Press statement by UN Women Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet. New Delhi, India, 3 October 2012.
[Check against delivery]
Good morning to you all. Namaste.
This is not my first visit to India. But it is my first visit as UN Women’s Executive Director. I arrived on an auspicious day, Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, 2nd October. He once said, “The future depends on what you do today”.
I am here to learn from your country. I have come to listen to people, especially to listen and learn from grassroots women, and senior leaders, from the private sector to the scientists about the Indian experience.
India is the world’s largest democracy. India is also home to one sixth of the world’s population.
As Executive Director of UN Women, my job is done, my organization’s job is done when women, enjoy fair, free and decent lives with hope for their and their children’s futures. And with one sixth of the world’s females living in India, I, we at UN Women, must engage with the women in India.
So my very first greeting really is to all women in India. There is so much that women in India can be proud of yet there is so much more that remains to be done. So, let us not postpone to tomorrow what we can do today.
Allow me to first turn to the truly remarkable successes.
Here in India, quotas have spurred one of the greatest successes globally in women’s empowerment and grassroots democracy. Just a decade ago, women comprised less than 5 percent of elected leaders in village councils. Today more than 40 percent of local council leaders are women.
A million and a half women have been elected into the panchayats, administering public services and resolving disputes on matters ranging from violence against women and girls, to marriage to property. This dramatic and rapid change is the result of the reservation, and I commend this achievement.
This success holds a lesson for the central government’s current effort to extend quotas for women to the national level, and the world is waiting to see the outcome.
The Women’s Reservation Bill would set aside one-third of the elected seats for women in the lower house of the Parliament and in all legislative assemblies. If it becomes law, it could potentially lead to one of the most significant changes in India since independence in 1947. It will send a strong message to the women of India. And it will send a strong message to the world that India is leading the way for democracy, for women and for equality.
UN Women encourages India and governments around the world to adopt special temporary measures such as quotas to increase the number of women in parliament and positions of decision-making and to advance gender equality.
This is a proven strategy – with more women in decision-making– families, the society and the economy grow healthier and stronger. This is a smart move.
In India more women are attending gram sabhas meetings in the villages, and I am very excited about attending a meeting in Alwar, Rajasthan during this trip, where I will hear from women leaders.
I very much look forward to speaking to them.
During this trip I will launch a unique virtual centre for excellence for elected women representatives in Jaipur along with 5 strong leaders from South Asia. It will benefit women like Vandana Devi, a first time sarpanch from Jhabua who has many aspirations for her village and the future generations, or Namgay Peldon – Bhutan’s first ever woman leader at the block level.
And political participation of women has to go hand in hand with economic empowerment and ending violence and discrimination against women.
Today women’s workforce participation is only 22 per cent in India, and with increasing demand on skilled labor for the new economy, unskilled women are being left behind. With the global food and financial crises, UN Women advocates for greater investments in the agriculture and farm sectors, especially since 79 per cent of rural women workers in India are in agriculture.
We call for continued and strengthened efforts to end violence against women and girls, and to reduce child malnutrition and maternal mortality rates.
So, throughout my visit, I look forward to my meetings with private sector leaders, policymakers and thought leaders on what we can do to strengthen efforts towards gender equality and women’s empowerment.
This is at the core of UN Women’s mandate. UN Women has five priority areas: increasing women’s leadership and participation; ending violence against women; engaging women in all aspects of peace and security processes; enhancing women’s economic empowerment; and making gender equality central to national development planning and budgeting.
Over the past two years, UN Women has supported 14,000 women from vulnerable groups and marginalized communities in Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh to get their right to employment with full and equal wages. We have helped 3,500 women open bank accounts in their name, and built sustainable networks and solidarity institutions to demand their entitlements.
Together with the Government and civil society, UN Women is training 65,000 elected women representatives in 16 districts of 5 states to become more effective leaders, and reaching out to half a million women through gram sabhas (public village meetings) so they can voice their concerns to district officials on health, livelihoods, water, and social security.
UN Women cannot do the work we do on advancing gender equality alone.
I want to build on the close cooperation and partnership between the Government of India and UN Women. I have to thank the Indian Government on how it has supported and supports UN Women in our Executive Board. India has indeed brought its strong political weight behind advancing the gender equality agenda, not only at the national level but in the international arena as well.
I also wish to commend the strong and progressive legislation and schemes that have been put in place here: the Sexual Harassment Bill; the Domestic Violence Act; and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act that guarantees equal pay for equal work for women. I urge the government to take robust action for their speedy implementation so that all women at all levels can benefit from them.
So, clearly much has been achieved, much more also lies ahead. I salute all people in India and across the world working for gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Thank you so much.