Commission on the Status of Women

Note:Full coverage of today’s meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women will be available after their conclusion.

Opening Remarks

ANTONIO DE AGUIAR DE PATRIOTA (Brazil), Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, welcomed ministers, senior officials, experts and civil society representatives from around the world, saying their participation was an expression of a strong commitment to gender equality and women’s human rights, as well as the belief that “together we can and will accelerate progress for women and girls everywhere”.  During the session, participants would be called upon to build on recent gains, including the road map laid out in 2016 for gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  The session, under the priority theme “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work”, must provide clear guidance on eliminating work-related structural barriers within and across countries in which women faced discrimination, he emphasized.  Indeed, women were paid less than men, carried an undue burden of unpaid domestic work and were concentrated in the informal economy, where they lacked protection and opportunities for advancement.  The Commission should give clear guidance as to how Governments could ensure that women took full advantage of new opportunities.

Describing women’s voices and leadership at all levels of economic decision-making — whether in Government, the private sector or trade unions — as a driver for change, he stressed the need to put legislative frameworks in place to ensure compliance, strengthen institutions and gather stronger evidence to guide such actions.  The session would also focus on identifying policy options and opportunities to empower indigenous women and girls, while assessing progress on the review theme “Evaluating implementation of the Agreed Conclusions from the fifty-eighth session”, on challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.  Noting the role of non-governmental organizations in delivering services to women, and their collaboration across borders to advance gender equality, he emphasized that civil society and youth groups must enjoy a safe environment in which to speak on behalf of women and girls everywhere.  Gender equality could only be realized if men and boys took full responsibility, engaging as gender advocates and speaking out as agents who could transform social norms and stereotypes.  The crucial task of engaging men and boys must involve challenging rigid notions of both masculinity and traditional perceptions of manhood, he stressed.

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said his most important message today was one of gratitude to participants for raising their voices on behalf of women’s equality and dignity around the world.  “Every day you are on the front lines for fairness and for a just and decent world,” serving as an inspiration as they championed equality, he said, stressing that women’s empowerment must be a priority in a male-dominated world.  Empowerment was about breaking structural barriers, he added, pointing out that all were better off when doors were opened to women and girls in schools, military ranks and peace talks.  Such efforts were vital in addressing historic injustices, he said, adding that Governments and other institutions achieved better results when gender equality reflected the people they served.

He went on to cite the findings of a study to the effect that women’s equality could add $12 trillion to global growth over the next decade.  Women enjoying better reproductive health earned more and invested more in their children’s health — investments that paid dividends for generations.  Empowerment was also the best way to prevent challenges arising from violent extremism, human rights violations, xenophobia and other threats.  “We need you more than ever,” he said, noting that globally women were suffering new assaults on their safety, with extremists building their ideologies around the subjugation of women.  Sexual violence, forced marriage, human trafficking and virtual enslavement were forms of physical and psychological warfare in today’s world, he said.  Some Governments were enacting laws that curtailed women’s freedom, while others were rolling back legal protections against domestic violence, a sign that common values were under threat.

“Attacks on women are attacks on all of us,” he emphasized.  “This is why we have to respond together.”  For the 830 million women at risk of dying each day from childbirth-related causes, the 225 million lacking access to modern contraceptives, the 15 million girls forced to marry each year, the 130 million women and girls who had suffered female genital mutilation, and the nearly 1 billion women who would enter the global economy in the next decade, empowerment would unleash their potential to lead the world to a new future, he pledged.

The United Nations would support women every step of the way.  Announcing that he would join the international gender champions, he encouraged other senior leaders also to do so, emphasizing that a  cultural shift was needed to recognize women as equal and to promote them on that basis, with the actions, targets and benchmarks required to measure progress.  Since gender equality was a function of all United Nations efforts, the Organization had announced an ambitious attempt to combat sexual exploitation and abuse, which would require the employment of more women in uniform and the promotion of more female leaders, he said.  “Hold us to our promises,” he urged.  “Do not let us off the hook.  Keep our feet in the fire.”

FREDERICK MUSIIWA MAKAMURE SHAVA (Zimbabwe), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the Commission was an indispensable arm of the Council system, addressing issues of vital interest to the well-being and progress of half of humanity.  “When it succeeds in the execution of its mandate, we all succeed,” he said, noting that the current session was taking place at a pivotal moment when commitments under the 2030 Agenda must be turned into action.  Practical contributions emanating from the current session would enrich efforts to realize the full empowerment of women and contribute significantly to the 2030 Agenda, he said, adding that the Commission had set the bar high in 2016 by providing a comprehensive road map for gender-responsive implementation of the Agenda.

