Home » General » Speakers Underline Social Protection Systems, Public Service Accessibility Being Critical to Gender Equality, as Women’s Commission Opens Session

As pushback against women’s rights around the world threaten to reverse hard-won gains, conviction and political courage must drive forward progress and build on achievements, high-level speakers pledged at the opening session of the sixty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

The current session is about “getting the job done”, Commission Chair Geraldine Byrne Nason (Ireland) said.  For the first time, the Commission, which meets today through 22 March, will focus on the theme of social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.  Given this opportunity to break new ground, there is a real chance to agree on new normative standards, she said, adding that the Commission is the only international body that can do this.

Getting this job done is of utmost importance, she said, especially since it has been almost 25 years after delegates declared at the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, that women’s rights are human rights.  Examining what went wrong since Beijing, she highlighted that one quarter of parliamentarians worldwide are women and, at the United Nations, only 46 Governments have named a female as their Permanent Representative at a time when 130 million girls remain out of school.

To address these and other concerns, she said empowering women requires conviction and political courage.  “We, in this room, are the privileged ones,” she stressed.  “Let’s not squander that privilege in rehashing old rivalries or ideological arguments.  Let’s look ahead with great hope to building together as we mark the 25 years since Beijing.”

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment (UN-Women), cautioned of a potential backsliding on gains already made.  The families and communities most at risk of being left behind on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development lack access to adequate infrastructure, have restricted mobility, and cannot afford private services, including child care, water, sanitation, energy, health facilities and education.

Offering an example of how this can change, she said piping clean water into households lacking onsite access would address the reality that women and girls are responsible for 80 per cent of water collection in such areas.  This can in fact be a quiet revolution because with a good water supply, sanitation can improve and, as a result, more girls can go to school.  Indeed, investing in gender-responsive social protection and sustainable infrastructure would free up women’s time, support their mobility and enhance their access to economic opportunities.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that when women are excluded, everyone pays, also warning that the world today is witnessing a deep, pervasive and relentless pushback on women’s rights.  “We will push back against the pushback,” he pledged, adding that the United Nations is also making progress in achieving gender parity.  For instance, his Senior Management Group comprises more women than men, a first in the Organization’s history.

After all, striving for greater opportunity for all women is good for all, he said, adding that when women have equal opportunities in the labour force, economies can unlock trillions of dollars.  Achieving sustainable development means changing power relations, closing gaps, tackling biases, fighting to preserve hard-won gains and winning ever-greater ground.

Echoing this sentiment, the presidents of the General Assembly, Economic and Social Council and the Security Council offered their commitment to rise to the challenge.  General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (Ecuador) said the Assembly will convene on 12 March a high-level event on women in power.  “We need to act,” she said.  “We need to weave a better social fabric.  We need to build societies that are more sustainable and more inclusive.”

Economic and Social Council President Inga Rhonda King (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) said the Commission’s discussions about policies on this and other key issues are instrumental to the Council, which strives to achieve not only the Sustainable Development Goals, but also to leave no woman behind.

Marlène Schiappa (France), Security Council President for March, underscored the importance of including women in peace and security work.  Yet, despite their participation having led to concrete results in peace and security on the ground, in the last 25 years, women have only represented 2 per cent of mediators and 8 per cent of negotiators.

Hilary Gbedemah, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said females should be equally involved in the development and strengthening of social protection systems.  More broadly, failing to provide appropriate social protection for women and girls, especially in disadvantaged groups, will not only stratify them into extreme poverty, but will also prevent them from contributing to economic growth.

Sharing another perspective with the Commission, civil society representatives Muneeba Ishfaq and Mary Fatiya Joseph, in a joint statement, described the challenges they each face and the dreams they have of a world that provides accessibility for persons with disabilities and schools to give an education to all girls and boys.  The desired infrastructure need not be “luxurious”, they said, but should fulfill their rights to accessibility and to education.

Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, outlined her latest report’s recommendations, emphasizing a need for forceful action at the global level to achieve progress in a range of areas.  Regretting to note that initiatives, such as #metoo and other transformative movements, are currently being challenged by backlashes, she said addressing these challenges rests on fully implementing existing instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

At the outset of the opening segment, delegates marked a minute of silence to honour the victims of the recent Ethiopian air crash.  The Commission approved its provisional agenda (document E/CN.6/2019/1) and its organization of work (document E/CN.6/2019/1/Addendum 1).  Completing its Bureau, it then noted the prior election of its Vice-Chairs Mauricio Carabali Baquero (Colombia), Rena Tasuja (Estonia) and Koki Muli Grignon (Kenya), and went on to elect Mohammed S. Marzooq (Iraq) as Vice-Chair and agreed that Ms. Tasuja would serve as Rapporteur.  The Commission also appointed members of the Working Group on Communications on the Status of Women, endorsing the candidacies of Nigeria and Iran to join Belgium and the Russian Federation and postponing the election of a member to represent Latin America and the Caribbean States.

In the afternoon, the Commission convened four parallel ministerial round tables on the priority theme, the first two focusing on good practices in the provision of social protection, public services and sustainable infrastructure, including for recognizing and valuing unpaid care and domestic work.  The second two focused on good practices and policies for the design, and provision and implementation of social protection, public services and sustainable infrastructure, including for the promotion of women’s representation in various sectors and all levels.

The two-week session will include dialogues, interactive expert panels and consideration of draft proposals, which are expected to be approved at the Commission’s closing meeting on Friday, 22 March.

The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 12 March, to continue its general discussion and hold a high-level dialogue on the priority theme “building alliances for social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls”.

Opening Remarks

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, outlined efforts made over the past 63 years to advance women’s empowerment, recalling a recent conversation with her colleague’s 11-year-old daughter, who proclaimed that she wanted to be president of the world.  “Now there’s a job that hasn’t yet been invented, but imagine if that first president of the world is a woman who comes to power by leading with integrity, with empathy, fairness,” she said.  “I am ready to image that future.  If not, I don’t know why I am up here today.”

While it was agreed at the fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, that women’s rights are human rights, she said “we have been disappointed”.  Today, one quarter of parliamentarians worldwide are women and, at the United Nations, only 46 Governments have named a female as their Permanent Representative.  Meanwhile, 130 million girls remain out of school and it will take an estimated 217 years to reach gender parity in pay and work opportunities.

In examining what went wrong, she said “you can’t just add women and stir.”  The job for empowering women requires conviction and political courage and must ensure both men and women have their rights.  It is about “getting the job done”, which is the theme of the Commission’s 2019 session.  “We are tasked to achieve a new global understanding of how social protection, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure can help to empower women and girls and achieve gender equality,” she said.  “These are vital bread and butter, day‑to‑day real issues that matter to women.”

Outlining the Commission’s deliberations over the coming two weeks, she said agenda items include maternity protections, pensions, safe roads, effective public transit, schools that equip girls with the skills they need to succeed in the workplace, access to vital health care and the fair distribution of unpaid care and domestic work between men and women.  These issues are all enablers or barriers, and getting these policies right can liberate and empower millions of women and girls.  “Social security can act as a safety net and as a trampoline,” she said.  “We all need each of those at some stage on our life course.”

For the first time, the Commission will consider the theme of social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, she continued.  Given this opportunity to break new ground, there is a real chance to agree on new normative standards, she said, adding that the Commission is the only international body that can do this.  Recalling her meetings on 9 and 10 March with delegates attending the Commission’s youth forum and non-governmental organization forum, she said their message was clear:  “We won’t be quiet.”

At a time when many are questioning the value of multilateralism, women must join at the top table of global politics, she said.  Women suffer the most when multilateralism fails and triggers war, displacement, climate change and hunger.  “What if we turn that equation on its head?”, she wondered.  “We have hard evidence to show that peace processes are more robust and last longer when women are at the negotiating table.  Resilience is in women’s DNA and the world needs that female resilience more than ever before.”

Women across the world are leading the way, she said, pointing at efforts to build resilience or to pick up the pieces when families are forcibly displaced or struggle to recover from conflict.  “That woman world president begins to look more and more like a real job, doesn’t it?”, she asked, calling on all delegates to use the session’s unique opportunity to improve the lives of women and girls so that when that woman president of the world comes into office, she will have legions of educated women and girls ready to support her.  “We in this room are the privileged ones.  Let’s not squander that privilege in rehashing old rivalries or ideological arguments.  Let’s look ahead with great hope to building together as we mark the 25 years since Beijing.”

Recalling the words of Irish poet Eavan Boland to remind delegates of their jobs, she said:  “Our future will become the past of other women.”

