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WOM/2211
25 March 2021

Pandemics, Conflict, Budget Shortfalls Must Not Stop Pursuit of Gender Equality, Speakers Stress, as Women’s Commission Continues Sixty-Fifth Session

Pursuing gender equality cannot, and will not, be stopped by pandemics, sanctions, conflict, budget shortfalls or the perpetuation of conservative traditions, ministers and other Government representatives told the Commission on the Status of Women during a videoconference meeting on the penultimate day of its sixty-fifth session.

Continuing its general discussion, 42 representatives of Member States and civil society organizations from all regions outlined the obstacles — from COVID‑19 to war — and presented measures they have adopted in hopes of overcoming these barriers in the pursuit of empowering women and girls and ending gender‑based violence against them.

Hala Mazyad Altuwaigri, Secretary-General of the Family Affairs Council of Saudi Arabia, said that, while much needs to be done in her country regarding women’s empowerment, the Government is working towards overcoming obstacles they face, including adopting procedural provisions to support their full participation at all levels.  A national programme aimed at increasing their participation in the labour market surpassed its 25 per cent target in 2020, when women made up 31 per cent of the workforce.  In addition, women account for 20 per cent of State council members.  The Government has also deployed efforts to raise awareness, prevent and address violence against women, including in the areas of digital crimes, human trafficking and exploitation.

Peace Regis Mutuuzo, Minister of State for Gender and Cultural Affairs at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development of Uganda, said the pandemic has created a systemic shock that has negatively affected families, communities and all people around the world, but also highlighted the important role women play in response and recovery efforts.  For its part, Uganda has prioritized women’s participation in leadership and decision-making and set up mechanisms to fast‑track the implementation of gender-responsive interventions across all sectors.  Affirmative action plans are already producing results, as women now hold 39 per cent of senior ministerial positions and constitute 45.7 per cent of leadership positions in local Governments.  A strong policy framework and effective programmes resulted in a reduction in the prevalence rate of violence against women and girls.

Claudine Aoun, President of the National Commission for Lebanese Women of Lebanon, said the Government is tackling gender-based violence, which worsened during the pandemic, by including the issue in its national development plan and launching tailored programmes and policies to protect women.  In addition, the National Commission for Lebanese Women is working with Parliament to adopt legislation addressing a range of related issues, including ending child marriage.  Government efforts to address women’s underrepresentation in politics include such tools as targeted municipal-level programmes.

Several speakers from nations grappling with both the pandemic and conflict shared their perspectives, with Lila I. M. Allafi, Head of the Women’s Support and Empowerment Unit in the Presidential Council of Libya, saying that realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development remains a priority despite those challenges.  Women hold leadership positions in Libya, and the Government has taken such steps as creating a post to protect female activists and is working on new cross-sector initiatives, planning to open a centre for female victims of violence and creating a high committee on gender-based violence.  In terms of representation, women hold 50 per cent of positions in the public sector, and programmes to support them have been set up.

Fayzah Abdulmajeed Mohammed, Director General of the Department of Women and Children of Yemen, said women have been disproportionately affected by the war in her country, making up 60 per cent of the 2.9 million internally displaced persons.  While a national women’s strategy aligned with Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security was endorsed by the Cabinet in 2019, its implementation has been suspended due to COVID-19, she said, adding that:  “Yemeni women have borne the brunt of this war”, falling victim to Houthi attacks and being injured from mines used by militias.

Some delegates said sanctions have failed to stop national efforts to advance women’s empowerment.  Zaid Mesfin, Director-General of Administration and Finance of the National Union of Eritrean Women of Eritrea, said COVID-19 has compounded decades of border conflict and unjustified United Nations sanctions that have left the country vulnerable to illegal migration, human trafficking and the separation of families.  While these conditions are hindering the acceleration of development programmes and the advancement of women, the Government has set priorities, including strengthening societies in an inclusive manner, growing the economy and combating all forms of discrimination.  Eritrea is also working with non-governmental sectors to formulate and implement national policies and legal reform.  Through extraordinary efforts, “we can recover and rebuild our societies”, she said, adding that, when every woman and every girl live in full equality, “we can end poverty and hunger, improve health and human well-being, guarantee quality education and achieve peace and prosperity for all”.

