Speakers Discuss Female Empowerment in Changing Workplace, Gender Equality Commitments, as Commission on Status of Women Continues Session

The Commission on the Status of Women continued its ministerial segment today with interactive dialogues that focused on women’s empowerment in the changing world of work and on accelerating implementation of Member States’ commitments to gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.

In the morning session, participants centred on building alliances and partnerships between Governments and other stakeholders with the aim of gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly Goal 5 concerning gender equality.

In the afternoon, a diverse range of participants – including civil society groups, parliamentarians, a French broadcast journalist and the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences – discussed the challenges of implementing the sometimes highly detailed conclusions adopted every year by the Commission. Several Member States explained the efforts they were making on their part.

The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again on Thursday, 16 March, at 10 a.m. to conclude its ministerial segment and continue its interactive dialogues.

Interactive Dialogue I

In the morning, the Commission on the Status of Women held a high-level interactive dialogue under the theme “Building alliances to promote women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work”.

ANTONIO DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA (Brazil), Commission Chair, in opening remarks, said Governments had primary responsibility for implementing the Beijing Platform for Action and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. However, other stakeholders had important roles to play. Today’s discussion should give a clear indication how alliances among gender equality leaders and advocates for women’s economic empowerment would result in better outcomes for women in the world of work.

The representative of New Zealand introduced herself as a mother, wife, sister, daughter, volunteer and former Government minister. None of the roles, she said, should deny her economic empowerment. Emphasizing how people wanted a work-life balance, she noted how her Government had introduced flexible working-hour legislation in order to reflect modern lifestyles. It had also introduced measures that took gender out of the equation with regard to care and volunteer work.

The speaker for Ghana said any value or norm that devalued women must be done away with. Much economic gain could result from recognizing the value of women’s work. While women in her country were active in grass-roots politics, they remained underrepresented in Parliament, she said, adding that advancing the economic well-being of women required the building of partnerships and alliances, setting the right policy framework and working closely with grass-roots organizations.

Her counterpart from Uganda said her country had put into place projects and programmes in conjunction with its development partners to address the barriers that women faced. She noted also how women’s lives were helped by such initiatives as solar-powered rural health centres, as well as solar water pumps that reduced the risks faced by women and girls when collecting water. “One-stop” business centres meanwhile helped women entrepreneurs.

The delegate for Brazil said Governments must engage in dialogue and listen to women’s representatives in society. Civil society was a true partner in fostering the economic empowerment of women, she added.

The representative of China noted the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s experience in engaging with non-governmental organizations and the business sector. No effort was being spared in Hong Kong to remove barriers to women in the labour market, including the introduction of paid maternity and paternity leave. A funding scheme encouraged non-governmental organizations to set up programmes for women, while luncheons enabled employers to share best practices.

The representative of Iraq underscored the importance of alliances with the United Nations in addressing sexual violence and harassment perpetrated by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). A special department in the Prime Minister’s Office facilitated the work of non-governmental organizations, while the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs worked with the Iraq Society for Relief and Development to empower refugee and displaced women.

The speaker for Finland said investing in equality made economic sense. The objective in her country was to ensure that men and women could combine family life with an active working life. Affordable child care was a powerful agent for change, she said, adding how something as basic as warm meals for schoolchildren could make it possible for both parents to work full-time. In cases of families with small children, there should be incentives for fathers to take parental leave. Access to comprehensive sexual education and health services would also unlock potential for economic growth.

The delegate for Mongolia, emphasizing the need for funding, suggested that the United Nations establish a global women’s bank along the lines of the World Bank. Without access to finance, she said, the goal of gender equality by 2030 would not be achieved.

Among non-governmental organizations that took the floor, the representative of the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives said austerity measures implemented in many countries had led women to either migrate or to shift into the informal economy. Such a situation allowed gender-based violence in the world of work to thrive, she said, emphasizing the importance of trade union action and collective bargaining.

In that vein, the representative of the Jamaica Household Workers’ Association emphasized the vulnerability of domestic workers, whose voices were not often heard. They faced long hours, discrimination and no access to social security, as well as sexual harassment, assault and abuse in the workplace. Domestic workers were being left behind, she said, calling for “sweeping change” and ratification of the International Labour Organization’s Domestic Workers Convention.

The representative of the International Labour Organization noted that entity’s ongoing efforts to forge a coalition that would promote the goal of equal pay for work of equal value. She also said that alliances were essential for achieving an international labour standard that addressed workplace violence.

