Deputy Secretary-General, in Remarks to UNESCO Future Forum, Calls Empowerment of Women ‘a Moral, Social and Economic Imperative’

13 September 2010

Deputy Secretary-General, in Remarks to UNESCO Future Forum, Calls Empowerment of Women ‘a Moral, Social and Economic Imperative’

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

Deputy Secretary-General, in Remarks to UNESCO Future Forum, Calls

Empowerment of Women ‘a Moral, Social and Economic Imperative’


Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Future Forum “Gender Equality:  the Missing Link? Rethinking the Internationally-Agreed Development Goals beyond 2015”, in Athens on 9 September:

I am honoured to join you for the UNESCO Future Forum series on gender equality.  And I am extremely pleased to be here in Greece.

UNESCO’s long-standing mandate is to cultivate peace in people’s minds.  How appropriate that you pursue that mission here in Athens, the cradle of Western philosophy and democracy.

And how relevant to the subject at hand.  Because gender inequalities also begin in people’s minds.  They can become hard-wired into our attitudes and behaviour from a very early age, and are passed on through the generations.  Our common goal of building peace and prosperity requires us to keep a sharp and consistent focus on this fundamental inequality.  It exists in every country, affects all our development goals, and has an impact on everyone — men, women and children alike.

This year, several intergovernmental processes are reviewing progress on both gender equality and the internationally-agreed development goals.  In particular, the Millennium Development Goals Summit meeting in New York later this month will give us an opportunity to assess progress and accelerate our efforts to achieve the MDGs.

There is general agreement that both global and national plans to achieve the MDGs by 2015 must integrate policies on gender equality and the empowerment of women.  The link is clear.  It has been stressed in countless reports and research findings, and affirmed repeatedly by Member States — in the Beijing Platform for Action, in the Millennium Declaration and in UNESCO’s Education for All objectives, to name just a few.

In this context, it might seem strange to ask whether gender equality is the missing link in development.  The obvious answer is that it is there, front and centre, it is not missing at all.

But we must acknowledge the difficulty in translating a normative framework into a fully operational reality.

Far too often, policies fail to deal with gender inequality or account for the different needs and experiences of men and women.

And far too often, Governments stop short of taking advantage of the multiplier effect of women’s empowerment.  That is why gender gaps in poverty, education, employment, health and human rights are still a reality, and are in some cases growing — even in rich countries.

The latest economic crises have only magnified this trend.  Indeed, they have had a disproportionate effect on the poor, which means that they have had a disproportionate effect on women.  Policies to deal with this crisis, in both developed and developing countries, must take gender inequality into account.

Member States, the United Nations, civil society and other stakeholders must systematically integrate a gender perspective into all their thinking and policymaking; into the way their institutions work; and into all their funding frameworks.

Anti-poverty policies must start from the fact that women make up the majority of those living in poverty.  They must target industries which employ mainly women.  They should focus on the informal economy, which is predominantly female.  And they should acknowledge that women’s work is more vulnerable to economic shocks.  Policies must improve women’s social and legal protection and raise awareness of the link between gender and poverty.

Health policies must recognize that maternal mortality is still the leading cause of death of women of child-bearing age across the developing world.  You are probably aware that this is the MDG that is lagging furthest behind.  We know how to prevent maternal and child deaths:  with prenatal check-ups; qualified birth attendants; and emergency care.

The Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, which will be launched later this month, is aimed at transforming this knowledge, these simple strategies, into action around the world.  Education policies must address the fact that women make up two thirds of the nearly 800 million illiterate adults in the world.  Everywhere, women and girls are more likely to be out of school.  In many countries, even when they have the chance to study, girls are denied opportunities to specialize in subjects like medicine or law.

Policies on sustainable development and climate change will not succeed if they fail to put women’s needs and priorities first.  Most farmers in the developing world are women, and women generate the majority of its food.  Women are the first to experience the effects of climate change.  They must, therefore, be fully involved in designing and implementing adequate strategies to comprehensively address this major global challenge.

It is a fundamental democratic principle that women should have an equal voice in making the decisions that affect their lives.  They must play a full part in setting priorities for development.  But development policies are still mainly formulated by men — because women are underrepresented in Government and other key decision-making institutions around the world.

Women must be there, on the ground floor of planning and strategizing.  This is key to any meaningful effort to help alleviate the gaps in gender equality, and in giving a new impetus to our work in achieving the MDGs by the 2015 target date, and beyond.

It is my firm conviction that gender equality and women’s empowerment will leave countries better prepared for economic, social and environmental challenges.

Here, the United Nations is doing its best to show the way ahead.  The General Assembly agreed last July to create a new United Nations agency, UN Women, which embodies our rethinking of the way we work for women.

UN Women will bring a new focus to our work to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and girls, to empower women, and to achieve equality between women and men everywhere.  It will support intergovernmental bodies in drawing up policies and setting standards.  It will support Member States in reaching those standards.  UN Women will also work with both women and men, girls and boys, to combat violence against women, the use of rape as a weapon of war, and the exclusion of women from conflict-resolution and peacebuilding, to name but a few.

As should be clear to all, gender equality is not just a matter for women, nor only a matter of development.  The goal of gender equality is yet to be attained, both North and South.

It encompasses the need for full support from all of society, and is the responsibility of men and boys alike.  In particular, men who play a central role in national decision-making institutions have a key responsibility in tackling this issue.

I stand before you to testify of the significant progress made in bringing about a more gender-balanced world.  Yet, there is still much more that together we can do if we are to attain the goal of gender equality and empowerment of women.  But, change should begin at home.  Change should begin in our minds.  Through education, information and awareness-raising, we must change attitudes and behaviour, and end discriminatory practices in every country, in every family, in every culture and in every situation.

Gender-based discrimination affects both women and men.  Women’s empowerment is a moral, social and economic imperative.  We cannot have sustainable development or lasting peace without women.

Let us work even harder to transform this essential truth into a palpable reality.

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