|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Deputy Secretary-General, at Launch of African Women’s Decade, Describes
Occasion as ‘Our Chance to Put Principle into Practice’
Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks at the African Union Ministerial Launch of the African Women’s Decade in Nairobi, today, 15 October:
I am honoured to be here for the launch of the African Women’s Decade, and I bring special greetings to you all from His Excellency Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Gender equality is a pillar of the African Union’s constitution. Empowering women is a moral imperative, a question of fundamental rights. It is also sound policy. This is our chance to put principle into practice.
Many African leaders participated in the Millennium Development Goals Summit last month in New York. We saw new resolve backed with resources, major concrete commitments to meet the Millennium Development Goals. We also saw growing acceptance of the need to integrate initiatives and to focus on investments that promise the best returns — particularly those that simultaneously advance health, education, agriculture, entrepreneurship and sustainable energy.
Investing in women and girls is one of the greatest investments we can make. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are not add-ons — they are integral to development. Furthermore, they will have a multiplier effect on sustainable growth and provide resilience to future challenges.
Let us therefore work to empower Africa’s women and girls. Let us make them equal partners in the development and well-being of this continent — in reducing poverty and hunger, and achieving all the Millennium Development Goals.
Today’s launch of the African Women’s Decade coincides with International Rural Women’s Day. Rural women do most of the agricultural work in developing countries. They endure the worst working conditions, with low pay and little or no social protection.
Africa is no exception. Rural women produce most of Africa’s food, yet they are often excluded from land tenure and the credit and business services they need to prosper. They are the primary users and custodians of local natural resources, but seldom have a voice on national and local bodies that decide how these resources are managed. They are the care-givers and managers of households, but rarely share these responsibilities equally with men, or have a say in major household decisions.
We need to right these wrongs. We must ensure that rural women can access the legal, financial and technological tools they need to progress from subsistence agriculture to productive agriculture. This can provide the platform for Africa’s development for the next generation.
Likewise, let us invest in all Africa’s women and girls. Eradicating Africa’s crippling poverty means providing better social protection for women and girls, who make up the majority of the poor. And increasing prosperity means creating better income-generating opportunities for women — enabling them to make better lives for themselves and their families.
Women need equal opportunity to employment and unhindered access to credit and business services. And their daughters — your daughters — need education. Women still make up over two thirds of the 800 million adults in Africa who cannot read and write. This is denying women the chance to work, to prosper, to assert their rights and take their place as equal participants in society.
It also denies their countries an invaluable asset. In particular, limiting girl’s access to subjects such as science and technology restricts the innovation that will drive development and international competitiveness. Let us ensure that the young women of today can contribute equally to the society of tomorrow.
Educating women and girls is fundamental to the society we want to create. So is investing in their health. Maternal mortality rates in Africa are the highest in the world. So is the prevalence of HIV and AIDS. More than half of those infected are women. Furthermore — and most worrying — three quarters of Africans aged between 15 and 24 living with HIV-AIDS are young women. The statistics tell a shocking story.
Young women are powerless in negotiating safer sex. Let us empower them. Healthy women and girls means healthy societies, healthy nations. Solutions for improving women’s health already exist and are well-known. They include increased primary care, skilled birth attendants, prenatal check-ups, more and better clinics, immunization and vaccination, information on reproductive health.
This decade is the chance to implement these solutions. At the Millennium Development Goals Summit, the Secretary-General launched his Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health. This partnership of Governments, the private sector, foundations and civil society is backed by more than $40 billion. It will ensure more money for health — and more health for the money.
Let me now turn to a topic that pains me, that should pain us all — violence; violence against women and girls. It is endemic in our societies. We must unite to end it. It comes in many forms. Domestic violence, the abuse of vulnerable young girls, genital cutting, rape. Such crimes can never be rationalized as culture or tradition. Wherever they occur they should be condemned. They should be prosecuted. And most of all, they should be prevented.
This decade is a call for Africa to act to eliminate violence against women. The world has reacted with horror to the recent mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But this is just the tip of an enormous iceberg.
African leaders must take seriously their commitments under the Africa-UNiTE campaign to End Violence against Women and Girls. We need national and local action to make women’s rights a reality, to end discriminatory traditional practices, and to end impunity for gender-based violence. Let us accept in our minds, and in our laws, that women are rightful and equal partners to be protected, to be respected and to be heard.
The beginning of the African Women’s Decade marks the tenth anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), which calls for greater efforts to include women in all conflict-resolution and peace processes. Women have suffered disproportionately in Africa’s conflicts. As well as being released from fear, they must be made full partners in ending conflict and building sustainable peace.
United Nations Member States have made significant commitments on gender equality. In July we reached an important new milestone with the establishment of UN Women, the new United Nations entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women. I am here today to say that UN Women will be your partner. We will promote the interests of women and girls throughout Africa — for the benefit of all Africans.
This is the decade for results, action backed by resources, policies and services. I am proud to be here at the beginning of this African Women’s Decade.
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