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Human Rights Council holds annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout its work

Human Rights Council
MORNING 

15 September 2017

The Human Rights Council this morning held its annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms.  The theme of the discussion was “the Universal Periodic Review and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: achieve greater gender equality and empower all women and girls.”

Delivering the opening statement, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that far too many women and girls continued to be deprived of equal access to resources, denied choice, robbed of opportunities and constrained by false and humiliating stereotypes.  Holding women back not only violated their rights as individuals; it meant they could not contribute their full talents and skills.  A recent report had suggested that global economic growth would increase $ 12 trillion by 2025 if every country were to match the increase in gender equality achieved by the best-performing nation in its region, a goal which appeared eminently feasible.

Introducing the annual discussion, Claire Somerville, Executive Director of the Gender Centre at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and Discussion Moderator, reminded that the current discussion represented a moment to both reflect on progress and lessons learned, but also to redouble efforts going forward as the international community embraced the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  With the goal 5 on gender equality in one hand, and the Universal Periodic Review in the other, the international community had unprecedented means with which to achieve the full and complete realisation of gender equality nationally, regionally and globally. 

Roland Chauville, Executive Director of UPR Info and panellist, noted that quantitatively speaking there was an undeniable ubiquity of women’s rights throughout the Universal Periodic Review.  However, the recommendations had generally been of a relatively low standard in terms of specificity; only 30 per cent had been action-oriented.  Too often, women had been clustered with other groups, such as children, and labelled collectively as “vulnerable.”  Gender-stereotyping not only undermined their legitimacy as rights-holders, but also conflated issues, thus diluting the effectiveness of recommendations. 

Salma Nims, Secretary General of the Commission for Women in Jordan and panellist, noted that it had long been recognized that it was not possible to achieve inclusive and sustainable development without achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls in societies wherever they were.  While State reporting mechanisms for human rights treaty bodies, as well as Special Procedures, made special efforts to be participatory and inclusive, they remained outside the over-arching national development planning processes.  Efforts for gender mainstreaming were more of an add-on and focused on social development and services rather than women rights and gender responsive approaches.

Dorothy Nyasulu, Assistant Representative, Malawi Country Office, United Nations Population Fund and panellist, emphasised that States parties had to consider the gender dimension on all Sustainable Development Goals and their impact on all women and girls.  That included the proportion of poor and vulnerable groups, disaggregated data that would ensure targeting of the really vulnerable, and ensuring that States parties provided specific evidence and more comprehensive issues on gender and human rights.  There could not be gender equality without the fulfilment of sexual and reproductive rights. 

Eva Grambye, Deputy Executive Director of the International Division at the Danish Institute for Human Rights, noted that more than 6,000 Universal Periodic Review recommendations related to women’s rights and gender equality, and could be linked directly to one of the targets under the Sustainable Development goal 5.  Making use of advanced technology, States could easily sift through huge amounts of information and extract the elements relevant for their implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.  The method had the potential to look into specific country contexts and regional biases, and the potential for cross-fertilisation.

During the discussion, speakers noted that in far too many parts of the world, those still left behind were girls and women.  Gender equality was first and foremost a human rights issue - the undisputable right of women and girls to enjoy the same rights as those of men and boys.  Yet, no country in the world had addressed gender inequality in a comprehensive manner.  Speakers regretted that despite Human Rights Council resolutions, very few of these went beyond gender-based violence or equal representation.  What mattered was that women led the debate.  It was thus important to ensure that gender parity was mainstreamed within all operations of the United Nations at all levels.  The Universal Periodic Review could play an important role to identify challenges, while the Agenda 2030 could ensure gender mainstreaming as a vital means for achieving all Sustainable Development Goals. 

