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UN System Observances for International Women's Day 2012

In 1975, during International Women's Year, the United Nations began celebrating 8 March as International Women's Day. Two years later, in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions. For the United Nations, International Women's Day has been observed on 8 March since 1975. The Day is traditionally marked with a message from the Secretary-General.

The official United Nations theme for International Women's Day 2012 is "Empower Rural Women — End Hunger and Poverty." Below is a summary of UN system observances, news and related links for IWD 2012.

Related Feature: The UN System: Working Together to Empower Rural Women

United Nations

Message from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Occasion of International Women's Day

Gender equality and the empowerment of women are gaining ground worldwide. There are more women Heads of State or Government than ever, and the highest proportion of women serving as Government ministers. Women are exercising ever greater influence in business. More girls are going to school, and are growing up healthier and better equipped to realize their potential.

Despite this momentum, there is a long way to go before women and girls can be said to enjoy the fundamental rights, freedom and dignity that are their birthright and that will guarantee their well-being. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the world's rural areas. Rural women and girls — to whom this year's International Women's Day is devoted — make up one quarter of the global population, yet routinely figure at the bottom of every economic, social and political indicator, from income and education to health to participation in decision-making.

Read More: Arabic [forthcoming] | Chinese | English | French| Russian | Spanish

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Food And Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Speech Delivered by José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of FAO, on the Occasion of International Women's Day During the Joint IFAD, FAO and WFP Event "Empowering Young Rural Women: Inspiring Future," Rome, 8 March 2012

[Check against Delivery]


Mr. Kanayo Nwanze, President of IFAD,
Ms. Sheila Sisilu, Deputy Executive Director of WFP,
Ms. Ertharin Cousin, US Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies in Rome,
and soon to be colleague at WFP
Ms. Angie Motschekga, Minister of Basic Education of South Africa,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I want to join Kanayo in congratulating women for their day. FAO considers empowering women and girls a key to eradicating hunger, extreme poverty and promoting development. This is especially true in rural areas.

Throughout the world women play a key role in many, if not all, aspects of life. They head households, in most cases are still the primary provider of care in families and have an important role in the rural workforce.

As last year's edition of the State of Food and Agriculture — SOFA — shows, closing the gender gap in agriculture could lead to important gains in agricultural productivity.

However, sometimes this work starts too soon and is not the work we would like to see women doing.

According to the International Labour Organization, 61 million girls between five and 14 years old work in agriculture. In many parts of the world, rural women are far from finding decent work. They are usually underpaid, socially unprotected and temporary jobs. Read more [pdf] »


International Women's Day: FAO Gender Policy Aims High
Better Opportunities for Women and Girls Means Leverage in Fight against Hunger

ROME, 8 March 2012 — One of the keys to eradicating hunger and extreme poverty is to increase social, educational and economic opportunities for women and girls. A new Gender Equality Policy launched today by FAO aims to place the improvement of gender equality at the center of the UN agency's work to boost sustainable agriculture and development.

FAO Director-General Graziano da Silva announced the new policy as he took part in this year's International Women's Day event, held at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Each year, on a rotating basis FAO, IFAD and the World Food Programme — all headquartered in Rome, Italy — mark the day in a joint observance.

"FAO's gender policy underscores the Organization's commitment to addressing gender and women's issues to eradicate hunger and poverty," said Graziano da Silva. Read more»

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International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

Message from IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano on the Occasion of International Women's Day

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues,

A few months ago, I participated in the opening of an exhibition here in the M building dedicated to the work of Marie Sklodowska-Curie, the greatest woman scientist of the 20th century.

Marie Curie's pioneering work in nuclear science is the basis of many important applications in medicine and science today.

I expressed the hope that Marie Curie would remain an inspiration for young women contemplating a career in nuclear science and engineering. And I express that same hope today, as we mark International Women's Day 2012. Read more [pdf] »

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International Fund for Agricultural Development

International Women's Day 2012: Equality Begins at Home for Rural Girls and Women

ROME, 5 March 2012 — As the world marks International Women's Day this week, IFAD and its partners are pursuing new ways to advance the fundamental rights of poor rural girls and women at the household level.

