The U.N.'s female deputy secretary-general opened the organization's 54th Commission on the Status of Women Monday, warning that it is time to "move from commitment to action." Asha-Rose Migiro told hundreds of female delegates that 15 years after the so-called Beijing Declaration platform of action for women's rights progress has been achieved, there is still a long way to go.
U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Migiro credited women's organizations on the global, national and local level with international gains in several areas, including education and the development of national laws, policies and programs.
"Women continue to play a vital role in advancing the agenda," said Asha-Rose Migiro. "Women's groups have shown tremendous creativity and determination in demanding commitments, and holding their governments accountable for delivering on them."
As a result, she said, more people now understand that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is not just a goal in itself, but a key to sustainable development, economic growth, and peace and security.
The United Nations has been highlighting the importance of women's rights. Last year, the Security Council passed two resolutions on violence against women. One of the resolutions created the post of a U.N. envoy to combat sexual violence against women in conflict. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon named former Swedish and EU minister Margot Wallström to the position, which she takes up this month.
Last September, the U.N. General Assembly agreed to create a new agency for women, wrapping into it the four U.N. bodies that currently handle various women's issues, including the U.N. Development Fund for Women and the Division for the Advancement of Women.
The secretary-general has yet to announce who will head the proposed new agency, but delegates to the conference are pressing for it.
"Let us make this a historic Commission on the Status of Women," said Harriet Harman, British Minister for Women and Equality. "Let us make this the year that we create our new powerful U.N. women's agency to back up women throughout the world and to make progress on all the goals we have struggled for for so long."
Dozens of government ministers and more than 2,000 women activists are attending the gathering, which will run through March 12. The meeting aims to review progress since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration of 1995, which is a comprehensive global framework for advancing the empowerment of women and gender equality worldwide.
But despite progress since Beijing, the United Nations says women still outnumber men among the world's poorest people; they are generally paid less than men for the same jobs; maternal mortality remains unacceptably high; and two-thirds of adult women are illiterate - a statistic that has not changed during the last 20 years.