6 March 2006

Women Must Take Rightful Place in World's Decision-Making, Says Secretary-General, in Message on International Day

NEW YORK, 28 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's message on International Women's Day, observed 8 March:

The theme of this year's International Women's Day -- the role of women in decision-making -- is central to the advancement of women around the world, and to the progress of humankind as a whole.  As the Beijing Declaration tells us, "women's empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society, including participation in the decision-making process and access to power, are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development and peace".

The international community is finally beginning to understand a fundamental principle:  women are every bit as affected as any man by the challenges facing humanity in the 21st century -- in economic and social development, as well as in peace and security.  Often, they are more affected.  It is, therefore, right and indeed necessary that women should be engaged in the decision-making processes in all areas, with equal strength and in equal numbers.

The world is also starting to grasp that there is no policy more effective in promoting development, health and education than the empowerment of women and girls.  And I would venture that no policy is more important in preventing conflict, or in achieving reconciliation after a conflict has ended.

We do have achievements to celebrate in women's representation around the world.  In January of this year, the proportion of women in national parliaments reached a new global high.  There are now 11 women Heads of State or Government, in countries on every continent.  And three countries -- Chile, Spain and Sweden -- now have gender parity in Government.

But we have far, far more to do.  The rate of progress overall is slow.  Let us remember that in individual countries, the increase in the number of women in decision-making has not happened by itself.  Rather, it is often the result of institutional and electoral initiatives, such as the adoption of goals and quotas, political party commitment and sustained mobilization.  It is also the result of targeted and concerted measures to improve the balance between life and work.  Those are lessons every nation -- and the United Nations -- need to take very seriously.

At the 2005 World Summit, world leaders declared that "progress for women is progress for all".  On this International Women's Day, let us rededicate ourselves to demonstrating the truth behind those words.  Let us ensure that half the world's population takes up its rightful place in the world's decision-making.

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