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International Women's Day 2003 occurs at a time of great fear, anxiety, and insecurity. As millions around the world are cautioning against a military response to this insecurity, there is a need to call attention to the fact that there is no security for women where weapons are involved. (UN file photo)...






Boosting women and the world

By Noeleen Heyzer, 


INTERNATIONAL Women's Day 2003 occurs at a time of great fear, anxiety, and insecurity. As millions around the world are cautioning against a military response to this insecurity, there is a need to call attention to the fact that there is no security for women where weapons are involved. Today, like any other day, hundreds of women will lose their limbs on landmines; thousands of women will be raped at the point of a gun in countries experiencing war and peace, and hundreds of thousands will sit in camps displaced by the bombing of their towns and villages.

Those women know that wars are no longer fought on battlefields separate from homes and communities. The war front has shifted and women's bodies have become part of the battlefield.

During the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, some 500,000 women were raped; tens of thousands of women suffered a similar fate in Bosnia, Sierra Leone, and East Timor.

In 2002, some 40 million people fled their homes as a consequence of armed conflicts -- from Afghanistan to Liberia and Colombia.

Eighty percent of these people were women and children. Unprotected and unable to provide for their children, these women are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation that includes the slow murder from HIV/AIDS, sharply increased by sexual violence and displacement caused by conflict.

So if weapons-based security has not delivered security for women, what does security look like through women's eyes?

If women allocated the world's resources, would they invest in more weapons, or would they choose to invest in the much broader notion of human security -- through development, environmental protection and social services -- which could be provided with a sliver of current military spending?

Prioritizing human security would see HIV/AIDS as the real threat faced by millions and would provide money for drugs instead of fighter jets.

But women do not yet enjoy democratic participation and representation in the world's peace and security institutions. Very few women participate in meetings that determine the conditions of security, and still fewer will be seen around the tables hammering out peace agreements.

Only a handful of countries have appointed women in positions that relate to peace and security on the national or international level. When women are denied the democratic right to participate in decision making, the insecurities women face become invisible. Fresh ideas and new approaches that could bring life to stale and stuck negotiations and situations are lost.

However, in October of 2000, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1325 that called not only for the protection of women in conflict zones but also for their participation in the decision-making process at the peace table. In passing this resolution, the Security Council acknowledged that women are waging peace.

Even in those countries where atrocities against women were particularly widespread and horrific and where efforts at peace and reconciliation have mostly consisted of men forgiving men for crimes against women, women are building peace, making peace, and working for peace.

In Southeastern Europe, women from Kosovo's new assembly have banded together across party lines to form a women's caucus -- a nonpartisan effort in a community traumatized by conflict and ethnic strife.

In war-ravaged Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Colombia, women have demanded inclusion in peace talks and have contributed their efforts to building peace in their communities.

On International Women's Day 2003, let us recommit to ensuring democratic participation for the world's women, and to implementing Security Council Resolution 1325. It is a key to human security.

Noeleen Heyzer is executive director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women.

This story ran on page A15 of the Boston Globe on 3/8/2003.
Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

UN Observes International Women's Day

James Donahower

New York

08 Mar 2003, 03:38 UTC

The United Nations observed International Women's Day Friday at U.N. headquarters with a conference on gender equality and development.

Women's rights activists say "enormous progress" has been made in the area of women's rights in the last decade, but there is still much work to be done.

Geeta Gupta, head of the non-governmental International Center for Research on Women, said solid progress has been made in the education of women, for example, but women continue to lag behind men in other areas. "We still have huge gaps in women's access to economic assets and economic resources," she said. "That's where we need a push. And there is a new erosion in the area of women's reproductive rights. In both of those areas we need urgent action."

Ms. Gupta said international support is required to forward the cause of women's rights the world over, but certain parts of Africa and Asia are in more dire need of reform than others. "Sub-Saharan Africa needs a lot of resources in order to be able to achieve its goals. South Asia stands out in terms of certain measures, gender inequality for example, but frankly, in every part of the world, women do not earn the same wages, do not get access to the same jobs, still cannot own property, and all of these things must end. We are in the 21st century now," she said.

Women's advocates say on average, women receive between 30 and 40 percent less pay than men earn for the same work.

The Charter of the United Nations, signed in 1945, was the first international agreement to proclaim gender equality as a fundamental human right. Every year, the United Nations celebrates International Women's Day, focusing world attention on the issues which affect women around the world.


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