“This road map should continue to guide and inspire Member States and all other stakeholders,” he continued, describing the Commission’s 2017 priority theme on women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work as highly relevant to the Council’s own focus on the eradication of poverty.  “The [2030 Agenda] envisages a world in which every country enjoys sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all,” he said, noting that women’s economic empowerment was a prerequisite to realization of that vision.  Women and poverty — 1 of the 12 critical areas of the Beijing Platform for Action, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 — as well as the feminization of poverty were the subjects of long-standing concern on the Commission’s part, he said, adding that it acknowledged the mutually reinforcing links between gender equality and empowerment of women and girls on the one hand, and the eradication of poverty on the other.

PETER THOMSON (Fiji), President of the General Assembly, recalled that gender equality had been enshrined in the United Nations Charter at the Organization’s founding, but despite some great strides on that front, progress remained slow and uneven to the present day.  Noting that all his own grandchildren were girls, he expressed faith that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development would enable them to grow up enjoying the same rights as their male peers.  In particular, Sustainable Development Goal 5 committed all stakeholders to achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women, he noted.  “I see the day when all forms of violence against women and girls are eliminated, when women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities are ensured.”

Recalling that the Commission had called for the 2030 Agenda to take a “transformational and comprehensive approach” to gender equality, he said that, rather than resting on its laurels, it had instead pushed for key gender-equality actions within the framework of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.  It had also placed emphasis on women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work, he said.  Technology and innovation could be the key to unlocking the approximately $28 trillion that could be added to the global gross domestic product (GDP) annually if women and men were treated equally in the world of work.  In addition, technology could help expand women’s access to the formal economy and markets, facilitate their employment through flexible work conditions, help monitor and enforce workplace and legal protections, and eliminate the global shame of violence against women.

PHUMZILE MLAMBO-NGCUKA, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), described the Commission as a “barometer of progress” towards a world free of gender discrimination and inequality — “a world that leaves no one behind”.  “Inclusive economies and a positive world of work are powerful ways to break repeating cycles of poverty,” she said.  Citing both progress in some areas and the erosion of gains already made, she emphasized that much-needed positive developments were not happening fast enough, calling for “constructive impatience” to help in reaching targets.  The current session was renewing focus on the needs of those furthest behind, including young women, refugees and migrants, women affected by gender-based violence, those denied sexual and reproductive health rights, and those facing multiple or intersecting forms of discrimination.

Noting that virtually all economies relied on the unpaid care and domestic work of women and girls, she emphasized the need for positive changes to enable such work to be valued and shared by parents within the family unit.  The relevant report of the Secretary-General — titled “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work” (document E/CN.6/2017/3) — paid greater attention to women working where they were at highest risk of being left behind, she said.  Calling on the Commission to focus on women’s participation in male-dominated sectors and in the informal sector, she said the latter — comprising low-wage farm workers, flower vendors, street-food vendors and others — offered a major opportunity, pointing out that there were 190 million informal-sector workers in India alone.  With the global pay gap at an average of 23 per cent, women were also consistently earning less than men, she said, underlining the need for action to address such “daylight robbery”.

DALIA LEINARTE, Chair, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, described ongoing work, saying dialogue with States parties aimed at consistently raising women’s economic empowerment, including calls for them to eliminate sex-based discrimination, gender pay gaps and sexual harassment.  It had also urged them to provide economic opportunities for women in rural areas, those with disabilities, refugees, migrants, victims of trafficking and those wishing to leave prostitution.  Education was crucial for economic empowerment and women’s full participation in economic, social and political life.  States must ensure safe school environments and diversify educational choices to promote women’s and girl’s access to scientific, technical and managerial professions.

She said the Committee was currently preparing a draft general recommendation on girls and women’s right to education to provide guidance to States parties.  Gender-based violence was another issue intrinsically linked to women’s economic empowerment, often preventing them from breaking out of poverty.  The Committee’s general recommendation would guide States parties in their efforts to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence against women.  It would also address the need for systematic data collection disaggregated by the relationship between victims and perpetrators and in relation to intersecting forms of discrimination.  The plight of migrants and refugees must also be addressed.  Natural disasters had added to large-scale migration movements of people, she added, emphasizing that climate change adaptation programmes had failed to address the structural barriers facing women.  Linking the Convention to the 2030 Agenda had great potential in advancing women’s economic empowerment.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIC, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, said the struggle must be grounded in a quest for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in all areas.  Since the beginning of her tenure in 2015, she said, official visits to Argentina, Australia, Georgia, Israel, State of Palestine and South Africa had resulted in a country report with specific recommendations on actions needed to address gaps in combating violence against women.  Her next thematic report, on shelters and protection orders, which she planned to present at the Human Rights Council’s June session, would focus on States’ obligation to address violence against women through coordinated national legislation and prevention policies, including the provision of shelters, crisis centres, safe houses, help lines and civil and criminal protection.  “We have gone a long way in defining violence against women as a human rights violation and form of discrimination,” she said.  While the international community now had a solid understanding of required actions to combat those violations, States and international organizations were still not using all agendas and tools at their disposal to address the realities of women and girls living in conditions of normalized violence at home or in the workplace.

