9 September 1996

Press Release


Following is the text of the statement by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, at the opening of a special Department of Public Information event marking the first anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women held at Headquarters this morning:

One year ago, women from all over the world met at Beijing for the Fourth World Conference on Women. The Beijing Conference was the crowning achievement of decades of struggle, in the women's movement and at the United Nations, for the empowerment of women everywhere. It was an important step on a long road -- the road to equality, development and peace.

All of us, those of us here today, and the many who could not be with us, owe a debt of gratitude to the Government of China for making this Conference such a success, for hosting the largest conference in the history of the United Nations.

Today, we honour the pioneers of the advancement of women, at the United Nations and in the non-governmental community, who have toiled for many years to bring us to the achievements in Beijing.

I salute the pioneers of the women's movement. Many of you are among us here.

I honour the memory of the women who could not see this day, but who always knew that their work would serve future generations.

I salute Mexico City, Copenhagen, Nairobi and Beijing, the cities that have hosted World Conferences on Women.

And I pledge myself to work to make the Platform for Action and the Beijing Declaration a reality.

Today, as you assess the progress made, the distance travelled since Beijing, I wish to share with you some thoughts on future action for the empowerment of women.

Three issues seem of particular relevance: first, women in conflict; second, the empowerment of women in society; third, women in the work place.

First, Women in Conflict

Civil conflict, and internal strife, both on the rise, claim an ever greater proportion of women and children. Women and children also represent a large number of those killed by land-mines. Long the victims of inequality and abusive practices, women have now become the primary victims of war.

But women are not, and should not be seen, primarily as victims. Women have proven themselves the primary force for peace. In Liberia, today, the best hopes for peace rest on the shoulders of a woman, Ms. Ruth Perry, and hers is but the most visible example. Women have demonstrated their capacity to help prevent conflict, to bring peace, and to help in the reconstruction of society torn by conflict.

I have recently commissioned a report on "Children in Conflict" by my expert Graša Machel. The report is comprehensive on the situation of women and children in conflict.

Second, Empowerment of Women in Society

Recent years have yielded much progress. However, much remains to be done for the empowerment of women, not only on the legal front, but also on the health, education, maternal care and family-planning fronts. In addition, access to education and information on the rights of women have proven essential for the empowerment of women. We need much more work to inform women of their right, and to ensure that these rights are respected by all.

I particularly wish to stress the importance of the empowerment of women in rural society. Their contribution to production, their support of the family, make them an essential part of the social fabric. Yet, insufficient attention is devoted to this issue.

There is much more that can be done by public advocacy. You, the non- governmental organizations, as well as government representatives, and staff members of the United Nations, can make a difference. Together, we can shape public opinion and contribute to a better world.

Third, Women in Work Place

Despite notable progress in all societies, we are far from the goal of full equality in the job market, and in terms of pay for women in work. More progress is essential.

- 3 - Press Release SG/SM/6045 WOM/921 9 September 1996

At the United Nations, we want to practice what we preach. As a result of concerted action, the percentage of women in United Nations posts has increased to 35 per cent at present.

The "Strategic Plan of Action for the Improvement of the Status of Women in the Secretariat" calls for the goal of 50 per cent by the year 2000. This is 25 per cent more than was previously thought possible. I congratulate the Department of Public Information on its achieving my 50 per cent target for the employment of women. But equality in employment also has a qualitative dimension. There are still too few women in high-level posts, although the proportion is rising.

There are no women special representatives since the departure of Dame Margaret Anstee. I, therefore, encourage governments to submit lists of qualified women who can serve in this capacity.

I take this opportunity to salute my colleagues present here today: Dr. Nafis Sadik, Ms. Carol Bellamy, Ms. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, and, of course, my Special Adviser on Gender Issues, Rosario Green.

To many of you, the distance we have travelled is too short, the pace of change too slow. I acknowledge your frustrations and I share them.

I ask you today, meeting in the "Spirit of Beijing", to help me in this mission: to support peace efforts for men and women; to integrate an awareness of gender issues in all our work worldwide; to make equality of opportunity a reality worldwide and at the United Nations.

Fifty years ago, the late Eleanor Roosevelt read an open letter to the women of the world to the first session of the General Assembly. Allow me to conclude by quoting a few lines from this letter: "We call on the governments of the world, to encourage women everywhere to take a more active part in national and international affairs."

This is a call to governments. It is also a call to each and every one of us. Today, I ask you to help me, to help the United Nations to answer this call.

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