It is a great pleasure to welcome you all to the United Nations on this happy occasion of International Women’s Day. I am happy to be with you to celebrate this International Women’s Day -- to celebrate women -- to declare that we stand for equal rights, equal opportunities and progress for all.
As a son and a husband, as a father and grandfather to girls, it is my honour. And as Secretary-General of the United Nations, it is my duty. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are fundamental to the very identity of the United Nations.
Fifteen years ago at the Fourth World Conference on Women, Governments adopted the landmark Beijing Declaration. It sent a clear message to women and girls around the world that equality and opportunity are inalienable rights. Women’s empowerment is also an economic and social imperative. Until women and girls are liberated from poverty and injustice, all our goals -- peace, security, sustainable development - stand in jeopardy.
In the 15 years since Beijing, we have seen many examples of progress. A growing number of countries have policies and legislation that support gender equality and reproductive health. Most girls now receive an education, particularly at primary level. Women are now more likely to run businesses and be given loans.
Women are also now more likely to participate in Government - women like our Deputy Secretary-General, Dr. [Asha-Rose] Migiro. Women like Maria Paixão, who is Vice-President of Timor-Leste’s Parliament, where one third of lawmakers are now female. In Rwanda, the proportion is even higher, and it is paying back in legislation that is helping further empower women.
For each of these gains, civil society has played a major role. The international women’s movement has become truly global. Women everywhere are mobilizing for equality and empowerment -- and succeeding. Wherever voices are raised against tyranny and injustice, you can be sure that women are among them.
So, as we look back on Beijing, we have much reason to be proud. Proud but not complacent. Injustice and discrimination against women persists everywhere. In its worst form it manifests as violence. Up to 70 per cent of women experience violence in their lifetime. Most commonly they are attacked by an intimate partner.
We sometimes hear it said that such practices are a matter of culture. They are not. They are abuses and they are criminal and they deny women’s fundamental rights. So too do early and forced marriage, so-called “honour killing”, sexual abuse and trafficking. My “UNiTE to End Violence against Women” campaign and the recently launched Network of Men Leaders are striving to put an end to these abuses.
The United Nations is also acting ever more firmly against sexual violence in conflict. This October will mark 10 years since the Security Council adopted resolution 1325 (2000) on women and peace and security. Further resolutions have firmly established that sexual violence in conflict can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or acts of genocide. Last month my new Special Representative on the matter, Margot Wallström, took up her duties to help countries to translate this awareness into action.
We must also address the broader questions of equality and empowerment. Maternal mortality remains unacceptably high. Too many women still lack access to family planning. Gender stereotyping and discrimination remain common in all cultures and communities. Wherever we look -- and especially if we look through the lens of poverty - we see that women still bear the greatest burdens.
For this International Women’s Day, let us look critically at the achievements of the past 15 years. Let us build on what has worked, and correct what has not. We at the United Nations must lead by example. This is why I have made women’s empowerment a priority.
We hope soon to have a dynamic entity for gender equality and women’s empowerment within the United Nations system. That would provide more coherent programming and a stronger voice for women. I urge the General Assembly to create this new entity without delay by adopting a resolution.
Thank you very much for your strong support. I hope that the ambassadors who are present will have heard this strong support.
Let me tell you about what I am doing as Secretary-General, how I am leading by example. We have more women in senior United Nations posts than at any time in the history of this Organization. Overall, the number of women in senior posts -- at the rank of Deputy-Secretary-General, Under-Secretary-General and Assistant Secretary-General - has increased by 40 per cent during the last three years.
But this is still not enough. I take seriously the General Assembly mandate for gender parity throughout the United Nations system. I am particularly aware that women are underrepresented among my special representatives, at the professional level, and in our peacekeeping operations. Experience has shown that women peacekeepers can perform the same roles, to the same standards and under the same difficult conditions as their male counterparts. And in many cases, women are better placed.
Whether interviewing victims of sexual violence working in women’s prisons, assisting female ex-combatants reintegrate into civilian life, or mentoring female police cadets, women personnel have a clear advantage. They can help empower women to rebuild their war-torn countries and act as role models. In Liberia, seeing an all-female police unit from India has boosted interest among Liberian women in joining their own police service.
There are many such stories of how the United Nations is working to empower women. I recall when I visited Burkina Faso in West Africa. I saw classic scenes of rural African life -- girls and women grinding grain in a hollow log. Back-breaking and time-consuming work made necessary because most of Burkina’s 8,000 rural villages lack electricity.
Enter the United Nations. Over the past five years, we have introduced a revolutionary piece of technology to 200 of these villages. It is called the Multi-Functional Platform. You can always trust the United Nations to come up with exciting names like this. Essentially, it’s a simple engine -- old technology. It runs on diesel or biofuel. Parts for maintaining it are available in any small town. It can pump water and it grinds grain and crushes nuts and seeds in minutes, saving hours of labour. It creates time for women, time for school, for visiting a clinic, for doing other work, and even for leisure for women and girls.
And it creates revenue. This machine can generate electricity, run welding equipment and charge batteries for cellular phones and computers. The women who run it -- the women who own it -- get business training, they earn an income and gain a new standing in the community. They are empowered.
Each platform for change costs less than $10,000. With initiatives such as these, we can improve the lives of hundreds of millions of women and girls. We can empower women, reduce poverty and help meet the Millennium Development Goals.
As we look forward to this year’s Millennium Development Goal Summit meeting in September, let us collect and spread these stories. And let us hold foremost in our minds that gender equality and women’s empowerment are integral to all our goals.
For this International Women’s Day, let us pledge our renewed determination for a future of equal rights, equal opportunities and progress for all.