Press Releases

    12 September 2005

    In Remarks to Women Speakers of Parliaments, Deputy Secretary-General Says Promoting Women's Empowerment Central to Achieving Millennium Goals

    NEW YORK, 9 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks as delivered by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette at a meeting of women speakers of parliaments in New York today:

    I am very pleased to be with such a distinguished group of speakers.  You are meeting here at a very critical time at the United Nations.  We are just a few days away from the 2005 World Summit.  Next week's event is a unique opportunity for world leaders to take bold decisions to make our world fairer, freer, more prosperous and more secure, and to strengthen the United Nations itself.

    One of the issues before the Summit is the need to galvanize action to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  As the Millennium Declaration recognized, promoting gender equality and women's empowerment is not only an important goal in itself, but also central to achieving all of the Millennium Development Goals, and, indeed, to many of the commitments made at the United Nations major conferences and summits since the 1990s.

    If I may quote the Secretary General (on the occasion of International Women's Day in 2003):  "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."

    Unless attention is paid to the discrimination of women across all MDGs, the achievement of the Goals will be jeopardized.  A gender perspective must be incorporated into the strategies, programmes and activities designed to reach the MDGs.  And, of course, to do that, MDG data by gender helps a lot.

    There are four areas where a gender perspective is particularly imperative:  in Goal One on the eradication of poverty and hunger because of the disproportionately high incidence of poverty among women; in Goal Four on reducing child mortality where serious inequalities in relation to the girl child are often neglected in many contexts; in Goal Six on combating HIV/AIDS because women are increasingly bearing the brunt of the epidemic; in Goal Seven on ensuring environmental sustainability because ensuring that women have access to productive resources, including land, is critical for sustainable development.  In addition, there is a separate goal -- Goal Three -- on gender equality and the empowerment of women. 

    With regard to women's representation in decision-making, the work of the Millennium Project Task Force on Goal Three points out that countries where women's share of seats in political bodies is less than 30 per cent are "less inclusive, less egalitarian, and less democratic".

    Evidence also suggests that women's interests often differ from men's and that women who participate directly in decision-making bodies press for different priorities than those sought by men.

    Women are important agents of change.  Their perspectives, experience and active involvement are, therefore, an essential part of achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  And women in parliaments have a particular role, as parliaments enact budgets and can ensure adequate resources for gender equality and the other MDGs.

    Increasing the representation of women in parliament represents perhaps the clearest expression of political will on the part of governments.  Women's share of seats in parliament is not correlated to wealth and is highest where special measures have been introduced to help get women elected, in both rich and poor countries. 

    Some of the measures that have worked are quota systems, voluntary agreements, training programmes for women's leadership, ensuring equal rights for women and eliminating laws, regulations and practices that prevent or restrict women from participating in the political process.

    Some of the most dramatic increases in women's political representation have occurred in post-conflict countries, such as Mozambique and Rwanda.  In those places, many actors, including parliamentarians, civil society and UN partners, have collaborated in introducing the needed measures to guarantee greater gender equality.

    I commend the IPU for its work -- in some cases, jointly with the UN -- on gender equality and empowerment of women, including the recent adoption by the Assembly of a resolution on implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.  I would also like to recognize the important work of the Coordinating Committee of Women Parliamentarians.

    I have two more topics I would like to cover briefly.

    Critical to gender equality and women's empowerment is ending violence against women.  Gender-based violence occurs along a continuum, escalating in times of war and armed conflict, and spilling over into post-conflict situations.  Violence against women impairs development and carries a heavy human and economic cost.  It has serious consequences for the achievement of the MDGs.

    Parliamentarians can play a major role in bringing national attention to this flagrant -- and ongoing -- human rights violation, and working with Governments and civil society to introduce, and implement, measures to end it.

    Finally, on the relationship between the United Nations and parliaments, parliaments have a critical role in mobilizing national support for the United Nations or for issues like the Millennium Development Goals.

    The United Nations is intensifying cooperation with parliaments.  Cooperation between the Secretariat and the IPU has evolved considerably.  At the intergovernmental level, the relationship was formalized with the observer status of IPU in the General Assembly, but still has some way to go to bring in the voice of parliaments into the United Nations.

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