ACCESSIBILITY AT UNOG A A A A The United Nations in the Heart of Europe

News & Media

HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS ANNUAL FULL-DAY DISCUSSION ON WOMEN’S RIGHTS
Holds Panels on Women’s Rights and Gender Stereotypes and on Women’s Rights and Sustainable Development
17 June 2014

The Human Rights Council today held its annual full-day discussion on women’s rights with two panel debates on the impact of gender stereotypes on the recognition and enjoyment of women’s human rights, and on women’s human rights and the sustainable development agenda.

The first panel, held in the morning, was moderated by Todd Minerson, Executive Director of the White Ribbon Campaign, and counted with the participation of Dubravka Simonovic, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Simone Cusack, Australian Lawyer, Veronica Undurraga, Law Professor, Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez, and Yetnebersh Nigussi, Executive Director, Ethiopian Centre for Disability and Development.

In an opening statement, Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the recognition of the equal dignity and freedom of women and men was vital to the enjoyment of all human rights.  Yet in many societies, patterns of behaviour indicated a tenacious belief that women did not have full rights to free choice.  In the past few decades, almost every State had acknowledged women’s equality – in principle.  Yet it was rarely fully realised.  One problem constituted the lack of real commitment from decision makers, but another obstacle stemmed from deep-seated gender stereotypes about women’s supposedly proper attributes, characteristics or place in the family and society. 

Ms. Simonovic said Article 5a of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women called for the modification of gender stereotypes based on the idea of inferiority or superiority of either of the sexes.  The Convention should be used as a comprehensive, legally binding instrument for the modification of sex and gender based stereotypes that constituted discrimination against women.

Ms. Cusack said that the first way judicial stereotyping undermined justice was by compromising impartiality.  It also influenced judges’ understanding of the nature of criminal offences and their perception of whether violence did or did not occur, and could affect judges’ view about credibility of witnesses, among others.  These harms were continuing to play out and judicial stereotyping was an issue that had to be addressed if they were to achieve substantive equality.

Ms. Undurraga said there were many harmful stereotypes affecting women and girls such as a belief that girls should not manifest an interest about sexuality while on the other hand, boys were expected to display their masculinity and be well aware of sexuality and even aggressive.  Another stereotype concerned the idea that women should always be available for their husband, denying them the right to decide when to engage in sexual activities, or those grounding women’s value on beauty and fertility, among others.

Ms. Nigussie reiterated that in many cases women were expected to be beautiful, fertile and dedicated to household work and that in many cases women with disabilities seemed to lack these attributes.  Ms. Nigussie regretted that the general efforts to improve the rights of persons with disabilities and those of women had not been able to effectively respond to the needs of women with disabilities, leaving them voiceless.
Mr. Minerson said that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex women, indigenous women and disabled women were more vulnerable to gender stereotypes.  The White Ribbon Campaign was the world’s largest coalition of men and boys who came together to fight violence against women, interested in the narrative surrounding the masculinity and the way men dealt with violence, and also in breaking stereotypes of men.
In the discussion that followed, speakers said that they should be proud of progress made but many challenges remained on the path to true equality.  Stereotypes were subtle and difficult to detect, acting on the subconscious.  This phenomenon had been amplified by information and communication techniques; however these vehicles were a double-edged sword and could contribute to combatting prejudice.  Gender mainstreaming was key and measures must be taken to organize and evaluate policy processes to ensure that gender perspectives were included in all stages.  The post-2015 framework must be based on human rights and all goals must be gender mainstreamed.  Until the stereotypes were overcome, how could young women be supported to grow up without internalizing these stereotypes?

Speaking in the discussion were Brazil on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, European Union, Ethiopia on behalf of the African Group, Finland on behalf of the Nordic Countries, Egypt on behalf of the Arab Group, Morocco, Algeria, Ireland, Republic of Congo, India, Syria, United States, Nepal, France, Italy, Thailand, United Kingdom, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Angola, Switzerland, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Kuwait, Australia, Argentina, Lithuania, New Zealand, Belarus, and Russia.

International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions, European Region of Lesbian and Gay Federation, Centre for Reproductive Rights, Moroccan National Council of Human Rights, Action Canada for Population and Development, and International Humanist and Ethical Union also spoke.

This afternoon, the Council held a second panel discussion that focused on women’s human rights and the sustainable development agenda.  The panel was moderated by Sarah Cook, Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.  Participating in the second panel were Saraswathi Menon, Director, Policy Division, UN Women, Frances Raday, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice, Gita Sen, Professor, Centre for Public Policy, Indian Institute of Management Bangalore & Adjunct Professor, Global Health and Population, Harvard School of Public Health, Luisa Cabal, Lecturer-in-Law, Columbia University School of Law, and Kingsley Kariuki, Kenya Federation of Slum Dwellers.

Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her opening statement, said that the Millennium Development Goals had been important and successful in galvanizing the world’s attention and resources in key areas and progress had been made in sectors such as education and poverty reduction.  This progress however had hidden the reality of the growing inequality, particularly for women.  One of the most glaring omissions of the Millennium Development Goals was not addressing violence against women and girls; this was a reality for many women and girls, not only in conflict situations.
 
Ms. Cook said that what had been achieved was now clear, as well as the gaps and challenges that remained.  The question now was how to bring onto the agenda many of the neglected issues and to find appropriate entry points to address deep- seated and institutionalized gender constraints.

Ms. Menon said that sustainable development had to be grounded in human rights principles of equality and non-discrimination.  Inequalities were not just problems for the people whose lives were most affected, but had broader consequences for society and harmed all.  They could not allow ending violence against women and girls to be omitted again in the future development agenda.