Teresa Amarelle Boué, Secretary-General of the Federation of Cuban Women and Member of the Council of State of Cuba, said the main obstacle to the full development and empowerment of women remains the United States economic embargo.  Yet, Cuba remains steadfast in supporting women, who play an important role, from the revolution to today, leading the fight against COVID-19 in research and vaccine‑development projects.  Women represent more than 74 per cent of judges and prosecutors, 62 per cent of medical staff and 53 per cent of parliamentarians.  From the Supreme Court to the Federation of Cuban Women, many actors are working to cover any existing gaps along the path to ensuring the advancement and empowerment of all women and girls.

Inlavanh Keobounphanh, Minister and President of the Lao Women’s Union of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, said achieving gender equality in her country has been hampered by the general public’s conservative traditions, especially in rural and mountainous areas.  Standing in the way is a shortage of human and financial resources to support the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the 2030 Agenda, particularly mainstreaming gender equality across sectors.  To solve these problems, the Government has formulated priorities and adopted goals, targets and indicators across national plans, she said, calling for enhanced engagement from development partners and the international community to help with implementing priorities to achieve these goals for all women and girls.

Also delivering statements were representatives of Dominican Republic, Chad, Kyrgyzstan, Monaco, Cambodia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Botswana, Cyprus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Panama, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Jamaica and Singapore, as well as speakers from the following organizations:  League of Arab States, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Union, International Development Law Organization, International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the Fund for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again at 9 a.m. on Friday, 26 March, to continue its general discussion, adopt proposals and conclusions and conclude its sixty-fifth session.

General Discussion

HOU NIRMITA, Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs of Cambodia, said the Government has prioritized promoting female participation in leadership in public life and putting an end to gender-based violence with a view to nurturing sustainable economic growth and developing an inclusive society.  A national strategic plan recognizes that “women are the backbone of the national economy and social development”, and in the last two decades, high-level political commitment and affirmative policies have increased women’s participation in decision-making positions.  Implementing Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, Cambodia has, since 2006, deployed more than 7,040 peacekeepers, including 387 women, and ranks nineteenth out of 120 countries in contributing female soldiers to peacekeeping operations.

Highlighting other achievements, she said Cambodia established an inter‑ministerial and multi‑stakeholder working group to address women’s empowerment across the Government.  A national gender policy is being developed to upgrade related efforts.  A national action plan has led to significant progress in preventing and responding to violence against women, with partnership efforts involving 16 ministries, 4 development partners and 40 non-governmental organizations.  Primary prevention has been intensively carried out nationwide to increase public awareness and promote social behavioural change.  In the context of the pandemic, Cambodia has used digital platforms to engage with public audiences and transmit COVID-19 and gender-based violence prevention messages while ensuring the continuity of essential protection services for women victims and survivors.

PEACE REGIS MUTUUZO, Minister of State for Gender and Cultural Affairs at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development of Uganda, associating herself with the African Group, said the pandemic has created a systemic shock that has negatively affected families, communities and all persons globally, including a rise in the number of gender-based violence cases.  COVID-19 has also highlighted the important role women play in response and recovery efforts.  Enshrined in the 1995 Constitution, ensuring women’s effective participation in leadership and decision‑making is a priority for Uganda.  Affirmative action plans are seeing results, as women now hold 39 per cent of senior ministerial positions, the first female Speaker of Parliament was elected in 2011 and re-elected in 2016, and 175 women were recently elected to the National Legislature.  Women constitute 45.7 per cent of leadership positions in local governments, 39.8 per cent of the public service sector, 45 per cent of Permanent Secretaries and 42.9 per cent of Statutory Commissions.

