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Strong Social Protections, Food Systems Key to Ending Poverty, Hunger, Speakers Stress, as High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Continues

Beginning its review of progress made in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, the High-Level Political Forum today took an in‑depth look at country-level efforts to achieve the first two Goals on the eradication of poverty and hunger.

Tasked with evaluating progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Forum held two panel discussions today, followed by a thematic review, as it continued with its second annual session involving Government, private sector and civil society participants.

Decent work was critical to poverty reduction and universal social protections were a driver for reducing both poverty and inequality, stressed Deborah Greenfield, Deputy Director-General for Policy of the International Labour Organization (ILO), in the first panel discussion that took up Goal 1 on poverty eradication.  Underscoring the need for fair growth, she noted that, in some parts of the world, the informal economy represented about 80 per cent of all work, which pointed to the need for social protections.  Unpaid care work as a huge barrier for women trying to move out of poverty, she said, calling for policies that addressed the care economy, which would be critical to enabling women to join the labour market and move into jobs with decent working conditions.

Effective monitoring of the Goals required comparable data over time and across space, stressed Janet Gornick, a Professor of Political Science and Director of the Stone Center on Socioeconomic Inequality at the City University of New York.  Microdata with multiple dimensions and outcomes were needed, especially in middle- and low-income countries, she said, while emphasizing the importance of efforts aimed at making comparable microdata widely available for research and analysis.

In the day’s second panel discussion addressing Goal 2 on ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture, Esther Penunia, Secretary-General of the Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development, lamented that, despite producing as much as 70 per cent of its own food, Asia was home to the world’s poorest and hungriest people.  “We are hungry because we are poor,” she said, adding that eradicating hunger, poverty and malnutrition required a holistic approach to development that was socially just, environmentally sound and economically viable.  Policies and programmes were needed that promoted secured land rights, created easier access to financing and strengthened farmers’ position in value chains, she emphasized.

Privatization, reduced social spending, trade liberalization and growth‑driven development were being promoted as the magic wand to eradicate poverty everywhere, underlined Elizabeth Mpofu, General Coordinator of La Via Campesina in Zimbabwe.  Yet, those policies had created poverty in the first place.  She went on to highlight that solutions must come from the very people the Sustainable Development Goals were designed to help.

For the first time in many years, there was evidence that gains made in ending hunger were at risk due to conflict, climate change, and a lack of appropriate policies and investment, said the representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), speaking also on behalf of the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).  Just two years after the Goals were agreed, some 20 million people were at risk of famine, while millions more faced food insecurity.  Sustainable agriculture, resilience and productive food systems were needed, as well as a transformation of the rural economy that put smallholder farmers at the centre.

In the afternoon, the Forum conducted a thematic review on eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world, taking into account multi‑stakeholder perspectives.  Delivering a keynote address during that segment, Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, recalled that the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Goals were the result of a truly global, inclusive and transparent negotiation process, which had included civil society, the private sector, grass-roots actors and many others.

The type of broad participation that characterized the creation of the future development agenda would also be required in its implementation, he said, stressing that “having everyone on board is crucial”.  Also underlining the need to create a sense of ownership among those actors, he said people must realize that the Sustainable Development Goals were about their daily lives and that they had a role in implementing them.

The High-Level Political Forum will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 12 July, to continue its work.

Panel I

The first panel of the day was titled “review of implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 1 (end poverty in all its forms)”, and was moderated by Caroline Sanchez-Parama, World Bank, with Stefan Schweinfest, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, providing a statistical overview.  Panellists included Martin Ravallion, Edmond D. Villani Professor of Economics, Georgetown University; Yang Zhi, Mayor of Jingzhou, China; Yaw Ansu, Chief Economist, African Center for Economic Transformation, Ghana; and Janet Gornick, Professor, Political Science and Director, Stone Center on Socioeconomic Inequality, City University of New York.  The lead discussants were Deborah Greenfield, Deputy Director-General for Policy, International Labour Organization (ILO) and Wellington Chibebe, Deputy General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation.

Mr. SCHWEINFEST said that, despite progress, 750 million people still lived in extreme poverty.  He noted, however, that nearly 1 billion people had escaped poverty since 1999.  About half of the world’s poor lived in sub-Saharan Africa and among the working poor, young people were most likely to live in extreme poverty across all regions of the world.  Social protection coverage varied and did not reach many vulnerable populations, he said, noting that less than half of the world’s population was covered by at least one social protection scheme.  Only 30 per cent of children, 41 per cent of women giving birth and 68 per cent of people above retirement age were covered by some form of social protection.

Ms. SANCHEZ-PARAMA noted that, although there had been progress over the last 10 to 15 years in eradicating poverty, almost 800 million people continued to live in depravation, which was unacceptable in a world that had the means to end extreme poverty.  The extreme poor were concentrated in particular households and regions of the world, many of which were located in rural areas and worked in agriculture.  More than half of the extreme poor were children and most had little to no education.  Further, the majority of extremely poor people lived in places that were prone to natural disasters or in fragile or conflict-affected States.  She expressed concern that the risks of climate change could result in an additional 100 million people living in poverty by 2030.

Mr. RAVALLION said that there had been good overall progress against absolute poverty, but there were continuing challenges in reducing relative poverty and making sure that “no one is left behind”.  Poorer countries had relied less on direct interventions against poverty, as economic growth had done the bulk of the work, which was a dynamic that may need to change.  Poverty measurements focused exclusively on absolute poverty, which was not consistent with social thought and the aims of social policies.  There needed to be lower and upper bounds on global poverty measures that took into account the country in which people lived.  In other words, richer countries should have higher poverty lines and vice versa when measuring poverty in developing countries.  There had been progress in the number of people who were absolutely poor, although less progress in the number of people who were relatively poor.

Mr. YANG highlighted that, by the end of 2016, the impoverished population in Jingzhou under the absolute poverty level had dropped from about 409,000 to 156,000 people.  He stressed that, to end poverty, it was necessary to boost confidence and establish a mechanism of joint cooperation among all sectors of society.  An important characteristic of poverty alleviation in China was the wide mobilization of all sectors.  Further, ending poverty required greater efforts to improve infrastructure.  In that context, infrastructure investment had been increased in China with an aim of enhancing the availability of safe drinking water and improving the power grid.  Increasing income was a fundamental building block of reducing poverty.  Development was the key to solving all social problems and the most effective solution to ending poverty, which was ultimately, the Government’s responsibility.

Mr. ANSU pointed out that agriculture contributed about 30 per cent of Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP), although that varied across countries.  It was clear that improving agricultural productivity would have a strong impact on poverty reduction, while also helping to improve food security.  Further, agriculture provided a major contribution to exports and foreign exchange that financed imports of other economic sectors.  Close to 60 per cent of the world’s uncultivated, arable land was in Africa, while the continent’s year-round sunshine and youthful population provided opportunities.  However, access to land and the lack of security of tenure was a challenge, as was low productivity and the lack of profitability in farming, which meant that that youth often were not attracted to work in agriculture.  It would be important to improve the production of key staples and product diversification, while also leveraging agriculture to drive industrialization.

Ms. GORNICK noted that poverty rates varied considerably among affluent countries and among countries of similar levels of economic development.  For example, the United States had a much higher level of poverty than the United Kingdom, despite similar levels of economic development.  Effective monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals required comparable data over time and across space.  It also called for disaggregation, which required microdata.  Income was one measure of well-being.  Microdata with multiple dimensions and outcomes were needed, especially in middle- and low-income countries.  Supranational and national investments in high-quality microdata were crucial.  Equally important were efforts aimed at making comparable microdata widely available for research and analysis.  Complementing high-quality microdata with national and subnational macrodata on corresponding policies and institutions was needed for effective policy analysis.

Ms. GREENFIELD said that focusing on relative poverty meant that poverty was recognized as a global phenomenon.  By examining the situation of some middle‑income countries, it was evident that poverty was directly related to inequality, which was, in turn, related to stagnant wages.  Decent work was critical to poverty reduction and universal social protections were a driver for reducing both poverty and inequality.  It was not only about growth, but, really, it was about fair growth.  Global supply chains could be engines of growth, but did not necessarily equate to good jobs.  In some parts of the world, the informal economy represented about 80 per cent of all work.  In those places, social protections were of key importance.  Another area that needed to be better understood concerned the movement of people, as they moved from rural areas to more developed cities.  Policies that addressed the care economy would be critical to enabling women to join the labour market and to move into jobs with decent working conditions.  Unpaid care work was a huge barrier to moving women out of poverty.

