Message from Executive Director of UNEP and UNCHS (Habitat)
Nairobi, 8 March 1999 - In a message on the occasion of International Women's Day, celebrated each year on 8 March, Klaus Toepfer, said, "Violence against women and girls is a major obstacle to social and economic development in the world. Fundamental to ending such violence is to change the perception that women and girls are worth less than men."
Mr. Toepfer, Executive Director of both the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), was speaking here today at the opening of a two-day regional conference on Good Practices Towards Eliminating Violence Against Women and Girls in Africa.
"In one particular African country, a woman is raped every 83 seconds," said Toepfer. "In the United States, between three and four million women are battered by their husbands and a third of all murdered women are killed by the man with whom they live."
"The International Women's Day is symbolic of women's refusal to accept poverty, disease and premature death as their natural lot. It is a day dedicated to assessing progress in their fight for equality, peace and development. It is also an opportunity to unite, network and mobilize for meaningful change," continued Toepfer.
"Without schooling, girls are assigned to vulnerable social positions where they may be more easily exploited and abused," he said. "With education, girls and women will be able to see opportunities for self-empowerment and economic independence."
"The 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action is undoubtedly the most comprehensive plan in addressing the critical areas of concern to women's advancement. The theme of the Platform 'gender equality, development and peace' summarizes the ingredients for the attainment of humankind's full potential and ultimately the overall development of society.
It is, therefore, in the interest of all of us to weigh the economic cost of gender-based violence against women's physical and emotional health, loss of self-esteem and inability to freely and fully participate in the development process," he said.
"The time has come for Governments, international and national NGOs, the private sector and the people to work together as full and equal partners in improving the quality of life of women," Toepfer said. "We now have in our hands the legitimate basis to demand change, and it is our responsibility to build on the momentum gained at Beijing."
UNEP News Release 1999/18