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Speakers Condemn Gender-Based Violence, Including Rape as ‘Weapon of War’, in Commission on Status of Women Discussion

Describing national policies aimed at boosting the status of women and protecting their human rights, speakers today condemned gender-based violence — including the use of rape as a weapon of war or tactic of terrorism — as the Commission on the Status of Women entered the second day of its sixtieth annual session.

“[Women] are at the eye of the storm of conflict and repression, their bodies the focus of social and cultural battles and the object of aggression and contempt”, said Caroline Dinenage, Minister for Women, Equalities and Family Justice of the United Kingdom.  Women had the right to live free of fear, she said, noting that her country had recently launched a new cross-Government Violence Against Women and Girls strategy which set out ambitious plans to prevent violence, support victims and take action against perpetrators.

Throughout the day, speakers echoed the importance of implementing national policies to combat gender-based violence and other human rights violations.  Among those was Maria Filomena Delgado, Minister for Family and the Promotion of Women of Angola, who cited progress in legally protecting women from sexual abuse, violence and early marriage in her country.  She noted that her country had in 2015 created a domestic violence hotline, as well as family counselling centres and shelters.

Tatau Godinho, Secretary of Policies for Women’s Work and Economic Autonomy of Brazil, described her country’s programme to fight gender-based violence, known as “Women:  living without violence”, which had set up 27 facilities to provide help for female victims of violence.  In addition, Brazil had recently passed a bill criminalizing femicide, which imposed harsher penalties for those who harmed or killed women or girls.

Aisha Jummai Al-Hassan, Minister for Women Affairs and Social Development of Nigeria, described gender-based violence as a great concern for her country.  The Government, civil society and other stakeholders would continue to work tirelessly towards its elimination, she said, noting that the country’s Violence against Persons Prohibition Act, enacted in May 2015, criminalized all forms of gender-based violence, harmful practices against women and girls, rape and economic and political marginalization.

Among the obstacles to ending gender-based violence was the persistence of traditional stereotypes of masculinity, said Åsa Regnér, Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality of Sweden.  She urged a focus on the root causes of violence, calling for more effective prosecution of perpetrators and greater emphasis on lowering the threshold for men to seek help to change their violent behaviour.  Investing in violence prevention in schools was also needed in order to change attitudes associated with destructive masculinity.

Laurence Rossignol, Minister for Families, Children and Women’s Rights of France, said human rights violations continued to occur due to religious extremism and under the guise of cultural relativism.  Women were raped as a weapon of war or were reduced to slavery by groups such as Da’esh.  However, such violations were not limited to war zones.  Domestic violence, forced marriages and female genital mutilation occurred around the world.

Similarly, Maxime Prévot, Minister for Public Works, Health and Social Action of Belgium, agreed that violence against women and girls constituted a violation of their human rights.  No custom, tradition or religion could justify an act of violence against a woman.  The international community must denounce and specifically condemn rape perpetrated as a weapon of war or tactic of terrorism, he stressed.

Also speaking today were ministers and other senior officials from Botswana (on behalf of Southern African Development Community (SADC)), Papua New Guinea (on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum), Canada, Morocco, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Japan, Peru, Israel, Poland, Republic of Korea, Qatar, Iceland, Austria, Mozambique, South Africa, Bahrain, Côte d'Ivoire, Norway, Czech Republic, Cuba, Lithuania, Costa Rica, Madagascar, Paraguay, Mali, Latvia, Philippines, Indonesia, Tunisia, Trinidad and Tobago, Malawi, India, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Ghana, Dominican Republic, Guinea, Mongolia, Honduras, Viet Nam, Estonia, United Arab Emirates, El Salvador, Kenya, Jordan, Afghanistan, Suriname, Liechtenstein, Zambia, Mauritius, Republic of Moldova, China, Sri Lanka, Mauritania, Uganda, South Sudan, Botswana, United Republic of Tanzania, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Pakistan, Mexico, Egypt, Argentina, Turkmenistan, Switzerland, Hungary, Bahamas, Chile, Russian Federation, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ukraine, Portugal, Spain, Tonga and Solomon Islands.

Statements

EDWIN J. BATSHU, Minister for Labour and Home Affairs of Botswana, speaking for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said women’s economic empowerment and strengthening the policy and legal frameworks to combat violence against women and children were priority areas for the Community’s gender and development programme.  In addition, the Community’s Protocol on Gender and Development had been aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals, the Beijing+20 Review and the African Union Agenda 2063, while since 1999, SADC had sponsored the resolution on women, the girl child and HIV/AIDS.  Expressing concern that the majority of new HIV infections occurred among adolescent girls and young women in eastern and Southern Africa, he said in sub-Saharan Africa, infection rates were twice as high among girls and young women as compared to boys and men.  Keeping girls in school and providing culturally sensitive and age appropriate sex education had a positive impact on sexual and reproductive health.

