8 March 2011
Secretary-General
SG/SM/13431
OBV/964
WOM/1852

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Investing in Women ‘Smart Thing to Do’, Secretary-General Tells Entrepreneurship

 

Forum, Highlights New Initiative to Bolster Women’s Financial Independence

 


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the International Women’s Day forum on “Investing in Women and Entrepreneurship”, in New York, 8 March:


I can think of few better ways to mark International Women’s Day than to gather to commit our collective power to investing in women’s empowerment.


One hundred years ago, when the Day was first commemorated, gender equality was a largely radical idea.  On this centenary, we celebrate the significant progress that has been achieved through determined advocacy, practical action and enlightened policymaking.


But, we must also remember that — in too many countries and in too many societies — women remain second-class citizens, denied their fundamental rights, deprived of legitimate opportunity.


Although the gender gap in education is closing, far too many girls are still denied schooling, leave prematurely, or complete school with few skills and fewer opportunities.


Women and girls continue to endure unacceptable discrimination and violence, often at the hand of intimate partners or relatives.  In the home and at school, in the workplace and in the community, being female too often means being vulnerable.


That is why I launched my UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, along with its Network of Men Leaders.  And that is why I have appointed a Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.  We are working to end impunity and change mindsets.


Another urgent concern is women’s and children’s health.  Too many women still die giving birth to new life.  Too many children die from preventable illnesses.


Last year, at the [Millennium Development Goals] summit, Member States and the philanthropic community pledged strong support for my Global Strategy to improve the health of women and children over the next four years.


In the area of decision-making, we see more women, in more countries, taking their rightful seat in parliament.  Yet fewer than 10 per cent of countries have female Heads of State or Government.


And even where women are prominent in politics, they are still severely underrepresented at the highest levels of business and industry.


I am pleased to see such a strong representation of women leaders here today.  But I am sure you are all aware that this is the exception, not the rule.


Inequality and discrimination do not only occur in someone else’s country or culture.


Women and girls experience them everywhere.  All the time.  It is our job to change that.


Here at the United Nations, I have increased the number of women in senior leadership posts by more than 40 per cent.  More than one third of my senior management group is now female.


As Geena Davis said so eloquently at the launch of UN Women last week: “If girls can see it, they can be it.”


We still have a long way to go to achieve similar representation in middle management — but we are committed.


Tomorrow I will speak to business leaders about empowering women in their boardrooms and up and down their supply chains.


One year ago today, we launched the Global Compact Women’s Empowerment Principles under the slogan “Equality Means Business”.


One hundred and sixty companies have now signed on.  But we need thousands more to reach a tipping point.


Today we launch another exciting effort — the Financial Independence through Entrepreneurship (FITE) initiative, which aims to help women in the developing world to start or expand businesses.


I like the acronym — FITE.  This is what we all must do on behalf of women and girls.


I thank Jane Wurwand, founder and owner of Dermalogica, who will speak this afternoon, for providing leadership and a start-up grant to get the campaign going.


“JoinFITE” will link business and the philanthropic community with women entrepreneurs through the microlending website kiva.org.


It is one of a growing list of examples of business recognizing that investing in women is good for the bottom line, businesses such as Intel and Merck — also represented here today — that have strong corporate social responsibility programmes to empower women.


Last week, the new Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet, made an interesting observation.  She told us that a recent study found that the Fortune 500 companies with the highest number of women on their boards were 53 per cent more profitable than those with the fewest women board members.  I hope you will remember this!


Investing in women is not just right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.


Ms. Bachelet is not here today because she is in Liberia, celebrating International Women’s Day with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s only female Head of State.


She is travelling with Kathy Bushkin Calvin, CEO of the UN Foundation, to see first hand the impact of another exciting partnership programme called “Girl Up”.


Girl Up gives American girls the opportunity to give financial support and solidarity to adolescent girls abroad.


It is helping them to grow up safe, educated and empowered, investing in them so they can grow to be the leaders of tomorrow, leaders like you, here in this room, today.


You know, and I know, that women must have full and equal participation in all areas of public and private life.  Only then can we hope to achieve the sustainable, peaceful and just society promised in the United Nations Charter.


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For information media • not an official record