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Message from WHO Director-General on International Women’s Day

Statement by WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan
7 March 2014

On this day, WHO joins others in celebrating women’s achievements. These achievements are inspiring, and they can inspire change. In health development, as in many other areas, women are agents of change. They are the driving force that creates better lives for families, communities and, increasingly, the countries they have been elected to govern.

As I have learned from my discussions with parliaments in several countries, women are increasingly winning top leadership roles, in rich and poor countries alike, and this helps shape entire societies in broadly beneficial ways. Every time a women excels in a high-profile position, her achievement lifts the social status of women everywhere.

To inspire change, all women need to be free to achieve their full potential. This means freedom from all forms of discrimination, freedom to pursue all opportunities, including education, freedom to earn and spend their own income, and freedom to follow the career paths they decide they want.

The health sector can do much to free women by ensuring they have access to all the health services they need, including sexual and reproductive health services. Participants at last year’s London Summit on Family Planning achieved a breakthrough commitment to halve the number of girls and women in developing countries who want modern contraceptives but have no access. This commitment will give 120 million additional women the right to decide whether, when, and how many children they want to have. This, too, is freedom.

Throughout history, women have been associated with care and compassion. Worldwide, up to 80% of health care is provided in the home, almost always by women. This should inspire our admiration, but it should also underscore the need for change. Most of this work is unsupported, unrecognized, and unpaid.

Polio is on the verge of eradication largely thanks to the millions of women – from vaccinators to administrators to medical doctors and mothers – who have made the vaccination and protection of children their life’s mission. On this International Women’s Day, let me thank these women for a level of dedication that can improve the world in a permanent way.