This first International Women's Day of the twenty-first century is devoted to the theme of women uniting for peace. It is a theme that brings together two vital parts of the United Nations' mission. The Charter tells us that our Organization was created to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. It also proclaims the equal rights of men and women. We must live up to both challenges, or we shall fail in both.
The century that has just closed saw the age of large inter-State wars reach its apex and wane, only to be replaced by the age of ethnic conflict. Today's small wars are no less murderous than yesterday's big ones. Small arms may kill people one at a time, but they are still lethal. All too often, conflict happens in the societies that can least afford it, takes its toll on those who least deserve it, and hits hardest those least equipped to defend themselves. Civilians have become the main targets of warfare. And women bear more than their fair share of the burden.
But women, who know the price of conflict so well, are also often better equipped than men to prevent or resolve it. When society collapses, women play a critical role in ensuring that life goes on. When ethnic tensions cause or exacerbate conflict, women tend to build bridges rather than walls. When considering the impact and implications of war and peace, women think first of their children and their future, before themselves.
We in the United Nations know at first hand the invaluable support women provide to our peacekeepers — organizing committees, women’s associations, non- governmental organizations and church groups to ease tensions, and persuading their menfolk to accept peace. Partly for that reason, we are making special efforts to recruit more women for our own peacekeeping and peacemaking missions, and to make all our operations more aware of gender issues. Several missions — including those in Afghanistan, Kosovo and East Timor — now include civilian gender affairs units. We are redoubling our efforts to recruit more qualified women in peace operations, both in the field and at Headquarters. Once more, I appeal to Member States to include qualified women in the contingents they send us, and to nominate qualified women candidates for United Nations posts at all levels.
United Nations agencies work every day to assist the most vulnerable women, caring for refugees and setting legal norms for women’s rights in armed conflict. They send special missions in countries affected by war. They provide health care and post-trauma assistance. They work with women in war- torn countries after the guns fall silent, helping them and their menfolk to rebuild their State and society.
We know there can be no enduring peace without development. We also know there can be no development unless women play their full part. This means removing the barriers to women's involvement in decision-making and giving them access to land. It means protecting their security and that of their families. It means ensuring that they enjoy full human and political rights. The United Nations is working with its partners in government and in civil society — locally and internationally — to achieve these objectives.
Five years ago, many of these goals were adopted by governments at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. This June, the General Assembly will hold a special session to review progress in implementing them. The Beijing Platform called for women and their human rights to be protected in conflict situations. It called for women to play a bigger part in the decisions which resolve conflict, and for more conflicts to be resolved in non-violent ways. In short, it summons us all to pave the way for a culture of peace.
Let us unite all our efforts to bring these pledges to life. Let us build on the work of women everywhere to achieve peace for succeeding generations. Let us harness the power of women uniting for peace.
- Secretary-General's address on the occasion of the International Women's Day 2000
- Remarks of Deputy Secretary-General at the third session of the Preparatory Committee for the General Assembly Special Session entitled "Women 2000: Gender, Equality, Development and Peace for the 21st Century"
- Five-year Review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing + 5) held in the General Assembly, 5 - 9 June 2000