Effectively Addressing Equality, Empowerment Requires Engagement of Both Genders, Deputy Secretary-General Tells ‘Women for a Better World’ Conference

29 March 2010

Effectively Addressing Equality, Empowerment Requires Engagement of Both Genders, Deputy Secretary-General Tells ‘Women for a Better World’ Conference

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

Effectively Addressing Equality, Empowerment Requires Engagement of Both Genders,


Deputy Secretary-General Tells ‘Women for a Better World’ Conference


Following is UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks at the Spain-Africa Conference “Women for a Better World”, in Valencia on 27 March:

I am honoured to address this important meeting.  I welcome the focus on Africa and in particular on women and girls.  In this year in which the United Nations is seeking to mobilize the world behind the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] ‑‑ and holding an MDG Summit in September ‑‑ this is a timely gathering indeed.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment are central to all our progress and hopes.  This year marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action.  Since the adoption of that landmark text, the world has made a lot of progress in empowering women, increasing their role in the economy and advancing their education and their sexual and reproductive health.

More national machineries, women’s organizations, private companies and individuals than ever before are engaged in addressing issues related to gender equality and women’s empowerment.  We are seeing much stronger and more creative partnerships between Governments, civil society, the private sector and others.  One of the most significant achievements has occurred in the education sector:  we have nearly closed the gender gap in access to education, especially at the primary level.

There has also been notable progress in women’s political empowerment and their role in decision-making.  In the last decade, the number of women parliamentarians at the national level has increased by 8 per cent, to a global average of 18.4 per cent.  These numbers are significant.  When women assume decision-making positions, they are more likely than men to address issues of interest to women.

This is evident, for example, in Liberia and Rwanda ‑‑ post-conflict countries where women have a greater say in government and are using this opportunity to promote the engagement of women in all sectors of public life.  I should stress, dear friends, that when I say that women are addressing women’s issues, they are doing so not just for women, but for men and women alike.

Progress has also occurred in addressing poverty among women, especially in devising new approaches and instruments for ensuring women’s protection.  To cite just one example, the Kenyan Women’s Finance Trust has used small loans and other innovations to enable more than 100,000 low-income Kenyan women to run small businesses.

There is a new determination to end violence against women and girls.  At the global level, the international community has put in place a strong and comprehensive legal and policy framework for action.  The Secretary-General launched a campaign, “UNiTE to end Violence against Women” to highlight the link between ending violence against women and girls, and achieving the MDGs, and, in order to spur national campaigns and action.

In other respects, too, the United Nations system is responding vigorously.  In addition to the landmark resolution 1325 (2000) on women and peace and security, over the past years the Security Council has adopted three further significant resolutions ‑‑ 1820, 1888 and 1889, to signal its resolve to intensify its efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls during armed conflict.

We should be proud of these successes.  But, we also face critical constraints.  Women around the world continue to bear a disproportionate share of the caregiving work in their households and communities.  Unfortunately, the value and costs of such work remains largely unmeasured, and its contribution to economic and social development has not been adequately recognized in economic terms.  Moreover, the dimensions and effects of the gender imbalance in caregiving have not been adequately measured.

The unequal sharing of responsibilities between men and women reflects stereotypical assumptions about the role of women and men in society ‑‑ and the stubborn persistence of those assumptions.  Inequality, whether in the private or public sphere, has adverse impacts on women, as well as men, their families, the economy and society as a whole.  It has implications for equality of opportunity in education, in the labour market and in public life.  The uneven yoke of domestic and caregiving responsibilities is one of the great pieces of unfinished business in our long-term quest for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

There is also a persistent, troubling gender gap in the response to HIV and AIDS.  Women account for half the people living with HIV and AIDS worldwide.  In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 60 per cent of those infected are women.  Often, such vulnerability is beyond a woman’s individual control.  Adolescent girls are at particular disadvantage.  Violence against women and girls contributes to their vulnerability.

