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International Women’s Day

6 March 2018
Beirut, Lebanon

Statement by Mr. Mohamed Ali Alhakim
Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations
and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission
for Western Asia (ESCWA)
on International Women’s Day
Beirut, 6 March 2018

Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri,
Ambassadors and representatives of the diplomatic corps in Lebanon,
I am pleased to welcome you to the United Nations House on International Women’s Day.
“Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women's lives”. This is the theme that the United Nations has chosen to celebrate International Women’s Day in 2018.
There are many reasons for choosing that theme. In rural areas, which are often overlooked in development policies, women contribute to food security, production and other development requirements. They carry out a significant amount of agricultural work in difficult conditions and for long hours, in return for low wages; they sometimes provide unpaid labour for their households, in addition to their many other responsibilities as homemakers and members of society.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Under this theme, ESCWA, in collaboration with the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University of Beirut, has launched the 2018 Lazem campaign, which has crossed rural, urban and national boundaries to tackle women’s issues wherever they might arise in our countries.

In 2018, everyone must work together to ensure a life of dignity and peace for women.
In 2018, women in the Arab region must enjoy democracy and development.
In 2018, women must play an active role in public life.

And rural areas must not be overlooked in development processes.  

The 2018 Lazem campaign has highlighted women and gender equality issues in all areas, to ensure that International Women’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on the present and to develop a vision for the future - an opportunity for women from Arab countries to come together: leaders and activists from various fields, including women’s rights, higher education, research and writing, the judiciary and the diplomatic corps. They have presented ambitious scenarios on what the status of Arab women should be in 2018, inspired by attainable dreams and driven by solid determination, in continuation of a process that began decades ago which rejects discrimination and exclusion and emphasizes justice and equality. Their visions stress the need to amend laws and to alter traditions that devalue women in society and deny them protection from violence and discrimination. They call for political, economic, social and intellectual empowerment in all the specializations required in this day and age.

Ladies and gentlemen,
We hope that this year’s International Women’s Day will go beyond ambitions and dreams, to instigate a significant move forward in the development of Arab societies and their tireless perseverance in the face of challenges and plights affecting everyone. Significant achievements have been made at all levels, in legislation and in procedure; however, a great deal remains to be done in order to accomplish our vision of safe and prosperous societies built in equal partnership with women who enjoy full rights and obligations therein.

Ladies and gentlemen,
The current challenges and circumstances in the Arab region increase disparities, if not in law then in practice, and enshrine discrimination against members of the same society, especially women. All forms of violence against women remain a painful reality for women in domestic life, in education, in the labour market, and in economic and political life.  Needless to say that the opportunities available for women to participate in economic and political life are well below their educational achievements; and every day, numerous storylines of unjustified violence and deprivation unfold.
In countries witnessing conflict and war, women suffer twofold from violence and deprivation: in normal everyday situations, and in circumstances of oppression, fear and displacement. From Palestine, images emerge around the clock of women and girls in refugee camps and detention centres, penning with one hand a story of astounding resistance under a decades-long occupation and, with the other, wiping the dust from the remains of destroyed homes or schools to heroically continue their lives and grope their way towards our common future.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Arab countries have undergone many legal reforms to protect women and families from all forms of violence. New laws have been adopted to ensure equity for women in the labour market and other walks of life. These are all important steps towards establishing an advanced legislative framework to assist in cultural reform. Women are now assuming non-traditional positions in ministries, military institutions, and local government bodies. Nonetheless, all those steps must be complemented by efforts in economic and social life to make women’s rights and their protection from discrimination a reality guaranteed by institutions and the collective culture of all members of society.
Ladies and gentlemen,

We celebrate International Women’s Day with a solid conviction that gender equality and women’s empowerment are not only women’s issues but also ethical issues that involve society as a whole. The United Nations, of which we are a part, has recognized this dimension, thus placing women’s empowerment at the top of its priorities, as reflected in its employment policy and flexible working arrangements. Women’s empowerment is a key pillar that is ubiquitous in all the Sustainable Development Goals, and the United Nations is working with countries and civil society to disseminate a culture of non-discrimination and cement it in reality.
Today, we must reaffirm this priority in a region that faces daily dangers that threaten to unravel achievements in women’s rights, and in human rights, which took decades and tireless efforts to accomplish.

On International Women’s Day, we renew our commitment to ensuring that women’s issues are championed by individuals who want to advance all aspects of their societies. The development project that we will implement over the next 15 years promises to leave no one behind, so we must ensure that half of society is not neglected. Reality is littered with examples warning us of the consequences of undermining women’s rights, resulting in losses for society as a whole. We hold out hope for a new reality where gains in women’s rights form a solid foundation for a future that serves the ambitions of every person.

Thank you.

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