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that, for far too long, women have been systematically marginalized, ignored and silenced.  “Thank you for raising your voices,” he told participants.  The world needs direction and women advocates are at the forefront in promoting gender equality and raising awareness.  Times are precarious.  The world today is witnessing a pushback on women’s rights and that pushback is deep, pervasive and relentless.  Violence against women human rights defenders and women running for political office has increased.  Online harassment and abuse of women who speak out is rampant.

In some countries, homicide rates are going down, but murders of women are going up, he said.  In other places, the world has witnessed a rollback of legal protection against domestic violence or female genital mutilation.  In 2018, women were 26 per cent less likely to be employed than men.  Fewer than one third of managers are women — even though they are likely to be better educated.

“We all know women’s participation makes peace agreements more durable, but we still need to make sure women are included in negotiating teams,” he continued.  There are wide and persistent digital divides, an ongoing uphill battle for reproduction rights.  Nationalist, populist and austerity agendas are tearing the social fabric, aggravating inequality, splintering communities, curtailing women’s rights and cutting vital services.

“We will push back against the pushback,” Mr. Guterres pledged, adding that the United Nations is also making progress in achieving gender parity.  “If you look at my Senior Management Group, you will find more women than men,” he added.  That is a first in United Nations history.  But, even making progress at the United Nations has not come without pushback.  Some have even “dared to play the competency card”.  Men and women are equally efficient, competent and with the same levels of integrity, he stressed.

Striving for greater opportunity for all women is good for all, he continued.  When women have equal opportunities in the labour force, economies can unlock trillions.  When gender is at the heart of humanitarian assistance, vital assistance goes farther.  Put simply, when women are excluded, everyone pays.  Achieving sustainable development means changing power relations, closing gaps, tackling biases, fighting to preserve hard-won gains and winning ever-greater ground.  “I am a proud feminist.  You have my full support,” he added.

INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the theme of empowering people is being examined throughout 2019, a critical year for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  With this in mind, a strong Commission on the Status of Women remains invaluable in helping to guide the Council’s work.  Among the critical issues to be addressed is the recognition of unpaid work, performed primarily by women around the world.  Indeed, the Commission’s discussions about policies on this and other key issues are instrumental to the Council, which strives to achieve not only the 2030 Agenda goals, but also to leave no woman behind.

MARÍA FERNANDA ESPINOSA GARCÉS (Ecuador), President of the General Assembly, commended the Commission’s core role in advancing women’s empowerment, underlining the importance of including the cross-cutting issue of gender in a range of fields and discussions.  Women are vital for the future of humanity, yet that motto must still be repeated until they take their rightful place.  Every day, 130 women die of preventable, pregnancy-related causes.  Others still suffer from female genital mutilation.  One in three girls have experienced sexual assault.  Despite gains, she said, genuine gender quality and the empowerment of women is yet to be implemented.  In tackling the many challenges ahead, efforts must ensure that more women rise to positions of power.  For this and other reasons, she said the General Assembly will convene on 12 March a high-level event on women in power.  “We need to act,” she said.  “We need to weave a better social fabric.  We need to build societies that are more sustainable and more inclusive.”

MARLÈNE SCHIAPPA (France), President of the Security Council for the month of March, said that the 15-nation organ has a fundamental role to play in ensuring implementation of the women, peace and security agenda.  This is an opportunity to bolster all efforts to guarantee the full cooperation of women at every level of the security and peace paradigms.  The participation of women has had concrete results on the ground.  Myriad national and regional plans have been introduced to achieve the women, peace and security agenda.

In the last 25 years, women have only represented 2 per cent of mediators and 8 per cent of negotiators, she continued.  Women face extreme hardship in conflict, including sexual and gender-based violence, she continued, expressing deep concern that no member of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Dae’sh) has been brought to justice for such crimes.

PHUMZILE MLAMBO-NGCUKA, Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), warned that the progress reached is at danger of backsliding.  This is a worrying trend for the 2030 Agenda.  The families and communities most at risk of being left behind lack access to adequate infrastructure, have restricted mobility and cannot afford private services, including child care, water, sanitation, energy, health facilities and education.  Investment in gender-responsive social protection and sustainable infrastructure would free up women’s time, support their mobility and enhance their access to economic opportunities.

Almost all the 830 maternal deaths every day occur in rural areas, she continued.  Women and girls are responsible for 80 per cent of water collection in households without onsite access to that resource.  Provision of piped clean water to households can be a quiet revolution.  With a good water supply, sanitation can be improved and more girls can go to school.

