Remarks by the Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet at the Congress of the Republic of Colombia

Date: 13 Sep 2012

Remarks by the Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet at the Congress of the Republic of Colombia 13 September 2012.

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Honorable President of the Congress of the Republic of Colombia, Senator Roy Barreras Montealegre,
Honorable President of the Chamber, Representative Augusto Posada,
Madame President of the Legal Commission on Gender Equality, Representative Nancy Denise Castillo-
Honorable Madame Senators and representatives members of the Congresswomen of Colombia Group,
Honorable Senators and Representatives,

From this platform, first of all I would like to start by thanking the Government of Colombia for having invited me to visit this country, and become familiar with the new initiatives that have been put into place with respect to women's issues, as well as the progress and challenges that are being faced as a society. As always, the warmth and hospitality of the Colombian men and women has touched me deeply.

On this occasion, I am visiting the country as Executive Director of UN Women, the new UN agency dedicated to working to defend women's rights throughout the world. One of my first tasks upon taking office has been to travel to different regions and countries across the globe with a view to placing the issue of women's rights at the top of the agenda as well as seeking to achieve far-reaching compromise with the various states and their authorities on areas of vital importance for development such as putting an end to gender-based violence, promoting the empowerment of women and also female participation in politics.

On this occasion, my official visit falls within the context of presenting The Guidelines of the National Policy on Gender Equality for Women - a political fact that is quite relevant. It is fortunate that the political momentum for a tangible peace in Colombia at present has the challenge of including a gender-based perspective that will help to involve women in the peace process and in rebuilding the society.

Colombia's Congress has played a vital role in drafting the legislative framework that will assist the government in defining what peace means. One striking example that comes to mind is what this congress has managed to achieve in less than a year of debate when it provided precise terms and conditions regarding the Law on Victims and Land Restitution - legislation aimed at recognizing and seeking reparation for the historical pain inflicted on women who were victims of the conflict that plagues Colombia.

What's more, such work is still underway with the Legislative Act of the Military Court, revision of the Law on Justice and Peace and possible regulations concerning the Legal Framework for Peace - regulations that should encompass an analysis of women's rights not only in terms of guaranteeing such rights, but also by including such as part of the peace agreements.

There has been joint cooperation in the past between civil society, the Congresswomen of Colombia Group, and other female members of Congress, with a view to making the rights of female victims part of Law 1448 and this constitutes a good point of reference from which one can move forward so that Congress can set out the legal and political framework for peace from the Congress - peace that Colombia deserves.

Congressmen and Congresswomen of Colombia, peace cannot become a reality without the involvement of women. The Columbian people, its men and women, its state entities and yourselves can count on UN Women to assist you in this process thanks to our experience and work in the field in this country.

In this respect, a major challenge for Colombia has been that of establishing the first National Public Policy on Gender Equality for Women, as well as all the necessary tools for its implementation.

The participatory effort that the Government has achieved for this document to be produced - spearheaded by the Office for Gender Equality and substantial support from social and grassroots organizations - should be reflected via the allocation of adequate funding to be able to satisfy the needs and meet the challenges that have been defined.

Only with substantial financial investment can the policy be able to transform the grim realities faced by women due to poverty, armed conflict, violence and exclusion from the higher echelons of public life.

Within the present context of discussion and approval of the National Budget for 2013, the Congress has a crucial role to play in order for this proposal to be successfully carried out in the medium and long term. Such a role should transcend use of any political influence so that public policy does not disappear due to political ups and downs, a cabinet reshuffle, or change of government.

Congressmen and Congresswomen of Colombia,

My presence here today in the congress is imbued with a specific objective: the official recognition of the legislative progress that has been achieved by this Congress with regard to the status of Colombian women.

Surely and steadily, the work carried out by the Congresswomen of Colombia Group, individual leadership by female Senators and Representatives, as well as strategic and unflinching support from many congressmen, has given birth to the existence of a legal framework that has enabled the safeguarding of the rights of women and young girls in Colombia to be reinforced.

