The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies believe that the concept of equality means much more than treating all persons in the same way.
We take a broad view of what is necessary. This means that it is not enough to hear, repeatedly, of acceptance of the principle of equality. There is a need for States and their community organisations to accept the challenge of making special efforts to address situational imbalance.
In our case, this means mainstreaming women's rights in Red Cross / Red Crescent emergency relief, recovery, public health and capacity building activities.
Increasingly our member Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies are finding through their vulnerability and capacity assessment that a major cause of vulnerability is poverty.
Poverty is both a cause and effect of vulnerability. It emerges from many causes, but for today it is important to note inadequate livelihoods, lack of security in maintaining expected livelihoods, inequality of access to resources and assets, inadequate welfare provision and unfair distribution of income.
Women, as many speakers have highlighted at this session, are often the ones who are in an unequal situation due to their social status and therefore, face double discrimination.
We have also made the point in other debates at this session that the elimination of discrimination is both an end in its own right and the means to the achievement of any of the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). For example, without the full integration of the power of women in community development, it will be impossible to make meaningful progress in the reduction of poverty.
Therefore, the integration of the gender perspective in all activities, both development and disaster relief, is a strategy to ensure that men and women have equal access to and benefit from humanitarian programs. This is the main message of the IFRC's Gender Policy which was adopted in 1999.
That policy requires that each National Red Cross/Red Crescent Society and the IFRC Secretariat formulate measures to ensure that the gender-specific vulnerabilities of women and men are systematically identified and addressed.
This has led to many National Societies undertaking fresh evaluations of their requirements, and a mapping exercise conducted by the IFRC Secretariat shows that at least 50 Societies identify the need for further capacity building support in this area. This is encouraging evidence for us, for it shows a welcome willingness to mainstream the issue with fresh programs. Our annual appeals will show the detail of these requirements.
We also recognize that there will have to be profound changes in community attitudes before women and society can see significant improvements. Our work, because of its linkage to the wider benefits for nations and communities, should facilitate these changes, and we are currently looking at the use of best practice examples to show what this means in practice.
One such is the project of the Afghan Red Crescent Society that mobilizes the resources of thousands of volunteers to promote humanitarian values and non-discrimination.
The Afghan Red Crescent Society, with our support, has made considerable progress since 2003 in developing a strong pool of youth volunteers as agents of change. They are bringing women and men together from diverse social backgrounds and promoting coexistence, tolerance and other aspects of humanitarian values. Implicit have been powerful advocacy messages aimed at reducing discrimination and violence within society.
The project takes full account of local culture and traditions but the change patterns established are now coming to be seen as a powerful tool for the betterment of the communities themselves, and are our experience is that they are accepted as such.
We also recognize that the common goal of ensuring women's rights cannot be achieved simply through awareness raising campaigns, no matter how strong the advocacy messages might be. Nor is legislation enough.
What is needed is action in the form of comprehensive programs with targets and timetables.
Our experience is that the national strategies and plans being adopted by Governments and other agencies often provide the necessary framework for realization of women's rights, but that the framework is not exploited for its true value. Comprehensive programmes that integrate the goals regarding gender equality and the empowerment of women must be implemented.
It is also our hope that the action takes full account of the special vulnerabilities and needs of women - we have made this point several times in other fora, especially because of the way violence impacts on women and their ability to make their contributions. We will continue to take this up in other fora, including in the UN's Inter-Agency Standing Committee because of the special needs of women in disaster situations.
We will also be redoubling our efforts to ensure that National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, as the auxiliaries to the public authorities in the humanitarian field in every country, are fully consulted about how best to integrate the gender perspective into national and local development goals.
Gender equality and the empowerment of women should be seen as a cross-cutting requirement underpinning the achievement of all Millennium Development Goals.
We welcome the fact that this is increasingly seen as important by others, and were very pleased to note that the UN Secretary-General - on the eve of this year's International Women's Day - said that without achieving gender equality for girls in education, the world has no chance of achieving many of the ambitious health, social and development targets it has set for itself. We share that view, emphatically.
In addition, we would like to stress the importance of women's economic empowerment as another important way of raising the status of vulnerable women. This has broad relevance, but is especially pertinent in this year, the International Year for Microcredit.
We, therefore, urge the States to undertake legislative, administrative and financial measures to promote women's economic empowerment and to create a strong enabling environment for all women entrepreneurs and women participating in the labour market.
More focused efforts to ensuring women's rights to own land and other property, including through inheritance as well as rights to credit and to access to markets and information - would be a key step towards achieving the economic empowerment and the overall advancement.
Our principal message to members of the Commission on Human Rights is that making human rights a reality for individual women requires a much more strategic approach and that it requires much more un-traditional thinking and many more of practical steps. Education and economic empowerment must be at the centre of these steps if we would like to see real changes in the lives of vulnerable women.
It is thus our hope that this session will bring forward new ways of approaching and prioritising issues relating to the advancement of women at both international and national levels. We stand ready, with our National Societies, to help in any way we can.