Women leaders demand equal rights on Women's Day eve

9th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

Sunday marks International Women's Day, dating back to 1910 and recognised by the United Nations in 1977.

Monrovia -- More than 400 high-profile women, including two heads of state, pressed for equal rights for half the world's population as they gathered in Liberia on Saturday on the eve of International Women's Day.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first female head of state, saluted the distinguished gathering of political and business leaders, saying: "You motivate us, you inspire us, you encourage us to continue."

Sirleaf took power in the west African nation ravaged by 14 years of back-to-back civil wars, and her Finnish counterpart Tarja Holonen was quick to point out that women played a leading role in healing war wounds.

She said experience showed that the role women play "in conflict resolution and reconciliation in post war is very vital. This country Liberia is a good example of that."

Canadian Governor General Michaelle Jean, originally a Haitian refugee, echoed the theme that women were the best guarantors of peace.

"I'm telling you: give women the means to react and you will see less violence, you will see the end of sickness and illiteracy because women never forget that life is the most precious thing.

"Exclude women and you will fail," Jean added at the Monrovia gathering, which will debate the future of women.

Sunday marks International Women's Day, dating back to 1910 and recognised by the United Nations in 1977.

A rights group in Tunisia announced Saturday the opening of a "feminist university" to promote women's causes in the north African country where at least one in five women have been beaten.

The non-academic university will be open to young people of both sexes to learn about universal human rights and the values of equality and non-discrimination towards women.

It will be "a place for getting involved in women's causes," said Sana Ben Achour, president of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD).

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced "measures to cut the terms of women prisoners," the presidency said. Those who have less than 12 months to serve will be freed and others have their terms cut substantially.

Although Western women are far ahead in terms of rights and political representation than their peers in the Arab world, Africa and parts of Asia, they are still under-represented in European governments.

"Still today in governments and parliaments, less than a quarter of members are women," said Margot Wallstrom, the Swedish vice-president of the European Commission.

"There is no lack of female candidates. The reality is men tend to choose men," she said. "One half of the population is seriously under-represented."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged world leaders to end violence against women in their countries, in the run-up to Sunday's event.

"Violence against women cannot be tolerated, in any form, in any context, in any circumstances, by any political leader or by any government," said Ban.

He revealed that around the world, one woman in five has been a victim of rape or attempted rape, and that in some countries one woman in three has been beaten or subjected to some kind of violent act.

"Violence against women is an abomination. I'd like to call it a crime against humanity," he said.

Saudi Arabia recently appointed its first woman minister but women in the staunchly conservative Islamic kingdom do not have the right to drive, move around without permission of a male relative and have to sport a black face veil and cloak in public.

Segolene Royal, the defeated Socialist candidate in France's 2007 presidential election, said the global financial crisis could be a boon for women.

"I think that paradoxically the crisis could be an opportunity for women.... Men have taken insane risks," she said in an interview to appear in La Depeche du Midi newspaper on Sunday. "Women's style of management is more careful, more concrete."


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