World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts Conference: UN Women Deputy Director Keynote Address

Date: 13 Jul 2011

Speech delivered by UN Women Deputy Director and Assistant Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri at the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) Conference, Edinburgh, Scotland, 11 July 2011.

[Check against delivery.]

Good afternoon. It's my pleasure to be part of the centenary celebration of international girl guiding and girl scouting. I bring greetings from Ms. Bachelet, who is a strong supporter of your movement and its mission. I want to congratulate you for a legacy of achievement and inspiration over the last 100 years. You continue to be a model for how much can be accomplished through community action and committed advocacy, and by fostering girls' leadership.

As volunteers, learners, educators, and community builders, your actions are authentic and powerful, based on self-convictions. I had the pleasure to interact with some of you yesterday, and was struck by your spirit, dedication, and the potential you each have to make gender equality real for women and girls; and by the strong synergy between UN Women's mission and that of WAGGGS.

UN Women, as a single driver for gender equality and women's empowerment, combines the mandate of four previous UN entities. It is less than one year old, and yet, as the UN's new global champion for gender equality, we too draw on a long tradition of international commitment to realizing the rights of women and girls. UN Women emerged from a global consensus, among governments, civil society and others, that much more must be done to achieve gender equality. We have set out to carry out global advocacy, to be a knowledge hub of data and best practices, drive international norm-setting and national action, whilst fostering partnerships with civil society, governments and community movements like yours.

2011 has been a year of milestones for women's rights, starting with the creation of UN Women. In March, we celebrated the centennial of International Women's Day, and it became an important reference point for looking at how far we have come as women and girls. One hundred years ago, one million women took to the streets, demanding better conditions at work, the right to vote and hold office, and in general, rights equal to those of men.

Since then, we have made unprecedented gains. In 1911, only two countries allowed women to vote. Today, that right is virtually universal, and 139 countries and territories now guarantee gender equality in their constitutions. Ending the longstanding silence and inaction that allowed domestic violence to go unchallenged, 125 countries now have specific laws that penalize this crime. Recognizing that violence continues from the private sphere to the public sphere, 117 countries now outlaw sexual harassment in the workplace.

Over the last 100 years, gold standards for women's rights and gender justice have been set at the United Nations through international instruments, such as the widely ratified Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW, for short, which provides the foundation for realizing equal rights between men and women and eliminating violence against women and girls. The year 2010 marked the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, an international declaration supported by 189 countries, including the UK, at the 1995 World Conference, which laid out the steps to be taken in order to realize and enhance CEDAW's goals. A series of resolutions passed at the UN Security Council now recognize sexual violence as a deliberate tactic of war and a threat to international peace and security, opening the door for actions to prevent and prosecute it.

Much has been accomplished, and more needs to be done. As UN Women's flagship report, Progress of the World's Women: in Pursuit of Justice, shows, gender justice is still out of reach for millions of women and girls. Globally, 53 percent of working women, 600 million in total, are in vulnerable jobs, or those lacking the protection of labour laws. In spite of laws in the books, on average, women are still paid 10 to 30 percent less than men across all regions and sectors. Some 603 million women and girls continue to live in countries where there is no specific legal protection from domestic violence.

The imperative to do much more for gender equality grows greater when we look around and see that the world we live in is younger than ever before — people between the ages of 15 and 24 represent 18 percent of the world population. Girls constitute half of that youth population, but that is where gender equality for them ends.

Girls are still less likely to be in school than boys. Almost 60 percent of young people living with HIV and AIDS are young women and girls. Some 150 million girls experience sexual abuse every year. Violence against girls and women is perpetrated in many settings, including where they should be safe and nurtured; at home, on streets and in schools, causing girls to drop out, or in their relationships, where date rape is all too common.

We cannot underestimate the gains that have been made, or the progress that we are yet to achieve, and we have come too far to regress. Women and girls cannot, and will not, wait for another 100 years to see the end of inequality, to live free from violence and discrimination, to be equal participants and agents of development.

Investing in gender equality pays off in many ways; we have to keep emphasizing that it is a global public good, that it benefits women and men, girls and boys. The World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report 2010 shows through research in 134 countries that greater gender equality correlates with stronger, faster growing economies. WAGGGS' new MDG+10 report resonates with UN Women's findings and recommendations. Empowering women and girls and working towards gender equality, MDG 3 contributes towards all the other goals. The Ghanaian scholar Dr. James Emmanuel Kwegyir-Aggrey once said, “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family, a nation. As WAGGGS' MDG report shows, educating mothers about equal rights of girls and boys reduces child mortality, improves maternal health, and enables girls to claim their reproductive rights.

Stopping violence against women and girls is key to achieving gender equality, and it is among the issues most fundamental to UN Women's mission. Violence against women and girls is the most pervasive human rights violation, and it translates into very high costs everywhere — in small and large, developing and developed countries — costs for health care, productivity, education, and in efforts to reduce poverty and all development goals. The annual costs of intimate partner violence were estimated conservatively at US$5.8 billion in the United States and US$1.16 billion in Canada. In Fiji, the annual estimated cost of such violence was US$135.8 million or 7 percent of the Gross Domestic Product in 2002.

