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

Lecture by Michelle Bachelet at symposium sponsored by Japan Liaison Conference for the Promotion of Gender Equality

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Date: 13 November 2012

Lecture by Michelle Bachelet at symposium sponsored by Japan Liaison Conference for the Promotion of Gender Equality. Tuesday, 13 November 2012.

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Good morning. It is wonderful to be here in Tokyo with all of you. I would like to thank the members of the Liaison Conference for the Promotion of Gender Equality, which sponsored today's symposium; in particular, Ms. Hideko KUNII, Chairperson of the Board of Ricoh IT Solutions Company, and coordinator of the Women's Empowerment Principles for the private sector in the Liaison Conference.

This is my first visit to Japan as the UN Women Executive Director and this is a visit I have been looking forward to very much.

I express my sincere appreciation to the Government and the people of Japan for your leadership in multilateralism, international peace, sustainable development, and human security. This leadership has remained firm and strong, even through hard and trying times for the people of Japan.

I came from New York, where we are still recovering from the storm that you heard about, Hurricane Sandy. Last year Japan suffered very much from the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. People worldwide joined the people of Japan in solidarity. The world shared your shock and sadness at the devastation, and we shared your hopes for recovery and better times ahead.

The world was inspired by your determination, strength and resilience. We all have much to learn from you, the people of Japan.

Today all around our planet, winds of change are blowing. We are living in a time of turbulence, uncertainty and transformation. People are looking for hope for the future.

Hope can be found in many places. It can be found in one of Japan's centenarians, a poet who didn't start writing poetry until she was 92 years old. Toyo Shibata is now 101 years old. She touched a chord and sold more than a million copies with her first anthology of poems entitled, “Don't Give Up.

Her poems are a voice of hope from a woman who has not given up for more than a century. Here in Japan and around the world, I have seen how people are resilient and come together in solidarity.

In all countries, people want a good life for their families and children. People want to live free from fear and want, in peace. People want equal opportunities to live up to their potential.

For years, people have looked to Japan with respect for your focus and scholarship on the concept of human security. Sadako Ogata and other Japanese nationals have pushed this paradigm forward with a focus on human rights, human dignity, freedom from fear and want, and protection of the environment. The concept of human security has gained broad acceptance in the international community.

Today I will talk about how gender equality and women's empowerment are vital to human security and give all of us hope for the future.

Here in this nation, you have a proverb that says “Japan is the land where dawn doesn't break without a woman. I would like to thank Japan for being a strong supporter of the United Nations, a good friend to UN Women, and a partner for gender equality worldwide.

UN Women was created in 2010 to deliver on a promise in the UN Charter, the promise of the equal rights of men and women. UN Women, like the UN's specialized agencies, has a universal mandate. We help governments set standards for what gender equality should look like and how we should get there. As countries fulfill the commitments they have made when signing on to international conventions, they seek our advice on the most effective steps they should take.

Every country - because no single country is perfect - is travelling down the road to full gender equality and they face different and yet shared challenges. There is much that countries can learn from each other and so we in UN Women try to analyse the wealth of experience to bring this knowledge to the service of all.

Let me give you a few examples. We have supported a very successful programme spearheaded by urban authorities in several cities, including Cairo, Delhi and Kigali to combat violence against women in public spaces. This programme has been so successful that recently, Dublin and Oslo asked whether they could apply the lessons of these experiences.

UN Women is always ready to provide technical advice to all countries. Last year we helped the Council of Europe develop a path breaking Convention to Eliminate Violence against Women by providing expert advice.

A few weeks ago, UN Women launched a Source Book on Women, Peace and Security that brings together practical advice on a range of issues, including the preparation of National Action Plans on Women, Peace and Security, which the Security Council has recommended that all countries do. With our universal mandate, we provide advice to all, although programmatic support using development funds is provided only to developing countries.

Equality depends on all of us. This year I have three top priorities for UN Women. They are linked to the biggest gaps and problems for women. Gender equality will never be reached if women are not in power. Therefore, we support women as powerful agents of change and we focus on advancing women's political participation and leadership, expanding women's economic opportunities, and ending violence against women and girls.

I commend Japan for the critical leadership role it has played in advancing women's political participation and leadership. Last year Japan co-sponsored the General Assembly Resolution on Women's Political Participation, and UN Member States adopted it by consensus during last year's 66th Session.

The General Assembly Resolution recognizes the essential contributions that women around the world continue to make to the achievement and maintenance of international peace and security and to the full realization of all human rights, to the promotion of sustainable development and economic growth, and to the eradication of poverty, hunger and disease.

It reaffirms that the active participation of women on equal terms with men at all levels of decision-making is essential to the achievement of equality, sustainable development, peace and democracy.