Speaking were European Union, Belgium on behalf of a group of countries, Estonia on behalf of a group of countries, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, Switzerland on behalf of a group of countries, Tunisia on behalf of the African Group, Chile on behalf of a group of countries, Canada on behalf of a group of countries, Brazil on behalf of the community of Portuguese-speaking Countries, Ireland, Ethiopia, Bahrain, Botswana, Pakistan, Maldives, Bulgaria, Qatar, Georgia, Italy, India, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Spain, Bangladesh, Israel, Greece, Viet Nam, Angola, United Arab Emirates and Sierra Leone.  International Development Law Organization also spoke.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, Swedish Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, Terre Des Hommes Federation Internationale, CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation, International Service for Human Rights, Action Canada for Population and Development, and Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik.  

The Council will resume its work today at 3 p.m. when it will continue the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to development.  It will then hold a general debate on the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.  

Opening Remarks

JOAQUÍN ALEXANDER MAZA MARTELLI, President of the Human Rights Council, introduced the annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms, pursuant to Council resolution 6/30.  This year’s theme was “the Universal Periodic Review and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: achieve greater gender equality and empower all women and girls.”

Opening Statement

ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that far too many women and girls continued to be deprived of equal access to resources, denied choice, robbed of opportunities and constrained by false and humiliating stereotypes.  Holding women back not only violated their rights as individuals; it meant they could not contribute their full talents and skills.  A recent report had suggested that global economic growth would increase $ 12 trillion by 2025 if every country were to match the increase in gender equality achieved by the best-performing nation in its region, a goal which appeared eminently feasible.  Instead of increasing momentum towards greater rights for women, there was a backlash in many regions.  The revival of populism had amplified a recent wave of efforts to restrict hard-won advances in women’s rights, such as efforts to de-fund, restrict and criminalise aspects of sexual and reproductive health. 

The ongoing reforms of the United Nations development system would encourage regional coordinators and United Nations country teams to follow up and assist implementation of the recommendations by human rights mechanisms within the context of their development programming.  The universality of the Universal Periodic Review gave it a crucial role as a forum for making recommendations, sharing good practices and reporting on progress in upholding human rights.  There was a strong potential for deeper linkage between the Universal Periodic Review and the United Nations’ development framework and capacity.  But in order to achieve the kind of strong, actionable recommendations which could spark real change, the Universal Periodic Review had to move away from cosy generalities and a sometimes fragmented approach, towards rights-based, comprehensive recommendations that promoted women’s and girls’ choices and autonomy.  Equally, recommendations to promote women’s access to health care had to be premised on respect for their right to make decisions about their bodies.  Social norms that promoted stereotypes needed to be challenged.  The Universal Periodic Review’s first two cycles had seen a considerable number of recommendations on women’s issues, but some issues had not received much attention.  For many girls opportunities had been ferociously curtailed.  The Sustainable Development Goals could become the gender agenda that the world so badly needed.  For that to happen, there had to be consistent and universal efforts to ensure disaggregated data and that marginalised girls and women participated in decision-making that affected them.  Breaking down barriers to women’s and girls’ rights was not only essential for the well-being of billions of individuals, but was also a driver for peace and development, the High Commissioner concluded. 

Statements by the Moderator and the Panellists

CLAIRE SOMERVILLE, Executive Director of the Gender Centre at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and Panel Moderator, reminded that the current discussion was the tenth annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective in the work of the Human Rights Council, and as such a moment to both reflect on progress and lessons learned, but also to redouble efforts going forward as the international community embraced the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  The theme of this year’s discussion drew on the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which emphasised the importance of gender equality as both a cross-cutting intersectional issue, but also a goal in itself.  With that global political commitment, the international community had a historical opportunity to complete what was begun in 1948 when the Universal Declaration had enshrined that all human beings were born free and equal in dignity and in all rights.  Yet no country had achieved full gender equality.  Today’s theme asked participants to think through the Universal Periodic Review together with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular goal 5 on gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.  With goal 5 on gender equality in one hand, and the Universal Periodic Review in the other, the international community had unprecedented means with which to achieve the full and complete realisation of gender equality nationally, regionally and globally. 

Ms. Somerville then asked the first panellist about how effective gender integration in the Universal Periodic Review had been in the first and the second cycle.  What should recommendations for the third cycle be to successfully guide the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in a gender-responsive way?  

