Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 4 April 2011 - Secretary-General's remarks to Global Colloquium of University Presidents: Empowering Women to Change the World [as prepared for delivery]President Gutmann, Distinguished University Presidents, Ladies and Gentlemen;
It is a great pleasure to be here, to be invited to talk about one of my top priorities, one of the UN's top priorities.
Let me start by expressing my appreciation to President Amy Gutmann for her contributions and leadership in addressing some of the most delicate challenges of our time - both in her individual capacity and as President of this important institution.
Over the past six years, the Global Colloquium of University Presidents has helped the United Nations generate momentum for change on key global challenges - from migration to climate change, from academic freedom to the role of science in improving the human condition.
At last year's colloquium at Yale, President Gutmann and I talked briefly about what the topic of this year's gathering should be.
It was a short conversation because the answer was so obvious to us both that we decided on the spot that this year we would focus on empowering women to change the world.
Indeed, gender equality and women's empowerment are fundamental to the very identity of the United Nations. And universities can play a significant role in advancing this crucial agenda.
Last year the General Assembly agreed to create UN Women - four UN women's organizations merged into one strong entity - designed to deliver on behalf of the world's women.
Last month we hosted the official launch of UN Women in the General Assembly Hall and welcomed its dynamic new head, Michelle Bachelet, the former President of Chile.
We are fortunate indeed to have such a global leader.
Tomorrow, Ms. Bachelet will talk to you about her vision for UN Women.
Today I would like to talk more generally - about why we need this organization and how your universities - and the world of education in general - can contribute to its success.
We live in exciting times.
Worrying, yes. Volatile, yes.
But steeped in possibility.
We have only to scan the news headlines to appreciate scale of the changes sweeping the world.
In Côte d'Ivoire, the international community stood firm for democracy.
Late last year, the incumbent president was defeated in free and fair elections, then refused to step down.
Women marched in peace to ask him to go. Seven were killed.
A million people have been displaced. A thriving economy brought to a standstill.
Throughout, the international community has stood firm and steadily increased the pressure.
Our peacekeepers are risking their lives to protect civilians throughout the dramatic chapter that is playing out as we speak. Securing a democratic outcome has been costly but is essential.
Africa alone will see 16 presidential elections in the coming year and 6 more in 2012.
It has been vital for the international community to insist on this fundamental principle.
We see even more dramatic events in North Africa and the Middle East.
Two weeks ago I visited Egypt and Tunisia.
Two countries where the actions of ordinary men and women have lit a torch throughout a region - a shining light of hope.
Hope of change, of release from years of oppression, stagnation, and neglect of their legitimate aspirations for a better life.
These events have come suddenly, but they should be no surprise.
For the past decade, the United Nations Arab Human Development Reports have warned of pressures building to explosion.
Now, across the region, people are taking inspiration from each other and calling for change.
From the beginning, I have asked their leaders to listen to the voices of their people.
This is something I repeat in every meeting, every phone call I make with leaders throughout the region and beyond.
They must engage in genuine dialogue - a national dialogue that respects the hopes and demands of their people, men, and women.
I never fail to discuss with leaders how they can increase gender equality and do more for women's empowerment, women's equal rights.
The people who came in their thousands to Tahrir Square in Cairo and, before that, to Bouazizi Square in Tunis - renamed in honour of the vegetable seller whose suicide sparked the protests - were from all walks of life, men, and women.
In conversation after conversation in Cairo and Tunis, women told me that they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with men - standing up for change, for rights, for opportunity.
They expect to take their share in making the revolution succeed, having their fair share of power, making decisions, making policy.
I told them that women represent half the population, they hold up half the sky, and should have their fair share in making the decisions that affects their lives and their countries.
I met with many representatives of change in Egypt and Tunisia.
Women were always among them. Not always in equal numbers. But always outspoken and eloquent in defence of their aspirations and their rights.
To me, this is one of the most significant aspects of what we are seeing in the people's movements in North Africa and the Middle East.
But, as we saw when women and girls marched to Tahrir Square on the 8th of March, and were met with insults and violence from men, there is still a wide gulf between aspiration and reality.
This is why we need UN Women. And it is why we need the engagement of all sectors of society - governments, the business sector, communities and individuals, and you, the world of academia.
This year marks one hundred years since the first anniversary of International Women's Day.
Women's rights have come a long way in the past century - through determined advocacy, practical action, and enlightened policy making.
And let me be clear, most of what has been gained has been thanks to the efforts of women themselves.
But, in too many countries and too many societies, women are still second-class citizens, denied fundamental rights, deprived of legitimate opportunity.
Too many women, in too many countries, have no other role beyond marrying and producing children at a young age, then taking care of those families.
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.
Two-thirds of illiterate adults are female.
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.
In just 28 countries are there more than 30 per cent of women in parliament.
Worldwide on average only one in six of cabinet ministers is a woman.
And even where women are prominent in politics, they are still severely under-represented at the highest levels of business and industry.
Furthermore, in the home and at school, in the workplace and in the community, being female still means being vulnerable.
Women and girls continue to endure unacceptable discrimination and violence, often at the hand of intimate partners or relatives.
That is why I launched my UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign, along with its Network of Men Leaders.
And it is why I have appointed a Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
We are working to end impunity and change mindsets.
But, ladies and gentlemen, as one of the young people I met in Egypt said: “Change came from within and must keep coming from within.”
Inequality and discrimination do not only occur in someone else's country or culture.
Women and girls experience them everyw
Statements on 4 April 2011