Your Excellency Dr. Lalla Malika Issoufou, First Lady of Niger,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me start by congratulating the First Lady of Niger, Dr. Malika Issoufou, for her role in organizing this high-level event.
My dear sister, it is a pleasure to see you again after my mission to Niger last July with the Foreign Minister of Sweden and the African Union Special Envoy.
During that visit, I saw the challenges your country and the region are facing.
Niger has the highest demographic growth rate in the world and the highest total fertility rate, with 7.6 children per woman. It also has the highest rate of child marriage, with 76.3 per cent of girls married before the age of 18, almost a third of whom before the age of 15.
During a visit to a fistula center, which you have spearheaded, I met with young women, many still children themselves, suffering the consequences of early marriage and early pregnancy. As my colleagues who accompanied me noted, we should have been visiting these girls in a school, not in a fistula clinic.
But this clinic is just one example of the advances towards the empowerment of women and girls being made by the Government of Niger and its partners.
I also met with inspiring women leaders and the Association of Traditional Leaders of Niger, all of whom are doing excellent work to promote women’s equality.
I again thank the Association of Traditional Chiefs for honoring me with the title of Saraounia. I would like to reaffirm that the United Nations will stand by their side and support their work at the community level to improve access to reproductive health services and an end to gender-based violence.
The visit to Maradi was also an opportunity to see UN agencies working together to support women’s empowerment. This is our ONE UN approach, and I encourage them to continue in this way for the benefit of women and girls in Niger.
These community initiatives also represent concrete steps towards operationalizing the Integrated Sahel Strategy. Our vision is of a stable and prosperous region, where all people, including women and youth, live in peace and security, and contribute to the economic and social development of their country.
In this endeavor, governments and policy makers should put in place policies and programmes that nurture human capital, protect human rights, promote political stability and create jobs, in particular for young people.
These are necessary conditions for realizing "the Africa we want in 2063", that is, "an integrated Africa, prosperous and peaceful, driven and managed by its own citizens".
I would like to reiterate the commitment of the United Nations to scale up community-based interventions that can contribute to ending gender-based violence. I would like to highlight the Spotlight Initiative to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, a partnership of the European Union and the United Nations. I am pleased to note that, through this initiative, Niger will receive $35 million for multipartner programmes that will strengthen laws, policies, institutional capacity, prevention, services, data and support to women’s movements and civil society.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Scaling up the best practices we have heard about today will take joint efforts. We will count on all our partners to support the Government of Niger to ensure that women and girls reach their full potential and participate in building a sustainable and peaceful Niger.