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UN to hold virus-shortened session on women's rights

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United Nations (United States) (AFP)

The United Nations is expected Monday to adopt a stripped-down political declaration on women's rights that seeks to preserve gains under threat but does not advocate new ways to ensure progress toward equality.

The matter is to be taken up during the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which has been drastically reduced from a two-week affair to a single hours-long meeting because of the global coronavirus outbreak.

Twelve thousand participants were originally set to take part.

But Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged member states not to send delegations to New York, and to cancel debates and other events surrounding the meeting -- the UN's second-largest each year after the General Assembly.

The text set to be adopted follows the main lines of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995, which sought to promote women's emancipation and advancement around the world.

France plans to host a follow-up conference in July to be titled "Beijing+25" aimed at helping protect and ensure the gains women have made over the past quarter-century.

"The situation (of women) is actually not at all where we should be so many years after the Beijing meeting," said Olof Skoog, the European Union ambassador to the UN.

"This is not because there is a lack of focus," Skoog, who is Swedish, told journalists. "It's actually because there is an active political pushback in many countries."

To ensure the declaration's success, negotiators eliminated any reference to reproductive health, opposed by US officials as encouraging abortion, and stripped out any mention of families, due to the restrictive and conservative views of countries including Algeria, Egypt, Russia and Saudi Arabia, diplomats said.

"The ambition this year was to protect what we have rather than to move issues forward," Skoog acknowledged.

- Discrimination and vulnerability -

The declaration expresses the UN's concern that "overall, progress has not been fast or deep enough, that in some areas progress has been uneven, and that major gaps remain."

One diplomat noted that 75 percent of all members of parliament worldwide are still men.

Twenty-five years after the Beijing summit, "no country has fully achieved gender equality," the declaration notes.

"Significant levels of inequality persist globally, and many women and girls experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, vulnerability and marginalization."

On the question of violence against women -- highlighted by the #MeToo movement against sexual abuse -- the signatories commit to "eliminating, preventing and responding to all forms of violence and harmful practices against all women and girls, in public and private spheres, including in digital contexts."

They also pledge to fight against "human trafficking and modern slavery and other forms of exploitation," and to ensure just treatment and provide support services for "all women victims of violence."

A UN declaration on women is approved every five years.

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