Press Conference by Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality, Women’s Empowerment

22 September 2010

Press Conference by Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality, Women’s Empowerment

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

Press Conference by Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality, Women’s Empowerment

The political commitment to achieve better conditions for women must be backed by a financial commitment from United Nations Member States, including generating the minimum start-up budget of $500 million to get the world body’s new unified gender entity — “UN Women” — up and running by January 2011, the agency’s newly appointed chief said today.

“The world we have in front of us is not small, but we believe that the support countries have made to UN Women will make an important difference,” said Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, at a Headquarters press conference.  She added: “So, I would like, through you, to urge Member States to make this investment a reality [and] to back their political commitment with the necessary financial contribution.”

She explained that the creation of UN Women provided an opportunity to accelerate the efforts of the United Nations system to drive progress in meeting the needs of women and girls worldwide, including in areas such as gender equality, women’s empowerment and the eradication of violence against women.  While the Organization had made advances in those areas, UN Women would act as a “single driver” directing activities and confronting challenges concerning gender equality, including fragmentation and inadequate funding of gender-focused mechanisms and targets.

Ms. Bachelet announced that UN Women — established in July by a unanimous decision taken by the General Assembly — would officially start its work on 2 January 2011, at which point the entity would be announcing its priorities.  Problems that it needed to address, in coordination with Member States, United Nations agencies and civil society, included violence against women and girls, maternal mortality, the low level of women’s political participation and the lack of economic security for women.

Noting that women were among the hardest hit following the global economic crisis, she said: “ILO [International Labour Organization] has defined that more than 18.7 million women have become unemployed; and also we all know that even when women are employed, they still have very low incomes.”

Asked how the November 2010 elections of UN Women’s Executive Board would ensure transparency, as well as the representation of developing nations, she said that it would be up to the Member States to decide who would be part of that panel.  At the same time, UN Women would promote transparency by working with the private sector and civil society in developing strategic plans.

Asked how she would improve women’s conditions in countries where women had no rights and where UN Women would be ignored, Ms. Bachelet said that she was aware of the challenges, but that an enormous number of Member States had supported the creation of the new entity.  As such, she would be calling on them to adhere to their political commitments.  Nevertheless, she would be confronting the challenges on a case-by-case basis, focusing on priorities such as maternal mortality and pushing hard to achieve realistic goals.  “There is no one single answer,” she added.

As to how she would promote women’s rights in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, where challenges existed that differed from those in the Western world, she said that she understood women’s rights were advancing more quickly in some areas than others, but UN Women would be working with the rest of the United Nations system, including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to improve their conditions and avoid human rights abuses against women in areas of conflict.

Asked if, based on her experience as President of Chile from 2006 to 2010, there were any policies concerning women’s and children’s issues that Chile had developed which she would consider useful, she said that, while she did not believe in “recipes” and that every country would require its own solutions, Chile could share its education policies, as well as those concerning maternal health, and nurseries and kindergartens, which aimed to mitigate inequalities present at birth.

Asked her view about the notion of pay equity and “equal pay for comparable work” rather than “equal pay for equal work”, she said that issue needed to be analysed, but that she supported “levelling the playing field”.  She noted that today’s biggest problem concerning women’s employment was that only 40 per cent of women were employed on average globally, with the statistic decreasing to 20 per cent in regions like Africa and Asia.

Regarding how she was going to aid in the efforts to end violence against women, she said that strong legislation and the implementation of that legislation was needed.  At the same time, it was also necessary to educate individuals from an early age concerning respectful ways of solving conflicts and preventing violence.

Asked why maternal health was lagging behind, as well as whether recent massive rapes in Democratic Republic of the Congo were symptomatic of women’s larger problems, Ms. Bachelet said that both issues showed that women’s rights were not respected as they should be.  Therefore, one of the United Nations priorities was to make women more visible instead of second-class citizens.

Specifically on improving women’s health in poor areas, she emphasized that there were many strategies that were well-known and could be implemented, such as controlling pregnancy, improving nutrition and education levels, and developing a transport system to bring rural women to health facilities.  As for the rapes in Democratic Republic of the Congo, she said those acts revealed that women were seen as people without rights and that establishing State authority in areas of conflict would be the most effective way to deal with the lawlessness.

As to her view regarding the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers, she said that rapes needed to be condemned no matter where they occurred or who committed them, and that the United Nations was working to ensure that it was considered a war crime.

Asked whether UN Women would be dealing with the issue of migrant women in Western countries, Ms. Bachelet said that it would be a priority, given that the rights, particularly economic rights, of women in migration were often negatively affected.  In addition, UN Women would be coordinating with the special agencies of the United Nations that dealt with migration.

Asked how she saw herself contributing to the enhancement of women within the Security Council, she said that she would like for women to be better represented on all levels.  More women everywhere, including in the Security Council, in order to offer both genders’ perspectives and experiences.

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