Gender Equality, Women’s Empowerment Not Only Just, but ‘Vital’ to Achieving Anti-poverty Goals, Says Deputy Secretary-General to Copenhagen Conference

25 March 2010

Gender Equality, Women’s Empowerment Not Only Just, but ‘Vital’ to Achieving Anti-poverty Goals, Says Deputy Secretary-General to Copenhagen Conference

25 March 2010
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Gender Equality, Women’s Empowerment Not Only Just, but ‘Vital’ to Achieving

Anti-poverty Goals, Says Deputy Secretary-General to Copenhagen Conference

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks to the MDG-3 Conference on Women’s Empowerment and Employment, in Copenhagen, 25 March:

It is a pleasure to be here with you today.  Thank you for coming together to consider recommendations for the MDG High-level Plenary Meeting, to be held in New York in September. 

I am heartened that Ambassador [Carsten] Staur, who is with us today and who most ably serves as one of the two co-facilitators of the intergovernmental preparatory process of the September meeting, has agreed to take these recommendations to the attention of Member States back at the United Nations in New York.

I would like to thank the Danish government for convening this meeting, and for their creative initiative to back MDG 3 with their Torch Campaign.  I am honoured to be a torch bearer for the cause of gender equality and women’s empowerment. 

September’s High-Level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly will review progress in the achievement of all the MDGs.  It aims to galvanize stakeholders -- Governments, civil society, foundations, businesses, social and religious faith-based movements, and the United Nations itself.

With only five years left until 2015, the High-Level Meeting is a prime opportunity to recalibrate efforts, identify gaps, commit to a concrete action agenda, and chart the course for accelerating progress.

In the coming days, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will establish an MDG Advocacy Group of eminent personalities, whose role will be to mobilize global support in scaling up efforts to achieve the goals.

It is a practical necessity, and a moral imperative, to keep our promise to billions of the world’s poor and vulnerable people.

And it is also an important opportunity to renew commitments to gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Issues of gender equality and the empowerment of women should not be confined to MDG 3 only, but considered across all the MDGs.

It is crucial that this is reflected in the discussions at September’s high-level meeting.  Delivering on women’s rights and women’s opportunities is not only just and fair, but is also vital if we are to meet all the Millennium Development Goals.   

True development hinges on significant progress towards enforcing women’s rights and eliminating the scourge of violence against women and girls. 

Increasing gender equality and women’s empowerment, as a means of accelerating growth and development, is an end in itself.  It allows individual women and girls to enjoy their full human rights, and it leads to more stable economies and stronger societies.

That might be common knowledge in this room, but unfortunately, it is not widely put into practice. 

The United Nations is working to empower women in all kinds of ways.  Let me tell you about one of these, which impressed the Secretary-General on a recent trip.

Burkina Faso in West Africa is one of those countries facing huge economic and social challenges.  In rural areas, you will witness a common scene which is mirrored throughout much of Africa -- girls and women grinding grain in a hollow log.

This back-breaking and time-consuming work is necessary because most of Burkina Faso’s 8,000 rural villages lack electricity.

But over the past five years, the United Nations has introduced a revolutionary piece of technology to 200 of these villages.

It is called the Multifunctional Platform, and essentially, it’s a simple engine that runs on diesel or biofuel.  It can pump water, and it grinds grain and crushes nuts and seeds in minutes, saving hours of labour. 

This machine can generate electricity, run welding equipment and charge batteries for cell phones and computers. 

It creates time -- time for girls to go to school, and for their mothers to visit a health clinic, or to think about ways to sell their agricultural products.  Or even to take a well-deserved rest. 

And it creates revenue.  The women who run it -- the women who own it -- get business training, earn an income and gain a new standing in the community.

This is empowerment in action. With initiatives such as these, we can improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

As this example shows, gender equality and women’s empowerment are strongly linked with development, and must be considered across all the MDGs, not only confined to MDG 3.  

When countries review the MDGs at the national level, they should seek opportunities to include sex-disaggregated data and analysis, to allow the full picture to emerge.  They should also seek opportunities to mainstream gender equality perspectives in their national MDG reports.  

This will give them a statistical basis to introduce specific national targets and indicators -- a proven and effective way of giving greater visibility and prominence to the gender dimensions of all the MDGs.

Progress in achieving the MDGs has been uneven. 

There have been major successes in combating extreme poverty and hunger, improving school enrolment and child health, expanding access to safe water, strengthening control of malaria and tuberculosis, and providing increased access to HIV treatment. 

Between 1999 and 2004, sub-Saharan Africa achieved one of the largest-ever reductions in deaths from measles.  It has also shown the fastest growth in primary school enrolment:  from 58 to 74 per cent in a decade.

These successes have taken place in some of the least developed countries, demonstrating that the MDGs are indeed achievable with the right policies, adequate levels of investment, and international support.

But without additional efforts, several of the MDGs will not be attained in many countries. 

On MDG 1:  the encouraging trend in eradicating hunger since the early 1990s was reversed in 2008, largely due to higher food prices. Children bear the brunt of this.  More than one quarter of children in developing regions are underweight for their age, stunting their prospects for survival, growth and long-term development. 

On MDG 5:  Progress in improving maternal health has been very slow, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.  Over half a million women still die every year in child birth, or as a result of complications from pregnancy or delivery.

These shortfalls are not because the MDGs are unattainable.

We are off course because of unmet commitments, inadequate resources, and a lack of focus and accountability.  These have resulted in failure to deliver on the finance, services, technical support and partnerships needed.  These failures have been aggravated by the global food and economic crises. 

Today, we know what works.

Adequate, consistent and predictable financial support is crucial.  We need to broaden and strengthen partnerships and support international frameworks for debt relief, trade, taxation, technology and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Aid to developing countries in 2010 is expected to reach record levels, after increasing by 35 per cent since 2004.  But it will still be less than the world’s major aid donors promised five years ago at the Gleneagles and Millennium +5 summits.

Just as important as this financial support is a coherent and predictable policy environment, both at national and international levels.

I have listened with great interest to today’s discussions.  We have been given much food for thought, as well as some excellent policy advice. 

The Secretary-General and I are strongly committed to ensuring that the United Nations provides every possible support to Governments and civil society in order to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment. 

The United Nations is establishing a new composite Gender Entity, which will integrate our Organization’s work on gender and will improve coherence in two areas:  

It will provide increased support to the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, and the Commission on the Status of Women.

And it will strengthen our capacity to provide assistance for Member States to take action at the national level.

We want to see greater life opportunities for women and girls in developing countries.

They must be equipped to make choices for themselves. 

They should be able to look forward to fulfilling working lives. 

And, they should have equal opportunities to take on leadership roles and shape a better world for all.

I thank you each sincerely for your participation.

The conclusions of today’s meeting are clearly an important contribution to September’s high-level talks in New York.

I look forward to working with all partners to accelerate action on gender issues and to meet all of the MDGs by 2015.

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