Women's Empowerment - the key to achieving the Millennium Development
H.E. Mr. Jan Kavan, President of the Fifty-seventh Session of
the United Nations General Assembly
8 March 2003
March 8 of every year we celebrate the International Women's Day.
This year the theme of "Women Empowerment - key to achieving
the Millennium Development Goals" is appropriate and on target.
The Goals to be attained by the year 2015 are ambitious, though
possible, and include: halving the number of some one billion
persons living in extreme poverty and hunger on less than a dollar
a day; achieving universal primary education for girls and boys
given that some 113 million children do not attend school; empowering
women and promoting equality between men and women; reducing child
and maternal mortality rates and ratios respectively; combating
deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria; ensuring environmental
sustainability and generating global partnerships for development
with targets for aid, trade and debt relief.
the Millennium Goals are to be achieved in the envisaged time
frame, then it is imperative to enable the full participation
of women in this endeavour. Women constitute more than half of
mankind. They are, without exception, in all cultures, the predominant
communicators and care givers. Hence the importance of their role
in fostering a culture of peace and harmony amongst peoples, a
culture of gender equality, a culture of sustaining the environment,
a culture of mutual support across families, communities, and
nations. Women and children represent 70 percent of the world's
poor and two thirds of the world's illiterate population not to
mention that 80 percent of the world's refugees and displaced
persons are also women and children.
the number of victims of extreme poverty and hunger has to be
halved by the year 2015, then the women have to be empowered to
achieve this goal for themselves and their families. It is recognized
that when we educate a woman we educate a multitude, when we educate
a man we educate one individual. Because of the traditional gender
division of labour in all societies, where the male head of the
family is expected to provide the economic means for the family,
and the women are left at home to give birth to children and care
for daily needs of the family, they become the main channel of
communication with the baby from the moment of its birth. Therefore,
their impact and influence can be decisive in fostering new attitudes
in the sons and daughters, attitudes of living in peace and harmony
with diverse racial and religious cultures, attitude of mutual
respect in gender equality, for the environment, for prevention
of diseases through safe water and sanitation habits, and so on.
Women's role as communicators is also enhanced by virtue of the
fact that most of the teachers around the world are women. If
the women are educated and empowered, together with their male
partners, we will constitute a mighty force to combat hunger,
poverty, disease and environmental degradation. The inclusion
of women therefore is indispensable.
prosperity to flourish, we need peace and security. Women of all
cultures know the deep pain of losing their beloved fathers, husbands
and sons in armed conflict and wars. They would be harbingers
of peace if allowed and empowered to participate in peace negotiating,
peace building, peace-keeping and conflict prevention activities,
in other words building and promoting a culture of peace.
empowerment of women is a fundamental step towards eradication
of poverty. The idea of micro credit to women is yielding dividends
around the world. The concept of micro credit was an initiative
of Professor Muhammad Yunnus of Bangladesh. Through lending women
small amounts of cash without collateral, and the ensuing success
of the loan repayments, he revolutionized the concept of rural
economic and social development, coupling capitalism with social
responsibility. The concept of micro credit is being copied in
52 countries and the multilateral agencies are supporting micro
credit projects around the world at the grass roots level.
Political empowerment of women has also yielded positive results
wherever they have the opportunity to participate in decision
making. To cite one example, the Panchayat system in India, (local
bodies at the village level that are meant to ensure people's
participation), which has always existed though dominated by male
members, now has a minimum of 30 percent women constituents due
to an amendment to the Constitution of India, providing for one
third of the seats to be reserved for women. This has allowed
women to use their empowerment in, for instance, improving local
water and sanitation systems and educational facilities for the
children in their villages, thus fostering sustainable development
at the grass roots level.
potential of information and communications technologies for advancement
and empowerment of women is unlimited and should be tapped through
training and capacity building.
are many players and stakeholders in the aim to reach the Millennium
Goals. Apart from the efforts of the UN family of organizations,
multilateral organizations and civil society, the positive role
of women also depends on the supportive attitudes of the local
family unit, the local community in each village, in each town.
In financing for development, the governments should promote participation
of women in the allocation of aid. I would like to take this opportunity
to pay tribute to all of the organizations and individuals for
their tireless and sustained efforts to promote gender equality
and thus enhance the chances of attaining the Millennium Goals
for a better world for all.