8 March 2012 - This International Women’s Day, I join women around the globe in solidarity for human rights, dignity and equality. [From Morocco, where I am today, to all countries,] This sense of mission drives me and millions of people around the world to pursue justice and inclusion. Looking back at the first year of UN Women, I applaud every individual, government and organization working for women’s empowerment and gender equality. I promise the highest commitment moving forward.
The creation of UN Women has coincided with deep changes in our world –from rising protests against inequality to uprisings for freedom and democracy in the Arab world. These events have strengthened my conviction that a sustainable future can only be reached by women, men and young people enjoying equality together.
From the government that changes its laws, to the enterprise that provides decent work and equal pay, to the parents that teach their daughter and son that all human beings should be treated the same, equality depends on each of us.
During the past century, since the observance of the first International Women’s Day, we have witnessed a transformation in women’s legal rights, educational achievements, and participation in public life. In all regions, countries have expanded women’s legal entitlements. Women have taken many steps forward. More women are exercising leadership in politics and business, more girls are going to school, and more women survive childbirth and can plan their families.
Yet while tremendous progress has been made, no country can claim to be entirely free from gender-based discrimination. This inequality can be seen in persistent gender wage gaps and unequal opportunities, in low representation of women in leadership in public office and the private sector, in child marriage and missing girls due to son preference, and in continuing violence against women in all its forms.
Nowhere are disparities and barriers greater than in rural areas for women and girls. Rural women and girls comprise one in four people worldwide. They work long hours with little or no pay and produce a large proportion of the food grown, especially in subsistence agriculture. They are farmers, entrepreneurs and leaders, and their contributions sustain their families, communities, nations and all of us.
Yet they face some of the worst inequities in access to social services and land and other productive assets. And this deprives them and the world of the realization of their full potential, which brings me to my main point on this International Women’s Day. No enduring solution to the major changes of our day—from climate change to political and economic instability—can be solved without the full empowerment and participation of the world’s women. We simply can no longer afford to leave women out.
Women’s full and equal participation in the political and economic arena is fundamental to democracy and justice, which people are demanding. Equal rights and opportunity underpin healthy economies and societies.
Providing women farmers with equal access to resources would result in 100 to 150 million fewer hungry people. Providing women with income, land rights and credit would mean fewer malnourished children. Studies show that higher levels of gender equality correlate positively with higher levels of per capita gross national product. Opening economic opportunities to women would significantly raise economic growth and reduce poverty.
The time is now.
Every human being has the right to live in peace and dignity. Every human being has the right to shape their future and the futures of their countries. That is the call for equality that I hear wherever I go. For this reason UN Women will place special focus this year on advancing women’s economic empowerment and political participation and leadership. We look forward to continued strong partnership with women, men and young people and with governments, civil society and the private sector.
Today on International Women’s Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to women’s rights and move forward with courage and determination. Let us defend human rights, the inherent dignity and worth of the human person, and the equal rights of men and women.