In the past, rural development organizations and programmes have generally promoted change – including women's empowerment – on a community-wide basis. The theory was that expanding smallholders' access to markets or new technologies, for example, would ultimately benefit everyone in a given locality.

In many cases, however, the reality is that women in smallholder farming households have little or no control over the land they cultivate or the income they generate.

Household-based strategies address this reality. Through regular home visits and mentoring, they help families learn how to plan their livelihoods together. Household members then have an opportunity to jointly improve their food security, raise their income and share in the benefits of their labour, regardless of gender. Read more »

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International Labour Organization (ILO)

Message from ILO Director-General Juan Somavia on the Occasion of International Women's Day

Today we celebrate International Women's Day by recognizing the important contribution of rural women across the world to the well-being of their families and communities and in sustaining societies and economies. We call for action to ensure that all rural women can live and work in dignity.

Women comprise around 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, and more than 70 per cent of the labour force in some agriculture-intensive economies. Working as farmers, wage labourers, and entrepreneurs, rural women also take on a disproportionate share of the responsibility of caring for children and the elderly. Through these multiple roles rural women have a fundamental part to play in achieving rural development.

Read more: English | French | Spanish

Related Links

  • ILO High-level Panel Debate: Empower Rural Women — End Hunger and Poverty
    12:30-14:30, Geneva Time, 8 March, ILO Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland
    English | French | Spanish
  • Gender Equality in the Rural Sector — The Ever-present Challenge
    Interview with Jane Hodges, Director, ILO Bureau for Gender Equality
    English | French | Spanish
  • Background Paper: Empower Rural Women — End Poverty and Hunger
    English | French | Spanish


Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights


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United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Message from UNDP Administrator Helen Clark on the Occasion of International Women's Day

A few weeks ago I spoke with women farmers in Niger who are growing vegetables in some of the harshest climatic conditions on earth. With severe drought a recurring problem in their country and across the Sahel, access to water for irrigation and to appropriate seeds, fertilisers, advisory services, and credit are all important for overcoming food shortages and malnutrition.

Rural women account for nearly half the agricultural labor force and are custodians of traditional knowledge about the land and their local environment. Backed by small development investments, rural women can lead the way in building food and nutrition security for their families and communities, and thus in building resilience to future extreme weather events. Read more »

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United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

Message from Noeleen Heyzer, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, on the Occasion of International Women's Day

"Women on the move will change the world" — Nawal El Saadawi

My message today to the men and women of our region is that positive change requires positive action. More women than ever before now serve in high office, or at the helm of powerful corporations.

More women now shape policy and steer commerce than at any point in history. We must wield this influence to improve the lives of those men and women who remain trapped by poverty, disease and desperation.

The best way to celebrate International Women's Day in 2012 is to redouble our efforts to empower women and to address the gender gaps which remain across and within the countries of Asia and the Pacific.

With only three years left to meet the Millennium Development Goals, we know that women's development holds the key to our final big push to 2015 and beyond. Read more [pdf] »


United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

Message from Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova on the Occasion of International Women's Day

Too often marginalised, women living in rural settings face steep challenges to the exercise of their human rights, their personal development and the pursuit of their aspirations. Across the world, this is weakening societies and holding back their development. Tackling this problem is the goal of the 2012 International Women's Day.