ROLAND CHAUVILLE, Executive Director of UPR Info and panellist, explained that UPR Info was a non-governmental organization that worked to promote and strengthen the Universal Periodic Review.  Council resolutions 5/1 and 6/30 expressly called for the inclusion of a gender perspective in all stages of the Universal Periodic Review.  The mechanism had acted as a catalyst to strengthen cooperation with other human rights bodies such as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Special Procedures.  Nauru had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women after receiving a Universal Periodic Review recommendation, while Thailand had withdrawn its reservation to Article 16 which guaranteed the rights of women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations.  The socio-economic empowerment of women had equally featured in Universal Periodic Review recommendations.  UPR Info’s analysis had found that women’s rights and gender were the theme that had triggered the highest action by mid-term.  Quantitatively speaking there was an undeniable ubiquity of women’s rights throughout the Universal Periodic Review.  Out of over 57,000 recommendations made during cycle 1 and 2, women’s rights and gender had accounted for over 10,700, of which 85 per cent had been accepted.  Qualitatively speaking, however, there were shortfalls.  The recommendations had generally been of a relatively low standard in terms of specificity; only 30 per cent had been action orientated.  Too often, women had been clustered with other groups, such as children, and labelled collectively as “vulnerable.”  This gender-stereotyping not only undermined their legitimacy as rights-holders, but also conflated issues, thus diluting the effectiveness of recommendations. 

Including gender in the Universal Periodic Review recommendations was only one element of the process.  According to resolution 6/30, a gender perspective should be included at all stages of the review.  It further called on States to consult with non-governmental organizations working on gender issues in the preparation of the national report.  This consultation had to include marginalized voices of society, including grassroots movements in rural areas.  On the home front, UPR Info systematically integrated a gender perspective at its pre-sessions to ensure that gender and women’s rights were raised at the international advocacy platform.  The first-hand information shared by local non-governmental organizations offered a unique insight into the level of gender equality on the ground.  In terms of implementation, it was crucial that States established a national mechanism for reporting and follow-up.  This mechanism had to monitor gender-related recommendations, as well as ensure an integrated gender perspective across all human rights.  Mid-term reporting was yet another critical element of the Universal Periodic Review process.  In addition, UPR Info proposed a new strategy for the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review.  One year after the adoption, each State should report on five recommendations of its choice during the item 6 general debate.  This would encourage States to start working on the implementation immediately after their review.  If gender-related recommendations were included amongst the five, this would further accelerate efforts to combat gender discrimination. 

CLAIRE SOMMERVILLE, Executive Director of the Gender Centre, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, and Panel Moderator, underscored that Jordan had submitted this year its voluntary national review, which was aimed at facilitating the sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned, with a view to accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  How could the Universal Periodic Review process make use of these voluntary reports?  How could the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Goals and the Universal Periodic Review mechanism engage with each other?

SALMA NIMS, Secretary General of the Commission for Women in Jordan and panellist, outlined the importance of the 2030 Agenda, especially Sustainable Development Goal 5, which along with the targets relating to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls within the other goals were perceived as a substantive opportunity to transform the development agenda mechanism and principles through a participatory approach that ensured effective and just implementation.  It had long been recognized that it was not possible to achieve inclusive and sustainable development without achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls in societies wherever they were.  Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 had successfully brought the human rights agenda into the development agenda.  In Jordan, for example, until the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals 2030, development planning processes were technocratic and disconnected from human rights processes, frameworks and reporting mechanisms.  Human rights were regarded as contested political issues.  While State reporting mechanisms for human rights treaty bodies as well as Special Procedures made a special effort to be participatory and inclusive, they remained outside the over-arching national development planning processes.  Efforts for gender mainstreaming were made; yet they were more of an add-on and focused on social development and services rather than women rights and gender responsive approaches.

Ms. Nims outlined that a recent experimental data mining study carried out by the Danish Institute for Human Rights, which analysed the recommendations issued by States over the two cycles of the Universal Periodic Review, revealed that more than 50 per cent of those recommendations were related to specific Sustainable Development Goals targets; 25 per cent were linked to Goal 5 with more than half of those focusing on violence against women and others related to discrimination against women, among others.  The third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review provided an excellent opportunity to make use of the 2030 Agenda to advance the human rights agenda.