She said that under the Commission’s priority theme for 2017, the international community must look at violence against women in the workplace.  Indeed, evidence showed that around 50 per cent of women experienced unwanted sexual advances, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at work.  For women in politics, recent studies had found that sexism, harassment and violence against women parliamentarians were real and widespread, and that they existed in every country, albeit in different degrees, she said, calling upon Governments to enact, strengthen and enforce laws and policies to eliminate that phenomenon.  In her first vision-setting report, she had called for stronger cooperation between global and regional mechanisms to improve synergies and accelerate the use of existing instruments.  Also concerning were gender-related killings of women, she said, noting that preventing that pandemic was one of her priorities.  Turning to the ongoing existing work on data collection on femicides, she proposed a flexible model to establish a “national femicide watch” to work as a preventive mechanism.

MANUELA TOMEI, Director of the Conditions of Work and Equality Department, International Labour Organization (ILO), said the Commission’s priority theme resonated with the ILO mandate.  In many ways, the quest for women’s economic empowerment would be lost or won depending on how well they gained entry into the labour market.  While the world of work was changing in profound ways, where those changes would lead in terms of supporting women’s economic empowerment was not preordained.  To secure a better future for all, better policies must be put in place now.  A striking feature of today’s landscape was the lack of progress made on global women’s economic empowerment and gender equality.

To address those issues, she said the ILO Women at Work Centenary Initiative had sought to understand the obstacles to progress and challenge assumptions of what they wanted in the working world.  Launched on 8 March, an ILO report, titled “Towards a better future for women and work: Voices of women and men”, had included a poll interviewing 149,000 people in 142 countries and territories.  It offered the first ever account of global attitudes about working women, finding that most preferred that they had paid jobs.  Most participants had cited the work-family balance as among women’s top challenges, followed by unfair treatment, sexual harassment and unequal pay.  The findings supported a policy agenda that included a focus on the care economy — a rich source of future jobs — and on the link between paid and unpaid work.  Ensuring equal pay for work of equal value was also essential, as women earned 23 per cent less than men, mainly due to the way wages were structured.  ILO was committed to making the future of work one where gender equality and women’s empowerment were drivers of a better world.

Delivering a joint statement were three representatives of the Commission’s recently-concluded annual Youth Forum: Hannah Woodward, youth delegate from Australia; Aminata Gambo, activist from Cameroon; and Mary-Kate Costello of the Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development’s Working Group on Youth and Gender Equality in the United States.

Ms. WOODWARD, speaking for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, recalled that the Youth Forum had brought together more than 750 young leaders to discuss emerging challenges and opportunities to achieve equality, justice and the economic empowerment of all people.  That dialogue had been anchored in the experiences of young people, especially young women, she said, noting that the Forum’s Outcome Document had recognized the reality that gender was not binary and that prioritizing marginalized voices meant going “beyond tokenism” to address discrimination against all young people.  Stressing that men and boys must also be involved in those key actions, she went on to outline the various priorities identified by the Youth Forum, including:  young women’s leadership; technical and financial support for the involvement of young women in policies that affected their lives; protection and support for human rights defenders; the creation of conditions that would allow young women to participate in policy development; and investments in youth-led campaigns.

Ms. GAMBO, speaking for Cameroon’s Mbororo Pastoralists Community, outlined a number of additional priorities, including the need to address the crisis of unemployment and under-employment that disproportionately affected women and young people; to build partnerships with the private sector and other actors to improve training, education and workforce development, thereby ensuring decent work for women; and to recognize the need for equal pay for equal work in order to close the unjust wage gap between women and men.

Ms. COSTELLO said other priority areas included creating and strengthening intergenerational dialogue; ensuring access for all young women – including refugees and migrants – to free, safe and affordable education through secondary school; ensuring access to comprehensive, youth-friendly health services and information, including on sexual and reproductive health and rights; increasing leadership by women and girls in developing policies to combat climate change; and enhancing interreligious and intercultural dialogue that would contribute to the economic empowerment of women.

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