My delegation has aligned itself with the statement of the European Union.
It is a great honour and privilege to address the Twenty-third Special Session of the General Assembly dedicated to the appraisal and assessment of the progress achieved in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
It is indeed very important now, at the beginning of the new millennium and five years after the Beijing Conference, to take stock of all the important work which has been done, identify and discuss the problems and obstacles encountered in the implementation of the Platform for Action and consider further actions and initiatives to accelerate its implementation.
I take this opportunity to express my appreciation to the Commission on the Status of Women, which served as a preparatory committee for this special session, as well as, to all other specialised agencies, which have been actively involved in the various preparatory activities.
The Beijing Conference has expanded the agenda on the Human Rights of Women, renewing hopes for the achievement of gender equality and their advancement. World-wide women’s issues have and will continue to be inspired and developed within the framework of the guidelines and the strategic objectives set in the Beijing Platform for Action.
For Cyprus, the Beijing Conference has given new impetus, strengthened the political will and intensified the efforts towards legal and de facto equality which have been promoted in particular ever since the ratification of the CEDAW Convention in 1985, a most important landmark in the advancement of women.
Cyprus also welcomes the adoption by the General Assembly of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW, which it considers as yet another important step forward.
Based on the Platform for Action and the commitments made by the Government of Cyprus at the Beijing Conference, we are very pleased to observe the progress has been achieved in all Critical Areas of Concern and in particular in those areas which fall within our priorities, including the following:
- Legal reform, aiming at the elimination of the few remaining discriminatory provisions and the further safeguarding of women’s rights in all fields of law, has been pursued with very positive results.
Of particular significance is the recent enactment of the Law on the Trafficking and Exploitation of Women and Children, as well as the recent amendment of the Citizenship Law granting Cypriot women, equal rights regarding the citizenship of their children. I am, therefore, very pleased to announce that Cyprus is now ready to withdraw its single reservation on Article 9, paragraph 2, of CEDAW and will be informing the depository of the Convention shortly.
- The participation of women in politics has been another priority area during the last years.
Emphasis has been given to the organization of special training programmes aiming at encouraging and supporting women to enter politics and at creating a more friendly environment for women within political parties.
Other measures include the setting up of a non-party lobby group, the sensitization and mobilization of the Mass Media to support this cause as well as the political appointment of women in highly influential posts, including the post of the Ombudsperson, the Auditor-General and the Assistant Accountant-General of the Republic.
Besides political appointments, the presence of women at all levels of the hierarchy within the Civil Service, has also been increased with their participation reaching the level of 60% in the Planning Bureau, 18% in the Diplomatic Service and 62% in the Law Office of the Republic.
- Violence against Women has been another top priority area. Emphasis has been placed on the development of the appropriate legal framework and on measures facilitating its implementation and enforcement. These measures include the setting up of a multi-sectoral Advisory Committee, which monitors the implementation of the Law, the promotion of scientific research, the strengthening of co-operation with NGO’s, the provision of support and assistance to the victims and the development of an effective training programme for Members of the Police and all other professionals involved in the handling of domestic violence cases.
- Economic independence of women has been pursued through the improvement and expansion of child-care facilities, the promotion of Equal Pay and the legislative improvement of Maternity Protection, which now provides for sixteen weeks maternity leave, as well as, vocational guidance and training.
Cyprus, in its capacity as a candidate for accession to the European Union, has been working intensively during the last few years, pursuing the necessary adaptations on laws and policies in order to comply fully with European Union standards.
Some very important legal instruments are currently under preparation, as part of the harmonization process, including the Law on Equal Treatment and Equal Opportunities, which will provide for the creation of an enforcement mechanism.
- Last but not least, let me refer to some important developments in the area of Women and Peace.
The women of Cyprus, experiencing for the last 26 years the tragic consequences of occupation and displacement, have been particularly sensitive on matters of human rights and peace.
The women’s movement has been very active all these years in protesting against the illegal occupation through mass peaceful marches and in creating a culture of peace on the island through various activities, including the promotion of bi-communal contacts aiming at exploring ways for peaceful conflict resolution.
As a result of their growing consciousness and mobilisation on peace issues, the International Eco-Peace Village has been recently established, in partnership with the Commonwealth Secretariat, which supports the whole project. Through specialized training and exchange programmes, the Eco-Peace Village will play a significant role in the promotion of participation of women in the peace-building process and the creation of a culture of peace on the island, and hopefully, in the region.
The progress achieved, in Cyprus, towards the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, has been attributed to a great extent, to the substantial work of the National Machinery for Women’s Rights, which has been at the forefront of efforts to mobilize the entire Government Sector and the Civil Society on issues of gender-equality.
The budget of the National Machinery, through which projects and organizations are subsidized, has been increasing considerably during the last few years. Efforts to secure additional financial and human resources and upgrade its status will be continued in order to enable it to perform effectively its future role which goes far beyond the development of women’s specific activities and extends to the inclusion of a gender perspective in all national plans and policies.
The Government of Cyprus remains strongly committed to the pursuit of further policies and programmes promoting legal and real equality between Women and Men. This commitment stems from the belief that bringing about gender equality is a necessity, dictated by the long-term requirements of the economic and social development of our country.
The 20th Century could aptly be described as the one in which the forces for the advancement of women were set in motion. Although the gains in this endeavour have been considerable, much remains to be done. For as we strive to create a better world for future generations, one in which the human rights of all its members will be fully respected, then we cannot but intensify our individual and collective efforts at achieving full equality between women and men. Let us work towards making the 21st Century the one in which this noble goal had reached its full realization.