CLAIRE SOMERVILLE, Executive Director of the Gender Centre at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and Discussion Moderator, noted that the 2030 Agenda took a holistic approach to addressing the challenges of sustainable development, and prioritized gender equality as a standalone goal and also as a cross-cutting issue, without which the overarching aims of the 2030 Agenda could not be realized.  However, despite extensive efforts by Governments to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, women and girls continued to be subjected to discrimination, violence and harmful practices and were denied the full realization of their rights.  The United Nations Population Fund had been working extensively to assess how Universal Periodic Review recommendations in the context of national planning, coordination and tracking mechanisms, could contribute to advancing women’s rights in a less fragmented and mutually reinforcing way.  How could the Universal Periodic Review contribute to realizing human rights for all without discrimination?

DOROTHY NYASULU, Assistant Representative, Malawi Country Office, United Nations Population Fund and panellist, said the United Nations Population Fund had a holistic approach in its strategic plan, which looked at how to work with the Universal Periodic Review to ensure recommendations were domesticated in countries.  The 23 countries in the eastern and southern Africa office had trained their officers to this effect.  The Sustainable Development Goals, including those on women empowerment, presented an opportunity to the Human Rights Council to ensure that no one was left behind.  The Universal Periodic Review was a mechanism that had provided a valuable opportunity to support efforts by the United Nations Population Fund and other actors to contribute to gender equality and the realisation of sexual and reproductive rights as well as other rights, and to provide a policy platform for accountability.

Transparency, universal process, a predictable opportunity for civil society participation, and continued progress made in human rights obligations, were among the values held by the United Nations Population Fund.  Making sure that focal points were in the different processes of the Universal Periodic Review, and that they would actively participate and be heard was extremely important.  Among priorities were gender and human rights institutions, and including the recommendations in the existing human rights mechanism.  Support at the national level had ensured that stakeholders in countries were aligned in their views and efforts.  Evidence had been documented from the first two cycles in terms of how issues of women and girls had been highlighted.  For example, Malawi had received 132 recommendations, and 41 were rejected.  Out of the accepted recommendations, 20 were on women’s rights, 40 on child labour, 4 on maternal mortality and 4 on trafficking. However the language was a bit vague.  Comprehensive sexuality education had 15 recommendations.  However, there had been nothing on pregnancy and on gender stereotyping, and these and other issues that affected gender equality remained.  Family planning, participation of marginalised populations in policy making processes, and other issues also remained.  States parties had to consider the gender dimension on all Sustainable Development Goals and their impact on all women and girls.  This included, the proportion of poor and vulnerable groups, disaggregated data that would ensure targeting of the really vulnerable, and ensure that States parties provided specific evidence on more comprehensive issues on gender and human rights.  There could not be gender equality without the fulfilment of sexual and reproductive rights.  States parties had to zero in on these rights.

CLAIRE SOMERVILLE, Executive Director of the Gender Centre at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and Discussion Moderator, said that according to the Danish Institute for Human Rights, more than 6,000 recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review could be directly linked to one of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals.  How could that data be used to help countries move forward in the implementation of the human rights agenda?

EVA GRAMBYE, Deputy Executive Director of the International Division at the Danish Institute for Human Rights and panellist, noted that neither human rights nor the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development could be realised without achieving gender equality.  Gender equality could be a catalyst for realising both.  The Sustainable Development Goals had relatively weak follow-up and review mechanisms that provided no guidance to States.  One of the questions that arose was to what extent the Universal Periodic Review was actually fit for purpose in terms of guiding the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Were recommendations too general or too specific to provide guidance?  Was it too cumbersome and too complex for States to search and relate hundreds of Universal Periodic Review recommendations to 169 targets? 

