New York

06 March 2012

Secretary-General's Opening Remarks at "Equality Means Business: Gender Equality For Sustainable Business" [As prepared for delivery]

I am pleased to be with you.  I am particularly excited to see women’s empowerment and gender equality being discussed in the context of sustainable business. 
Empowerment and sustainable development have been top priorities from my first day as Secretary-General. 
This is a big year for both. 
In just over 100 days, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development will open in Rio. 
The private sector contributions will be crucial. 
We cannot achieve sustainable development without buy-in from business – from leading global corporations to small- and medium-size enterprises, from investors to entrepreneurs.
Nor can we achieve sustainability – at a corporate or a global level – without empowering the world’s women. 
In this context, I would like to briefly mention three United Nations initiatives that are underpinned by the link between sustainability and gender equality.
First, the Women’s Empowerment Principles.
This event marks the second anniversary of the launch of this innovative partnership, which brings together the United Nations Global Compact and its global network of businesses, and UN Women, with its expertise in championing gender equality. 
Second, “Every Woman, Every Child”.
Healthy women and children make healthy societies, a sound foundation for sustainable prosperity for men, women and children. 
Third, “Sustainable Energy for All”.
This will provide opportunities for empowerment and prosperity to the world’s poor -- including women. 
Each of these initiatives can support the well-being and empowerment of women and girls.
Each is built on a vibrant partnership between the United Nations and the private sector, and I urge you to support them.
Ultimately, women’s empowerment yields strong economic returns for all.  We must do more to remove the barriers women face to participating fully in the economy – such as lack of access to jobs, markets, credit and property.
The meaningful participation of women in business – from the inclusion of women-owned businesses in supply chains, to having significant representation of women corporate boards – also translates into stronger performance. 
In this time of global economic uncertainty, we cannot ignore this opportunity. 
At the corporate level, companies must recognize that women’s empowerment is not a human resources problem. 
Do not isolate the issue in this way. 
I urge you to apply a gender lens to all your company’s activities and sustainability efforts.
Recognize that each is an opportunity not just to support women’s empowerment but to strengthen your operations. 
The Women’s Empowerment Principles provide guidance on how to do this. 
Almost 400 companies have now signed the CEO Statement of Support for the seven Principles.
Many companies are taking concrete steps to implement them. 
The Women’s Empowerment Principles have inspired initiatives such as new maternity leave policies, compensation equalization measures and entrepreneurship training programmes for women in poor rural areas. 
Each of these has a real impact on the lives of women, and in turn on the contribution they can make to society.
And the businesses that are embracing the Women’s Empowerment Principles are finding that investing in women is good economics.
As one recent signatory said, “this is a strategic business issue”. 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have made some progress, but we still have a long way to go.
I applaud those of you whose companies support the Women’s Empowerment Principles. 
But I also challenge you to take women’s empowerment to the next level in your companies and in your sphere of influence. 
Champion the Principles.  Challenge your peers to take up the cause. 
Share your successes.  Keep questioning the status quo and pushing the boundaries. 
Together, we can empower women to contribute to, and benefit equally from, a sustainable future.
I look forward to seeing you in Rio and working with you there and in the years ahead.
Thank you.