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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 March 2005, 05:15 GMT
Women restate demands for equal rights
By Susannah Price
BBC correspondent at the United Nations

Woman carrying belongings on head and baby on back, Antigua, Guatemala
Delegates said women often bear poverty's greatest burden
For the past two weeks, the United Nations headquarters building in New York has been transformed by an influx of crowds of women.

They have gathered in the corridors, cafes and meeting rooms, holding heated discussions on pushing forward equality and women's empowerment.

They came with their male colleagues for a special session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which marked the 10th anniversary of the landmark UN Women's Conference in Beijing.

The 1995 meeting adopted a wide ranging blueprint for action to advance women in a wide range of areas, including poverty, health, armed conflict, power, decision-making and violence.

This month's meeting brought together government delegates from 165 countries - about half of them ministers, along with seven "first ladies".

There were also two Nobel Peace Prize winners and more than 2,500 non-governmental representatives from all over the world.

This meeting... has reaffirmed a quiet revolution that has to be not so quiet
Noeleen Heyzer
Head of Unifem

The government representatives adopted a declaration reaffirming the commitments made in Beijing.

The declaration welcomed the progress made so far and pledged further action.

However, it took longer than expected to draw up as the US originally wanted the declaration to state that the Beijing platform of action did not include the right to abortion.

This amendment received little support, and after a week of negotiations the US finally dropped it.

Education disparity

"This powerful declaration is an unqualified and unconditional reaffirmation of the Beijing declaration and a pledge of further and accelerated implementation of Beijing," said Kyung-wha Kang, head of the Commission of the Status of Women.

Delegates discussed what progress had been made over the past decade in areas such as education, health and politics.

Many also stressed how much more needed to be done.

In the education field, experts said girls' participation at primary school remained substantially lower than that of boys in 71 countries, and the situation was worse at secondary level.

Other groups highlighted countries with laws which discriminate against women and do not allow them to drive, vote, inherit property or divorce.

One speaker pointed out that governments spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the military, and about $3bn on gender equality programmes.

Women in conflict

"This meeting has reaffirmed that security in the world has to be based on women's rights," said Noeleen Heyzer, head of the UN women's agency Unifem.

"It has reaffirmed a quiet revolution that has to be not so quiet."

The meeting passed various resolutions which included eliminating the demand for trafficked women and girls, the need for more action to help women and girls with HIV and Aids, and on the situation of Palestinian women.

Some delegates and activists complained that too much time had been wasted in discussing the declaration and resolutions rather than action, and accused the US of pushing its own agenda for domestic reasons.

However US officials said this was not true and their only agenda was to support women's rights.

Several meetings were organised on the sidelines on subjects such as violence against indigenous women, women's legal rights and the plight of women in conflict zones.

UN officials were clearly pleased by the progress of the meeting and said the level of attendance signalled the high expectations it had generated.

"We have been energised from meeting each other and hearing the solid support from women's organisations and governments," said Charlotte Bunch, executive director of the Center for Women's Global Leadership.

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