5 June 2000


5 June 2000

Press Release



Following is the statement of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the General Assembly special session “Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-first Century” on 5 June:

Five years ago, delegates and non-governmental organizations went to Beijing to right wrongs and promote rights. To show the world that when women suffer injustice, we all suffer; that when women are empowered, we are all better off. The conference was a success: the result was the Beijing Platform for Action. Five years later, you have come to New York to review the progress made, and to press for further results.

Undoubtedly, there has been progress.

Violence against women is now illegal almost everywhere.

There has been worldwide mobilization against harmful traditional practices such as so-called "honour killings" -- which I prefer to call "shame killings".

In many countries, new health strategies have saved thousands of women’s lives. More couples now use family planning than ever before.

And a record number of women have become leaders and decision makers -- in cabinets, in boardrooms and here at the United Nations.

Above all, more countries have understood that women's equality is a prerequisite for development.

But at the same time, much remains to be done. For instance:

In economic terms, the gender divide is still widening. Women earn less, are more often unemployed and generally are poorer than men. Women's work is still largely part-time, informal, unregulated and unstable. The fact that they have productive as well as reproductive roles is still all too rarely recognized.

Most countries have yet to legislate in favour of women's rights to own land and other property.

And even though most countries have legislated against it, violence against women is still increasing -- both in the home and in new types of armed conflict

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which target civilian populations, with women and children as the first casualties.

Of 110 million children who are not in school, two thirds are girls. And more girls than boys drop out of school early.

Beside those old challenges still unmet, there are new ones. Let me give two examples: First, the spread of AIDS is taking a devastating toll on women and girls. In the worst hit cities of southern Africa, 40 per cent of pregnant women are HIV-positive, and more than one child in 10 has lost its mother to AIDS. Grandmothers are caring for orphans; young girls are kept out of school to care for sick relatives. The social fabric that women have worked so hard to hold together is being destroyed. Secondly, trafficking of women and children, an outrage dating back to biblical times, has now become a worldwide plague.

These challenges demand immediate action. I have asked Member States, when they gather for the Millennium Summit in September, to adopt specific goals for halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS. And the High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for a concerted international campaign against trafficking, through a rights-based approach and the development of a solid legal regime.

All these challenges, old and new, are part of the complex, interconnected world we now live in. They can be met only if we enable women to build on the best this new world has to offer, rather than condemn them to suffer the worst of it. That means, above all, that women must be educated and enabled to play their part in the global economy. It is lack of education that denies girls the information they need to protect themselves against HIV. And it is often the lack of job prospects that forces women to risk infection through early sexual relations.

Equally, it is the absence of economic opportunity that leads many women to want to migrate, and thus become a target for trafficking; their lack of education will make them vulnerable to trafficking, however much we legislate against it. Education, in other words, is both the entry point into the global economy and the best defence against its pitfalls.

Globalization involves technological changes which favour higher skilled workers over less skilled ones. This is widening even further the gap between men's and women's earnings. Only education will enable women to close the gap.

Already, large numbers of women are engaged in global production, from textiles to data processing. But most of them work in appalling conditions, for near-starvation wages. This will only change when women are making economic decisions -- as managers, entrepreneurs and employers, labour leaders and employment lawyers -- and when they are making social and political decisions, as community leaders, negotiators, judges and cabinet ministers.

Already women form the main agricultural labour force, in Africa and many other parts of the world. Yet most women are still denied the right to credit, land ownership and inheritance. Their labour goes unrecognized and unrewarded. Their needs are not given priority. Their role even in household decision-making is restricted.

Here too education can make the difference, enabling women to champion their sisters’ rights to land, to credit, to marketing facilities and technology, and to an equal say in land reform.

Once they are educated and integrated into the workforce, women are better equipped to choose the time they marry and the number of children they have. They and their children can get better nutrition, health care and education. And their example will inspire others, as parents get the message that girls are worth investing in -- at least as much as boys.

Indeed, study after study has confirmed that there is no development strategy more beneficial to society as a whole -- women and men alike -- than one which involves women as central players.

I hope that in the course of this century, we will also prove that the best strategy for conflict prevention is to expand the role of women as peacemakers. In the United Nations itself, we must find ways to appoint more women in peacekeeping and peacemaking positions.

And that is why, in my Millennium Report, and again at the World Education Forum, I challenged governments to make girls' education their priority. Indeed, I believe that implementing the Beijing Platform will be crucial to achieving all the Millennium goals I have asked the world's leaders to adopt on behalf of all the peoples of the world.

Five years ago, you went to Beijing with a simple statement: “We are not guests on this planet. We belong here.” Five years on, I would venture that we all know that this is an understatement. I hope this Session will put the world on notice that not only do women belong to this planet, but that the future of this planet depends on women.

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For information media. Not an official record.