Address to the French National Assembly – Delegation on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality

Date: 23 Mar 2011

Speech delivered by UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet before the French National Assembly, Paris, on 23 March 2011.

[Check against delivery.]

Merci beaucoup, Madame la Présidente.

C'est un honneur pour moi d'avoir l'opportunité de m'adresser à l'Assemblée nationale française et spécialement à sa Délégation aux droits des femmes et à l'égalité des chances entre les hommes et les femmes, en ma qualité de première Directrice générale de l'Entité des Nations Unies pour l'égalité des sexes et l'autonomisation de la femme, qui s'appelle aussi l'ONU Femmes.

UN Women's vision is one where men and women have equal opportunities and capacities — and the principles of gender equality are embedded in development, peace and security agendas. Our overarching objective is to build national capacity and ownership to enable national partners to formulate gender-responsive laws and policies — and to scale up successful strategies to deliver on national commitments to gender equality.

I am determined that UN Women will be a catalyst for change, offering new energy, drawing on long-standing ideas and values, and bringing together men and women from different countries, societies and communities in a shared endeavour.

To meet this objective UN Women will focus on five thematic areas, within specific country contexts: 1) expanding women's voice, leadership and participation; 2) enhancing women's economic empowerment; 3) ending violence against women and girls; 4) strengthening implementation of the women, peace and security agenda; and 5) making gender equality priorities central to national and local planning and budgeting. Let me say a few words about these areas.

The first, enhancing women's voice, participation and leadership, goes to the issue of political empowerment and is one that I know is dear to many of you. You are the men and women who can show what is possible, act as mentors and role models — and ensure that women can take their rightful place in all of the decision-making processes that affect their lives.

Having just arrived from Cairo, where I joined the UN Secretary-General's delegation, I want to say how inspired I was to see the determination of women to play a part in these processes, alongside men, in order to bring about change and revitalize political, economic and social life. I am determined that UN Women will focus its efforts to increase women's leadership and participation in all sectors, public and private, and to demonstrate the benefits of such leadership for society as a whole.

While success depends on several factors, including a country's political culture as well as its electoral system, UN Women has found that a key factor is the presence of some form of gender quota — whether for candidate lists or for seats in elected bodies. In fact, this is the main factor that distinguishes the 28 countries that have achieved the benchmark figure of 30 percent or more of women in national parliaments.

It is also important to recall that some form of temporary special measures were endorsed both by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Platform for Action as an effective mechanism for increasing women's voices.

I congratulate France for being one of the forerunners in this regard, adopting the law on equal access for women and men in national and local elections, and subsequent amendments to improve its implementation. And in January this year, France joined the handful of countries that have adopted legislation mandating large companies to reserve at least 40 percent of their board positions for women.

Given the significant increase in global trade and business over the past two decades, the impact that corporations have on economic development cannot be overstated. Countries everywhere are seeking ways to renew economic growth — without increasing national deficits. Indeed, studies have shown that when companies increase the number of women on corporate boards and in senior management, economic performance stands to improve.

It is also true that women who are politically empowered can promote policies to increase women's economic empowerment, which is basic to everything else. In this context, I am pleased to note that a key priority of France's presidency of the G20 this year is supporting employment, particularly for young people and the most vulnerable, respect for social and labour rights, and consolidation of the social protection floor.

These goals are central to UN Women, and I have pledged to work with governments and multilateral partners to ensure the full realization of women's economic security and rights, including to productive assets and full social protection. This is particularly important in the wake of the global economic crisis, together with renewed volatility in food and commodity prices, both of which have seriously strained household coping strategies and the women who provide them.

Last week I spoke at a meeting at the International Labour Organization, where I chair the Social Protection Floor Advisory Group. I pointed out that everyone should have access to basic income security guarantees, such as pensions for the elderly and persons with disabilities, child benefits, income support benefits and employment guarantees.

And everyone should be able to access essential public services, including health care, primary education, housing, water and sanitation. Elements of the social protection floor already in place have been shown to be very successful in combating rising inequality and persistent poverty — the biggest threats to human development.

Moreover, it is important to acknowledge social protection as an investment, not a cost. It delivers significant future paybacks in terms of improved human development outcomes — and is seen as a key instrument to unlock women's productive capacity — enabling them to overcome barriers to participation in economic life, as workers, employers, consumers and citizens.

This brings me to a third thematic priority, ending violence against women and girls — which of course is fundamental to women's empowerment — political, economic, social and personal.

Yet violence against women and girls is a persistent problem in all parts of the world. In some locations, up to three-quarters of women report having experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. And according to the Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee of the European Parliament, some 20 percent of women in Europe have experienced violence in close relationships. This translates into very high costs — for lives, health, productivity, school achievement and public budgets — in all countries.

If we are serious about ending this scourge, we must work on multiple fronts, supporting efforts to enforce laws and policies and services that protect women and girls, with attention to both prevention and response, and engaging all sectors of society. At a minimum, all women and girls who have been subjected to abuse and violence should have access to a basic package of emergency and immediate services to ensure their safety, care and access to justice, and to avoid repeat abuse. We are currently working closely with governments and civil society groups to maximize high-level support for this initiative in the coming months.

Of course, some of the most horrific instances of sexual and gender-based violence are happening in conflict situations. I would like to express my appreciation for the long-term support of France in addressing the critical nexus of women, peace and security — particularly the support in monitoring implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 and for increasing women's role in conflict resolution. UN Women will lead the UN system in facilitating an improved response to the implementation of this landmark resolution.

In addition, in partnership with the UN system, we are working to support women in peace negotiations, increase the numbers of senior women mediators and gender experts, and finalize guidance for mediators in conflicts worldwide. And, together with Mr. Alain le Roy, Under-Secretary-General of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, we are initiating innovative pre-deployment training for peacekeeping troops to enable them to detect and prevent systematic sexual violence.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you can see from these brief remarks, the UN Women agenda is an ambitious one — as it needs to be. I am acutely aware of both the results that are expected of UN Women, and the challenges we face in meeting them. But meet them we will. I have seen myself that when afforded the opportunity, there is no limit to what women can do, from mothers who support their families in the hardest of circumstances, to women who become ministers of finance, foreign affairs, or heads of state.

Let me conclude by emphasizing that women's strength, women's industry, women's wisdom are humankind's greatest untapped resource. UN Women will endeavour to help realize this potential to the benefit of all.

Je vous remercie.