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‘Equality for women is progress for all’

The following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the Annual Commemoration of International Women’s Day, in New York yesterday:

The following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the Annual Commemoration of International Women’s Day, in New York yesterday:

Sunday Opinion by Ban Ki-Moon

Welcome to the United Nations and happy International Women’s Day.

Yesterday, I met with an extraordinary young woman in London. Her name is Fahma Mohammad. She is part of the Integrate Bristol campaign against female genital mutilation supported by The Guardian newspaper.

Last month, they published an article I wrote supporting Fahma. There was an exploding public response, and she reached her goal.

I was deeply moved by Fahma’s powerful commitment. She asked me to tell the world this message: We need education to end FGM [female genital mutilation].

I pledged to fully support her and The Guardian’s campaigning journalism to end this abhorrent practice. I count on all of you to join us on this very meaningful occasion of the International Day of Women.

Before that, I was in Sierra Leone. I came back from Sierra Leone yesterday. Not long ago, the headlines from that country read: blood diamonds […] child soldiers […] brutal amputations.

Sierra Leone was a byword for protracted, insoluble conflict. And yet, all of that changed. Sierra Leone still faces challenges, but there is peace. There is opportunity. There is hope.

I went there to officially close our United Nations mission — and pledge our continued support for the country’s peaceful development. The credit for Sierra Leone’s transition belongs, above all, to the country’s people.

At a time when we are hurtled from one crisis to the next, their progress is a reminder that we can turn things around. We can build a better world. That is the spirit that brings all of us together here to the United Nations.

We know the challenges before us. Throughout the world, discrimination against women and girls is rampant, and in some cases getting worse.

But we also know equality for women is progress for all: countries with higher levels of gender equality have higher economic growth; companies with more women on their boards have higher returns. Peace agreements that include women are more successful. Parliaments with more women take up a wider range of issues — including health, education, anti-discrimination and child support.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment have been a top priority for me from day one as Secretary-General. And I am committed to making sure that the UN leads by example.

Today, the top humanitarian official of the United Nations, our top development official, the head of peacebuilding support and the head of disarmament, [the head of human rights], the Joint OPCW-UN Mission on the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, and the World Food Programme — not to mention our own Chief of Staff — all of them are women.

In just two days, the fifty-eighth Commission on the Status of Women will begin. It will focus on the challenges and achievements in meeting the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls. There have been important advances — more girls in schools, more women in parliaments. Yet progress has been far too slow and uneven.

A baby girl born today will still face inequality and discrimination, no matter where her mother lives. We must commit to her right to live free from the violence that affects one in three women globally; to equal pay for equal work; to an equal say in the decisions that affect her life; and to her fundamental right to decide if and when she will have children, and how many she will have.

To every girl born today, and to every woman and girl on the planet, our message is that human rights are not a dream; they are a duty for which we must all work until they are universally realised.

Next year will mark 20 years since the Beijing Women’s Conference — a conference on which Madam Secretary [Hillary] Clinton played such an instrumental role at that time. Next year is also the deadline for our work to craft the post-2015 agenda and sustainable development goals.

Women’s rights, women’s empowerment, and gender equality are essential components of this conversation — including reproductive rights and ending violence against women.

This is a conversation for all of us. That is why today I make a special appeal to the men and boys of the world: join us; take the message forward in your homes, your workplaces, your schools and your communities. Where men and women have equal rights, societies prosper. Thank you.

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