Equally important is the Government’s commitment within its development agenda to prioritize gender and equity issues and to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence, she said.  A strong policy framework and effective programmes resulted in a reduction in the prevalence rate of violence against women and girls, from 56 per cent in 2011 to 51 per cent in 2016.  Uganda has also set up legal, policy and institutional mechanisms to facilitate and fast track the implementation of gender-responsive interventions across all sectors.  Citing a range of efforts, she said the Public Finance Management Act of 2015 compels all ministries, departments and agencies to prioritize gender and equity issues in their plans and budgets, with actions monitored by Parliament, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development.

FAZILATUN NESSA INDIRA, State Minister at the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs of Bangladesh, highlighting efforts and progress in implementing gender‑related targets in the Government’s five-year plan to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, said a range of policies and strategies have been adopted.  Indeed, Bangladesh is a role model, with women serving as Prime Minister, Speaker, Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Parliament.  In addition to 73 female parliamentarians, about 20,000 women were elected to positions in local government institutions, and they occupy a significant number of higher-level Government posts.  The World Economic Forum’s gender gap index ranks Bangladesh fiftieth, leading in South Asia.  Citing significant progress in achieving gender parity in economic and human resource development, she said Bangladesh has introduced gender-responsive budget.

The Prime Minister has pledged to raise women’s participation in the workforce to 50 per cent by 2041, she said.  In this regard, financial support for skills development of women aims at generating employment.  Other efforts include investments in building women-friendly infrastructure and in girls’ education, a social safety-net programme, day‑care centres and a six-month paid maternity leave.  Mainstreaming women in economic activities is also a priority, especially given the impact of COVID-19.  To address these and related challenges, the Government introduced 23 stimulus packages, and local government institutions are promoting information and communications technology and e-commerce for rural women.  Bangladesh is also implementing far-reaching legislative changes to combat violence against women.

TEMBA R. R. S. MMUSI, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs of Botswana, said national plans align with the goals set out in the Beijing Platform for Action and the 2030 Agenda.  The National Vision 2036 recognizes gender equality as central to socioeconomic, political and cultural development, and Botswana’s development plan provides for gender mainstreaming and the prevention and elimination of gender-based violence.  Responding to the Secretary-General’s call to include preventing and addressing violence against women as a key part of national COVID-19 response plans, Botswana partnered with civil society groups, the private sector and development actors, increasing support to non-governmental organizations that provide shelter for survivors.  The Botswana Police Service worked with civil society organizations to establish toll-free national help lines and online services, including counselling, and introduced a child-friendly unit to encourage children to report sexual exploitation and abuse.  The Government established the Gender-Based Violence Response Inter-Ministerial Committee and specialized courts to speed up hearing gender-based violence cases.  It also adopted the Sexual Offenders Registry Bill, which includes stiffer penalties and the establishment of registry of all persons convicted of sexual offences.

Recognizing that women’s empowerment is fundamental for addressing strategic gender needs, he said the Government improved women’s access to credit by reducing interest rates and increasing repayment periods.  During the pandemic, the Government introduced measures to immediately address the needs of those working in the informal sector, of which women make up 67 per cent.  As education is a key prerequisite for empowerment, Botswana continues to intensify efforts to increase the enrolment of women and girls.  While commendable progress has been made in women’s participation in governance in the public service and the private sector, their representation in political leadership remains low.  To address this, the Government has been working with civil society on capacity-building alongside other joint efforts, including training women in leadership skills, decision‑making, public speaking, assertiveness and negotiation skills.

CLAUDINE AOUN, President of the National Commission for Lebanese Women of Lebanon, highlighted positive steps taken along a path marked with difficult challenges over the past year.  Among a range of initiatives created to address these challenges, the Government adopted amendments and laws to protect women from domestic violence and included the issue in its national development plan.  However, the greatest challenge in increasing women’s participation in politics remains underrepresentation, she said, noting that in recent elections, women won only 5 per cent of positions.

To address this and related issues, Lebanon established a specialized unit, she said.  To increase women’s representation at the municipal level, the Government adopted a law facilitating women to run as candidates if their birth certificates are not available.  In addition, the Government launched a workshop to empower women’s participation in many municipalities.  Another priority is tackling the problem of domestic violence, which worsened during the pandemic.  In this regard, the National Commission for Lebanese Women is working with Parliament to adopt legislation addressing a range of issues, including ending child marriage.  More broadly, the Government has adopted a gender parity approach that is based on human rights protections.

