The United Nations marked World Population Day today by deploring the discrimination and violence against women and girls that is still rampant around the world and demanding full gender equality as the way to win the battle against poverty, hunger, armed conflict and disease. “When discrimination prevents true equality, the consequences are grave,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message. “Millions of girls are ‘missing’ from populations because parents preferred the birth of sons. More girls than boys are out of school, denied their right to an education and the keys to a better life, and impoverishing the communities in which they live.“Poverty, gender discrimination and violence are fuelling the AIDS epidemic, with the number of women and adolescent girls newly infected rising in every region. And in some regions, alarmingly high levels of maternal mortality are claiming the lives of too many women and depriving children of their mothers’ love and care,” he added.“Despite these enormous challenges – indeed, because of them – women all over the world are mobilizing to secure their rights,” he declared, citing important successes such as the focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment in global debates on development, and new laws enacted in many countries advancing women’s rights.“On this World Population Day, let us resolve to empower women and girls by our commitment to gender equality,” he concluded. “And let us remember that every society that wishes to overcome poverty, hunger, armed conflict and disease must draw fully on the talents and contribution of all of its members.”The Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, emphasized the many benefits of gender equality, including a higher quality of life for individual women and girls, and stronger families, communities and countries. “On the other hand, the costs of maintaining inequality are also high and can be measured by broken bodies, shattered dreams and crushed spirits,” she said, citing high rates of maternal death and disability because women’s health is not made a political priority, and the continuation of harmful practices that place women’s lives in danger.“For tens of millions of girls, child marriage and early childbearing mean an incomplete education, limited opportunities and serious health risks,” she said. “But perhaps the highest cost of gender discrimination is widespread violence against women and girls, which remains one of the most pervasive and shameful human rights violations, compromising the personal security, liberty, dignity and well-being of millions of women and children worldwide. The world can do better. The solutions are well known and effective.”