The Danish Institute for Human Rights sought to provide some answers to those fundamental questions through data mining.  Making use of an algorithm that could relate Universal Periodic Review recommendations to the Sustainable Development Goals and targets.  When it was done, the Danish Institute for Human Rights would meaningfully link a total of 65 to 75 per cent of Universal Periodic Review recommendations to specific goals and targets.  More than 6,000 recommendations related to women’s rights and gender equality, and could be linked directly to one of the targets under the Sustainable Development Goal 5.  Making use of advanced technology, States could easily sift through huge amounts of information and extract the elements relevant for their implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.  The method had the potential to look into specific country contexts and regional biases.  It also had the potential for cross-fertilisation: the knowledge obtained was not limited to gender equality, but also to other areas of the Sustainable Development Goals, Ms. Grambye explained.     

Discussion

European Union recalled that a core commitment of the 2030 Agenda was to leave no one behind.  Yet in far too many parts of the world, those still left behind were girls and women.  Gender equality was first and foremost a human rights issue - the undisputable right of women and girls to enjoy the same rights as those of men and boys.  Belgium, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, highlighted that no country in the world had addressed gender inequality in a comprehensive manner.  The Universal Periodic Review and the 2030 Agenda were complementary and mutually reinforcing tools to reach gender equality.  Estonia, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, urged all States to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination against women.  It was of utmost importance to reach universal access to sexual and reproductive health in order to achieve gender equality.  The enjoyment of all human rights by girls and women should be a universal reality. 

Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, said that it was actively engaged with UN Women and other United Nations specialized agencies for promoting women’s rights and gender related issues.  The Organization for Islamic Cooperation noted that it was highly important to maintain equitable geographical representation of women in the United Nations system.  Switzerland, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said that implementing the Sustainable Development Goals could only be achieved through measures respecting, promoting or realizing human rights.  It was widely recognized that gender equality and the empowerment of women were critical factors for sustainable development and economic growth.  Tunisia, speaking on behalf of the African Group, was committed to the integration of a gender perspective.  The Universal Periodic Review process remained one of the most significant periodical peer reviews in the United Nations system and a significant mechanism within which the integration of a gender perspective could be enhanced. 

Chile, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, expressed support for resolution 6/30 on integrating women’s and girls’ rights throughout the United Nations system.  Agenda 2030 was a way in which all women and girls could enjoy their rights and overcome social and economic obstacles.  The Universal Periodic Review could help change patriarchal cultural practices.  Canada, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said that at the country level, the Universal Periodic Review mechanism could serve as a powerful tool in pursuing reforms and bringing about positive change in societies in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and targets.  They invited all States parties to join them in turning political will into effective action.  Brazil, speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries, said respect for the principles of equality and non-discrimination was a fundamental human right and an obligation for States.  This commitment entailed combatting discrimination and gender-based abuse.  The Universal Periodic Review could play an important role to identify challenges, while the Agenda 2030 could ensure gender mainstreaming as a vital means for achieving all Sustainable Development Goals. 

Ireland said there was clear complementarity between the High Level Political Forum on Development, which ensured the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Universal Periodic Review.  The Universal Periodic Review cycles had thus far led to significant steps in the achievement of human rights, and it was therefore equally important to ensure that the High Level Political Forum had the same impact.  Ethiopia emphasised the importance of the enjoyment of human rights.  By ensuring the empowerment of women through these rights, the Universal Periodic Review mechanism offered valuable opportunities to States.  What could the international community do to further empower women in developing countries?  Bahrain appreciated all international efforts that linked the United Nations mechanisms and the Sustainable Development Goals.  Bahrain was currently enacting and amending laws in order to bolster the participation of women, and it had previously accepted the majority of the recommendations relating to women’s rights.  What were the mechanisms that would allow women to have an equal occupation of posts in the United Nations?

Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions stated that national human rights institutions had a unique bridge-building role and were in a position to operationalise their expertise on the human rights system and gender equality to support the realisation of women’s rights and gender equality as part of the 2030 Agenda.  Swedish Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights - RFSL, in a joint statement with International Lesbian and Gay Association, noted that it was crucial that the Universal Periodic Review and the Sustainable Development Goals were inclusive and open for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex organizations as they both represented historic opportunities to reduce economic, social and political inequality.  Terre Des Hommes Fédération Internationale, in a joint statement with several NGOs1, underlined that progress had to be made in order to adequately mainstream gender in the Universal Periodic Review because evidence indicated that gender-related recommendations were the least specific.   

