Ban calls for progress as UN commission on women opens

UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) - UN chief Ban Ki Moon said there is still much progress to be made to advance women's rights, despite recent strides, as he opened an annual conference on women on Monday.

Among priorities are health needs, maternal and child health, sexual education, contraception and fighting violence against women, including female genital mutilation, Mr Ban said at the opening of the UN's 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

"We have come a long way, but there is much still to do and little time to do it," he said.

"Gender gaps are particularly stark among rural populations and for persons with disabilities, indigenous people and other marginalized groups," Mr Ban said.

"Women also remain scarce in corporate leadership, despite research that has consistently shown that companies with more women on board perform better," he added "Globally, only about one in five parliamentarians is female despite evidence that parliaments with more women take up a wider range of issues, including health, education, anti-discrimination and child support," he said.

The commission, which brings together officials from the UN's 193 member states and several thousand representatives from non-government groups, meets until March 21.

Last year, the commission adopted a landmark declaration denouncing violence against women and established a code of conduct to fight it, despite the reluctance of countries such as Iran, Libya, Sudan, Russia and the Vatican.

The declaration emphasized that violence against women and girls could not be justified by "any custom, tradition or religious consideration."

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