Ms. Raday said the Working Group was proposing a stand-alone goal of gender equality and mainstreaming of all post-2015 development goals.  While acknowledging the wide range of issues relevant for the post-2015 agenda, the first goal should be to eliminate discriminatory laws which still existed in many countries and deprived women of access to resources, land ownership and freedom of movement.  This should be a stand-alone goal and part of the gender mainstreaming of all sustainable goals.

Ms. Sen said that in order to translate brave words about human rights into practice, it was necessary to look at the details.  Millennium Development goal 3 related to women empowerment.  It had only one target focused on eliminating disparity and three official indicators which had been too narrow.  This framing was responsible for the unsatisfactory results. 

Ms. Cabal said that sexual and reproductive health and rights were essential for gender equality and women’s empowerment and enabled their participation in education, employment and political life.  There was evidence that women who were able to control their fertility were able to stay in education longer, accumulate more skills and increase their earning power.

Mr. Kariuki said that 60 per cent of the gross domestic product of Kenya was produced by Nairobi and yet 55 per cent of its population lived in slums and informal settlements without access to basic services.  Often, young girls did not go to school during their periods for lack of sanitary pads, which made them lose three to four days of schooling every month. 

During the discussion, it was noted that despite substantial progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, no country across the globe could claim to have achieved de facto gender equality.  There could be no sustainable development without gender equality and the full participation of women and girls.  The new development agenda must value women’s potential and their contributions, paid and unpaid, to families, societies and economies.  One speaker stressed the importance of the financing required for achieving the ambitious goals of the new development agenda and warned that unless financing could be guaranteed through national resources, private sector investment and official development assistance, the goals would remain nothing more that pipe dreams.

Speaking in the discussion were: Denmark, speaking on behalf of the Nordic Countries, Egypt, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, European Union, Ethiopia, speaking on behalf of the African Group, Canada, speaking on behalf of Groupe Francophone, Maldives, Montenegro, India, Austria, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, Italy, Netherlands on behalf of a group of States, Mexico, Israel, Spain, Turkey, France, Chile, Australia, Ethiopia, Slovenia, Poland, and Bulgaria.

Action Canada for Population, Development and General Arab Women Federation, and Femmes Afrique Solidarité also took the floor.

At the end of the meeting, Lebanon spoke in a right of reply in response to remarks made during the dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria during the midday meeting.

The Human Rights Council will resume its work on Wednesday, 18 June, at 9 a.m., when it will continue its interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria.  The Council will then hold individual interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteurs on Eritrea, on Belarus, and on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, under its agenda item on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.

Panel Discussion on the Impact of Gender Stereotypes and Gender Stereotyping on the Recognition, Exercise and Enjoyment of Women’s Human Rights

Opening Statement

NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, opening the annual full-day discussion on the rights of women, highlighted the importance of women’s rights to every society.  Recognition of the equal dignity and freedom of women and men was vital to the enjoyment of all human rights.  Yet in many societies, patterns of behaviour indicated a tenacious belief that women did not have full rights to free choice.  The outrageous recent kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in northern Nigeria was yet another in a long line of attacks on women’s rights and dignity premised on deep stereotypes regarding women’s proper roles.  In the past few decades, almost every State had acknowledged women’s equality – in principle.  Yet it was rarely fully realised.  One problem constituted the lack of real commitment from decision makers, but another obstacle stemmed from deep-seated gender stereotypes about women’s supposedly proper attributes, characteristics or place in the family and society.  The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) noted States’ responsibility to address and change harmful stereotypes.  Women continued to be treated as dependent or minors by many justice systems, formal and informal, and according to the World Bank at least nine countries still had laws requiring women to obey their husbands.  Concerning health services, many countries required authorisation from women’s husband, fathers or brothers. 

Even when the law itself was free of overt discrimination, gender stereotypes created tremendous obstacles to women’s pursuit of justice, particularly in cases of gender based violence, marriage and family, economic opportunities, women and adolescent girls’ sexual and reproductive health.  Human rights law obliged States to eliminate discrimination against women in all aspects of their lives, including the elimination of prejudices and customs based on ideas of inferiority of either sex or that stereotyped roles for men and women.  Legal requirements that adult women requested the permission of an adult man to travel, obtain medical treatment or to pursuit an education constituted human rights violations rooted in the view that women were not equal to men.  Gender stereotypes should be eliminated from the media and education should foster respect for women’s equality.  Steps should be taken to ensure impartial and effective investigations into allegations of violence, as well as to address occupational segregation affecting women.  Ms. Pillay was confident that the panel would provide an opportunity to share promising practices that could address these challenges and looked forward to the discussion of measures that could be taken to transform the harmful stereotypes that constituted the base of so much injustice across the world.   

Statements by the Panellists

TODD MINERSON, Executive Director, White Ribbon Campaign, and Panel Moderator, introduced the panellists.  The High Commissioner had laid the foundations for the discussion today.  Ms. Simonovic was asked what, from the perspective of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the impact of gender stereotypes was on the enjoyment of women’s human rights.

DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said the High Commissioner had made important reference to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, a key women’s human rights instrument and an empowerment instrument for women, with the overall goal of achieving substantive equality between women and men.  Article 5a called for the modification of gender stereotypes based on the idea of inferiority or superiority of either of the sexes or those gender stereotypes based on stereotype roles for women and men, a much broader category.  Complimentary Article 10c on education called for the elimination of any stereotyped concept of the roles of men and women in all formal education.  The Convention should be used as a comprehensive, legally binding instrument for the modification of sex and gender based stereotypes that constituted discrimination against women.

SIMONE CUSACK, Australian Lawyer, said that because they were still learning about different ways in which stereotyping, particularly judicial stereotyping, caused harm, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had commissioned a research paper to examine how judicial stereotyping undermined justice for women.  The first way it undermined justice was by compromising impartiality.  It also influenced judges’ understanding of the nature of criminal offences and their perception of whether violence did or did not occur.  Stereotyping could also affect judges’ view about the credibility of witnesses, as well as stop judges from holding perpetrators accountable or even blame the victims for the attack experienced.  These harms were continuing to play out and judicial stereotyping was an issue that had to be addressed if they were to achieve substantive equality. 