Women's representation is important for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it is a simple matter of justice. Women constitute 51 percent of the world's population and should be fully represented in elective decision-making bodies.

Women's representation is also a matter of a functioning and thriving democracy. As has been noted by constitutional experts, women's experiences are different from men's and their voices and insights need to be heard and taken into account to craft effective policies that respond to the needs of the entire population. Democracy is not only about voting, but also about representation.

I know from my own experience as the President of Chile, that when women are at the table, the nature of the discussion is different, there is a stronger search for solutions and the outcomes are better. When women and men take decisions together, government policy is likely to be more effective in promoting the common good, and the dialogue is more broad and responsive to public demand.

Research also shows that a greater variety of issues is raised when there are more women in parliament. A study of 19 OECD countries from 1970 to 1990 found that women's representation in parliament was significantly correlated with the strengthening of childcare and parental leave policies. And not only parliament - all levels of representation; local, regional and so on.

For these reasons and more, UN Women works for ‘gender-sensitive parliaments,' which have three primary dimensions. The first dimension is increasing the number of women who participate as Members of Parliament. The second aim is to ease the access that women have to participate through Parliaments - whether as MPs or as constituents.

Finally, the third aim is to promote gender-responsive content of debates and legislation in Parliament to ensure that laws, policies and budget allocations respond to the broad needs of society, which include women and the perspectives they represent.

At UN Women, we know from our work with parliamentarians around the world that the institutions themselves can make seemingly minor adjustments that open possibilities for women's greater influence and participation. This ranges from changing the timing of meetings to making buildings more friendly to women and mothers. It also means structuring the work environment to open spaces for women's voices, for example, through the creation of women's caucuses.

Critically important to success is women's access to the budgeting process, a central mandate of all national Parliaments. By taking special measures to account for the needs of women and their valuable experiences, national budgeting processes can ensure that women are not only being provided with their basic needs but also being empowered to be full and productive citizens of their community who can claim their rights.

UN Women has worked extensively in the area of gender-sensitive budgeting and stands ready to provide resources and support to Parliaments that wish to deepen their work in this area. One thing I learned while in office, is that there is no such thing as gender neutral policies. Development projects must be analyzed form a gender perspective. For example, in many places parents won't send girls to school because it lacks girls' bathrooms. We must take such specificities into consideration to make efficient policies that work for women and girls.

Overall, we know that women's participation in decision-making processes has many benefits, which I have mentioned. We also know that more women in politics leads to more openness and transparency thus facilitating increased accountability vis-à-vis citizens. There is a saying: When one woman enter politics, she changes. When many women do, politics change.

Another benefit is the so-called role model effect. Having more women in politics, and also in boardrooms and leading key organizations, has been shown to have positive effects on the academic performance and career aspirations of young women. We should not underestimate the power of symbols. Former Finnish President, Tarja Halonen, often tells the story of when she visited a kindergarten after nine years in office. She asked the children what they wanted to be when they grew up. One little boy was silent, and she asked, “Maybe you would like to become president?. “No, he said, “only a woman can be president!. As for myself, once I had been Minister of Defence, it became conceivable that I could also be president. Having women in positions gives young girls and women hope of what they can be.

Yet despite the many benefits, women remain systematically under-represented in elective decision-making bodies.

Today women constitute 20 percent of parliamentarians globally and 13.4 percent of the parliament here in Japan.

Because no policies are neutral, I am a proponent of temporary special measures, such as quotas, to increase the number of women in parliament and leadership positions. This is in line with international agreements and it is an effective way to promote equality. Of the 33 countries today that have more than 30 percent women parliamentarians, 26 used temporary special measures to achieve this objective. Without special measures, Tunisia would not have 26 per cent women legislators. Without special measures, it will take too long to achieve gender parity. The number one country for women's representation is not, as you may think, a Nordic country. It is Rwanda. Number four is South Africa. So it is not a matter of rich or poor.

We need more women leaders working alongside men to make societies economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.

I have just spoken about increasing women's political participation and leadership. Now I will turn to advancing women's economic opportunities.

We have a rising pile of studies, from the private sector, the IMF and the United Nations that all come to the same conclusion. Closing gender gaps in the labour force and removing barriers to women's full participation actually helps countries to survive and thrive in today's globalized, competitive and fast-changing environment.

Japan, like other nations, has much to gain from gender equality - and this includes gains not just for women, but also for men—gains in the economy and in prospects for the future.

The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index 2012, released recently, ranks Japan at 101 out of 135 countries, due to low scores on women's political participation and women's economic participation and opportunities.

While women worldwide contribute to the economy and its productivity, they continue to face many barriers compared to men, and this is not only hurting women, it is holding back economic performance.

