07/03/2003
Press Release
OBV/327
WOM/1392



MILLENNIUM SUMMIT GOALS CAN BE REACHED ONLY BY INVESTMENT IN WORLD’S WOMEN,

SAYS DEPUTY-SECRETARY-GENERAL, AS WOMEN’S DAY OBSERVED AT HEADQUARTERS


The international community could reach the development goals of the Millennium Summit by 2015 only by investing in the world’s women,

Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette said today, as the United Nations observed International Women’s Day in a Web cast event at Headquarters. 


Study after study had shown that there was no effective development strategy in which women did not play a central role, she continued.  When women were fully involved, the benefits could be seen immediately -- families became healthier, better fed and their income and savings went up.  And what was true of one family was also true of communities, and in the long run, of whole countries.  All work for development –- from agriculture to health, from environmental protection to water resource management –- must focus on the needs and priorities of women, she said. 


During today’s observance, entitled “Gender Equality and the Millennium Development Goals”, presentations were given on gender equality by Geeta Rao Gupta, Co-Chair of the Millennium Development Project Task Force; Emilia Fernandes, Secretary Of State for Women’s Rights (Brazil); Nafis Sadik, Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General for HIV/AIDS in Asia; and Sergio Vieira de Mello, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a discussion moderated by Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information. 


Ms. Gupta explained that women’s life expectancy had increased in some countries; however, in other regions women comprised the least educated and most impoverished citizens.  Development strategies must, therefore, be implemented and must focus on:  ensuring the availability of data on women’s lives; giving greater financial and technical resources to organizations working to better the lives of women; encouraging commitment to and coordination between agencies working in the field; and spearheading a new campaign for zero tolerance against violence against women.


As progress continued in gender advancement, opposition was becoming louder, Ms. Sadik said.  The achievement of gender equality required more money and resources for reproductive health, including maternal health, family planning and the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  One must look at reproductive health through the lens of tolerance, not through a lens of judgement.  Unfortunately, the opposition to gender advancement saw those issues only through the lens of abortion.  The real issue was gender equality.  The international community must not allow the opposition to derail international consensus.

The international community had failed to avoid inequalities in wages and functions in the job market, and the feminization of poverty had increased worldwide, said Ms. Fernandes.  Focusing on the situation in Brazil, she said that while there had been a gradual increase in the level of participation of Brazilian women in decision-making, there were still examples of women’s inequality in the country.  Such gender inequalities were prevalent in household employment and the informal sector, which was poorly paid and dominated by women.


Mr. Vieira de Mello said that investing in girls’ education was one of the most effective ways of promoting economic growth and social well-being.  Regrettably, two thirds out of all illiterate people were women.  Where countries faced severe conflicts, access to education had stagnated or declined, with drastic reductions in revenues and decreased spending for education.  Resources needed to be made available for the education of girls, since their education increased their ability to plan their own lives, and the lives of their children.


In a subsequent question and answer session, members of the audience took the floor, including ministers of affairs concerning gender affairs of Senegal and Gabon, country representatives, international organizations and non-governmental organizations dealing with human rights, gender mainstreaming, the feminization of poverty and reproductive health issues. 


Several members of the audience stressed the importance of women’s participation in decision-making processes, as well as the central role of gender equality in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  Concern was also expressed about States signing important international documents, while doing nothing to implement them, as well as the refusal of many to deal with the core problem –- patriarchal cultures and values. 


Statements


SHASHI THAROOR, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, moderated the observance of International Women’s Day.  Opening the event, he explained that the eight Millennium Development Goals had been adopted by Member States in September 2000 with a due date of 2015.  Central to achieving the Goals were the rights and role of women, reflecting the Platform for Action of the 1995 Beijing Conference.


Women worldwide were key to progress on all the Goals, he said.  Women already had the power to change and create, but what was lacking was government willingness and ability to harness that power.  The main challenge was to find appropriate ways of combating elements in each culture holding women back.  The three Goals most associated with women were those to eradicate poverty and hunger, promoting healthy lives and ensuring literacy for all.


GEETA RAO GUPTA, Co-Chair of the Millennium Development Project Task Force, said that the purpose of International Women’s Day was to remember promises that had been made in the context of advancing the causes of women.  Although in some countries, women’s life expectancy had increased by a decade, thus allowing them to contribute more effectively to their societies, in many regions women were the least educated and most impoverished citizens.  Typically earning less than their male counterparts, their vulnerability and low social status in many parts of the world also served to increase their susceptibility to HIV/AIDS.  Additionally, violence against women continued to be a serious issue that needed to be tackled.


She referred to the Millennium Development Goals, saying that they could promote gender equality.  Nevertheless, she said that their emphasis on eliminating disparities in education was not enough.  Gender equality could only be achieved through increasing women’s opportunities in the economic and political arenas, not just in the classrooms.