DELILAH GORE, Minister for Religion, Youth and Community Development of Papua New Guinea, speaking for the Pacific Islands Forum, said gender equality and poverty alleviation was the “unfinished business” of the Millennium Development Goals, and she supported accelerating commitments in those areas under the Sustainable Development Goals framework.  There was now gender parity in primary education in most Pacific countries and improved legislative frameworks to prevent and respond to violence against women.  Urging the Secretary-General to advance gender-sensitive implementation of the sustainable development agenda, she said the Forum was committed to addressing gender-based inequalities and violence, discrimination, poverty and a lack of economic opportunities, among other issues.  She advocated strengthening institutional capacities, such as gender-sensitive data collection; enhancing partnerships among Governments, civil society, the private sector and faith-based organizations; and supporting resource mobilization to advance gender equality.

PATRICIA HAJDU, Minister for the Status of Women of Canada, said her country would remain a world leader in the advancement of gender equality and realization of women’s human rights, as the former was not only a human rights issue but an essential part of social justice, peace, security and prosperity.  As gender-based violence was a reality for women and girls, she was engaging with experts, grass-roots organizations, and provincial and territorial governments to develop a comprehensive federal strategy to end such abuse, as well as improve services for survivors.  The disproportionate rate of such abuse against indigenous women was a major concern, and, as such, her State had launched an inquiry into the high number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, having met with survivors and loved ones.  In the coming months, it would announce the details of that study and its contribution to Canada’s commitment to reconciliation.

BASSIMA HAKKAOUI, Minister for Solidarity, Women and Social Development of Morocco, said the Government had spared no effort in empowering women and girls.  The 2011 Constitution enshrined principles of equality.  The 2012-2016 gender equality plan included 24 goals related to women’s empowerment.  A draft law aimed to establish a gender equality and anti-discrimination agency, she said, adding that the Council for Family and Childhood had been created.  During elections in September 2015, women had been elected to 12 per cent of the seats in Parliament and 22 per cent of those seats in municipal governments.  In 2011, a family solidarity forum had been created for divorced women with children, and a social cohesion support fund had also been created.  The Government was providing direct support to widowed mothers.  Despite progress in Morocco and elsewhere, more efforts were needed to enshrine women’s cultural, political and economic rights.  That required more cooperation worldwide.

MARIA FILOMENA DELGADO, Minister for Family and the Promotion of Women of Angola, pointed to her country’s national legal instruments for combating domestic violence, promoting gender equality, supporting rural women, providing basic education for children, reducing illiteracy, protecting domestic workers and supporting youth.  Women now occupied 38 per cent of parliamentary seats and 23 per cent of cabinet minister positions.  A quota system required 40 per cent women’s representation in decision-making bodies.  She cited progress in legally protecting women from sexual abuse, violence, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, and early marriage through a national youth development plan and campaign to end early marriage and pregnancy.  In 2015, the Government created a domestic violence hotline, family counselling centres and shelters.  

ANJA KOPAČ MRAK, Minister for Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities of Slovenia, pointed to the creation of a new advisory body in her Ministry comprising non-governmental, academic and Government administration experts to mainstream gender policy across all sectors and ministries, and to the adoption last year of the 2015-2020 national gender equality policy.  Thanks to mandatory gender quotas, women now occupied 35.6 per cent of parliamentary seats and half of Cabinet seats.  The Government was preparing legislation aimed at increasing women’s participation in corporate boards.  Slovenia was committed to ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health care, including for family planning.  Combating violence against women and girls was also high on the national political agenda.  Slovenia had ratified the Council or Europe’s Istanbul Convention.  Stalking and forced marriage had been legally declared offences.  Special attention was given to women asylum seekers and refugee women and girls, who were at high risk for sexual violence and early and forced marriage.  

LYDIA MUTSCH, Minister for Gender Equality of Luxembourg, advocated a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment, underscoring women’s important role in the attainment of all Sustainable Development Goals in all areas.  She urged eliminating discrimination and promoting true equality by working for a better balance in sharing domestic, political and social responsibilities.  “We must be proactive to achieve tangible progress in equality and decision-making,” she said, by implementing a broad array of binding measures, including legislative and awareness-raising aimed at dismantling stereotypes and questioning the traditional responsibilities between men and women.  The strength of the 2030 Agenda was in its universal nature.  Luxembourg’s priorities included the establishment of quotas for political decision-making, as well as voluntary quotas for economic decision-making, and combating gender stereotypes.  It would ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also called the Istanbul Convention.

YOJI MUTO, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Japan, welcomed that gender parity had been included in the 2030 Agenda, a common recognition that it was necessary for achieving Sustainable Development Goals.  A society where “all women shine” was a priority for the Cabinet, based on the idea that women’s empowerment was essential for achieving sustainable growth.  In December 2015, it had drafted the Fourth Basic Plan for Gender Equality, covering the next five years.  Women and girls today suffered from violent extremism and displacement by regional conflicts, an issue that must be addressed.  Women also must be given the opportunity to exercise their abilities to the fullest extent, he said, stressing the importance of securing high quality education for girls.  Japan sought to enhance its partnerships, including with UN-Women.

