The Director-General launches the International Women’s Day celebrations

The Director-General launches the International Women’s Day celebrations
  • © UNESCO/M. Ravassard

On 9 March 2009, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, opened a round table on “Gender Equality as a Global Priority: Next Steps Forward”, launching a month-long series of events that UNESCO is organizing to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Present at the opening ceremony were Mrs Vivian Fernández de Torrijos, First Lady of Panama, and the panellists of the Round Table – Ambassador Bokova of Bulgaria, Ambassador Armanet of Chile, Ambassador Shuyun of China, Ambassador Haile-Mikael of Ethiopia, Ambassador Fadlallah of Lebanon, Ambassador Thacoor-Sidaya of Mauritius, President of the Group of Women Ambassadors to UNESCO for gender equality, and Mrs Cayer, Chargée d’affaires of Canada to UNESCO. A message from Ms Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State of the United States of America, was read out by Mr Stephen Engelken, Chargé d’Affaires a.i. of the United States to UNESCO. This was the first public statement addressed to UNESCO by the new U.S. administration.

During her intervention, Mrs Vivian Fernández de Torrijos argued that “today, more than ever, we need to reaffirm our commitment and efforts to reach the third Millennium Development Goal: to promote gender equality and empower women.” She further stated that “UNESCO has set the path in order to reach this goal. And this forum will shed new light on how we can reach our shared objectives”.

In her message, the United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that “it is not only women who are undermined when the rights of women are denied. […] Indeed, the world’s progress is slowed when half of the world’s population is lagging behind. […] The advancement of women is essential not only because it is morally right, but also because it is smart. So I commend UNESCO for designating gender equality as one of its global priorities in its Medium-Term Strategy […], representing a welcome and very important commitment by member states”.

In his address, the Director-General paid tribute to the First Lady of Panama, highlighting her work in support of disadvantaged and marginalized groups in her country, in particular through the literacy campaign “Muévete por Panamá”, and her efforts to improve the living conditions of women, and put an end to the violence of which they are victims. Turning to the panellists, Mr Matsuura explained that the focus of this year’s round table discussions was on what UNESCO can do to move the gender equality agenda forward.

Mr Matsuura underscored that UNESCO has been a pioneer in mainstreaming gender considerations across its entire programme. “Our Medium-Term Strategy for 2008-2013 put us at the forefront of UN agencies in elevating gender equality to a top strategic priority”, he said. With regard to the current biennium, during which UNESCO has worked to integrate a gender perspective into all areas of its work, the Director-General referred to the UNESCO Priority Gender Equality Action Plan, which translates UNESCO’s Medium-Term strategic commitment to promote gender equality into a practical, results-based plan to guide UNESCO’s action through to 2013.

“Our discussions take place against a backdrop of global financial and economic turmoil”, said the Director-General. “While no-one can predict the extent of damage, we do know that the poorest and most vulnerable will – as always – be hardest hit. Unfortunately, this means women and girls – because it is women and girls who suffer disproportionately the effects of poverty. There is a real danger that the current crises, coming on the back of last year’s dramatic surge in food and energy prices, will deepen inequalities yet further”.

While noting that “our task today is to reflect on how UNESCO can help Member States protect their most vulnerable citizens and prevent the crises from widening the gender gap”, Mr Matsuura argued that gender equality must be made part of the solution. “We need to show how, by putting gender at the heart of our response to the crises, we will be laying the foundations for more inclusive societies, more sustainable development, and more robust economic growth”.

The Director-General went on to emphasize that “there is compelling evidence that efforts to reduce poverty, advance human rights and promote peace and security cannot succeed without the systematic and concerted support of women’s rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Having given some examples of the many ways in which UNESCO is working to advance the gender equality agenda across its different areas of competence, the Director-General concluded by saying that “today’s round table provides an opportunity to discuss how UNESCO can strengthen this action, by exploring the key challenges at this time of economic crises, and identifying the opportunities to drive progress forward”.

Later the same evening, and in the presence of Mrs Vivian Fernández de Torrijos, First Lady of Panama, the Director-General opened an exhibition organized with the participation of artists from, and with the support of the Permanent Delegations of the United States of America, China, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Japan.

An evening concert featured Lura, a singer from Cape Verde, who represents the new generation of pop music sung in Portuguese.

  • Author(s):Office of the Spokesperson
  • Source:Flash Info N° 037-2009
  • 12-03-2009
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