Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the occasion of International Women's Day, observed on 8 March:
International Women's Day is the day on which women on all continents bridge national, ethnic, cultural, economic and political divides to come together to celebrate their efforts towards the goals of equality, development and peace. It is the day on which we applaud the struggle of ordinary women.
Few causes promoted by the United Nations have generated more intense and widespread support than the campaign to promote and protect the equal rights of women. The Charter of the United Nations was the first international agreement to proclaim gender equality as a fundamental human right, thanks largely to the efforts of a handful of women delegates to the Charter Conference in San Francisco in 1945. Since then, the United Nations has helped to create a framework of internationally agreed strategies, standards, programmes and goals to advance the status of women worldwide. A leading actor in this effort has been the Commission on the Status of Women, which this year celebrates its fiftieth anniversary.
During this half century, the women's movement has become a truly global phenomenon. The Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 was the largest conference ever held by the United Nations, with some 17,000 participants representing 189 States and more than 2,500 non-governmental organizations. The commitments made by governments in Beijing reflect the understanding that women's equality must be a central component of any attempt to solve the world's social, economic and political problems. Thus, where once women fought to put gender equality on the international agenda, gender equality is now one of the primary factors shaping that agenda.
On International Women's Day 1997, I would like to draw special attention to the role of women in questions of international peace and security.
- 2 - Press Release SG/sm/6176 WOM/952 6 March 1997
Women are notably absent from the peace table, despite evidence suggesting they bring a particular and positive perspective to preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peace-keeping. Those United Nations peace and security missions which were characterized by gender balance in their management and staff clearly benefited from the involvement of women. Assessments of operations in Guatemala, Namibia and South Africa indicate that the women who participated were perceived to be compassionate, averse to choosing force over reconciliation and willing to listen and learn.
As the United Nations continues to strengthen its capacities for conflict resolution, I will call upon women in increasing numbers for their unique skills in promoting environments conducive to stability and peace. In a similar vein, I encourage Member States to nominate women candidates to serve as Special Representatives or Special Envoys and in other assignments in preventive diplomacy and peacemaking.
It is also timely this year to mention the process of reform and revitalization, which the United Nations continues to pursue as a matter of priority. Reform is essential if the United Nations is to be equipped and structured to face the challenges of the twenty-first century. Whatever shape reform takes, I remain dedicated to mainstreaming a gender perspective into the work of the entire United Nations system and to ensuring that women's rights and women's programmes remain integral parts of the Organization's global mission.
In making these commitments on this important day, and as we observe the anniversary of the Commission on the Status of Women, I offer to the world's women my pledge of continued solidarity with your long and worthy campaign for equal rights, development, freedom and peace.
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