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Press Release
UNITED NATIONS
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York


WOM/1032
3 March 1998


Commission on the Status of Women
Forty-second Session
3rd Meeting (PM)


UN WILL CONTINUE TO BE 'UNCOMPROMISING GUARDIAN' OF WOMEN'S HUMAN RIGHTS,
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER TELLS COMMISSION


The United Nations would always maintain its place as the uncompromising guardian of women's human rights until the full implementation of those rights became a reality, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said this morning. She was speaking at the Commission on the Status of Women, as it continued its general debate on follow-up to the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women.

She said that the Commission was an essential partner in eradicating discrimination and violence against women and girls, in law and in practice, in war and in peace. For its part, her office had mounted a campaign for the universal ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The international community should not count women merely as the majority of today's victims of war atrocities. They should be recognized as the true peacemakers and peace-builders that they were in the field and at the negotiating table.

Responding to comments made by several representatives following her statement, the High Commissioner said she shared the view that it was time to move from words to action, adding that it was time to pass the draft declaration on human rights defenders, under discussion in the Commission on Human Rights for some 13 years.


In an impassioned plea, the President of the New York-based Women's Environment and Development Organization, Bella Abzug, called for an end to the "wall of gender apartheid". Scaling that wall was the only way to overcome discrimination against women. She said the United Nations had shown its strength by preventing a war. Now, it should end the war against the civil rights of women. She spoke for all women who were victims of violence and who had struggled to make life better for others. After all, it was for those women for whom the bell tolled.

Also this morning, a number of African Commission members drew attention to cultural laws and practices that seriously impeded the observance and protection of women's rights. The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania said that such discriminatory customary laws normally took precedence over national legislation. For example, violence against women -- such as wife beating and female genital mutilation -- was condoned by cultural attitudes and beliefs, requiring a multi-pronged approach to its eradication.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Norway, Sweden, Canada, Poland, Australia, Armenia, Philippines, Togo, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Saint Lucia on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), New Zealand, Mexico, Finland, Slovakia, and Iran, and the observer for the Holy See. A representatives of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also spoke.

The Commission will meet again at 3 p.m. today for a panel discussion on the human rights of women.


Commission Work Programme

The Commission on the Status of Women met this morning to continue its discussion on the follow-up to the 1995 Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women. (For background on the Commission's forty-second session, see Press Release WOM/1029 of 27 February 1998.)

Statement by Human Rights High Commissioner

MARY ROBINSON, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the enormous progress women had made in the last few decades was the result of persistent combined efforts at the international, national and local levels. Yet, the challenges of discrimination and violence against women and girls persisted, in law and in practice, in time of war and in time of peace. The Commission on the Status of Women was an essential partner in an effective response to those and other critical challenges. The current session was of particular relevance to the human rights objectives of the United Nations through its evaluation of the post-Beijing achievements in four major areas of concern most relevant to the work of the High Commissioner.

The United Nations would always maintain its place as the uncompromising guardian of women's human rights until the full implementation of those rights had become a reality, she said. The Office of the High Commissioner had mounted a campaign for the universal ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the removal of substantive reservations. It was also assisting the Commission's Working Group in the elaboration of an optional protocol to the Convention permitting the Committee to consider individual complaints. That was an important step for better protection of the rights of women.

She went on to say that the greatest challenged faced by the international community in celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the effective implementation of existing standards on the ground. A consistent effort was required to ensure that human rights became the responsibility of everyone -- the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations, governments and civil society.

Historically, unequal power relationships, deeply rooted in traditions and cultures, continued to undermine the human rights, physical integrity and dignity of women and girl children, she said. The international community must take responsibility of the persistent violations of women's human rights. Those violations included domestic violence and sexual abuse within the family, female genital mutilation and other harmful traditional practices affecting the health of women and children, the commodification of women as objects of trade, and forced birth control.

The Office of the High Commissioner attached the highest importance to the realization of economic and social rights of women, she said. It was economic and social inequalities that constituted the root causes for violations of women's human rights and for the persistence of violence against women worldwide. The feminization of poverty must be countered with more resources or the reallocation of resources for programmes targeting women and girls. The integration of a gender-perspective in the enjoyment of the right to development should be addressed as a priority matter at the Commission on Human Rights and at its Working Group and by the United Nations system as a whole.