Mr. CHIBEBE recalled that it was commonly understood that job creation was critical to ending poverty, although the reality was that poverty must be addressed through the creation of quality jobs compounded with social protections, better working conditions and democratic decision-making processes.  Trade unions believed that ending poverty required access to decent livelihoods, whereby workers were adequately compensated.  Minimum wages should be living wages and established through rule-setting processes with the direct involvement of social partners, including workers and employer organizations.  Workers should have the right to organize, join trade unions and negotiate wages and compensation.  Quality public services formed the cornerstone of efforts to end poverty.  Austerity measures must be thoroughly discussed, because if they were left to Governments alone, they would cripple efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Indonesia noted that his country had undertaken serious efforts to address the needs of the most vulnerable by expanding financial inclusion and the availability of universal health coverage, among other efforts.  The representative of Maldives emphasized that the combination of the effects of climate change, natural disasters and isolated locations kept many small island developing States such as hers unable to move forward with poverty eradication.  In that context, she stressed that such States remained a special case when it came to sustainable development.  The representative of Kenya noted that her country was implementing a national social safety net programme to improve the well-being of people in the country, particularly those who could not meet their basic needs.

Mr. ANSU noted that one challenge that remained was how to intensify agricultural production, such as through the use of fertilizers, without damaging the environment.  Mr. RAVALLION recalled that developing countries were reducing poverty at a much faster rate than developed countries had a century ago.  Mr. YANG noted the targeted solutions that had been put in place in his city to alleviate poverty, which were tailored to the varying conditions, both on the individual and household levels.  Ms. GORNICK said her work had shown that there were many statistical offices lacking data capacity, both in terms of fielding surveys and in preparing the data for use by Government policymakers.

The representatives of Azerbaijan, Switzerland and China also delivered statements.

Also participating was a representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization.

A speaker from the children and youth major group also spoke.

Panel II

Moderated by Gerda Verburg, Coordinator, Scaling-Up Nutrition Movement, the second panel, titled “review of implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 2 (end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture)”, included panellists Esther Penunia, Secretary General, Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development, and Elizabeth Mpofu, General Coordinator, La Via Campesina, Zimbabwe.

Eugenio Diaz-Bonilla, Head of the Latin American and Caribbean Programme, International Food Policy Research Institute; Meena Bilgi, Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resources Management; and Patrick Caron, Chair, High Level Panel of Experts, United Nations Committee on World Food Security, were lead discussants.

Ms. PENUNIA said Asia produced as much as 70 per cent of its own food, yet it was home to the world’s poorest and hungriest people.  “We are hungry because we are poor,” she said.  Eradicating hunger, poverty and malnutrition required a holistic approach to development that was socially just, environmentally sound and economically viable.  Policies and programmes were needed that promoted secured land rights, easier access to financing, strengthened farmers’ position in value chains, and investment in roads, electricity, health care and education, among other things.  Affirmative action would promote gender equality in agriculture, she said, emphasizing also a need for better macrotrade policies.  She went on to say that transforming agriculture would require that family farmers be viewed not as victims and beneficiaries, but as agents and partners for sustainable development.

Ms. MPOFU said privatization, reduced social spending, trade liberalization and growth-driven development were being promoted as the magic wand to eradicate poverty everywhere.  However, for her organization, those policies had created poverty in the first place.  Such alternatives as food sovereignty, agroecology and popular and integral agrarian reforms were being ignored.  Solutions must come from the very people the Sustainable Development Goals were supported to help, she said, describing poverty as the direct outcome of extreme wealth accumulation by a few people.  Now was the time for real structural transformation, to end business as usual, and to reverse inequality and unfair power relations.

Mr. DIAZ-BONILLA, emphasizing the need to separate countries in conflict situations from those that were not, said that helping the poor and hungry meant going directly to the poor and hungry.  Social safety nets would help, he said, noting that they cost less than 0.1 per cent of global GDP.  Other issues included the political economy of the food system, food labelling, women’s empowerment and consumers who were not doing all they could to lead healthy lives.

Ms. BILGI, noting a decline in public investment in agriculture, said transformative change in food and agriculture was necessary.  That meant moving beyond increasing production without negative social and environmental impacts.   Small-scale producers, who made up the vast majority of food producers worldwide, must be empowered, she said, adding that emphasis must be placed on promoting the equitable sharing of opportunities for women farmers.  In India, she said hunger was approached mainly as a rural phenomenon and a question of food scarcity.  The emerging challenge of rapid urbanization — and a growing disconnect between food and nutrition — needed to be identified.

Mr. CARON suggested that the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development be addressed by looking at food systems as a lever.  A revolution was needed, not just incremental change, of the same magnitude of the green revolution.  Agriculture would be a game changer if transformation was considered within the wider perspective of food systems.  He went on to call for a “rainbow revolution” that entailed local innovations for improving resource efficiency, strengthening resilience and security social responsibility, alongside international frameworks such as the Paris Agreement on climate change and national policies to ensure the right to food.

In the ensuing discussion, delegations discussed their countries’ and organization’s efforts towards implementing Goal 2.

The representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), speaking also on behalf of the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said that, for the first time in many years, there was evidence that gains made in ending hunger were at risk due to conflict, climate change, and a lack of appropriate policies and investment.  Some 20 million people lived at risk of famine, while millions more faced food security, just two years after the Goals were agreed.  Sustainable agriculture, resilience and productive food systems were needed, as well as a transformation of the rural economy that put smallholder farmers at the centre.

The representative of Finland said gender equality was absolutely crucial, given that women comprised 43 per cent of the agricultural work force in developing countries.  She cited a study that concluded that empowering women farmers could prompt a 20 to 30 per cent increase in farm yields while improving the security of their families and reducing by 100 million the overall number of people living in hunger.

The representative of the World Bank Group drew attention to the work of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme, which had delivered $1.5 billion since it was created by the Group of 20, known as the G20, in 2009.  At the country level, bringing technical and financial stakeholders together produced much better results.  She added that it was very important for reforms to be recipient-led, rather than coming out of an office in Washington, D.C.  She went on to quote a farmer she had met in Manila who said:  “No farmer, no food, no future.”

The representative of Indonesia said his country had made promising progress in providing better nutrition for its people, but much more needed to be done.  Emphasizing the strong link between food security, poverty and health, as well as education, he said an integrated policy approach could ensure that food accessibility and availability were addressed effectively.  Intensifying agricultural research and development might be an answer, he said.

The representative of Sudan, speaking as a member of the Committee on World Food Security, said ending hunger and achieving food security would require, among other things, raising smallholders’ incomes and securing their access to markets.  Sustainable food systems with strong accountable institutions and responsible investments were also required, she said, emphasizing as well the need to prioritize women’s empowerment.

The representative of the United States said recent events had reinforced how vulnerable the world remained to food insecurity.  A global response was needed, she said, describing the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as an overlooked humanitarian crisis.  Emphasizing the importance of preventative action, she said bridging the gap between humanitarian action and development was vital.  She went on to note that discussions were under way on better indicators for measuring progress on Goal 2.

The representative of Chile underscored the value of cooperation with other countries to promote successful ways to tackle malnutrition.  She added that childhood obesity — which was related to poverty and inequality — had not been overcome, and explained her country’s implementation of food labelling regulations.  Reducing malnutrition would require incorporating economic aspects.

The representative of the European Union said sustainability was prominently reflected in the Common Agricultural Policy, in line with the 2030 Agenda.  European Union rules stipulated that farmers could only get European Union support if they accepted a basic layer of environmental regulations.  The Common Agricultural Policy was currently being modernized and simplified, with input from a just-completed public consultation.  Turning to external action, he said the European Union and its member States would continue to extend support to those facing acute food crises.

Also speaking were representatives of South Africa, Argentina, Finland, Benin, France and China.

