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The Fourth World Conference on Women held its opening session Monday afternoon, 4 September, in the Beijing International Conference Centre (BICC). Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ismat Kittani, on behalf of UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali who was too ill to attend, opened the Conference. He noted that the Conference cements a new era in relations between the UN and China. He identified a number of stages over the past 50 years in the UN's work to ensure the rights of women, which began with efforts to build a legal basis for equality, then recognized the importance of development in achieving the advancement of women, and has led to the current continuum of world conferences and efforts to define a new global agenda.

Chen Muhua, Vice Chair of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China (PRC), was then elected President of the Conference. She invited participants to seek a common ground and a solid commitment in Beijing, which would translate into action. She then opened consideration of the agenda and called delegates' attention to the recommendations of the pre-conference consultations (A/CONF.177/L.4).

Delegates proceeded to adopt the rules of procedure (A/CONF.177/2) and the agenda (A/CONF.177/1). Under the agenda item regarding election of officers other than President, delegates elected: Li Zhaoxing, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of the PRC, as Vice President ex officio; Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah (Namibia), as Rapporteur-General; and Patricia Licuanan (Philippines) as Chair of the Main Committee. In addition, the Vice Chairs were elected, the Main Committee was established and the members of the Credentials Committee were appointed.

Gertrude Mongella, Secretary-General of the Conference, stressed the need to look at women's issues holistically. Delegates should consider the cross-cutting nature of women's issues and the fact that women fare poorly when compared to men in many areas, including poverty, literacy, education, health, economic concerns, politics and human rights.

The Plenary then began to hear statements under Agenda Item 8, General Exchange of Views. Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, Prime Minister of Pakistan, stressed that social prejudices, not religion, deny women their rightful place in many societies. Some of Pakistan's initiatives to improve the status of women include: a public awareness campaign to alert women to the fact that domestic violence is a crime punishable by law; a focus on education for girls; and the establishment of a women's bank to help women achieve financial independence. She noted a number of issues that should be addressed in the Platform, and called for stronger text on the role of the traditional family.

Vigdis Finnbogadottir, President of Iceland, called for a Platform containing concrete proposals and political will from governments.

The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Begum Khaleda Zia, highlighted three factors that are crucial to the advancement of women: recognition of women's participation in eradicating poverty and charting a sustainable and peaceful future; affirmation of a new relationship between men and women; and awareness of the role of women.

The Vice-President and Minister of Gender and Community Development in Uganda, Dr. Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe, said new global responsibilities for individuals and States have been defined and re-defined, with women playing an increasing role in these debates. She called for new resources to improve functional literacy in the developing world.

The Vice-President of Viet Nam, Nguyen Thi Binh, said the final world gathering of women in the 20th century should chart a course to a more peaceful and prosperous world. She noted the catalytic and exponential value of education, especially for girls, and called on the international community to support the universal right to education.

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