UNITED NATIONS -- Leaders of the fight for women's equality say there is no going back on the revolution that began 30 years ago, although the challenges ahead are immense.
The comments came at a UN meeting to evaluate the world's progress toward gender equality. Now in its second and final week, the gathering has drawn delegates from 130 countries and 6,000 representatives from women's and human rights organizations.
Commemorating yesterday's International Women's Day, Rachel Mayanja, the secretary-general's top adviser on women, warned that ''the task ahead is not going to be any less difficult than it has been during the past decades."
She stressed that world leaders cannot view poverty, armed conflict, and violence in isolation.
''The eradication of poverty and disease is as important as dealing with the criminal networks that traffic in women and children," she said.
Nafis Sadik, special adviser on AIDS to Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former head of the UN Population Fund, said governments spend more than $900 billion on the military while the world's richest countries spend less than $70 billion on development assistance -- and only about $3 billion of that amount goes to gender equality programs.
''What contributes more to security, $3 billion invested in women or the $900 billion squandered on weapons?" Sadik said to loud applause. ''It is time for political leaders to stop talking about peace and really start investing in it."
At a commemoration held Friday before most of the ministers and VIPs left, two Nobel Peace Prize winners and the heads of the four UN conferences on women since 1975 spoke of progress and challenges ahead. The four conferences built the global women's movement.
Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai, last year's Nobel laureate, said women must celebrate their achievements, including her prize, but must fight poverty by championing debt relief and open markets, and tackle climate change and deforestation.
''It is us who will eventually have to convince our governments that women need to be given equal space, to be given an opportunity to exploit their potential, and that it is not a gift for women to participate in decision-making -- it is a right," Maathai said.