A quarter of a century has passed since 8 March 1976, when we first celebrated International Women’s Day at the United Nations. Twenty-five years on, we have many reasons to celebrate. Much progress has been achieved in the advancement of women  -- from better legislation to greater participation, from the Cairo conference on population and development to the Beijing Platform for Action, from economic empowerment to intellectual emancipation. 

But this International Women’s Day is also a reminder that for the majority of the world's women, daily life remains a difficult and sometimes dangerous struggle. The past year has brought into sharper focus the objectives of gender equality, development and peace that remain at the heart of our agenda, and that are still far from being achieved.   

Last June, the "Beijing Plus Five" Special Session of the General Assembly showed that while we have move forward in some areas in implementing the Beijing Platform, there are many points on which we have yet to make serious headway. In October, the UN Security Council highlighted one of the most pressing of these challenges when it held its first open debate on women, peace and security.  

It is one of the tragic features of modern conflict that women and girls suffer its impact increasingly and disproportionately. They are neither the initiators nor the prosecutors of conflicts, and yet they have been specifically targeted, often as a way to humiliate the adversary and break the morale and resistance of whole societies. Steps have been taken to end the culture of impunity surrounding this lamentable practice -- both at the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and in the adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. We must build further on that work.  

And we must do more. As the Resolution adopted by the Security Council makes clear, we must address the issue of women, peace and security on several fronts. While women are often the first victims of armed conflict, they must also be recognized as a key to the solution. We must strive to integrate women more effectively in peace processes worldwide.  

It is increasingly realized that women possess particular skills and experiences that enable them to contribute to all stages of a peace process. In times of conflict, it is often women who take over the running of homes, farms and villages. Women understand the root causes of tension and know which power groups within communities and countries are most likely to support peace initiatives. Women are able to work together and communicate across barriers and divides. 

We must make greater use of that potential. We must ensure that these experiences are replicated at all levels, in national and international arenas. We must build partnerships among all actors -- governments, non-governmental organizations, community groups and the private sector -- to bring more women to the negotiating table and into decision-making positions. We must act on the understanding that women's full participation in preventing and resolving conflicts is essential for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security in the 21st century. On this International Women's Day of 2001, let that be our credo for a more peaceful millennium.

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