Representatives of the food and agriculture cluster of the non-governmental organization major group and the stakeholder group for persons with disabilities also took the floor.

Panel III

This afternoon, the Forum held a two-part panel discussion on the theme “eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world:  multi‑stakeholder perspectives”.  The first segment focused on the views of major groups and other stakeholders on challenges and pathways to the achievement of those goals.  Luisa Emilia Reyes Zuñiga, Co-Chair of the Major Groups and Other Stakeholders High-Level Political Forum Coordination Mechanism, delivered opening remarks, followed by a keynote address by Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General in the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  Moderated by Maruxa Cardama of Cities Alliance, it featured eight panellists:  Wellington Chibebe, Deputy General Secretary, International Trade Union (ITU) Confederation, workers and trade unions major group; Sehnaz Kiymaz, President, Women for Women’s Human Rights — New Ways, women’s major group; Louise Kantrow, Permanent Representative to the United Nations, International Chamber of Commerce, business and industry major group; Luis Miguel Etchevehere, President, Sociedad Rural Argentina, farmers major group; Verity McGivern, HelpAge International, stakeholder group on ageing; Jose Maria Viera, International Disability Alliance, persons with disabilities; Roberto Bissio, Social Watch, financing for development civil society group; and Katarina Popovic, Secretary-General, International Council for Adult Education, education and academia stakeholder group.

Ms. REYES opened the discussion, noting that her experience with a small women’s organization in Mexico had demonstrated the power of collective participation.  In its short life so far, the Major Groups and Other Stakeholders High-Level Political Forum Coordination Mechanism had already agreed on a set of core principles, including abiding by the United Nations Charter, ensuring progress and human rights for all, and promoting the well-being of all people on a healthy planet.  Spotlighting the role of women’s human rights defenders in particular, she said the session would provide a platform for representatives of all major groups to be heard.

Mr. WU said the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Goals were the results of a truly global, inclusive and transparent negotiation process, which had included civil society, the private sector, grass-roots actors and many others.  As a result, the agenda was the most innovative and transformative in the history of the United Nations.  That kind of broad participation would also be required in its implementation, he said, stressing that “having everyone on board is crucial”.  Also underlining the need to create a sense of ownership among those actors, he said people must realize that the Sustainable Development Goals were about their daily lives and that they had a role in implementing them.  Emphasizing the importance of the participation of the major groups at the Forum, he told participants that their presence today could help build the necessary coherence to achieve development and other international targets, especially by building awareness among their constituencies and creating connections with those working on concrete projects on the ground.

Ms. CARDAMA, noting that major groups and other stakeholders represented a cross section of civil society, said the Forum would have been “blatantly incomplete” without their participation.  Indeed, the statements delivered today would provide a “reality check” in the 2030 Agenda’s implementation and spotlight the spirit of partnership that would be critical to its achievement.  Panellists would focus in particular on identifying cross-cutting challenges and lessons learned in building coherence among various sectors in achieving development goals.

Mr. CHIBEBE highlighted the active involvement of the world’s trade unions in achieving sustainable development, including through the production of a targeted report.  Noting that today’s development challenges could be overcome through inclusiveness, transparency and dialogue, he said that Sustainable Development Goal 3 on occupational health and safety could only be reached if the rights of workers were respected.  Drawing attention to the findings of the ILO Global Wage Report 2017, which revealed that increased minimum wages had the potential to reduce inequalities with no significant impact on overall job creation, he went on to note that women’s unpaid work constituted an estimated $10 trillion around the world annually.  He also stressed the need to advocate for the rights of informal workers, migrant workers, ethnic minorities and the disabled, and to enable collective bargaining.

Ms. KIYMAZ, pointing out that all eight individuals who held the most economic wealth in the world were men, underscored the need to overcome that “obscene” concentration of wealth and to end the deeply entrenched systemic barriers against women.  Describing the work of various civil society actors in that regard — including women’s organizations in Turkey working to provide support to women and girls disproportionately affected by conflict — she said the 2030 Agenda should provide new opportunities for connections and partnerships aimed at ensuring that no one was left behind.  She called for support to help amplify the voices of women’s and feminist organizations in the 2030 Agenda’s monitoring, stressing that women’s human rights defenders had to be able to work in an environment free from threats and harassment in order to bring the agenda to people on the ground.

The representative of Kenya, serving as a Member State respondent, spotlighted the importance of international cooperation in global trade, official development assistance (ODA) and foreign direct investment (FDI) in the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.  However, there were many challenges in those financial flows, including the prevalence of illegal tax evasion and mispricing of products, which led to a situation “where Africa ends up supporting the West” through subsidies.  Also highlighting the importance of good governance, he added that without the appropriate inclusion and participation of women, youth, the poor, the working class, indigenous people and others, the international community would lack the drive necessary to achieve the 2030 Agenda’s various targets.

Ms. KANTROW said the business and industry major group had established the “Global Business Alliance for 2030”, which brought together a number of partners committed to the 2030 Agenda’s implementation.  Among other things, business was a major driver of growth and a provider of decent jobs, she said, noting that many companies had already taken the Goals on board and begun to incorporate them into their practices.  Many already regularly reported on environmental sustainability, she added, noting that the business community looked forward to participating as an active, engaged partner in the Forum’s various monitoring and review processes.

Mr. ETCHEVEHERE said agriculture was the primary sector in many economies, and was responsible for guaranteeing food security — and therefore life — for people around the world.  It also provided job and development opportunities to women, men and young people, and contributed to building national GDP.  Describing the agricultural community’s long history of collective organization, including with other sectors, he expressed its commitment to the achievement of the Goals.  Innovation could support mechanization in the fields and improve market practices, he said, adding that it was only when farmers received appropriate remuneration for their work that economies functioned properly.  Sustainable agriculture required increased crop rotation, he said, adding that mixed agricultural systems based on a combination of crop and livestock farming would be critical to achieving sustainable development.

Ms. MCGIVERN said many of the changes taking place in the world today resulted from the fact that people were living longer lives.  Stressing that older persons had an equal right to development, she called for a better understanding of the significant barriers they faced.  Such barriers ranged from inadequate access to health and care services, increased gender discrimination in older age and a lack of relevant data, she said, calling for social protection floors based on schemes designed to do more than meet their basic needs.  Indeed, national development policies and other relevant structures must protect and promote the rights of older persons and do more to ensure their active participation in decision-making processes.

The representative of Indonesia, also speaking as a Member State respondent, said that, despite the decline in extreme poverty, 786 million people worldwide remained undernourished.  Governments could not lift people out of poverty alone, he said, calling for strong initiative on the part of every major stakeholder group.  Among other things, he also called for progress in several specific areas, including better interconnectedness; more strategic interventions; increased incentives in the form of subsidies, tax relief or other resources; innovation, science and technology; and international cooperation with major groups and other stakeholders, non-governmental organizations and many other actors.

Mr. VIERA, introducing a report produced by the persons with disabilities major group whose goal was to evaluate the challenges related to eradicating poverty, as well as to spotlight the role of the group in the 2030 Agenda monitoring process, outlined the range of challenges faced by persons with disabilities around the world.  They continued to experience violations of their most basic human rights, such as lack of participation, denial of their property rights and even institutionalization.  “We cannot deny that the many economic austerity programmes imposed by States have not only expelled large groups of the population, but also put persons with disabilities at even greater risk,” he stressed, adding that the voluntary national reviews had, in many cases, failed to be inclusive of the needs of persons with disabilities.

Mr. BISSIO, noting that the civil society financing for development groups comprised hundreds of organizations around the world and cut across all other major groups, described its work to make the financing for development process credible, open, accountable and relevant.  “Vision without implementation is a hallucination,” he said, urging States to go beyond their focus on ODA, which was hampered by illicit financial flows and many other challenges.  International collaboration was needed to enable Governments — rich and poor — to raise their own taxes.  Tax collaboration at the United Nations remained an “open agenda” as it had not been possible.  Underlining the important principle of “do no harm”, he said the resources required to achieve sustainable development currently existed, but were allocated to such things as military expenditures and fossil fuels subsidies.