HILOLBI QURBONZODA JUMAKHON, Chair of the Committee on Women and Family of Tajikistan, said the Government has implemented special measures to promote gender equality across sectors, including women’s leadership projects, scholarship programmes and grants.  After the 2020 parliamentary elections, women won 24 seats, marking an increase from previous years.  Targeted efforts include grants that have reached women in the business sector and non-governmental organizations.  The impact of COVID-19 has made the Government work harder to promote women’s rights, she said, pointing to new policies that are geared towards increasing their roles in politics and public life.

TERESA AMARELLE BOUÉ, Secretary-General of the Federation of Cuban Women and Member of the Council of State of Cuba, said the main obstacle to the full development and empowerment of women remains the economic embargo by the United States.  Yet, Cuba remains steadfast in supporting women, who played an important role, from the revolution to today.  Women now represent 67.4 per cent of education staff, more than 74 per cent of judges and prosecutors and 62 per cent of medical staff.  Women have also been leaders in fighting against COVID-19, including in research and vaccine development.  By the end of 2020, women comprised 53 per cent of Parliament and 54 per cent of local government.

Efforts continue to close the gender gap in businesses, she said, including realizing targets set out in international action plans.  With a view to further empowering women and girls, Cuba is implementing provisions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Beijing Platform for Action.  Turning to the issue of gender-based violence, she said Cuba has started a phone service for victims and launched training programmes for service providers.  From the Supreme Court to the Federation of Cuban Women, many actors are working to cover any existing gaps along the path to ensuring the advancement and empowerment of all women and girls.

INLAVANH KEOBOUNPHANH, Minister and President of the Lao Women’s Union of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, said the empowerment of women and girls is an integral part of achieving gender equality.  Through the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, substantial progress has been made to promote gender equality in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.  Women play an important role in promoting development in many areas of society, from contributing to family-based education to being a driver for national socioeconomic development.  Despite gains made, challenges remain, including in the lack of sex-disaggregated data and the shortage of human and financial resources to support the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the 2030 Agenda, particularly to mainstream gender equality into sectoral development plans.  These challenges continue, as achieving gender equality is hindered by the general public’s conservative traditions, especially among those residing in rural and mountainous areas.  To solve these problems, the Government has set priorities and adopted goals, targets and indicators in the 2030 Strategy, 2025 Vision and its periodic development plan.  The Lao Women’s Union has drafted a National Women’s Development Plan (2021-25), facilitating the implementation of a national strategy to combat violence against women and paving the way for the integration of gender equality into the next national social and development plan, she said, calling for enhanced engagement from development partners and the international community to help with implementing priorities to achieve these goals for all women and girls.

HALA MAZYAD ALTUWAIGRI, Secretary-General of the Family Affairs Council of Saudi Arabia, said the Government has taken many steps to take care of women.  This includes its adoption of procedural provisions to support their full participation at all levels.  A national transformation programme that sought to increase their participation in the labour market to 25 per cent surpassed this target in 2020, when women made up 31 per cent of the workforce.  In addition, women account for 20 per cent of State council members.  Turning to the issue of violence against women, she said the Government has deployed efforts, including adopting laws and regulations, to raise awareness, prevent and address this problem, including in the areas of digital crimes, human trafficking and exploitation.

Citing other important steps, she said Saudi Arabia has instituted reform efforts that include legislative and judicial systems, with one programme aiming at raising awareness about gender-based violence.  When Saudi Arabia served as President of the Group of 20, it worked to promote women’s rights, with members participating in a discussion on the pandemic’s impact on them.  While COVID-19 has triggered setbacks, the Government is addressing these challenges by adopting measures to reduce the pandemic’s impact, providing free health care and vaccines.  Saudi Arabia has also allocated billions of dollars to the protection of the two Holy Sites.  While much needs to be done, the Government is working towards overcoming every obstacle that women encounter, including striking a balance between family and professional life.

