Beirut, 4 December 2003
(United Nations Information Service)--More
than 250 women ministers and chairpersons and members of national
committees and councils, as well as experts in women's issues
representing governmental and non-governmental organizations, from
Bahrain, Egypt, Palestine, the Syrian Arab Republic, Jordan,
Sudan, Kuwait, Qatar, Iraq, Yemen, Tunisia, Oman, Morocco and
Lebanon were convened today by the United Nations Economic and
Social Commission (ESCWA) to participate in the 1st Session of its
Committee on Woman held at the UN House, Riad Solh Square, Beirut.
The Islamic Republic of Iran was represented by Ms. Zahra Shoja'i,
Advisor to the Head of State and Chairperson of the Centre for
The meeting, which was opened by Lebanese First Lady Andrée Lahoud,
is intended to review and assess the achievements made in the
status of Arab women ten years after the United Nations Fourth
World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995.
Speaking at the opening session were: Ms. Wariara Mbugua, Senior
Social Affairs Officer, representing Ms. Angela King, Special
Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, Ms. Mervat
Tallawy, Executive Secretary of ESCWA as well as Ms. Lahoud.
In her message addressed to the Session, Ms. King said that the
creation of the ESCWA Committee on Women came at a particularly
appropriate time, adding that the coming year would be critical in
laying the foundation for the 2005 review and appraisal of the
implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action,
and the Outcome Document of the 23rd Special Session of the
General Assembly, Beijing + 5.
King also underlined that the Arab region had the lowest rate of
women's participation in the work force and the lowest rate of
representation in parliaments--only 5.7 per cent of seats compared
to worldwide average of 15.2 percent.
"Arab women continue to be affected by the spread of poverty
perpetuated by increased economic difficulties, political
instability and deteriorating social conditions. Armed conflict
and occupation have impeded women's empowerment and advancement.
Three Arab countries, including Oman, Qatar and the United Arab
Emirates have not yet signed or ratified the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW),"
King said that the ESCWA Committee on Women was strategically
poised to play a leading role in promoting women's rights in the
Arab region and in establishing partnerships with the UN entities
and the non-governmental community at all levels, adding that the
Committee could make the ratification of the CEDAW Convention by
all countries of the region and its full implementation a priority
advocacy and education task.
In her statement, Ms. Tallawy underlined the positive aspects of
the status of women in the region. She said that during the last
decade Arab women increased their contribution to the economic
sector, especially in the field of services and in forming new
qualitative federations and associations for working women.
Tallawy also noted that Morocco gave more than 30 seats to women
in the Parliament, Jordan gave them 6 seats, Algeria 24 seats and
Tunisia 21 seats, adding that Syria increased women's
representation in the Parliament to 30 seats and Sudan to 35.
Speaking of the representation at the ministerial level, Tallawy
said that there were 6 women ministers in Tunisia, 5 in Algeria, 3
in Jordan, 2 in Egypt, Palestine and Syria and one in Yemen,
Sudan, Morocco and Qatar.
Tallawy, who underlined that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Syria
and Bahrain ratified the CEDAW Convention, pointed out the
remaining negative aspects of the status of Arab women. "Arab
women are still suffering from the negative mentality, attitudes,
and trends, which harm their status, role and image in society due
to traditions, and from the great gap between legislations and
their application in the field of women's rights," she said.
In her statement, Ms. Lahoud hoped that the 1st Session of ESCWA
Committee on Women would be beginnings of a pan-Arab work in the
advancement of women. She said that the Session was characterized
by two main factors. The first was the high level of
representation, and the second was the subjects to be discussed by
Following the opening, the delegate of Jordan was elected as
chairperson of the Session, the delegates of Iraq and Qatar as
Deputy Chairpersons and the delegate of Palestine as Rapporteur.
The morning session consisted of a general discussion undertaken
by a number of delegates. In her statement, Palestinian Minister
of Women's Affairs Zaheera Kamal said that her previous
participation in the meetings of ESCWA helped her experience and
theoretical knowledge and allowed her to get acquainted with
practical experiences in Arab countries so that she could apply
them on the Palestinian ground. Kamal also pointed the difficult
situation of the Palestinian women who were responsible to provide
support for their families despite their suffering from the
Ms. Siham Dello, Minister of Social Affairs in the Syrian Arab
Republic, who reviewed the most prominent achievements in the
advancement of Syrian women at all levels, considered that such a
qualitative move was due to the support of Syrian President Bashar
Rajaa Khoza'i, Member of the Transitory Council in Iraq, said that
Iraqi women suffered from the former 35-year oppressing regime;
however, time came for women to take their role even under
In her intervention, Houria Mashhour Ahmad, Deputy Chairperson of
the National Committee on Women in Yemen, called upon policy and
decision-makers in Arab countries to realize that changing the
conditions of women was a development need, which would lead to
the advancement of Arab societies.
Concluding the general discussion, ESCWA Executive Secretary
Mervat Tallawy said that the interventions were of primary
importance and hoped that ESCWA would be the reliable source of
disseminating new information on the status of women in the Arab
region in order to give a real image on Arab women and contribute
to their advancement. Tallawy also requested delegations to submit
the filled questionnaires addressed by ESCWA to their respective
governments on the advancement of women in their countries before
The 1st Session of ESCWA Committee on Women, which will conclude
on Friday 5 December 2003, discussed in the afternoon meetings the
Preliminary Regional Report on the Achievements, Challenges and
Proposals on the Advancement of Women as well as the development
of and indicator for the status of the Arab women. The Session's
recommendations will be submitted to the 23rd Ministerial Session
of ESCWA expected to be held in 2005.