Women and girls must have a role in shaping the policies, services and infrastructure that impact their lives, she continued.  In urban public spaces, women’s needs, like their safety and mobility, must be a deliberate part of planning aspects.  This includes considering locations of bus terminals and the provision of good street lighting.  While mobile technology offers a historic opportunity for universal access, artificial intelligence’s logic will fail women if conclusions are reached based on gender-blind information.  “Policies founded on gender-biased data will recycle gender inequality,” she warned.

MUNEEBA ISHFAQ and MARY FATIYA JOSEPH, representing civil society, delivered a joint statement, describing their circumstances, challenges and dreams.

Ms. ISHFAQ, noting that an accident has left her using a wheelchair, said she has so much titanium in her body, she is called the “iron woman” of Pakistan.  However, major barriers are accessibility and opportunity.  Her ideal world would be “more about me and less about my wheelchair”, where when she asks for accessible infrastructure, it is not viewed as asking for a favour, but for her rights.

Ms. JOSEPH, from South Sudan, described challenges she faced to attend school amid conflict.  Her dream is a peaceful world where youth can access health services and where free and accessible infrastructure ensure all can attend school.  The schools and other infrastructure do not need to be “luxurious”, but need to fulfil a true right to education.

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that females are disadvantaged in social protection systems.  Women face lower coverage rates and substantially lower benefit levels.  For women and girls to fully benefit from the social protection systems, all forms of discrimination must be eliminated.  Failure to provide appropriate social protection for women and girls, especially in disadvantaged groups, will not only stratify them into extreme poverty, but will also prevent them from contributing to economic growth.  Women should be equally involved in the development and strengthening of social protection systems.

Domestic and unpaid care must be recognized and valued, she continued.  Due to childcare responsibilities, women often work part-time, which affects their pension contributions, resulting in post-retirement poverty.  Access to maternity protection must be guaranteed and the equal sharing of domestic responsibilities promoted through flexible work arrangements.  Parental leave can enable men to play an equal role in raising children.  The Committee has provided guidance to States parties on measures to address trafficking of women and girls as they move across borders.  Migrant women and girls face an increased risk of poverty, exploitation and social exclusion.  Public services should be of adequate quality, respectful of the dignity of women and girls, and accessible for older women and women and girls with disabilities.  Women also need access to adequate employment and basic services that improve their economic lives, including access to electricity, potable water, sanitation and transport.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, outlining her latest report’s recommendations, emphasized a need for forceful action at the global level.  She also called for the elaboration of a global action plan to stamp out violence against women.  Initiatives, such as #metoo and other transformative movements, are currently being challenged by backlashes, and addressing those challenges rests on fully implementing existing instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  Citing several other efforts to pursue going forward, she said areas of focus include examining the persistence of femicide.  In addition, her next thematic report will examine disrespect to women who are pregnant or following childbirth.

Ministerial Round Tables 1 and 2

In the afternoon, the Commission held two ministerial-level round-table discussions on the theme “good practices in the provision of social protection, public services and sustainable infrastructure, including for recognizing and valuing unpaid care and domestic work”, chaired respectively by Margaret Kobia, Minister for Public Service, Gender and Youth Affairs of Kenya and Marta Lucía Ramírez, Vice-President and Minister for Gender and Equality of Colombia.

Ms. KOBIA, delivering opening remarks, said that social protection systems have slowly started to take unpaid care and domestic work into account.  However, more systematic efforts are needed to recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work.  Service quality remains a challenge.  When there is a shortage in health staff, women and girls end up waiting long hours, losing time that could otherwise be spent on productive activities, education, leisure and rest.  She also highlighted that, in rural areas, lack of appropriate transport infrastructure means that women and girls must walk long hours to reach health and educational facilities.

She asked ministers participating in the discussion to highlight steps being taken by their Governments to advance public services for gender equality; national social protection systems that have recognized unpaid care; investments to strengthen public care services to provide long-term care for older persons and the sick; and initiatives taken to mainstream gender perspectives into the design and implementation of essential infrastructure, such as sanitation, clean energy and safe water.

The Minister for Women of New Zealand highlighted steps taken by her Government to close the wage gap.  Women working as carers are far too often underpaid.  All women must be able to have access to equitable pay.  Rather than Government officials developing a bill, New Zealand opened the way for the private sector and civil society to propose initiatives of change.  Agencies and unions working together have led to a comprehensive three-year plan to close the wage gap.