She stressed that, if the global community were to meet the Millennium Development Goals by the determined deadlines, it had to focus on several priorities.  They included:  ensuring the availability of data on women’s lives; giving greater financial and technical resources to organizations working to better the lives of women; encouraging commitment to and coordination between agencies working in the field; and spearheading a new campaign of zero tolerance for violence against women.  Concerning the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, she found it ironic that it had been ratified by Afghanistan, but not the United States.  In that context, she called for more political commitment to improving the lives of women worldwide.


EMILIA FERNANDES, Secretary of State for Women’s Rights of Brazil, said the situation of extreme poverty in the world had remained dramatic.  Significant advances had been made in some sectors, such as the increased availability of basic social services, but progress was still limited at both the international and national levels.  The international community had failed to avoid inequalities in wages and functions in the job market, and the feminization of poverty had increased worldwide.


Legislation and policies in Brazil guaranteed equal rights for men and women, she said.  Currently, women represented 8.8 per cent of the total membership of the country’s National Congress.  Four women, for the first time, had been invited by the current President to sit in positions at the top level of the federal Government, and all of those women, of whom she was one, were in strategic areas.


While there had been a gradual increase in the level of participation of Brazilian women in decision-making, she continued, there were still examples of women’s inequality in the country.  There was still a high level of household employment in Brazil, which was poorly paid and dominated by women.  Many Brazilian women worked in the informal sector of the economy, although that had dropped over the last few decades.  In 1985, 41 per cent of employed women earned the minimum wage, while 20 years later that proportion had been almost halved.  However, the figure was still high, compared to that for men.  In 1999, women still earned only 60.7 per cent of the wages earned by men.


Women’s poverty was directly linked to such factors as their lack of autonomy and access to resources and lack of participation in decision-making processes.  Eradicating poverty needed decisive action to overcome those obstacles.  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the goal of halving poverty by 2015 had been changed to 2050, which was alarming.  Hungry people could not wait until 2015, let along 2050.  She said that the war against poverty in Brazil was aimed at saving lives.  Since January 2003, the country had been fighting hunger through a programme called “Zero Hunger”.  Three types of actions were being carried out under that programme:  structural actions to combat the root causes of hunger; specific actions aimed at directly assisting families not eating adequately; and local actions which would be implemented in the community with the help of civil society.


NAFIS SADIK, Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General for HIV/AIDS in Asia, said International Women’s Day was a time for celebration, as well as a time for reflection.  Significant progress had been made in gender advancement.  Unfortunately, that also meant that opposition was becoming louder.  Even without opposition, there was a long way to go before women’s poverty was eradicated.  Regrettably, statistics were lacking in almost all areas related to women, but 70 per cent of people living below the poverty line were women and children. 


The deep and widespread poverty of women required real solutions.  It was, therefore, necessary to switch focus and provide resources to women in the development process.  Gender equality held its place as one of the Millennium Development Goals.  However, all of its goals depended to a certain extent on the involvement of women and the advancement of women.


She stressed that much more money and resources were needed in reproductive health.  Maternal mortality was the fifth leading cause of death in developing countries.  Further efforts were required to protect women from the HIV/AIDS pandemic, since women were now most likely to be infected by the disease.  When dealing with HIV/AIDS, it was important to look at the disease through the lens of tolerance, not through a lens of judgement. 


Unfortunately, some saw reproductive health for women only through the lens of abortion, she continued.  The real target was women’s empowerment and gender equality.  It seemed the idea that women were free to determine their own fate greatly terrified some people.  The United Nations system and the international community must not allow the opposition to derail the international consensus.  It was important to listen to the opposition, note their reservations, and then move on. 


A starting point would be to include reproductive health as one of the indicators of progress in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  It was time to move forward not backward, she said.  Success depended on action.  She hoped that all countries would support the Millennium Development Goal and turn promises into action. 


SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that investing in girls’ education was one of the most effective ways of promoting economic growth and social well-being, but women still made up

two thirds of the world’s illiterates.  Moreover, many countries had experienced a dramatic decline in progress towards Development Goals.  Where countries faced severe conflicts, access to education had stagnated or declined, with drastic reductions in revenues and decreased spending for education.


Gender-based discrimination resulted in decreased access to education for girls, he continued.  Interventions that were needed were well understood; they included the elimination of school fees so that girls would not be kept home for economic reasons; safe transport to and from schools; and increasing the proportion of women teachers.  Educating girls increased their ability to plan the lives of their children and improve their health.  Education also mean they could participate more effectively in decision-making at every level.  If education was an important strategy for eliminating poverty and boosting economic growth, it was also an excellent means of increasing an individual’s control over his or her own destiny.


