UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
6 MARCH 2007
I would like to welcome you all to this informal thematic debate, on the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. Allow me also to extend a warm welcome to all those who have travelled to New York specifically for this meeting.
The promotion of gender equality has been on the agenda of the United Nations from its inception. In 1945, the Charter declared faith, "in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small."
During the last six decades, the UN has played an important role in achieving progress in the field of gender equality, in particular, by establishing an internationally agreed policy framework which guides the efforts of governments and other actors. This work culminated in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, at the Fourth World Conference in 1995, and is also reflected in the increased adherence to international human rights set out in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
Furthermore, at the 2005 World Summit, World leaders reaffirmed their commitments to gender equality, by declaring that, 'progress for women is progress for all'. They also reiterated their resolve to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.
NGOs, women's groups and networks, have also played a crucial role in the achievements made to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women. Their relentless efforts have contributed greatly to energizing debates and increasing the visibility of these issues at global and regional levels, as well as ensuring action and concrete achievements at the national level. Their commitment and devotion remain indispensable particularly at the grass root level.
However, despite these crucial achievements and immense efforts, women still suffer discrimination and we remain a long way from achieving the goal of gender equality.
We must all do much better in the area of implementation.
In order to achieve real equality, women's empowerment must be given systematic and sustained priority by the international community. Concrete action is also needed at the UN.
The political and practical importance of action to strengthen the UN's gender architecture has been convincingly put forward by the High Level Panel on System-wide Coherence.
In view of the urgency of the issues we face I would encourage Member States to consider the recommendations positively and constructively.
The General Assembly has a vital role to play in the promotion of gender equality, especially with regard to women's human rights. For example, during this session a resolution on the elimination of all forms of violence against women was adopted by consensus.
I convened this debate in the United Nations with the support of Member States, in order to celebrate women's achievements, but most importantly to share views on effective actions and lessons learned in overcoming the challenges to achieve true gender equality; in particular, the obstacles we need to overcome to bridge the gap between policy and practice.
Yet in order to achieve this we must realize that the "marginalization" of work to promote gender equality and the perception that the empowerment of women remains a women's issue are among the most urgent obstacles we face. Gender equality is crucial to the well being of all nations. It is not only the responsibility of women; it is the responsibility of us all, women as well as men.
The promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women are concerns that I hold close to my heart. Especially since in some regions of our world, particular cultural and religious traditions continue to perpetuate inequalities. Many women continue to be marginalized, and, many women continue to be denied the full enjoyment of their basic human rights. What further disturbs me is that some women believe that they are inferior to men and in need of male protection.
I hope this thematic debate will contribute to strengthening the political will to implement the commitments already made towards equal rights and opportunities for women and men. I would encourage an open and frank discussion of the major challenges that confront us, as well as the opportunities ahead. I look forward to hearing your views and diverse perspectives.