Also participating were ministers, senior officials and representatives of Rwanda, Australia, Ghana, Uganda, Brazil, Ukraine, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Niger, Finland, Kenya, Dominican Republic, Japan, Chile, Iran, Philippines and Eritrea.

Representatives of the African Women’s Development and Communication Network, International Trade Union Confederation, International Cooperative Alliance, Global Interaction and Accessibility for All also spoke.

Interactive Dialogue II

In the afternoon, the Commission held an interactive dialogue on the theme “Accelerating implementation of Agreed Conclusions commitments to gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”.

ANDREAS GLOSSNER (Germany), Commission Vice-Chair, said the Agreed Conclusions represented the Member States’ consensus on the Commission’s priority themes. Implementation, however, remained a major challenge. The interactive dialogue would give Governments and other stakeholders an opportunity to discuss how they were implementing specific commitments, and to indicate which steps they planned to take going forward.

DALIA LEINARTE, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said the Commission’s conclusions were seen by the Committee as guidance for deepening the Beijing Platform for Action. The Committee was a partner of the Commission and wished for more effective cooperation with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women).

JESSIE KABWILA, Chair of the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus of Malawi and the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum, said parliaments were very patriarchal places. She said Malawi was considering a motion whereby budgets would be considered through a gender perspective and scored on their ability to improve women’s lives. She also noted that the Commission’s discussions mostly took place in English. Consideration should, therefore, be given to taking discussions to outside spaces.

ANNETTE YOUNG, a journalist with France24 television and host of its 51 Per Cent programme, said that senior management in media was still dominated by men, while a majority of journalism school students today were women. She drew attention to gender-balancing initiatives, such as a policy at the Bloomberg news service whereby no story went on air or online without a woman’s voice.

In the ensuing dialogue, participants discussed ways of closing the “implementation gap” and summarized their respective countries’ efforts concerning women’s empowerment and gender mainstreaming.

The representative of Brazil emphasized the need to include representatives of elected bodies in the debate and to strengthen existing monitoring systems.

Her counterpart from Uganda underscored its commitment to faster implementation of gender equality commitments, integrating them into its long-term development strategy. She also noted the establishment of national parenting guidelines to ensure that all children enjoyed positive parenting as a human right.

Slovenia’s delegate that, when fully implemented, commitments would profoundly change the lives not only of women and girls, but also those of men and boys. She cautioned against any attempts to weaken current world standards, adding that in her country, empowerment of women and girls would be translated into concrete measures in a new development strategy closely related to the 2030 Agenda.

FLORENCE SIMBIRI JAOKO, Special Envoy of the Global Alliance for National Human Rights Institutions, said that, through its reporting, her organization could bring expertise to United Nations bodies with credible information for holding Member States to account. Through its robust reporting and advocacy, the gap between rhetoric and real action could be reduced, she said.

SIMA SAMAR, Chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said men should see women as equal partners, not as enemies. Sons should meanwhile learn to be more feminist and more respectful of human dignity. Militarization, which gave more power to men and widened the gap between men and women, should be opposed, she added.

DUBRAVKA SIMONOVI?, Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequence, said that in her travels to various countries, she saw huge gaps with regard to acceptance of international instruments. Even countries that had ratified treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women had not fully incorporated its provisions. It was the same case for the Commission’s conclusions. The human rights system had to join forces and focus on results, she said, adding that countries were interested in sharing and learning best practices.

FRANCES RADAY, of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) working group on discrimination against women in law and practice, emphasized the importance of human rights organizations, adding, however, that the space for such groups was shrinking. That needed to be addressed. She said the Commission should think about how the Universal Periodic Review process could be used to follow up on commitments made by States. She went on to stress the role of human rights education.

SHAMIKA SIRIMANNE, Director of the Division on Technology and Logistics, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), noted that technological change would have a profound effect on women’s lives, yet there were very few women in science “and that’s a great concern”. Women accounted for less than a third of the world’s researchers and few girls pursued science, technology, engineering and math studies. Those that did still faced many career barriers. She invited the Commission to consider the issue.

Also participating in the afternoon’s discussion were representatives of Argentina, Afghanistan, China, Niger, Switzerland, Iraq, Colombia, South Africa, Mali, Germany, Philippines and Qatar.

The Permanent Observer of the African Union also took the floor.

Representatives of the Commission on Population and Development, Global Alliance for National Human Rights Institutions, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era, and the NGO Committee on the Status of Women in New York also spoke.

At 4:10 p.m., the Vice-Chair – recalling that, globally, women earned an average of 23 per cent less than men – briefly suspended the meeting. He explained that, from that point on in the Commission’s working day, women would start working for free.

Source: United Nations