In Beijing, I said that there isn't a single country or institution in the world where men and women enjoy equal opportunities. Has that changed? I am afraid not.
There have been improvements. But so often, the positive developments in one area have been cancelled by setbacks in others.
The struggle for progress in the fields of women's human rights, health and opportunities, now has a century-long history. Why is the world moving so slowly?
We urgently need to achieve equality for women and full respect for their human rights, their sexual and reproductive rights. These rights are about dignity and integrity, about empowerment and self-determination.
Attitudes are key. They are changing, as the lives of women and girls are brought to light. Thanks to the many forces of progress, in particular the NGOs, that are represented here in this hall today. At this conference, delegations listen to each other. The texts of Cairo and Beijing are being debated once more, but they will prevail and they will improve. We are moving forward.
As a new century lies before us, our main priority should be to overcome poverty and discrimination against women. The 20th century has shown how crippling, debilitating and choice-limiting those forces are.
In many countries, women own nothing, inherit nothing and earn nothing. Three out of four of the poorest billion people of the world are women. Discrimination combined with poverty prevent women from getting out of situations of abuse and exploitation. Poverty leads to ill health, additional strain on already over-stretched households. When women are ill, gender based discrimination further limit their access to care and treatment.
Societies will only be able to prosper, and emerge from poverty, if their women enjoy better health. Investing in health makes good economic sense. Investing in women makes even better economic sense.
Why health? Because health is fundamental for life.
Improving women's health means reducing the risk of dying when giving life to a child. Women's health is strongly influenced by their role as mothers. Still, we fail to provide so many with the means for safe motherhood. Over half a million women die each year. Twenty million suffer disability. Yet much of this suffering could be avoided if all women at least had the help of a skilled health worker during delivery.
Improving women's health means ensuring women the right to protect themselves against infection of HIV/AIDS. In 1980, 20 per cent of the adults infected with HIV were women. Ten years later, that figure had doubled. At the end of the century, 46 per cent of HIV positive adults are women. In some parts of Africa infection rates of adolescent girls now run 3 - 6 times higher than boys of the same age, a glaring example of gender inequality and the exploitation of girls. Changes in attitude and sexual practices are the answer. Young people need the information and means to protect themselves, and people affected should receive care and protection.
Improving women's health means speaking out against all forms of violence: female genital mutilation, trafficking, domestic violence, rape and sexual abuse. I say with Madeleine Albright: these practices are not cultural, they are criminal.
Improving women's health means making sure that women get the attention and care that they need. The agreements reached in ICPD+5 are essential to delivering these services.
The experience of the last five years indicates that many governments do not see improvements in women's health as a priority, despite the goals set in Cairo and Beijing.
In WHO we have analysed 121 country reports on activities on the Beijing Platform for Action. Less than half of the reports identified women's health as a national priority. Some countries did not report on women's health at all. All countries should do better than that!
We know that much practical work needs to be done. It will take investment in people, in education, in health systems that reach all and that are responsive to the needs of women.
There is no way we can overcome poverty and gender discrimination if we do not take the health of girls and women seriously. We need to take a comprehensive look at the health of women throughout the life cycle and take up the challenge of new issues that need global attention. Mental health is a case in point.
Women are twice as likely as men to experience depression. Depressive disorders account for nearly 30 per cent of disability from neuropsychiatric disorders among women - only 13 per cent among men. Extreme poverty, the conflicts of multiple roles and domestic violence are all associated with depression, anxiety, suicide, insomnia and alcohol disorders in women. WHO will devote the World health Day and the World Health Report 2001 to mental health. It will have a special focus on women.
In WHO we are promoting innovative approaches to integrate a gender perspective into policies, programmes and the budget of the Organization.
Only through firm political commitment, better information, legislation and the redirection of resources can women gain control of their own lives. Only then will women achieve a life of respect, quality and equality.