New Political Space for Indigenous Women Crucial to End Entrenched Racism, Lack of Justice, Civil Society Representatives Stress
Domestic violence hotlines and programmes aimed at closing gender pay gaps are among an array of tools several States are using to integrate women’s empowerment into national sustainable development strategies, delegates told the Commission on the Status of Women, as it continued its sixty-fifth session with an interactive dialogue and general discussion.
Ministers and representatives from Costa Rica, Qatar, Spain, Ukraine and the United States answered questions from civil society groups and partner countries following their voluntary national presentations during the second part of an interactive dialogue on the theme “Women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development”, which began on 23 March. (For details, see Press Release WOM/2209.)
Ángeles Moreno Bau, Secretary of State for International Cooperation of Spain, offered a progress report on gains made and approaches adopted to overcome current challenges, echoing other speakers’ concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women and girls. Indeed, the pandemic has brought with it the feminization of poverty, including long working days and informal care, to the detriment of women’s empowerment. As such, the decision‑making process is including women and their concerns, with partnerships playing a key role. A national gender perspective on policymaking that began 30 years ago has made equality a hallmark theme in various programmes. National policies reflect this approach in projects aimed at realizing Sustainable Development Goal 5 — gender equality and empowering women — ranging from promoting social protection measures to bridging the digital divide, with many involving civil society and private sector partnerships.
The representatives of Spain’s partner countries highlighted joint efforts, with Jordan’s delegate commending ongoing initiatives, including a multi‑stakeholder European Union-led project. Senegal’s representative said Spain has been helping to promote gender equality through, among things, supporting Senegalese women’s economic empowerment.
A speaker from a non-governmental organization in Spain said that policies must change the current paradigm faced in capitalist, racist and colonialist societies. Emphasizing that women’s cooperation is crucial in triggering meaningful progress, she said equally important is promoting the inclusion of women and girls in decision-making processes.
A speaker from Makunde outlined current Basque efforts, including strategies to address salary gaps, participation in politics and the promotion of women’s rights. Makunde works to empower women, she said, noting that projects have, among other things, reached about 10,000 men and boys in equality-related issues. One priority has been to provide services to victims of violence, she said, noting that, during the pandemic, Makunde has been analysing data and generating recommendations on how to promote equality.
Marcela Guerrero Campos, Minister for the Status of Women and Executive President of the National Institute of Women of Costa Rica, said a robust legal platform on the environment and gender equality interweave themes that are increasingly linked in the quest to realize the Sustainable Development Goals. National policies for equality include such specific goals related to climate change as mitigation, scientific education and sustainable development research. Access to credit for women is facilitated by projects aimed at preserving forests, with the twin targets of gender equality and climate change action. Progress has been made across various sectors, including fostering a green economy. Most recently, the Government analysed the gender gap in six areas in 2021 to inform a national climate change strategy that fully includes women.
Spain’s representative, serving as Costa Rica’s partner, said climate change is an important issue that impacts women 14 times more than men, requiring a global response led by the United Nations. From the Kyoto Protocol to the Paris Agreement on climate change, she said efforts must make gender equality a primary focus in addressing sustainable development with a global, integrated approach. Highlighting several efforts, she said gender equality is the main focus of such projects as a regional climate change initiative and a fund based on a green economy.
A speaker from NavasForo de Mujeres Indígenas (Indigenous Women’s Forum) said land in the hands of women can eradicate poverty. However, indigenous women continue to suffer from racism, discrimination and a lack of equality at the State level. Located in 24 territories across Costa Rica, indigenous peoples represent 3 per cent of the population, but have little representation in politics. Moreover, there is no road map for inclusion nor justice available to defend indigenous territories. Two people were recently killed by farmers over land. In addition, a lack of public policies to ensure the empowerment of indigenous women makes it difficult to fight against domestic violence, foster economic development and provide effective tools so they can enjoy justice. While the pandemic may be the “new normal”, she said nothing seems to be changing, from domestic work to poverty. “We don’t want this new normal nor the old normal,” she said, calling for social justice and a commitment to women to guarantee them land, which is a way to guarantee them food, a home and a livelihood.
