Swedish State Secretary opens conference in Bangkok

Swedish State Secretary, Ms. Gun-Britt Andersson, on Monday 7 October 2002 opened the conference “Promoting Gender Equality to Combat Trafficking in Women and Children” in Bangkok. The three-day conference is being co-convened by the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) with the support of UN-ESCAP.
In her opening address, Ms. Andersson called attention to the “great injustice that makes many women and children vulnerable to trafficking” and said that trafficking in persons is “a serious problem all over the world, in Asia as well as in Europe”. She said trafficking “illustrates not only discrimination, but also the worst forms of gender inequalities.
In recognition of the impact of these gender inequalities, Ms. Andersson said this week’s meeting in Bangkok will focus on trafficking in persons from a gender and rights approach. She said those attending the conference had gathered to “identify and formulate how trafficking in persons can be prevented by developing and strengthening measures directed at promoting gender equality”.
Ms. Andersson also outlined ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) initiatives in response to trafficking, which she said had intensified in recent years, in recognition of the need for regional and global efforts to tackle the phenomenon. Ms. Andersson mentioned in particular, the ASEM Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons, which was developed and welcomed by Foreign Ministers at their meeting in Beijing in May, 2001. This week’s meeting in Bangkok is one of the follow-up activities of the Action Plan.
The Action Plan has four priority areas: to strengthen knowledge and overall coordination, to prevent and combat trafficking, to strengthen law enforcement and protect the victims of trafficking, and to promote the recovery, repatriation and reintegration of victims of trafficking.
The opening address was followed by a presentation by UNIFEM Regional Programme Director, Ms. Rosa Linda Miranda. Ms. Miranda described the conference as a “landmark initiative” and welcomed the focus on gender equality, saying that while trafficking affects primarily women and children, presently anti-trafficking interventions were not necessarily gender sensitive. Neither was there, she said, sufficient emphasis on long-term, sustainable preventive strategies.
Ms. Miranda said broad cooperation was needed given the increasing magnitude and global dimensions that trafficking had acquired. She said she could not “overemphasis the need for regional and international cooperation” and that she hoped the ASEM initiative to combat trafficking would be “the beginning of a more substantive cooperation among the countries of Asia and Europe” on the issue.
The final speaker at the opening session, Deputy Executive Secretary for UN-ESCAP, Ms. Keiko Okaido, described trafficking in women and children as “a major concern for many countries in the region, either as sites of origin, transit or destination” and said it should be recognized as a priority development issue.
Ms. Akaido said the lower status of women in relation to men and the differential impact of gender roles and stereotypes made women more vulnerable to trafficking and its consequences. She reflected however, that mainstream inventions on trafficking were almost universally gender-unresponsive. In light of this, she called this week’s conference a “timely undertaking” and drew attention to its two objectives to enhance understanding of the gender dimensions of trafficking in women and children in Asia and Europe by focusing on the linkages between gender inequalities and trafficking in women and children, and to enhance the efficacy of preventative efforts by promoting gender equality initiatives or components.
Ms. Akaido pledged the support of UNESCAP to respond to the issue, and said the conference participants had a “unique opportunity to formulate an approach to trafficking that is gender-responsive in order to more effectively prevent and eradicate the trafficking in women and children.”
The conference is continuing through to Wednesday the 9th of October.

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