Empowering women the most effective development tool, Annan says

28 February 2005 –

Since the founders of the United Nations noted their faith in “the equal rights of men and women” on the first page of the UN Charter 60 years ago, studies have shown that “there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today.

“No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, or to reduce infant and maternal mortality,” he said in remarks to the opening of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which is meeting through next week to review progress in the 10 years since the Declaration and the Platform of Action was agreed at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 in China (Beijing+10).

“No other policy is as sure to improve nutrition and promote health – including the prevention of HIV/AIDS. No other policy is as powerful in increasing the chances of education for the next generation. And I would also venture that no policy is more important in preventing conflict, or in achieving reconciliation after a conflict has ended.”

The high-level, two-week CSW meeting also marks the 30th anniversary of the first summit on women issues in Mexico City.

What was needed now was the scaling up and targeting of the solutions that the Millennium Project Task Force on Education and Gender has recommended, he said, including providing primary and secondary education for girls, investing in infrastructure beneficial to women, increasing their role in policy-making and guaranteeing their rights to sexual and reproductive health, property ownership, inheritance and equality in employment.

In addition, the Task Force had called for redoubled efforts to combat violence against girls and women. “That means, leadership in showing, by example, that when it comes to violence against women and girls, there are no grounds for tolerance and no tolerable excuses,” Mr. Annan said.

Besides the benefits to society of investing in women, the most important fact was that women have the right to live in dignity and with freedom from want and fear. At the five-year review of progress on the Millennium Declaration in September he hoped leaders would take urgent action to achieve the Declaration’s goals, he said.

Ten years after the Beijing Conference women were not only more aware of their rights, but were better able to exercise them, Mr. Annan said. “Life expectancy and fertility rates have improved. More girls are enrolled in primary education. More women are earning an income than ever before.”

New challenges had emerged, such as the odious but ever-increasing trafficking in women and children and “the terrifying growth of HIV/AIDS among women, especially young women,” Mr. Annan said.

Nonetheless, the past decade had shown that these challenges were not problems that lack solutions, he said.

“We have learnt what works and what doesn’t work,” Mr. Annan said.

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