Responding, Ms. Guerrero Campos said Costa Rica is including 14 civil society representatives in various processes. Costa Rica has also signed such conventions as the Paris Agreement and has adopted a cross-cutting approach to gender.
Jennifer Klein, Co-Chair of the White House Gender Policy Council of the United States, highlighted achievements with a view to taking a whole‑of‑Government approach. The Biden Administration has passed an executive order establishing the Gender Policy Council and supports the advancement of gender equality, which fosters democracy and promotes women’s rights. Other steps include updating a 2016 global strategy to combat gender-based violence, given that the pandemic has underscored the urgency of tackling this problem. Women and girls must be able to get the help they need, she said, emphasizing that increasing their access to health care and promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights are all issues of equality. Indeed, a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report shows that millions of women lack access to reproductive health care, she said, adding that the new executive order addresses this and other pressing issues.
Following the presentation, questions came from three civil society groups, with a youth delegate for the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., and the National Climate March, pointing out that the new White House order is vague. She asked exactly how women and girls can use these provisions to advance their efforts. A speaker from Clarion Partners, pointing at inequalities in the private sector, said women of colour face larger pay gaps and are noticeably underrepresented on corporate boards and in high-level positions. She wondered how the executive order is identifying these issues and the existence of gender-based quotas. A speaker from the Trans Women of Color Collective, said domestic violence is a chronic problem requiring urgent attention and asked how the new measure benefits and enhances leadership opportunities for transgender people, especially people of colour.
Ms. Klein said girls are tomorrow’s leaders and their voices must be included. The executive order clearly indicates that the new Gender Policy Council reaches out to women and girls. Regarding women’s economic empowerment and diversity, she said efforts include addressing structural challenges. In the face of the pandemic, women comprise just 39 per cent of the global workforce, but account for 54 per cent of job losses. A holistic approach must address structural barriers, pay gaps and other concerns, especially regarding women of colour, she said, adding that the Paycheck Fairness Act is pending in the United States Congress, which would address some of these issues. In terms of transgender people, the Biden-Harris Administration aims at ensuring the rights of all persons, and the new council includes a representative focusing on people of colour and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
Ghanem Mubarak al-Kuwari, Assistant Under-Secretary for Social Affairs at the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs, and Vice‑President of the National Committee for Women, Children, the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities of Qatar, said progress has been made across several areas in her country. Qatar has taken legal steps to recognize human rights, integrating these principles into national social development efforts. The Government is forging ahead with several initiatives to bridge the gender gap in public life, including in elections scheduled to be held in October. Women continue to occupy senior positions across many sectors. Qatar has developed strategies with gender-sensitive approaches, he said, underscoring laws recognizing the equal rights of men and women. Government initiatives have led to an increase in the number of female entrepreneurs and women in public offices, from the judiciary to municipal levels. At the international level, he said, Qatar has contributed to targeted projects, including the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security.
Responding to written questions from partner countries Iraq and Mongolia, he said civil society organizations are essential partners, and the Government is supporting their efforts and engaging them in relevant national committees. In terms of the pandemic, Qatar women have taken a leadership role in the COVID-19 response, as most front‑line health‑care workers are female. Turning to a question on whether Qatar’s high level of education among women translates into employment for them, he said programmes and scholarships currently aim at increasing their participation in the workforce.