There is no more effective remedy to the pandemic of violence than stopping it before it begins. That is why I am so pleased that UN Women and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts have become partners in prevention. The global campaign that WAGGGS is launching this week will put girls in the centre of prevention efforts as leaders, advocates and agents. UN Women is proud to work with you, to build communities where the culture of impunity towards such violence is rooted out.

Young women and girls like you are reservoirs of energy and creativity. You can raise awareness among your peers, be advocates for policy reforms, get crucial information about help, hotlines, legal aid, and services to other young women and girls in need through word-of-mouth and online networks. Most of all, you can lead the way to inculcate a new mind-set, shedding the mantle of victimhood and donning that of subjecthood and agency, to bring about much needed transformation in relationships.

At UN Women, we know that investing in girls and young women to support their safe transition into adulthood is one of the smartest investments that any country can make. UN Women's first Strategic Plan, issued last month, calls for achieving a better future for girls and young women. It will guide us in taking actions so that many more women and girls can become leaders and decision makers in all fields, empower themselves economically, play greater roles in peace processes, have an equitable share of attention in national plans and budgets, and of course live free from violence.

Ending all forms of violence against women and girls — from female feticide to psychological violence, early marriage, female genital mutilation, sexual abuse, rape, harassment and more — needs a multi-pronged approach from legislative changes to transforming attitudes and behaviours. UN Women has made this issue central to our advocacy and programming with three core priorities. First, we want to ensure timely, quality responses to girls and young women who survive abuse. We also need to ensure early intervention for boys, because those who witness domestic violence or survive sexual abuse are far more likely to repeat these violations later in life.

As a second priority, we emphasize primary prevention for both adolescent girls and boys, because adolescence is when gender identities and behaviours become instilled for life. Adolescence is also when most perpetrators commit their first acts of violence, so it is important to encourage alternative, non-violent behaviours, to unpack harmful notions of masculinity and to urge respect for women's rights.

A third priority is to recognize that girls and young women are tremendous agents for change, and foster youth community leadership in ending violence against women and girls. To support young women as champions for change, and assist them in tapping their own talents and creativity for prevention, activism, advocacy, and community and social transformation. For this, I would also urge you to join the professions of legislators, judges, police, community service providers, so that you can achieve gender justice.

UN Women's initiatives for ending violence against women and girls include our flagship global programme called “Safe Cities Free of Violence against Women and Girls. The programme, first piloted in five cities — Cairo, Kigali, New Delhi, Port Moresby and Quito — works with local partners and governments to put in practical measures to prevent sexual harassment and violence against women and girls in public spaces. In June, UN Women launched a new partnership with UNICEF and UN-Habitat to support Safe City initiatives in about 40 cities over the next three to five years.

UN Women also engages younger women and girls through our unique online advocacy platform, Say NO-UNiTE to End Violence against Women. Organizations and activists come to the site to share their campaigns, raise awareness and encourage millions of visitors to take action however they can. Say NO gives us all a chance to raise our voices, loud and clear, and be part of the UN Secretary-General's UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, which calls on governments, civil society, private sector and all others to join forces to combat this global pandemic.

We first became partners with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts through Say NO-UNiTE. Together, we have reached out to 10 million girls and young women across the world, encouraging them to say no and take action against gender-based violence. We are excited about the next stage of our work together, as this year, UN Women and WAGGGS will develop the first international non-formal education curriculum on ending violence against girls and young women.

The programme puts you, girl guides and girl scouts, at the heart of solutions to the challenges we face. It will equip you with knowledge about your rights, and tools to claim those rights. It will enable you to engage your peers and communities, boys and girls, young men and women, to lead and shape prevention efforts. WAGGGS members in at least 20 countries will roll out the curriculum, with national adaptations, by the end of 2012. UN Women will take it even further through our partners and field offices on the ground. We are counting on each and every one of you to add your support by sharing the curriculum with your Girl Guide and Girl Scout groups, your peers, your schools and communities. Leverage the power of the internet and social media to spread awareness about the issue and the actions you are taking.

Let us not forget that we are aiming for substantive gender equality in economic, social, cultural and political space, to correct a historical injustice that had left women and girls impoverished, disempowered, and violated for centuries. To succeed, we need additional efforts, including temporary special measures, so that women and girls are at equal footing with men and boys. Women and girls will have to demand equality, and men and boys must stand with us. We must engage all people at all levels, men and women, girls and boys. Gender equality is not a pie where if women and girls get their share, men and boys will get less.

Remember, violence and inequalities are deep-seated in gender norms, practices, beliefs, even in our language. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi once said, “How insidious and all-pervasive is this attitude of male superiority, is revealed in the vocabulary of the languages the world over. She further quoted from a book by Mr. Ling White, the President of Mills College, who had said about the use of masculine generic pronouns: “The penetration of the habit of language into the minds of little girls as they grow up to be women is more profound than most people have realized. For, it implies that personality is really a male attribute, and that women are a sub human … sub species … men as leader, woman as follower, man as a producer, woman as a consumer, man as strength, woman as weakness … this is a cosmography that has brought us to man as aggressor and humanity the victim. WAGGGS and UN Women must work together to change that cosmography.

You are the present and the future of this world. Our common future of human well-being and peace depends on your imagination, skills and energies to break the stereotypes, claim what's rightfully yours, and challenge the norms, laws and practices that discriminate and violate women and girls. It is my pleasure to stand here with you, in making it a better place for all.

Thank you.