Statement on the Commission on the Status of Women

1 March 2006
Author: UNFPA

Delivered by Safiye Cagar, Director, Information & External Relations Division, UNFPA

Madame Chair,

Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my honour to deliver a statement to this historic 50th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. I do so on behalf of Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, who is presently on official travel.

In September at the World Summit, Heads of State and Government agreed that progress for women is progress for all. They agreed to end discrimination and violence against women and girls. The challenge we now face individually and collectively is ensuring that progress is accelerated for women and girls.

UNFPA is committed to advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment working in partnership with women and men, governments, civil society, the private sector, local communities and leadership, and the UN system.

In particular, we are focused on ensuring universal access to reproductive health by 2015, as set out at the International Conference on Population and Development and reaffirmed by world leaders at last September’s World Summit. UNFPA is working with governments in every region to ensure that this goal is integrated into national strategies by 2006 to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and rolled out in programmes to reach women.

Research shows that investing in reproductive health improves maternal health and reduces maternal and child mortality in line with the MDGs. Current programmes providing contraceptives to the 500 million women in developing countries who do not wish to become pregnant each year already prevent:

  • 187 million unintended pregnancies;
  • 60 million unplanned births;
  • 105 million abortions;
  • 22 million miscarriages;
  • 2.7 million infant deaths;
  • 215,000 pregnancy-related deaths; and
  • 685,000 children losing their mothers.

The benefits are tremendous. Yet today there are 200 million women with an unmet need for contraceptive services. And poor reproductive health remains a leading cause of death and disability for women in the developing world. Clearly, greater commitment is urgently needed. It is time to make the health and well-being of women and girls a global development and human rights priority. One of the most devastating disabilities associated with pregnancy and delivery is obstetric fistula. UNFPA has initiated a global campaign to end fistula and I am proud to report that progress is being made.

Greater investments in sexual and reproductive health will also greatly contribute to reducing poverty, curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS and to advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality, all basic human rights. We will not make poverty history unless we make gender discrimination and violence history, and this is yet another aspect of human rights.

Madame Chair,

UNFPA is committed to preventing and responding to gender-based violence. We are working with many partners in many countries to stop violence against women and girls. In all the work we do, we value our partnership with governments, parliamentarians, women’s groups, local community and religious leaders, and civil society.

The progress that has been made so far would not have been possible without the dedicated women in every country who champion the rights of women. Some of them put their lives on the line and they deserve our full recognition and support. Also critical for the advancement of women and girls is the support of men and boys and women’s economic empowerment.

For working women, there is an ongoing need for decent work, for policies that balance life and work, and for human rights protection. Today far too many women find themselves in underpaid and unregulated sectors of the economy vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. This is particularly true for migrant women. UNFPA looks forward to the High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development in September. Our 2006 State of World Population report focuses on women and migration.

Madame Chair,

In conclusion, I would like to stress that poverty is not just a lack of income, it is also a lack of choices and opportunities, and it is aggravated by gender inequality. Today millions of women and girls are denied freedom and opportunity. They are denied the chance to make their own decisions. And while legal reform and enforcement is absolutely vital, it is not enough to change deeply held attitudes, customs and behaviours.

The change must come from within—mindsets must change and this must happen through dialogue and debate, through advocacy and community participation and through concerted action by a mobilization of civil society. To advance gender equality, UNFPA has institutionalized a culturally sensitive approach to advance the rights of women and reproductive rights. Experience shows that by working with local leaders who have courage and conviction, and building on the positive values in cultures, negative discriminatory practices and attitudes can and will melt away. I thank you.