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Message of UNCCD Executive Secretary on the occasion of International Women's Day

​08/03/2013 Women play a key role in humanity’s pursuit of sustainable development. In rural areas, especially in the drylands, the contribution of women to their local communities is invaluable. They take care of land and animals, provide household food security and preserve traditional knowledge. Their role is crucial in dealing with crop failure in degraded and drought-prone areas.

Yet a majority of women still have limited access to education, decision-making processes and assets such as land. They face social and economic inequalities and are subject to discrimination, harassment and violence. And in the world’s drylands, land degradation and drought have a disproportionately negative impact on women and children.

Last summer at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), world leaders recognized “the potential of women to engage in, contribute to and benefit from sustainable development.” They also recognized the “need for urgent action to reverse land degradation” and pledged “to strive for a land-degradation neutral world in the context of sustainable development.”

In a land-degradation neutral world, degradation of healthy land is avoided and every hectare of degraded land is offset with a hectare of restored land, preferably in the same ecosystem and landscape. This goal is ambitious, but attainable, and needs to be part of the post 2015 development framework.
To achieve this goal, women should be empowered, as they are the major agents of change. If women had the same access as men to agricultural resources, production would increase by 20-30 percent, and the number of hungry people worldwide would reduce by 12-17 percent, according to research by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

This year’s theme, “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”, couldn’t be more timely. Indeed, it is time to keep the promise to mainstream gender in all areas of sustainable and economic development and environment protection.

UNCCD mainstreams gender equality by recognizing the role of women in ensuring improved local livelihoods and ecosystems. I am calling upon world leaders to keep to their Rio+20 promises: empower women’s participation and fulfill their commitment to a land-degradation neutral world.

I wish you a happy International Women’s Day and an inspiring and empowering year for all women!

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