15 January 2015

Gender Equality for Women Benefits Men Too, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Barbershop Conference, Urging Stronger Role in Transformational Changes

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson's remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the Barbershop Conference on Changing the Discourse among Men on Gender Equality, in New York, today:

Thank you very much, distinguished moderator.  Mr. President, I think you gave a couple of good quick Twitter lines there at the end, and I hope they will be going around the world right now.

It’s a true pleasure for me to join you and be with you today at this unconventional and innovative gathering.  This must be the biggest barbershop conversation ever.  We are in for a close shave!  And today is one of the first times I have not felt uncomfortable at an all-male podium.  Thank you very much for this.

I would first like to commend the inspirational leadership of Iceland and Suriname on this.  It was not so long ago, in a shoeshine shop in New York about 200 yards from here, on a Saturday — we were dressed casually, both of us — that I met with Ambassador Mac-Donald, who enthusiastically introduced me to the concept for today’s event — at the consternation of the other people in that shoeshine shop!  In fact, he and my dear Nordic friend Ambassador Gunnarsdottir are the audacious driving forces — as you understand, evidently with the support of their Governments — behind this ground-breaking forum.  And I thank both of you for this.  You already got the applause that I would have suggested at this moment!  How about another round?

This Barbershop Conference aims to jolt our thinking, to make us dispel clichés, and in the end, of course, to change behaviour.  Basically, it is about making gender equality as much a cause for men as it is for women.  And I also applaud the focus today on ending violence against women and girls.  From conflict zones to the home, huge numbers of women and girls, as we all know, face — now, as we speak — unacceptable levels of abuse and violence.  And this affront to human dignity must be brought to an end.

This event takes place in the lead-up to the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.  And I’m glad UN-Women’s leader Phumzile [Mlambo-Ngcuka] and her colleagues are here today also.  We should support them in this great work they’re doing in bringing great attention to gender equality this year, 20 years after Beijing.  All around the world now there are events taking place as part of this campaign under the title: “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!”

In addition, the current review of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security is an opportunity to promote women’s role at the negotiation table and in peacebuilding work.  I have mediated, I think, in six different conflicts around the world, and I still haven’t seen a woman on the other side of the table.  And I think this is unacceptable.  I can assure you that on my side of the table there were women.

The Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and I are convinced that this must be the Century of Women and Girls.  It is up to us all to make this a reality.  And I think this meeting is part of this huge effort that will happen on so many fronts.

Today we are giving recognition to the important work of the HeForShe initiative, which is bringing one half of humanity in support of the other half, for the benefit of all.  Gender equality and women’s empowerment, as we all know, are key also to sustainable development for all, with which the Member States are now working diligently and, hopefully, coming out with a visionary, yet practical, set of goals by the end of September.

We also have ample evidence of how we all gain and how we all grow — socially, economically, politically and even, in a deeper sense, psychologically — from women’s empowerment and gender equality in our everyday lives.  At the same time, we have witnessed how painfully slow progress can be.

Twenty years ago, 12 per cent of parliamentarians in the world were women.  Today, 22 per cent of MPs [Members of Parliament] are women.  That’s nearly double, yes — of course.  But after 20 years, we are still at only at a ratio of 1 to 5 — it’s not enough.

Further, women’s participation in the labour force remains too low.  We know that economic growth is closely tied to the level of women’s engagement in the labour force, and the economic autonomy of women underpins their political and social rights.

When it comes to political representation and economic empowerment, there are still gaps also in constitutional and legislative provisions, even though nearly every country has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.  But, until we have a better balance among lawmakers, it is difficult to achieve balanced laws and results, it seems.

Now reaching that balance is going to mean that we — and I mean we men — have to play a stronger role in bringing about the necessary transformational change.  We must ensure representation of women on boards and panels, both in the public and the private sector.  We must put an end to tolerance of sexist behaviour or discriminatory practices against women.  We must stand up against violence against women.

In closing, I want to recall a defining moment for me personally on today’s theme.  I was, in the 70s and 80s, working with Prime Minister Olof Palme of Sweden, and he was once reviewing a draft speech with the title “Emancipation of Women”.  And he looked at the draft and he looked around at us: “You haven’t understood what this is all about.  Yes, it’s about emancipation of women.  But you must understand, this basically is about the emancipation of Man.”  Meaning, of course, the emancipation of mankind as a whole.  We are all benefitting, we are all strengthened, we are all empowered by gender equality.

And I would now end with the question:  isn’t it high time to convert such wisdom into reality?  This is potentially a liberating moment for all of us.  So let’s seize it.  Thank you very much.

For information media. Not an official record.