁNCHEZ said the Commission for Social Development had discussed gender equality and women’s empowerment at its recent session in various contexts, including through the lenses of youth, older persons and persons with disabilities. As the United Nations accelerated efforts to break down silos in its work, he called for enhanced cooperation between that body and the Commission on the Status of Women, while also warning that outdated or overlapping discussions should be eliminated.
Also participating in the dialogue were ministers and other high-level officials of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Sweden, Iran, Canada, Ukraine, China, Eritrea, Morocco, Czechia, Republic of Korea, Italy, Australia, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, Philippines, Colombia and Egypt.