6 March 1996

Press Release


19960306 ADVANCE TEXT Following is the text of Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's message on International Women's Day 1996, which will be delivered on his behalf by Under-Secretary-General Rosario Green, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, at the Headquarters observance of the Day on 7 March:

International Women's Day 1996 is a point from which we can look ahead to the redemption of the promises made in the course of 1995, a truly landmark year for the advancement of women.

The status of women has improved markedly in the half-century of the existence of the United Nations. The progress achieved over the past two decades has been especially significant. There is, however, still a very long way to go. No society treats its women as well as its men. Progress has also not been uniform. And, as the 1995 Human Development Report shows, gender equality does not necessarily depend upon the income level of a society.

When we last commemorated International Women's Day, we were in the midst of the World Summit for Social Development at Copenhagen. One hundred seventeen heads of State and government joined in a Declaration that acknowledged "that social and economic development cannot be secured in a sustainable way without the full participation of women and that equality and equity between women and men is a priority for the international community and, as such, must be at the centre of economic and social development".

Six months later, the Fourth World Conference on Women was convened in Beijing. It was one of the largest global gatherings ever held, with some 17,000 participants, including nearly 7,000 delegates representing 189 States, and over 4,000 representatives of accredited non-governmental organizations. More than 30,000 people participated in the Non-Governmental Organization Forum.

This was a conference of commitment. Governments pledged themselves to dedicate activities and resources to implement the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action. They identified priority action, in areas such as

health, education and human rights of women, and established targets to be met over the next five years. They identified a global agenda, on the threshold of a new century, to empower women and ensure the full enjoyment of their human rights.

The Beijing Declaration affirmed that, "equitable social development that recognizes empowering the poor, particularly women living in poverty ... is a necessary foundation to sustainable development". A few weeks later, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations, heads of State and government recognized that "the empowerment of women is central to all efforts to achieve development".

All these declarations, made at the very highest levels, have been unequivocal. The United Nations has a unique contribution to make in ensuring that their contents, as well as their spirit, find reflection in sustained and deliberate courses of action at all levels. At the global level, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Commission on the Status of Women and other constituents of the United Nations system, all have a special responsibility and must work together to fulfil it.

There cannot still be any doubt that poverty and inadequate levels of health care have a particular impact on the lives of women and their children. Of the more than 1.3 billion people struggling to survive on less than a single dollar each day, the majority are women. In vast sections of human society, poverty can truly be said to have a woman's face.

This is why it will be critical for the advancement of women that the decisions taken at all major international conferences held during the first half of this decade in the economic, social and human rights fields should be effectively implemented. These conferences have defined an agenda for human action in which women will be a force for positive change and progress for themselves, and the whole of society.

The United Nations provides a unique forum to address this agenda. Concrete action will need to be taken by Member States, by intergovernmental bodies and by non-governmental organizations, in a spirit of partnership. For my part, I am committed to ensuring that the recommendations addressed to me are implemented swiftly and effectively. I have designated one of my special advisers to assist me in ensuring that this is done and that the gender perspective is placed in the mainstream of all aspects of the work of the Organization.

The thousands of women whose lives were touched by the Fourth World Conference on Women, as participants and as observers, are taking the results of Beijing into their communities. They are developing strategies. They are

- 3 - Press Release SG/SM/5915 WOM/903 6 March 1996

working to translate the global consensus into concrete action at the grass- roots level. There is a fresh surge of energy and hope that must be sustained and supported at all levels of the international community.

Within the Organization, a concrete strategy is in effect to promote true gender balance in the international civil service. I am holding managers accountable for the full implementation of the Strategic Plan of Action for the Improvement of the Status of Women in the Secretariat. In the same spirit, I introduced an item on "the status of women in the secretariats of the United Nations system" in the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC). It led to a strong expression of commitment by all executive heads to ensuring that the advancement of women remains a high priority. The ACC will be monitoring on a continuing basis the follow-up throughout the system.

In these difficult times for the Organization, and for the system as a whole, we must be particularly vigilant to ensure that the financial crisis does not weaken our resolve to pursue vigorously strategies and plans that have been set in motion. In the first instance, we must ensure that women are not affected disproportionately.

On this important day, I extend to each of you my greetings. Let us work together to end discrimination based on gender, wherever and whenever it may occur. All of humanity -- women and men alike -- must be fully empowered to make their contribution to the development of society and enhancement of civilization.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.