ZAID MESFIN, Director-General of Administration and Finance of the National Union of Eritrean Women of Eritrea, said that, when every woman and every girl live in full equality, “we can end poverty and hunger, improve health and human well-being, guarantee quality education and achieve peace and prosperity for all”.  Realizing women and girls’ full potential comes from their full participation in development programmes that allow them to have full control of their choices and their futures.  The Government has set priorities, including strengthening societies in an inclusive manner, growing the economy and combating all forms of discrimination, and is working with non-governmental sectors to formulate and implement national policies and legal reform that promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Efforts include enhancing access to education and health care and combating violence against women.

However, challenges remain, she said, including decades of border conflict and unjustified United Nations sanctions that have left Eritrean society vulnerable to illegal migration, human trafficking and the separation of families.  COVID-19 has compounded these challenges, hindering the acceleration of development programmes and the advancement of women.  Eritrea’s swift pandemic response and the establishment of a high-level task force have been very effective against the spread of COVID-19.  The Government is harnessing its resources and building more resilient and inclusive strategies to mitigate the social, economic, health and security impacts of underlying conditions and that of the pandemic.  Through extraordinary efforts, “we can recover and rebuild our societies”, she said.  Welcoming the development of vaccines, she said it is paramount that access to safe, timely and effective vaccines is guided by equity.

LILA I.M. ALLAFI, Head of the Women’s Support and Empowerment Unit in the Presidential Council of Libya, said realizing the 2030 Agenda is a priority, despite the conflict and the pandemic.  Sharing recent achievements in ensuring gender equality, she said the Women’s Support and Empowerment Unit within the National Council deals with related issues to support the role of women.  Five female judges have been appointed and women hold 16 per cent of positions in the judicial sector.  Libya has also ratified the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, committing to advancing the rights of women.  Laws are reviewed and amended accordingly, and the Government conducted a national study during the pandemic lockdown is guiding policies on women’s rights.

Additional efforts include setting up a post within the Government to protect women activists, and new initiatives across sectors are under way, she said.  A centre for women victims of violence is being planned, and a high committee on gender-based violence is being created.  In terms of representation, women hold 50 per cent of positions in the public sector, and programmes to support them have been set up.  Women also hold leadership positions in Libya, she said, thanking all partners to help to ensure parity for women and girls worldwide.

FAYZAH ABDULMAJEED MOHAMMED, Director General of the Department of Women and Children of Yemen, said her country has signed and ratified most relevant conventions and instruments, notably the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.  The Beijing Declaration and Programme of Action marked a turning point in the fight for women’s full enjoyment of their rights, calling on institutions to step up their efforts in that pursuit.  Detailing national strategies aligned with these instruments, she said Yemen is experiencing a war waged by Houthi militias, who launched a coup and took control of State institutions by force.

“Yemeni women have borne the brunt of this war,” she stressed, as they have fallen victim to Houthi attacks and been injured from mines used by these militias.  Noting that 60 per cent of the 2.9 million internally displaced persons are women, she said more than 50 per cent of women live in rural areas, making it difficult to provide them with basic services.  Nonetheless, Yemen’s national women’s strategy, which is aligned with resolution 1325 (2000), was endorsed by the Cabinet in 2019.  It was meant to be implemented in 2020, but such actions were suspended due to COVID-19.

YOSSRA MOHSEN, Head of the Department of Women Empowerment of Iraq, said the Government is focused on women’s participation in public life, inspired by the rights enshrined in its Constitution and outlined in resolution 1325 (2000).  In addition to promoting women’s economic and political involvement, Iraq has focused on women’s leadership, which has had a positive impact on efforts to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals.  According to Iraq’s new electoral law, women must represent 25 per cent of the seats within Parliament.

In other areas, she cited Iraq’s second national action plan on women, peace and security, covering 2021 to 2024, which aims to support women peacekeepers, among other things.  Iraq also launched a national strategy to fight gender-based violence and drafted a law to protect women from such abuse.  Another law was devised to support Yazidi women survivors of kidnapping by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and other groups.  The Government also established a special committee to prevent suicide, enacted measures to ensure access to all education levels and outlined a maternal health strategy, which aims to increase the number of women’s health‑care centres.

