UN Women - United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women

Women’s Political Participation

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Date: 11 October 2011

UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet remarks on “Women Political Participation at the Old Town Hall in Helsinki, Finland, 11 October 2011.

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Good morning. It's so wonderful to here with all of you in Helsinki. I thank the Mayor, Tuula Haatainen and the Finish National Committee for UN Women for hosting this event and bringing all of us together.

I did some research before I arrived and I discovered that around two-thirds of Finland is covered in forest and about a tenth by water. You are rich in natural resources and believe in protecting the environment, and you have one of the best-qualified workforces in the world thanks to investments in education, training and research, which is boosting your economy.

And with so much to brag about, I don't think it's a coincidence that Finland is a leader in women's participation and leadership.

Back in 1906 Finland blazed a trail for political rights for all, and women had the right to vote and stand for election, when other women around the world were unable to do so. Today you have 43 percent of women in parliament, one of the highest rates in the world.

And at the turn of this century, you elected Finland's first woman President, my friend and ally, President Tarja Halonen.

President Halonen joined me and other women leaders just a few weeks ago in New York at the United Nations General Assembly. We signed a joint statement calling for increased women's political participation and decision-making across the world.

This is in line with our commitment to the equal rights and inherent human dignity of women enshrined in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other relevant international human rights instruments. And in our joint statement, we suggest ways that countries can make greater progress.

We call upon all States to ratify and fulfil their obligations under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and to implement fully Security Council resolution 1325 on women and peace and security and other relevant UN resolutions. These resolutions call for an end to impunity for the crimes that women suffer in conflict, such as rape and sexual slavery, and they call for women's full participation in peace negotiations, peace building and reconstruction so women can play a full role in charting the way forward for their countries.

Today many women cannot participate in politics because they are held back by factors such as violence, poverty, lack of access to quality education and health care, the double burden of paid and unpaid work. And because of these obstacles, we are losing a lot of good women leaders and countries and people are suffering from their absence. This is why it is so important to actively promote women's political participation, including through affirmative measures, as appropriate.

Now I know that I have made the case that women should participate in politics because every person should have the same rights and opportunities to participate in political and civil life. And this is important. But actually, my reasons go far beyond this.

I believe that women's participation is fundamental to democracy and essential to the achievement of sustainable development and peace. And there is now data to show that countries with greater gender equality have higher gross national product per capita, that women's leadership in the corporate sector results in improved business performance. And we know that countries with more women in parliament tend to have more equitable laws and social programmes and budgets that benefit women and children and families.

I'm so pleased to talk about women's political participation this morning because this is a matter that I know very well, and care deeply about and it is a priority for all of us at UN Women.
We still have a long way to go because women make up less than 10 percent of world leaders. There are only 21 Heads of State and Government out of 193 UN Member States.

Globally less than one in five members of parliament is a woman. And the 30 percent critical mass mark for women's representation in parliament has been reached or exceeded in only 28 countries.

But we are moving ahead, and I am optimistic because I believe this is the century for girls and women. We are making progress. In 1911, women were allowed to vote in just two countries in the world, and Finland was one of them. Today, a century later, that right is virtually universal. And this year I witnessed, for the first time since the United Nations was founded more than 60 years ago, the general debate of the General Assembly being opened by a woman, President Dilma Roussef, the first woman President of Brazil. So that's actually two victories in one, and there's so many more. In every country, women and men and young people are taking steps, some are baby steps and some are great strides, to advance equality and justice.

All over the world, the cries for democracy are being amplified through new technology. With mobile phones, thanks to companies like Nokia and others, and twitter and facebook, women are making their voices heard, and there can be no real democracy without women's full and equal participation.

In June, I visited Egypt and Tunisia and met with women's groups and others to support the transition to democracy. The Arab Spring has demonstrated to the world that women are prepared and determined to fight for democracy by and for the people.

In every country and in every region, in times of peace, conflict or transition, women want their voices to be heard. They want to exercise their rights and they want a seat at the decision-making table, and UN Women will be supporting them in these efforts.
We do so because in a time of global and interdependent challenges, we can no longer afford to waste the potential of half the world's population. Given the challenges that we face today, from climate change to economic models under increasing strain, to high unemployment and poverty to growing pressures on natural resources, we need the best leaders we can find, and many of these leaders are women. Women bring their own insights and perspectives, and diversity improves decision-making.

For these reasons and more, UN Women has set core strategic priorities to increase women's participation and leadership, to advance women's economic empowerment, to end violence against women and girls, to prioritize gender equality in national plans and budgets, and to make sure that women play a central role in peace talks, peace-building and reconstruction and recovery.

We are also working to coordinate and keep the UN system accountable for advancing women's empowerment and gender equality.

To help us accomplish these goals, we count on partners like Finland and others around the world who believe in justice and equal opportunities for all.

I thank you and look forward to our discussion.