In the last 30 years, 552 million joined the labor force globally. Today 4 in 10 workers globally are women. But half of the world's working women continue to be in vulnerable employment, trapped in insecure jobs, often outside the purview of labour legislation.

Across all regions and most occupations, women are paid less than men for the same job, or for work of equal value. In fact, in the majority of countries, women's wages represent between 70 and 90 per cent of the wages of men.

Here in Japan women earn about two-thirds of the income earned by men, and, as in other countries, women are a majority of the non-regular employees and are under-represented in supervisory jobs and in management track positions.

But this is not just an issue of increasing women's income and equality- though this is important. Women's work is vital for full economic performance. A recent study among OECD countries shows that female labor participation rates are positively correlated to gross domestic product. In other words, nations with high rates of women workers have high rates of economic performance.

Thus, increasing female labor participation could translate into economic gains for the Japanese economy. The bottom line is this: Japan needs more women workers at all levels of the supply chain for economic growth and recovery.

Today almost 3.4 million Japanese women are willing to work, but are not currently taking part in the labor force. If these women were included in the labor force, Japan's GDP would have increased by 1.5 percent.

While 65 percent of female college graduates are employed, too many women in Japan quit their jobs when they become mothers. Data show that more than 60 percent of Japanese women leave the workforce after their first child. And this is not a private matter, this is a matter of public policy. Because cultures can change.

Policies can help working parents, both mothers and fathers, reconcile work and family life and enjoy equal opportunities. I experienced this in Chile. As a young mother and a pediatrician, and even while being minister, I experienced the struggles of balancing family and career and saw how the absence of childcare prevented women from paid employment.

The opportunity to help remove structural barriers that produce injustice and inequalities was one of the reasons I went into politics. I wanted to create equal opportunities. It is why I supported policies that extended health and childcare services to families and prioritized public spending for social protection such as pensions for the elderly.

Here in Japan, data show that after age 30, women in Japan spend more time on unpaid work such as cooking, cleaning and childcare, than on paid employment. After reaching childbearing age, Japanese women spend between two and eight times more time in unpaid work as in jobs that provide financial compensation.

Losing so many women workers or entrepreneurs when they become mothers is putting the brakes on growth and productivity. According to research by Goldman Sachs, if Japan were able to close the gender gaps in employment, this would result in an increase of 8.2 million workers which could boost Japan's GDP by as much as 15 per cent.

Increased growth would benefit Japan's aging population.

Studies show that women and men have similar poverty rates up to age 64 at around 15 percent. But these rates diverge significantly at higher ages, with women's poverty rates increasing to 27 per cent at age 80 and above.

This means that Japanese women grow poorer as they grow older. And with women aged 80 to 89 projected to be the single largest age group in Japan by 2060, policies to ensure women's participation in labour markets and social protection can increase social cohesion for Japanese society in the coming decades. And I would add: it's not an option to include women, it is a necessity for Japan's sustainability.

All over the world, in some places more than others, there is a lingering belief that mothers should not work and should stay at home to take care of the house and children. There is a belief that men are the bread-winners and women are the care-givers and house-keepers.

The government's new action plan to revitalize Japan's economy through women's increased participation - “Working Nadeshiko - recognizes the need to change gender attitudes and norms in addition to policies.

And gender norms are not immutable. Cultures change all the time. Since I've been in Japan I've been told more about the phenomenon of “Iku-men, men and husbands who are actively engaged in child rearing.

I have also heard about some recent important private sector initiatives, including from Keizai Doyukai, of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, to set a target of 30 percent female managers. These initiatives are highly encouraging.

Advancing women's rights, opportunities and participation and enabling parents to balance work and family life helps countries to grow and remain strong.

Of course, I realize that finding the right fiscal policy is especially hard when growth is low or recession hits, as we see in many advanced economies across the world that are taking austerity measures.

Japan too is confronted with difficult choices. Given the high debt level, large-scale increases in social spending are not affordable. I submit that prioritizing women's equal opportunities and gender equality can provide a double dividend by boosting economic growth and strengthening social cohesion.

At UN Women, we have learned that achieving women's empowerment and gender equality requires working on many fronts at once.

Just last night I had the honour to attend the Tokyo Tower event to send out the purple light to end violence against women and girls. This violence against women occurs in every country and UN Women is working with countries to prevent and end it.

All over the world, the first step has been taken. The silence that for so many years allowed these crimes to continue is being broken.

Today more than 125 countries have specific laws that penalize domestic violence, a remarkable gain from just a decade ago. Studies show that countries with strong laws have lower rates of violence against women.

Violence against women is one of the worst violations of human rights and it is accompanied, unfortunately, by high levels of impunity.

It is a widespread crime that is rarely punished, deeply rooted in gender inequality, and requires a holistic response. Such a response requires effective - and implemented - legislation, campaigns to end tolerance of these crimes, programmes for prevention, protection and services to survivors, and research and data collection.

