International Women's Day

8 March 2002
Author: UNFPA

If we are serious about global peace and security, we must do more to support the world's women. All over the globe, women are eager to participate in the development of their countries and the prosperity of their communities. Yet their vision and leadership remain largely untapped.

In Afghanistan, after 23 years of conflict including five years of virtual house arrest, Afghan women are more than ready to restart their lives and rebuild their country. They deserve the world's full support. In addition to full participation in their new government, Afghan women, like women everywhere, have the right to education and healthcare for themselves and their families.

The need for such basic services couldn't be more urgent. Half a million women die each year in the developing world from complications of pregnancy and birth. Most of these deaths could be prevented with adequate care and prompt treatment. Afghan women face one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, second only to war-torn Sierra Leone.

At the request of Afghanistan's Interim Minister of Public Health, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is providing support to rehabilitate the reproductive healthcare system in Afghanistan and save women's lives.

Early age at marriage and frequent high-risk pregnancies combined with malnutrition and little or no prenatal care creates a deadly situation for mothers and their children. The situation only worsens in war zones and refugee camps with the increased threat of sexual violence.

All over the world, especially in the poorest countries, women must have better reproductive health care so they can survive birth, have healthy babies, plan their families, and prevent sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. Last year alone, 1.8 million women were newly infected with HIV. In Africa, teenage girls are five times more likely to be infected than boys their same age.

Today on International Women's Day, let us build on the newfound awareness and momentum for women's rights in Afghanistan to increase support for the rights of women and girls around the world and to remove the barriers that block their participation and potential. There can be no justification for violating and oppressing women.

Everything we have learned over the past decade shows that when women are empowered-through equitable laws, policies and programmes that expand education, healthcare and gainful employment-the benefits extend far beyond the individual. Families are better off and so are nations.

With equal rights and greater access to resources, vital social services and opportunities, women will improve the quality of their lives and those of their families, and contribute to the prosperity of their nations and the stability of our turbulent world.

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