MARCELA HUAITA, Minister for Women and Vulnerable Populations of Peru, reaffirmed the commitments made in Vienna, Cairo and Beijing and their respective reviews, stressing that the gender equality goals, found across all Sustainable Development Goals, were reflected in her State’s efforts to empower women.  “My country wants gender equality to be cross-cutting,” she said, noting that women were their own agents of development, as well as for their families and communities.  Citing examples, she said the “Juntos” programme focused on access to education and health, covering more than 1 million women.  Another programme provided food to 2 million children.  Peru was also the first country in South America to develop an action plan for gender and climate change.  On the economic front, intersectoral policies promoted women’s empowerment in trade and tourism, among other areas.

GILA GAMLIEL, Minister for Social Equality of Israel, said that today women in her country held leading positions in Government, business and academia.  Despite living in a region where women were often excluded from positions of power, Israel had had a female Prime Minster.  Currently, her country had a female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, fighter pilots and an Arab woman was Chairperson of the Committee for the Advancement of Women in the Knesset.  Committed to full gender equality, she had created a plan for every Government office to submit a gender budget.  More than 25 per cent of parliamentarians were women, including two Arab Israeli lawmakers.  The Cabinet recently approved a landmark billion-dollar budget aimed at reducing the social gaps and improving living conditions for Arab citizens and other minority groups.  Millions of women were affected by conflict and were often the first victims of war.  Women had to be afforded the opportunity to take part in conflict resolution.  They were powerful agents of moderation, particularly in the face of extremism.   Especially in the Middle East, women were an untapped potential for more peaceful societies.

WOJCIECH KACZMARCZYK, Minister for Equal Treatment and Civil Society of Poland, pointed to his Government’s active involvement in initiatives to promote and protect women’s rights within the United Nations system, European Union, Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).  Women in Poland were becoming more visible and active in all areas of public life, including in politics and the economy.  The principle of equal treatment was enshrined in the Constitution.  Government programmes aimed to improve women’s status and opportunities in the labour market and erase gender stereotypes.  To ensure work-life balance, the Government guaranteed parental leave for six months.  Efforts were under way to reduce the gender wage gap.  The concept of family mainstreaming was being promoted widely within social, political, education and health-care policies.

KANG EUN-HEE, Minister for Gender Equality and Family of the Republic of Korea, stressed her Government’s focus on women’s empowerment and economic participation.  She pointed to skills’ enhancement and entrepreneurship programmes offered at university career development centres.  Such facilities also provided support for women start-up companies and provided training for women in occupations traditionally dominated by men.  Companies were required to publicly disclose hiring policies to protect women from discrimination.  Women’s economic participation could only be strengthened when home and work life was balanced.  Towards that end, the Government had strengthened maternity leave and required that all public institutions had family friendly policies by 2017.  Women’s empowerment must be in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals.   The Korean Government planned to give $200 million in the next five years to improve the lives of girls in developing nations.  The Government supported women with disabilities.  It was working with UN-Women to build safe cities for girls.

ISSA BIN SAAD AL JAFALI AL NUAIMI, Minister for Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs of Qatar, said gender equality was enshrined in national legislation, which was aligned with international instruments to which his country was party.  Women had taken a lead role in devising national strategies and development plans, raising their status, while Qatar’s “Vision 2030” strategy highlighted women’s role in policymaking and participation in all facets of life.  Government agencies and civil society worked to support women’s rights.  Qatar’s success in implementing plans to empower women had been seen in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report, which had ranked the country first among Arab States in that regard, and thirty-first internationally in human development.  He drew attention to the difficult conditions of Palestinian women, particularly in the Gaza Strip.

EYGLÓ HARÐARDÓTTIR, Minister for Social Affairs and Housing of Iceland, said the Commission must focus on how to implement the Sustainable Development Goals in a gender-responsive manner, and called on States to ratify or accede to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  She said that women were “not going to wait for 117 years for gender equality”, which, according to the World Economic Forum, was the amount of time it would take if we continued at the current speed.  For its part, Iceland aimed to better protect women from domestic violence by removing the perpetrator from the home and making restraining orders more effective.  It also had made the purchase of sexual services and profiting from prostitution illegal, while not penalizing prostitutes.  It planned to ratify the Istanbul Convention this spring.

GABRIELE HEINISCH-HOSEK, Federal Minister for Education and Women’s Affairs of Austria, associating herself with the European Union, said the empowerment of women and girls was both a determinant for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and a main goal of that plan.  Her country would continue to advance towards gender equality in all areas of life.  Tackling gender stereotypes in order to diversify women and girls’ education and career choices was a priority.  Austria would continue to work towards eliminating women’s disadvantages in the labour market by increasing women’s participation and wages.  Comprehensive actions would be taken to promote gender-sensitive health and improve the health literacy of female migrants.  Protecting women and girls from violence was among her central concerns, and an important amendment to the criminal law had entered into force at the start of 2016, defining cyberbullying as a new form of violence punishable under that law.

