Gender equality is the central theme of this year's World Population Day, which is observed annually by the United Nations on 11 July. World Population Day 2005 is an occasion to emphasize the empowering effect of gender equality, and the fact that respect for this human right benefits everyone -- men, women, boys and girls alike.
"Let us resolve to empower women and girls by our commitment to gender equality," said United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his message for World Population Day. "Equality between men and women is a guiding principle of the United Nations, inscribed in the United Nations Charter. It is also central to global efforts to free people from fear and want to which nations agreed in the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals. At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, equality and women's empowerment were considered both ends in themselves and cornerstones of development. Equality goes hand-in-hand with investments in education, economic opportunity and reproductive health, and taken together, these are a powerful force for lifting millions out of poverty."
The world population is currently around 6.5 billion, and is expected to reach 9.1 billion by 2050. Currently, 81 per cent of the world's population lives in less developed regions, and this proportion is expected to rise to 86 per cent by 2050, with the population of developed regions remaining largely unchanged at 1.2 billion by 2050, according to the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the populations of Europe and Japan are now declining and the pace of decline is projected to double by 2010-2015; the population of North America continues to grow at about 1 per cent annually, mostly because of immigration. Today's global population estimates and growth projections are lower than those made a decade ago, largely because the impact of HIV/AIDS in Africa has been worse than previously projected, and growth in the developed countries slowed more than expected. United Nations projections of slower population growth assume that more couples will be able to choose to have smaller families; this will require greater investments to ensure wider access to reproductive health information and services, including family planning.
The work of UNFPA is guided by the Programme of Action adopted by 179 governments at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994. The conference agreed that meeting people's needs for education and health, including reproductive health, is a prerequisite of sustainable development. The main goals of the ICPD Programme of Action are: universal access to reproductive health services by 2015; universal primary education and closing the gender gap in education by 2015; reducing maternal mortality by 75 per cent by 2015; reducing infant mortality; increasing life expectancy; and reducing HIV infection rates globally. Reaching the goals of the ICPD Programme of Action will be critical for reaching the Millennium Development Goals -- global targets set by world leaders in 2000. The Millennium Development Goals include reducing by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day; reducing by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, and combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases.
For more than 30 years, UNFPA has been at the forefront of bringing gender issues to wider attention, promoting legal and policy reforms and gender-sensitive data collection, and supporting projects that empower women economically and politically. The Fund promotes the human rights of women and works to improve their status at every stage of life.
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director, UNFPA, said in her message on this year's World Population Day: "The world can do better. The solutions are well known and effective. They include universal education for all girls and boys, the removal of barriers to women's equal participation in social, cultural, economic and political life, the engagement of boys and men in the struggle for equity, mass awareness raising campaigns, and the implementation of laws and policies that promote and protect the full range of internationally agreed human rights, including the right to sexual and reproductive health. All of these actions fall under the banner of "equality". Equality is an end in itself and a cornerstone of development. Equality is a goal that demands sustained political commitment and leadership. Today, on World Population Day, I urge leaders at every level to speak about the great gains that equal rights offer the entire human family and to take concrete and urgent action to make these rights a reality."
Equality benefits everyone. Where girls have equal opportunity to education, societies become more prosperous. Where women have equal access to income, assets and services, families become healthier. When both men and women are able to participate equally and exercise their full human rights, the world benefits. Women are the backbones of their families, caregivers of young and old, stewards of natural resources and pillars of community life. They can and must play a powerful role in reducing poverty and fostering sustainable development.
Yet discrimination against women and girls is the most pervasive and persistent form of inequality. Discrimination against women pervades almost every aspect of life. Gender-based violence shatters the lives of countless individuals and is a threat to peace and security.
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