International Women's Day, 2011: Time to Make the Promise of Equality a Reality

By Un Women, PRNE
Sunday, March 6, 2011

NEW YORK, March 7, 2011 - The following is a message by Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director, UN

A hundred years ago today, women across the world took an historic step
on the long road to equality. The first ever International Women's Day was
called to draw attention to the unacceptable and often dangerous working
conditions that so many women faced worldwide. Although the occasion was
celebrated in only a handful of countries, it brought over one million women
out onto the streets, demanding not just better conditions at work but also
the right to vote, to hold office and to be equal partners with men.

I suspect those courageous pioneers would look at our world today with a
mixture of pride and disappointment. There has been remarkable progress as
the last century has seen an unprecedented expansion of women's legal rights
and entitlements. Indeed, the advancement of women's rights can lay claim to
be one of the most profound social revolutions the world has seen.

One hundred years ago, only two countries allowed women to vote. Today,
that right is virtually universal and women have now been elected to lead
Governments in every continent. Women, too, hold leading positions in
professions from which they were once banned. Far more recently than a
century ago, the police, courts and neighbors still saw violence in the home
as a purely private matter. Today two-thirds of countries have specific laws
that penalize domestic violence and the United Nations Security Council now
recognizes sexual violence as a deliberate tactic of war.

But despite this progress over the last century, the hopes of equality
expressed on that first International Women's Day are a long way from being
realized. Almost two out of three illiterate adults are women. Girls are
still less likely to be in school than boys. Every 90 seconds of every day, a
woman dies in pregnancy or due to childbirth-related complications despite us
having the knowledge and resources to make birth safe.

Across the world, women continue to earn less than men for the same work.
In many countries, too, they have unequal access to land and inheritance
rights. And despite high-profile advances, women still make up only 19 per
cent of legislatures, 8% of peace negotiators, and only 28 women are heads of
state or government.

It is not just women who pay the price for this discrimination. We all
suffer for failing to make the most of half the world's talent. We undermine
the quality of our democracy, the strength of our economies, the health of
our societies and the sustainability of peace. This year's focus of
International Women's Day on women's equally access to education, training,
science and technology underscores the need to tap this potential.

The agenda to secure gender equality and women's rights is a global
agenda, a challenge for every country, rich and poor, north and south. It was
in recognition of both its universality and the rewards if we get this right
that the United Nations brought together four existing organizations to
create UN Women. The goal of this new body, which I have the great privilege
to lead, is to galvanize the entire UN system so we can deliver on the
promise of the UN Charter of equal rights of men and women. It is something I
have fought for my whole life.

As a young mother and a pediatrician, I experienced the struggles of
balancing family and career and saw how the absence of child care prevented
women from paid employment. The opportunity to help remove these barriers was
one of the reasons I went into politics. It is why I supported policies that
extended health and childcare services to families and prioritized public
spending for social protection.

As President, I worked hard to create equal opportunities for both men
and women to contribute their talents and experiences to the challenges
facing our country. That is why I proposed a Cabinet that had an equal number
of men and women.

As Executive Director of UN Women, I want to use my journey and the
collective knowledge and experience all around me to encourage progress
towards true gender equality across the world. We will work, in close
partnership, with men and women, leaders and citizens, civil society, the
private sector and the whole UN system to assist countries to roll out
policies, programs and budgets to achieve this worthy goal.

I have seen myself what women, often in the toughest circumstances, can
achieve for their families and societies if they are given the opportunity.
The strength, industry and wisdom of women remain humanity's greatest
untapped resource. We simply cannot afford to wait another 100 years to
unlock this potential.

About the author: Michelle Bachelet is the first Executive Director of UN
Women, a newly formed UN organization dedicated to gender equality and the
empowerment of women. She is the former President of Chile.

Gretchen Luchsinger, +1-212-906-6506, Cell: +1-201-736-2945, gretchen.luchsinger at / NOTE TO EDITORS: Photos available upon request.

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