ULYANA BOGDANSKA, Director-General on Global Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, associating herself with the European Union and with the Group of Friends for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls, said her country has consistently supported the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), including through financial contributions.  Over two years, Bulgaria has shared good practices in this domain, seeking to create a legislative instrument.

She said the Government also adopted its third national strategy on gender equality; enacted its first action plan on women, peace and security covering 2020 to 2025; and enhanced its cooperation with non-governmental organizations to tackle gender-based violence.  Women’s participation in politics is another area of focus, she said, citing a recent study that found that nearly half of managerial positions in Bulgaria are held by women.

MONICA BOTTERO, Director of the National Institute of Women of Uruguay, said the Government aims to broaden its legislation with a gender-based violence law. Given the high prevalence of violence, especially domestic violence, Uruguay will focus its greatest human and budgetary resources on this issue.  Another main challenge is the economic gap, reflected in women’s lower participation than men in the labour market:  85 per cent for women with children, and at 65 per cent for women with three children.  In a country with a small population, and annual declines in births, this means that women are earning 23 per cent of men’s salaries.

She said unemployment also reveals disparities:  8 per cent for men and 12 per cent for women.  Despite that Uruguay is the first full democracy in Latin America, women still have low representation in Government.  They hold 20 per cent of seats in Parliament and 15 per cent of major ministerial posts, implying a weakness in the democratic system, despite its quotas law.  To address these issues, Uruguay in 2020 re-established the National Gender Council as the political institution for defining gender equality commitments.  She called for increasing women’s access to education, stressing that increasing their political participation requires a host of measures.

GILAD MENASHE ERDAN (Israel), underscoring that the global community demonstrated “admirable compassion” in fighting COVID-19, said it is time to apply the same approach to ensuring gender equality and countering gender-based violence.  “We must now put our greatest minds and technologies to work to find new and various solutions to this heartbreaking virus,” he said, pointing out that existing tools, such as shelters, support survivors after an attack has occurred.  Tools to prevent domestic violence must be created, requiring a shift in mindset from addressing the problem to preventing its emergence.  Capacities used to identify people before they carry out violence, such as in a terrorist attack, should be modified to address domestic violence.

SONG KIM (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) underscored the Government’s focus on “the dignity of the social status of the human”, noting that all rights are ensured under its Constitution.  He cited the Socialist Labour Law and the Law on the Nursing and Upbringing of Children in that context.  The gender equality law meanwhile was promulgated in 1946, demonstrating that respect for women has been long established in his country.  Noting that women are respected as the foundation of the family, he said they also fully exercise their political rights as “a proud master of our country”, contributing to contribute to the agriculture, education, public health and industry sectors, among others.  He expressed deep concern over social inequality in some countries in the region, calling in particular for an end to sexual violence and human trafficking.

VANESSA FRAZIER (Malta) said women are underrepresented in the public sphere, stressing that their inclusion in all levels of political life is a critical aspect of good governance.  For its part, Malta is working towards a society where women in decision-making positions becomes the norm.  However, overcoming years of discrimination and lack of opportunity can only be done through a holistic approach and the creation of an enabling environment, including through education and awareness‑raising campaigns.  Noting that Maltese women hold the positions of Attorney General, Chair and Head of News of the main broadcaster, Superintendent of Public Health, and Head of the COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, she went on to stress that sexual violence — both online and offline — is a major challenge.  As such, a new police unit was created to address domestic violence and gender-based crime.

MARÍA DEL CARMEN SWUEFF (Argentina) said the Ministry of Women, Gender and Diversity was created in 2019, an historic milestone achieved by a “coming together” of calls from the street and from women’s movements, as well as from a political willingness. A recent finding by UN-Women and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) ranked Argentina at the top of countries with public policies relating to gender.  Outlining various measures, she said Argentina created a cross-cutting cabinet for gender policy, designed a national action plan for gender violence, provides assistance for victims of violence and launched various gender‑diversity projects.  She drew particular attention to laws relating to voluntary interruption of pregnancy, emphasizing that the goal is to reform the care system, so it promotes a more equal “share out”, as a structural barrier to women’s participation is linked to the existence of unequal care systems.