Ms. POPOVIC, pointing to a “crisis of values” around the world that could be changed through education, drew attention to a number of examples of the contribution of education and life-long learning to the 2030 Agenda’s implementation.  Those included poverty alleviation through vocational training; the reduction of harmful practices, such as early marriage, gender-based violence and discriminatory laws; and improvements in the use of clean water and renewable energies.  However, many obstacles existed, including the freezing of education budgets in countries such as Brazil, rules prohibiting pregnant girls from going to school and a shrinking space for civil society.  Leaving no one behind meant that everyone — regardless of sex, age, nation or religion — had access to quality, affordable education.

The representative of the Netherlands, also participating as a Member State respondent, recalled that his country had hosted international public service forum in June, from which several recommendations had emerged.  Participants at that meeting had called on Governments to be more innovative, avoid working in silos and show more integrity and transparency.  They had also highlighted the importance of multi-stakeholder participation and respect for diversity in the coordination of Sustainable Development Goal implementation.

The representative of the Climate Action Network, noting that climate change was “front and centre” in the 2030 Agenda, urged Member States to include that issue in their national reporting, he invited them to work with the Network in the implementation of the Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change and voiced his hope that climate change would be reflected in the Forum’s outcome document.

The representative of the indigenous peoples major group called on Governments to prioritize respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and small-scale farmers in their implementation efforts, especially by protecting and promoting their land tenure rights.

Naiara Costa of Together 2030 moderated the second part of the panel, titled “leaving no one behind:  ensuring an enabling environment for effective major groups and other stakeholders implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals”.  That segment featured presentations by Saul Zenteno Bueno, President, Fundación Manatí para el Fomento de la Ciudadanía, children and youth major group; Rosalea Hamilton, Founder and President, Institute for Law and Economics, and Vice-President of Community Service and Development and Professor, University of Technology, Jamaica, non-governmental organizations major group; James O’Brien, volunteer groups; Jan Van Zanen, Mayor of Utrecht and President, Association of Dutch Municipalities, local authorities major group; John Patrick Ngoyi of World Vision, on behalf of Together 2030; and Keikabile Mogodio,  indigenous peoples major group.

Mr. BUENO said children and youth had a critical role in implementing the 2030 Agenda and Member States were the duty bearers.  Highlighting a sample of related youth activities, he said target areas included policymaking, advocacy, capacity-building and knowledge-sharing.  For instance, he said, youth had worked with Governments in many countries in drafting national reviews and with awareness-raising campaigns.  Sharing best practices had enabled communities to adopt the Goals and foster context-responsive implementation efforts.  From climate change in Indonesia to food security in the United Republic of Tanzania, efforts were addressing issues related to the 2030 Agenda.  To ensure further progress, youth must have a platform and relevant mechanisms to be able to play their role, he said.

Ms. HAMILTON said universities, State agencies and non-governmental organizations in Jamaica were working together towards common goals.  One such example was a three-year USAID project that had begun prior to the 2030 Agenda’s adoption.  Executed by the University of Jamaica, the initiative addressed gender‑based violence and human trafficking and had now targeted those left further behind.  Underlining the central importance of Goal 16, she said a participatory budget approach was being used to craft community-based efforts to foster meaningful and sustainable solutions.  Taking note of several recommendations, she emphasized the importance of increased public education to change systemic barriers to eradicating poverty.

Mr. O’BRIEN said volunteers were promoting and fostering progress on implementing the 2030 Agenda by helping to extend the reach of efforts to ensure that no one was left behind.  Citing a range of examples, he said projects included awareness-raising and reducing the spread of HIV and AIDS.  Local and international volunteers were working with faith leaders to reduce gender-based violence.  The power of volunteers demonstrated a successful partnership with Governments.  Most importantly, volunteers wanted to share their experiences on working towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  Supporting strategies and volunteers’ work was needed, he said, calling on Governments to consider how volunteers were contributing to the 2030 Agenda and how their work was reflected in voluntary national reviews.

The representative of Slovenia said youth were significant contributors to achieving the targets set out in the 2030 Agenda.  Slovenia had created a strategy to address needs including education and jobs.  Voluntarism was a critical component that helped Government programmes and represented a visible sign of partnership among parts of society, he said, emphasizing that strong partnerships depended on creating an enabling environment.

Mr. VAN ZANEN said that more than 400,000 local and regional governments were presenting voluntary national reviews to the Forum, representing their ability to reach a total of 5.2 billion people.  As Mayor of Utrecht, he said the Goals had been part of an agenda for the entire city, which was exchanging experiences with others through the Municipality4GlobalGoals campaign.  “Full ownership of the Agenda at a local level is decisive,” he said, adding that the local and regional Governments were working on implementing the Goals at the local level.  National Governments needed to recognize that role and involve them in setting priorities for achievement.  Local governments around the world needed to be strengthened and required the legal and fiscal space to address poverty, inequality and other challenges in an integrated manner.

Mr. NGOYI said promises must transform into action, budget allocation and implementation.  Participation of all stakeholders was imperative, as it allowed the expertise and contributions of all groups to speed up and enhance the quality of delivery on the Goals.  Enabling civil spaces created opportunities for the poorest and most disadvantaged to engage in decisions that affected their lives while addressing challenges and devising strategies for solving them.  Unfortunately, since the 2030 Agenda’s adoption, the political landscape in many countries had been creating environments that hindered participation, silenced voices and oppressed diversity, he said, asking Member States and the Economic and Social Council’s President to establish clear and meaningful mechanism that went beyond online platforms to collect, publicize and analyse reports on contributions by civil society and stakeholders at all levels.

Mr. MOGODIO said that, while indigenous peoples made up 5 per cent of the world’s population, they represented 15 per cent of the poor, largely due to historical and continuous disrespect of identities linked to lands, territories and resources.  Mainstream development approaches and business-as-usual practices were fuelling unequal economic growth, devastating ecosystems and entrenching social injustice.  Those underlying causes of poverty were being compounded by exclusion from decision-making processes, as was the case in the voluntary national review process in many countries, including his, Botswana.  The lack of a legal identity and recognition of collective rights were major barriers to effectively participating and full contributing to sustainable development.  “Unless this is addressed, we will continue to be marginalized and excluded,” he said, urging Member States to prioritize legal recognition of land tenure of indigenous peoples, ensure policy cohesion and balanced implementation of human rights-based sustainable development, and ensure the full, effective participation of marginalized groups.

The representative of Sweden provided examples of current efforts to engage with non-governmental actors, emphasizing that “the 2030 Agenda will not be fulfilled if we do not work together”.  Indeed, the Government did not have the knowledge to accomplish goals alone, she said.  In submitting its national review, Sweden had included contributions from a range of partners, including the private sector, civil society and academia.  A committee representing various multisector actors had been assigned to inform and hold dialogue with the “breadth of society” and had proposed drafting a Swedish action plan on how to realize the 2030 Agenda.

In the ensuing interactive discussion, participants stressed that inclusion was key, as emphasized by speakers from civil society groups representing the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people’s caucus and faith-based organizations.  A speaker representing women’s land tenure rights called for changes to legislation that would recognize challenges and advance progress for females.  A representative of the persons with disabilities major group emphasized the varied contributions that could be made by all members of society.

Some speakers discussed implementation plans, including the representative of Mexico, who said a governmental working group had been drafting strategies that addressed all of the 2030 Agenda’s targets.

Private sector involvement offered vast possibilities, said a speaker representing the businesses major group.  The private sector could help in areas such as distributing food to reach the hungry, he said.

Representatives of Botswana and the Netherlands agreed with taking local approaches to implementing the 2030 Agenda, emphasizing that sharing experiences among towns and cities could foster more progress on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

News

Poverty Cannot Be Measured by Income Alone, Participants Tell Economic and Social Council as 2017 Integration Segment Opens

Former Malawi President Says Most of World’s 760 Million Poor People Live in Africa, Likely to Be Young, Female

Describing poverty as a multi-dimensional phenomenon that could not be measured by income alone, several speakers said today that the structural factors keeping people poor were often missing from policymaking.

