Press Conference on Economic and Social Council Event: ‘Engaging Philanthropy to Promote Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment’

22 February 2010

Press Conference on Economic and Social Council Event: ‘Engaging Philanthropy to Promote Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment’

22 February 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Economic and Social Council Event: ‘Engaging Philanthropy

to Promote Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment’


A duchess, an Oscar winner, a diplomat and the head of a corporate foundation joined two United Nations officials at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon to urge philanthropists to focus on women’s empowerment as an effective way to boost socio-economic conditions around the world.

Before their appearance in a special event entitled “Engaging philanthropy to promote gender equality and women's empowerment”, organized by the Economic and Social Council, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York; Geena Davis, Academy Award-winning Actor and Founder, See Jane; the Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, Morten Wetland of Norway; and Mary P. Quinn, the Senior Manager of the Avon Foundation for Women, spoke to the press.  Princess Madeleine of Sweden was introduced in the audience.

“It is well recognized that women and women’s leadership are essential to build strong economies, more stable societies and achieve internationally agreed goals for human rights and development,” Inés Alberdi, Executive Director of United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) said as she opened the press conference.

“Today’s event is both a celebration of current and emerging partnerships and a call to action for many larger scale collaborations.  It is through such partnerships that we will be able to achieve equality, inclusion and a more just and stable world for women -- and for men and children,” she added.

She pointed to a project helping Maasai women in Kenya gain economic rights and another one encouraging businesses in Egypt to gain a “gender equity seal” as examples of the benefits such partnerships had already provided.

Amir Dossal, Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Partnerships, said that the Economic and Social Council event was expected to bring together some 300 representatives of corporate and non-corporate foundations, private sector companies and civil society organizations that had a particular interest in the areas of gender empowerment and women’s equality.

It was co-organized by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the United Nations Office for Partnerships and UNIFEM, in collaboration with the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy.  The discussions would explore collaborative opportunities to boost gender empowerment and women’s equality worldwide.

He said the event was particularly important to Secretary-General Ban Ki‑moon, who would open it, since it was taking place just ahead of efforts to re‑strategize the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Ms. Alberdi said that in the coming weeks, partnership between UNIFEM and the United Nations Global Compact would bring the effort to a whole new level, with an all-day 9 March symposium called “Equality Means Business”, which will launch the Women’s Empowerment Principles -- seven steps companies could take to empower women “from the boardroom to each link on the supply chain”.

Ms. Davis, whom Ms. Alberdi introduced as a new UNIFEM partner working to change the way media represented women and girls, regretted that in the new millennium, stereotyped portrayals of women and girls in the media remained rife.  In addition, for every female character in films, she said, there were three male characters, a ratio that had remained constant since 1946.

Sexually revealing clothing for women and girls was as common in G-rated movies as R-rated movies, she added.  She urged all sectors to work together to change the situation. “Real change happens when you reach the tipping point, and it will take all of us together to get there”, she said.

Ms. Ferguson, a keynote speaker at today’s event, said she spoke as a mother when she stressed that “education, education, education is key”.  She related the story of a young woman from Ethiopia who had been raped by four men, one of whom wanted to coerce her into marriage.  She was able to gain her freedom and go on to help other women in her country avoid a similar fate.  Education, she said, was the key to advancing her cause.

Ambassador Wetland said it was important to see the empowerment of women as not just a human rights issue, but also as a development issue.  The fact that Norway had 80 per cent of its women participating in the workplace and one of the world’s healthiest economies showed the benefits of women fully participating in society.  “If you do not promote women’s advancement, you undermine the prospects for growth and prosperity,” he said.

Finally, Ms. Quinn announced the awarding of a second gift from the Avon Empowerment Fund to the Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, in the amount of $250,000, following a previous $1 million grant, the largest one-year grant received by the Fund from the private sector.  The latest grant would be used to develop a model programme to combat gender-based violence in Mexico, by targeting children and adolescents at an age when their gender identities were being developed.

In response to correspondent’s questions, Ms. Alberdi acknowledged it was difficult to get money for women’s advancement, but UNIFEM had been growing year after year, so she was optimistic, particularly given the establishment of the unified gender entity in the United Nations.  Ms. Ferguson said that, if Governments could be made to understand the full economic value of women’s empowerment, they would devote more money to education.

Answering questions about the new United Nations gender entity, Ms. Alberdi could not give an exact date for the appointment of its head, although she affirmed it was a priority for the Organization that the new structure be in place by the end of the sixty-fourth General Assembly.  Mr. Wetland added that a decision was near and establishing the new entity was in everyone’s interest, though there were some remaining details that had to be dealt with.

The panel welcomed the appointment of former European Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström as Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, expressing the hope that she would be strongly supported by all stakeholders in fighting violence against women.

Asked, finally, about the possibility of an international regulatory system to ensure the education of girls, Mr. Wetland said that the international community was now strengthening mechanisms that could measure how well countries were carrying out their obligations under the variety of international instruments that already existed.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.