Kateryna Levchenko, Government Commissioner for Gender Policy of Ukraine, said sustainable development hinges on respect for women’s rights, but this link is not obvious to all actors. As such, actions are needed to eradicate poverty and realize sustainable development for all, she said, highlighting steps taken in that direction. Ukraine has integrated gender equality into many sectors and the national action plan, she said, citing an increase in women’s representation among diplomatic staff and elected officials. Implementation of resolution 1325 (2000) has led to increased participation of women in peace and security issues, and advancing the Sustainable Development Goals has resulted in such gains as narrowing the gender pay gap through partnerships with public and private sectors. Turning to efforts to combat an increase in reported gender-based violence, she said a new programme aims at opening 100 shelters nationwide and providing services to victims. The Government launched a partnership network committed to reforming legislation, developing gender-inclusive public spaces and ensuring the implementation of effective domestic and gender-based violence laws. In the temporarily occupied territory, she said Ukraine continues to commit to working with the United Nations to address a range of concerns.
Partner country representatives posed several questions. Georgia’s delegate, gravely concerned about the situation caused by the Russian Federation and the occupied regions, asked for details on strategies and documents that ensure gender mainstreaming in all areas of public life. The representative of the Republic of Moldova asked for examples of how measures are implemented to combat gender-based violence.
Ms. Levchenko cited several documents that promote gender equality, including communication strategies for European Union integration and gender‑sensitive amendments to existing legislation. These and many other examples reflect the widespread approach across many sectors. In terms of initiatives to eradicate domestic violence and other forms of violence against women, she said new laws have criminalized those acts, and the Government launched a hotline, supports civil society-run hotlines and is working on improving data collection to inform decision-making.
The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again at 9 a.m. on Thursday, 25 March, to continue its general discussion.
LIKELELI TAMPANE, Minister for Gender and Youth, Sports and Recreation of Lesotho, associating herself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said her country adheres to the Beijing Platform for Action as a clear guidance tool for attaining gender equality. Among other achievements, the Government established a women’s bureau, and later, a department of gender within her ministry. Women’s full participation in leadership is necessary in political, economic and public life, she asserted.
Expressing concern over slow progress in addressing violence against women and girls, she said stagnation — and even regression — in some areas in achieving gender parity stems, in part, from structural and institutional inequalities. Lesotho has been heavily impacted by COVID-19, with women and girls greatly affected. Several female leaders have been recognized for the remarkable care and resourcefulness they have demonstrated in tackling the pandemic, providing powerful examples of how women bring about effective, inclusive and fair policies.
FAUSTINA ALVES, Minister for Social Action, Family and Promotion of Women of Angola, expressed the Government’s commitment to devise policies that promote gender equity, with gains made in the political sphere, as well as in security and civil protection. Women account for 34.4 per cent of the country’s public prosecutors and 31 per cent of its lawyers, as well as 30.5 per cent of parliamentarians, 22.2 per cent of provincial government employees and 42 per cent of civil servants. The “Born Free to Shine” campaign aims to reduce HIV transmission at birth.
More broadly, she said a hotline was created in 2019 to address gender-based violence, and another programme to fight poverty, financed through the State budget, benefits women living in rural areas. Angola is also implementing Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) through a national action plan, approved by a presidential decree, she said, reaffirming Angola’s commitment to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union Agenda 2063, aiming to reduce gender inequities.
JEMI NASHION, Minister for Culture and Internal Affairs of the Marshall Islands, pointed to sub-legislative reforms, including a gender equality act, aligning the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women with domestic laws. The country has made important progress in addressing the gender gap within the work force and reducing the pay gap. Such reforms promise to have a substantial impact on improving women’s participation in public life, but a one-size-fits-all approach does not tell the full story.
“Our culture and traditions cannot be viewed as barriers,” he asserted, but, rather, as an opportunity to build on the Islands’ unique heritage of women leaders. Violence against women and girls is a problem, and while the country has instituted laws, more must be done to address this scourge. The Government is fully committed to accepting and implementing all international recommendations, as part of its Universal Periodic Review. “We are resolute in our determination to realize women’s empowerment,” he said, and ending violence against them. He underscored the importance of strengthened United Nations efforts to address the unique challenges facing island States, in particular, in relation to gender progress.
