International Women's Day
8 March 1983 

Press Release SG/SM/3392


Following is the text of a statement by Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar on the occasion International Women's Day March 8. The statement was read out by Margaret Anstee, Assistant Secretary-General for Technical Co-operation for Development, to a round-table panel being held this afternoon at United Nations Headquarters:

I wish to extend my warm good wishes as you meet on International Women's Day. This day should be the occasion each year to review that status of women everywhere in the perspective of equality, peace and development, the objectives of the current decade of women. These objectives are directly interrelated. As women progress towards the equal status to which they are entitled, their capacity t contribute to the achievement of lasting peace and development will grow yet further. Our sorely threatened world will surely be better off as a result.

While throughout history, women have been deprived of the opportunity to enjoy many advantages of life, they have at the same time been made especially vulnerable to some of its hardships. One of these is poverty. The long-standing problem of poverty among women is especially acute in a time of wide economic recession - and not just in the developing world it demands broad attention. I am confident that your discussions will be useful in contributing to a better appreciation of this issue.

In the very first paragraph of the preamble of the United Nations Charter, faith is reaffirmed in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women. It is, therefore, especially necessary within the United Nations Organizations to make the effort to ensure that this faith governs our practice and is reflected in reality. That is why it has seemed to me desirable to provide on this day an account of developments affecting the situation of women's employment and working conditions in our Organization.

Let me speak first of recruitment for that is where the road to equality in employment begins. As you know, the General Assembly asked the Secretary-General to ensure that, as an initial step, women would constitute 25 per cent of the staff in posts subject to geographic distribution by the end of 1982. this target has not been achieved.

Taking the Organization as a whole, we have now reached 22 per cent. But the target has been met, and even surpassed, in some departments and offices where women represent 30, 40 and even 55 per cent of the Professional staff. On the whole, the General Assembly's initial target is being met at Headquarters. Away from Headquarters, many offices face additional constraints. Continuing efforts will be required to meet the 25 per cent target.

One of the obstacles in the recruitment of women arises form the combination of geographic requirements and the limited submission of qualified female candidates for quite a number of specialized posts. Biased attitudes towards the employment of women are still occasionally present, even today. There is much that can be done in the Secretariat to ensure that such obstacles as exist are overcome. It is my full intention to see that this is done.

I am deeply committed to the goal of Secretariat staff that represents the highest standards of efficiency and integrity. We can achieve this only through systematic planning in which emphasis musts be placed on equity, including, specifically, equality in the position of women. As an important step in this direction, a plan of recruitment for the next three years has been adopted.

It will be our general approach during the next year that whenever fully qualified male and female candidates apply for a post subject to geographic distribution and the female candidate is not from an over represented country and she is not. All of those in the Secretariat involved in the recruitment process will work actively to identify and support qualified women candidates for every vacancy that occurs.

Let me note that if we were in a period of expanding budget and staff, the percentage of women employees could grow more rapidly. This is not the case, nor can one reasonably expect it to be when so many countries in the world face the necessity of economic retrenchment. It is important to realize that the adjustments which we seek must be made essentially within existing post resources.

Employment percentage targets, even when achieved, are not enough. We need to ensure that women are properly represented at all levels. Emphasis must be given to career development, in particular for women, including their placement in senior level posts. I met with the heads of departments and offices early in the New Year and requested that each one, in close co-operation with the Office of Personnel Services, draw up specific plans for the improvement of the number of women at all levels within their area of responsibility over the next three years. I have asked that they ensure that recommendations for promotion reflect the special consideration which must be given to the situation of women employees. This subject has also been discussed with the Appointment and Promotion bodies.

One of the problems which faces a good many women employees at Headquarters is the lack of day care facilities for their children. The general assembly, which must authorize such funds as may be required, has given consideration to a proposal I have made on this matter and a Secretariat task force is now working to develop a feasible plan which can meet the needs of Secretariat parents and also provide an acceptable basis for positive action by the Assembly.

If we look beyond our immediate concerns and responsibilities within the Secretariat I would emphasize that the plight of the poorest of the poor among women in the developing world has been a major concern of the United Nations. The problems entailed in the integration for women in the development process are complex and far-reaching. In many countries, acceptance of such integration as a key factor in modernization is only now emerging. The United Nations has been a factor in this change.

Technical co-operation programmes have helped women by providing the training and transfer of skills that open the possibility of more productive, better paid and often less tiring work. The training entailed in technical co-operation has also enhanced the capacity of r self-help in coping with the basic needs of life which women, in particular, are called upon to provide. United Nations programmes have sought to increase women's decision-making role and to ensure that they are the direct beneficiaries of development fundamental human rights. Since women invariably play a key role in the production process, especially in agriculture, the enhancement of their skills also benefits society as a whole.

Seen in perspective, remarkable progress has been made over the past decades in the advancement of the status of women. While taking encouragement on International Women's Day from this progress, it remains necessary to work towards full understanding of the efforts still needed to bring about fully equal rights between men and women which is one of he important goals of the United Nations.

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