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

Michelle Bachelet Addresses the Congress of Deputies in Spain

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Date: 30 May 2011

Speech delivered by UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet to the Congress of Deputies in Madrid on May 30th 2011.

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President of the Congress of Deputies,

Ladies and Gentlemen, Chairs of the Commissions of Cooperation and Equality of the Congress of Deputies and the Senate,

Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of Parliament, Senators.

I would like to begin my remarks by thanking you for the opportunity that you are giving me in my capacity of Deputy Secretary General of UN Women to share some thoughts with regard to the enormous challenges confronting our societies as they focus on achieving inclusive and participatory policies as prerequisites for strong and vigorous democracies.

Inclusion and participation that in my case — and under the mandate of the United Nations — is focused primarily on women: Young women, girls, professionals, female workers, mothers, older women, indigenous women, unemployed women, immigrants. All without exception are seeking to lead a life without violence and stop being victims of constant abuses; they are standing up to be counted, as never before in history, and are asserting their right to be the captains of their own ships and key players in the progress of their communities and their own countries.

And this morning I want to extend to you — through you as representatives — to Spanish citizens first of all our gratitude for your tireless efforts in support of the work of our mission which is the empowerment of women and gender equality. But what is equally important is to be accountable in the use and direction of the economic resources that have been given by Spanish cooperation for our tasks.

Spanish society, in its totality, has a commitment that strives to help and work together with other countries that puts the country in a peerless category.

It is not easy to keep up international aid when an economic crisis of the dimensions that we are familiar with and that continues to impact many world economies is also knocking at our doors.

Ladies and gentlemen: Spain has maintained its commitment to the international community through cooperation during good times and bad and has done so moreover in a cross-cutting fashion, supported by all political constituencies and with the legitimate encouragement of male and female citizens.

I looked at a survey that said that this year 67 per cent of Spanish citizens continue to think that Spain should cooperate internationally in order to help to solve the problems faced by less developed countries even if this entails costs. It is a response that would not be possible to find in many societies and that deserves all of my respect, recognition and gratitude for the principle of solidarity demonstrated by Spanish society.

There can be no question that you have deep reserves of commitment to socially oriented investment.

Today I am here to explain to you the results that we have achieved and our aspirations, to stand accountable before you all with regard to the effectiveness of our work and to continue maintaining a strategic relationship with Spain with regard to gender equality and the empowerment of women in the world.

On the 2nd of July 2010, the General Assembly unanimously adopted a historic resolution that established the United Nations organization for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, UN Women. As its Executive Director and Deputy Secretary General I have been called upon to take a quantum leap in searching for ways to protect and promote the rights of women and girls throughout the entire world.

We did not begin work in a vacuum. Behind us lay years of experience of United Nations organizations such as the United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI) together with the untiring work of thousands of social organizations to be found in countries all over the world.

UN Women has the mandate of working and playing a visible role both in developing countries and those that are already developed. We are duty-bound to work with one and all.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are also necessary collaborators for achieving the empowerment of women in Spain, Brussels, Bolivia, Egypt, Nigeria or the Philippines, to mention only a few countries.

The strategic priorities that we have defined for UN Women include the economic empowerment of women, leadership and political participation, the eradication of violence, work to defend the rights of women in situations of conflict and post-conflict, and the inclusion of gender equality in the national planning of development of our countries.

To achieve these objectives is a matter of justice but also a smart policy for improving the quality of our democracies, the quality of life, the welfare state and the creation of wealth. Eliminating gender inequality makes it possible to eliminate other kinds of inequalities. The empowerment of women and gender quality is not a sectoral policy but a comprehensive policy that should guide other kinds of policies and it is a cornerstone of any kind of political agenda, independently of ideology. Gender equality is a State policy that calls for a wide-ranging consensus between political forces, a roadmap for development and a force for irrevocable structural change in societies.

Because when we talk of the economic empowerment of women we are talking about greater income per capita, better performance in the case of the companies that have more women in their boards of directors (Fortune 500 study of 2007), access to credit and other assets, better training. We are referring, in essence, to greater benefit for women, less maternal mortality, less infant mortality, better child nutrition, less risk of HIV and greater food security. It is definitely the case that when women are empowered it is the whole community that is empowered.

We know that when there are more women in institutions there is better representation, more transparency and more accountability systems. Consequently our task lies in strengthening democracy, ensuring that our political systems in a real way represent men and women, deal with their problems and do so in a participatory fashion. The debate, ideas and action should provide a framework for our performance.

However, violence is the pandemic that kills the most women in the world. Women die at the hands of their boyfriends and husbands, ex boyfriends or ex husbands, they are used as weapons, they are raped as a reward, they are given as a prize or sold, or they fall into the clutches of the slave trade.

