1 August 2004

With Arab women less economically and politically empowered than women in other regions, it is encouraging that the status of women is being included in regional and national reforms, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message on 8 July.

"The empowerment of women, one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), is not only a goal in itself, it is a prerequisite for reaching all the others," he said in an address delivered to an Arab Regional Conference on women's issues by the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), Mervat Tallawy.

"It is crucial to our efforts to combat poverty, hunger and disease and to stimulate development that is truly sustainable. And it is essential to the promotion of justice and the peaceful resolution of disputes," he said.

The theme of the meeting is "10 Years after Beijing: Call for Peace." The 1994 Beijing Conference looked comprehensively at the roles of women, while the 2000 MDGs aim to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty and to create sustainable socioeconomic development by 2015.

The region has endured conflict and tensions which have slowed economic, political and social development for decades, Mr. Annan said. Growing regional risks, lower investment ratios and the continued mismatching of physical and human capital indicated that future regional growth rates were likely to be lower than they were in the past.

It was heartening, therefore, that recent deliberations and declarations by representatives of Arab States in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Qatar and Lebanon have shown that "the empowerment of women in Arab society has become central to the Arab vision of reform," he said.

The meeting which was held in Beirut was attended by senior women government officials from the Arab world. It was the first time that the new Iraqi government was represented in such a U.N. meeting in the Arab world. It was indeed an impressive delegation of three female ministers.