BESIANA KADARE (Albania) said that as COVID-19 has led to more gender-based violence and negatively impacted women’s social well‑being, it is imperative to include women in all planning stages for building back better, especially in the development of policies with a clear gender lens.  Noting that Albania approved a protocol to provide shelters for victims of domestic violence, she said the country boasts the fifth most gender-balanced Cabinet in the world, with 53 per cent women ministers.  Albania also uses gender budgeting to promote gender-based policies.  She went on to stress that the women, peace and security agenda is the main focus of its bid for a seat on the Security Council.  If elected, Albania will champion this agenda across the Council’s full breadth of work and support that focus in all relevant peace operations mandates.

MOHAMED AL-HASSAN (Oman), noting that women’s rights are guaranteed by the State, said the Government has made efforts to empower women.  Women have restated their role as partners in global development and their ability to serve their communities.  Women have access to higher education, allowing them to be “autonomous and creative” in their lives, and to take up decision-making posts in State institutions.  For a long time, women in Oman have had the right to run in elections for seats in the Senate and other councils without pre-conditions, restrictions or gender-based discrimination.  In addition, the Sultan has paid particular attention to women’s issues in devising a national strategy that strengthens women’s participation in all areas.

KENNEDY GASTRON (United Republic of Tanzania), endorsing the positions of the African Group and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said the Government is implementing various policies to ensure women’s full participation in public life, notably through its education and training policy, and the abolishment of school fees to achieve gender parity.  To end violence against women and girls, he drew attention to a national action plan and the Zanzibar action plan to end such abuse.  He also pointed to the establishment of one-stop centres to address gender-based violence, an amendment to the criminal procedure act to prevent alleged abusers from qualifying for bail, the creation of gender desks at police stations and the establishment women and children protection committees throughout the country.

PATRICIA SCOTLAND, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, a voluntary association of 54 independent and equal countries that are home to a collective 2.4 billion people, said Commonwealth members work to promote prosperity, democracy and peace, and to amplify the voices of small States.  Noting that 2021 marks five years since they committed to achieving gender‑equality targets, she said their five-year national reviews of the Beijing Platform for Action show that significant progress continues to be made, marked by outstanding achievement in education in terms of enrolment and steady progress in the numbers of women entering Parliament in Commonwealth jurisdictions.  Thirteen countries have achieved 30 per cent or more female members of Parliament in 2020, she said, stressing:  “We need to commit to strengthening national systems with gender statistics so we can track progress.”

SUSAN KIHIKA, President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Women Parliamentarians and member of Kenya’s Senate, said more than ever, parliaments and Governments have women in driving seat:  59 speakers of parliament are women.  Record high numbers of women are parliamentarians and ministers:  25.5 per cent, and 29 per cent, respectively.  However, progress has been too slow, she said, stressing that, at the current rate, it will take half a century to reach gender parity in parliament and Government.  “Gender parity is possible where there is political will,” she assured, noting that some countries have achieved 40 per cent women’s representation through strong laws mandating gender quotas.  These quotas have become more ambitious, leaning towards gender parity and challenging the belief that “politics is not a place for women”.  She went on to stress that in countries where quotas were applied in 2020, women won 27.4 per cent of seats in lower or single houses of parliament.  Where there were no quotas, only 15.6 per cent of the seats were filled by women.  “We need role models, starting with political leaders,” she said, stressing that gender parity in decision-making can only be achieved if gender equality is promoted across the board.  She also called for being vigilant and “genuinely feminist” in adopting budgets.

Also delivering statements were ministers and representatives of the Dominican Republic, Chad, Kyrgyzstan, Monaco, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Kazakhstan, Panama, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Jamaica and Singapore, as well as speakers from the following organizations:  League of Arab States, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Union, International Development Law Organization, International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Fund for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean.

For information media. Not an official record.