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Focusing on women as peacemakers

Focusing on women as peacemakers, UN marks International Women's Day

8 March – The United Nations family of agencies and organizations today marked International Women's Day with a series of special events around the world, highlighting the vital role of women in preventing conflicts and building peace. With this year's observance focusing on a recent landmark resolution by the Security Council on women and peace, Council members today stressed the need for "early and full implementation" of the measures outlined in the text. In a press statement by the Council's President, Volodymyr Yel'chenko of Ukraine, Council members renewed their call to Member States to insure increased representation of women in decision making for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts. This call was echoed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who stressed in a message that women possessed particular skills and experiences that enabled them to contribute to all stages of a peace process. "In times of conflict, it is often women who take over the running of homes, farms and villages," he said. "Women understand the root causes of tension and know which power groups within communities and countries are most likely to support peace initiatives. We must make greater use of that potential." The Secretary-General said the international community must build partnerships among all actors -- governments, non-governmental organizations, community groups and the private sector -- to bring more women to the negotiating table and into decision-making positions. Strong appeals for reaching this goal were also heard today at a commemorative event in New York, where UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette underscored that steps were finally being taken to end the "lamentable state of affairs in which women, who rarely initiate conflicts, are disproportionately its victims." Such steps included the designation of rape in conflict as a crime against humanity, Mrs. Fréchette noted. She added, however, that much more work needed to be done to integrate women's efforts into every peace strategy. The UN would be more effective in reaching that goal if it had more women in leadership positions, she said, appealing to Member States to present as many qualified candidates as possible. For his part, General Assembly President Harri Holkeri of Finland said women and girls continued to bear the greatest burden in armed conflicts. "At the same time, studies have confirmed that the participation of women in conflict prevention, peace keeping and peace building operations would improve the efficiency of these operations," he said. Mr. Holkeri pointed out that Member States and the UN would have an opportunity to discuss how to increase the number of women in peace building when they consider the implementation of recent recommendations by an independent panel on improving UN peacekeeping activities. The UN has been observing International Women's Day since 1975 -- the International Women's Year.

UN agencies highlight women's contributions to peace making
8 March – Observing International Women's Day, United Nations specialized agencies and programmes today drew attention to the contribution made by women in preventing conflict, building peace and promoting reconciliation in post-crisis situations. In a statement issued in New York, the head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) highlighted the role of women within the peace process in Sierra Leone, where a group of women staged a sit-down strike that paralyzed the capital, Freetown, and held the government accountable for the implementation of the Lomé Peace Accord. Similar participation by women was noted in Rwanda, Somalia, the Sudan, the Philippines and Albania, UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown said, adding that his agency was helping coalitions of non-governmental organizations, parliamentarians and national gender experts to remove legal constraints on women's input to political processes in Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, Swaziland, Tanzania and Uganda. Noeleen Heyzer, the Executive Director of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) said in a statement that her organization was helping to ensure a continuous focus on women's role in peacebuilding through a Millennium Peace Prize for Women, the first of which was set to be awarded this evening in New York. "As women are half of every community, they should be half of every solution," she said. The six women to receive the award are "inspirational leaders and representatives of organizations that demonstrate how to transcend conflict and strengthen commitment to restoring healthy communities," she said. Meanwhile in Geneva, the Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Juan Somavia, took aim at the "glass ceiling" that still prevents women from gaining equality in the workplace. He told a panel of international dignitaries assembled to celebrate the Day that the world could not afford to lose out on women's talent. "Improving gender equality in the workplace is the right thing to do; the smart thing to do," he said. The ILO chief also pointed to the problem of the "sticky floor," describing the forces that keep many women stuck at the bottom of the economic pyramid. He said it was necessary to "speed up women's entry to the highest echelons of decision making and insisted that "faster progress is possible." In the United States, for example, the number of women in Fortune 500 executive management positions more than doubled between 1996 and 1997, from 2.4 per cent to 5.1 per cent, he said. The head of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, called attention to the fact that women and girls are routinely assaulted and raped during armed conflicts and that "the perpetrators are rarely apprehended or punished." The UNFPA chief noted the progress made by the international community in acknowledging that rape and assault during conflicts constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, as evidenced by the recent conviction by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia of three individuals for rape as a crime against humanity.


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