General Assembly

6 March 2007

Remarks at the informal General Assembly debate on gender equality and the empowerment of women

Ban Ki-moon

Achieving gender equality and empowering women is a goal in itself.  It is also a condition for building healthier, better educated‚ more peaceful and more prosperous societies.

I am honoured to be with you for this debate on a crucial subject, two days before International Women's Day.

Achieving gender equality and empowering women is a goal in itself.  It is also a condition for building healthier, better educated, more peaceful and more prosperous societies.

When women are fully empowered and engaged, all of society benefits.  Only in this way can we successfully take on the enormous challenges confronting our world -- from conflict resolution and peacebuilding to fighting AIDS and reaching all the other Millennium Development Goals.

There are countless studies that tell us that this is so.  Leaders at the 2005 World Summit declared that gender equality and human rights for all are essential to advancing development, peace and security.

But, while we have in place global goals and commitments on gender equality and women's empowerment, we still have far to go in implementing them fully -- from school enrolment to women's economic independence and representation in decision-making bodies.

In almost all countries, women continue to be underrepresented in decision-making positions.  Women's work continues to be undervalued, underpaid or not paid at all.  Out of more than 100 million children who are not in school, the majority are girls.  Out of more than 800 million adults who cannot read, the majority are women.

Worst of all, violence against women and girls continues unabated in every continent, country and culture.  It takes a devastating toll on women's lives, on their families and on society as a whole.  Most societies prohibit such violence -- yet the reality is that, too often, it is covered up or tacitly condoned.

Changing this requires all of us -- women and men -- to work for enduring change in values and attitudes.  That means transforming relations between women and men, at all levels of society.  It means working in partnership -- Governments, international organizations, civil society and the private sector.  It means men assuming their responsibility.  It means ensuring that women and girls enjoy their full rights and take up their rightful place in society.

It means moving forward on several fronts at once:

  • Ensuring that men take on a greater role in household and family care;
  • Challenging traditions and customs, stereotypes and harmful practices that stand in the way of women and girls;
  • Ensuring that women have access to education and health care, property and land;
  • Investing in infrastructure to reduce time burdens for women and girls;
  • Promoting human rights and security, including freedom from violence;
  • Integrating gender issues into the follow-up to UN resolutions and decisions -- including the work of recently established bodies such as the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council.

For my part, as you know, I have made gender balance a fundamental consideration in shaping my senior management team, which, of course, includes Dr.  Asha -Rose Migiro as my very able Deputy Secretary-General.

I pledge to work for a collaborative and coordinated approach to gender perspectives -- one that involves and engages the entire UN system in supporting Member States work for gender equality and the empowerment of women.

On that score, I know you have been studying proposals to strengthen the UN's gender architecture, as presented by the High-level Panel on United Nations System-Wide Coherence.  I hope you will consider the possibility of replacing several current structures with one dynamic UN entity, focused on gender equality and women's empowerment.  Such an entity should mobilize forces of change at the global level and inspire enhanced results at the country level.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, I look forward to working with all of you in the years ahead, in this cause that embraces all humankind.