Remarks

CLAIRE SOMERVILLE, Executive Director of the Gender Centre at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and Discussion Moderator thanked the delegations and the non-governmental organizations for their participation to the discussion and asked the panellists to comment on the participation of civil society to the Universal Periodic Review process in response to a question by Switzerland.

ROLAND CHAUVILLE, Executive Director of UPR Info, said while both the Universal Periodic Review and the 2030 Agenda were country-led and predominantly oriented towards States, non-governmental organizations had been having an increasing impact.  Any non-governmental organizations, including non-ECOSOC accredited non-governmental organizations, could submit reports to the Universal Periodic Review and could use the pre sessions held by UPR Info to express themselves.  Non-governmental organizations had a great impact in the Universal Periodic Review process in that sense.  Cooperation of non-governmental organizations with governments had also been often highlighted, including their role in helping States implement international principles.  They could offer not only information but also solutions.  They should be given more access to the high-level platform and should meet with States before Universal Periodic Review sessions.

CLAIRE SOMERVILLE, Executive Director of the Gender Centre at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and Discussion Moderator, asked Ms. Nims if she could share some examples from Jordan.

SALMA NIMS, Secretary General of the Commission for Women in Jordan, said that at the national level, adopting the Sustainable Development Goals had created a real shift within the Jordanian Government.  Whereas the Universal Periodic Review had always been done through the delegation, and civil society organizations had for years contributed with shadow reports, the link between the Sustainable Development Goals and the Government had only been established since the High Level Political Forum was created.  In Jordan, Government agencies had been established as an attempt to be part of the Sustainable Development Goals implementation process since the beginning.  The Jordanian delegation to the High Level Political Forum included representatives from civil society organizations, in addition to the Jordanian Government and national agencies.  This was a process from which the country could benefit, and through which an accountability system could be created.  It had created coalitions of civil society organizations which were working on the Sustainable Development Goals and specifically on goal 5.  Thus, there was a clear path towards a more structured approach on realizing rights and a clear movement towards institutionalizing these processes at the national and regional levels.  Civil society organizations had been the ones who were able to push women’s rights on the agenda. 

CLAIRE SOMMERVILLE, Executive Director of the Gender Centre at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and Discussion Moderator, asked about examples of good practices on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.  She also asked for comments on the under-representation of women in decision making processes in developing countries

DOROTHY NYASULU, Assistant Representative, Malawi Country Office, United Nations Population Fund, highlighted the important role that civil society’s organizations had played in making it possible to reform the Constitution in Malawi in order to raise the age of majority from 16 to 18 as requested in the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review.  Good practices should be put in the light and all different stakeholders should be informed about the Universal Periodic Review recommendations.  Ms. Nyasulu underscored that good practices at the national level should be shared in order to reach gender equality.

CLAIRE SOMERVILLE, Executive Director of the Gender Centre at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and Discussion Moderator, asked how could all the available data help the international community move forward in the implementation phase.

EVA GRAMBYE, Deputy Executive Director of the International Division at the Danish Institute for Human Rights, said that one challenge was to see human rights information as data rather than as a simple text.  Recommendations should be fed into policy making at the country level, and connect the use of data.  The Universal Periodic Review had blind spots and gaps.  Recommendations were weak on climate change, access to water and energy.  As for gender equality, violence against women was the dominant issue of the Universal Periodic Review recommendations.  Less attention was given to women’s access to reproductive rights and services, the right to resources, and equal pay for equal work.  Governments should focus on that and pay more attention to it in the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review.  Ms. Grambye suggested that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights provide guidelines to States in that respect.  There was a need to explore how the 2030 Agenda could enforce the human rights agenda.  The 2030 Agenda should push for a broader range of stakeholders.  Businesses also needed to respect human rights so that the Sustainable Development Goals could be fully achieved.  New stakeholders were increasingly becoming aware of sustainability risks.  There was recognition that inequality was a risk and it was bad for business.  Whereas growth could be ignited through inequality, it could not be sustained through inequality, Ms. Grambye emphasised. 