As the Economic and Social Council opened its three-day 2017 integration segment, they commended its theme — “Making eradication of poverty an integral objective of all policies: what will it take?” and welcomed the progress made over the past several decades, including the lifting of more than 1 billion people out of poverty.  Maternal health had improved, child-mortality rates were down and the spread of HIV had slowed in many parts of the world, and the biggest challenge now was the effective and coordinated implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which would have a positive impact on the lives of the 800 million people still living on less than $2 a day.

Delivering a keynote address, Joyce Banda, a former President of Malawi, pointed out that most of the 760 million people living below the poverty line around the globe were in sub-Saharan Africa.  Most of the continent’s poor people were young and likely to be female, she added, noting that women were more likely to produce, harvest, store, process and cook food, “but they eat last and least”.  If current trends continued, most African youth would grow up uneducated, unhealthy, unemployed and frustrated, she warned.

Perhaps surprisingly, having a job did not necessarily mean a ticket out of poverty because Africa continued to have the world’s highest rate of “working poverty”, she said, referring to employed people still living below the poverty line.  With the planet’s highest levels of child malnutrition, maternal mortality and other preventable health challenges, what Africa needed was integrated policy that would address the multitude of challenges confronting it, she emphasized, urging greater investment in the continent’s young and female populations.  Describing them as “untapped but potentially explosive wellsprings of human capital”, she stressed the need to pay more attention to girls up to the age of 10 years since the current focus on adolescent girls over the age of 14 years was coming “too late”.

Also delivering a keynote address was Muhammad Amjad Saqib, former general manager of Pakistan’s Punjab Rural Support Programme, calling for an integrated approach that would make eradicating poverty a major part of all policymaking.  Pakistan’s poverty-eradication agenda aimed for inclusive and sustainable economic growth focused on education, health and better living standards, he said.  Education remained the most powerful tool for lifting people out of poverty, he said.

If microcredit could be provided without interest, education could be provided without cost, he emphasized.  The Government was taking a holistic approach, with newly constituted bodies focusing on income support, a fund to oversee poverty reduction as well as education and health insurance schemes.  “We are aware of the need to move from universal subsidies to well-designed and targeted solutions.”  Innovative models, based on a participatory approach to development, were critical, he said, stressing the role of microcredit loans dispersed among 1.8 million families across Pakistan.  “This is all about empowerment and self-reliance,” he said.

Chernor Bah, Youth Representative from Sierra Leone and Chair of the High-Level Steering Committee of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative, also delivered a keynote speech, saying education had brought hope and helped transform his life out of poverty.  Tackling poverty in a sustainable and integrated way would require re-examining and deconstructing the current design of the global economic system, which advantaged business over labour, he emphasized.

However, ending poverty would not result from policy change in Sierra Leone, he said, calling for a global education revolution that would finally end illiteracy, among other things.  Such a revolution must also activate a global civil society committed to the defining values of the United Nations.  Underlining the need to focus on empowering girls, he said a girl born in Sierra Leone today would have only a one in ten chance to make it through secondary school, adding that one in five girls would marry by age 15.  “Her school has no female teachers, she has no mentors,” he said, also pointing out that, because there was no contraception, the young girl would be likely to have children at a very young age.  Those children would in turn probably have poor nutrition and no opportunity to attend school, thereby continuing a cycle of poverty.

Delivering opening remarks Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed said that eradicating extreme poverty remained a deeply entrenched and intergenerational challenge.  Recalling her first-hand experience, as Nigeria’s Environment Minister, of the many challenges to implementation of the 2030 Agenda, she emphasized the crucial need to bring various sectors and stakeholders together and to build synergies while prioritizing the marginalized.  “The most vulnerable of our people count on our efforts,” she added.

Also delivering opening remarks were Nabeel Munir (Pakistan), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, and Masud bin Momen (Bangladesh), Vice-President of the General Assembly.

The Economic and Social Council held two panel discussions titled, respectively, “An integrated agenda towards achieving SDG 1” and “Policy integration across borders”.

Speaking during the general discussion this afternoon were representatives of Viet Nam, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador (for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Ecuador (for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Turkey (also for Mexico, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Turkey and Australia), Grenada (on behalf of the Community of Caribbean Community), Philippines, Tajikistan, South Africa, Brazil, Ethiopia and Mexico, as well as the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The Economic and Social Council will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 9 May, to continue its Integration Segment.

Opening Statements

NABEEL MUNIR (Pakistan), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), welcomed the theme for the 2017 session, “Making eradication of poverty an integral objective of all policies: what will it take?”  Highlighting the magnitude of change around the world over the last several decades, he noted that 1 billion people had been lifted out of extreme poverty and the numbers of working middle class people in developing countries had almost tripled.  There had also been a dramatic decline in the number of preventable child deaths, maternal health had improved nearly everywhere, and HIV infections had fallen in many parts of the world.  However, such results concealed significant differences at the regional and national levels, he cautioned, pointing out that more than 800 million people around the globe still lived on less than $2 a day, and that important gaps in progress remained.

He went on to describe the interconnected nature of the three dimensions of sustainable development as a central feature of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adding that such interlinkages unveiled potential synergies and trade-offs.  The current three-day segment aimed to provide policy guidance in promoting the balanced integration of all aspects of sustainable development.  Poverty was a complex and multidimensional phenomenon that must be addressed in all its dimensions, he said, emphasizing the need for special attention to particular opportunities and challenges in Africa, which was home to the majority of least developed countries.  The segment intended to address the roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders, and to review how innovative partnerships could contribute to innovative policymaking, he added.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh), Vice-President of the General Assembly, delivered a statement on behalf of the President, stressing that success in development had not been shared universally.  Sub-Saharan Africa remained home to hundreds of millions of people still living in extreme poverty, he pointed out, adding that efforts to ensure sustainability were critical to safeguarding hard-won gains.  All stakeholders must engage in new ways of thinking, partnering and financing in order to meet challenges on the ground, he said, underlining the need to sharpen the focus on sustainable poverty eradication so as to scale up system-wide implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.  

It was also important to consider ways in which to enhance coordination between development and peace, at Headquarters and in the field, he continued.  The United Nations, civil society, the private sector and community groups must come together to engage women, young people and minority groups.  It was also important to ensure that the United Nations development system was fit for the purpose of addressing the challenges of implementing the 2030 Agenda.  The international community had a critical role to play in that regard, including by delivering official development assistance (ODA) commitments in full.  There could be no sustainable development without sustainable peace, and vice versa, he emphasized.  “We must achieve a future that is safe and prosperous for all.”

AMINA J. MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that the integration segment’s theme brought to the fore a defining question for the years ahead and would help the Council provide crucial insights for the 2030 Agenda’s implementation.  Eradicating poverty in all its forms and manifestations, particularly extreme poverty, remained the single greatest global challenge, she emphasized, noting that many of those who had escaped it still lived just above the poverty line.  The challenge remained deeply entrenched and intergenerational, and it would remain critical to address the multidimensional nature of poverty, especially its links to climate change, food insecurity and the sluggish and unpredictable global economy. 

Recalling her first-hand experience, as Nigeria’s Environment Minister, of the many challenges to implementation of the 2030 Agenda, she emphasized the crucial need for an integrated and comprehensive approach, bringing various sectors and stakeholders together and building synergies while prioritizing the marginalized and vulnerable.  The Council’s discussions would offer an opportunity to expand the knowledge and experience base available for implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  “Our ambition must be to match the ambition of the Agenda that Member States have set,” she stressed.  Welcoming the United Nations development system’s recent efforts in that regard, she said the Economic and Social Council’s discussions “can further these efforts”, including by providing guidance to the High-Level Political Forum and by helping countries to develop integrated, holistic policy approaches.  “The most vulnerable of our people count on our efforts,” she emphasized, urging the international community to shoulder its collective responsibility in that regard.

Keynote Addresses

JOYCE BANDA, member, Club de Madrid, and former President of Malawi, emphasized the importance of maintaining inclusion and poverty eradication “as our guiding compasses” throughout the 2030 Agenda’s implementation.  Pointing out that the majority of the 760 million people living below the poverty line globally resided in sub-Saharan Africa, and that 80 per cent of those lived in rural areas or worked in agriculture, she said most of the continent’s poor people were young and likely to be female.  Unlocking gender equality and empowering youth would therefore be critical to eradicating poverty, she said, calling for strategic as well as all-inclusive sustainable development policies.