Regarding girls and women in armed conflict, she said, whether in time of peace or in time of war, women's rights must not only be respected, but women's full participation in solutions must also be recognized. The international community should not merely count women as the majority of today's refugees, displaced persons and victims of war atrocities. It should clearly recognize women as the true peacemakers and peace-builders in the field and at the negotiating table.

Exchange of Views

In an exchange of views that followed, several representatives posed questions to the High Commissioner. One representative asked for information concerning relevant programmes under way in the field to mainstream human rights and women's rights, as well as practical suggestions to involve more women in peacekeeping operations. Stating that "it was about time to move from words into action", a representative asked for some examples of approaches to that most difficult task. What did the High Commissioner envisage in the area of human rights education, and were there specific agencies in place to promote the rights of the girl children? a representative asked, while another said that she eagerly awaited the implementation of the High Commissioner's plans for women, and asked how she envisaged cooperation in that regard with the United Nations and parliamentary bodies.

The High Commissioner, Mrs. ROBINSON, said that governments had a "very crucial role to play" and appreciated the supportive responses of the representatives in that regard. Concerning the practical steps that could be undertaken, the international community had already seen the effectiveness of the framework of the Secretary-General's reform package, and the gender mainstreaming under way at the country level, which included the work of specific United Nations agencies. Last Sunday in Tehran, her discussions with the representatives of United Nations agencies largely focused on women's and children's issues. For example, much was being done by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to educate and encourage parents in the area of children's rights. Access to food, issues of poverty, and social education were also discussed. Putting women's rights and children's rights on a "front-line perspective" was a very positive development.

She shared the view that it was time to move from words to action. One example of action worth noting was the draft declaration on human rights defenders that would come before the Commission on Human Rights at its forthcoming session. It had been discussed for 13 years. Wouldn't it be good if it were to be passed by the Commission and then adopted by the General Assembly?

A framework for cooperation in the Asia Pacific region was adopted in Tehran, involving 34 countries, she said. Among the components of that agreement were the promotion of national human rights plans and human rights education, as well as reviewing the possibility for national capacity building, economic and social rights, and the rights to development. There was a link between national human rights plans and human rights education. Achieving human rights awareness required national capacity-building in human rights that included educational programmes. A representative spoke of the importance of integrating human rights and working together in a coordinated way, and rightly pointed up the role of parliaments. As High Commissioner, she too had "heard enough words" and would welcome a shift to action.

Statements

JANNE HAALAND MATLARY, State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, said there were many forms of violence against women, especially in armed conflict. Rape and sexual violence was especially prevalent in armed conflict, and life in refugee camps was no safe haven for women. Norway was very concerned about the security in refugee camps where women and children were a majority. Her Government had initiated research on the various roles of women in armed conflict. It also strongly supported the establishment of an international criminal court to deal with serious war crimes. It was important that a gender perspective was included in that court.

Women as a group were often denied the rights to own property or have access to credit, she said. Female heirs also received less inheritance than male heirs. Thus, many girls and women were denied their rights in society from the outset. They might not be aware of their rights due to a lack of information or illiteracy. Research had shown that investing in women's education was the single factor that yielded the highest social return. Education gave improved income opportunities and promoted women's participation in the political process.

Her Government had established a number of reforms aimed at allowing for a harmonious combination of family and work life, she said. Fathers and mothers complemented each other as parents and should share fully in their work as parents. Only when men demanded that employers took into account their roles as fathers, would it be possible for both men and women to achieve a better balance between professional and family life.

INGEGERD SAHLSTROM, State Secretary for Equality Affairs of Sweden, said the human rights of women was at the heart of all four themes being discussed by the Commission. If women could not enjoy human rights equally with men, and if women continued to be subjected to violence, what was agreed upon in Beijing would never be achieved. The Commission must be in the forefront of promoting the rights of women worldwide and should, therefore, now agree on practical and concrete steps to implement common commitments.

Her Government gave priority to measures to combat men's violence against women and to further support women victims of such violence, she said. Domestic violence occurred in every society, including Sweden, and it was the duty of governments to recognize it and to bring it into the open. Swedish officials from the judicial system, the social services and the health and medical services were undergoing a training programme on the causes and consequences of violence against women.

Women were denied their rights every day in every part of the world, she said. They were subject to rape and other sexual offences, to sexual harassment, to dowry-related violence and to genital mutilation. Those and other violations occurred in times of peace, as well as in times of war. It was the duty of governments and of the international community to take measures to put an end to such crimes and to utilize the international instruments that were in place.

