Empowerment of Women the Most Effective Development Tool, Secretary-General Tells Commission on Status of Women
Monday, March 7, 2005 4:20 PM


Calls on International Community to Promote Gender Equality and Invest in Women

Following are the remarks by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at today’s opening of the forty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women marking Beijing +10:

Thank you very much, Madame President,

I am delighted to be with you as you open this milestone session of the Commission on the Status of Women -- a session at which you mark the 10-year review of the Beijing Conference and Platform for Action.

Ten years ago, women gathered in Beijing and took a giant step forward.

As a result, the world recognized explicitly that gender equality is critical to the development and peace of every nation.

Ten years on, women are not only more aware of their rights: they are more able to exercise them.

Over this decade, we have seen tangible progress on many fronts. Life expectancy and fertility rates have improved. More girls are enrolled in primary education. More women are earning an income than ever before.

We have also seen new challenges emerge. Consider the trafficking of women and children -- an odious but increasingly common practice. Or the terrifying growth of HIV/AIDS among women -- especially young women.

Yet, as we look back on the past decade, one thing stands out above all else: we have learnt that the challenges facing women are not problems without solutions. We have learnt what works and what doesn’t work.

If we are to change the historical legacy that puts women at a disadvantage in most societies, we must implement what we have learnt on a larger scale. We must take specific, targeted action on a number of fronts. The report of the Millennium Project Task Force on Education and Gender Equality outlines seven strategic priorities for doing just that.

They represent seven specific investments and policies that can be applied readily over the coming decade, on a scale large enough to make a real difference.

First, strengthen girls’ access to secondary, as well as primary education. Education holds the key to unlocking most of the obstacles facing girls and women -- from being forced into early marriage, to vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

Second, guarantee sexual and reproductive health and rights. How can we achieve real equality when half a million women die of pregnancy-related causes every year -- causes that are entirely preventable?

Third, invest in infrastructure to reduce women’s and girls’ time burdens. What are the prospects for girls and women who are forced to spend half of every day gathering water, fuel and other necessities for their families?

Fourth, guarantee women’s and girls’ property and inheritance rights. How can women climb out of poverty without access to land and housing? And without that security, how can they protect themselves against the impact of HIV/AIDS?

The same goes for the fifth priority -- eliminating gender inequality in employment. And a good job is also a woman’s best protection against falling prey to trafficking.

Sixth, increase women’s share of seats in national parliaments and local government. Equality of opportunity in policy-making is not only a human right; it is a prerequisite for good governance.

And seventh, redouble efforts to combat violence against girls and women. That means leadership in showing, by example, that when it comes to violence against women and girls, there are no grounds for tolerance and no tolerable excuses.


As you recommit yourselves to the full implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, I hope you will consider these seven priorities as guideposts that can help shape national programmes.

Above all, I would urge the entire international community to remember that promoting gender equality is not only women’s responsibility -- it is the responsibility of all of us.

Sixty years have passed since the founders of the United Nations inscribed, on the first page of our Charter, the equal rights of men and women.

Since then, study after study has taught us that there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.

No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, or to reduce infant and maternal mortality.

No other policy is as sure to improve nutrition and promote health -- including the prevention of HIV/AIDS.

No other policy is as powerful in increasing the chances of education for the next generation.

And I would also venture that no policy is more important in preventing conflict, or in achieving reconciliation after a conflict has ended.

But whatever the very real benefits of investing in women, the most important fact remains: women themselves have the right to live in dignity, in freedom from want and from fear.

When the world’s leaders gather here in September to review progress in implementing the Millennium Declaration, I hope they will be able to take urgent action accordingly.

And I hope that all of you will keep up the good fight, and steer them in the right direction.

I thank every one of you for your commitment, and I wish you a most productive session.

Thank you very much.