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International Women's Day 2008

Statement by WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan

6 March 2008

This year's International Women's Day focuses on investing in women and girls. Abundant evidence shows that when women are given an opportunity to express their potential, health indicators rapidly improve for themselves, for households and for communities. Investment in women and girls not only contributes to socioeconomic progress, but is also an investment in health development.

Public health values women as agents of change. Understanding of the power of women to spearhead change has moved into the mainstream of development thinking. The Millennium Declaration – the most ambitious commitment ever made by the international community – recognizes gender equality and the empowerment of women as effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease and to stimulate development that is truly sustainable. An in-vestment in women and girls is an investment in sustainable results.

In some of the most challenging circumstances, such as those surrounding conflicts and dis-asters, women stand out as reliable, resilient, and resourceful leaders and forces for holding families and communities together and moving forward. Women have unique ways of devel-oping grassroots networks and know how to use them to meet their personal and collective aspirations for a better life.

But while the potential of women is recognized at the international level, this potential will not be realized until conditions improve – often dramatically – in countries and communities. Too many complex factors, often rooted in social and cultural norms, continue to hinder the ability of women and girls to achieve their potential and benefit from social advances.

This can change. Above all, by protecting and promoting health, we can help improve life conditions for women and girls. We can help make women and girls fit to perform their higher roles in families, communities, and society at large. On this International Women’s Day, let us strengthen our resolve to match their potential with an equally high level of commitment and investment. The payback will be substantial and truly sustainable.

For more information, please contact:

Emma Ross
Communications Department
WHO, Geneva
Tel.: + 41 22 791 1492
Mobile: + 41 79 475 5534