6 March 2008 Greater investment in women and girls will help further economic growth and advance development, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has told today's commemoration at United Nations Headquarters of International Women's Day.
“I am deeply convinced that, in women, the world has at its disposal the most significant and yet largely untapped potential for development and peace,” Mr. Ban said at the event held in New York to mark the Day, observed annually on 8 March.
He stressed that achieving gender equality is not only a goal in itself, but a prerequisite for reaching all the other development objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the global pledges to slash poverty, hunger, maternal and infant mortality, and other social ills, all by 2015.
In recent years, agreements at major UN summits – including the Beijing Platform for Action, the Monterrey Consensus and the 2005 World Summit Outcome – have highlighted women's empowerment as a key factor in economic development and called for the provision of sufficient resources to that end.
“And yet, we still have a long way to go,” Mr. Ban stated. “Women are still severely hampered by discrimination, lack of resources and economic opportunities, by limited access to decision-making and by gender-based violence.”
He called on everyone in the international community – governments, multilateral organizations, bilateral institutions and the private sector – to “dramatically” increase investments in women and girls, stressing that “investing in women is not only the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do.”
For his part, the Secretary-General pledged to work to strengthen the gender machinery within the UN Secretariat. He has proposed almost doubling the staffing of the Office of his Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, and increasing the resources of the Division for the Advancement of Women.
In addition, he supported the creation of one “dynamic and strengthened gender entity” that would consolidate existing UN structures, to advance the cause of women's empowerment and realize gender equality worldwide.
At a press briefing this afternoon, the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, Rachel Mayanja, highlighted the five strategies proposed by Mr. Ban for investing in women.
One of the proposals is to finance infrastructure projects that assist women, such as roads, sanitation and water supply. “As you know, women spend an inordinate amount of time looking for water,” she said.
The other strategies are to use public resources in ways that reduce the gender gap, scale up the share of gender-related allocations in official development assistance, create a transparent, stable and predictable investment climate to promote women's employment and productivity, and increase the mainstream financial services available to women.
In his message to mark the Day, General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim said the importance of investing in women and girls cannot be overstated given that women make up more than half of the world's population.
“However, women will only be truly empowered, when globally we muster the necessary political will to fully implement exiting commitments and make available the appropriate human, financial and educational resources that have been promised,” he stated. “But more fundamentally than these efforts, it is increasingly clear that we need to change our attitudes towards the role and status of women in society.”
Also marking the Day, the Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) stressed the importance of investing in women and girls as an investment in health development.
“Abundant evidence shows that when women are given an opportunity to express their potential, health indicators rapidly improve for themselves, for households and for communities,” Margaret Chan said in a statement issued today.
“But while the potential of women is recognized at the international level, this potential will not be realized until conditions improve – often dramatically – in countries and communities,” she added, noting that many factors, often rooted in social and cultural norms, continue to hinder the ability of women and girls to achieve their potential.
Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency today launched a handbook on the protection of women and girls, outlining strategies, international legal standards and responsibilities.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres highlighted the importance of raising awareness on gender-based issues and described the handbook as “an important new tool? [that] describes the protection challenges faced by refugee women and ways of resolving them.”
He added that the agency would be directing $1.5 million this year to special projects aimed at countering and raising awareness about sexual and gender-based violence in 14 countries.
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