The 56th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women Is an Opportunity for Rural Women’s Voices to Be Heard by Policy Makers

Date: Sunday, February 26, 2012

More coverage and photos of Ms. Bachelet's activities at CSW56 »

Remarks of UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet at the NGO CSW Forum Consultation Day, NGO Committee on the Status of Women, 26 February 2012.
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Good morning! It is my pleasure to be at the NGO CSW Forum Consultation Day on the eve of the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

I wish to thank Ms. Soon-Young Yoon, the new Chair of the New York NGO Committee on the Status of Women, who invited me on behalf of the Committee to speak today. Her stellar reputation has been built on her commitment to gender equality and the empowerment of women and her belief in the power of NGOs to hasten progress for the world's women. Her positive energy is evident in the room.

I am honoured to be speaking at the same occasion as Ms. Mirna Cunningham Kain, Nicaraguan indigenous leader, and Chairperson of the 10th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. She is an academic, researcher, health professional, parliamentarian, social activist and this year's recipient of the Woman of Distinction award. On behalf of all of us at UN Women, I'd like to extend our congratulations to you!

This is my second time to address this wider NGO Community prior to a session of the Commission. And I am happy to be here. I cannot think of a more appropriate way to start a very full two weeks of meetings and events than with representatives of civil society.

I hope that this session will be an important marker on the road to a renewed and invigorated sustainable development agenda with gender equality and women's empowerment at the center. Most importantly, the meaningful and deepened engagement of civil society will be a critical element. I have every intention of carrying on this close relationship with civil society guided by our common goals and aspirations.

UN Women at One Year

Today I want speak to you about our first year of operations of UN Women, and our priorities for 2012. It is hard to believe that one year ago we were launching UN Women. Very early on, in consultations with many stakeholders, including civil society, I heard clear messages, including that UN Women must focus on a few issues and achieve visible results. I will mention here some achievements that UN Women can claim in the first year of its operations.

In the area of advancing women's political participation and leadership, UN Women provided support to more than 25 countries, to candidates, political parties, voters, electoral commissions and legislative efforts to ensure that more women were able to vote and get elected.

UN Women responded to the protests in Tunisia and Tahrir Square —by providing support for women's participation in constitutional reform, elections and political transition.

UN Women supported the establishment of the Egyptian Women's Union, an association of 500 groups, and facilitated the formulation of their demands in the Egyptian Women's Charter.

UN Women called out for concrete proposals from Governments and civil society in Arab States to support women's political participation and empowerment. We are providing $4.8 million dollars through the Gender Equality Fund to advance women's empowerment in the Arab world.

In September, we brought women leaders together at the General Assembly to call for more women leaders in politics worldwide and championed the adoption of the new resolution of the General Assembly. The resolution was adopted in December and it calls on countries to take concrete steps to increase women's political participation and leadership. We applaud the adoption of the resolution and look forward to working with you to make tangible progress.

In the area of women's economic empowerment, UN Women supported countries in providing training and skills, increasing access to markets, and making policies, laws and conditions fair for women.

There have been major gains in legislation, including the adoption of the ILO Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers, a new law on gender equality to advance equal opportunity in education and employment and improve women's rights in El Salvador and other countries.

New ground has been broken with tenure and property rights reform in Morocco.

Not least, UN Women has reached out to the private sector and secured the commitment of 257 CEOs to the Women's Empowerment Principles to advance decent working conditions and equal opportunities for women.

We have also initiated a partnership with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the World Food Programme to empower rural women.

Ending violence against women and girls was also a focus issue in 2011, as it always will be. UN Women launched 16 policy steps to end violence against women, and began an initiative to provide essential services to survivors. We supported Governments, women's groups and others in adopting laws and policies, raising awareness and delivering services.

In 2011, UN Women issued our first flagship report on progress for the world's women, In Pursuit of Justice. The report found that the rule of law still rules women out in too many cases, and increasing the number of women police and judges, and supporting women's legal groups can make justice work for women.

Success stories have been reported in various countries. For example, in Zambia the Ministry of Education supported an expansion of ‘safe spaces' for girls in schools. In Liberia, impunity and the level of violence has fallen, thanks to women setting up justice brigades.

Indigenous women leaders worked to stop the trafficking of women and girls and educated more than 4,000 indigenous women along the border of Brazil and Paraguay.

By end of 2011, the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women had a portfolio of 96 active grants, covering 86 countries and reaching over 6 million people, with a total value of over US$61 million.

In the area of women, peace and security, we heard the message that women are more than victims of conflict, that they are leaders of peace and democracy. This message was delivered when the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three women.

UN Women took steps to make sure that women play a central role in peace talks and peace building so that women affected by conflict can find justice.

A UN system-wide framework was put in place to increase coordination and accountability across the UN system for women's participation in resolving conflict, building peace and ending sexual violence.

I am pleased to report that there is agreement across the UN system to allocate at least 15 per cent of budgets for post-conflict recovery to ensure women's participation, and at least 40 per cent of temporary jobs in post-conflict recovery to women.