Indeed, she continued, women across the world were more likely to produce, harvest, store, process and cook food, “but they eat last and least”.  Outlining the work of the National Association of Business Women she had founded in 1989, she emphasized that “we cannot impose solutions” and leaders must instead support efforts by communities to empower themselves.  By 1999, 73 per cent of the Association’s beneficiaries had moved out of poverty and 40 per cent had graduated from the informal economy to become owners of small and medium-sized enterprises, she said, adding that more of their children had been enrolled in school and more women had taken on leadership roles.  However, if today’s trends continued, most African youth would grow up uneducated, unhealthy, unemployed and frustrated, she warned.  More efforts were needed to help youth and women succeed, she said, citing projects carried out by the Joyce Banda Foundation to help women form cooperatives, gain access to land and grow more cash crops.  “What is most critical is political will,” she said, stressing that it was not just about leaders, but “about everybody”.

Pointing to a number of core challenges still facing Africa, she said the continent was home to the world’s fastest-growing and youngest population, which currently accounted for more than two thirds of the continent’s unemployed.  It also had the world’s highest rate of “working poverty”, employed people still living below the poverty line, as well as some of the planet’s highest levels of child malnutrition, maternal mortality and other preventable health challenges.  Against that backdrop, it would be crucial to invest more in Africa’s young and female populations, she said, describing them as “untapped but potentially explosive wellsprings of human capital”.  In particular, more attention should be paid to the girls up to the age of 10 years, she added, underlining that the current focus on adolescent girls over the age of 14 years was coming too late.  She concluded by citing Botswana and Sierra Leone as countries in which corruption had once reigned, noting that today, their leaders had effectively shifted the benefits of their plentiful natural resources to the people.

MUHAMMAD AMJAD SAQIB, Founder, Akhuwat, and former General Manager, Punjab Rural Support Programme, Pakistan, said poverty had been in existence since the beginning of time and yet alleviating it remained humankind’s biggest challenge.   In most developing countries, food and energy intake as well as the cost of basic needs had been used to identify the poor, but the well-being of a population depended on a variety of variables, not all of which could be improved by a high income, he emphasized.  Calling for an integrated approach that would make the eradication of poverty a major part of all policy, he said Pakistan’s poverty-eradication agenda aimed for inclusive and sustainable economic growth focused on three dimensions: education, health and better living standards. 

The Government was taking a holistic approach, with newly constituted bodies focusing on income support, a fund to oversee poverty reduction as well as education and health insurance schemes, he continued.  “We are aware of the need to move from universal subsidies to well-designed and targeted solutions.”  Innovative models, based on a participatory development approach, were critical, he said, emphasizing the role of microcredit loans dispersed among 1.8 million families across Pakistan.  With an average loan size of $200, the repayment rate stood at 99.9 per cent.  “This is all about empowerment and self-reliance,” he continued, emphasizing that high-interest rates in other parts of the world had exacerbated the plight of the poor.  “If there is a vicious cycle there is a need for a virtuous cycle too,” he said, underlining that growth must not be driven by maximizing one’s own portfolio.  The structural factors keeping people in poverty were often missing from policy.  Emphasizing that education remained the most powerful tool for uplifting people out of poverty, he said that if microcredit could be provided without interest, education could be provided without cost. 

CHERNOR BAH, Youth Representative, High-Level Steering Committee of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative, and Chair of its Youth Advocacy Group, said he had been born in a Freetown slum in Sierra Leone, and had then been displaced to a camp.  He said education had brought hope and helped transform his life out of poverty.  To tackle poverty in a sustainable and integrated way, structural inequalities and the current design of the global economic system, which advantaged business over labour, must be re-examined and deconstructed, he emphasized.

However, ending poverty would not result from policy change in Sierra Leone, he said, calling for a global education revolution that would finally end illiteracy, among other things.  Such a revolution must also activate a global civil society committed to the defining values of the United Nations.  Underlining the need to focus on empowering girls, he noted that a girl born in Sierra Leone today would have only a one in 10 chance to make it through secondary school, and one in five girls would marry by age 15.  “Her school has no female teachers, she has no mentors,” he added.  And because there was no contraception, the young girl was likely to have children very young.  Those children were in turn likely to have poor nutrition and no opportunity to attend school, thereby continuing a cycle of poverty, he said, underlining that such girls must be “front and centre” in each policy.

Panel Discussion I

The Council then held a panel discussion on “An integrated agenda towards achieving SDG 1”.  Moderated by Courtenay Rattray (Jamaica), it featured the following panellists:  Alejandro Cruz Sanchez, Secretary of Planning, Evaluation, Regional Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mexico; Shamshad Akhtar, Executive Secretary, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); Azita Berar-Awad, Director, Employment Policy Department, International Labour Organization (ILO); Scott Vaughan, President and Chief Executive Officer, International Institute for Sustainable Development; and Andrew Shepherd, Director, Chronic Poverty Advisory Network.

Mr. CRUZ said Mexico had adopted the 2030 Agenda as the road towards a fairer, more prosperous society.  The Government had established a national council to coordinate the work of various agencies in order to better implement the 2030 Agenda.  Noting that more than a billion people had emerged from extreme poverty, including in the poorest countries, between 2000 and 2015, he said it was critical to establish strategies and coordinate action with the goal of building on that progress with local capacities at the forefront.  The 2030 Agenda sought to continue improving quality of life, he continued, calling for a paradigm shift in poverty-eradication efforts.  Social policy must be seen as an investment in citizens, he said.  Joint efforts between State and local governments, civil society, business, academia and citizens were aimed at building well-rounded and transparent policy.  Highlighting the need to better focus efforts and resources as well as better planning and assessment measurements, he said transparency and accountability were critical to boosting the benefits of social programmes, adding that low productivity, inequality and lack of capital must be addressed through holistic and inclusive policies.

Ms. AKHTAR said from the standpoint of the regional commissions, smooth and effective implementation called for managing risk, including by promoting multilateralism as an anchor of global governance.  The regional commissions had been closely involved in assessing how to support the efforts of Member States to implement the 2030 Agenda by focusing on integration and policy coherence.  The Asia-Pacific region was still home to some 400 million poor people, she said, urging substantive investment in the integration of the economic, social and environmental dimensions.  Broadening the scope of integration would allow regional commissions to promote the harmonization of policy across different sectors, which would ensure that resources were used efficiently.  Multiple actors could focus their efforts on similar goals, including economists and social scientists working together to address socioeconomic challenges, she said.

Ms. BERAR-AWAD emphasized that no development could take place without jobs, noting that decent employment boosted living standards, increased productivity and provided pathways out of poverty and inequality.  Many countries were currently designing and adopting integrated employment policies, she said, pointing to several recent positive global examples such as the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth and the Jobs for Peace Initiative working to bring together aspects of employment, peacebuilding and sustainable development.  Critical elements of successful employment policy entailed the integration of policy content and ownership of policies by those executing them on the ground, she said, adding that the three dimensions of sustainable development were increasingly brought together by a focus on employment.  More emphasis should also be placed on broad-based dialogue and multi-stakeholder consultation, she said, calling for increased attention to livelihood resilience and for the development of policies with a focus beyond the economic aspects of job availability in order to address the important questions of job quality and social protection.

Mr. VAUGHAN noted that hunger was a central aspect of poverty and recalled the World Food Programme (WFP)’s recent announcement that 20 million people in four countries were currently facing famine.  “An immediate priority is to increase urgent spending to end famine and save lives,” he emphasized, pointing also to the devastating effects of chronic food insecurity.  It was estimated that an extra $11 billion in public spending would be needed annually from now until 2030 to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 on ending hunger, he said, noting that $4 billion of that should come from donors and the rest from Member States.  Underlining the need to strengthen social safety nets, practical on-farm support, rural development planning, nutrition support and relevant legal reforms, he also cited the urgent need to improve the management and conservation of freshwater and to prioritize agricultural sectors in national climate-change adaptation plans.  Against that backdrop, the International Institute for Sustainable Development was helping Governments shape more robust trade and investment policies in support of implementation of the Goals.