PRISCA KOHO NLEND, Minister for Social Affairs and Women’s Rights of Gabon, said a gender-sensitive culture has been fostered within the Government, noting her country’s ratification of international women’s rights instruments. The Government has consolidated the legal framework for equal opportunity, notably in education. She cited the national strategy to fight gender-based violence — including a hotline — the promotion of women to decision-making position within politics and amendments to the civil and criminal codes to better protect widows, citing resolution 65/189 of 2010, on the International Day of Widows, in that context. Women account for 30 per cent of Government employees and it is Gabon’s ambition to bolster efforts to achieve gender equality. She expressed hope that the activities under way to foster women’s economic empowerment will create significant change before the end of the decade.
ALEXANDRA HILL TINOCO, Minister for Foreign Affairs of El Salvador, asked why gender equality continues to be a challenge. She said that, in the time it takes to give her speech, one woman will have been murdered. This cannot be tolerated. During the pandemic, calls for help to assistance centres increased five-fold. “We must persevere,” so that women are equal before the law, she asserted, noting that the President declared in June 2019 that his Cabinet would have gender parity . El Salvador’s foreign policy is implemented by three women, she added, while 14 of the 19 Government departments are headed by women.
She went on to call for transformative education that respects human dignity and ensures women’s access to justice — changes that are possible under an inclusive Government, such as that in El Salvador. Underscoring the commitment to work for women’s well‑being, she advocated for continued efforts among States, the United Nations and others to implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. As women are often left anonymous, “let us speak up now”, she insisted.
ADJOVI LOLONYO APEDOH ANAKOMA, Minister for Social Action, Women Advancement and Literacy of Togo, associating herself with the African Group and the Group of 77 and China, described efforts to include women in decision-making, including through a revised gender‑equality law and a professional leadership programme. A community-based approach has allowed Togo to change deep-rooted negative perceptions about women in high-ranking positions, she explained, pointing out that the President of the National Assembly is a woman, and that one third of those working in Government are women, an increase from the last administration.
She went on to stress that Togo is the leading country in West Africa in terms of promoting women’s leadership in decision-making bodies and in entrepreneurship more broadly. Togo has bolstered measures in its penal code to fight gender-based violence, built assistance centres for victims of domestic violence and reached out to religious leaders. The property and estate code, meanwhile, guarantees women’s equal access to property, while a revised family code enshrines gender equality within marriage and in terms of parental authority.
TAINA BOFFERDING, Minister for Equality between Women and Men of Luxembourg, associating herself with the European Union, said gender equality must be guaranteed, especially in the areas of health, education, employment and work-life balance. Advocating a focus on ending all forms of gender-based violence against women and girls, she said the principle of gender mainstreaming is more relevant than ever. In July 2020, Luxembourg adopted a new gender‑equality action plan, which contains 99 activities and represents a road map for transforming equality under the law into equality on the ground.
She went on to denounce as “intolerable” the exclusion of women — who often represent half the population — from political and economic leadership, noting that gender equality is a cornerstone of Luxembourg’s candidacy for the Human Rights Council, for the 2022-2024 term. She also underscored Luxembourg’s commitment to women’s sexual and reproductive rights.
ELIZABETH BERRIDGE, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System and Minister for Women of the United Kingdom, said COVID-19 has worsened many challenges facing women and girls. Recovery efforts must therefore consider their needs as a priority. In building back better, she described ways the United Kingdom is making a difference, notably in the Group of 7, whose presidency it holds, where it is helping to form the Gender Equality Advisory Council to galvanize the Group’s ambitions on gender equality.
She went on to note that the United Kingdom supported 8.1 million girls between 2015 and 2020 in gaining access to education, insisting that “we have big ambitions to go even further”. Violence against women and girls — one of the most systemic human rights violations — is a shadow pandemic that must be addressed, she said, citing projects led by the United Kingdom that have reduced its incidence by 50 per cent. Gender must also be included front and centre in efforts to address climate change, she said, stressing that the United Kingdom will amplify the voices of women, girls and those most marginalized in that context, and empower them to act as decision-makers, advocates and leaders.
