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Tuesday, 6 June, 2000, 05:42 GMT 06:42 UK
Call to action on women's rights
Girls in Pakistan
Delegates stressed the need to boost female education
The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, has opened a major conference on women's rights worldwide by saying the planet's future depends on gender equality.

Delegates from 180 countries gathered at the UN headquarters in New York to consider how the goals set by the landmark Beijing women's conference five years ago may be implemented more quickly.

Both Mr Annan and US First Lady Hillary Clinton condemned violence against women.


Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton (right) is a long-standing campaigner for women's rights

"When girls are doused with gasoline, set on fire and burned to death because their marriage dowries are too small, and when honour killings continue to be tolerated, our work is far from done," Mrs Clinton said.

"Let rape no longer be a weapon of war and let no women or girl ever be sold into slavery or subjected to violence because of her sex in this new century."

Five years ago the Beijing women's conference agreed a comprehensive platform for action to improve the lot of women worldwide.

Much more to do

Mr Annan said that although there had been improvements in women's rights in the past five years, much more needed to be done.

Most countries understood that "women's equality is a prerequisite for development".

But he said the gender divide was growing around the world, with a greater number of women unemployed and many of them engaged in "informal, unregulated and unstable work."

Education was both "the entry point into the global economy and the best defence against its pitfalls," Mr Annan said.

The Beijing conference established that women's rights are human rights, that poverty hit women disproportionately and that rape is a war crime.

Microcredits

Mrs Clinton stressed the gains made since Beijing. She said microcredits, or small loans to help people out of poverty, had transformed the lives of millions of women.



All men should speak out, organise against sexual abuse, harassment, degradation

Namibian Prime Minister Hage Geingob

But human rights and women's activists fear this week-long conference may weaken the gains in Beijing because of opposition from the Vatican and some Islamic countries, such as Algeria, Iran, Libya, Pakistan and Sudan.

Mrs Clinton was cheered by delegates and at the end of her speech the audience of nearly 1,000 stood up and burst into song with We Shall Overcome - the anthem of the US civil rights movement.

In a recent report, the United Nations children's agency, Unicef, said there was still widespread domestic violence against women and girls across the globe.

About two million women a year undergo genital mutilation, while dowry-related violence in India is on the rise, the report said.

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See also:

12 Apr 00 | South Asia
Call for tougher Indian rape laws
11 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
China tackles adultery
02 Mar 00 | Crossing continents
Cutting out a tradition in Mali
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