VERONICA UNDURRAGA, Law Professor, Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez, said that there were many harmful stereotypes affecting women and girls.  There was a belief that girls should not manifest an interest about sexuality and should be chaste and modest while, on the other hand, boys were expected to display their masculinity and be well aware of sexuality and even aggressive.  These stereotypes affected both male and female adolescents and it was important that both received sexual education in order to prevent pregnancies and abortions among young girls.  Education health systems should respect the needs of girls engaging with them and requesting information and access to reproductive health services.  Concerning stereotypes affecting women, they were sometimes portrayed as needing protection and this was reflected in the context of rules in the context of health services: such as denying women decision making.  Another stereotype concerned the idea that women should always be available for their husband, denying them the right to decide when to engage in sexual activities; or those grounding women’s value on beauty, fertility and other.

YETNEBERSH NIGUSSIE, Executive Director, Ethiopian Centre for Disability and Development, responding to a question concerning the situation of women with disabilities, reiterated that in many cases women were expected to be beautiful, fertile and dedicated to household work.  In many cases, women with disabilities seemed to lack these attributes.  In the northern part of Uganda if a sister of a woman with disability got married, the husband also got the sister with disabilities as a bonus.  In many instances, women with disabilities were not allowed to attend school; in Ethiopia, for example, women with intellectual disabilities were exposed to long term contraceptive treatments without their consent.  Often, justice systems did not consider women with disabilities, including victims of violence, as reliable witnesses; and caregivers perpetrated gender based violence against these women, since they were perceived as vulnerable.  Ms. Nigussie regretted that the general efforts to improve the rights of persons with disabilities and those of women had not been able to effectively respond to the needs of women with disabilities, leaving them voiceless.

TODD MINERSON, Executive Director, White Ribbon Campaign and Panel Moderator, said that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex women, indigenous women and women with disabilities were more vulnerable to gender stereotypes.  The White Ribbon Campaign was the world’s largest coalition of men and boys who came together to fight violence against women.  It operated on two assumptions, first that violence against women was a gender equality struggle and second, there was a need to transform the harmful understanding of masculinity that permeated that violence.  The White Ribbon was interested in the narrative surrounding the masculinity and the way men dealt with violence, and also in breaking stereotypes of men as violent, aggressive, in control of money, not nurturing and loving, etc.

Discussion

Brazil, speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, said that gender stereotyping was deeply linked to violence against women and gender inequality in society and asked about the role of international organizations in addressing and eliminating gender stereotypes.  European Union said that gender stereotypes were social constructs and changed over time and because of their detrimental impact on society needed to be addressed at different levels and by different actors; laws against discrimination and violence were crucial in this regard. 

Ethiopia, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that many African countries had made progress in improving the position of women, including through campaigns against harmful traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation and early and child marriages.  Finland, speaking on behalf of the Nordic Countries, said that gender mainstreaming was key and measures must be taken to organize and evaluate policy processes to ensure that gender perspectives were included in all stages.  The post-2015 framework must be based on human rights and all goals must be gender mainstreamed; there was also a clear need for a stand-alone goal for gender equality and empowerment of women and girls.  Egypt, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that a global policy needed to be adopted with regard to women’s rights and those rights must be integrated in all United Nations activities.  Human rights as a whole were unique and indivisible and the international community must prevent any attempt that would weaken women’s rights.

Morocco said that inequality between women and men were constant, universally, in the North and South and in all social classes.  It regretted that women made up the majority of the poor, illiterate and victims of violence or ill-treatment.  Algeria said that stereotypes were subtle and difficult to detect, acting on the subconscious.  This phenomenon was amplified by information and communication techniques; however these vehicles were a double-edged sword and could also contribute to combatting prejudice.

Republic of Congo said that in many places in the world women did not really have the role that they required and deserved in the management of decisions.  Violence was multifaceted, often sexual, and in terms of trafficking, forced marriage and prostitution.  Education was the only effective way of combating these stereotypes.  India said that gender stereotypes relegated women to a secondary position to men not only at home but also at work.  Efforts had to be made to eliminate stereotypes at all levels.  Measures had been taken to break stereotypes that women could not be equal stakeholders in economic and political life.  Ireland said that the international community should be proud of progress made but many challenges remained on the path to true equality.  Gender stereotypes were more insidious, operating at many levels.  Until the stereotypes were overcome, how could young women be supported to grow up without internalizing these stereotypes?

Syria thanked experts and hoped that the panel would lead to positive results for women.  Syria had taken steps to involve women in all levels of activity, including the current national reconciliation process.  United States said that inequality was a pressing issue all over the world.  Around the world, women were at the forefront of nations and backbones in societies, but the profound inequality they continued to face was portrayed, among others, in access to jobs and livelihoods.  International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions said that gender stereotypes remained deeply engrained and urged the Office of the High Commissioner to continue to address gender stereotyping as a human rights issue. 

European Region of Lesbian and Gay Federation said that stereotypes constituted a form of discrimination and led to differences in treatment, such as those arising in the context of ideas about family in the context of persons of different sexual identity and preferences.  Centre for Reproductive Rights noted that many women did not count with the necessary resources to access reproductive and sexual health services.  It was critical that States took measures to eliminate harmful stereotypes and to elevate the status of women. 

TODD MINERSON, Executive Director, White Ribbon Campaign, asked about steps and measures recommended by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to address gender stereotypes.

DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was using different tools, one of which was reporting by States.  During the presentation of reports, the Committee members asked a number of questions related to gender stereotypes and discrimination against women, based on the State report, shadow report and the reports by United Nations agencies and civil society organizations.  At the end of the examination of the report, the Committee issued concluding observations which contained concrete recommendations to the State concerning the implementation of their obligations under the Convention.  The Committee also adopted general recommendations that addressed various topics, including gender stereotypes; for example, in 1987 the Committee had adopted general recommendation number 3 in which it had warned about the fact that gender stereotypes perpetuated discrimination and violence against women.

SIMONE CUSACK, Australian Lawyer, said that a range of strategies could be used to combat and challenge stereotypes in the justice system, and in particular to combat the stereotyping by judges and to build their capacity to challenge stereotypes.  Those strategies made sure that an appropriate legal and institutional framework was in place to prevent judicial stereotyping, and included measures such as raising awareness about the harm of judicial stereotyping, legal and policy norms prohibiting judicial stereotyping, building judicial capacity around stereotyping, highlighting good practices and others.  Ms. Cusack encouraged States to identify their own good practices and share them with others.

VERONICA UNDURRAGA, Law Professor, Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez, said that training in identifying stereotypes was something which was easy to do, was effective and feasible, and it was important that this be done for those representing the State or those that had a degree of responsibility in designing laws, policies and practices.  It always had to be asked what image of women or men lay behind a law or practice and whether there was a stereotyped image that lay behind a law or policy.  On sexual and reproductive health, it was important to properly train health officials.  There were clear protocols and laws where it was made quite clear that the autonomy of adult women had to be respeted, as well as the progressive autonomy of girls. 

YETNEBERSH NIGUSSIE, Executive Director, Ethiopian Centre for Disability and Development, said that as far as stereotypes faced by women with disabilities, it was believed that the major cause for stereotyping was assumption.  It was advised that it was a loss to focus on one disability against the ’99 abilities’.  It was being a woman that came first, not a woman with a disability, and that had to be recognised and highlighted.  It was urged that there was a need for research showing uncovered facts about stereotypes faced by women with disabilities.  There was a need for more statistics and dialogue in this regard.  In some countries marital rape was recognised as legitimate.  It was urged that these practices be visited in line with the perspective of women’s rights.  Ms. Nigussie also emphasised that it had to be clear that women were not homogenous. 

TODD MINERSON, Executive Director, White Ribbon Campaign, and Panel Moderator, recalling the emphasis on engaging with men and boys, said that it was very important to challenge the current narrative on men’s involvement in efforts to promote women’s equality.  Most men were not perpetrators of violence or other flagrant violations, however men’s ignorance, silence and apathy were indeed causing harm.  The struggle for women’s rights was not a zero-sum game but rather one that concerned men as much as women and would benefit society at large.  It was important to recognise the structural issues around inequality.  Further work should be gender-transformative, addressing and transforming root causes, in order to ensure an impact, and should not cause further harm.  Finally, Mr. Minerson provided examples of how campaigns, such as ‘He for She’ and ‘Men Care’, promoted the participation and engagement of men and boys in efforts towards gender equality.  

Nepal said that it was essential to abolish harmful stereotypes, recognising their negative impact on the enjoyment of rights.  Gender mainstreaming and equality were recognised as national priorities in Nepal, and the delegation inquired about mechanisms that could be implemented at the national level.  France said that the persistence of gender stereotypes shaped the social roles of men and women on the basis of deep rooted practices.  Public policies must ensure the neutrality of public institutions and promote a gender balance in areas such as education, where important disparities remained.  Italy said that stereotypes were at the root of current discriminatory practices, often providing justifications and perpetrating historical patterns.  Italy was taking measures at the national level, including the enactment of legislation, measures to increase women’s participation, and supporting partner countries through development initiatives.  

Thailand said that despite the progress, challenges remained, including on gender stereotypes; changing them must start at the smallest unit: the family.  Community leaders also had an important role to play in eliminating prejudices in the community.  Challenging gender stereotypes was the first step to combating discrimination against women and improving women’s well-being, including their sexual and reproductive rights, said the United Kingdom, and urged States to consider what they could do to end the intolerable culture of violence against women.  The pursuit of gender equality and the empowerment of women must be found not only in policies, but also in actions, said Brazil, while inclusive and non-discriminatory policies were needed to address inequalities in the world of work.

Saudi Arabia said that development policies adopted had enhanced the role of women and their contribution to economic, social and cultural rights in the country; free access to education was crucial in this regard.  Angola recognized the existence of harmful traditional practices, particularly in rural areas, and said that it had adopted measures to address violence against women and girls; combating violence against women was part and parcel of development.  Switzerland had committed itself to amend social and cultural models to eradicate prejudices based on ideas of inferiority of men or women and asked about good practices in overcoming gender stereotypes in school curricula and media, including social media.  Sierra Leone said that addressing gender imbalance in education and putting gender equality laws in the workplace were crucial in addressing gender stereotypes and asked how the positive experiences of States could be documented.

South Africa said that often, it was gender stereotypes that were pervasive in society and business, stopping women from being promoted up the leadership ladder.  Strides were being made in South Africa in the employment of women within different areas of work with marked emphasis on training and internships, among others.  Kuwait said that women had always benefited from a special status in Kuwait, the heart of its society.  Women had many jobs in the local job market.  In Kuwait, they lived in a society based on gender equality and justice.  Australia took seriously its obligations under Article 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and was committed to breaking down gender stereotyping at all levels, including through the media.  It was working to support young people to change their attitudes and behaviours in this respect.

