"How Can We Bridge Social And Economic Divides In A Globalizing World?", Plenary Statement at University for a Night, Synergos Institute, in New York.

29 Oct 2002

Good evening everyone. I would like to thank Peggy Dulany, S Bruce Shearer and The Synergos Institute for inviting me here tonight.

I must admit that bridging the social and economic divides in our globalizing world is a question I ponder a lot. As an Arab woman, as a Muslim, and as an Executive Director of an organization whose agenda, Population and Reproductive Health, has at present a seemingly divide between universal principles and cultural values, I am acutely aware of the divides we are talking about.

For even though we are connected as never before through trade, finance, travel and communications, we are also greatly divided. We are divided by great gaps in poverty and consumption. Today one person in six lives in extreme poverty on less than $1 a day while 20 per cent of people, mostly in wealthy countries, consume 86 per cent of the world's resources. And we are also divided by great gaps in perception. For too many of our fellow citizens, the promise of globalization for a better life and increased opportunity-continues to ring hollow.

What does globalization mean to the half of humanity that has never talked on a telephone let alone surfed the Internet? And what does globalization mean to a young woman who is married off at the age of 15 with little or no education?

We must ensure that globalization expands opportunity, participation and choices so that people are free from fear and free from want. We must focus on meeting basic human needs and promoting basic human rights, including social, cultural and economic rights. And we must focus on young people.

Today there are one billion young people on our planet today between the ages of 15 and 24-the largest youth generation in human history-and the conditions in which many of them are living do not bode well either for their future or ours. Too many are growing up in poverty, in conflict, or in environments where there is little opportunity or hope for a productive and dignified life. It is also the first generation to grow up with HIV/AIDS and the shadow of illness and death as part of daily life. Globalization, which so far has worked more for the rich than for the poor, projects to the young people images of a better life, images of a life about which they dream but they know they cannot achieve.

The youth of the world deserve far greater attention and support. In Africa, the median age today is 18; sixty-three percent of Africans are younger than 25. In the Arab world, the median age is 19. In Asia, which contains 60 per cent of the world's people, half of the population is under the age of 25.

The point that I want to stress is that the current bulge in the youth population presents an unprecedented opportunity for growth and transformation if there is a concerted, massive investment in education, health care, including reproductive health, job creation and employment. It also presents an unprecedented environment for social unrest if we remain passive or limited in our responses.

We must join forces to ensure that this young generation has a fighting chance, not only to survive, but also to a quality of life and to an active contribution to the well being of their families and their societies. Young people need education, information, counselling and reproductive health services so they can avoid unwanted pregnancy, and HIV infection. The United Nations Population Fund is making young people a priority focus.

Over the next decade, 600 million girls will become adolescents. Now is the time to increase commitment and funding to protect their health and their futures. Today poor reproductive health is a leading cause of death and disability for women in the developing world.

Maternal Mortality

Each and every minute, one woman dies, almost all needlessly, from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. These deaths can be prevented. Every woman should have access to family planning so she can time and space her births, prenatal care to ensure the pregnancy goes well, skilled attendants at birth to ensure a safe delivery and access to emergency obstetric care if complications arise. These are services that many of us here in this room take for granted. But in poor countries, more than 40 per cent of women give birth without a doctor, nurse or midwife present. And the consequences are tragic for families and countries. Every family needs a healthy mother and every nation needs healthy citizens to prosper and thrive. Actually, there is no divide at all, for women's basic right to reproductive health is a human right and it is universal.


We must also join hands to prevent further cases of HIV/AIDS. AIDS is taking a brutal toll everywhere it strikes, particularly in southern Africa and increasingly in parts of Asia, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean. Today half of all new HIV infections occur in young people. Five young people are newly infected each and every minute. But while youth are highly vulnerable to infection, they are sadly ill equipped to prevent it. Studies show that young people know little about the virus and how it is spread and oftentimes what they do know is nothing more than myth.

With no cure in near sight to stop AIDS, our first line of defence remains prevention. At the United Nations Population Fund, we are focusing on three strategic interventions: ensuring that information and services reach and involve young people, especially adolescent girls; ensuring that pregnant women and their children can remain HIV-free, and ensuring that condoms are accessible, and used correctly and consistently. These three interventions are absolutely critical to stop AIDS from spreading and are in line with the ABC approach- abstinence, be faithful and condom use.

Reproductive Health Commodity Security

However, I must warn you that there is an appalling shortage of condoms in many countries to fight AIDS. Supplies of condoms to developing countries have fallen by half a billion in the past five years, due to declining donor support, despite the rising number of people infected by HIV. It is terrible that such a simple, effective, and inexpensive life-saver is not more widely available. This is just one simple of example of how the divides are expressed in people's daily lives.

It is only through increased partnership that we will bring our world closer together and narrow and close the great divides that separate the haves from the have-nots.

It is this spirit of partnership that caused two American women, Lois Abraham of New Mexico and Jane Roberts of California, to start independent campaigns to support women's rights and women's health in developing countries. After the U.S. Administration froze $34 million in funding for UNFPA earlier this year, they sprung into action on the Internet encouraging American citizens to donate $1 each to close the funding gap. So far envelopes have brought $70,000 in contributions; the largest check was for $25,000 from a gentleman in Maine. But just as important as the money, is the moral support and the knowledge that people who are privileged want to do what they can to bridge the divides that exist in our world today. Naturally I can not miss this opportunity to take time out for an advertisement-- I encourage all of you here tonight to find out more about the 34 million friends campaign at

In summary, I would like to stress that we share this one world. And while it may seem that our world is falling apart sometimes, we must remember that we share a common humanity based on universal values and human rights that are for everyone. Everyday in my work, I am reminded that the rights of women are for all women. Everywhere I have traveled, I have found that people want many of the same things-to live healthy lives in peace and to have an education and opportunities in order to succeed. If we join hands and hearts we can bridge the social and economic divides by building bridges across cultures and borders and ensuring that globalization spreads not just ideas and products, but also opportunity and choices that people can use to their benefit.

Thank you.

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