BELLA ABZUG, President of the New York-based Women's Environment and Development Organization, called for an end to the wall of gender apartheid, noting that unless it was scaled, discrimination against women would not be overcome. Women must be free, and there should be gender balance in government and in all other institutions. The millennium should be the new century of women. She said she spoke for women who were victims of violence and for those who had struggled to make life better for others. The bell tolled for them, she said.

She said the United Nations had shown its strength by preventing a war, and it should end the war against the civil rights of women. She presented a book entitled Mapping Progress prepared by her organization to the session. The book, the fifth in a series, reported on progress on the implementation of the Platform for Action.

HEDY FRY, Secretary of State for the Status of Women of Canada, said her Government recognized the importance of research on gender-equality issues in order to contribute to improved policy-making and enhanced public debate. Yet, equality could not be achieved through legislation alone or in isolation. Her Government had a close relationship with women's and other equality-seeking organizations, and acknowledged their contributions as pivotal to effective public policy.

Addressing the issue of violence against women was also a priority, she said. Discussion of that critical area of concern would contribute to ongoing efforts to recognize and address violence against women as a violation of human rights. Canada commended the ground-breaking work of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, as well as the demonstrated commitment of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in addressing that issue.

Her Government's approach to eliminating violence against women was broad-based, she said. It included measures aimed at improving women's economic and social equality, and specific actions directed at the country's health, education, social and criminal justice systems. Each year, Canada provided funding to, and consulted regularly with, women's organizations across the country who worked in those areas. Their input was essential in ensuring the development of appropriate, community-based responses to violence against women and children.

M. KAZIMIERZ KAPERA (Poland) said that serious questions were facing the Commission, particularly whether social progress was keeping pace with economic development, and what place was to be given to moral and spiritual values. The new Polish Government was placing heightened importance on family policy, affirming the family's role as the foundation of society. The adoption of a family policy was one of its main goals. Inspired by the Beijing Declaration, a particular place was given to women in that policy.

The draft bill relating to equal status of men and woman, proposed in February 1997, contained a definition of discrimination, as well as areas where women were victims of discriminatory treatment, she said. While the possibility of a legal remedy was within reach, and while the draft was an expression of the implementation of the Beijing Platform, it had not yet been adopted.

Indisputably, measures were needed to increase women's involvement in the work of legislative and executive bodies, she said. The Polish Government, in consultation with non-governmental organizations, was attempting to achieve a harmonious balance for the evolution of the status of women in the family.

PRU GOWARD, Executive Director, Office of the Status of Women of Australia, said her country was committed to achieving full equality for women, and recognized the importance of non-governmental organizations in that process. Since signing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1980, and ratifying it in 1983, Australia had enacted legislation to assist women. At the federal, State and territory levels, specialized machinery had been established to provide advice on women's issues. A primary concern shared by many Australian women was fear of violence on the streets and in the home. To respond to that fact, the heads of Government at all levels had convened a National Domestic Violence Summit last November. The Summit resulted in a new initiative for violence prevention, and in the creation of a group of model domestic violence laws.

In other efforts to address the needs of women, she said her Government was supporting greater flexibility in the work place, as well as child care provision and expanded opportunities for employment and training. Australia was committed to enabling its citizens to combine family and work responsibilities. It was proud of its achievements to date in implementing the Convention. Overall, it believed that far-reaching cultural and economic change would require support and acceptance of the community. It, therefore, remained committed to realizing changes in attitude and practice that would mark true equality for women.

ANNA AGHADJANIAN (Armenia) said that as early as 25 March 1997, Armenia had unilaterally decided to release all the Azeri prisoners as documented by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). She said that, through that act, her country had once again reiterated its commitment to the full and unconditional release of all prisoners. She noted that at present 123 of 623 missing Armenians, including children, women and the elderly, were still detained in Azerbaijan. Her country was convinced that the release of all detainees would not only create a favourable climate for the peace negotiations, but also contribute to confidence-building and mutual trust in the region as a whole.

As a follow-up to the Beijing Conference, Armenia, in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), launched a "Support to Gender in Development" programme to ensure the mainstreaming of gender issues in governance and development management. Last year, the government had presented to the Women's Anti-discrimination Committee its initial report on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

PATRICIA B. LICUANAN (Philippines) said that the post-Beijing initiatives in her country involved action on three levels -- legislation and policy, mechanisms or structures, and programmes. The passage of the anti-rape law was a major accomplishment in the legislative sphere, as it expanded the definition of rape and reclassified it from a crime against chastity to a crime against person.

