Statement on the Occasion of World Population Day 2005

11 July 2005
Author: UNFPA

Sixty years ago, the founders of the United Nations proclaimed their determination to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, to reaffirm faith in human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small. They pledged their determination to establish conditions under which justice and the rule of law could be maintained and social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom could be promoted.

Six decades later, it is clearer than ever before that human rights must be at the center of efforts to reduce poverty, discrimination and conflict. Today on World Population Day, let us recommit ourselves to this vision of a better world. Let us commit ourselves to equality, justice and human rights for all.

The benefits of gender equality are many. They include a higher quality of life for individual women and girls, and stronger families, communities and countries.

On the other hand, the costs of maintaining inequality are also high and can be measured by broken bodies, shattered dreams and crushed spirits. The costs include high rates of maternal death and disability because women’s health is not made a political priority. Today, poor sexual and reproductive health is a leading cause of death and illness for women in the developing world. No other area of health reflects the large inequities between rich and poor, both among and within countries. Poverty and inequality also fuel the acceleration of HIV infection, because women lack the power to negotiate their personal safety. Another cost is the continuation of harmful practices that place the lives of women and girls in danger. For tens of millions of girls, child marriage and early childbearing mean an incomplete education, limited opportunities and serious health risks. But perhaps the highest cost of gender discrimination is widespread violence against women and girls, which remains one of the most pervasive and shameful human rights violations, compromising the personal security, liberty, dignity and well-being of millions of women and children worldwide.

The world can do better. The solutions are well known and effective. They include universal education for all girls and boys, the removal of barriers to women's equal participation in social, cultural, economic and political life, the engagement of boys and men in the struggle for equity, mass awareness raising campaigns, and the implementation of laws and policies that promote and protect the full range of internationally agreed human rights, including the right to sexual and reproductive health. All of these actions fall under the banner of "equality".

Equality is an end in itself and a cornerstone of development. Equality is a goal that demands sustained political commitment and leadership. Today, on World Population Day, I urge leaders at every level to speak about the great gains that equal rights offer the entire human family and to take concrete and urgent action to make these rights a reality.

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