Action Canada for Population and Development said gender stereotypes perpetuated
many forms of violence and discrimination against women and gender-non-conforming persons.  Member States were urged to meet obligations established by international human rights mechanisms on eliminating negative gender stereotypes.  Moroccan National Council said that the new Constitution had made important innovations in promoting the status and rights of women.  This consolidation saw the lifting of reservations to the Convention.  It recommended that the Government take all measures to combat violence against women and accelerate activities along these lines.  International Humanist and Ethical Union said that honour-based violence was understood as deriving from the desire to control the behaviour of the female.  It reflected interpersonal and structural violence simultaneously.  The Council had to encourage a transformation of the gender-stereotyping framework.

Argentina said that persistent harmful stereotypes were deeply rooted in culture and it was vital that States changed or eliminated them.  Argentina’s national education laws contained elements to ensure that education was free from gender stereotypes and that girls, boys and adolescents’ rights were respected.  Lithuania said that gender stereotypes were one of the key reasons underlying discrimination and hindered women’s rights and equality.  Lithuania was implementing measures such as awareness raising campaigns, events to discuss the image of women in the media, and training for employees of traditionally masculine companies.

New Zealand recalled that protecting the dignity and freedom of women was not only crucial for human rights but for ensuring that communities could benefit from the valuable contributions of women.  New Zealand’s experience illustrated the need to monitor and address this issue in all areas of government policy.  Belarus referred to efforts to improve the status of women in employment, including through the provision of education.  Policies to strengthen the family allowed women to reconcile professional careers with their families, while maintaining the traditional family as the building block of society.  Russia remained committed to the implementation of the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and shared its positive assessment of the United Nations’ structures for the promotion of gender equality.  It was vital to reflect gender issues in the post-2015 development agenda through a balanced approach.

TODD MINERSON, Executive Director, White Ribbon Campaign, and Panel Moderator, summarised questions asked by the delegations and gave the floor to the panellists to address some of the outstanding ones such as a stand-alone goal for gender equality in the post-2015 development framework, “honour killings”, gender stereotypes in sports, media and social media and accountability mechanisms.

VERONICA UNDURRAGA, Law Professor, Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez, in her closing remarks said that each person was unique and they must be given conditions to develop their potential; stereotypes diminished this potential, infantilized women, made them vulnerable to violence, and affected their self-esteem.  Each individual must be seen as an individual and laws must be designed in respect of this and enable women to fulfil their potential and capacity.

SIMONE CUSACK, Australian Lawyer, in concluding remarks said that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was a leader in combating discrimination against women and had provided guidance to States to eliminate gender stereotypes.  The Special Procedures also dedicated more attention to gender stereotypes and other treaty bodies had in their mandates combating gender discrimination and harmful stereotypes, such as the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disability.

YETNEBERSH NIGUSSIE, Executive Director, Ethiopian Centre for Disability and Development, in concluding remarks said that the diverse concerns and needs of women should be taken into consideration.  Another important element was that the movement against gender stereotyping should be comprehensive.  Segregation in education, employment and family life was highly interlinked and so it was very difficult to address them separately and single out issues.  

DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, in concluding remarks thanked all delegations that had rightfully mentioned the Convention and the work of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  Recommendations coming from the Committee had to be looked into, with the understanding that this had to be done in full collaboration with civil society, parliament, and educational systems, among others.  An inclusive approach was extremely important.  On accountability mechanisms, regional mechanisms had to be used.

Panel Discussion on the Intersections between Realizing Women's Rights and Achieving Sustainable Development

Opening Statements

DILIP SINHA, Vice-president of the Human Rights Council, opening the panel discussion on women’s human rights and the sustainable development agenda, said that the discussion aimed to identify the structural inequalities holding women and girls back from realizing their rights, and advance discussions on how gender inequality and violence against women undermined THE full realization of women’s rights and how those issues should be addressed in the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

FLAVIA PANSIERI, Deputy United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in her opening remarks that the discussions on the post-2015 development agenda included issues central to building a world that respected women’s rights.  The Millennium Development Goals had been important and successful in galvanizing the world’s attention and resources in key areas and progress had been made in sectors such as education and poverty reduction.  This progress however had hidden the reality of the growing inequality, particularly for women, and there was obvious need for a more holistic approach.  The new framework was an opportunity to embrace a more human rights-based agenda and it would have to address several key aspects.  The framework must ensure that women were free from want, that they reached their full potential and had equal access to land and employment.  Despite the progress made in maternal health, an unacceptably high number of women still died in childbirth; instead of focusing on sexual and reproductive health, there was a need to focus on women’s sexual and reproductive rights and the centrality of ensuring that those rights were respected for each individual. 

One of the most glaring omissions of the Millennium Development Goals was not addressing violence against women and girls; this was a reality for many women and girls, not only in conflict situations.  About one third of women globally declared that violence had affected their lives.  Ms. Pansieri stressed that the agenda must also address the freedom from fear and access to justice and that indicators were needed to measure whether the world had become a safer place for women.  Further, the post-2015 development agenda must address the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice.  The new development framework had to include a strong commitment to global partnership which would ensure that global policies were coherent with human rights.  Finally, vertical, horizontal and widespread accountability was needed and the new agenda must establish such accountability mechanisms that would hold Governments responsible to deliver on commitments they agreed to; the mechanisms must also ensure that other actors, including the private sector, were accountable.

Statements by the Panellists

SARAH COOK, Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Moderator of the Panel, said that there had been an excellent framing of the key issues by the Deputy High Commissioner.  What had been achieved was now clear, as well as the gaps and challenges that remained.  The question was how to bring onto the agenda many of the neglected issues and to find appropriate entry points to address deep seated and institutionalized gender constraints.

