Press Releases

     
    For information only - not an official document.
    Press Release No:   UNIS/SG/2513*
    (supersedes earlier version)
    Release Date:    7 March 2000
     Secretary-General Stresses Need to Remove Barriers to Women's Involvement
    In Decision-making, in Women's Day Message

     NEW YORK, 2 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Secretary-General's Kofi Annan's message for the United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace, which will be observed 8 March:

     I am delighted to be here. In this room, we have a number of women who are doing truly remarkable work for the advancement of women and peace around the world. Mrs. Robinson, Mrs. King, and all of you who are working to build peace in your communities and your countries: Let me say how proud I am that, today, women are uniting for peace at the United Nations.

     I am also pleased that we have as our moderators two experienced women news broadcasters. I cannot think of a single issue in the news or on the United Nations’ agenda that is not a woman’s issue. Women are every bit as much affected as any man by peace and security, by human security, by human rights. It is, therefore, right and indeed necessary that women should be there to cover these issues, with equal strength and in equal numbers.

     This first International Women's Day of the twenty-first century is devoted to the theme of women uniting for peace. It is a theme that brings together two vital parts of the United Nations' mission. The Charter tells us that our Organization was created to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. It also proclaims the equal rights of men and women. We must live up to both challenges.

     The century that has just closed saw the age of large inter-State wars reach its apex and wane, only to be replaced by the age of ethnic and intra-State conflict. Today's small wars are no less murderous than yesterday's big ones. Small arms may kill people one at a time, but they are still lethal. All too often, conflict happens in societies that can least afford it, takes its toll on those who least deserve it, and hits hardest those least equipped to defend themselves. Civilians have become the main targets of warfare. From rape and displacement to the denial of the right to food and medicines, women bear more than their fair share of the burden.

     But women, who know the price of conflict so well, are also often better equipped than men to prevent or resolve it. When society collapses, women play a critical role in ensuring that life goes on. When ethnic tensions cause or exacerbate conflict, women tend to build bridges rather than walls. When considering the impact and implications of war and peace, women think first of their children and their future, before themselves.

     We live in a new age in which change is the only constant, but the strength of women is as old as humanity itself. Through education and tradition, from generation to generation, women have passed on the culture of peace. According to ancient tradition in the Caucasus region, when a woman throws her headscarf between two warring parties, they must stop fighting. In my own continent of Africa, it is usually the mother, the aunt and the grandmother who instil in the very young the basic human skills and values that are essential to peaceful coexistence -- within a community and between communities.

     In some societies racked by conflict, women have acted as intermediaries between warring parties, exploring ways to find common ground. They have gone into refugee camps to support displaced women and children. They have braved the contempt, and conquered the distrust, of male combatants, until finally their demand for peace has won through.

     We in the United Nations know at first hand the invaluable support women provide to our peacekeepers -- organizing committees, women’s associations, non-governmental organizations and church groups to ease tensions, and persuading their menfolk to accept peace. Partly for that reason, we are making special efforts to recruit more women for our own peacekeeping and peacemaking operations, and to make all our missions more aware of gender issues. Several missions - - including those in Afghanistan, Kosovo and East Timor -- now include civilian gender affairs units. We are redoubling our efforts to recruit more qualified women in peace operations, both in the field and at headquarters. Once more, I appeal to Member States to include qualified women in the contingents they send us, and to nominate qualified women candidates for United Nations posts at all levels.

     United Nations agencies work every day to assist the most vulnerable women, caring for refugees and setting legal norms for women’s rights in armed conflict. They send special missions to countries affected by war. They provide health care and post-trauma assistance. They work with women in war-torn countries after the guns fall silent, helping them and their menfolk to rebuild their State and society.

     We know there can be no enduring peace without development. We also know there can be no development unless women play their full part. This means removing the barriers to women's involvement in decision- making and giving them access to land. It means protecting their security and that of their families.

     It means ensuring that they enjoy full human and political rights. The United Nations is working with its partners in government and in civil society ?- locally and internationally -? to achieve these objectives.

     Five years ago, many of these goals were adopted by governments at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. This June, the General Assembly will hold a special session to review progress in implementing them. The Beijing Platform called for women and their human rights to be protected in conflict situations. It called for women to play a bigger part in the decision-making process to resolve conflict, and for more conflicts to be resolved in non-violent ways. In short, it summons all of us to pave the way for a culture of peace.

     I believe the time has come for that culture to take hold, because in today's world what affects one nation affects us all. What defines us as human beings is not race, creed or geography. What gives our lives purpose and content is the hope that our children and grandchildren will be able to live a decent life, free from fear and free from want. Surely, that is something we all share.

     So let us unite our efforts to fulfil the promise of the Beijing Platform. Let us build on the work of women everywhere to achieve peace for succeeding generations. Let us harness the power of women uniting for peace.

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