And yet, while there has been a significant increase in initiatives in all parts of the world to address violence against women and girls, such efforts are often not comprehensive or sustained, and there continues to be insufficient coordination among relevant sectors.  Rape and sexual violence have tragically become weapons of war.

While the United Nations system and other partners have made progress in implementing Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), and in building the capacity to mainstream gender considerations into peacebuilding, peacekeeping, disarmament, demobilization and reconstruction, much more remains to be done.  Warring factions continue to blatantly disregard human rights laws, and efforts to strengthen accountability remain poor, allowing perpetrators of gender-based violence to escape.

Progress on maternal and child health has also proven very difficult to achieve.  More than half a million women and girls are estimated to die during pregnancy and childbirth every year ‑‑ 99 per cent of them in developing countries.  In many countries, the age at marriage remains low, thereby subjecting young brides to abuse, early and frequent pregnancy and the risks of maternal ill health and mortality.  And a terrible conundrum only compounds the problem:  accurate knowledge of reproductive health risks and options is out of reach of the many who need it most.

There has been a limited assessment of resource allocations to translate global commitments on gender equality and women’s empowerment into action at the national level.  Take, for example, Goal 3 on Gender ‑‑ it has been estimated that the financing gap for achieving Goal 3 in low-income countries could reach $23.8 billion in 2015.

The consequences of such shortfalls are further aggravated by the combined effects of the global food, climate, energy and economic crises.  This, in turn, means that improvements in the lives of the world’s most vulnerable women are, unacceptably, happening at a very slow pace.  In some countries, hard-fought gains are being eroded.  The challenges are most severe in the least developed countries, land-locked developing countries and some small island developing states.

Let me turn now to some of the opportunities for action as we look ahead.

Currently, back in New York, the United Nations General Assembly is considering a proposal by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on how to consolidate the current four gender-specific entities of the United Nations into one strong, dynamic and effective composite entity.  The entity will provide coherent support to intergovernmental normative and policy-setting work and will have a strengthened and integrated operational capacity to respond to Member States’ needs at the national level.

Following almost three years of discussion on this particular reform agenda, I hope the General Assembly will soon take decisive action.  Women and girls around the world will not stand to benefit from any unnecessary delays.  I count on all of you, dear sisters, for support.

Another important occasion later this year in September will be the United Nations General Assembly’s High-level plenary meeting on the MDGs.  This meeting offers an opportunity to agree on, at the highest political level, a concrete, results-oriented plan to accelerate progress in order to achieve the goals by the agreed deadline of 2015.  And in October, the United Nations Security Council will commemorate the tenth anniversary of its resolution 1325 (2000) on women and peace and security.

We must make the most of these important events.  We must identify the needs in each country; advocate for budget allocations, and closely monitor programme impact.  We should do more to develop locally relevant approaches, since the challenges across regions and countries differ in their scope and intensity.  What may work in Europe may not in Africa.

For example, diaspora associations, through their wide-ranging economic, political and social connections, have emerged as a mechanism for financing for gender equality and women’s empowerment in countries of origin.  Remittances have become the means through which many women in developing countries have become empowered.  These avenues are particularly important in Africa and other parts of the developing world.

The economic, political and social connections that diasporas maintain with their countries of origin make them a potential source of financing gender-responsive poverty reduction and economic development in countries of origin.

Women’s organizations, which have been such a central part of the global mobilization for gender equality, will continue to play a key role in bringing critical issues onto the global agenda, monitoring progress at the national level, influencing research, policy and strategy development, and holding Governments accountable.

Transformation is possible ‑‑ economically and socially.  But there is a need to increase the level of financial investment and to scale up what works.  We must also expand our advocacy beyond the gender sector.  Effectively addressing gender equality and women’s empowerment requires the engagement of all sectors ‑‑ and both genders.

While we strive to do better, still we must also consolidate our gains so that we do not lose the momentum of the past 15 years or leave ourselves vulnerable to crises and shocks.  We must be proactive; we should never wait to be empowered; we must empower ourselves, and empower all women to take their rightful place in political and public life.

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