31 October 2008


31 October 2008
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Following is the text of UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks at the Conference for Women Leaders, organized by the Ministry of Gender Equality and the UNWTO ST-EP Foundation, in Seoul today, 31 October:

It is a great pleasure and honour to meet with you today.  You represent a broad spectrum of society, and, despite your diverse backgrounds, you are united by a common vision to empower women.

At the Millennium Summit held in New York in 2000, world leaders reaffirmed their faith in fundamental rights and the dignity of every human being.  The Millennium Development Goals were subsequently established as a framework to better the lives of people around the world.

Since their adoption, the Millennium Development Goals have successfully mobilized Governments, international organizations and civil society around the global development agenda.  The Goals provide a critical framework for accelerating progress, with measurable indicators to be achieved within a specified timeline.

World leaders pledged their support for equal rights between men and women with the clear understanding that gender equality is essential for eliminating global challenges, such as poverty, hunger and disease.  In short, gender equality is essential for development that is truly sustainable.

Given the critical role of women in all areas of development, the achievement of gender equality is increasingly recognized as essential for moving forward on all the Millennium Development Goals.  Effective and sustainable progress will not be possible unless women are fully consulted and involved.

Actions to implement development goals must, therefore, take into account the priorities, needs and contributions of women.  In this regard, the Millennium Development Goals must be actively pursued to increase the visibility of gender equality issues in national development.

The imperative of achieving the Millennium Development Goals was highlighted during the recent High-Level Event at the General Assembly last month, to mark the midway point towards the 2015 deadline.  Member States, United Nations entities, the private sector and civil society renewed commitments on the Millennium Development Goals.  Estimates suggest that we received new financial pledges close to $17.5 billion.  We must build on this, to keep up the momentum to deliver on old and new commitments.

Secretary-General Ban noted that he had been truly inspired by the global mobilization behind the Millennium Development Goals.  He, however, stressed that women and girls continue to suffer persistent bias and neglect, evidenced by gender gaps in health, education and employment.  Much more needs to be done to accelerate the pace of achieving gender equality.

An area that needs urgent attention is improving access to reproductive health care.  Women need access to quality antenatal care and skilled assistance during delivery.  More than 40 per cent of births in developing countries are not attended by a doctor, midwife or nurse.  An estimated 500,000 women die annually from pregnancy-related causes.  Many die because there is no access to emergency obstetrics, sometimes simply because they have no transport to get to the hospital.  This is unacceptable.

Progress has been made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal target of elimination of gender disparities in education, with most gains in enrolment ratios at the primary level.  Nearly two thirds of countries reached gender parity in primary education by the target year of 2005.

Progress is, however, not fast enough and gains have been very uneven across regions.  Gender disparities in school completion rates at both primary and secondary level also persist in many countries.

As you are aware, women’s economic empowerment remains precarious in many parts of the world.  Fewer women than men have secure jobs in the formal economy.  I am sure I will learn from how the success of Korean women in this area can be replicated elsewhere.

We also have another new challenge that compounds the load women carry -- climate change.  The impact of climate change cuts across a range of areas -- women will need to spend more hours searching for water, seeking ways to feed their families faced by food shortages and much more.

Climate change cuts across a range of issues that affect women, from water management, energy to human settlements.

Against this background, it becomes even more critical to increase the participation of women at decision-making levels:  in Government, the private sector, trade unions, academia and in the community.

The proportion of women’s seats in Parliaments today is only 17.9 per cent.  Only 20 countries have achieved over 30 per cent female representation in Parliament.  In this context, we should particularly recognize Rwanda, where recent elections have resulted in, for the first time ever in history, over 50 per cent women in Parliament.

There are many reasons women are not elected to Parliament.  Time demands due to unpaid work, lack of resources, limited opportunities for capacity-building, and, in some cases, threats or the use of violence as a deterrent.

Let me raise one further critical issue.  Atrocious acts of violence against women -- a serious violation of women’s rights -- are a daily occurrence in all parts of the world, both in times of peace and conflict.  Trafficking in women, for example, remains an under-documented despicable reality.

All forms of violence against women and girls constitute a significant impediment to progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, with serious costs for the victims and their families.  It is encouraging that 2008 has seen some remarkable steps in combating violence against women.  The Security Council adopted a historic resolution that defines sexual violence in conflict as a security issue.

Secretary-General Ban is spearheading global efforts and working to ensure high visibility and sustained attention to the issue through his campaign:  “Unite to End All Forms of Violence against Women and Girls”.

The campaign, which will be carried out between 2008 and 2015, calls for increased global advocacy and strengthened partnerships for action at the regional and national levels.  Civil society organizations are encouraged to contribute actively to the campaign, to ensure tangible progress by 2015.

Non-governmental organizations, such as the UNWTO ST-EP Foundation and others represented here today, have been critical partners of the United Nations since its establishment.

Allow me to pause for a moment to thank my dear friend, Ambassador Dho, for her outstanding commitment to uplifting women, particularly through education.  I encourage you to continue your important work.

I also welcome the strong global leadership the Republic of Korea has shown on the Millennium Development Goals and in promoting equality.  The Millennium Development Goals constitute an important instrument for change.

I invite you all, as women leaders, to work with the United Nations to achieve the vision outlined in the Millennium Summit in your own country, in the region as a whole and at global level, especially in support of developing countries.  You can play a critical role by promoting awareness of the value of the Millennium Development Goals, advocating for their full implementation, and using them yourselves as a framework within your own work.

Ensuring gender equality and empowerment of women is both a moral imperative and an economic necessity.  To move forward, we must unleash the leadership potential of women at all levels for the benefit of society.

I count on you to work with us towards the achievement of this critical vision.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.