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Couchepin demands fair deal for women

Couchepin (pictured here with his wife) says more needs to be done to achieve equality Keystone

The Swiss interior minister says the United Nations will not achieve its goal of halving world poverty by 2015 unless it improves the rights of women.

Pascal Couchepin is due to deliver this message on Tuesday to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which has begun a two-week session in New York.

“Those who want to fight against discrimination must improve the position of women,” Couchepin told a news conference ahead of the meeting.

The interior minister is expected to outline to the UN what Switzerland is doing to reinforce the rights of women.

The high-level meeting, which got underway on Monday, comes ten years after the world’s nations pledged to achieve equality for women at a UN conference in Beijing.

But a demand by the United States that its final declaration state that women are not guaranteed the right to abortion is threatening to overshadow proceedings.

In informal consultations ahead of the session, which aims to take stock of progress since Beijing, the US raised the abortion issue as a first order of business.

“The position [taken by the US] is likely to provoke major divisions,” warned Couchepin.

Equality for women

The 49th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women wants to focus on overcoming roadblocks to women’s equality in 12 critical areas from health, education and employment to political participation and human rights.

Couchepin said another important theme during the session would be the issue of human trafficking.

He told reporters that, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the trafficking of women from eastern European countries had become an issue in Switzerland, where there were between 1,500 and 3,000 victims.

These women, who live in fear of the police, represented difficult social cases for the authorities, said Patricia Schulz, director of the Federal Equality Office.

Lack of representation

Couchepin added that debate was also likely to focus on the lack of women in the sciences and engineering – an issue that affects Switzerland.

The Federal Equality Office says women make up only 14-20 per cent of those working in these areas – half the figure in the US.

At Monday’s opening session, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the international community “to change the historical legacy that puts women at a disadvantage in most societies”.

He called for more women in national parliaments and policy-making positions, and a redoubling of efforts to combat violence against girls and women.

swissinfo with agencies

Over 100 countries and 6,000 advocates for women’s causes are taking part in the two-week session.
80 government ministers are attending, including representatives from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ten years after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, the UN is taking stock of global efforts to promote equality.

The 49th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women runs in New York from February 28 to March 11.

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin is due to present an overview of Swiss efforts to improve the rights of women.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR