As we commemorated International Women’s Day on Saturday and celebrated the many achievements of women and girls, we should remember that for far too many, the ability to live a healthy, productive life free from violence remains an aspiration. So we should recommit ourselves to delivering the promise of gender equality, women’s empowerment and sexual and reproductive health and rights for all women and girls everywhere.
Great progress has been achieved over the past two decades in a number of areas. Fewer women are dying in pregnancy and childbirth. In fact, we have reduced maternal mortality by nearly 50 per cent. Women’s access to family planning and antenatal care has also improved.
More women have access to education, work and political participation. More girls are going to school, with primary enrolment rates approaching 90 per cent. This has positive implications for other aspects of their lives and is, in fact, good for all of us, men included. Educated women and girls can make informed decisions about their health and lives.
They can claim their rights and contribute more fully to their families and communities. When they are in leadership roles, they can work more effectively to promote sustainable development, peace and good governance.
Yet women and girls continue to face human rights violations.
Laws designed to protect their rights, where they exist, are often not enforced. One in three women is subjected to violence over the course of her lifetime. Millions of girls around the world still face the risk of genital mutilation/cutting. Every day, 20,000 girls below age 18 give birth in developing countries. Nine in 10 of these births occur within marriage or union, which reflects the fact that the percentage of girls being married off before they turn 18 has not changed much in recent years.
As we chart the development path ahead, let us look to the foundation laid 20 years ago in Cairo at the International Conference on Population and Development, which recognised that empowering women and girls was both the right thing to do and the key to improved well-being for all.
The comprehensive ICPD@20 global review recently led by UNFPA points to enormous development gains over the past two decades. But it also reveals that persistent inequalities and discrimination continue to undermine the human rights of far too women and girls. These inequalities, if not addressed, threaten to derail development. That is why, as we build a new sustainable development framework, it is so critical that we put women and girls at its center.
It’s time to make good on our promise to the world’s women and girls. UNFPA is firmly committed to helping realise gender equality, women’s empowerment and sexual and reproductive health and rights for all, with an emphasis on the most marginalised, particularly adolescent girls.
Equality for women and girls truly is progress for all and the key to a more sustainable future.
Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and UNFPA Executive Director