Discussion

Botswana said regrettably the rights of women still lagged behind.  The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals agenda was yet another tool to ensure these rights.  In addition to being a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Botswana’s recent accession of the revised Southern African Development Community’s Protocol on Gender had sought to bridge the gap between constitutional law and traditional law, in order to mainstream gender rights in the system.  Pakistan said it was unfortunate that despite Human Rights Council resolutions, very few of these went beyond gender-based violence or equal representation.  What mattered was that women led the debate.  It was thus important to ensure that gender parity was mainstreamed within all operations of the United Nations at all levels.  Maldives said its Government placed a high priority to integrating gender equality in national policies.  The Gender Equality Act of 2016 enshrined within the law the principle of equal opportunities and equal outcomes, ensuring non-discrimination in employment and encouraging women’s economic empowerment.

Bulgaria said its progress towards gender equality was closely interlinked with efforts to eradicate poverty and the implementation of other Sustainable Development Goals.  Bulgaria placed an emphasis on the wide dissemination of achievements on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the United Nations bodies.  Qatar said the Human Rights Council mechanisms were an important opportunity to urge States to take measures to reach the Sustainable Development Goals and targets.  Qatar placed importance on ensuring that there was no single optimal model when taking into consideration the Universal Periodic Review.  Georgia was fully committed to contributing to the efforts of mainstreaming gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms.  Following a number of recommendations within its second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review to ratify the Istanbul Convention, it had ratified the Convention on 1 September 2017.

Italy believed that the Universal Periodic Review mechanism could play a role of utmost importance in the realization of the 2030 Agenda, including the achievement of gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment.  Italy was highly committed to promoting gender equality and women’s participation in public, political and economic life.  India highlighted that ensuring gender equality, promoting women’s empowerment and combatting discrimination and violence against women were integral to its national pursuit of forging an inclusive society and development.  India said it had adopted an enabling legislative and policy framework for the advancement of women.  Bosnia and Herzegovina affirmed its strong support regarding the integration of a gender perspective in all aspects of the work of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms.  Could the panellists share the details of some of the best practice examples for reporting and follow-up to monitor gender-related Universal Periodic Review recommendations?

Spain was pleased to see that girls’ and women’s empowerment had been bolstered in the 2030 Agenda.  Spain was committed to achieve goal 5: public policies had been adopted to fight gender-based discrimination in every sector of life.   How could Special Procedures include a gender perspective in their work?  International Development Law Organization was concerned that whilst there had been some progress in the world, the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment remained elusive.  Almost 90 per cent of all economies still had legal provisions that discriminated against women.  Gender-based violence remained one of the most pervasive forms of assault on women.  Bangladesh regretted that women’s full participation in decision-making within the family and beyond faced challenges such as discriminatory social norms, gender stereotypes, lack of information and education opportunities, and limited access to resources.  There was still much to do in creating an enabling environment for an equal future.  

CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, in a joint statement with Association for Women's Rights in Development, noted that feminist and youth movements faced additional layers of oppression.  The intersectional restrictions were manifold and included deeply patriarchal norms, lack of political priority, violence and gender-based discrimination targeting adolescent girls. International Service for Human Rights noted that the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals had to have a human rights-based approach, and that States needed to provide for the meaningful participation of women human rights defenders.  A gender perspective should be maintained in all United Nations bodies.  Action Canada for Population and Development  stressed that egregious sexual and reproductive rights violations that directly impacted gender equality and the overall goals of the 2030 Agenda continued to be neglected by States in their recommendations and in national reporting.

Israel reiterated its commitment to gender equality which was evident in its laws and court rulings.  It was repeatedly re-affirmed and promoted through legislative and policy measures, and in constant dialogue with civil society.  Greece attached great importance and strongly supported the Universal Periodic Review, which constituted one of the foundations of the international system for the protection of human rights.  Viet Nam stated that gender equality was one of the prerequisites for sustainable development.  With around 65 per cent of its population living in the countryside, Viet Nam attached great importance to the empowerment of rural and coastal women. 

