Statement by Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at the Beijing+10 Conference, Forty-Ninth Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, 09 March 2005, New York

Panel discussion entitled "Addressing the linkages between the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome document of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly and the internationally agreed development
goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration: progress, gaps and challenges"

Through the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Declaration we made a collective global commitment to gender equality and the empowerment of women. In so doing we committed ourselves to the promotion of human rights, sustainable development, peace, security, democracy and good governance. We identified the promotion of gender equality as one of the most effective and sustainable ways of combating poverty, hunger and disease. Gender equality and the empowerment of women are considered objectives in themselves and the means to achieve overall progress in development. This is in recognition of the pivotal role of women as engines of development and agents for change. Without women's empowerment and gender equality our societies will not be able to achieve the MDGs and their full development potential.

The implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, the outcome of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are intertwined. The attainment of the twelve critical areas of concern, identified in Beijing, is an effective tool for the achievement of the MDGs.

It is therefore proper that as we prepare for the five-year review of the implementation of the Millennium Declaration we should also identify concrete and action-oriented steps to advance the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.

The Beijing Conference identified the persistent burden of poverty on women as one of the critical areas of concern. A central objective of the implementation of the MDGs is also to address poverty and underdevelopment. Yet as we meet ten years after Beijing, women in many parts of the world still live in conditions of abject poverty. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) women comprise 70% of the 1.3 billion people who live on less that a dollar a day. Women still spend more time as men in unpaid work. Furthermore, most of the female labour force is in the informal sector. Indications further show that poverty occurs in every society including the most industrialized countries where over 10 per cent of the population live below the poverty line of less than 50 per cent of median income.

The Beijing Platform for Action recognized the important role of women in decision-making. However, so far not more than 15 countries have reached the critical mass of 30 per cent of representation of women in Parliaments. The involvement of women in policy decision-making and legislative processes is critical in view of the role Parliaments play.

South Africa has met the critical mass of women in decision making with over 30% representation in Parliament and 40% in Cabinet.

- Besides the commitment, South Africa was assisted by the electoral system which facilitated the inclusion of women from all works of life including rural women.

- The use of indigenous languages in Parliament meant that women did not have to be highly educated to participate but they brought real grassroots experience and concerns.

- Since Parliamentarians are high profile this has given women role models and also given the confidence that they can, wherever they are be agents of change.

- More importantly it has guaranteed that the BPA is mainstreamed into the legislation.

- In South Africa there are regular public hearings in parliament and sometimes in the provinces which give women a broader platform for participation.

- The participation of women has ensured that the BPA is mainstreamed in the government policies, programmes, and to some extent the budget.

- The challenge though is still the matching of the policies with a targeted women's budget.

Central to the reduction of poverty among women is the importance of increasing their educational opportunities. The Millennium Project Report shows that many countries, in particular sub-Sahara Africa, are still far from meeting the goal of ensuring gender parity in enrolment and completion rates between boys and girls. It shows that gender parity ratios remain below 0.90 per cent in sub-Saharan countries. Therefore we need to put more efforts in this area. Education of women decreases child mortality and improves the health of families. It improves their chances for employment and therefore the welfare of the families in general. They become more aware of their rights and could contribute also to increasing their level of political participation. Challenges are to provide the necessary infrastructure such as availability of classrooms and qualified teachers.

National budgets also need to be structured so as to enable access by women to education. Beyond access, however, we should also seek to transform our education systems and curricula to instill gender sensitivity. Outside of the classrooms education and socialization should also seek to abolish stereotypes that continue discriminate against girls. I agree with the conclusion of the Millennium Project that education must serve as a vehicle for transforming attitudes, beliefs and entrenched social norms that perpetuate discrimination and inequality.

Education for women is also directly related to the improvement of their health and well-being. Access of women to primary healthcare increases their productivity and also helps to reduce maternal as well as child mortality rates. It is also important to focus on the sexual and reproductive rights of women. Experience shows that when women's sexual and reproductive rights are guaranteed that gives them more choices in life.

Despite advances in medical sciences and the availability of resources in the world women in many countries continue to be casualties of diseases such as HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and other related diseases. These are compounded by poverty.

The provision of basic services such as water, sanitation, electrification, health, education and roads infrastructure, is also important in reducing poverty among women. Our experience in South Africa has shown that the provision of these services can allow women to start their small and medium-sized enterprises, including those that are home-based. Governments should also consider the introduction of incentives for those enterprises that promote gender equality in the procurement of services. In South Africa we are embarking on a process of implementing an Expanded Public Works Programme which, we believe, will bring tangible benefits for women.

In improving the economic opportunities for women we should also transform the systems to remove, amongst others, wage disparities and make workplaces generally conducive for women. Policies and legislation should be put into place to ensure that women are also considered for employment opportunities even in the traditionally male-dominated sectors.

Part of addressing the challenge of creating economic opportunities of women is the importance of transforming national budgets to reflect the priorities of women. In many countries there is still no targeted spending aimed at women.

The persistence of conflicts and wars is another major impediment to the advancement of women. The elimination of wars and the attainment of peace is a pre-requisite for the implementation of the BPA and the MDGs. Wars accentuate poverty among women. They lead to loss of employment, education opportunities let alone the psychological trauma they go through. It compromises their health and increases their vulnerability to sexual violence.

For the creation of a non-sexist society one of the challenges is the socialization of boys and girls which is still based on outdated stereotypes that seek to mould women for inferior roles in life. Certain cultural and religious practices also need to re-examined to ensure that they do not perpetuate a silent oppression of women. Language can also be another barrier to the empowerment of women as it conditions perceptions that are presumptuous to suggest that male counterparts are superior.

In conclusion, as developing countries take actions to address these challenges there is also a need to enhance the global partnership. For the implementation of the BPA and the MDGs particularly in Africa the international community should honour its commitments to official development assistance. It must commit to debt relief and the opening of markets to give opportunities particularly to women entrepreneurs. With commitment it is still possible to enhance the implementation of the BPA and meet the MDGs.

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