Attention must also be paid to the quality of education, he stressed, and both girls and boys must receive the same quality to eliminate the digital divide.  Also, if education did not help every boy and girl learn about equal rights, having children in school would fail to guarantee a better life for them or their families.  In striving for gender equality, one must avoid the risk of emphasizing numerical targets, he said, as statistics could lie and often did.  Figures could hide disparities.  For example, having greater numbers of boys drop out of school should not be seen as an indicator of greater gender equality.


Concluding, he said that women who had continued to be the victims of overt and covert discrimination were in a better position to right that wrong than men.  Future generations should not have to relearn what the present one had learned with great difficulty about the centrality of human rights.


LOUISE FRECHETTE, Deputy Secretary-General, said that one of the purposes of International Women’s Day was to remind the international community that work to achieve gender equality was not the responsibility of women alone, but the responsibility of all.  She stressed that meeting that challenge would not only shape the future of womankind, but also determine the future of humankind.  It would determine the success of the international community in meeting the Millennium Development Goals -– the blueprint for building a better world in the twenty-first century.


The eight Goals expressed a set of specific, targeted and time-bound commitments, she said, including the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women.  They were simple, but powerful and measurable objectives that every woman and man in the street, from New York to Nairobi to New Delhi, could easily understand.  In striving to reach those Goals, gender equality was not only a Goal in its own right -- it was critical to reaching all the others.


Study after study had shown there was no effective development strategy in which women did not play a central role, she continued.  When women were fully involved, the benefits could be seen immediately.  Families were healthier and better fed, and their income, savings and investment went up. That meant that all work for development –- from agriculture to health, from environmental protection to water resource management -– must focus on the needs and priorities of women.  The international community must focus on the education of girls, who formed the majority of children worldwide not in school.  It must also focus on bringing literacy to the half billion adult women who could not read or write and who made up two thirds of the world’s adult illiterates.


She stressed that the international community must place women at the centre of its fight against HIV/AIDS.  Women now accounted for 50 per cent of those infected with HIV worldwide.  In Africa, that figure was now 58 per cent.  Women and girls must have all the skills, services and self-confidence they needed to protect themselves against the virus.


Concluding, she said that a deep social revolution was needed across all levels of society to transform relationships between women and men, so that women would be able to take greater control of their lives -– financially as well as physically.  When women thrived, all of society benefited, and succeeding generations were given a better start in life.  There was no time to lose if the international community was to reach the Millennium Development Goals by the target date of 2015.  Only by investing in the world’s women could it expect to get there.  (For full text, see Press Release DSG/SM/189 issued today.)


Question and Answer Session


In a subsequent question and answer session, members of the audience took the floor, including ministers for gender affairs of Senegal and Gabon, country representatives, international organizations and non-governmental organizations. 


Several members of the audience stressed the importance of women’s participation in decision-making processes, whether in communities, in post-conflict resolution, legislation, or the Security Council.  They asked how women’s voices could be heard. 


Even though gender equality was identified as being at the very heart of the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals, one audience member asked how African States and other developing countries could reach those Goals effectively.


Speakers pointed out the importance of reproductive health for the advancement of women, but stressed that the non-governmental organization community needed more support on the issue from the United Nations.


Concern was also expressed about States signing important international documents, while doing nothing to implement them, as well as the refusal of many to deal with the core problem –- patriarchal cultures and values. 


Mr. VIEIRA DE MELLO responded by saying that the participation of women in legislative processes was important.  He focused on the situation in Timor-Leste, as an example where women had been treated as second-class citizens.  Through systematic efforts, his office had supported women’s movements for political participation.  Women had been trained, incentives had been provided and the women had been presented to the first elections in the country.  Women’s political participation required systematic policy.  Concerning violence against women, he explained that in recent visits he had appealed for legislative reform and law enforcement training.


Ms. SADIK said monitoring the Millennium Goals must be accomplished much more in depth, and each Goal must have an aspect of gender equality and women’s empowerment.  That meant allocating resources towards monitoring gender empowerment.  The global partnership was not putting gender in its lens in terms of where resources were allocated.


Regarding reproductive health, she said women’s health in general -- not only maternal health -- should be an indicator.  The image of woman must be changed from that of mother and provider or slave.  One must use the mechanisms existing in the system to monitor what was actually being done, so that countries could be held accountable.


Ms. FERNANDES said the challenge was how to get society, nations, men and women to see that the world had changed.  The lives that women wished to have would only be possible with decisions from their societies.  The united strength of women in parliament, non-governmental organizations, and women who held prominent positions would only be heard when people themselves became the agents of change.  Women could not keep quiet in the face of violence, with thousands of women being attacked by their partners or mates and even their children.  Women must break the silence about injustice.


Ms. GUPTA said in the past decade women and civil society had helped governments articulate women’s needs and sign on to them.  Now, it was necessary to transform those words into actions, and lack of resources should not be accepted as an excuse.  Men in the very same building were discussing spending billions of dollars to prosecute a war, and that excuse must not be accepted.


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