The Minister for Women of Guatemala said that her country had established a development road map for the years ahead.  “Our goal is to include gender equality into public policy,” she added.  Guatemala seeks to implement a development agenda, which affords protection within the workplace and upholds the minimum age for women.  It also aims to provide technical assistance programmes for both women and men.  It is essential to defend labour rights and protect women in vulnerable positions.

The Minister for Education, Family and Social Inclusion of Cabo Verde said her Government has also adopted a national plan for sustainable development.  This along with other recent Government measures has prompted a resolution that recognizes the importance of unpaid care work.  This has been essential in moving towards achieving gender equality across various sectors.  People need proper income and families must have access to affordable day-care centres so that they can work outside the home.

The First Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of the Russian Federation said that his country has one of the best maternity leave programmes in the world.  A woman’s job can be held for three years as she tends to a child.  Non-working women get a maturity benefit, as well.  The Russian Federation has recently adopted a measure that would increase the pension age by five years, but for women who have taken care of three children, the pension age increased only by three years.  There are also special benefits available to those caring for the sick and the elderly.

The Vice-Chairperson of the National Working Committee on Women and Children under the State Council of China said her Government has devoted more than ¥60 billion to preschool development and to optimizing the lives of women.  She outlined how millions have been helped by Government programmes, including the 700 million people, many of them women, who have benefited from a clean water programme.  China will continue to strengthen its ability to reduce the burden on women.

The Minister for Women, Children and Elderly Persons of Nepal said her Government has enacted several social security initiatives, wherein the self-employed and informally employed are welcome to participate.  Nepal continues to increase its investment in myriad social safety net programmes.  It provides funds to the elderly and persons with disabilities.  Motherhood programmes, food subsidies and scholarship initiatives for vulnerable girls have also been put in place.

The representative of the United Kingdom said that women and girls shoulder the greater responsibility of unpaid work.  This increases their vulnerability to poverty now and in older age.   The United Kingdom has social protection programmes for women, including pensions, shared parental leave, parental allowance and the right to request a flexible working environment.  “Now is the time for action,” she stressed, calling for Governments to work across silos to address the needs of all women and girls, including those in crises and conflicts.

The Undersecretary for the Ministry of Social Development and Security of Sudan noted a host of measures aimed at improving the prospects of women and girls in her country.  The Beijing Platform is an important tool to address and solve challenges affecting women.  Sudan’s aim is to protect its children, including through providing them with free health care.  Currently, around 56 per cent of women in Sudan are covered by the social protection system.  There are however other programmes that protect the elderly and persons with disabilities.

The representative of the United States said her country is committed to implementing paid family leave policies.  President Donald Trump had recently signed a bill to help more families access childcare and early childhood education.  Regarding mainstreaming the gender perspective, she noted that women have been historically underrepresented in myriad lucrative industries.  Millions of dollars have recently been allocated to boost women’s access to training and jobs that lead to higher wages.

The representative of Cameroon said her country is working to reduce poverty, strengthen local advocacy efforts to help women access land and combat gender-based violence.  “We have also produced guidelines to improve the nutritional status of pregnant women and children,” she added, noting how local crops are used to fight malnutrition.

Also participating were ministers and other high-level officials of Botswana, Czech Republic, Maldives, Switzerland, Malawi, Paraguay, Argentina, Slovenia, Costa Rica, Gabon, European Union, Dominican Republic, Hungary, South Africa, Uruguay, Cote d’Ivoire, Turkey, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Samoa, Mexico, Gambia, North Macedonia, Peru, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Mali.

Ministerial Round Tables 3 and 4

Also this afternoon, the Commission held two ministerial-level round-table discussions on the theme “Good practices and policies for the design, and provision and implementation of social protection, public services and sustainable infrastructure, including for the promotion of women’s representation in various sectors and all levels”, chaired by Riina Sikkut, Minister for Health and Labour of Estonia, and subsequently by Thikra Mohammed Jabir Alwash, Mayor of Baghdad, Iraq.

Ms. SIKKUT and Ms. ALWASH each outlined the context for their respective discussions, saying investments in social protection, public services and sustainable infrastructure provide an important opportunity for job creation.  Globally, women constitute 60 per cent of the workforce in the education sector and nearly 70 per cent in the health-care and social sectors.  As in other sectors, women are underrepresented in leadership and decision-making positions and in infrastructure sectors.  While women have made inroads into science, technology, engineering and mathematics degree programmes, they continue to be a minority among graduates and face social and institutional barriers to employment in “non-traditional” sectors.