She said that in order to monitor her country's obligations under the 20 human rights instruments which it had ratified, including the Women's Convention, the Inter-agency Coordinating Committee on Human Rights was created. It was composed of top government officials and mandated to respond to requests for information on human rights violations. Other significant mechanisms included the Migrants Advisory and Information Network, which raised public consciousness on the realities of migration and provided counselling to prospective migrants. Included in the country's "high impact" programmes was the gender sensitive training of judges, prosecutors, lawyers, police officers, health workers and others.

In order to move forward, it was essential to mainstream the gender perspective into the work of different government offices, she said. Yet, representatives of countries who were among the strongest advocates for women in Beijing were the most resistant to such initiatives. It seemed that economic or trade ministries cared little about the commitments made by their governments in Beijing. However, in light of the serious concern about the impact of the current Asian economic crisis on women, economic and trade departments should be the main targets of advocacy at this time.

KISSEM TCHANGAI-WALLA (Togo) said her country had elaborated a draft national action plan to improve the status of women and to promote income-generating activities, enhance the well-being of women and girls, and strengthen institutions responsible for women's activities. An awareness campaign had been launched to draw attention to the dangers of female genital mutilation.

Her Government had undertaken thorough restructuring of the institutions concerning the status of women, she said. It had also promoted the activities of non-governmental organizations, which had been organizing seminars and workshops about the rights of women throughout the country. A data bank had been created on women. She said an inter- ministerial committee had been established to promote the education of girls; another project covered technical education of women.

MARERE WA MWACHAI, Assistant Minister for Home Affairs, National Heritage, Culture and Social Services of Kenya, announced that the ethnic conflicts that occurred in parts of Kenya just after the last December elections had subsided. The displaced persons, mainly women and children, had been provided with relief services through government and church institutions and others, and were returning to their homes. Independent national institutions had been created for the protection and promotion of women's human rights.

The government of Kenya had committed itself to implementing the outcomes of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action by developing strategic action plans to enhance the advancement of women, she said. At the same time, a steering committee had been set up to provide technical and financial support to stakeholders to enhance the implementation of the Platform. The Government had set up a task force to review all laws relating to women, and was also working closely with non-governmental organizations to provide women with access to the mechanisms of justice and information on their rights in seeking redress. The Kenya branch of the International Federation of Women Lawyers continued to provide free legal services to battered women and other victims.

HOO-JUNG YOON (Republic of Korea) said her Government had continued to supplement national efforts to eradicate all forms of violence perpetrated against women. Last December, it enacted the Special Act on the Punishment of Domestic Violence and the Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection of Victims Act. When those new laws came into effect in July, the Government would be able to intervene in cases of domestic violence and offer assistance to victims. In addition, the revised Punishment of Sexual Assault Crime and Protection of the Victim Act would more effectively protect children, make penalties much more severe, and allow prosecution without requiring victims to press charges.

Although progress had been made towards advancing the status of women, she said that many women around the world continued to face seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the fulfilment of their basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. Discriminatory national legislation must be identified and abolished without delay. Her Government intended to withdraw its initial reservations to article 9 of the Convention, concerning nationality.

Among the most appalling forms of violence against women was the systematic rape of women in situations of armed conflict, she said. The suffering of the "comfort women" of the Second World War must never be dismissed, because systematic rape was still employed as a common weapon of aggression. Therefore, her Government regretted that Japan had failed to heed the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Radhika Coomaraswamy. The Republic of Korea once again called upon Japan to undertake appropriate and expeditious action to that end.

RITA REDDY, Senior Coordinator for Refugee Women at Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, said that, of the world's estimated 22.7 million refugees and war-affected peoples, the vast majority were women and children. The UNHCR promoted the participation of refugee women in decision-making processes in refugee camps and also gave them skills and rights awareness training and education and health care. Projects were also designed to bring different ethnic communities, such as in Rwanda and Bosnia, together through reconciliation. The UNHCR mandate promoted and protected the human rights of refugee women, through asylum procedures, durable solutions in the form of repatriation, resettlement and local integration. It sought to secure worldwide recognition and enforcement of the fundamental principles of the right to life, liberty and security.

