Women’s inequality hurts all, UN chief Ban says

UNITED NATIONS — International Women’s Day, March 8, was commemorated here starting March 6. Women’s importance to the world’s progress was emphasized, but speakers stressed that the situation in which the world’s women find themselves is woeful.

Discriminatory laws against women are on the books in virtually every nation on earth, Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human rights, said from Geneva.

“It is shameful,” said Arbour, “that in the 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, fundamental rights are still not enjoyed by many women around the world.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, speaking in New York, noted that while some progress has been made, there is much to be done. “Women,” he said, “are still hampered by discrimination, lack resources and economic opportunities, limited access to decision making and gender-based violence.”

Several days earlier Ban launched a campaign to end violence against women. One out of every three women on Earth will be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused — by an intimate partner, according to the UN. Women between 15 and 44 are more likely to be raped or experience domestic violence than get cancer or malaria, get into a car accident or be involved in a war.

According to the World Health Organization, in the United States, Canada, Australia, Israel and South Africa, 40 to 70 percent of all murdered women are killed by current or former husbands; in Colombia one woman is killed by a partner every six days.

Rape is a common tool in war, with even grandmothers and toddlers violated by military and rebel forces.

According to a fact sheet for Ban’s campaign, United to End Violence Against Women, “The roots of violence against women lie in historically unequal power relations between men and women, and persistent discrimination against women.”

Women’s inequality, in addition to being deplorable in its own right, said Ban, hurts all members of the world community in some way. According to the UN’s Office for the Special Adviser on Gender Issues, equality for women has a “multiplier effect on productivity, efficiency and sustained economic growth.”

Ban said, “Gender equality is not only a goal in itself, but a prerequisite for reaching all other international development goals.”

Investing funding and political will in programs to end inequality would have long-term effects. It would cut down the number of HIV cases and economies would be strengthened — for generations to come.

If women had equality in Africa, for example, says the UN office on gender issues (OSAGI), African economies would have doubled in the past 30 years. The Asia-Pacific region is losing over $42 billion annually because of restrictions on women’s employment.

Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, the South African Minister of Public Service and Administration, gave her country as an example. “As a successful investment in women, the South African parliament has one of the highest proportions of outspoken and committed women in the world. South African women participated in peace negotiators in conflict-ridden African regions.”

Various UN officials called on member states and NGOs to work to ensure women’s equality. For his part, Ban announced — to much applause — that he would double the staff of the Office of Special Adviser on Gender Issues and increase the resources of the Division for the Advancement of Women. “I hope,” he said,” this will be supported by the General Assembly as a tangible contribution to gender equality and development.”

International Women’s Day celebrates the women’s struggles for a better world, and was first observed in February of 1909 in the U.S., then put forward as an international day by German socialist Clara Zetkin at a conference of the Socialist International in 1910, and, after the October Revolution, the then-Soviet Union became the first country to officially recognize the day.