UNIFEM at 30

The UNIFEM 30th Anniversary Gala Dinner

13 May 2006, New York, USA


What a wonderful anniversary present to look out into a room filled with so many people who can make a difference.

But what a difference 30 years has made. Thirty years ago, the women’s movement embarked on a mission to create a women’s fund in the United Nations that would dedicate itself to improving women’s lives in the developing world. UNIFEM was born. And for three decades we have worked with a wide range of partners to advance women’s human rights, to empower women in an unequal world, to help women access social and economic opportunities and to assist countries to achieve societies that are freer of violence, poverty and discrimination.

I am proud of the way that UNIFEM has used the power of partnership, ideas, and money to make a difference. Thirty years ago, we could not have imagined what we now take almost for granted. So before we celebrate the magic of this night, I want us to remember the hard work and struggle that led us here tonight.

We could never have imagined, in the late 1970s, when UNIFEM started promoting small loans for women in villages — amidst great scepticism — that this would grow into a global micro-credit movement that now reaches nearly 66 million of the world’s poor, including 55 million women.

We could never have imagined when women called for an International Women’s Bill of Rights, that we would have the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which has now been ratified by 182 countries. Because of this Convention, women have full citizenship rights enshrined in the constitutions of countries like Afghanistan.

We could never have imagined in the early 1990s, when we urged the UN to recognize violence against women as a human rights violation, that the General Assembly would set up a UN Trust Fund to Eliminate Violence against Women in UNIFEM, nor that these issues would now be addressed on national and international agendas, and also by the Security Council, several members of which are here tonight.

We could never have imagined how investing in women’s leadership and participation has brought about economic and social transformation in so many countries. We could never have imagined that Rwanda, the site of the most horrible genocide in the mid 1990s, would, by 2005, lead the world in terms of women’s representation in national Parliaments. Or that Liberia — the site of 14 years of terrifying violence and conflict — would become the first African country to elect a woman president.

These changes happened because of the unswerving commitment of millions of men and women who shared a vision of more equitable societies, where daughters have the same chances as sons, where women live safe from violence, poverty and discrimination. We are still a long way from achieving that vision. But, by coming here tonight, you are taking a huge step on this path, and helping UNIFEM to speed up progress for all.

Our Goodwill Ambassador, Nicole Kidman, has joined this effort, and by involving so many of you is helping to accelerate change. She knows, as we all know, that no one person, no single individual, no one system — no matter how powerful — can ensure that women’s human rights and gender equality are achieved worldwide.

We cannot wait another 30 years. What we need are partnerships, solidarity groups and communities of support. As I look around this room, right now, I see one of the most encouraging and inspiring aspects of a global community that cares. It may look like any other glamorous Saturday night in New York. But don’t let that fool you. What you have around you are people who can make a difference.

There are people from nearly 80 countries — including many who travelled far to get here. One of the miracles of tonight, for instance, is the Japanese delegation, bringing nearly 30 people from just one community in Japan. Can I ask all of you who have come from abroad to stand up?

There are also people here from many different walks of life. There are people from governments around the world who represent their countries at the United Nations. If you are from a mission to the United Nations, an ambassador or a diplomat, could you stand up?

There are people in the private sector, in banking, fashion, finance, hospitality, media and entertainment. You are important partners on the path to gender equality. If you work in the private sector, could you stand up?

There are people here who work in the public sector, in the UN itself, including UNIFEM, in the UNIFEM National Committees and the NGO Committee, in non-profits, in community-based organizations. If you work in the public sector, could you stand up?

I hope you have had a chance already to meet some of the remarkable people that are in this room tonight. I want to acknowledge Nicole Kidman, an extraordinary person — without whom we would never have dared to organize this extraordinary night — and Prince Zeid Al-Hussein of Jordan — who has chaired our Consultative Committee for the last three years and has encouraged and stood by us because of his commitment to a more just and equal world. By coming tonight we hope you will feel part of a UNIFEM family. We are a demanding family, but also one that blends challenge, joy and generosity of spirit in our commitment to making the world a better place.

And in the spirit of commitment, I am proud to recognize a truly remarkable woman with UNIFEM’s first Global Leadership Award. We honour Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected woman head of state in Africa, for her vision and courage, to improve women’s lives, strengthen their participation in peacebuilding and reconstruction. Hon. Vabah Gayflor, Minister for Gender and Development, a dynamic leader and risk-taker, is accepting this award on the President’s behalf. Please welcome Vabah Gayflor.