Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-First Century

General Assembly – Twenty Third Special Session

5 June 2000, New York, USA

Today is a miracle. The fact that we are here in such force, from all parts of our globe to pause, to reflect, to share and to create new possibilities of further transformation is a major celebration.

When I was young, I was told that miracles were created by the Gods. Then I learnt that we were created human to use the divine in us to be co-creators with the Gods, to create the miracles of living. For many women in our world, the miracle of living often means having to go even beyond that to, “defy the odds and defy the Gods”, as captured by Maya Angelou in her book “I know why the caged bird sings”. Today I want to celebrate two miracles created against all odds by women over the last twenty-five years.

First we have to celebrate the miracles created by having a strong women’s movement. In the quest for better ways of living and relating, the movement has created a sense of international solidarity and powerful practices of social transformation that can be lessons for human development. Progress of women can be progress for all if certain of these practices are emulated: the creation of trust and cooperation, the acceptance of diversity and differences, the changing of structures and cultures of domination to those that promote agency and empowerment, the valuing of active participation of all interested women, not just the articulated few. Women brought their pain, desires and dreams to the UN and the UN responded. The United Nations became the site where women and their governments could come together in dialogue, connecting across differences, seeking common grounds, building consensus and commitments, and engaging in collective progblem-solving. That is why women want a strong UN that delivers results; that is why Bella Abzug focused much of her life organizing women at UN conferences, creating a women’s caucus to allow women NGOs from around the world to develop an advocacy agenda and infuse a gender perspective into the processes and outcomes of UN conferences of the 90s. Let us applaud ourselves for creating this moment. Let us remember all the women who are not with us today and applaud all the women around the world who have moved us in the twenty-first century, as we open Women 2000: equality, development and peace.

When the UN was first created, it was unimaginable to think of having an institution, a UN women’s fund, dedicated wholly to increasing women’s access to resources, giving women the tools they need to contribute to human development, and ensuring women’s participation in decision-making at all levels. Indeed, it exists today for one reason: the women’s movement demanded its creation and our governments responded. UNIFEM does not belong to those of us who manage its day to day activities. We are merely your custodians. It belongs to all who are committed to bring women to the table wherever and whenever issues of equality, development and peace are discussed and negotiated. It belongs to everyone who believes that gender perspectives should not only be on the development agenda, but that women should have a voice in setting the development and peace agendas. Women know that the quality of their lives is determined not only by their own actions, or by the behaviour of husbands, children, mothers-in-law, employers, but equally important, by the economic, cultural and political values and institutions of the countries and by non-state players at the national and international levels. So as we meet at this opening session of Beijing+5, let me renew our commitment to build a fund that delivers results even when the going gets tough, a fund that has been able to get the whole UN system committed to end violence against women, a fund that can leverage opportunities and resources for women in the developing countries, a fund that women everywhere can be proud of.

We are here today because we have stories to tell, tears to cry, silences to break, progress to celebrate and problems to confront as we move from promises to action, from vision to reality.

We are here today because the stakes for women are high. Women want a world where inequalities based on gender, class, caste and ethnicity is absent from every country and from the relationships among countries. Women want a world where fulfillment of basic needs becomes basic rights and where poverty and all forms of violence are eliminated. Where women’s unpaid work of nurturing, caring and weaving the fabric of community will be valued and shared equally by men. Where each person will have the opportunity to develop her or his full potential and creativity. Where progress for women is recognized as progress for all.