We face many challenges and one of these is ensuring empowerment of women in the sphere of political participation. Today we see this in countries where the “Arab Spring is unfolding. In Tunisia and in Egypt and also in other countries in the region where women have gone out and are going out to the street to claim freedom, citizenship and social justice, UN Women is working to ensure that women at the grass roots in all those countries can be full citizens, exercise their rights and participate also in transitions, constitutional changes and participate actively in institutions.

To this end we work with the civil society of those countries, with women's movements at the grass-roots level, we exchange south-south experiences in regard to societal transition of the kind observed in Spain or Chile and we also collaborate with the international community so as to support the initiatives that female and male citizens in those countries may decide to implement as time progresses.

A good example of this is the workshop that we organized last Friday here in Spain with those responsible for Spanish foreign aid for countries of North Africa and the Middle East and with the representatives of UN Women in these countries, in order to enhance our effectiveness and to achieve the objective of supporting women throughout the region.

It will be asked how we are going to ensure compliance with these objectives, how are we going to work with the necessary cohesion within the United Nations system so as not to duplicate efforts among agencies, what relationship are we going to have between multilateral cooperation and bilateral cooperation with specific reference to Spain, and what will be the minimal resources, in both material and human terms, that we will need to advance in this quantum leap in gender equality that has left such an indelible stamp on many men and women throughout the world, and especially on those of us who work in the sphere of human rights.

With regard to the UN budget we have considered the minimum to be collected to be USD 500 million for 2013. In this task we are engaged as a team, knowing as we do that we have the help of institutions, companies and civil society. But this is a work in progress and the goal is not easy.

Before continuing I would in this case like to recognize the work that a Spanish woman, Inés Alberdi, carried out as the Director of UNIFEM, from 2008 until the creation of UN Women. During these years there was a significant growth of programmes in spheres such as economic and political empowerment and the fight against violence, encompassing many more geographic areas.

Let us now touch upon Spain's contributions and their results:

The contributions of Spain to the then UNIFEM have now been made for several years, growing gradually until Spain became the main donor of UNIFEM in 2008. The following year the three year (2010-2012) strategic agreement was signed for a value of Euros 95 million, the objective of which was to strengthen the function and strategic capacity of UN Women to support countries and the UN system in the mainstreaming of gender objectives, within the framework of the principles of the Paris Declaration and the Accra Action Programme.

The Agreement focuses on the following shared strategic priorities:

  • Reducing the feminization of poverty and the exclusion of women through the improvement of their security and economic rights.
  • Reducing rates of violence against women and girls.
  • Achieving gender equality in democratic governance through support for the leadership of women in public management and peacemaking efforts in conflict and post-conflict areas.

While we have worked in various geographical areas there is a clear focus on Latin American programmes and I give special thanks for this on behalf of my beloved region.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would also like to show that UN Women is to be found in place number 11 for contributions by Spanish foreign aid to other sister agencies of the system whether this be UNDP (9.7%), UNICEF (5.8%), FIDA (3.4%), WFO (3.3%); we receive approximately 2.5 per cent of Spain's multilateral contribution.

We want to generate a cultural change, change practices and behaviours that in many cases are deeply rooted in our society. It is not an easy task and nor is it a task that delivers visible results in the short term.

But we now see tangible changes in the world and we have specific results deriving from these contributions. For example, 140 countries have adopted laws against sexual violence, 103 countries have laws against sexual harassment. There are gender equality laws in 67 countries and this is the area, in the case of the political participation of women, where we are best able to assess these improvements.

In 20 years, between 1975 and 1995, the rate of increase of women in parliaments throughout the world turned out at only 1 per cent. Between 1995 and 2009 this percentage of participation went up from 11.6 per cent to 19 per cent. The increase has been important but however it has been less than our societies and communities require.

Here, briefly, I would like to tell you about some of the firsthand achievements that we have obtained as UN Women over the last 2 years.

We are implementing the World Programme for Safe Cities for Women and Girls together with HABITAT (United Nations) that includes at this time five cities: Quito (Ecuador), Cairo (Egypt), New Delhi (India), Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea) and Kigali (Rwanda). The objective of the programme is to generate a model that can be replicated by town councils and municipalities around the world so as to reduce harassment and sexual aggression in public spaces. The design of the evaluation of the impact of this programme has been carried out and has been enshrined as one of the objectives of the new Strategic Plan that can be replicated in 35 countries.

We are implementing a web platform with a Virtual Center of Expertise in order to Put an End to Violence against Women and Girls. The platform is the only one of its kind and brings together the most effective strategies and knowledge that have been accumulated from the experiences of various countries at the disposal of NGO networks, communications media, research centers, legislatures and the public in general.

