Press Releases

    11 March 2002


    NEW YORK, 8 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of opening remarks today by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the panel on the observance of International Women’s Day:

    Welcome to United Nations Headquarters. This year, on International Women’s Day, we are looking especially at the situation of Afghan women. But let’s not forget that the Day belongs to all women, all over the world.

    I am delighted that today we have with us so many strong and inspiring women, who are true leaders in their field.

    And I’m particularly glad and honoured that among them is Laura Bush, the First Lady of the United States. She has been an eloquent champion of the rights of Afghan women, and she has constantly reminded us that girls and women everywhere have both the right to education and the need for it, if they are to play their full part in life.

    Over the past few years, the situation of Afghan women has engaged the conscience and the conscious- ness of the world, and rightly so. Our commitment to their cause should make us even more determined to address the challenges facing millions of women and girls worldwide.

    Let me highlight some areas of urgent global concern.

    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.

    HIV/AIDS is spreading among women and girls at an alarming and intolerable rate.

    Wherever there is violent conflict, women and girls are often the first victims.

    Violence against women, especially in the home, is a worldwide epidemic, and trafficking in women and girls is the fastest-growing form of organized crime.

    Women’s work continues to be undervalued, underpaid, or not paid at all.

    And in almost all countries, women continue to be under-represented in decision-making positions.

    Eighteen months ago, in the Millennium Declaration, the political leaders of the entire world resolved to promote the empowerment and education of women as "effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease, and to stimulate development that is truly sustainable".

    And in the same year the Security Council passed resolution 1325, which recognizes the vital role of women in peace and security.

    Study after study has shown that there is no effective development strategy in which women do not play a central role. When women are fully involved, the benefits can be seen immediately: their children are better educated; they are healthier and better fed; they are better able to protect themselves against AIDS and other diseases; their families’ income and economy improve. And what is true of families is true of communities -- ultimately, indeed, of whole countries.

    Similarly, while women must be protected from the impact of armed conflict, they must also be recognized as a key to the solution. We must work harder to include them fully in all our strategies for peacemaking, peace-building and reconstruction.

    Even beyond that, let us never forget that our Charter proclaims the equal rights of men and women. Every woman on this planet, wherever she may live, is entitled to exactly the same human rights as every man.

    We have seen the cost to society when that basic principle is ignored. We have seen it in the plight of Afghan women -- a plight that for several years had been an affront to all standards of dignity, equality and humanity.

    We have also celebrated the strength of Afghan women -- who confronted the worst deprivation and discrimination with remarkable courage and ingenuity.

    Now, Afghan women have won world support in reasserting their rights -- especially the right to play an active role at all levels of society, and the right to join in every stage of the work of bringing peace and development to their country.

    Indeed, in Kabul today, Afghan women marked this Day by presenting a common vision and national agenda for action, agreed during a consultation this week bringing together women from all sectors of Afghan society.

    We must listen carefully to their message -- because the women of Afghanistan need more than expressions of solidarity. In order to realize their potential, they need concrete help.

    More schools will need to be built and equipped, more teachers will need to be trained and paid, to ensure every Afghan girl’s right to an education. And men will need to be educated on the right of every woman to a safe environment, free from violence, discrimination and abuse.

    On this International Women’s Day, let the women of Afghanistan be our reminder, as well as our inspiration. Let us men remember that the achievement of women’s rights is not the responsibility of women alone -- it is the responsibility of us all. Let us act on the conviction that the advancement of women does not benefit women alone -- it benefits us all.

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