Note to the press

Note No. 237
5 March 2003


VIENNA, 5 March (UN Information Service) -- Based on a UN resolution of 1977, the International Women’s Day is annually observed on 8 March as official UN event, to commemorate the historic struggle to improve women’s lives. It is celebrated around the world at the local and national level.

History of the International Women’s Day

The first formal IWD, international in character, was the result of a resolution to honour the movement for women's rights and to assist in achieving universal suffrage for women, formally adopted by the International Conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen in 1910. No fixed date was selected for the observance. The General Assembly of the United Nations passed a resolution in 1977 inviting each country to proclaim, in accordance with its historical and national traditions, any day of the year as United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace. For most countries, IWD is observed on 8 March. States were called upon to contribute to creating conditions for the elimination of discrimination against women and for their full and equal participation in social development. That action came on the wake of the International Women’s Year (1975) and the United Nations Decade for Women (1976-1985), both proclaimed by the Assembly.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Message on International Women’s Day

Secretary-General Kofi Annan emphasised in his message on the importance of pushing forward the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, representing an important point of the Millennium Development Goals. Annan calls with urgency the understanding that there is no effective development strategy in which women do not play a central role. That means that all work for development must focus on the needs and priorities of women. "When women thrive, all of society benefits, and succeeding generations are given a better start in life."

Empowering Women: The Key to Achieving the Millennium Development Goals

In September 2000, at the United Nations Millennium Summit, the largest-ever gathering of world leaders - 147 heads of State and Government and representatives from 189 nations in total - agreed to a groundbreaking set of time-bound and measurable goals and targets. Of the eight Millennium Development Goals, Goal 3 calls for empowering women and promoting gender equality, specifically setting targets to eliminate gender disparity in all levels of education by 2015, with additional indicators on employment of women and the proportion of women in parliaments. However, it is widely felt that gender equality is an essential cross-cutting component for meeting all the targets. According to the World Bank, a growing body of evidence confirms that when greater equality exists between men and women, "economies tend to grow faster, the poor move more quickly out of poverty, and the well being of men, women and children is enhanced". Many studies also show that investing in women has clear policy payoffs, and repeatedly recognise gender awareness and gender equality as both essential means and an end of development.

Conferences and Events on IWD

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will hold its forty-seventh session from 3 to 14 March 2003 at United Nations Headquarters in New York. The Commission will focus on two thematic issues: participation and access of women to the media, and information and communication technologies and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women; and women’s human rights and elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has held its twenty-eighth session from 13 to 31 January 2003 at United Nation Headquarters in New York. The Committee, which is the only international treaty body that deals exclusively with women’s rights, examined reports from eight States parties. While conditions in those States differed greatly, the Committee had identified a number of cross-cutting concerns, including the persistence of stereotypical attitudes towards the gender roles of women and men; violence against women, including domestic violence; trafficking in women and girls; and the under-representation of women at the highest levels of decision-making. Contributions from national non-governmental and grass-roots organisations had slowly, but steadily, increased.

Seven women were elected to the International Criminal Court. The Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court started its process of electing judges on 4 February 2003. The procedure took into account the need for representation of the principal legal systems of the world; equitable geographical distribution; and fair representation of female and male judges.

Vienna International Centre to observe IWD

The VIC’s Women’s Group will formally observe IWD 2003 on Monday, 10 March. Ms. Haruko Hirose, Managing Director, UNIDO, will make an address on the 2003 Women’s Day theme, "Women Empowerment -- the Key to Achieving the Millennium Development Goals." Kathleen Barmon, Counsellor, Permanent Mission of the United States to International Organizations in Vienna, will pay homage to the two recently-deceased female astronauts, Kalpana Chawla and Laurel Clark, against the background of women’s achievements in the peaceful uses of outer space. Homage will also be paid to all female international civil servants who have died while working for the goals of the United Nations.

The press and NGOs are cordially welcome to attend the VIC Women’s Group Observance of International Women’s Day at the VIC, 10 March, 12.30 pm, Conference Room III.


For further information on the VIC Women’s Group IWD Event please contact

Alexandra George, tel: 43-1-26060 4448

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