Allow me at the outset to express my thanks and appreciation for the excellent organization of this meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women. You may be assured of our full support and co-operation.
At the fiftieth session of the Commission we agreed on new working methods, focusing our attention on one priority theme and devoting more time to the practical implementation of our earlier commitments made in this forum. We firmly believe that these improvements will make our work more effective during this session.
Iceland strongly supports the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action and the Outcome Document of the twenty third session of the General Assembly. We are fully committed to the full and effective implementation of these documents. It is clear that the UN Millennium Development goals will not be reached unless gender equality strategies are incorporated into our work at national and international level.
Let me now turn to the important theme that we have chosen for this meeting of the Commission, the elimination of all discrimination and violence against the girl child, which is of high importance to Iceland. Violence against all children is an abhorrent offence against human rights. The Government of Iceland remains fully committed to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two optional Protocols, which Iceland has already ratified. These tools are the underpinnings of our efforts to combat violence against children.
Discrimination and violence against the girl child continues to persist in all parts of the world, in many cases caused by armed conflict, poverty, lack of education and insufficient protection. The study submitted to the General Assembly by Mr. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the independent expert of the UN on violence against children, noted that girls are at greater risk than boys of early marriage, genital mutilation and sexual violence. The report of the Secretary General prepared for this meeting on discrimination and violence against the girl child further demonstrates the scope and grave seriousness of this problem. Findings of the report underline the need to address special attention to the situation of girls. We agree with the report in recognizing state responsibility for prevention of violence against girls and urge all Member states to take the necessary measures to ensure the rights of the girl child. The recommendations of the report constitute a clear strategy for Member states and the UN system to make further progress in this regard.
In this context, I would also like to mention briefly the fight against trafficking in human beings, with its victims being mostly women and girls. This burning issue deserves to be high on our agenda. Iceland has emphasized the important role of regional organizations to combat this evil, which is sadly on the rise.
Iceland is especially concerned about the severe impact armed conflict has on children. The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland has recently announced a financial contribution to a project of the International Federation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Societies in Sierra Leone, to reintegrate child soldiers and children affected by war into their society.
The Icelandic Government has during these last years taken a number of steps forward to protect the rights of the girl child. Here I would like to mention an action plan to combat domestic and sexual violence, which was recently developed through the cooperation of various ministries and NGOs in Iceland. The action plan is twofold, focusing on the violence against women on one hand, and violence against children on the other. The plan emphasizes the prevention of domestic and sexual violence and the treatment of both victims and perpetrators of violence. Education of health care professionals, social workers, teachers and the police is also prioritized, along with general education of the public concerning domestic and sexual violence.
Icelandic children are fortunate enough to live in peace and security, enjoying good health care and education by international standards. Over 90% of all 16 year olds begin secondary education and there is a female majority both in secondary schools and universities in Iceland, which means that women are now 65% of those who complete a university degree.
In recent years, various projects have been initiated in order to increase equality in Icelandic schools and decrease the gender separation in the labour market. The Ministry of Social Affairs has contributed to this development by translating and publishing material aimed at students, teachers and parents, intended to encourage young people to choose their occupation regardless of gender.
During the 50th session, we discussed the success of the Icelandic legislation on parental leave. Iceland has one of the most generous paternity leave schemes in the world, which gives mothers and fathers equal rights to paid parental leave. This means that almost 90% of new fathers spend three months at home with their newborn children, and nearly 18% of fathers use more than their basic right to three months leave. The legislation on parental leave is intended to increase men’s participation in childbearing and caring for their young children, and it continues to be very successful.
In order to combat violence against girls and women, it is important to use education to raise awareness about domestic and sexual violence. It is especially important to involve men and boys in the struggle against violence, since men are most often the perpetrators of violence against girls and women. To break the cycle of violence, it is also necessary to provide perpetrators of violence with appropriate treatment. Last year, the Ministry of Social Affairs decided to support a project which provides treatment for men who have been the perpetrators of domestic violence. In the action plan against domestic and sexual violence, this project is strengthened further. According to the plan, it will also be examined whether the methods used can help the perpetrators of sexual violence.
Violence against children is never acceptable and must be prevented. The international community has made many commitments to protect children’s rights, including the girl child’s. The success of our work is however absolutely dependent on the political will of the Member states to fulfill the commitments they have undertaken. We must do so without further delay. Let us hope that the Agreed conclusions on the girl child from this session of the Commission will be put to practice by all of us at the national and international level.
Thank you Madame Chair.