International Women's Day
8 March 1987 

Press Release SG/SM/3975/Rev1
(Revised to include English translation of those portions of the Secretary-General's statement delivered in French)


Following is the text of a statement by Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar at a panel discussion on "Affirmative Action", being held on the occasion of International Women's Day (8 March):

As we meet together to mark International Women's Day, I would like to focus on the status of women world-wide and, at the same time, to draw some conclusions about the role of women inside our Organization, since the two are closely related.

As staff members of the United Nations, we bear a special responsibility since this Organization, through the decision of Member states, has undertaken a mandate to improve the status of women. We must consider how far we have come in implementing this mandate on a continuing basis. What have we achieved since we met on the occasion of International Women's Day one year ago?

One major achievement is the system-wide medium-term plan for women and development, which I submitted to the Commission on the status of Women this January, and which will soon go to the Committee for Programme and Co-ordination (CFC). This document addresses ways in which the United Nations system can implement the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of women. Once finalized, it will represent a landmark in the history of the United Nations common system.

The approach taken in the medium-term plan place the advancement of women at centre stage where it belongs. In this plan for the first time, programme activities for the advancement of women are not described as separate activities, requiring separate funding and separate organizational structures. Rather, they are dealt with as core activities that should be part and parcel of virtually all development programmes within the United Nations system. It is foreseen that the programmes should be fully integrated into the broad spectrum of substantive work of the United Nations, including agriculture, industry, energy and finance, as well as the more traditional sectors, such as health and education.

This fundamental change in approach will have important implications for the staffing of our Organization. The participation of women in management and in the decision-making process is one of the goals of the plan. The United Nations cannot present itself to the world as a principal advocate of women's advancement, nor claim to be a source of advice and inspiration in levels of responsibility. The Charter provides that due regard shall be paid to the importance of recruiting staff on as wide a geographic basis as possible. We must seek comparable equity with regard to men and women. The voice of women must be clearly heard if the United Nation is to respond wisely to the broad range of issues that confront nations.

In on important respect, this past year has been disappointing. The recruitment freeze required by the financial crisis made it impossible to increase the number of women serving in the Professional category. Moreover, the delay in promotion has delayed advancement, which prejudices the placement of women in more senior posts. But there have been positive developments. On International Women's Day 1986, I announced the establishment of high-level Steering Committee for the Improvement if the Status of Women. The Steering Committee, in its first report, made a wide range of policy staff, u gave accepted these proposals and have informed the General Assembly of my intention to implement them. A number of results are already visible. We have issued special guidelines for the appointment and promotion bodies that favour the raid advancement of qualified women. I have asked for a full review of the manner in which the present classification standards for the secretarial field of work are interpreted so as to ensure that proper weigh be given to the types of specialization that are inherent to this occupation. General Service, as well as in the Professional category in order to enable women to compete in an open process. The vacancy management system that is currently being introduced can also assist in enabling qualified women to take on new responsibilities. Career opportunities for women are, in this way becoming more visible as the recommendations of the Steering Committee are being implemented.

As you are aware, I have recently appointed two women to posts at the Under-Secretary-General level. They were selected with the greatest of care for their experience and their exceptional professional and personal qualities. Never before have women had such weighty responsibilities within the Secretariat. Two other women have been promoted to the Director level. As in the case of men, such promotions should be a routine matter. However, given the past situation which we have inherited and the objectives which we have set for ourselves, these steps deserve special mention. Judging from the recommendations made for the 1986 promotion review, which has just begun, women who are capable of taking on the highest responsibilities. This constructive spirit can be of benefit to women at all levels in the Secretariat.

I am pleased to inform you on this occasion that I have just received the second report of the steering Committee for the Improvement of the Status of Women. It deals with the interplay in our Organization between life in the workplace and in the home and it takes a look at how women's demands are catered for.

Those are two very important matters because they have a direct bearing on our ability to recruit and retain women of the highest calibre. Conditions of service and the administration of justice also affect men, and the Steering Committee has recognized that affirmative action entails measures which benefit women in the first instance, but which are, derivatively, advantageous for men too. The Steering Committee's specific recommendations concern the welfare of all staff, the improvement of conditions of family life within the United Nations system. I fully endorse the approach the Steering Committee has taken. I also agree with its objectives. Anyone who has any connection with the United Nations should study the Committee's two reports and give thought to ways of ensuring that equal opportunity does not remain a mere legal technicality but rather becomes a tangible reality in our Organization. We are all aware of how far we still have to go.

My new management team, some of whom you will be hearing from in a few moments, will be closely monitoring the implementation of the 39 recommendations contained in the two reports and towards the end of the year I will inform the General Assembly of the results achieved.

I am the one who is ultimately responsible for pressing forward in this area, but I greatly need the co-operation of my colleagues, and I am counting on each and every one of them. In that connection, I should like to pay a warm tribute to the Co-ordinator for the Improvement of the Status of Women and her colleagues in the office of Human Resources Management for all they have done this past year.

I should also like to commend the efforts of the many staff members-managers of departments, staff representatives and members of associations - who have played such an active role this past year in improving the status of women in the Secretariat. I should like, in particular, to commend you, Madame President, and your colleagues in the Group on Equal Rights for having constantly drawn our attention to these issues, in an often lively and stimulating manner, as is your right and duty.

In conclusion, I would say that we have made progress, but we cannot be satisfied until the full integration of women in the entire range of the Secretariat's activities is a reality. This integration, and the full participation of women in world development in all its aspects, are two objectives which I should like to set on this International Women's Day 1987. I would call upon men and women alike to join with me in committing themselves to achievement of those goals, as we all pursue the ideal of genuine equality.

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