CIDÁLIA MANUEL CHAÚQUE OLIVEIRA, Minister for Gender, Child and Social Action of Mozambique, pointed to efforts to promote girls’ education in order to achieve gender parity and women’s access to health services, with a focus on prenatal care and the creation of waiting rooms for pregnant women.  Mozambique had had a female Prime Minister, and today women held the position of Speaker of Parliament and Attorney General.  She pointed to provisions in laws on the family, human trafficking, domestic violence and land ownership to better protect women.  Mozambique had a multisectoral mechanism to assist women victims of violence.  The Government had adopted gender-responsive budgeting to empower women in various sectors.  Mozambique’s Agrarian Development Fund gave preferential terms to women entrepreneurs.  Maternal mortality was being reduced thanks to better access to health care, including sexual reproductive health, family planning and disease prevention.  A national strategy aimed to end early marriage and other harmful social practices.

SUSAN SHABANGU, Minister for Women of South Africa, associating herself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the African Group and SADC, said her Government had consistently empowered women and promoted gender equality.  The 2010-2030 national development plan was aligned with the 2030 Agenda.  A commitment to women’s empowerment and addressing gender oppression and racism through gender mainstreaming was as at the heart of South Africa’s democracy.  This year marked the Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063 and the continent’s Year of Human Rights.  Her Government was committed to ending violence against women and girls and had hosted a visit by the Special Rapporteur on the subject in December.  She supported the call for United Nations reform, particularly in appointing a woman Secretary-General.

HALA MOHAMMED JABER AL ANSARI, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for Women of Bahrain, said gender mainstreaming was required of all State institutions and the Supreme Council for Women supported that process.  A national strategy was recently established to protect women from domestic violence.  To encourage women’s economic entrepreneurship and access to the labour market, the Supreme Council for Women had set up a centre offering consultancy services, a fund with initial capital of $5 million offering loans to microprojects and a $100 million fund that offered low-interest loans for small and medium-sized businesses.  Free legal aid, family counselling and divorce settlement services were offered to support family stability.  The Court of Cessation Law had been amended to allow for rulings of the Sharia Judiciary Court to be challenged.  The Procedures Law before Sharia Courts had been amended to reflect that is was now mandatory to refer family disputes to the Family Reconciliation Office before being brought to the Court.  Divorced, widowed and unmarried orphaned women were allowed to benefit from housing services.

EUPHRASIE KOUASSI YAO, Minister for the Promotion of Women, Family and for the Protection of Children of Côte d’Ivoire, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, cited gains in various sectors.  A 2012 law allowed married women with families to enjoy a reduction in income tax that was equal to men.  In 2015, an education law made education mandatory for all children aged 6 to 16.  The Government also had strengthened a 10 billion franc support fund to help women carry out income-generating activities.  New buildings for the national gendarmerie had taken women’s needs into account.  Côte d’Ivoire must still rise to several challenges, she said, citing gender discrimination, and pursuit of legal reforms to improve women’s representation in parliament and local government bodies.  Her country would not cower in the face of terrorism, and instead continued to work for women’s empowerment.

SOLVEIG HORNE, Minster for Children, Equality and Social Inclusion of Norway, said girls and women must have equal access to education, jobs and decision-making.  Empowerment was about education, the most important investment that could be made, and it was vital that girls started and completed their schooling.  Norway was doubling its financial contribution to education for development in the 2013-2017 period.  Empowerment was also about the absence of violence.  One in three women around the world had experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, while more than 600 million women lived in countries where domestic violence was not punishable, she said, urging action against early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.  Men had a crucial role to play in that regard.  Empowerment also meant that women must have control over their sexuality, and traditional values could not be used to deprive women of that right.

TATAU GODINHO, Secretary of Policies for Women’s Work and Economic Autonomy of Brazil, urged promotion and protection of human rights for all women and girls, stressing that the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean in January had recognized the importance of women’s and feminist movements in advancing the sustainable development agenda.  For its part, Brazil had recently passed a bill criminalizing femicide.  The “Women:  living without violence” national programme had set up 27 facilities to provide help for women victims of violence.  Going forward, Brazil hoped to guarantee sexual and reproductive health and rights for all, implement a comprehensive sex education in schools and have equal pay for work of equal value.

JIRI DIENSTBIER, Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportunities and Legislation of the Czech Republic, associating himself with the European Union, said the link between gender equality and sustainable development was clear.  Under-representation of women in decision-making, gender inequalities in the labour market, violence against women, persisting gender stereotypes or low engagement of men in care continued to hinder social development.  The active promotion of gender equality continued to be one of his Government’s priorities, having adopted, among other things, the Strategy for Equality of Women and Men in 2014.  Describing positive developments in the area of gender equality in the labour market, he went on to say that, in order to help reconcile work and private life, the Act on Children Groups had been adopted, guaranteeing pre-schoolers the right to a place in kindergarten from the age of four by 2017 and from the age of three by 2018.  Other progress included the adoption of a new Action Plan for the Prevention of Domestic and Gender-Based Violence for 2015-2018 and a recently adopted Strategy for Human Rights and Democracy Promotion. 

