Speech by Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, at the at the NEST+m school, UN4U 2012 event. New York, 19 October 2012.
[Check against delivery]
Thank you. I was here.
I’m glad to be here. I have a 20-year-old daughter, so it wasn’t too long ago that she was your age.
I know many of you have been learning about the United Nations and are even veterans of Model UN. I am sure you have been keeping up with what is going on in the world. I’m excited to hear some tough questions and thoughtful comments from all of you today.
The UN is so much more than what you can learn in a textbook or in class. That’s why today is also an opportunity for me- to hear from you.
When the United Nations was founded in 1945, the founders wrote a Charter that said: enough is enough. We have to work together. We can’t simply stand by and accept injustices, inequalities, and threats to peace because that’s the way things are. They said, I was here. And they made a difference in setting out a vision for generations to come.
That’s the real heart of the UN’s work, all 67 years of it. Because people- just like you-saw the way things are, and they didn’t stop there. They asked the right questions: how do we end conflicts peacefully? What are the basic rights of every human being, and how can we protect them? What are some of the root causes of poverty and hunger, and how can we fight them?
They asked: what can I do?
Now, I am the Executive Director of a new organization, UN Women. We work in countries around the world, and I’ve met so many women, from all walks of life. I’ve come across countless women with the courage to take stock of “the way things are” and- despite discrimination, despite injustices, and despite the threat of violence- stand up and confront the question- how can I make things better?
UN Women stands beside these women. We work with governments, NGOs, community leaders and private individuals to tackle the many challenges women face and make sure that women’s rights are protected. And we work hard to make sure countries get the message: not one problem, from climate change to economic development to promoting peace and democracy, can be solved without the full and equal participation of women.
I will tell you one thing I have learned: we’ve made incredible progress in 67 years, and even in my lifetime. Today, more girls than ever are in school, women’s right to vote is virtually universal, and women are serving as heads of state.
I know- and you all know- how much more can be done. And I am not just looking at the girls in this room. Gender equality and human development are nothing more than lofty goals without the commitment of women and men- without you- to make them happen.
I’ll close with just one example that illustrates my point. The world is still in shock from the attempted murder on a young Pakistani schoolgirl and activist named Malala. Malala stands for all girls around the world who are deprived of their right to education. The education of women is more than a right: it can literally save a girl’s life. It empowers her to assert her own rights and creates opportunities for a better future.
No girl- no person- should ever have to pay with her life for her rights. No girl should be in danger, as so many girls around the world are, because she wants to go to school. Though she knew of the dangers, Malala spoke out against the injustices to girls in her community. She did this every day, as she passed through the doors of her school. She was defying the forces that tried to take away her chances for the future. She was only one girl- but with every step, she knew that she was fighting for every girl around the world.
Now, the world is listening. Now, we can turn to Malala and say, we are many, but we stand behind you as one. This is how it starts, with just one person. I am so glad to celebrate the UN’s birthday with you here today, and to celebrate what each and every one of you can-and will-do. The world is waiting.