SARASWATHI MENON, Director, Policy Division, UN WOMEN, said it was believed that sustainable development was defined as development that ensured human well-being and dignity, ecological integrity, gender equality and social justice, now and in the future.  Sustainable development had to be grounded on human rights principles of equality and non-discrimination.  Inequalities were not just problems for the people whose lives were most affected, but had broader consequences for society and harmed us all.  Sustainable development had to move beyond formal to substantive equality.  Attention to human rights meant that conditions such as poverty, violence and preventable death, among others, had to be ended and not just reduced.  It had to place gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment at its centre.  Across many consultations held on the post-2015 development agenda, it was clear that women felt less safe, less listened to and less counted in statistics than men.  There should be a set of sustainable development goals based on human rights, equality and sustainability, as well as a fuller recognition of the means of implementation to achieve targets, covering not just official development assistance, but also resources and technology among others. They could not allow ending violence against women and girls to be omitted again in the future development agenda.

FRANCES RADAY, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice, responding to a question concerning how the Group was working to promote women’s right to non-discrimination and equality in economic and social life in the context of the post-2015 agenda, said that the Working Group was proposing a stand-alone goal of gender equality and mainstreaming of all post-2015 development goals.  In support of this approach, the Working Group proposed six key issues which should inform the post-2015 development agenda, including: women and the care economy; the empowerment of women in economic decision-making; gender sensitive analysis of corporate responsibility; women’s formal and informal work; the economic crisis; and the impact of austerity measures on women.  While acknowledging the wide range of issues relevant for the post-2015 agenda, Ms. Raday concluded that the first goal should be to eliminate discriminatory laws which still existed in many countries and deprived women of access to resources, land ownership and freedom of movement.  This should be a stand-alone goal and part of the gender mainstreaming of all sustainable goals.

GITA SEN, Professor of the Centre for Public Policy at the Indian Institute of Management Banglaore and Adjunct Professor of Global Health and Population at the Harvard School of Public Health, said that the devil was in the details.  The details were what mattered and if they were to translate brave words about human rights into practice, it was necessary to look carefully at them.  Nothing was so salutary at this as looking at the experience of the Millennium Development Goals.  Goal 3, related to women empowerment, had only one target focused on eliminating disparity and three official indicators which had been too narrow.  This framing was responsible for the unsatisfactory results.  Shortly after the Millennium Development Goals had been set, the Task Force on gender equality had tried to turn this goal into specifics and found that it was necessary to draw on a great deal more elements than those originally considered.  The work of UN Women and current discussions on the post-2015 goals were expanding to include areas which had not been originally included, such as the consideration of access to resources and landownership; the role of  the informal economy and unpaid domestic work; human development; the effects of  violence against women; and political participation, among others.

SARAH COOK, Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development and Panel Moderator, introduced Ms. Cabal and asked about the importance of placing sexual and reproductive health and rights in the new sustainable development agenda.

LUISA CABAL, Lecturer-in-Law, Columbia University School of Law, said that at the core of sexual and reductive health and rights were most intimate decisions, such as who to marry, who to have intercourse with and who to have a child with.  Respect, protection and fulfilment of rights around sexuality and reproduction were priorities in their own right and essential for women’s health and well-being.  Sexual and reductive health and rights were essential for gender equality and women’s empowerment and enabled their participation in education, employment and political life.  They were essential for economic and sustainable development and there was evidence that women who were able to control their fertility were able to stay in education longer, accumulate more skills and increase their earning power.  The recognition of sexual and reductive health and rights in the new development framework was an opportunity to address those challenges.

SARAH COOK, Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development and Panel Moderator, introducing Mr. Kariuki said that the Kenya Federation of Slum Dwellers represented 18,000 families and asked what would be the most effective ways to improve lives and eradicate poverty of women and girls.

KINGSLEY KARIUKI, Kenya Federation of Slum Dwellers, said that one of the most important things was building safe and inclusive human settlements.  Sixty per cent of the gross domestic product of Kenya was produced by Nairobi and yet 55 per cent of its population lived in slums and informal settlements without access to basic services such as water and sanitation.  Over half of inhabitants of slums lived in fear of using toilets and sanitation facilities because they were unsafe.  Often, young girls did not go to school during their periods for lack of sanitary pads, which made them lose three to four days of schooling every month.  It was important to understand that there were people who profited from slums, such as for example for politicians who had high density of votes.  It was important to put together remedial steps to ensure that those profiteering from the continued existence of slums were removed.  And finally, slum dwellers must have secure tenure and access to land.

Discussion

Denmark, speaking on behalf of the Nordic Countries, agreed that development was unachievable without the full realization of human rights and women’s empowerment, in particular political and economic empowerment.  However, while girls’ access to education had improved, women often lacked the vocational and technical skills as well as work experience to engage in higher remunerative business opportunities.  Some of the obstacles to women’s entry into the labour market could be overcome through small and inexpensive changes in the workplace or by offering transport services and flexible time schedules that took into account women’s specific needs.  Egypt, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, stressed the importance of the rights of women in the context of the Millennium Development Goals and post-2015 agenda.  Women’s contribution to society should not be lost sight of.  The 1992 Vienna Declaration, the 1995 Beijing platform and the 2012 Rio outcome document linked rights to development.  The role of women was being enhanced in the Arab world, including in the field of education, and was considered as a sine qua non element of development. 

European Union said that despite substantial progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, no country across the globe could claim to have achieved de facto gender equality.  Gender equality and women’s and girls’ rights and empowerment should be a universal priority for the post-2015 development agenda.  The themes of women and girls’ economic empowerment, the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence, equal participation, and representation of leadership should be emphasized.  Ethiopia, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that there could be no sustainable development without gender equality and the full participation of women and girls.  The African Group was committed to promoting the elimination of all forms of gender based discrimination and violence.  The post-2015 agenda must ensure the full participation of women and girls in political, economic and public spheres.  Gender equality and women’s empowerment should be mainstreamed across all development priorities and initiatives.  Canada, speaking on behalf of Groupe Francophone, recalled that in 2008  the Secretary-General had launched a campaign to eliminate violence against women.   The recent events in Nigeria demonstrated that inequality and respect of the human rights of women could not be taken for granted and required the constant and sustained attention of the international community, in particular, in the context of the post-2015 agenda.