To promote better programmes for the protection and assistance to refugee women, the UNHCR had adopted gender perspective in all of its policies and programmes, she said. It was presently designing a rights-based approach to programme planning to mainstream a human rights perspective in all protection and programme assistance. The UNHCR was promoting women's contribution to fostering a culture of peace and non-violent forms of conflict resolution and increased participation of women in decision-making levels in conflict- resolution activities. Training for peaceful means of conflict resolution and peace- education activities were being carried out in Rwanda, Uganda, Liberia, Kenya and Kyrgyzstan. The UNHCR was developing mass information radio programmes in conflict regions to prevent under-age recruitment. Its education assistance benefited over 700,000 refugee children and adolescent children in asylum countries. Despite difficulties, programmes to advance girls' education had achieved success in a number of refugee operations in Kenya, Uganda, Pakistan and Ethiopia.

SUZANNE SCORSONE, observer for the Holy See, said that even before legal prescriptions or international decisions, the basis for respect for every human person was linked to education. It was virtually impossible to measure the harm that resulted for women, families and communities from ignorance and a lack of education, especially if that was perpetuated over generations. In addition, education raised the human spirit by giving both training and opportunities for fulfilment in areas relating to labour and to economic rights. Today, there were more than 21.3 million women and girls being educated in Church-run institutions.

The Holy See welcomed the emphasis being placed on the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Women should be empowered to share fully in the enjoyment of human rights, and to fulfil their responsibilities by contributing to society and to the family. The international community should strive to help women live in full dignity by exercising those political, economic, social and cultural rights that had been fully recognized in that Declaration. The family was the first and the most basic institution within society, where human rights were protected, including the right to life. It was within that family that children, including the girl child, felt most secure. It was there that they learn the respect for others, which was a fundamental basis for any society wishing to promote human rights.

CALLIOPA PEARLETTE LOUISY, Governor-General of Saint Lucia, speaking on behalf of the member States of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), expressed concern at the slow progress in addressing the global dilemma regarding the horrifying situation of violence against women. They stood firmly behind any global, regional or national action that sought to enact and enforce legislation against the soulless perpetrators of violence against women.

Many CARICOM countries had enacted domestic violence legislation prior to Beijing and since then others, like her own, Jamaica and Guyana, had followed. In Trinidad and Tobago, a toll-free national domestic violence hotline had been established and a domestic violence unit set up. A bill to count and value all unwaged work had been passed in both Houses of the country's Parliament.

Throughout the region, legislative reforms in the areas of sexual offences, domestic violence, child maintenance and equal opportunity bills had been introduced, and shelters, telephone hotlines established. Information, education and communication, awareness campaigns and training had also been instituted. Marginal strides had been made in promoting the development and progress of women. In Saint Lucia, a bill had been prepared on equality of opportunity and treatment in employment and occupation, and a family court was established in June 1997. In Trinidad and Tobago, an equal opportunity bill was being discussed. Several activities being undertaken in the region would benefit women and the girl child. Advocacy for legal reform had increased significantly throughout the region; and awareness campaigns, training and education continued.

JUDY LAWRENCE (New Zealand) said that her Government had consciously avoided producing a glossy national plan, but rather chose to fully integrate the Beijing Platform of Action into the work of the Ministry of Women's Affairs. In addition, the Cabinet had directed the Ministry to work with other departments and ministries to develop policy options and report on progress to the Cabinet. The Minister for Women's Affairs, Jenny Shipley, recently became New Zealand's first woman Prime Minister -- ensuring that its progress towards implementation of the Beijing Platform was being monitored at the highest level.

Among the achievements made towards gender balance were the budgetary allocation of $2.25 million for a diary-based time use survey, and the development of a research programme on the gender pay gap, she said. Progress had also been made in the context of the Beijing Platform, including the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act, the development of a government strategy on sexual and reproductive health, the legal protection of children from sexual exploitation by New Zealand nationals in other countries, and rendering illegal the practice of genital mutilation in New Zealand. She also drew attention to the vital role of non-governmental organizations in the development of her country's domestic violence legislation. New Zealand also strongly supported the development of an optional protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The year 2000 was an opportunity to review the progress made since Beijing and Nairobi, she said. A special session should be convened to ensure that the work of Beijing continued to attract high-level attention and sufficient resources. In addition, the Commission should take a clear decision on the organizational issues surrounding review since Beijing, with preparatory work beginning this year.