In the area of budgets and plans, UN Women worked in more than 50 countries to build capacity in gender analysis and budgeting, using sex disaggregated data for more equitable public policies and budgets.

In Ecuador, Ministries now use gender responsive budgeting, and resources allocated for gender equality tripled.

In Montevideo, Uruguay, a council of women advises the Mayor on the city's budgets and plans, and safety and services have improved.

In Rwanda, where gender budgeting is used, more money has been devoted to women's health contributing to a decline in maternal mortality.

Another of UN Women's mandates is to lead, coordinate and enhance the accountability of the UN system in its work on gender equality and the empowerment of women. In response, a system-wide action plan was prepared that lays a stronger foundation for promoting gender mainstreaming and accountability within the UN system.

I am pleased to report that, in 2011, contributions to UN Women totaled $235 million, representing a 33 percent increase from 2010 and our donor base has widened. However, meeting the target of $700 million for 2012 through 2013 will require intensified fundraising.

My top priority for 2012 will be to make a renewed push for women's economic empowerment and political participation. This is in response to women's demands as well as to recent events, to the transformations taking place in the political, social and economic spheres.

Our agenda is ambitious in 2012. UN Women will support women's movements in 52 countries on women's leadership issues. We will work with parliaments on law reform for gender equality in 20 countries. We will organize training in 38 countries for parliamentary and legislative techniques to advance women's political participation. We will support training for women candidates in 27 countries. And we will support reforms of electoral laws in 39 countries to facilitate the inclusion of women in elections as voters and candidates.

In 2012, UN Women will make a major global push with partners worldwide for women's economic empowerment. To put women on equal footing with men, we will advance training, equitable laws, social protection, and equal access to opportunities and assets, such as land and credit.

In 2012, UN Women will focus on making justice work for women, ending impunity, furthering prevention by engaging broad sectors of society, and ensuring services for survivors.

In 2012, UN Women we will focus on increasing women's participation in peace processes and political transitions, and expanding women's access to employment, justice and security in post-conflict situations.

We will continue to work with UN Country teams to expand gender responsive budgeting with the participation of women to achieve lasting institutional change.

We have a tremendous agenda. Obviously, we cannot do this alone. We will need the support of decision-makers, the voice of the media, and a concerted effort by the entire UN system and other development partners. And, we will count on you and work closely with you as we move forward.

At last year's Commission on the Status of Women, on a number of occasions I discussed with you setting up Civil Society Advisory Groups at regional and national level, as well as at global level.

UN Women's Strategic Plan includes the setting up of advisory groups at global, regional and country levels to provide regular feedback on UN-Women programming.

This is now in process and I have encouraged UN Women regional, and country offices to see to the establishment of regional and local civil society advisory groups.

I am pleased to inform you that I have taken steps to set up the UN Women Global Civil Society Advisory Group as a platform for regular dialogue between civil society and UN Women.

I have high expectations for this form of engagement with civil society at global and country levels, to serve as an ideas and strategy forum, on key policy, knowledge and advocacy issues.

I will announce the global group very soon, but I did want to share this very important development with you. I will say that the individuals, who will make up the groups, at country and global levels, will be individuals of stature, with a record of accomplishment on the ground, on areas related to gender equality and women's empowerment. The groups will have diverse and geographic representation. They will be drawn from global, regional, and national gender equality networks, women's organizations, academia as well as other non-governmental and grass-roots organizations.

The Global Group will be formed based on your nominations. The names put forward by civil society networks and consultations with civil society organizations.

In addition to the meetings that the global and country and regional groups will have, with me and my senior staff, in headquarters and country offices, the Groups will be provided with web-based platforms to engage with each other and UN Women's senior management.

This leads me to the end of my remarks today.

The next two weeks will largely center on rural women and girls who, we should not forget, constitute one-fourth of the world's population. They make vital contributions to the well-being of families and communities, local and national economies and yet they continue to face shocking inequalities and injustices. Together with all stakeholders, we must do our utmost to ensure that the outcome of the session is forward-looking, relevant and makes a difference on the ground in the lives of women and their families.

You will be examining all aspects of the theme of the session, not only in the conference room, but in a rich assortment of side and parallel events - nearly 300 in the Church Center and another 80 in the North Lawn Building.

By sharing your experiences with all stakeholders and learning from each other, by having frank and open dialogue, I expect that you and I will be invigorated, emboldened, and inspired by the time that the session is over. I hope these meetings will offer an opportunity for the voices of rural women to be heard by policymakers.

I want us to come away from the session with ever more determination to join forces and carry our messages of gender equality and women's empowerment into the Rio + 20 process and beyond into any sustainable development goals that are determined. Because we understand what sometimes gets forgotten, that the potential of women, especially rural women, is at the heart of ending poverty and hunger and achieving sustainable development. I know that we will put our voices together to remind all those here at this CSW and beyond of the simple fact that in a world ever more filled with uncertainty and questions, women's rights, and empowerment, and energy, and talent are the answer.

Thank you.