The aforementioned legislation formulated in line with the Public Policy for Women will form the pillars of the future political and economic development of the country. In less than two parliamentary terms, this Congress has provided Colombian society with the Law on Comprehensive Protective Measures Against Gender-Based Violence - further reinforced by subsequent legislation to eliminate the problem of domestic violence.

In addition to what has been outlined above, Colombia has legislation recognizing the healthcare economy as part of the national accounts; norms exist for equal pay for men and women; the Legal Commission on Gender Equality has been created by law; thanks to political reform, a democratic representation quota on the electoral lists of political parties has been approved for those candidates seeking elective office. This quota was in effect for the first time during the last local elections.

Last but not least, the National Government has decided upon the drafting of a public policy for women through its Development Plan. Political participation still constitutes a major challenge for most Latin American countries. It is crucial to understand the importance of creating quotas on the political party lists for those candidates seeking elective office, as has been the case regarding Law 1475 of 2011 where such a quota was included by the congress.

It is important that the congress, political parties and the average citizen allocate the necessary time to this quota so that its application can have the expected results both during the next elections to congress as with later local elections.

As has been proven in other countries, such a measure is a useful one for the State in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and fulfill the terms of the CEDAW Convention as far as participatory democracy is concerned.

One should not lose sight of the fact that quotas are only a temporary measure that can be used to accelerate full and equitable participation by women in governance at all levels and leadership by women in all decision-making processes. This temporary mechanism also has a fundamental objective - breaking through the ceiling of 30 per cent in order to achieve full parity.

Although 50 per cent is the real percentage reflecting the level of representation that women need as they make up half of Colombia's total population.

In the same way, it is crucial to promote women's economic rights as a necessary factor to be able to overcome inequalities and poverty in Colombia. In this instance, draft legislation aimed at bolstering the “economic locomotives proposed by the government merits special mention.

In relation to this issue, a window of opportunity exists in terms of the upcoming debate of the draft Law on Rural Development and the consolidation of right of access to land and means of production for women living in rural areas.

A country with a strong agricultural base such as Colombia should start out by recognizing and working to eradicate the precarious conditions of women living in rural areas, namely those of poverty, lack of access to public services, especially as far as education and health are concerned. Women in rural area make an enormous contribution to society in terms of rural development and food security.

Equally important are the challenges to be faced by the congress with regard to gender-based violence, most of which are complex issues being faced by the state in its efforts to reconcile its policy on crime with serious acts of violence that are perpetrated.

I am referring to concrete facts such as rape crimes that are committed within the context of armed conflict, femicide, and burning women with acid. All of the former are issues that must be dealt with within the framework of the principles of Rule of Law as it pertains to social issues.

However, this mammoth task that is on the legislative agenda of the congress today and which will require special effort and attention by the Legal Commission on Gender Equality cannot be carried out in an isolated manner.It is clear that one must utilize existing ‘bridges' to involve civil society, the unions, judiciary, communications media, women themselves and all social partners, as key factors of any discussion and definition of a more equitable path to embark upon for Colombian society.

All such challenges being faced by the Congress of the Republic of Colombia at present, form part in one way or another of the strategic priorities that we have outlined for UN Women throughout the world, and which include the economic empowerment of women, female leadership and participation in politics, putting an end to gender-based violence, working to defend the rights of women in situations of conflict and post-conflict, and also the inclusion of the issue of gender equality as part of national planning for the development of our respective countries.

Following up on these objectives is a question of justice, but also constitutes an intelligent policy to adopt in order to improve the quality of our democracies, our quality of life, the well being of society and the creation of wealth. Eliminating gender inequality will help to eradicate all other inequalities.

The empowerment of women and gender equality are not a sectoral policy, but rather an all-encompassing policy that should guide all other policies and is a focal point of any political agenda, independently of any particular ideology.

Gender equality is a challenge to be faced that requires a large consensus across political entities, a road map and structural change rooted in political will and the firm belief that without half of Colombia's population, i.e. women, Colombia cannot make progress as a country.

