Ladies and Gentlemen,
May I as moderator start by extending to you all a warm welcome and to thank you for coming to discuss the very important issue of how to address what has been demonstrated to be a protection gap with respect to women’s equality before the law. Let me also thank missions from all other regional groups for co-sponsoring this event together with Norway, namely: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore and Slovenia. This is an informal event and therefore no interpretation could be provided. However, I trust that it will not hinder a constructive debate.
We can collectively recognize that important progress to eliminate discrimination against women has been made since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Particularly so at the normative level. Nevertheless, full equality before the law is not a reality for women. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women clearly sets the obligation of States Parties “to take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women.”
Before I introduce today’s panellists let me briefly recall where we stand. Firstly, in 1995, at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, state signatories undertook to “revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex. Secondly, in 2000, at the Special Session of the General Assembly to review the outcome of the World Conference, States set 2005 as the target for removing discriminatory legislation against women. Thirdly, in 2005, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) reviewed the progress made with respect to commitments undertaken. The result was discouraging. The Commission concluded that ‘legislative and regulatory gaps, as well as lack of implementation and enforcement of legislation and regulations, perpetuate de jure as well as de facto inequality and discrimination.’ A decision was made to consider ‘the advisability of the appointment of a special rapporteur on laws that discriminate against women, bearing in mind the existing mechanisms with a view to avoid duplication …’ which was discussed by CSW in 2005 and 2006.
The UN Secretary-General expressed support for the initiative in two studies on the issue. However, the establishment of a Special Rapporteur was at that time thought by some stake-holders to be premature in particular in light of the creation and institution building of the Human Rights Council and review of the special mechanisms.
In 2007 the momentum surrounding the initiative for the establishment of a Special Rapporteur moved to Geneva, based inter alia on the offer by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to further assist the process and prepare an analytical report on how the existing mechanisms have addressed de jure discrimination against women and the resulting protection gaps.
This analytical report confirms the findings of the Commission on the Status of Women. Full equality before the law is not a reality for women – and this is the situation in all regions of the world. The report recommended to deal with this gap as a matter of urgency.
Subsequent to the launch of the commissioned report in March 2008, OHCHR organized two events in Geneva to give Member States an opportunity to express and exchange their views: the first Panel in April presented the results of the study, it was followed by a side event during the 8th session of the Human Rights Council in June. While high attendance and substantive interventions at both events indicated a considerable interest in the thematic issue of women’s equality before the law, it has also made it clear that for further progress to be made in the Human Rights Council, it is vital that the process is State-owned and State driven.
This being said, let me also take this opportunity to pay tribute to the NGO’s for their important work.
While there are many ideas of how to make progress and by what means, I believe, there is unanimity as to the need for action to be taken. In this respect, regardless of what new mechanism that might be established, CEDAW must continue to play its pivotal role in this important area. Any new mechanism should be closely linked to and build upon the work of CEDAW.
CEDAW is presently meeting in Geneva. Thus, one of the aims of this meeting is to benefit from the presence of CEDAW members when discussing how to accelerate the achievement of the commitments made by governments to eliminate laws that discriminate against women, including on how a possible new mechanism could contribute to this effect.
. It is therefore with great pleasure that I wish to introduce today’s panelists:
• Ms. Dubravka Šimonović, The Chairperson of the CEDAW Committee,
• two further long-standing members of CEDAW, Ms. Beate Schöpp-Schilling and Ms. Pramila Patten and
• Ms. Jesscia Neuwirth, President of Equality Now, to complement the panel with the civil society perspective.
Following the panelists’ presentation I will open the floor for your comments, questions and suggestions. I trust we shall have a constructive debate that will feed into the work of the Human Rights Council, as it endeavors to fulfill its commitment to making progress for women’s rights and integrating a gender perspective into its work. Dear colleagues, let us together help improve the reality for many women word-wide.