Vienna, 9 March 2005 - "Poverty and its consequences primarily affect women. 1.3 billion people worldwide live in absolute poverty - i.e. on less than one euro a day - and the majority of them are women. Poverty has devastating consequences for women, especially in developing countries: more than half a million women a year die during pregnancy or childbirth, 99% of them in developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 57% of those infected with HIV are women", said Foreign Minister Dr. Ursula Plassnik today.
"Women's access to education and healthcare facilities, women's right to participation in political life, women's access to justice, the elimination of violence against women, the economic and political empowerment of women and equal rights for women are all issues that Austria is pursuing together with the international community", she added.
At EU level, Austria is attaching particular importance to women's rights within the framework of the EU accession negotiations with Turkey. "Yesterday's shocking images of police officers using truncheons to beat women and girls who had gathered for a demonstration in Istanbul to mark International Women's Day are particularly disillusioning. Actions like these cannot be tolerated in a common Europe. Turkey cannot accede to the European Union until compliance with the Copenhagen Criteria is guaranteed", demanded Plassnik.
"The Austrian Development Cooperation is engaged in numerous projects aimed at improving the situation of women in the developing countries", Plassnik went on.
"The promotion of women and girls is one of the most effective forms of development cooperation", the Foreign Minister emphasised. "Improvement of their situation benefits families and ultimately society as a whole. The success and sustainability of development activities essentially depend on the active involvement of women", said Plassnik.
Equality between men and women is enshrined in the Development Cooperation Act as a basic principle of Austrian development cooperation activities.
"From 2000 to 2003 alone we invested approx. EURO 90.2 million in projects either fully or partially devoted to the promotion of women. Every single one of our projects is examined with a view to ensuring that it takes account of women's issues", said Plassnik.
The spectrum of Austrian activities in this field is wide, ranging from education and healthcare via business promotion right through to legal advice and the strengthening of women's position in society.
The Foreign Minister went on to cite the following concrete examples: "In Afghanistan, the promotion of women is a key focus of our joint projects with UNHCR, UNFPA and UNICEF; furthermore, in cooperation with CARITAS we have created 40 jobs within the framework of a women's crafts cooperative".
"In Tanzania Austria is supporting a group of businesswomen that grants small loans to women for investments in business enterprises. In Ethiopia we are training traditional midwives to help reduce the high mortality rate among pregnant women and young mothers. A further vital aspect of our activities to support women are pro-active measures to protect women against violence, whether within the family or in connection with human trafficking. In this context a women's refuge has been set up in Belgrade to protect the victims of international trafficking in human beings".
"We can only reduce the global divide between rich and poor by empowering women, by helping women and girls to lead self-determined lives free of fear", the Foreign Minister concluded.