JIE XIA, Deputy Chairperson of the National Working Committee on Women and Children of the State Council of China, underscored her country’s efforts to protect women’s rights during the pandemic, including in the treatment of maternal diseases. More broadly, the Government has reduced taxes and increased subsidies to ease the burden on women-led businesses, as they participate in the country’s economic recovery. Pointing out that women comprised two thirds of the 42,000 health workers who rushed to help Hubei Province during the pandemic, she said China’s Communist Party has placed poverty eradication high on its agenda and lifted 770 million rural Chinese out of poverty.
In so doing, China has reached poverty reduction targets in the 2030 Agenda 10 years ahead of schedule, she said. Recalling the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fourth World Conference on Women, she pointed to the President’s statement during the General Assembly high-level week, in which he made proposals to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on women, strive for gender equality and enhance cooperation to bolster women’s development. It is essential to deliver on the Beijing Platform for Action, she stressed, noting that China organized a symposium in 2020 on women and poverty reduction. As China’s Communist Party celebrates its centenary in 2021 and puts forward its fourteenth five-year plan, the Government has made clear that it will protect women’s legitimate rights, she assured.
ALEXY VOVCHENKO, First Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of the Russian Federation, said the challenge of including women in decision-making, achieving gender equality and ending gender‑based violence is as relevant as ever. The Commission on the Status of Women is the United Nations main dialogue forum and coordinating body for such efforts. Within his Government, two deputy chairs are women, as well as one federal minister. In the Federation Council, 33 of 170 senators are women, including its President, while in the Duma, 71 of the 443 seats are held by women, whereas in the past, there were only 21 women.
Women also hold the top positions in the central bank, the human rights ombudsman and the ombudsman for the rights of the child, he said, noting that, in 2019, the share of women in high-ranking local government positions reached 33 per cent. He went on to describe a project aimed at increasing women’s competitiveness in the labour market, with co-funding from the federal budget, which involves training and professional development for women on maternity leave or caring for school-aged children. The Government intends to broaden its reach to 160,000 women. He also cited a dialogue taking place in the Duma on a potential approach to prevent domestic violence.
MARIA SYRENGELA, Vice-Minister for Labour and Social Affairs of Greece, said women’s participation in public life is vital for promoting gender equality. State efforts have been made to ensure women’s participation at all levels, both within State and non-State institutions, and to listen to the needs of all stakeholders. Stressing that women’s underrepresentation in public and political life is due, in part, to institutional and structural constraints, as well as harmful narratives, she said women with disabilities, among others, face additional difficulties to such participation, among them, sexual harassment.
She went on to emphasize that Greece is working to keep gender equality high on the political agenda, with opportunities for reconciling work and family life. It has developed a holistic framework for tacking violence and harassment in the workplace, with measures taken to address abusive behaviour, as a way to facilitate women’s participation in public and political life. Women suffered much more than others during the COVID-19 crisis and comprised the majority involved in its treatment. Excluding them from devising recovery policies is unacceptable — and mostly ineffective, she said.
PIYAL NISHANTHA DE SILVA, State Minister for Women and Children Affairs, Primary Education and Preschools, School Infrastructure and Educational Services of Sri Lanka, said his country has a good track record of gender equality, with 2,500 years offering ample evidence to the significant role played by women. Sri Lankan women have a high degree of independence and access to decision-making opportunities.
As far back as 1960, Sri Lanka elected the world’s first female Prime Minister. In 1975, she was invited to deliver the keynote address at the first United Nations World Conference on Women, in Mexico City, which set in motion the United Nations Decade on Women. In Sri Lanka, the mother is the family decision‑maker, and the family is the foundation of society. Noting that women comprise 52 per cent of Sri Lankan society, he said they work at the forefront in the health, education and technical fields, exceeding their share in the population. Eighty-four per cent of educated women contribute to the country’s development, he added.
Also delivering statements were ministers and senior officials from Guinea, Philippines, Mexico, Honduras, Bolivia, Poland, Romania, Ecuador and Guatemala, as well as the Holy See.