Speech by Michelle Bachelet UN Women Executive Director at the High-Level Inter-Generational Dialogue. 27 January 2013, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
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Your Excellency, the President of Malawi, Mme Joyce Banda
Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Hon. Thokozani Khupe
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Liberia, Hon. Banke Olu Kingakerele,
Secretary General of the YWCA, Mme Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda;
and last but certainly not least – the daughters of our global village – the young women present today.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is great to be with you here today. I thank Nyaradzai Gumbondzvana of World YWCA and the Government of Liberia for organizing this important event on the Future Women Want.
We all share in the excitement that Africa is rising. There is optimism about the future: poverty is declining, growth is increasing, and progress is steady towards meeting many of the Millennium Development Goals.
I recently visited West Africa—Senegal, Nigeria and Mali. I am most inspired by the young people of Africa – young people everywhere in the world give us inspiration, hope and show us the way. It is a message I share with everyone from business leaders to parliaments to prime ministers.
I tell them that the African population is young and rapidly growing, that the African workforce is expected to expand by 122 million between 2010 and 2020. That’s 122 million people who can transform Africa over the next few years. And over half of that talent, creativity and growth potential is women.
Now, there is so much potential for growth and development on the continent that there is talk of an African Renaissance. To me, you are the African Renaissance.
Wherever I go, Girls and women are standing up and saying that economic recovery and growth, peace and political stability, and environmental sustainability are all possible if women are part of the solution. It’s all about being inclusive. How can you be inclusive if you leave half the world’s population, women and girls, out of these efforts?
I thank you for your hard work to make a clear, compelling statement to the world about the Future Young Women Want. I will take recommendations you have shared with me today to the highest levels of government, to the leaders of civil society, to the CEOs of companies and do all I can to make sure your voices are heard beyond this meeting.
As we meet here today, the leaders of the 54 nations of the African Union are gathered to discuss a new direction for Africa, where policies and positions will be formed and Africa’s new development agenda defined.
When African Heads of State discuss Pan- Africanism and the African Renaissance this weekend, the visions, concerns and recommendations, of you, the young of Africa must be an integral part of this discussion.
Your voices are so important at a time when the conversation is changing – when the conversation has to change. The world is reaching an important milestone in 2015 with the deadline of the Millennium Development Goals. Back in 2000, creating the third MDG on gender equality and women’s empowerment put women on the global development agenda, and it provoked a lot of attention.
And even though we have made progress, there is still so much more to be done if we truly want to reach equal opportunities and stable, inclusive societies for all. We know that at the root of these challenges to development are deep inequalities.
Women continue to suffer the consequences of these inequalities in larger proportions than men. The task ahead of us is to eliminate these inequalities so we can move forward together towards fair, just and sustainable development here in Africa and in the rest of the world.
One of the immediate actions that we have to take is to ensure that your voices are heard in the post 2015 Development Agenda process. I am happy to learn that some of you will travel to Liberia to contribute to the high level dialogue.
That is why we’re meeting today. Gender equality must move to the top of the policy agenda, to the center of the new development framework. The African Renaissance means protecting the rights of girls and women and ensuring that young women have the opportunity to realize their full potential as equal members of society.
To advance the Future that Young Women Want, we need more women leaders.Women in Africa have made great strides to reach the highest levels of decision making in politics, in the economy and in public life.
Some of these women are with us today. They have laid the groundwork. And I can see that you are a strong advocates for gender equality and women’s empowerment in your countries.
It is my pleasure to learn about the priorities and recommendations that you, representatives of the young women of Africa, have formulated over the course of the week.
I want to assure you that UN Women hears you. And let me respond to some of your recommendations directly:
UN Women has been working tirelessly for the establishment of laws and policies, for an end to impunity and for access to justice. And we agree with you that real change to end violence against women can only happen if we change power structures and cultural behavior, which starts at home.
Many African countries have adopted frameworks for Ending Violence against Women, and it is high time that we all walk the talk.
We will work alongside you to make sure that the right of every girl, every woman, to live free from fear of discrimination and violence in every aspect of her life is protected. Sexual violence, female genital mutilation, and early marriages continue to deny girls the opportunities that should be theirs to build a bright future.
It must be the priority of every leader, every state and every community to confront these dangers and work to eliminate all forms of violence against girls and women.
We recognize that young people and especially young women have an important role to play in this advocacy. I am pleased to inform you that UN Women recently supported a meeting of young men and women in the fine arts industry to discuss strategies for addressing violence against women as part of the Africa UNiTE campaign.
And I am positive that change is possible, especially when I see young and dynamic women like yourselves who are committed to making this change happen in their families, communities and countries.
Increasing women’s role in peacebuilding and peace talks is one of UN Women’s priority areas of work. Your request for greater inclusion, protection and representation of young women is commendable and I urge all of you to continue to lobby for this not only at the international but also at the country level.
Everywhere I go I carry this message: unleashing the full economic potential of women can boost economic growth, create jobs and opportunities and improve the lives of all citizens. Women’s economic participation isn’t just the right thing to do- it makes sound economic sense.
Education is a prerequisite for women’s economic empowerment and leadership. We will work alongside you to help build on the progress Africa has made in education by keeping girls in school, increasing the number of girls in secondary and tertiary education, and boosting the literacy rate among girls and women.
UN Women developed the Africa Young Women Leadership Programme to build the leadership skills of young women between the ages of 18 – 35 in Africa.
It is this programme that supported your participation in the YWCA initiative this week. This programme also offers channels for you to contribute to discussions in Africa and at a global level.
You are the future and there cannot be a lasting renaissance without your leadership, your commitment and your voice. I encourage you all to be leaders of change in your societies.