Accountability for Gender Equality After Beijing +5

Presentation to the 45th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women

6 March 2001, New York, USA

Madame Chair, Delegates, Colleagues and Friends,

I am very pleased to be invited to address the 45th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. The results of this session have great potential to build on the interest and attention generated by the five-year review of the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Assembly. In particular, there is an opportunity to further the call for increased accountability to achieving gender equality.

The agenda for this CSW includes two themes that are central to UNIFEM and fundamental to women’s survival, options and opportunities. The CSW deliberations on racism and related intolerances can bring to the global community a deeper understanding of the insidious intersection between different types of discriminations, including gender-based discrimination. The focus on gender and HIV/AIDS will enable the CSW to highlight the gender and rights-based dimensions to addressing this pandemic. Let me turn my attention to this latter issue.

The lens through which the HIV/AIDS pandemic is discussed and explored within the Commission on the Status of Women will be distinct from almost any other inter-governmental forum. The CSW enters this theme from the perspective of gender equality, a perspective that has been sorely missing in too many public health policies, HIV/AIDS action plans, and treatment programmes. The reality is that this frightful epidemic is fuelled by gender inequality. This reality must inform all UN Commissions and inter-governmental bodies considering the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This CSW has the opportunity to ensure that gender pervades every future UN meeting on HIV/AIDS.

It is UNIFEM’s view that while AIDS is a health issue, the epidemic is by its very nature, a gender issue. If we can imagine a world in which women and men have equality in decision-making, from the personal and family level, all the way to the national and global level, then we can imagine a world that is free from spiraling rates of HIV/AIDS infection. If we can imagine a world in which women are able to negotiate safe sex, and say no to unwanted sex – and be heeded – then we can imagine a world free of HIV/AIDS.

Women are at the very epicentre of the epidemic. The percentage of women infected is rapidly reaching parity with men, and in some regions, it has already surpassed it. For instance, of the 34.7 million adults living with HIV/AIDS in the year 2000, 47 percent — or 16.4 million – were women. Just three years earlier, in 1997, that figure was 41 percent. However, in sub-Saharan Africa women now account for 55 percent of the total number of people living with the virus. For teenage girls in the region, the reality is even bleaker: they are infected at a rate of 5 or 6 times higher than teenage boys.

Because unequal gender relations are based on power, women are at a deadly disadvantage with regard to HIV/AIDS. And, yet, we already know much of what is required to minimize risks and create a more equal balance of power between men and women. Women need to be encouraged, empowered and safe to say ‘no’ to unsafe sex. Families need to devote the same level of resources to providing health care for their HIV-infected mothers, wives, sisters and daughters as they do for their men. Communities and countries need to care for – rather than isolate and stigmatize – HIV positive women who are trying to piece together their livelihoods and lives. Governments need to understand that women are the social safety net for infected family members and that social service programmes and other support services are needed to lighten this additional burden for women and girls.

We can find inspiration in the many ways that women are responding to this epidemic, including in projects that UNIFEM is supporting. In all regions, women are organizing new livelihood opportunities for networks of women living with HIV/AIDS, launching community research and advocacy strategies to educate other women about their risks and rights, and linking strategies to end HIV/AIDS with strategies to end violence and poverty. UNIFEM and its partners have been involved in numerous pilot projects that have yielded important information about how to address the scourge of HIV/AIDS. Now, we need support and political will to ensure that lessons learned underpin all policies and strategies related to ending HIV/AIDS, and that women are central to prevention and treatment plans, as well as to finding sustainable solutions to this pandemic.

While it is devastating communities and countries, the HIV/AIDS epidemic can also be heard as a wake up call. UNIFEM is launching a new initiative inspired by the African Plan of Action from the African Development Forum at the end of last year, which stated that “The struggle against HIV/AIDS will be won community by community, in every village, township and settlement across Africa.” Building on this, UNIFEM will be supporting communities willing to develop gender equality zones. UNIFEM hopes to work with four communities in different regions of the world, and through this partnership to demonstrate how an integrated “gendered” approach can make a difference in women’s and girls’ lives. We will be inviting other UN agencies to work with us in demonstrating that if we address the challenges of gender inequality and discrimination, and of the lack of rights of women and men living with HIV/AIDS, we can find a way to stem the rapid spread of the disease. The initiative is inspired by an extraordinarily brave young woman named Gugu Dhlamini (GOO GOO DLA-MEENIE) from KwaZulu, South Africa. After Gugu declared her status as a woman living with HIV/AIDS on World AIDS Day in December 1998, she was stoned to death by a group of young men in her community. This initiative seeks to create communities in which such acts are unthinkable.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic and discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity are features of the fragmentation in countries and communities that leads to war and armed conflict. In this regard, the active advocacy of women has created new opportunities, protection and precedents over the past year. Less than 2 weeks ago, the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, for the first time, defined sexual offenses as a crime against humanity. In October, the UN Security Council held an historic session on the issue of Women, Peace and Security at the time of the Namibia’s Presidency. UNIFEM was honoured to play a central role in supporting Namibia to prepare for the session and to bring courageous women from war affected countries to speak to Council members under the Arria formula. Closely linked to this, UNIFEM and its partner, International Alert, will also be launching the first ever Millennium Peace Prize for Women in keeping with the CSW celebration of the theme of Women, Peace and Security on International Women’s Day. I hope you will all have an opportunity to meet and congratulate the six award recipients – Flora Brovina from Kosovo, Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani of Pakistan, Veneranda Nzambariya of Rwanda, Ruta Pacifica from Colombia, Leitana Women’s Development Agency from Papua New Guinea and Women in Black. They will all be with us throughout this week.

Equality, Development, Peace are the long-term goals that focused our attention during Beijing +5. We count on the CSW to stay focused on these goals, but also to place the highest priority on the kind of implementation – programmes and projects and the ground – that can make our vision of a world free from inequalities a reality.

I thank you.