International Women's Day
8 March 1982 

Press Release SG/SM/3254


Following is the text of a statement made at Headquarters today by Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar to the meeting sponsored by Ad Hoc Group on Equal Rights for Women and the Staff Council on the occasion International Women's Day:

It is a great pleasure for me to meet with you for the first time on International Women's Day. The celebration of this Day demands that employment and working and the improvements that can be made in them. But this should not be the beginning and end of a dialogue on the subject. Rather, the Day should furnish an opportunity to focus attention on matters of special concern to women members of the staff with the clear understanding that the relevant policies and practices will remain under continuous review.

I am deeply concerned with these matters but would like you to bear in mind that some of them are related to personnel questions across-the-board. Only those changes can be most beneficial which are the product of the maturest consideration.

Equality among staff members must be our guiding principle. It is obvious that our Organization cannot function effectively if some of its staff believe they are subject to discrimination on whatever ground. The relevant principles have been set out in a Secretary-General's Bulletin issued in 1977 but what is needed is their scrupulous implementation.

I am determined to see that appointments, placements, assignments and promotions be made solely on the basis of merit. Moreover, particular measures are necessary to ensure that women are not blocked from advancing because of their gender. It seems that progress has been made in this regard over the last few years. The results are particularly encouraging at Headquarters where the proportion of women professionals is now almost 32 per cent.

While continuing our endeavours here, I believe that our most intense efforts will have to be directed now to other Offices away form Headquarters where women are still below the appropriate percentage. I am counting on the co-operation of the Heads of these Offices to implement the policies set out in the Bulletin.

I am keenly aware that it is not sufficient merely to increase the number of women in the professional category but they should also be placed at the decision-making level. In this respect, I am glad that, immediately after taking up my present functions, I was able to appoint Miss Leila Doss, who is here with us, to the post of Assistant Secretary-General for Personnel Services. I know she will not only continue that excellent work done by her predecessor but also bring her own knowledge, experience and sensitivity to predecessor but also bring her own knowledge, experience and sensitivity to women's position to bear on the difficult task of managing our human resources.

It is also fortunate that the Appointment and Promotion Board is headed by Miss Margaret Anstee and includes three women members. Furthermore, I was happy to approve the appointment of Dr. Nafis Sadik to be Assistant Secretary-General in the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA).

Lastly, I have the great pleasure to announce today the first appointment of a woman as Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations subject to budgetary approval by the General Assembly. Mrs. Lucille Mair, presently Assistant Secretary-General for Women's Development in the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) will be the Secretary-General of the International conference on the Question of Palestine.

I have asked Miss Doss to review the guidelines regarding women to determine whether they are sufficiently clear ad practical to deal effectively with matters which concern us here today. In addition, there are institutional arrangements to monitor the situation and to make constructive proposals to correct errors, innovate, change or adjust our courses of action.

To give an example, the Standing committee on the Employment of Women, with representatives both from the staff and the administration, has been entrusted with an important responsibility in this regard. There is also the Panel to investigate allegations of discriminatory treatment which was established in 1977. I would expect it not only to make recommendations to solve cases brought to its attention, but also to propose ways of avoiding similar occurrences, particularly those involving women, in the future.

You will recall that when I met with you and your colleagues in January, I said that I did not believe in making changes just for the sake of cage. On the subject which interests us today, I believe we already have the means to implement an effective policy for the treatment of men and women on the basis of equality. With the help of constructive advice from officials and bodies most concerned with the question of women and the co-operation f staff organizations, we can surely work together to create an environment congenial as much for women as for men.

I am making these remarks about the position of women in the Secretariat both in view of the importance of the question in itself and in the larger context of the place of women in development. Our strong commitment to ensuring the participation of women in activities for social progress is demonstrated by, among other things, the recent establishment of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women.

This is meant to foster women's role in varied areas of social development. It has been a positive result of the thinking, study and effort made during the Decade for Women that we now have a better perception of the need to integrate issues seemingly specific to women into the whole question of development and peace.

To abstract these issues form the related ones which affect human society is to adopt a superficial approach whose results can only be fragmentary at best. The discrimination to which women have been subjected over the centuries is only partly due to the prevalence of certain ingrained attitudes. It is also the result of under-development. I do not believe that any society or any organization can make lasting progress if it does not harness the energies of both men and women and enlist their equal participation.

It is a testimony to the courage and determination for women that, despite the hardships that they specially bear, they are playing an increasingly greater role in activities essential for the survival and progress of their societies.

The contributions that women bring to collective life are steadily gaining recognition in diverse cultures. This denotes a fundamental change in human consciousness. Let us, on this day, resolve that this change be fully reflected in the whole scope of our daily life and work.

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