Today globally, up to seven in ten women are targeted for physical and or sexual violence in their lifetime and 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is still not considered a crime. Here in Japan, one in three married women has experienced some form of physical and or sexual violence.

We all need to do more to end this violence.

I commend Japan for its national policy on gender equality, which also contains very important measures on violence against women, and also for specific legislation addressing domestic violence, sexual harassment, sexual violence, and trafficking. I also commend Japan for particular initiatives to tackle harassment in public spaces and others being undertaken to provide women with services such as shelters, consulting offices and spousal counseling centres, and for training police, judicial and immigration personnel to deal effectively and sensitively with women who have suffered violence so they can obtain justice.

Perhaps nowhere is the search for justice more difficult than in countries affected by conflict. Today 90 percent of victims of conflict are non-combatants. Women and girls are targets of sexual violence and rarely have resources to protect themselves or access to resources that will help them rebuild their lives.

In recognition of the devastating consequences of violence and conflicts on societies particularly on women and girls, as well as the critical role that women play to rebuild their societies in the aftermath of conflicts, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted the landmark resolution 1325 on ‘Women and Peace and Security' in the year 2000.

The resolution urges the international community to better protect women and girls from human rights violations and ensure that perpetrators of such violence do not go unpunished.

The Government of Japan supported the adoption of the resolution. You have continued to provide support towards the implementation of resolution 1325 on women and peace and security, in particular, in the area of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.

In collaboration with partners, UN Women is supporting women's role in peace and security in almost 40 countries. This includes support for strengthening women's peace coalitions and their engagement in peace processes, working with peacekeepers to help detect and prevent conflict-related sexual violence, building justice and security institutions that protect women and girls from violence and discrimination. We also support initiatives to promote public services that respond to women's needs and that promote women's access to economic opportunities.

Together we take these actions because we know that women are more than victims of conflict. Women are also agents of peace, reconciliation and stability. And women constitute a huge pool of intelligence, wisdom and potential that we need to fully tap to be more effective in saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war and realizing the vision and goals of humankind.

Governments and the United Nations must act bravely and quickly in times of peace and conflict to prioritize the human rights of women.

Since the adoption of Security Council resolution 1325, government and civil society actors have been working to get more women engaged in peace talks and peace building.

However, it is too slow. Twelve years later, we see that women are still marginalized from formal peace talks, and women in civil society still experience difficulties in trying to engage in peace processes.

In 24 major peace processes since the early 90s, women have averaged fewer than 8 per cent of members of negotiating delegations representing parties to a conflict. Of the 28 peacekeeping, political and peacebuilding missions of the United Nations, only five are headed by women.

Among the 11 peace agreements signed around the world in 2011, only two include provisions to improve the status and leadership of women in post-conflict recovery. Last year, women participated in the negotiating delegations in only four actual peace processes.

This needs to change because we know that the absence of women from peace talks and from the monitoring of peace accords actually affects the content of the agreements, and increases the risk of the re-emergence of armed conflict and the possibility of even worse cycles of violence.

If we look back, we see that historically, more than half of peace agreements fail within five years. Yet experience and research show that involving women is both the right and smart thing to do if we want better outcomes. It's right, because women are affected disproportionately by conflict and they deserve to participate in the decisions that shape their own lives.

It's smart because women participating in these processes build more durable and lasting peace. Women involved in peace talks commonly raise issues of human rights, justice, employment, food security and health care that are central to peace and stability.

Since January 2011, UN Women and the UN Department of Political Affairs have pursued a joint strategy to increase the number of women as mediators, observers and negotiators in peace processes managed by the United Nations.

Rapid response capacity has been strengthened. Guidance on how to address sexual violence in peace talks has been developed, and Member States are now invited to make active use of this expertise to render conflict mediation and prevention efforts more inclusive. Hundreds of women from Africa, the Balkans and Asia have been trained as mediators.

I thank Japan for its role in promoting peace and security as part of its contribution and assistance to achieving world peace. In particular, Japan's financial contributions and special assistance in reconstruction efforts in a number of countries following natural disasters or conflicts, such as Haiti and Afghanistan, has been instrumental in assisting the countries in pushing towards a more stable and peaceful society.

In conclusion, I believe that unleashing the full potential of women in the economy, the political arena and in society is needed now more than ever. Given the new demands that we face today as humanity from climate change to financial crisis to poverty and conflict, we can longer afford to marginalize or exclude women.

It's a brave new world and we need brave new leadership. We need leadership that is ethical and advances peace, justice and equality. We need leadership that is inclusive.

As we look to the future with hope, we need leadership of both men and women.

I thank the Government and people of Japan for your commitment to peace, justice and equality.

I thank you.