Maldives said that sustainable development could only be achieved with the full realization of human rights, particularly women’s rights.  Adequate access to resources for women remained a key challenge and much more needed to be done to address violence against women.  Montenegro strongly believed in women’s political and economic empowerment and noted that women and girls continued to suffer poor health and education and discrimination.  There was a crucial link between investing in women and achieving sustainable development.  Meaningful and sustainable development could not be achieved without developing half of the human potential and on this there was an overwhelming political consensus, said India.  The new development agenda must value women’s potential and their contributions, paid and unpaid, to families, societies and economies.  

Austria said that the Millennium Development Goals had played an important role in raising certain issues related to women’s rights.  It was crucial that the new agenda contain a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as mainstreaming of gender in all other goals.  Sierra Leone stressed the importance of the financing required for achieving the ambitious goals of the new development agenda and warned that unless financing could be guaranteed through national resources, private sector investment and official development assistance, the goals would remain nothing more that pipe dreams. 

Switzerland said that the new development agenda should contain a stand-alone goal on gender equality and empowerment, as well as gender indicators for all other goals.  Switzerland was particularly concerned by violence against women and girls and said that sexual and reproductive health rights should be included in the new agenda.  Italy said that the time had come for the international community to define a new paradigm of development that built on the gaps and lessons of the Millennium Development Goals.  Anchoring the post-2015 framework in human rights standards would be the best way to affirm that development was not a matter of policy choices for countries, but a matter of human rights obligations.

Human Rights Commission of Malaysia believed that promoting the equality of women should be contained in the post-2015 agenda.  In Malaysia, the quota to have at least 30 per cent of women in decision-making positions had now been expanded to the private sector.  Discrimination existed when it came to passing citizenship from Malaysian mothers to their children if they were born to foreign fathers.  International Lesbian and Gay Association said that States were failing in their human rights commitments by failing to meet targets on gender and sex equality.  Inequality and violence continued against many marginalized groups, including girls, women and gay and lesbian persons.  Could the panel advise how States could work better with civil society to integrate the rights of lesbian, transgender, bisexual and intersex women into the post-2015 agenda?  Amnesty International urged States to ensure that all post-2015 goals were in line with, and inclusive of, human rights standards.  Gender equality and empowerment were widely recognized as ways to fight poverty.  Gender equality should be a stand-alone goal and mainstreamed across all goals and targets.

GITA SEN, Professor, Centre for Public Policy, Indian Institute of Management Bangalore & Adjunct Professor, Global Health and Population, Harvard School of Public Health, said there were three critical elements to the issue of indicators.  The first was that mainstreaming had not been successful in the past because it had not had any money behind it.  Looking at the funding there was for women’s organizations or women’s equality, it came from official development assistance, not enough came from Governments’ own budgets.  Secondly, going back to indivisibility and interdependence, the almost complete silence or absence of the problems of adolescent girls in particular was noteworthy.  If this was not addressed, the problems would be compounded as these girls grew up and became women.  They could be considered a special indicator, with a cluster of indicators.    Lastly, it was extremely important to recognise that without bodily autonomy and integrity and the ability to stay free of sexual abuse and violence, it would not be possible for adolescent girls to have access to education, jobs and anything else. 

KINGSLEY KARIUKI, Kenya Federation of Slum Dwellers, noted that there had been much reference in the discussion to issues of budgeting and financing.  With regards to financial or quasi financial mechanisms, maybe the northern countries could consider issues to do with debt swaps.  Financial mechanisms had to be put in place and contextualised. 

FRANCES RADAY, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice, said that they had to ensure that access to education was de facto.  There also had to be practices to combat non-attendance by girls.  They needed to provide a core syllabus to teach women’s human rights to boys and girls.  Informal work had to be reclassified, extending social security and maternity rights to women in informal work.  The advancement of women in decision-making in the public and private spheres had to be added to the development goals.  Details had to be added to the elimination of violence against women by preventing, deterring and punishing gender based violence and sexual harassment in all public and private arenas. 

LUISA CABAL, Lecturer-in-Law at the Columbia University School of Law, said that there seemed to an agreement on the need to have universal access to reproductive health.  Human rights components in the access to health had to be preserved, and those most marginalized had to be reached.  One of the pillars of sexual and reproductive health was women’s autonomy in decision-making, which was why criminal and punitive provisions in various legislation ought to be eliminated.  Remedies and compensation both had to be included with the view of protecting women’s rights.

SARASWATHI MENON, Director of the Policy Division at UN Women, stated that the panel was calling not only for data desegregation by sex but also by age.  While the Millennium Development Goals did not address violence against women because of the supposed lack of data, that was no longer the case, as more than 90 countries had collected relevant information.  Gender-responsive targets were needed for each one of the future post-2015 goals.  Regarding budgeting and resources, Ms. Menon said that a commitment to gender equality could be introduced as a priority in official development assistance.

Netherlands, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said that gender equality and the empowerment of women, including access to sexual and reproductive health, were recognised as cornerstones of population and development 20 years ago.  However, full enjoyment of reproductive health remained an aspiration for millions of women and girls, who suffered from child marriages, who lacked access to comprehensive sexuality education and health care services, or who suffered from discrimination.  Mexico provided examples of national initiatives to achieve substantive equality.  It was vital to mainstream gender equality among the post-2015 development goals, ensuring respect for the rights of women and girls.  Mexico was leading the working group on gender statistics, which sought to monitor and assess policies from a gender perspective; and, together with Colombia, it was working on a resolution on this area.  Israel noted that its agency for international development cooperation held an international conference for women leaders on the topic of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda in cooperation with UN Women and the United Nations Development Programme.  Israel recommended coalition building among international organizations, governments, the private sector, the media and civil society, to influence the formulation of post-2015 and to ensure implementation.

