By Daniel Wesangula
NAIROBI, March 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - United Nations chief Antonio Guterres met with female politicians and footballers in a slum in Kenya's capital and launched a campaign to end violence against women with Kenya's first lady on Wednesday's International Women's Day.
He called for women to be given greater political and economic power, lamenting the erosion of women's rights around the world, particularly by extremists who force them into marriage and sexual slavery.
Guterres said he saw women suffer in "tragic circumstances" during his 10 years as U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees before becoming U.N. Secretary-General in January.
"I have seen women being the great victims of poverty, of conflict, of violations of human rights in different parts of the world," he said during a news conference with Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta.
"The protection of women in these circumstances in absolutely essential but I believe that the only way to make that protection effective is to give full priority to the empowerment of women."
Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are among the U.N.'s ambitious set of 17 global Sustainable Development Goals designed to tackle poverty, inequality, and climate change by 2030.
In a written statement, Guterres said growing inequalities within and between societies around the world are leading to greater discrimination against women and girls.
"Tradition, cultural values and religion are being misused to curtail women's rights, to entrench sexism and defend misogynistic practices," he said, with women routinely targeted for intimidation and harassment.
"In the worst cases, extremists and terrorists build their ideologies around the subjugation of women and girls and single them out for sexual and gender-based violence, forced marriage and virtual enslavement."
After meeting Kenya's president, Guterres's convoy of black four-by-four vehicles snaked through the dusty, narrow streets of Nairobi's Mathare slum where he watched women playing football and met women leaders.
"He urged us to soldier on in the fight for our political space in the male-dominated field of politics," one political aspirant, Ann Wanjiku Kibe, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Kenya's 2010 constitution raised hopes for women as it requires no more than two-thirds of the members of any elective public body should be of the same gender.
It obligates the government to introduce affirmative action to address the discrimination that women have faced. But legislation required to spell this out has not been introduced.
"Gender empowerment is important to any society that considers itself modern and progressive," Kenyatta said in a speech read out by his wife, Margaret Kenyatta.
"We will continue to ensure women get equal chances in decision making and strive to end gender based violence."
(Reporting by Daniel Wesangula; Editing by Katy Migiro and Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)