Today marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day – a day that celebrates the economic, political and social achievements of women around the world. It is a day when we recognise women’s achievements and the progress made towards gender equality.
It is an occasion to celebrate the contribution women have made in society’s struggle for equality, peace and development. It is also an opportunity to unite, network and work together for meaningful change.
If we look back at the last century, we can see incredible progress – from the inclusion of women’s ownership rights to winning the vote in 1930, women’s liberation in the 1960s and international commitment to improving the rights of women through commitment to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
And Cambodia too has progressed. There is a growing commitment from the government to promote gender equality within Cambodian society and mainstream gender in all sectors. Particular recognition should be given to the strong leadership of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in advancing human rights in Cambodia.
The government has prioritised gender equality through the implementation of its five-year strategic plan, Neary Rattanak III. The Technical Working Group on Gender was created to build stronger national ownership and promote cooperation between the government and civil society on issues related to gender equality and the empowerment of women.
There is, however, still a long way to go before men and women, boys and girl are all treated equally in all parts of the world. Violence against women, such as rape, is entrenched in many countries.
Likewise, women continue to face barriers to full and meaningful participation in the political and decision-making processes.
Women and girls make up more than 70 percent of the world’s poor and many lack access to essential services such as health and education. This statistic represents real people – mothers, sisters, wives
and daughters. But this is not a women’s issue. Poverty and gender equality are human issues, and they are issues we all have a responsibility to do something about.
In Cambodia, strengthened and consistent commitment is still needed to promote the human rights of women. Gender-based violence affects almost a quarter of all women in Cambodia.
Although we’ve seen progress in political participation, women remain under-represented in executive and judicial branches of government. Despite progress made on reducing the transmission of HIV, there has been an upward trend in the proportion of women living with HIV. Many factors, such as gender norms, the social behaviour of men and the prevalence of violence against women contribute to this trend.
Gender equity and women’s empowerment is fundamental to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. It is a cross-cutting issue that must be factored in to all development programmes and priorities. The United Nations is investing in women and we are putting gender at the heart of our development priorities.
It was with great excitement that the UN system welcomed the launch of UN Women (formally known as UNIFEM) on February 24. The creation of UN Women came about as part of the UN reform agenda, bringing together resources and mandates for greater impact.
UN Women will build on the important work of four, previously distinct, parts of the UN system which focused exclusively on gender equality and women’s empowerment. UN Women will be a dynamic and strong champion for women and girls.
UN Women is working in Cambodia to strengthen the voices of women, to change attitudes and behaviours in society and ensure women sit as equals in boardrooms and legislative assemblies.
Today, the United Nations is teaming up with youth organisations in an SMS campaign that I hope will reach all corners of Cambodia. The SMS says: “Happy 100th International Women’s Day! Youth are the future. We must speak out the rights of women and girls and end gender-based violence. Let’s send this SMS to everyone.”
I hope this message will spread like wildfire across Cambodia and that we will all reflect today about its meaning, the progress we’ve made but more importantly, the challenges that we still face to ensure the rights of women and girls.
Douglas Broderick is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Cambodia.