TERESA BOUÉ, Secretary-General for the Federation of Cuban Women and Member of the Council of State of Cuba, said her country had enacted laws to ensure equal rights, opportunities and responsibilities for men and women.  Women in Cuba could elect and be elected.  They decided and directed their own lives and had the capacity to meet their needs.  They received the same pay as men for work of equal value and were entitled to the same benefits.  However, despite results achieved, gender gaps remained.  In the political arena, the United States Government had acknowledged the failure and the severe damaged caused by its economic, commercial and financial blockade of Cuba.  While it had taken several recent positive steps, there was still no tangible progress, and the blockade continued to be an obstacle for the full development of the country and the advancement of women.  She therefore continued to demand its full lifting, and went on to call for compliance with all commitments regarding the transfer of resources and official development assistance (ODA). 

ALGIMANTA PABEDINSKIENE, Minister for Social Security and Labour of Lithuania, stressed the importance of effective national implementation of the 2030 Agenda, including the goal of reaching gender parity in spheres of life.  In Lithuania the main objectives of the 12 critical areas of the Beijing Platform for Action, as well as former recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), had already been incorporated into national legislation and policies.  Its National Programme on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men was based on a gender mainstreaming approach and was closely related to the 2030 Agenda.  Its main priorities included the promotion of equal opportunities for women and men in employment, the balancing of participation in decision-making, the promotion of gender mainstreaming and the strengthening of national institutions.  Such mechanisms, as well as their funding, were very important.  In her country, funds from the State budget were allocated annually for the implementation of the National Programme.

ALEJANDRA MORA MORA, Minister for Women’s Condition of Costa Rica, associating herself with the Group of 77, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, the Central American Integration System and the Group of Friends of the Elderly, said her Government had prioritized socially responsible employment, rights protection, violence against women, political participation and strengthening the institutional framework for gender equality.  Sexual and reproductive rights remained a challenge and a cultural change was needed in that regard, to be achieved through training and awareness-raising.  As local elections had shown, it was not enough to have vertical gender parity.  Horizontal parity was needed to ensure that women were at the top of electoral lists, a point understood by the Constitutional Tribunal.  Costa Rica had a comprehensive platform to help victims of sexual harassment and trafficking.  She urged combating the normalization of sexual violence and the resulting pregnancies.

ONITIANA REALY, Minister for Population, Women and Social Protection of Madagascar, associating with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said her Ministry was drafting and soon would have a new gender equality policy that would encourage all institutions to assume shared responsibility to advance that goal. Those bodies would soon be invited to put forward measures in their respective fields of work, a critical comprehensive approach.  “Gender equality is not solely a concern for women; it largely depends on men”, she said, noting that the Beijing Declaration was explicit on that point.  An education fund for vulnerable women had been set up with other ministries, as it was necessary to grant women’s access, and the drafting of a gender equality law was ongoing.

ANA BAIARDI, Minister for Women of Paraguay, noting that women’s empowerment and sustainable development must be viewed comprehensively, urged an end to all forms of gender-based violence.  She advocated more resources and partnerships to strengthen gender equality entities.  For its part, Paraguay had focused on women’s empowerment, women’s access to resources and work, and participation of indigenous and rural women.  It had passed laws on paid domestic work and on maternity and breast feeding.  For two years, Paraguay had worked with women’s policy organizations, feminist and women’s groups, UN-Women and others to draft a law on democratic parity, which had been submitted to Congress.  An amendment to the criminal code last year had deemed domestic violence a crime.  A more comprehensive approach was needed and Paraguay was studying a draft law on violence against women, which took femicide into account.

SANGARE OUMOU BA, Minister for the Advancement of Women, Children and Family of Mali, associating herself with Group of 77 and the African Group, said the session was taking place on the heels of the launch of the 2030 Agenda, which had among its core goals the eradication of poverty, the end of inequality and the promotion of prosperity while protecting the environment.  The empowerment of women was closely linked to sustainable development.  Her country was gradually emerging from a multidimensional crisis in which women and children had played the heaviest price; in that regard, she reaffirmed her Government’s determination to implement the provisions of the peace agreement.  It had also firmly committed to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 5 and those related to poverty, health and peace and security — each of which also took into account gender equality and women’s empowerment.  No sustainable development policy could yield results without women’s engagement in socioeconomic policies and political life.  Mali therefore sought to achieve greater participation of women in decision-making bodies. 

