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UN Women call for gender equality for International Women’s Day

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Deborah Cowan
WVoN co-editor

Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of equality body UN Women, has issued her call to action for International Women’s Day.

The theme of her address is greater political participation and increased economic empowerment among women, with a particular focus on women in rural areas.

Chilean born Ms Bachelet is the first Executive Director of UN Women, taking up the post in September 2010, when she was appointed to the newly created body by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Hers is a career that has been marked by firsts – she was the first woman to hold the post of Defense Minister in any Latin American country, and she would eventually go on to become the first female President of Chile.

Since the inaugural appointment of Ms Bachelet to head up UN women, she has led their work on gender equality, focusing on the empowerment of women both economically and socially, across all demographics.

Her International Women’s Day message, issued in a UN Women press release, underpins the theme of the official UN observance: “Empower Rural Women: End Poverty and Hunger.”

She will commemorate International Women’s Day from Morocco, to underline the need for women to be fully involved in the democratic transition processes in that region.

Ms Bachelet will join, via video message, the gathering at the UN Headquarters in New York, alongside UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other equality leaders and activists.

Her address urges the increased participation and involvement of women in politics, in society and in the economy, in order to further equality of rights and opportunity, particularly for women in rural areas.

She begins with a statement on UN Women, and their journey so far:

“This International Women’s Day, I join women around the globe in solidarity for human rights, dignity and equality. 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.

“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.”

She goes on to acknowledge that much has changed for women in her lifetime, saying:

“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.”

However, she continues with the warning that much has yet to be done and that inequality is still pernicious and widespread.

“…..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.”

She also highlights how women in rural areas see the most severe gender disparities, in every facet of life :

“Nowhere are disparities and barriers greater than in rural areas for women and girls.

“Rural women and girls comprise one in four people worldwide……. 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.”

But Ms Bachelet’s overarching message is clear and consistent.  She believes that the solution to an increasingly problematic world – economically, socially, politically – is “the full empowerment and participation of the world’s women.”

As she says, “We simply can no longer afford to leave women out.”

She finished her address by saying:

“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.”

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