Most of the world's poor are women. 70 per cent of the world's illiterates are women. 75 per cent of the world's refugees are women. Some 585,000 women - one every minute - die each year from pregnancy related causes. Most of these deaths are preventable.
Even today, though much of the edifice of development stands on the backs of women, they comprise the most vulnerable segment of the human society. Daily women are confronted by a legacy of structures of inequality that retard the pace of their personal development, and affords them minimal chances or fails to harness their full potential for development.
This is nowhere better illustrated than in the special relationship that women have with their environment. In most parts of the world women are the first to notice environmental degradation and are the first to suffer from it.
As forests disappear and wells dry up, they have to walk further and further to fetch food and water. As farmers they suffer the consequences of misuse and overuse of pesticides. As household managers, they risk significant health hazards from indoor pollution. Natural resource degradation can undermine a woman's ability to perform her traditional roles or mean that she can fulfil them only with increasing costs in time and energy.
The achievement of sustainable development is inextricably bound up with the establishment of women's equality. One cannot be accomplished without the other. Inequities that are detrimental to the environment and society at large are particularly detrimental to women. If developmental policies fail to take account of women's roles, they risk both having negative impacts on the natural resources which women rely on and failing to make use of women's distinctive skills and knowledge. In countries where hunger persists, women are subjugated, marginalized and disempowered.
Confronting and transforming the condition of women is of critical importance for achieving the end of hunger and a sustainable future of all humanity. It will take all of us - women and men of the developed and developing worlds - to make this situation right.
The empowerment of women must embrace all aspects of her life if it is to be meaningful: a new education, a new information system, a new social orientation, and a revaluation of those cultural attitudes and values relating to her political and economic marginalization.
All these in the long term will be our best guarantees of a system that enhances the status of women.
The Platform for Action that was adopted at Beijing five years ago supports this goal and calls for greater recognition of women as guardians of environmental resources. It stresses the need to train women in environmentally sound technologies, increase their participation in programmes for natural resource management and environmental protection and reduce the risks to women posed by environmental hazards at home and the workplace.
The Platform for Action is first and foremost a document of hope. It is a plan to confront and overcome the glaring disparities in the condition of women. Its effective implementation will require a major shift in the priorities of both governments and individuals and also a significant re-deployment of human and financial resources.
At the beginning of the new millennium, let us commit to create opportunities for women where none now exist. We must commit ourselves to invest our resources so that women have access to resources to improve their lives and the lives of their children. Let us commit ourselves to implement strategies and take action that will finally enable women to gain full control of their lives and destinies. On this Women's day, let the Governments, international and national NGOs, the private sector and the people come together as full and equal partners in improving the quality of life of women.
UNEP News Release 2000/23