They invited participants to consider what measures have achieved proven results in ensuring women’s equal access to employment opportunities, what steps Governments have taken to ensure adequate wages and working conditions and what examples they can give of effective national laws and policies that have increased women’s representation in infrastructure sectors.  Encouraging them to focus on solutions, she asked what has worked in expanding employment and leadership opportunities for women in social protection, public services and sustainable infrastructure and how are these measures central to national development strategies for the gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Ms. SIKKUT highlighted some examples from her country, including measures to ease the care burden of women to provide them with better opportunities for active labour market participation.  Extended paternity leave will begin in 2020 and universal child allowances have increased over the last five years.  Various information and communications technology (ICT)-based solutions are seeing results in supporting work-life balances.  In addition, the Government has raised wages for teachers and those providing alternative care services for children.

Ms. ALWASH provided several examples from Iraq, noting that its Constitution provides for no gender-based discrimination, with girls and women having rights to participate in all decision-making positions.  Efforts have also been made to reduce housing costs, increase income-generation loans to women and provide infrastructure for underprivileged areas.  Such decisions have already seen success, allowing 83 women to become Members of Parliament due to a quota system.

Ministers and other high-level Government officials from around the world responded to those and other questions, with many providing their countries’ experiences as examples of ways to build upon existing achievements.

The Minister for Gender, Child and Social Action of Mozambique said strides have been made in many sectors, with the registration of girls in schools rising to more than 95 per cent.

The Minister for Women, Family and Children of Côte d’Ivoire said a social safety net programme has already helped 35,000 households move out of poverty and is targeting more vulnerable populations with a view to widening women’s access to employment.

The Minister for Social Services and Urban Development of the Bahamas announced a new free preschool education programme for all children, noting that national initiatives are shaped by reaching out to all stakeholders to ensure inclusive services.

Some participants cited legislative gains.  The Minister for Social Development and Human Security of Thailand outlined several new policies, including one that aims to ensure gender equality.

Similarly, the Secretary for Social Affairs of the Presidency of Angola highlighted a range of achievements, from laws protecting women from domestic violence to a programme to promote birth registration.  Efforts have also aimed at increasing the number of women in decision-making positions.  Today, women make up 67 of the 220 deputies in the legislative branch.  Women also held 12 of 31 ministerial appointments and made up 131 of the 354 judges in the judicial system.

The Minister for Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development of Zimbabwe said national plans target and reach retirees, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.  Related efforts include broadening land and loan access for women, criminalizing child marriages and improving access to education for all.

The Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health of Finland, noting that women were granted full political rights in 1906, said that, today, the system is geared towards ensuring no one is left behind.  Services including maternal and child health care, universal pensions and other social protection measures are implemented in many ways.  One way to strengthen social protection is by investing in social workers, who are trained in human rights issues.

The Vice- Minister at the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth of Germany said efforts aimed at ensuring that more women reach top positions, including increasing quotas within the Government.

The Deputy Minister for Education and Member of Parliament of Bangladesh said women make up a significant part of the Government, with a recent constitutional amendment adopting quotas for Parliament.  From the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to pilots serving as United Nations peacekeepers, women play an important role, he said, adding that initiatives are also encouraging girls and women to stay in school.

Summing up the discussion, GRETE FAREMO, Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) said if infrastructure is done incorrectly, it would affect generations to come.  While gains have been made, women still only hold 20 per cent of parliamentarian positions and the pay gap remains wide.  Encouraged by some of the best practices heard today, she said women decision makers can make an impact on priorities.  Underlining the importance of taking action on the ground, she said UNOPS has taken gender-awareness to the core of its planning.  How schools, roads and other projects are built matters, she said, commending participants for their rich discussion and anticipating ways to take such plans forward.

Also participating were Ministers and other high-level officials of the Latvia, Ireland, Qatar, Nigeria, Belgium, Greece, Portugal, Japan, Brazil and Timor-Leste, Mauritius, Austria, Morocco, Lithuania, Indonesia, Luxembourg, Kenya, United Republic of Tanzania, Canada, Denmark, Philippines, Spain, Niger, Cuba, Ukraine, Republic of Korea, Uganda, Trinidad and Tobago, Chile and South Africa, as well as the State of Palestine.

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*  The 1st Meeting was covered in Press Release WOM/2145 of 23 March 2018.

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