Secretary-General, at Korean Woman’s University, Urges Students to Realize ‘Compassionate Vision’ for Change

SG/SM/16768-WOM/2038
20 May 2015

Secretary-General, at Korean Woman’s University, Urges Students to Realize ‘Compassionate Vision’ for Change

Following are Secretary-General’s remarks at a special ceremony on receiving an Honorary Doctorate in women’s studies at Ewha University in Seoul today:

I commend President Choi Kyunghee for her visionary leadership of Ewha Woman’s University.  I feel especially moved by the privilege of receiving this Honorary Doctorate in women’s studies.  Thank you for this extraordinary recognition for me and the United Nations.  I humbly accept on behalf of the billions of women in the world who deserve greater empowerment, dignity and rights.  I am so touched and moved; that’s why I lost my voice.

It is so inspiring to be here.  Ewha is one of the oldest universities in Korea, not just among women’s colleges but of all institutions of higher learning.  Many great women have come before you, including Dr. Kim Ok-kil, who was a long time Rector of this University, and Dr. Kim Young-eui, whose name honours this significant hall where we meet today.

The United Nations has been fighting for the cause of women’s advancement for decades.  The Convention on the Elimination of [All Forms of] Discrimination against Women is one of our greatest accomplishments.  But for too long, the United Nations — which gave this Convention — did not implement it.  When I took office, there had only been a handful of female UN top officials in history.

Now one third of our peace envoys are women.  Many of them work in extremely tough environments — like South Sudan, Haiti and Lebanon.  Our Cyprus mission is also led by a woman Special Representative — and it has the first-ever female force commander of United Nations troops.  A Norwegian female army general is now the first-ever Force Commander.  Thanks to their success, we have proven that the best person for the job is often a woman.

I was also inspired by my country.  Of course, President Park Geun-hye became the first woman national leader in modern times — but she is not the first woman to lead Korea.  This country can be proud that nearly 1,400 years ago, Queen Seondeok of the Silla dynasty reigned over Korea.  She was among three queens who ruled Korea in that era.  It is especially significant that Queen Seondeok was committed to education.

Many other countries in the Asia-Pacific region have been led by women, including in Australia, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.  I applaud this progress.  And I call for more efforts to translate women’s leadership into full empowerment at all levels.

Ewha University was founded in 1886 with the idea that every woman in the community was worthy of respect.  Since then women have stood up in society to prove this in Korea and around the world.  Respect for women is basic.  Now we need true equality.  This is not just a slogan.  I am calling for a 50-50 gender equality by 2030.  This is a rallying cry that we are prepared to back with action.

I am proud to have created the superagency UN-Women in 2010.  This is the first time that the United Nations has established such a comprehensive superagency dealing with women’s issues.  I thank Korea for its annual contribution in overall resources.  And I call for this country to provide even more.

There is no better investment than women’s empowerment.  Studies prove that an educated girl is more likely to get a job and earn a higher wage.  Her country is more likely to have a better economy.  One percentage point increase in female education raises the average level of gross domestic product (GDP) by 0.3 per cent.

Women’s empowerment drives economic growth, social and political stability, a flourishing environment and sustainable peace.  Women business leaders foster better working conditions, higher profits and overall effectiveness.  Experts say that if you eliminate discrimination against women, productivity goes up at least by 40 per cent.  When women have more control over household income, children live better.

There has been great progress in education.  More girls are in school than ever before.  We have more effective laws to promote gender equality and address violence.  As you are well aware, I have initiated UNiTE to end violence against women.  This is supported all throughout the world.  I am still appalled by rampant violence against women’s dignity and women’s human rights.  I am determined to eliminate this practice.  Most regions have improved women’s access to contraception.  The number of maternal deaths worldwide has been nearly halved.

But overall, the results are slow and uneven.  No country has full equality.  Many women take care of their families, but they receive no pay for this hard, important work.  Globally, women do two and a half times more unpaid care and domestic work than men.  This has a massive, unseen and unappreciated financial value.  Care work can potentially create jobs, employ men and women and contribute to the economy.

We need transformative change.  The world will never advance if we leave half the population behind.  Women hold up half the sky.  Therefore, it is only natural that women should be given their right opportunity in political, economic and social fields equally — if not more.  That is why I call for investing in women and making sure they are paid decently for their work.  I am also calling for reducing the burden of unpaid care work that falls on women.  More men have to do their share.

This pioneering university was on the crest of Korea’s first wave of women’s empowerment.  That wave carried women forward on education and health.  Now Korean women enjoy equality in these areas.  But they are very far from having the same economic and political power as men.  In the Korean Parliament, National Assembly, there is only one woman for about every five men.  The Korean business world is still marked by men in charge and women on the sides.  The sad fact is Korean women are more welcome in their country’s classrooms than negotiating rooms or boardrooms.

But it is encouraging that Korean women are showing dominant visibility in the world of sports.  We can all be inspired by female Korean golfers, figure skaters and other athletes.  People ask me, why are Korean women so good at golf?  The answer is simple.  The best golfers have perfect balance, timing and power.  And Korean women are experts at balancing their very tight family budget, timing the many activities in their day.  We have to let women show their power to change the world.

Now we need a second wave to put Korean women in charge of public offices and private enterprises.  We have to change mind sets of men.  That is why I have created an initiative, Men Leaders Network, starting from Archbishop Desmond Tutu and many men world leaders.  I am standing up for women so that we can have a sustainable future for women and men.

The world is now negotiating a bold new vision for sustainable development for the next 15 years.  It will include clear targets for gender equality, empowerment and the human rights of women and girls.  Women can also drive progress on a new universal climate agreement that will be adopted in December in Paris this year.

I want to speak about a great young Korean woman who lost her own freedom so that others could be free.  The patriot Ryu Gwansun was born at the beginning of the 1930s — and she only lived to be 19 years [old].  You could say she was like Jeanne d’Arc.  She was subjected to such terrible torture in prison and she died from her injuries.  But she never gave up her beliefs.  Today, her name lives on.

This is proof that violence can kill a person but not their memory, not their ideals.  Her patriotism demonstrates the great way she lived and died.  Her courage to defend her homeland and her bravery to stand up for justice.  Her courage — to stand up for justice, stare down death and never blink, no matter how severe the pain and torture — is very, very rare in this world.  But all of you can be inspired by her courage to make your own contribution to peace and progress.

Now I’m here with so many young students, female students, and I would like to say just one message to you.  Often we say young people are the leaders of tomorrow but we are seeing already many young people who are taking leadership today.  We are now coexisting with existing generations and young generations.  For young generations to be able to chart their own [future], we have to give them new and right opportunities in the social, political and economic fields.

They need to drive their own future.  For that we have to give them a driver’s licence.  For them, I am telling again:  to be a leader of today and tomorrow you should have great ideas and dream with passion and compassion.  Everybody has passion.  It is a prerogative particularly for young people, but not many people have compassion for others.

Look beyond Korea.  Let us see how this world is changing.  We are living in a transformational era not only in science, technology and communications but in the mind; we have to change our attitude and readiness to adapt to this rapidly changing world.  Look for others; how they are doing.  [There are] many people, many places around the world where they need your helping hand, where this passion and dream is.

Acting with compassionate vision, then, I think we can all work together to make this world better for all where all human beings — men and women, boys and girls, rich and poor — can live with human dignity.  I am sure that Ewha University can lead this championship world.  I count on your continued leadership to defend human rights, denounce injustice and demand a better world for all people.  I am counting on you.  Thank you for this honour.

For information media. Not an official record.