Spain said that despite progress made, all United Nations reports on the post-2015 development goals showed that discrimination against women and girls constituted one of the greatest challenges and often involved multiple instances of overlapping discrimination.  Spain reaffirmed its commitment to gender equality and women’s rights and supported the dual strategy adopted by UN Women suggesting both that women’s equality constituted a stand-alone goal and was also mainstreamed into specific objectives; and asked what were the prospects for incorporating women’s peace and security resolution (1325) into the post-2015 agenda.  Turkey said that although the Millennium Development Goals had succeeded in reducing poverty, much needed to be done in fighting against the rising levels of relative poverty and inequalities.  Women composed the largest demographic group in the world still facing inequalities, limited choices and restricted freedoms, including in education, health, social protection, and economic opportunities.  A development agenda that left no one was needed.

France considered that equality between men and women was a moral and economic imperative which encouraged the progress of society as a whole and as such should be placed at the heart of priorities for the post-2015 development agenda.  Chile stressed the importance of addressing the uneven distribution of paid and unpaid work between women and men and said that public policies needed to immediately consider domestic work as a social and collective responsibility and treat persons who provided it as right holders.  Care was a positive social good and a backbone of all societies.  Australia welcomed the consensus around the inclusion of gender equality as a stand-alone goal in the new development agenda and said that it should also be integrated in other areas, especially health, education, poverty, food security and others. 

Ethiopia agreed that in formulating the post-2015 development agenda, due consideration should be given to reducing gender inequality in access to basic services and empowerment of women and stressed that the primary responsibility for the implementation of that agenda was with States, who needed to have adequate policy space.  Slovenia was committed to intensifying efforts to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls at national and international levels and asked about ways of including sexual and reproductive health and rights in the post-2015 agenda and about ways to raise awareness among men and boys about those issues.  Poland said that women’s rights and gender equality must receive particular attention in the new development agenda in the form of a stand-alone goal; this goal could contain the economic empowerment of women, the elimination of violence against women, and the political participation of women at all levels.  Bulgaria fully shared the concept that the rights of women were an inseparable part of human rights as recognized by the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and its policies on gender equality called for political and public participation of women at all levels, and in all sectors.

Action Canada for Population and Development said that the goal 5 on maternal health was the least likely to be achieved among the Millennium Development Goals.  The framework for the future sustainable development agenda should ensure access for women and girls to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services.  Gender equality and women’s empowerment should be featured as a stand-alone goal.  General Arab Women’s Federation, in a joint statement with Geneva International Centre for Justice, stated that as a result of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, one-third of Iraqis were living in poverty, which had also led to a high increase of sexual exploitation.  The numbers of trafficked Iraqi teenagers was estimated between thousands and tens of thousands.  Femmes Afrique Solidarité called for strengthened references to women’s rights in the sustainable development goals.  Poverty could not be fought against without empowering the backbone of economies in Africa.   The inclusion of women in negotiations and peacebuilding was essential for securing sustainable peace.  Land tenure and inheritance rights for women should also be promoted. 

SARAH COOK, Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development and Panel Moderator,  said that a strong focus on adolescents and budgeting and accountability mechanisms were among the important points raised today.  The issue of how to increase the awareness of men and boys about gender was also of importance.

FRANCES RADAY, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Discrimination against women in law and practice, said that all the proposals for improving the situation of women comprised a series of good  practices that had been or were currently being implemented in some States, or had been implemented in the past, and were feasible.  This should not be overlooked, on the contrary, this feasibility should be emphasised as part of placing them on the mandatory agenda.

SARASWATHI MENON,  Director of the Policy Division, UN Women, reiterated that the awareness and involvement of men and boys were critical.  Ms. Menon recalled the findings of a study conducted in Asia concerning violence against girls and women.  The study had found that many of the male participants, in particularly young boys, who had committed acts of violence claimed that this was their entitlement.  Ms. Menon also cited a study on violence against women carried out by the European Union which showed that a significant proportion of women had suffered incidents of violence, up to 50 per cent in some countries, but the reporting rate was as low as 14 per cent.   Violence against women should be a universal agenda. 

LUISA CABAL, Lecturer-in-Law, Columbia University School of Law, said that there was an opportunity to link the monitoring of the implementation of the new development agenda and the existing monitoring of human rights obligations such as the Universal Periodic Review.

GITA SEN, Professor, Centre for Public Policy at the Indian Institute of Management,  Bangalore, and Adjunct Professor of Global Health and Population at the Harvard School of Public Health, addressed the issue of accountability and said that it was important to complete the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocols.  Women’s organizations and young people’s organizations were crucial in holding up the mirror to see what was being done on the ground and to do so they needed adequate funding and the space to operate.  Accountability meant that civil society was present and participating at national and international levels, including the ongoing discussions on the new development agenda in New York.  There was also a need to reach men and boys through education, policies and awareness to recognize that gender equality and women’s rights did not need to be a zero sum game; it was good for everyone, for the whole society, including men and boys.

KINGSLEY KARIUKI, Kenya Federation of Slum Dwellers, said that instrumental in moving forward was the use of disaggregated data and research and linking them to larger macroeconomic and macro-social policies surrounding cities, in short to translate research into concrete and scalable policies.  Also important was to be need based and not prescriptive and to contextualize all actions. 

SARAH COOK, Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development and Panel Moderator, said that there was an agreement that gender equality should be a universal agenda and that there were positive ways to move forward on it.

Right of Reply

Lebanon, speaking in a right of reply, stressed that a political party which had been labelled as a terrorist by a speaker today, participated in the political life of Lebanon.  Such a description was unacceptable and should not be repeated.


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC14/072E