US First Lady joins Annan in International Women’s Day observance in New York

US First Lady joins Annan in International Women’s Day observance in New York

First Lady Laura Bush, Kofi Annan and H.M. Queen Noor
As International Women's Day was observed across the globe focusing on the role of Afghan women, a distinguished audience, including the First Lady of the United States, Laura Bush, and Secretary-General Kofi Annan, gathered at United Nations Headquarters in New York to mark the occasion and urge renewed efforts to promote gender equality.

As International Women's Day was observed across the globe focusing on the role of Afghan women, a distinguished audience, including the First Lady of the United States Laura Bush and Secretary-General Kofi Annan, gathered at United Nations Headquarters in New York to mark the occasion and urge renewed efforts to promote gender equality.

Addressing the special event that was videocast around the world, the Secretary-General said Afghan women needed more than expressions of solidarity; "they need concrete help." Referring to their plight as "an affront to all standards of dignity, equality and humanity," he called for building more schools and training more teachers to ensure every Afghan girl's right to an education.

"And men will need to be educated on the right of every woman to a safe environment, free from violence, discrimination and abuse," he told the audience that included women's rights advocates, public figures, diplomats and UN officials.

Mr. Annan noted that assistance to women would produce progress for all people. "When women are fully involved, the benefits can be seen immediately: their children are better educated; they are healthier and better fed; they are better able to protect themselves against AIDS and other diseases; their families' income and economy improve," he said. "And what is true of families is true of communities – ultimately, indeed, of whole countries."

For her part, Mrs. Bush said Afghanistan had an unprecedented opportunity to rebuild, “thanks to efforts led by the United Nations, the United States, the new Afghan Government, and our allies around the world.” She detailed the US contribution to the effort, emphasizing Washington’s support for education in Afghanistan. “When you give children books and an education, you give them the ability to imagine a future of opportunity, equality and justice,” she said. “Education is the single most important long-term investment we can make in the future.”

"Today, on International Women's Day, we affirm our mission to protect human rights for women in Afghanistan and around the world," said Mrs. Bush. "And we affirm our support of all Afghans as they recover from war and injustice."

Echoing this theme, the President of the UN General Assembly, Han Seung-soo of the Republic of Korea, called on donor countries to encourage the interim Afghan authorities to guarantee girls equal access to education. He stressed that women should be full partners in the post-conflict reconstruction of the country, and added that today's celebration of Afghan women should serve to spur renewed efforts to advance equality for women everywhere.

In a message to the gathering, Afghanistan's Women's Affairs Minister, Sima Samar, expressed hope that the international community would not forget Afghanistan again but would instead provide substantial relief and development assistance to help rebuild the country's economy and allow Afghan women and girls to rebuild their lives. Her message was delivered by the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, Angela King.

The President of the Security Council, Ambassador Ole Peter Kolby of Norway, recalled the Council's broad support for the women of Afghanistan, stressing the importance of having more women involved in peace-related activities. "Afghan women have high hopes and expectations for the future and represent a tremendous resource for Afghanistan," he said.

The plight of Afghan women and the global need for gender equality was discussed extensively during a panel discussion which followed. Among those taking part were Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan; Sima Wali, President of Refugee Women in Development and Delegate to the UN Peace Talks on Afghanistan; Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA); and Julia Taft, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery within the UN Development Programme (UNDP).