MAXIME PRÉVOT, Minister for Public Works, Health and Social Action of Belgium, aligning himself with the European Union, said sustainable development required the achievement of women’s rights, including sexual and reproductive rights.  “We can no longer have taboos” when it came to contraception and sexual and reproductive health and services.  The systematic mainstreaming of gender equality in all the Sustainable Development Goals was critical, as was the determination to achieve Goal 5.  The 2030 Agenda was a formidable opportunity to put forward women as drivers of sustainable development.  Gender mainstreaming was a priority for Belgium, which had been the first country in the world to adopt legislation in that regard.  Violence against women and girls constituted a violation of their human rights, he said, stressing that no custom, tradition or religion could justify an act of violence against a woman.  Furthermore, the international community must denounce and specifically condemn rape perpetrated as a weapon of war and terrorism; the crimes of the Da’esh group against women must be punished.

JĀNIS REIRS, Minister for Welfare of Latvia, associating himself with the European Union, said gender equality was smart economics.  In his country, the female employment rate was 70 per cent in 2015 and women made up 51 per cent of all employed persons.  One in three businesses in Latvia belonged to women.  However, gender segregation still existed in education and employment and that was reflected in the gender pay gap.  More efforts were being made to eliminate violence against women, with improvements to the legal framework in line with the Istanbul Convention and State-funded programmes being made available to victims and perpetrators alike.  Flexible child care enabled working parents to become economically independent.  Measures had been introduced to strengthen the role of fathers, as men and boys had a crucial role to play in gender equality.

ÅSA REGNÉR, Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality of Sweden, noting that her country had a feminist Government, said gender power relations and traditional stereotypes of masculinity associated with violence had hindered gender equality.  She urged a focus on the root causes of violence, calling for more effective prosecution of perpetrators and greater emphasis on lowering the threshold for men to seek help to change their violent behaviour.  Investing in violence prevention in schools was also needed in order to change attitudes associated with destructive masculinity.  Expressing deep concern that more than half a million women died annually in pregnancy and childbirth or from unsafe abortions, she said investments in those areas were investments in women’s empowerment, social justice and human rights.  Sweden had increased its contribution to women, peace and security issues, with a focus on promoting women’s participation in mediation and peace processes.

AISHA JUMMAI AL-HASSAN, Minister for Women Affairs and Social Development of Nigeria, said the national gender policy and its strategic implementation framework and plan focused on reproductive health, education, countering violence against women, and economic empowerment.  Further, the Government had created programmes that addressed specific social needs, such as skills acquisition for youth, meals for primary school students and financial support to 1 million female marketers and artisans.  Describing gender-based violence as a great concern for her country, she noted that the Government, civil society and other stakeholders would continue to work tirelessly towards its elimination.  In that regard, the Violence against Persons Prohibition Act enacted in May 2015 criminalized all forms of gender-based violence, harmful practices against women and girls, rape, and economic and political marginalization.

ROSALINDA DIMAPILIS-BALDOZ, Secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment of the Philippines, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), recalled that the United Nations had recognized her country’s President as an Impact Head of State Champion for the “HeForShe” campaign.  Indeed, 43 per cent of leaders in her Government were women, while an increasing number of women were senior leaders in private companies.  For the first time, a woman led the judiciary and the Commission on Audit.  A new labour law compliance system, with decent work indicators, had shifted from a regulatory to a developmental approach, which had increased compliance with gender standards.  The country had ratified International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 189 on domestic work and passed a law recognizing domestic helpers as workers with labour rights and benefits.

YOHANA SUSANA YEMBISE, Minister for Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection of Indonesia, associating herself with ASEAN and the Group of 77, said gender equality and women’s empowerment commitments were reflected in such strategies as gender responsive planning and budgeting, while the national action plan on human rights for 2015-2019 outlined policies to protect women from violence and discrimination.  Further, the rural development law enabled equal access to the benefits of rural development.  Gender parity at almost all levels had helped reduce child marriage and illiteracy among women.  Health reforms had improved women’s access to reproductive health services.  The Government had enacted national action plans to eliminate trafficking in persons and to promote and protect women and children in social conflict areas, working with national human rights bodies in their implementation.

SAMIRA MERAI FRIAA, Minister for Women, Family and Childhood of Tunisia, said that her country valued equality between men and women and, in that regard, it truly appreciated the fifth goal of the 2030 Agenda.  The 2030 Agenda had been integrated into Tunisia’s 2016-2020 development plans.  Economic empowerment of women had been made a fundamental priority with a view to improving opportunities for women in the labour market.  Special attention was being given to women in rural areas and in border areas threatened by terrorists.  A national strategy to combat violence against women and girls had been implemented, with necessary services being provided to victims.  Utmost priority was given to peace and security, particularly in light of the transformations now under way in the Arab world.