Mr. SHEPHERD said that eradicating extreme poverty would require three things: tackling chronic poverty, sustaining “poverty escapes”, and ending impoverishment — meaning falling, or relapse, into poverty.  “Impoverishment is surprisingly strong,” he emphasized, outlining a simple mathematical formula —“poverty reduction equals escape minus impoverishment”.  Countries that had successfully reduced poverty had engaged in some combination of crucial activities — including political change, constitutional reform, increased political participation, universal and targeted affirmative action, and social mobilization — he noted that countries had generally found it easier to improve human development outcomes than to reduce their income poverty.  He also described education policies as critical, spotlighting the important link between schools and the labour market.  National investment in technical and vocational education had remained particularly problematic, he noted.  He also urged countries to link social-protection programmes to financial inclusion through direct Government-to-people transfers, among other policies.

With the floor open for comments and questions, a discussion emerged about the development of a new, multidimensional index designed to measure poverty in ways exceeding the traditional focus on income.

The representative of Honduras emphasized the need to examine poverty through the lens of middle-income countries, in which most of the world’s poor lived.  That diverse group of countries faced diverse challenges, he said, urging that each be considered on its own merit.  Honduras was taking a multidimensional approach to reducing poverty, in accordance with the interlinked nature of the Sustainable Development Goals, he said, expressing support for a multidimensional poverty index and emphasizing the importance of addressing poverty in a less narrow way.

The representative of Viet Nam agreed that such an index would be critical in helping middle-income countries further reduce poverty levels.  She sought the panellists’ opinion on the potential scope of such an index, including its ability to measure the effects of such emerging challenges as climate change.

Mr. SHEPHERD recalled that the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network had produced a policy guide examining the experience of middle-income countries in reducing poverty.  It identified a number of regional differences, he said, noting that the pattern of many East Asian countries had been to invest heavily and early in education and economic growth, with later investment in social protection and health coverage.  In Latin America, on the other hand, investment had typically been much more balanced, with lower rates of economic growth as a result.  Pointing to an ongoing debate over the merits of examining monetary poverty as opposed to a more multidimensional approach, he said the latter helped the international community better understand the relationship between specific challenges and indicators.

Ms. AKHTAR also expressed support for a multidimensional poverty index, but pointed out that the targets and indicators associated with the Sustainable Development Goals could already prove “mind-boggling” and complex for countries to measure, disaggregate and synthesize.  It was important not to overwhelm countries with such measurement processes, she said, pointing out the existence of vulnerability, inclusivity and governance indexes.  Indeed, practical implications should always be considered, she said, emphasizing the need for a more focused approach in the context of the 2030 Agenda.

Ms. BERAR-AWAD, noting that all the Sustainable Development Goals were interrelated, called for a similarly integrated perspective on reducing poverty.  However, the focus should be on policy integration in particular contexts, she emphasized, pointing out that a major difference between the Sustainable Development Goals and the preceding Millennium Development Goals was that the indicators related to the former were action-oriented in nature.

Panel Discussion II

This afternoon, the Council held a second panel discussion, focusing on “Policy integration across borders”.  Moderated by Andrew Revkin, Senior Reporter for climate and related issues at ProPublic and former reporter at The New York Times, it featured the following panellists:  Juan Somavia, Director, Diplomatic Academy of Chile, and former Director-General, International Labour Organization (ILO); Mario Marroquin, specialist in cross-border management, Tri-National Commission, Trifinio Plan (Trifinio-Fraternidad Biosphere); and Karin Fernando, Senior Research Professional, Centre for Poverty Analysis.

Mr. REVKIN recalled that he had been writing about energy policy, disaster risk and climate change for more than 30 years and there was no single issue related to sustainability “where poverty doesn’t matter”.  In that regard, he told the story of a New York City employee tasked with running sustainability programmes in the city’s public schools.  Having realized that little expertise existed in that area, she had thought “outside the box” and conceived the Bronx High School of Energy and Technology, he said, urging participants to take an equally innovative approach.  Indeed, achieving sustainable development would be about getting bureaucracies to “think creatively”, he said.

Mr. SOMAVIA said the biggest challenge now facing the United Nations system was “how to make [the 2030 Agenda] happen”.  Noting that the Sustainable Development Goals had deeply enshrined a highly integrated approach, he warned that the policy integration capacity of both countries and the United Nations system was still not fully developed. “Without policy integration, sustainable development will not happen,” he stressed, underlining the importance of linking such issues as sustainable urbanization, gender equality and poverty eradication.  The United Nations had begun its work with a focus on “coordination”, then moved into “coherence”, “cooperation” and most recently “policy convergence”, but it had still had not developed an “integration” approach.  Moving towards sustainable development meant recognizing that the economic, social and environmental pillars all enjoyed an equal status, he said, adding that “cracking the nut of how you do policy integration” would bring significant credibility to the 2030 Agenda.  He also outlined several challenges facing the development of policy integration — including conceptual, technical and institutional ones — and called on the Council to develop a “How To” document on the matter during its next integration segment.

Ms. FERNANDO, noting that many organizations had attempted integration many times, said the difference now was a much higher level of urgency.  “We seem to react only when we’re in crisis”, she said in that regard, pointing in particular to the threat posed by climate change.  There was a danger, however, that countries faced with this urgency as well as limited resources would only take on the “easy” actions without deep consideration.  With regard to the “How To” document proposed by Mr. Somavia, she said such a guide could help countries learn how to utilize a more integrative approach at their policy planning stages.  On content coherence, she said it was first crucial to consider whether integrated policies led to positive or negative interactions, adding that the constraints posed by limited natural resources, the challenge of inequality and the importance of ecosystem stability must also be addressed.  She went on to describe Sri Lanka’s strategies in that regard, citing the Government’s efforts to integrate its various ministries as well as her own organization’s work in mapping the country’s energy policies and their relationship with other issues and sectors.

Mr. MARROQUIN said the trans-border management of water was a critical issue in Central America.  Poverty placed a great deal of pressure on natural resources such as water, food and forests.  Cross-border issues must be included on the development agenda to promote a dialogue of collaboration.  At the local level, linking the three pillars of sustainable development had been a challenge, he added, underscoring the role of civil society.  International mandates had empowered national institutions to address the local needs of the people.  Planning in advance and ongoing dialogue with local, national and international actors were crucial.  Reducing cross-border conflict over resources was a major goal in the region.  He shared an example of producers and consumers from different countries cooperating on developing policies on coffee.  Political will was critical in having gotten an agreement between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in the 1990s.  New tools were needed to deal with water issues and drought, he said, adding that technical and financial tools were crucial in helping communities deal with resource challenges.

In the ensuing discussion, Guatemala’s delegate said development and sustainable economic growth was a priority for his country, particularly in the area of economic and cultural complementarity.  The mutual goal must be the achievement of sustainable development and eradication of poverty.

The representative of El Salvador said sustainable development and its three pillars could only be achieved through working together.  Maintaining the integrity of the implementation process from policy to action was crucial.  The delegate from Honduras also welcomed regional cooperation for the implementation of sustainable development.

A representative from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said working together, particularly through technology and good governance, remained critical to help countries with water use efficiency.

General Discussion

HORACIO SEVILLA BORJA (Ecuador), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said it was deeply regrettable that 13 per cent of the world’s population still lived in extreme poverty.  The global financial and economic crisis was undermining sustainable development and reversing modest gains, particularly in the least developed countries.  For economic growth to help reduce poverty, macroeconomic and social policies must focus on creating jobs and social inclusion, he emphasized, calling for adequate and predictable means for developing countries to implement policies and programmes that would end poverty.

Developed countries must fully implement their ODA commitments while scaling up poverty eradication efforts, he continued, while underlining that although South-South cooperation was welcome, it merely complemented North-South cooperation and was no substitute.  Governments in developing countries must be able to formulate their own development strategies and policy tools, in accordance with their own national priorities and circumstances, with the United Nations system and other international partners providing support for much-needed structural changes, he said.

