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UN Officials: Gender Equality Promotes Peace and Democracy - 2004-05-25

Would this be a more peaceful world if there were greater equality for women? Iranian Nobel Peace Price winner Shirin Ebadi and two key U.N. officials told a recent symposium in New York that ensuring women's rights would lead to greater democracy and promote peace.

Human rights advocates say women rarely start wars or fight in them, but are too often the primary victims of violent conflicts. In the year 2000, the United Nations called for greater attention to the disproportionately negative impact that war can have on women and children.

Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, the U.N. undersecretary general for the least developed countries, said that the changing nature of war puts women increasingly at risk.

?Equally challenging is the growing violence against women and girls in armed conflict,? he said. ?In today's conflicts, they are not only the victims of hardship, displacement and warfare, they are directly targeted with rape, forced pregnancies and assault as deliberate instruments of war.?

Mr. Chowdhury added that women are often kept out of conflict negotiations, though they can be active agents of peaceful change. ?Full involvement of women in peace negotiations must be provided for, including training for women on formal peace processes,? he said.

Speaking at the same symposium at New York City's Lehman College was the Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi. Ms. Ebadi, who was Iran's first female judge, said the lack of adequate female representation in many of the world's governments, combined with growing instances of violence against women, are turning back the clock. She pointed to her own region of the world as a place where the situation of women is often particularly difficult. She said that the patriarchal culture that is pervasive in many Middle Eastern societies oppresses women, doesn't recognize democracy or encourage the equality of human beings.

According to U.N. officials, more than 50 countries in the world are currently at war. The U.N.'s special representative for Children and Armed conflict, Olara Otunnu, said that's a troubling number, but he believes it can be changed if people focus on the future of young people.

?We live in a world in which it is possible today to make sure that all our children, wherever where they may be in Iran, in Afghanistan, in Angola, in Sudan, in Darfur, in Uganda, that all our children can be safe, attend school, stay with their families and have a future like any children anywhere else,? he stated.

Mr. Otunnu called on governments to educate their citizens about respecting human rights even in conflict situations.

Human rights advocates say gender equality is a key part of creating lasting peace in the world.