AYANNA WEBSTER-ROY, Minister for State in the Office of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, said equal rights of men and women were guaranteed under the 1976 Constitution.  Further, relevant laws and policies were guided by a number of international and regional instruments, including the Women’s Convention and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women.  Welcoming the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, she noted that it defined strategic policy goals to be prioritized for national action over the next 15 years.  The health and well-being of all citizens, and the promotion and protection of their rights, were central to national sustainable development efforts, including poverty eradication initiatives.  To reduce and prevent violence against women and girls, the Government had enacted, reviewed and amended legislation and partnered with civil society organizations to provide a range of services to victims and survivors, including shelters, hotlines and counselling, workshops and grants.

PATRICIA KALIATI, Minister for Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare and Member of Parliament of Malawi, said the sixtieth session of the Commission came at a time when a plethora of global challenges were impacting women.  She described gender-related progress that had been achieved in her country, which had been due, among other things, to education and gender mainstreaming.  In addition, legislation was currently being reviewed with an eye to gender parity.  Maternal mortality rates had declined, as had the rates of mother-to-child HIV transmission and new HIV infection.  All Government sector heads of planning had been trained in gender-sensitive budgeting.

MANEKA SANJAY GANDHI, Minister for Women and Child Development of India, associating herself with the Group of 77, said her country had achieved gender parity in primary education, while the disparity in secondary education was falling fast.  Remarkable progress had been made in reducing maternal death, while nearly half of all elected representatives to local governing bodies were women.  Various laws addressed all forms of violence against women and girls in a comprehensive manner.  Last year a multisectoral programme was launched to overcome deep-seated bias against the girl child.  One-stop centres provided medical help, police assistance, legal aid and psycho-social counselling under one roof, while efforts were being made to make the police more gender-responsive and sensitized.

DOREEN SIOKA, Minister for Gender Equality and Child Welfare of Namibia, said gender equality, human rights and empowerment of women and girls were national priorities that were enshrined in the Constitution of her country.  Notable achievements included better provision of health services and increased representation of women in Parliament.  Primary and secondary education was free, while legislation was being enacted to make it easier for women to access resources for economic development.  The aim was for men and women, boys and girls, to benefit equally from economic development.  The current session of Parliament was amending a number of gender-related laws, including one that dealt with human trafficking.

NYASHA EUNICE ANNE CHIKWINYA, Minister for Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development of Zimbabwe, associated herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, saying her country’s Constitution explicitly provided for gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Although 29 per cent of women had acquired land, much remained to be done, given that 68 per cent of Zimbabwean women were farmers.  The Constitutional Court had banned child marriages after two young women who married before the age of 18 challenged the constitutionality of the Marriages Act.  The Government, through her Ministry, was pushing for a minimum prison sentence of 30 years for rapists, with life imprisonment for those who raped minors.  Climate change had a negative impact on rural women; it needed to be addressed with such measures as the introduction of drought-resistant crops and water conservation methods.

JULIA DUNCAN-CASSELL, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection of Liberia, associating herself with the Group of 77, said her Government had recently set in motion national processes aligned with its development agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.  Liberia’s successes in the Millennium Development Goals were reflected in the reduction of maternal and child mortality, girls’ education and women’s empowerment.  Listing a number of other achievements related to gender quality and women’s empowerment — including the launch of the second phase of the national sexual and gender-based violence programme — she went on to say that the Domestic Violence Act submitted to the national legislature would strengthen the safety of women and forbid female genital mutilation.

NANA OYE LITHUR, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection of Ghana, said women’s empowerment was not just a call for the protection of women’s human rights but also made good sustainable development sense.  “The opportunity to achieve sustainable development will be missed if the concerns of women, who constitute more than half of the global population, are not addressed”, she said.  Africa had made substantial progress towards the achievement of universal primary education, a high primary enrolment rate, improved girls’ enrolment and gender parity.  The continent was leading the world in terms of women’s representation in national parliaments.  Describing development progress made in her country — including the halving of poverty before the target date of 2015 — she went on to note a number of successes related specifically to gender equality and women’s empowerment.

ALEJANDRINA GERMAN, Minister for Women of the Dominican Republic, associating with the Group of 77, the Council of Ministers of Women, the Group of Friends of the Elderly, and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, said the launch of the 2030 Agenda recognized women’s diversity, human rights and the need for development.  Her country had recently ratified the ILO Convention protecting the labour rights of women.  It had made progress on women’s economic empowerment, including training thousands of women in marketable technical skills.  Legal sanctions and other measures had been put in place to protect female victims of violence, and a hotline to support victims had been set up.  Furthermore, the Centre for Sexual and Reproductive Health was set up in 2015.  To help achieve women’s goals related to the Agenda 2030, the Dominican Republic had a range of public policy tools to help solve the main challenges facing women and girls, and funds had been specifically allocated to target women’s issues.

CAMARA SANABA KABA, Minister for Social Action and the Advancement of Women and Children of Guinea, said that she was grateful for the solidarity of the women of the world when her country was dealing with Ebola.  Women in particular had been hit hard by the consequences of that crisis.  Several investors had left the country, including mining companies that had been a major source of financing for the State.  A slowdown in domestic and cross-border trade had had an adverse impact, and the agricultural sector, largely steered by women, had deteriorated.  International support was still needed in order to stabilize the economy for the benefit of all citizens, and particularly for women.

