The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Ms. Helvi Sipilä on 15 May 2009 at the age of 94. A lifelong champion of the rights of women, she served as Secretary-General of the first World Conference on Women in 1975 in Mexico City. Ms. Sipilä was the first woman to hold the rank of Assistant Secretary-General at the United Nations and she served the United Nations diligently in different capacities for many years, including as the Chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women.
A Finnish national, Ms. Sipilä served her country with distinction, including as a barrister in an age when few women had careers in this domain. Ms. Sipilä remained active after retiring from the United Nations and was the first woman to run for president in Finland in 1982. Throughout her life she held a number of key positions in civil society, both nationally and globally. Ms. Sipilä powerfully demonstrated the effectiveness of women's leadership. She has left a legacy which serves as a reminder that no effort should be spared to ensure the equal participation of women in decision-making in all areas of life.