Angola said the adoption of the 2030 Agenda was a watershed moment and an opportunity to share good practices and steps achieved in the area of gender equality.  Many of the recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review represented a benchmark for the Government of Angola while the Sustainable Development Goals had led the Government to adopt a series of acts to this effect.  United Arab Emirates said the Sustainable Development Agenda was an opportunity to increase awareness on the global level to raise efforts in the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals, especially goal 5.  In 2016, the latest report had rated the United Arab Emirates among the top 50 countries for the achievement of women’s rights.  Sierra Leone said the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda had a specific goal, namely goal 5, with 9 specific targets to achieve women’s rights.  As a result of the work of the United Nations Statistics Commission, 14 concrete indicators measuring success had been identified.  These quantifiable data were indispensable to assess progress. 

Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik, said that for the Islamic Republic of Iran, women’s equality was a Western ideal and women in the West were tools of pleasure, and the result of a Zionist plan for the destruction of mankind.  Women in Iran were still struggling to change the marriage law to raise the legal age of marriage.

Concluding Remarks

CLAIRE SOMMERVILLE, Executive Director of the Gender Centre at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and Discussion Moderator, observed that there had been two different sets of questions asked: one on how to ensure the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Universal Periodic Review recommendations, and the other on how to ensure effective reporting and follow-up and reporting mechanisms.

ROLAND CHAUVILLE, Executive Director of UPR Info, outlined that effective follow-up and reporting required the involvement of civil society and non-governmental organizations working on gender equality.  Supporting civil society was of utmost importance in order to make sure that they could engage with their government and be taken as serious partners in the follow-up process.  Mr. Chauville highlighted that gender was both the easiest and hardest theme to raise during the Universal Periodic Review.  Recommendations could be easily made on issues that were politically non-sensitive such as domestic violence.  But other related issues such as access to reproductive health could also challenge countries. 

SALMA NIMS, Secretary General of the Commission for Women in Jordan, highlighted the importance of the mapping of the activities of non-governmental organizations working on women’s issues in order to establish where the gaps were.  Ms. Nims also underlined the importance on focusing on how countries suffering from conflict in the Arab region dealt with the involvement of women in the peace and security agenda.

DOROTHY NYASULU, Assistant Representative, Malawi Country Office, United Nations Population Fund, said that country participation was critical, as well as strengthening capacity-building.  Civil society organizations and Governments needed to work together towards that goal.  She underlined the use of gender-specific language in relevant resolutions and recommendations in order to follow up on reporting more easily.  As for Member States, she noted that the United Nations agencies in countries remained a great resource for data collection and addressing the right issues.  Finally, Ms. Nyasulu underlined the importance of the active participation of rights holders.

EVA GRAMBYE, Deputy Executive Director of the International Division at the Danish Institute for Human Rights, said she had noted that many had spoken of gender equality as a catalyst for achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.  Many had also spoken of the human rights reporting mechanism as a goldmine for data which was key for countries when implementing the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.  She concluded that the international community had to be smart about how to make data available, how to overcome blind spots in the United Nations mechanisms, and how to recognize the national human rights institutions, inter alia, as key partners in data provision.  If they were smart, they would use these to achieve accountability at the country level, which they were calling for today.

CLAIRE SOMMERVILLE, Executive Director of the Gender Centre of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, summing up the discussion, said that the recommendations made as part of the Universal Periodic Review had resulted in great progress in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals regarding women.  Participants in the debate had raised the fact that data and analytical methods could support alignment in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  They had also spoken of the High Level Political Forum as another avenue where synergies had to be explored.  Ms. Sommerville would leave this meeting with assuredness that there were finally the means to achieve women’s equal rights.  Who would take responsibility for coordinating this impactful alignment of global strategy and global process?  She thanked the panel speakers, the High Commissioner, and all participants for their active participation in this discussion.

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1Joint statement: Terre Des Hommes Fédération Internationale; Defence for Children International; Foundation ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking in Children for Sexual Purposes); Plan International, Inc.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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