In studies of progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, rural women fare consistently worse than rural men, as well as urban women and men, on every indicator for which there is data. Education provides stark illustration. Girls from rural areas are far less likely to go to school than either rural boys or urban boys and girls. Women make up two thirds of the world's 796 million illiterate people, many of whom live in rural areas. In Cambodia, 48 percent of rural women are illiterate compared to 14 percent of rural men. In Iraq, nearly 50 percent of young rural women between the ages of 15 and 24 are illiterate. Read more »

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United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

Video Message from UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres on the Occasion of International Women's Day 2012

On occasion of International Women's Day 2012, Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, commends rural women and urges their full empowerment. She takes this opportunity to issue a "call to action NOW" — action on both mitigation and adaptation. Specifically, she invites interested persons to interact with UNFCCC and to share planned initiatives or lessons learned on its Facebook page facebook.com/UNclimatechange. Read more »



United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)

Rural Women Active Agents of Economic and Social Change and Need More Support, says UNIDO Director-General

VIENNA, 8 March 2012 — Kandeh K. Yumkella, the Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), said today that rural women were often at the forefront of economic and social change but many continued to face challenges due to discrimination and gender-based stereotypes.

"Rural women are active agents of economic and social change. They play a crucial role in ensuring food and nutrition security, eradicating rural poverty and improving the well-being of their families, yet many of them still face serious challenges as a result of gender-based stereotypes and discrimination that deny them equitable access to opportunities, resources and services," said Yumkella, marking the International Women's Day, observed on 8 March. This year, it is observed under the theme "Empower rural women - eradicate hunger and poverty". Read more »

Message from Taizo Nishikawa, Deputy to the Director-General of UNIDO, on the Occasion of International Women's Day 2012

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be with you here at this joint event to commemorate the International Women's Day 2012. By coincidence; the first International Women's Day was celebrated on March 19, 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. Substantial progress has been made in advancing status of women in social, economic and political spheres over the last 100 years. However, there are still a lot to accomplish ahead of us.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The theme of this year's celebration, "Empower Rural Women-Eradicate Hunger and Poverty", could not have come at a more opportune time than now when food security and rural development is on the top of development agenda. Read more [pdf] »


United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR)

Empower Women and Girls in Fight against Disasters, Says UNISDR

GENEVA, 8 March 2012 — The UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, marked International Women's Day today with a call to governments in the world's most disaster-prone countries to "empower girls and women through education and access to resources as part of building resilience to disasters at community level.

"Progress is being made in reaching the Millennium Development Goal of universal access to primary education but women still make up over two-thirds of the world's 796 million people who are illiterate. We are handicapping ourselves in the fight against hunger and disasters if women are not given full access to basic schooling.

"This year's focus for International Women's Day is 'Empower Rural Women- End Hunger' and this cannot be achieved until we dismantle the barriers which prevent women from contributing fully to the economic life of their communities and being fully involved in disaster management. Read more »

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United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

UNODC Supports Rural Women to Improve Health and Alternative Livelihoods

Today, the world marks International Women's Day, the theme for this year being "Empower rural women — end hunger and poverty". UNODC is working with rural women in parts of Asia and Latin America to equip them with knowledge relating to sources of livelihood that are alternatives to the cultivation of illicit crops used in the manufacture of illegal drugs, such as heroin and opium, to address drug abuse and HIV and to protect the environment.

Rural women play a critical role in global development — they enhance agricultural and rural growth, improve food security and can help to reduce poverty levels in their communities. In some parts of the world, women represent 70 percent of the agricultural workforce, accounting for 43 percent of agricultural workers worldwide, according to the United Nations. Yet rural women face many obstacles, including lack of proper health care, limited resources, illiteracy, hunger and poverty. Read more »


United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

Message from UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin on the Occasion of International Women's Day 2012

Today, on International Women's Day, UNFPA renews its commitment to gender equality and human rights and dignity.

Many rural women have limited autonomy and low status, which puts them at increased risk of hunger, gender-based violence and other human rights violations. Advancing rural women's political, social and economic status are vital ends in themselves as well as critical strategies to eradicate poverty, promote women's rights and pave the way for sustainable development.

