As the United Nations observed International Women’s Day at Headquarters, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that investing in women was not only the right thing to do, it was the smart thing to do. Gender equality was both a goal in itself and a prerequisite for reaching the millennium targets, he said, adding that empowered women brought new perspectives to decision-making and increased the chances of education and employment for the next generation. “And when women have access to finances, credit, technologies and markets, they are likely to expand their businesses and contribute effectively to sustained economic growth and development,” he said.Governments were increasingly creating an enabling environment for investing in women, the Secretary-General said, noting that more than 50 countries had introduced gender-sensitive budgeting and many were abolishing laws that prohibited women’s access to land, property ownership, credits and markets. The United Nations was doing its part by setting policies and strategies for gender equality and development financing, while generating commitments from Member States, international organizations, civil society and the private sector.“And yet, we still have a long way to go,” he said, stressing that women were still severely hampered by discrimination, lack of resources and economic opportunities, limited access to decision-making and gender-based violence. All stakeholders must calculate the economic costs of persistent gender inequality, and the resources required to remedy it, he said, calling for a major scaling up of investments in women and girls, the creation of mechanisms to regularly track investments in gender equality, as well as good governance, gender-sensitive budgets and creation of transparent, stable and predictable investment climates to promote women’s employment and productivity, among other things.
“For my part, I will work to strengthen the UN Secretariat’s own gender machinery. In my revised estimates for the 2008-2009 programme budget, on improving delivery of mandates for development activities, I propose to almost double the staffing of the Office of my Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women.” Further, he announced plans to significantly increase the resources of the Division for the Advancement of Women, and he called on Member States to successfully conclude consultations to consolidate resources currently scattered among several structures into one dynamic and strengthened gender entity. Following the Secretary-General’s remarks, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketti, Minister for Public Service and Administration of South Africa, said it was important to remain cognizant of the enormous frustration women felt at the lack of commitment and accountability to development goals and gender equality commitments. While women played an integral role in community development, resources of development projects had been redistributed mainly to men through patriarchal land-reform processes.
Imports from Western and Asian markets had weakened African women’s economic independence, and gender-specific conditions were still limited in the technical and financial support provided as part of official development assistance (ODA) in southern Africa, she said. Investment in women could change the current trajectory of the combined threats of underdevelopment, poverty, violence, environmental degradation, ill health, and conflicts over natural resources. But, to achieve that, international partners must harmonize and align programmes and simplify funding requirements, as well as support legislation and policy frameworks to protect vulnerable women. Gains made should not be rolled back.
Lloyd Blankfein, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., agreed, saying there could be no sustainable development if half the world’s talent pool was stymied or underrepresented. The connection between women and economic growth was extraordinarily powerful. His company’s “10,000 Women” programme helped thousands of underserved women worldwide achieve their full potential by offering business management education.
To learn more about this special day, please visit http://www.un.org/events/women/iwd/2008/index.shtml