I am pleased to join you today to celebrate International Women’s Day and the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Women’s Conference.
And I am delighted to share the podium with such distinguished women leaders of our world.
Last weekend I was in Chile, where I attended a very inspiring event on women in power and decision-making organized by distinguished President Michelle Bachelet of Chile, who served as the founding Executive Director of UN Women.
I firmly believe that the time for women’s empowerment has arrived, and that we can see the end of the journey begun two decades ago in Beijing.
The Beijing Platform for Action remains an ambitious but realistic agenda for empowering girls and women, and realizing their human rights.
Over the past two decades, we have seen important advances.
Globally and regionally, policies and strategies acknowledge the importance of the Beijing Platform for Action for achieving development, peace and security.
The Security Council has adopted landmark resolution 1325, and regularly renews focus on the role of women in building and maintaining peace.
Many countries have adopted policies to advance gender equality.
Women’s participation in political life is increasing.
Many countries have enacted laws to remove discrimination and address violence against women and girls.
Maternal mortality has fallen by nearly half from 1990 levels.
The gender gap in primary education has closed, more girls are in school, and more women are in the labour force.
There is no denying these welcome and necessary advances.
But the gains have been too slow and too uneven.
We must do far more to accelerate progress everywhere.
Next week the Commission on the Status of Women will assess the implementation of the Beijing Platform of Action.
We must acknowledge the gaps and chart the way forward.
Also next week, nations will meet in Sendai, Japan, for the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.
In July, the United Nations will host the third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa.
In September, discussions on the post-2015 development framework will culminate with the Special Summit on Sustainable Development.
And, in December, a meaningful universal climate change agreement should be adopted in Paris.
In all these forums, gender equality and women’s empowerment have an important – indeed central -- place.
The outcomes must reflect a renewed commitment to the goals of Beijing.
Let us never forget: as the Beijing Declaration so succinctly stated, “Women’s rights are human rights”.
Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are essential to our sustainable future.
I believe that with 20 years of experience of the Beijing agenda, and with substantive action from now on, we can reach the goal of gender equality within the timeframe of the post-2015 agenda.
We should look forward to significant further progress by 2020, and gender equality by 2030.
Let our rallying cry be 50-50 by 2030!
There has never been a more important moment to commit to this great objective.
This is the first generation that can eradicate poverty – and we are the last generation that can avert the worst consequences of climate change.
But we cannot successfully address these and other sustainable development challenges if we constrain the potential of half of the world’s population. They are women.
That is why the Special Summit on Sustainable Development in September should adopt a bold agenda that fully recognizes and values the role of women and girls.
I am the proud son of a mother who is 95 years old today, this year, and who is still going strong. She gave birth even without the assistance of a midwife – a woman who was not allowed to vote when she came of age.
She has seen many changes in her long life.
Now I am a grandfather myself.
My daughters, and their daughters, have been spared the hardships my mother faced.
But the struggle goes on for millions of women and girls around the world.
There are still five countries where not a single woman is represented in the parliament.
There are eight countries in the world where not a single woman is in the cabinet.
I am not going to name the countries but I am strongly urging the leaders of those countries to do more to empower women.
The attitudes of societies – the attitudes of men – in all regions are still stacked against women.
Rape continues as a vile weapon of war and we see too many examples of violent extremists suppressing and abusing women and girls.
Early and forced marriages continue to violate the rights of girls, trapping them in ignorance and ill-health, and exposing them to violence.
Women still do most of the unpaid and low-paid work.
Their economic contributions, particularly in agriculture, go unnoticed.
They are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
Many women around the world are still denied their sexual and reproductive health and rights, including the right to safe motherhood.
There are still relatively few women in power and in decision-making positions. We have around 20 heads of state and government around the world and just around one in five of women are parliamentarians around the world.
In all countries, gender stereotypes, exclusion and discrimination continue to perpetuate inequality.
This year we have a unique opportunity to end these wrongs, and deliver on the promises of Beijing.
We have an agenda; we can find the resources; we can monitor progress; we can hold ourselves accountable for results.
Today, as we observe International Women’s Day, let us commit to a life of dignity and opportunity for all.
Let us work together to secure a sustainable future, where women and girls, men and boys are equally empowered and enjoy shared prosperity.
Thank you very much.