Improving access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights is essential for rural women's empowerment and ability to earn an income and feed themselves and their family. When women can make free and informed choices in all spheres of life, including marriage and number and spacing of their children, they can reach their full potential and further contribute to the development of their communities and nations. Read more »

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United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA)

Message from UNRWA Deputy Commissioner-General Margot Ellis on the Occassion of International Women's Day

Today, we join the celebrations of the International Women's Day, which has been observed by the United Nations since 1975. The theme for 2012 is "Empower Rural Women — End Hunger and Poverty". UNRWA is organising events in its different fields of operation to acknowledge Palestinian women's contribution to society.

While to date, there have been many improvements on women's legal rights, women around the world are still suffering inequalities in their access to resources, education, as well as legal and political rights. While women comprise half of Palestinian society, their participation in household decisions, and economic, public, and political life does not reflect the same proportion.

Read more: Arabic | English

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United Nations Volunteers (UNV)

Message from UNV Executive Coordinator Flavia Pansieri on the Occassion of International Women's Day

Today, International Women's Day gives us the chance to recognize the invaluable contributions women make around the world, and mark the challenges we still have to meet to achieve gender equality. We must also celebrate the gains that have been made.

United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is continuously working for the empowerment of women and youth as a vital element to attain sustainable development. What is more, UNV recognizes that it is often women who have a strong impact in changing the conditions around them. They often do this by engaging as volunteers in their communities. UNV promotes volunteerism as a means for women to gain the skills, experience and confidence to voice their concerns, and to influence and take their rightful places among the decision-makers in their communities.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently highlighted the importance of addressing the needs of women and young people to ensure their full participation in peacebuilding and social and economic development in his action agenda for the next five years. Working with and for women and young people is one of his five priorities. UNV cooperates with its civil partners as well as the United Nations to build the capacities of women and youth to ensure their full participation in their communities. We will continue to do so. The commitment of UNV to provide women with a greater say in their destiny is absolute.

Related Links
  • UNV and Rural Women [pdf]
    UNV supports the empowerment of rural women to end hunger and poverty through different activities and initiatives such as knowledge products and training, the development of inter-agency mechanisms and South-South cooperation. The document showcases specific project examples.
  • UNV Main Page, International Women's Day 2012: UN Volunteers Working for the Empowerment of Women
    International Women's Day is marked on 8 March and is an opportunity to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women and to raise awareness about the struggles still faced in achieving gender equality.


UN Women

Message from Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director UN Women Michelle Bachelet on the Occasion of International Women's Day

This International Women's Day, I join women around the globe in solidarity for human rights, dignity and equality. This sense of mission drives me and millions of people around the world to pursue justice and inclusion. Looking back at the first year of UN Women, I applaud every individual, government and organization working for women's empowerment and gender equality. I promise the highest commitment moving forward.

The creation of UN Women has coincided with deep changes in our world –from rising protests against inequality to uprisings for freedom and democracy in the Arab world. These events have strengthened my conviction that a sustainable future can only be reached by women, men and young people enjoying equality together. From the government that changes its laws, to the enterprise that provides decent work and equal pay, to the parents that teach their daughter and son that all human beings should be treated the same, equality depends on each of us.

Read more: Arabic | English | Chinese | French | Japanese | Russian | Spanish

UN Women Executive Director Commemorates International Women's Day in Morocco

RABAT, 8 March 2012 — Against the backdrop of global geopolitical events and during a period of unprecedented transformation in the region, UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet commemorated International Women's Day in Morocco today. Highlighting the progress made globally in women's legal rights, educational achievements and participation in public life, she also underlined the huge gaps that still remain for women globally from unequal opportunities to gross violation of rights.

Ms. Bachelet called strongly upon world leaders to advance women's increased political participation and economic empowerment as the foundation for sustainable societies worldwide. "Women's full and equal participation in the political and economic arena is fundamental to democracy and justice, which people are demanding," she said. "Equal rights and opportunity underpin healthy economies and societies."

Read more: Arabic | English | French | Spanish

Related Video Message

On International Women's Day, 8 March 2012, UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet calls for women's equal participation in all spheres of life as fundamental to democracy and justice.

Video message available in: English | French | Spanish

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World Food Programme (WFP)

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