We know that when more women participate in the institutional framework there is more representation, more transparency and more accountability. For this reason, our mandate must be to strengthen democracy, ensure that our political systems fully represent the men and women of each country, that such systems really tackle the problems of men and women from each country and do so in a participatory manner.

Debate, ideas and action should be at the forefront the way in which we handle our affairs. We at UN Women have decided to go even further and establish concrete and measurable goals.

In addition to the priorities mentioned above, we are submitting for discussion by the Executive Board that every one of the priorities previously mentioned lead to tangible results based on which we can assess our work over a six-year period. For instance, towards the end of 2017 we have as a concrete objective to increase by 30 per cent the number of female representatives in national parliaments and municipal councils, in at least 30 per cent of the countries where UN programmes exist.

UN Women has had a presence in Colombia since 2004. Firstly as the United Nations Development Fund for Women, Unifem, and, from 2010 onwards, as an autonomous agency of the United Nations System called UN Women. Since then, we work within the framework of the Women, Peace and Security Program the objective of which has been to include the gender perspective when dealing with conflict prevention, peace-building efforts and post-conflict processes, whilst defining the development agenda as being directly linked to the promotion and safeguard of women's rights.

The mandate for the UN Women country office in Colombia can clearly be identified in the aforementioned objective: firstly, advocacy efforts to increase the protective measures introduced to safeguard the rights of female victims of conflict and social violence and, secondly, to work in favor of increased female participation in peace-building efforts at the local, national and international levels.

Since the beginning of 2011, the UN Women country office in Colombia has intensified its efforts in those territories with higher incidences of women who are victims of violence, poverty, conflict and displacement, via the development of inter-agency agreements with other agencies belonging to the United Nations System.

In this way, the work of UN Women has broadened in the regions that favor UN Women's participation in strategic political forums as well as the inclusion of gender approaches as part of the processes of transitional justice and the justice system.

We have come to support the recently created institutional mechanisms for implementation of the Law on Victims and Land Restitution. We are continuing to focus our efforts on providing technical support to help develop the gender perspective in the Protection Unit, the Victims Support Unit, the Land Restitution Unit as well as the Historical Memory Center.

With the round table on Gender and International Cooperation in Colombia, in collaboration with the Ministry of Home Affairs, we have devised technical tools to assist women in decision-making roles so as to ensure that the involvement of the latter in politics is done in an efficient and effective manner, and thus encourage more women to participate in the higher echelons of power.

Along the same lines, we have worked with Colombian congresswomen and, more specifically, with the Legal Commission on Gender Equality, with a view to ensuring that this legislature puts gender issues on the agenda and implements legislation that is recognized internationally and respecting the principles of non-discrimination and equal opportunities.

Economic rights have also our interest and in line with the former, we have supported studies such as the one that was carried out by the former minister and senator Cecilia López Montaño via her think tank, a study aiming to include a new discussion on development in the public arena - a debate positioning the principle of equity as being an essential prerequisite for economic and social growth.

We are in the process of strengthening our support to the Ministry of Labor so that effective regulation of the Law on Equal Pay can be introduced. We are also accompanying efforts pertaining to the program to promote more inclusive conditions for women on the labor market as well as equitable policies for the latter within companies.

Finally, I would like to inform you that as far as Planning and Budgeting are concerned, our main institutional efforts have been focused on bolstering the capacity-building of the Office for Gender Equality in its attempts to promote the participative formulation of The Guidelines of the National Policy on Gender Equality for Women.

Honorable Congressmen and Congresswomen of Colombia,

I would like to conclude as I started by congratulating this legislative branch for all the work and responsibility that it has assumed as far as women's rights in Colombia are concerned. We at UN Women would like to reaffirm our determination to increase our support so that in the next 30 years even greater progress will be made in the fight to end all forms of discrimination against women and to achieve real and lasting equality.

At moments like this when the issue of peace is on the table, full and equitable participation by women is a guarantee of lasting peace, a solid democracy and sustainable development.

Thank you very much.

Michelle Bachelet visits Colombia

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