Press Statement of Michelle Bachelet Executive Director of UN Women in Dakar, Senegal

Date : 08 January 2013

Press Statement of Michelle Bachelet, UN Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, at Hotel King Fadh Palace, Dakar, Senegal. 8 January 2013.

[Check against delivery]

Thank you all for being here today. This is my first trip to Senegal as the Executive Director of UN Women and I have been looking forward to this visit.

I just had very fruitful meetings with the President. I thank him very much for his continued support to UN Women and for advancing gender equality nationally and in the region.

During my visit, I met with Government officials, parliamentarians, and civil society partners, including women and men leaders who work tirelessly to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women.

I also visited women working in fisheries in Joal Fadiouth to see the work on the ground.

It is fantastic to be here in Africa. All over the world, in every region, it is clear that women's full and equal participation is essential to peace, sustainable development and to democracy.

I applaud Senegal for adopting the landmark gender parity law, which stipulates that half of the candidates in local and national elections are women. When men and women lead together, the decisions better reflect and respond to the diverse needs of society.

Here in Senegal, the law on parity yielded results. Senegal leapt from number 54 to 6 globally in terms of women's political representation with some 43 per cent female parliamentarians. I congratulate Senegal for this huge achievement!

In the lead-up to the elections, UN Women supported a Women's Platform for Peaceful Elections to help the voting process take place in a peaceful and transparent manner. This enabled female leaders to join and organize observer missions during the electoral process.

Looking ahead, I am confident that further progress will be made in women's representation in the local and legislative elections in 2014.

I am also hopeful that progress will be made to keep more girls in higher education. Greater efforts are needed to close the gender gap in education and literacy. Today the literacy rate among young Senegalese women aged 15 to 24 is 56 per cent compared to 74 per cent for young men. 

Education is the cornerstone for equality, justice and democracy. We know that education opens the door to jobs, political participation and wider choices. We also know that a child born to a mother who can read is 50 per cent more likely to survive past the age of five. Girls who finish secondary school are less likely to become HIV-positive, and up to six times less likely to marry as child brides.

UN Women is working with women leaders here in Senegal to build collectives and platforms for stronger advocacy and action for equality. All people should enjoy equal opportunities, in all spheres of life, and especially in the workplace and in the labour market. Here in Senegal the vast majority of women are engaged in the informal sector (83 per cent) and are in the lowest income bracket.

And let me say this: Achieving gender equality is not the job of women alone. It is the job of all of us. It requires the engagement of women and men, determined leadership, bold policies and changes in attitudes, and for all of us, including the influential media people like you, to work together.

Equality is a matter of human rights and it is also good for the economy. There is rising evidence from the World Bank, academia and the private sector that removing the barriers to women's role and participation fuels economic development. Thus I strongly call for concerted efforts to unleash the full potential of women and girls here in Senegal and in every country around the world.

In the fisheries sector in your country, women are very active in small scale processing and contribute 34 per cent of the total production. I was very inspired hearing the women of Joal Fadiouth during my visit there.

I am also inspired by the good work being done to end discrimination and violence against women. I know that Senegal is making much progress to end harmful practices such as female genital mutilation. Your efforts are strengthened by the United Nations General Assembly resolution banning the practice of Female Genital Mutilation passed on 20 December.

We must also confront sexual violence and early marriages that deny girls the opportunities that should be theirs to build a bright future. This is a reality today for far too many girls and women, including girls and women in Eastern DRC and northern Mali who endure such violations on a daily basis.
Tomorrow I will travel to Mali and then to Nigeria.

Women leaders, human rights advocates, and UN Women cannot afford to be silent in the face of violence that targets the bodies of women and girls!   

As your Wolof proverb says: Coonooy Njalbeenug Njarin- Difficulties are the beginning of success!

Violence against women is a global phenomenon. In some countries up to 7 in 10 women will be beaten, raped, abused, or mutilated in their lifetimes. Last year, UN Women launched an initiative called COMMIT. We urged Governments to implement international agreements on ending violence against women and to commit to new, concrete steps to end this scourge that affects women worldwide.

So far 13 countries have made new commitments, and we are expecting many more to do the same as we lead up to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which focuses this year on ending violence against women.

In conclusion, I would like to say that in the current context of economic and political crisis in the Sahelian region, Senegal gives us hope. Senegal proves that democracy can guarantee peace and security.

UN Women therefore very much looks forward to strengthened collaboration with Senegal.

Thank you. I look forward to your questions.