The UN Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence against Women channelled technical and financial resources to governments and organizations of civil society, and has enabled us, since 1996, to support 317 programmes in 124 countries and territories to the tune of USD 60 million.

With regard to the economic empowerment which we are addressing in reference to domestic workers, women who work in informal jobs, migrant women and their contribution to the economy, together with the production of indicators disaggregated according to gender, race and ethnicity, this information provides the data needed to generate programmes or public policies that are concerned with this situation.

I want in particular to refer to the Gender Equality Fund, whose main donor is Spain and which has initiated its first year of operation with a definite objective: to support projects of civil society that are aimed at the economic and political empowerment of women in the world.

We disseminated the call for expressions of interest in five languages and through a digital platform and I can inform you that the demand has exceeded the capital available which is USD 69 million. We received more than 1,200 requests for an amount of USD3 billion and 127 countries participated.

Ladies and gentlemen of parliament, that is an unprecedented success. In order to achieve a fair and transparent evaluation of such numerous proposals, an open process was instigated in which 39 experts in gender equality in all regions of the world assessed the bids in accordance with empirical criteria.

As the result of this procedure, during the course of the first cycle of grants, the Fund provided USD 37.5 million to develop 40 programmes in 35 countries. Some examples are:

In Liberia more than 9,000 Liberians and their families will be able to depend on a reliable source of income to the extent that their markets are reactivated in markets in a timeframe of four years. In Egypt, Brazil, the Philippines and Cameroon work will be conducted to ensure that domestic workers and women who are employed in the informal sector can organize themselves and to ensure that their economic contributions and labor rights can be recognized.

In Morocco the women who live in 13 communities of the oases are achieving their independence and gaining a source of income thanks to solidly designed co-operatives. In Ghana, activists for the rights of women have made up the only coalition of women that participates as an expert organization in gender questions in the National Committee of Ghana on Climate Change.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, 180 young women acquired skills in leadership for negotiation, public relations and campaigns for gender equality. In China, women in three rural provinces claimed a seat at the table in the public forum and demanded training for candidates in order to achieve a better participation in governmental processes for decision-making. In Sri Lanka, by virtue of a considerable multimedia effort, women from ethnic minorities were trained to present themselves as candidates in the next elections.

The programme in Afghanistan focuses on the right of women to property and inheritance. In the Occupied Palestinian Territories, six community cooperatives worked to assert their economic and political rights. The programme in Mexico supports the management of women within one of the rural agricultural associations.

These are just some examples that provide a snapshot of what we are talking about when we refer to the support for the empowerment of women in the economic and political spheres.

There is one issue, however, that we need to improve even more and it is one of our challenges for this fledgling organization UN Women: the mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation.

We want to prioritize the evaluation of what we do; we want a rigorous analysis by experts to study what works when achieving progress in gender equality and what should be replicated and improved and what we should change in order to have a greater impact.

This is a concern shared by all of us who are concerned with gender equality in domestic policy and also cooperation policy given that it is of the utmost importance to determine which programmes and measures have more and better impact.

We have produced and disseminated 8 documents with corporate evaluations, and whose results are accessible publically as a demonstration of our transparency. These evaluations are evidence to us of important conclusions that will serve at the same time to guide our efforts in the future; I would like here to highlight four key factors:

  1. the evaluations conclude that the organization has been important in responding to national needs and effective in contributing to creating and approving national regulatory frameworks in spheres such as the elimination of gender violence or in regard to property rights; but they demonstrate that there are still shortcomings in the application or implementation of these laws that stand in the way of efforts to guarantee meaningful equality, with the result that specific measures are necessary;
  2. they show that the organization has been effective in strengthening capacities at the macro level in the institutions themselves, and the same applies to organizations of women and women´s collectives at the community level; UN Women has also been effective in creating forums for dialogue between civil society and governments as well as in creating accountability mechanisms; nevertheless, we should generate more long-term strategies for capacity-building;
  3. they indicate that the changes produced by the programmes raise serious issues of sustainability, a challenge that is common in social policies, and that in most of the cases they will require technical support and financial sustainability; and finally,
  4. they reveal evidence regarding the need to make progress with regard to the available tools for measuring progress in the attainment of gender equality and the empowerment of women that are capable of capturing changes in the medium and long terms, as well as progress in terms of meeting the need to strengthen our domestic capacities to make headway in these areas.

Ladies and gentlemen, perhaps you think that I have gone overboard in my remarks concerning the past but we want you to trust that we will be accountable and transparently so in the eyes of the representatives of civil society who have made these important contributions precisely so that we can help women in other countries. This is the basis of the strategic relationship that we want to continue maintaining from our vantage point at UN Women with Spain and with all other donors.