Pablo José Soriano Mena (El Salvador), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), emphasized the critical role of South-South and triangular cooperation in complementing, rather than substituting, North-South cooperation.  Despite the progress made by all countries in the region, ODA was still required to reduce inequality and structural gaps.  Reiterating calls for developed countries to fulfil their commitments to allocate 0.7 per cent of their respective gross national income to ODA, he called on different stakeholders to address the specific needs of various countries, while reaffirming CELAC’s commitment to the Monterrey Consensus, the Doha Declaration and the Addis Ababa Action Plan.

He went on to emphasize that sustainable development must be addressed from an integrated and holistic perspective, cautioning that a piecemeal approach to diagnosing and reducing poverty distorted the real situation of the Central America and Caribbean region.  Despite the progress it had made, poverty and the prevalence of food insecurity and hunger remained a challenge, he said, reiterating the commitment to continue working for the goal of “zero hunger” in the region.  Emphasizing the need to maintain gender equality in the debate on development, he said structural gender inequalities perpetuated the poverty cycle.  The 2030 Agenda must be people-centred and based on human rights, with a cross-cutting gender perspective, he said.

GÜVEN BEGEÇ (Turkey), speaking for the MIKTA Group (Mexico, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Turkey and Australia), said poverty had been reduced at different rates in different regions.  However, overall progress had not happened at the desired pace, while economic shocks, food insecurity and climate change were threatening hard-won development gains and could force people back into poverty.  In that context, the best way to address poverty and inequality was to integrate the Sustainable Development Goals into national development agendas and planning in order to transform economies for inclusive growth and decent jobs.  Underscoring the importance of national ownership in that process, as well as the delivery of meeting ODA commitments, he said the mobilization of new and additional concessional and non-concessional financing — public and private, domestic and international, South-South and triangular — was also crucial.  Economic growth and access to jobs were not enough to address poverty, which was a multidimensional phenomenon and required measured approaches that went beyond per capita income.

In that regard, he continued, the Sustainable Development Goals would stimulate action to deliver key standards in such areas as education, nutrition and food security, social protection, health and well-being, water and sanitation, access to sustainable energy, decent work and adequate living conditions.  Calling for special attention to vulnerable groups — as well as efforts to assist least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, small island developing States and countries emerging from conflict — he said it was also important to recognize the structural gaps constraining the development of middle-income countries.  Calling on the United Nations to deliver integrated strategic analysis and policy advice while facilitating resource mobilization, he said the Economic and Social Council integration segment in particular provided a unifying platform for a comprehensive dialogue on those issues.

KEISHA A. MCGUIRE (Grenada) spoke on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) while associating herself with the Group of 77 and China and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).  She said an integrated approach to reducing poverty was of particular importance to the Caribbean, where climate change exacerbated socioeconomic challenges.  Drought, hurricanes and tropical storms were not uncommon in the region, which was also currently monitoring a volcano.  CARICOM would continue to promote the raising of awareness as well as education and sustainable use of ecosystems and natural resources, she emphasized.

The region continued to intensify its efforts to draw upon the understanding that income was an insufficient measure of poverty, she continued, stressing that poverty must be addressed in all its dimensions.  CARICOM welcomed South-South cooperation and efforts to enhance social protection systems through increased economic participation and social inclusion of the most vulnerable groups, she said.  Noting that the Caribbean, by its very location, had become a transhipment point for drugs, she outlined the various ways in which the drug trade was affecting life, particularly for young men.

TEODORO LOCSIN (Philippines) said the situation in his country mirrored a trend in post-modern economies that reflected an uneven distribution of wealth among the richest.  To counter that type of anomalous development, the newest national development plan aimed at promoting inclusive growth, with a target of lowering the poverty level from a present level of 21.6 per cent to 14 per cent by 2022 through encouraging innovation and enterprise and pulling people together behind freely-elected Governments.  Reducing criminality and illegal drugs were priorities, he said, adding that poverty eradication efforts included investments in human capital through better education, infrastructure development for sound urban development and inclusive financing.

MAHMADAMIN MAHMADAMINOV (Tajikistan), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said 20 million people around the world were on the brink of famine, pointing out that that grim number existed on a planet with more than enough resources to feed all its people.  “The clock is ticking,” he said, warning that challenges would only grow more complicated.  Eradicating poverty was therefore a priority task for the Government of Tajikistan, he said.  Describing State reforms intended to create an effective economic development system, diversify the economy and ensure economic stability, he said Tajikistan had successfully reduced poverty levels from 72 per cent in 2003 to 31 per cent in 2015.  However, realizing the Sustainable Development Goals remained a challenge, he said, adding that Tajikistan was unable to meet its electricity demands and to trade its valuable summertime energy on the world market.

JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said his country’s road map for addressing the underlying causes of poverty included redirecting the policymaking focus from the short to the long term.  A national five-year plan intended to extend until 2019 would focus on education, health, security, employment, rural development, human settlements and social protections, among other sectors.  Citing World Bank figures, he said South Africa’s fiscal policy had lifted 3.6 million people out of poverty and halved the rate of extreme poverty.  However, poverty, inequality and underdevelopment continued to hinder the global development agenda, he said, calling upon the international community to remain resolute in its commitment to improving the lives of the poor and marginalized.  Eradicating poverty must remain the primary focus of the United Nations development system, he said.

CARLOS SERGIO SOBRAL DUARTE (Brazil), associating himself with the Group of 77 and CELAC, said poverty’s multidimensional nature was reflected in the 2030 Agenda, and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 1 on hunger eradication depended directly on the achievement of the other targets.  While progress had been made on those issues, he stressed that “this is not enough” and called for effective action coupled with structural change.  Noting that Brazil would be presenting its national voluntary review during the Council’s 2017 high-level segment, he went on to urge both the Council and the General Assembly to formally adopt a new, multidimensional poverty indicator framework prior to the high-level political forum in July.  That would allow Member States and United Nations system entities to begin gathering the relevant data while sending another powerful signal of the international community’s commitment to achieving sustainable development, he said, concluding by calling on all stakeholders to mobilize significant resources to assist developing countries in implementing their sustainable development policies.

GEBEYEHU GANGA GAYITO (Ethiopia) said that his Government had since 1991 anchored all its public policies in reducing poverty and achieving rapid and sustained economic growth.  Poverty had been reduced by half, per capita income had grown substantially, foreign direct investment (FDI) was growing and the economy was under structural transformation.  Economic growth had averaged 10.9 per cent annually, making Ethiopia among the fastest growing economies in the world.  One of the key drivers of economic growth was the country’s agricultural sector, which promoted productivity and industrialization.  The Government had also heavily invested in infrastructure, diversified the economy and enhanced competitiveness.  It had also implemented social safety net programmes to protect the most vulnerable.  However, despite the progress, Ethiopia remained one of the least developed countries facing multiple challenges including climate change impact, weak institutions and funding gaps.

SYLVIA PAOLA MENDOZA ELGUEA (Mexico), associating herself with CELAC and MIKTA, said that eradicating poverty was an indispensable requisite for sustainable development.  The fight against poverty and inequality continued to be a priority for her Government.  Mexico had established a national council focused on giving permanence to its commitment to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals.  Having aligned its socioeconomic policy with the Millennium Development Goals, Mexico was now designing its policies in line with the 2030 Agenda.  In implementing public policy to eradicate poverty, it was important to pay particular attention to youth, women, children and the elderly.  It was also important to take into account myriad structural gaps that hampered addressing those challenges.

VINICIUS CARVALHO PINHEIRO, Special Representative to the United Nations and Director, International Labour Organization (ILO), recalled that in 2016 three out of ten working men and women in emerging and developing countries had been unable to earn enough to lift themselves above the median poverty line of $3.10 per day.  While working poverty rates were expected to decline in 2017-2018, that rate would likely be slower than in previous years.  “Finding a decent job is the most sustainable route out of poverty,” he said, adding that harnessing the potential of the rural economy through decent work — including improving agricultural productivity and boosting earnings — was also critical.  Pointing out that another key Sustainable Development Goal target was the establishment of social protection systems, including “floors”, he said the latter were fundamental to preventing poverty and helped reduce fragility in countries transitioning from conflict to peace.  Recalling that the Council’s 2015 integration segment had focused on employment creation and decent work for all, he stressed that in many countries dignity and prosperity remained a challenge due largely to poverty and discrimination.

News

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