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Remarks by UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet on International Women’s Day

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Date: 08 March 2012

Remarks delivered by UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet at a press conference on the occasion of International Women's Day, 8 March 2012, Rabat, Morocco.

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Good morning. It is my pleasure to join you in Rabat to celebrate International Women's Day. I am happy to be here in Morocco where many recent steps have been taken for women's empowerment and equality.

Today I join women around the globe in solidarity for human rights, dignity and equality. Looking back at the first year of UN Women, I applaud every individual, government and organization working for women's empowerment and gender equality. I promise the highest commitment moving forward.

The creation of UN Women has coincided with deep changes in our world—from protests against economic inequality to uprisings for freedom and democracy in Arab States. These events have strengthened my conviction that a sustainable future can only be reached by women, men and young people enjoying equality together.

During the past century, since the observance of the first International Women's Day, we have witnessed a transformation in women's legal rights, educational achievements, and participation in public life. In all regions, countries have expanded women's legal entitlements. Women have taken many steps forward. More women are exercising leadership in politics and business, more girls are going to school, and more women survive childbirth and can plan their families.

Yet while tremendous progress has been made, no country can claim to be entirely free from gender-based discrimination. This inequality can be seen in persistent gender wage gaps and unequal opportunities, in low representation of women in decision-making positions, in child marriage, in gross violations of rights, and continuing violence against women in all its forms.

Nowhere are disparities and barriers greater than in rural areas for women and girls. Rural women and girls comprise one in four people worldwide. They work long hours with little or no pay and produce a large proportion of the food grown, especially in subsistence agriculture. They are farmers, entrepreneurs and leaders, and their contributions sustain their families, communities, nations and all of us.

Yet they face some of the worst inequities in access to social services and land and other productive assets. And this deprives them and the world of the realization of their full potential, which brings me to my main point on this International Women's Day. No enduring solution to the major changes of our day—from climate change to political and economic instability to poverty—can be solved without the full empowerment and participation of the world's women. We simply can no longer afford to leave women out.

Here in the Arab region, progress has been made with real gains in education. Several countries have closed the gender gap in school enrolment rates. There are positive examples of progress for women's political participation.

In Tunisia, the electoral law calls for full parity in the composition of the constituent assembly and women garnered 27 percent of the seats during elections. Here in Morocco, the Constitution gives supremacy to international conventions and establishes the principle of equality between men and women across political, economic, civil, cultural and environmental spheres.

Yet despite the steps taken forward and the progress made in many Arab States, women are demanding greater progress. Changes for women have been slow, and women are in a hurry. Last week, together with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, I launched the new map of women in politics in 2012. Today 7 percent of Government Ministers in the Arab States are women compared to 16.7 percent globally. Today women represent 10.7 percent of parliamentarians in the Arab States compared to 19.5 percent globally. And the percentage of women in the labour force in Arab States is 26 percent, half the rate of 52 percent globally.

The distinction of having the world's lowest representation of women in politics and the labour force provides neither justice to Arab women, nor to the history, legacy and future of the Arab world.

Women's full and equal participation in the political and economic arena is fundamental to democracy and justice, which people are demanding. Equal rights and opportunity underpin healthy economies and societies.

Women activists in the Arab world are seeking greater citizenship rights. Women and young people have demonstrated their courage and determination, their demands for economic opportunity, democracy and participation.

UN Women will place special focus this year on advancing women's economic empowerment and political participation and leadership. We look forward to continued strong partnership with women, men and young people and with governments, civil society, the United Nations system and the private sector.

Today on International Women's Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to women's rights and move forward with courage and determination. Let us defend human rights, the inherent dignity and worth of the human person, and the equal rights of men and women.

I thank you and look forward to your questions.