We have decided to advance even more and to establish tangible and measurable objectives. In addition to the priorities we have pointed to we are submitting for consideration by the Executive Board the proposal that each one of the priorities listed should yield measurable results concerning the focus of our evaluations within a six-year time frame. For example, by the end of 2017 we have to obtain an increase of 30 per cent in the representation of women in national parliaments and municipal councils, in at least 30 per cent of countries which have in place United Nations programmes.

By 2017 at least 20 more countries — in which the United Nations works — will have reinforced the social protection of women in the informal employment sector, especially for migrant women and domestic workers.

And I could cite here, although they have still not been approved by the Executive Board, approximately 30 deliverables with specific dates, specific objectives and that are firmly rooted in a desire to achieve results in terms of enhancing the rights of women.

At the same time we want to achieve meaningful results in the way we manage our internal work, for which we have strengthened our capacities while striving for closer partnership within the United Nations System as we seek to achieve a greater cohesion and efficiency in the joint work of various agencies.

The last thing we want is any duplication of effort or the slightest diminution in the efficiency of the system's work to obtain gender equality and the empowerment of women.

And this leads me to explain to you one of the novelties of UN Women, in this case concerning my position of Deputy Secretary General. In accordance with the resolution of July 2nd 2010, we also have the role of an overseer designed to ensure the various agencies in their sphere of operations attend to and emphasize the task of gender equality and the empowerment of women. We are not looking for vigilantes, but for effective advocates for gender equality at each and every agency.

It is no accident that the creation of UN Women is inserted within the resolution whose title is “Coherence in the whole system because UN Women is definitively the first major reform of the United Nations System and whose ultimate objective is to improve its efficiency and achieve the greatest coherence and effectiveness in its functioning.

We applaud the fact that this should be the first large reform because this implies large hopes and expectations placed in our organization. These are aspirations that have been expressed by governments, institutions and civil society because without the help of all stakeholders this change would not have been possible.

And we want all these stakeholders to continue supporting us. With the governments on the Executive Board dialogue is proving extremely fruitful and I wish to assure you that Spain is being a strong ally in the implementation of this new organization. We wish to convey our formal gratitude to you here today in Parliament.

We have also articulated consultation mechanisms with civil society to formulate our Strategic Plan and here in Spain we have witnessed the participation of many organizations with whom in the course of my visit we wish to communicate and share information on current discussions and project approvals.

It is within this context that we want to renew our strategic alliance with Spain. We don't simply want to comply with the Strategic Agreement that has already been signed-rather we want to go further in emphasizing UN Women's truly universal nature as an institution.

Spain is a benchmark in public policies for gender equality and the empowerment of women. It is not surprising that Spain should be found among this minority of 28 countries where over 30 percent of MPs are women; Spain has advanced public policies on the elimination of gender violence (although this is a global scourge that it is difficult to eradicate); nor should we find it unusual that the Law of Equality takes important steps to advance the economic empowerment of women.

It is for that reason that we would like to propose to the various competent institutions that action should be taken, with our support, to support the creation of a World-Wide Center of Knowledge of Public Policies for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. The goal here should be to gather data on what the various government agencies in the Spanish State, from the Government of Spain to the Governments of the different Autonomous Communities and local authorities, are doing and promoting for the women, and to manage the distribution and exchange of experiences and knowledge with other administrations in the world.

A world center of expertise located in Spain would allow for generating a kind of cooperation and collaboration with the world which will, without question, set a precedent.

I am very conscious that many critical decisions have still to be made, including in Spain. A great many women feel oppressed because, when it comes to the distribution of household tasks, they dedicate five hours a day whereas their male companions do not even devote two hours to these activities. Shouldering family responsibilities, domestic tasks, bringing up children, the care of the ill or older people should be a shared responsibility.

There are new social situations to which we must pay attention: in Spain 25 percent of the grandparents (or should we say grandmothers) take care daily of their grandchildren, and the question that we must ask ourselves as a society is, how should we help them? How can we continue to make progress in such a way that there isn't a single fatality related to gender violence-and in the unfortunate event that it does arise, how can we provide protection and all necessary support to the victims, shelters, family care, etc.?

For that reason we want to collaborate with the institutions, the Government, and also with the Parliament. As I already proposed to them in the General Assembly of the Inter Parliamentary Union a few months ago in Panama, we would like to articulate a dialogue with the Parliament at the beginning of the legislative session, and to embark upon a diagnostic assessment that enables us to determine us how we can work together in empowering Spanish women in their efforts to achieve gender equality.

Ladies and gentlemen, members of parliament, I wish to conclude these remarks as I began, by expressing gratitude to Spanish society as a whole, through all the political parties, authorities, and civil society, for lending their staunch support to the cause of social justice and solidarity among societies and helping to bring about a better life for one and all around the world.

Thank you very much.