CHRISTINE KAPALATA (United Republic of Tanzania) said that women's human rights in many African countries were seriously curtailed by several factors. For example, multiple laws governed issues such as marriage, property rights, inheritance, reproductive rights and maintenance of children, among others. Those laws seriously impeded the observance and protection of women's human rights. Customary laws in her country normally took precedence, and most customary laws tended to discriminate against women. Efforts made to review some discriminatory laws had not been beneficial to women due to ignorance or lack of means to pursue the rights. In an effort to correct that deficiency, the Government had designed a strategy that would enhance the legal capacity of women through training and legal assistance.

Violence against women was inherent in many cultural practices, although it was often not seen as such, she said. Such acts as wife beating and female genital mutilation were condoned by culturally prescribed attitude and beliefs. Eradication of the practice required multi-pronged approach. Education and legislation could play an important role. To improve the status of the girl child, various measures would have to be undertaken, both at the national and international levels, including implementation of international legal instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the women's anti- discrimination Convention.


AIDA GONZALEZ (Mexico) said her country recently submitted its fourth country report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the implementation of the Convention, and the Committee's comments had been distributed to the relevant bodies. Positive changes had been achieved in the area of political participation of Mexican women. Political parties had included in their platforms proposals to improve the status of women and the percentage of seats women could hold for elective office. Gender perspectives were being introduced in programmes.

She said the new Foreign Minister would present a programme on gender mainstreaming in the country's Foreign Ministry. A system of indicators had been developed to monitor issues affecting women. The Government had presented to the Senate proposals on legal reforms which covered family violence. Measures dealing with spousal rape had been approved. A video concerning the human rights of women had been introduced. She also called for international cooperation in the exchange of information relating to women's issues.

TAISTO HUIMASALO (Finland) said gender inequality and discrimination were human rights violations. The Beijing Platform had deepened the understanding of such human rights violations by identifying ways in which women and girls were disadvantaged and the full enjoyment of their rights was impeded or violated. The task that lay ahead for governments was the full implementation of the Platform. Finland was firmly committed to conclude negotiations for the optional protocol to the Convention during the current session as a further step towards its effective implementation. In that regard, it was important to provide sufficient resources to the Women's Anti-discrimination Committee in order to enable it to fulfil its mandate.

His Government designed its national plan of action for the promotion of gender equality according to the commitment made in Beijing, he said. That plan included an annual monitoring system, endorsed by the Government just last week. It also contained a national component to combat violence against women, which envisaged various functions, including gender sensitive-data collection and the establishment of support services to victims of violence. Now, men were developing support services for men by men.

He said the inadequate promotion and protection of women's economic and social rights was another critical obstacle in many countries to their economic and social development. In that context, many women experienced multiple barriers in seeking full and equal enjoyment of their rights in such fields as employment, housing, land, food and social security.

IRENA BELOHORSKA (Slovakia) said women's rights were an inseparable part of human rights. While their equal rights were guaranteed under the Slovak Constitution and while no law was considered discriminatory against women, there still existed many practical problems related to the application of the principle of equal rights. An example was the relatively low exploitation of highly educated women in leading and managing functions in the workplace.

Continuing, he said Slovak women considered themselves to be emancipated. However, there was tension that could not easily be broken with the traditional perception of women's function, especially in family relations. Given the transformation to a pluralistic democracy and to a market economy, the process of change for Slovakian women was gradual.

To facilitate that process, the Government recently established a coordinating committee for women comprised of representatives of Parliament, civil services, trade unions and women's non-governmental organizations, he said. Such a committee was unique among the Central and Eastern European countries. Among its programmes was the development of the national action plan for women and the development of the Centre for Gender Balance in Bratislava.

ZAHRA SHOJAEI (Iran) spoke of measures undertaken in her country during the past year to improve women's status, including an increase in budgetary allocations for programmes to eradicate poverty among women. She called for the establishment of an international centre for theoretical research and study on the question of the status of women; creation of an international fund to assist women victims of illicit drugs; and the establishment of a women's international association for the strengthening of the institution of the family.

She drew attention to the massive violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of women in Afghanistan, Palestine and southern Lebanon, and also the massacre of a large number of civilian women and children in Algeria. Forceful action by the international community, particularly by the United Nations, was needed to stop the violence.

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