25 February 2003

Work for Development Must Focus on Needs, Priorities of Women, Secretary-General Says in Message for International Women's Day

NEW YORK, 24 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan for International Women's Day, 8 March 2003:

The Millennium Development Goals -- including the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women -- represent a new way of doing development business. These eight commitments drawn from the Millennium Declaration, which was endorsed by all Member States of the United Nations, form a specific, targeted and time-bound blueprint for building a better world in the twenty-first century. They represent a set of simple but powerful and measurable objectives that every woman and man in the street, from New York to Nairobi to New Delhi, can easily support and understand.

In our work to reach those objectives, as the Millennium Declaration made clear, gender equality is not only a goal in its own right; it is critical to our ability to reach all the others. 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: families are healthier and better fed; their income, savings and reinvestment go up. And what is true of families is also true of communities and, in the long run, of whole countries.

That means that all our work for development -- from agriculture to health, from environmental protection to water resource management -- must focus on the needs and priorities of women. It means promoting the education of girls, who form the majority of the children who are not in school. It means bringing literacy to the half billion adult women who cannot read or write -- and who make up two thirds of the world's adult illiterates.

And it means placing women at the centre of our fight against HIV/AIDS. Women now account for 50 per cent of those infected with HIV worldwide. In Africa, that figure is now 58 per cent. We must make sure that women and girls have all the skills, services and self-confidence they need to protect themselves. We must encourage men to replace risk-taking with taking responsibility. Across all levels of society, we need to see a deep social revolution that transforms relationships between women and men, so that women will be able to take greater control of their lives -- financially as well as physically.

There is no time to lose if we are to reach the Millennium Development Goals by the target date of 2015. Only by investing in the world's women can we expect to get there. When women thrive, all of society benefits, and succeeding generations are given a better start in life. On this International Women's Day, I call on all of us to act with renewed urgency on that understanding.

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