ERDENE SODNOMZUNDUI, Minister for Population Development and Social Protection of Mongolia, said that, under revisions to the Criminal Code in 2015, domestic violence — for the first time — had been criminalized, with stiff penalties for intentional homicide or for serious injuries inflicted on victims of such violence.  Under a draft labour law, employers had to provide working conditions that were free of discrimination, sexual harassment and abuse.  Increasing women’s participation in decision-making, ensuring inclusive economic growth and targeted social welfare were still pressing challenges, but the country was committed to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and to raising public awareness of gender issues.

ANA AMINTA MADRID, Minister for the National Institute for Women of Honduras, listed a number of successes her country had made in the areas of gender equality and empowerment.  Those included:  the adoption of a national programme for solidarity credit for rural women; the mainstreaming of a gender perspective into public policy; the adoption of a gender equity law and a law for women’s full employment; and affirmative action programmes.  The country had also taken actions aimed at increasing the employment of teenagers and supporting migrants and female-headed households.  In addition, a specialized unit dealing with femicide and a comprehensive care centre for survivors of gender-based violence had been established, and a campaign for the prevention of violence against women had been launched.

CAROLINE DINENAGE, Minister for Women, Equalities and Family Justice of the United Kingdom, said that, while progress had been made for women and girls around the world, “[women] are at the eye of the storm of conflict and repression, their bodies the focus of social and cultural battles and the object of aggression and contempt”.  Gender equality was at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals.  The United Kingdom had more women in work and more women-led businesses than ever before and it had reduced the gender pay gap to the lowest level ever.  However, economic freedom must go hand in hand with social freedom, in particular the right to live free from fear.  Last week, the country had launched a new cross-Government violence against women and girls strategy, which set out ambitious plans to prevent violence, support victims and take action against perpetrators.  That included tackling challenges facing women in the age of modern technology and social media.

PHẠM THỊ HẲI CHUYỂN, Minister for Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs of Viet Nam, said that her country had, in its quest for gender equality, learned to be aware of the needs and aspirations of women in the development process and to promote women’s empowerment in all areas.  However, many challenges remained.  There had been no decline in violence against women in girls.  In rural, mountainous and remote areas, outmoded customs and traditions persisted.  Climate change was having a negative impact on both men and women, and a number of social policies stood in the way of women’s participation in management and leadership positions.  Mainstreaming gender equality in legal documents was also a challenge.

MARGUS TSAHKNA, Minister for Social Protection of Estonia, associating himself with the European Union, said his country was committed to reducing the gender pay gap, preventing violence against women, promoting women’s rights and gender equality, and opening opportunities for women in information and communications technologies, an area in which it already stood out.  Digitalization created better educational opportunities for children in remote areas and in conflict situations.  Women and girls with Internet access could participate in society on more equal terms with men and make their voices more widely heard.  In Afghanistan, Estonia had been supporting a project that gave local women six months of information technology training, contributing to their economic empowerment and benefiting the community as a whole.

NOURA BINT MOHAMMED AL KAABI, Minister for Federal National Council Affairs of the United Arab Emirates, said the international community must commit to accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, particularly Sustainable Development Goal 5.  Women made up close to one third of her country’s Cabinet, she said, adding that national partners with strong institutions were critical to achieving progress.  Effective monitoring of the implementation of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals would be critical and provide an opportunity for States to share best practices.  Gender equality was critical to peaceful societies, she said, noting the rise of extremism and the related increase in violations of the human rights of women and girls.  Her State was committed to strengthening the capacity of countries worldwide in post-conflict development.

LAURENCE ROSSIGNOL, Minister for Families, Children and Women’s Rights of France, noting that more than 20 years had elapsed since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration, said that more remained to be done to promote and protect women’s human rights.  For example, violations continued to occur due to religious extremism and under the guise of cultural relativism.  Women were raped as a weapon of war or were reduced to slavery by groups such as Da’esh.  However, such violations were not limited to war zones.  Domestic violence, forced marriages and female genital mutilation occurred around the world.  All international agendas, including the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement, converged on the same goal:  upholding human rights.  There were an alarming number of unsafe abortions in places where the practice was banned, and States needed to eliminate legal barriers to safe abortions, especially in cases of rape or in the face of health threats such as the Zika virus.

YANIRA ARGUETA, Minister for Women of El Salvador, associating herself with the Central American Integration System and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said it was worth reflecting on the achievements that had been made.  Doing so would enable progress.  In her country, women were recognized as peacebuilders and drivers of good governance.  A specialized justice mechanism for women was being built, and measures to address violence against women would soon be adopted.  UN-Women had an important role to play in ensuring the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

SICILY KARIUKI, Cabinet Secretary for Public Service, Youth and Gender Affair