Remarks of Michelle Bachelet at a reception in Senegal with women parliamentarians, women leaders and women from civil society

Date : 08 January 2013

Remarks by Michelle Bachelet, UN Women Executive Director at a reception in Senegal with women parliamentarians, women leaders and women from the civil society. Hotel King Fahd Palace, Dakar, Senegal. 7 January 2013.

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It gives me great pleasure to share this evening with you as women leaders and gender equality advocates here in Senegal. I have followed developments in Senegal closely and am particularly impressed by the great strides that this country has made.

Allow me at the outset to express my gratitude to the Government of Senegal for the very warm reception, which has been accorded to me. I would like to convey very special thanks to the Minister for Family, Children and Women's Entrepreneurship, Hon. Mariama Sarr.

We all know that women's full and equal participation is vital to peace, sustainable development and to democracy. Dear friends and partners, allow me to take this opportunity to congratulate President Macky Sall and the people of Senegal for upholding this very noble practice.

I would also like to congratulate you, women leaders. In 2010, the law establishing parity between men and women at elective functions was adopted. As you may know, I am an ardent supporter of measures to level the ground for elective or competitive posts. By enacting enabling legislation and quotas, we have the strategies for a level playing field between women and men when it comes to increasing women's political participation and decision-making.

We have often been asked the question whether numbers per se count and whether we err in working on numbers. To this I say, yes, numbers matter. In critical processes and decisions, there must be a critical mass of women. This is where the numbers come in and that is why those brave advocates at the Fourth World Women's Conference in Beijing identified the critical mass as being at least 30 per cent.

Nevertheless, of course, we all know that this is just the first step. Going beyond numbers, we must remain vigilant on the quality of those we support. UN Women therefore strongly believes in working with women leaders for cross fertilisation of knowledge and ideas, for building platforms for relevant advocacy and sensitisation, and in constantly reinforcing capacities for the noble tasks that women leaders and gender advocates are called to perform.

Last month I was in Indonesia, where, thanks to a concerted effort to get more women elected through quotas, there are now 104 women in the national legislature. I am a strong supporter of quotas because they move us closer to equality.

Quotas have guaranteed that women comprise one-third of village council members in India, that one third of the parliament in Burundi is female. And in Rwanda, a shining example of which we are all aware, an enabling environment coupled with strong political will explains the amazing change in the political landscape. Rwanda leads the world in having the highest percentage of women, 56 per cent of women, in its national parliament.

Here in Senegal, adopting the law on parity was a brave and forward-looking act from the Senegalese nation and its leaders. This decision is bearing fruit. Senegal has leapt from the 54th to the 6th position in terms of women's political representation with some 43 per cent female parliamentarians. I congratulate Senegal for this achievement.

I look forward to a time when we will evaluate this representation and return the verdict that it is well worth having more than a critical mass of women in parliament. I have no doubt that this verdict will be confirmed with the experience here in Senegal.

In this regard, I look forward to similar improvement in female representation in the next local and legislative elections. I similarly look forward to efforts to see higher retention levels for girls at the higher echelons of schooling.

Dear leaders, friends and gender advocates,

We count on you to amplify the voice of Senegalese women, to ensure that women and girls have equal opportunities. This is especially important in the workplace and in the labour market.

There is rising evidence that societies and economies grow healthier and stronger with the full and equal participation of women. This is the finding of a growing number of studies from all around the world - from the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United Nations, policy think tanks, and the private sector.

All of these studies point to the same inescapable conclusion: Removing barriers to women's role and participation fuels economic development.

All nations have much to gain from women's participation - and this includes gains not just for women, but also for men and for children—gains in the economy, in health and well-being, and in brighter prospects for the future.

Let us make every effort to unleash the full potential of women and girls. Let us redouble efforts towards the eradication of all forms of gender- based violence and discrimination. I know that Senegal is making much progress to end harmful practices such as female genital mutilation.

Your efforts are strengthened by a resolution adopted unanimously last month by the nations of the world in the UN General Assembly. The resolution urges countries to condemn all harmful practices that affect women and girls, in particular female genital mutilation, and to take all necessary measures, including enforcing legislation, awareness-raising and allocating sufficient resources, to protect women and girls from this form of violence.

We must also confront sexual violence and early marriages that deny girls the opportunities that should be theirs to build a bright future. Violence against women and girls continues every day in every country around the world. We must continue the struggle to protect the rights of women and girls. We must end the impunity that allows these crimes to continue.

Friends, this is the reality that today, girls and women in Eastern DRC and northern Mali endure on a daily basis. Women leaders, gender and human rights advocates, and UN Women cannot afford to be silent in the face of violence that targets the bodies of women and girls.

All over the world, women have always played a significant role in their families and their communities. They set their priorities and make the necessary sacrifices to attain them. I believe this is why in Senegal today, the latest statistics on women headed households indicate that 67 per cent of them are better off than male-headed households. We must, however, be careful not to let such statistics lead to the erroneous conclusion that women are less poor than men, as the comparison is based on a fraction of households led by women.

What we do know is that achieving gender equality is not the job of women alone. It requires the engagement of both women and men. To succeed, we need to join hands and work together. I am therefore pleased to see in our gathering today some of our male champions and advocates, including Doctor Kasse, who has been providing medical responses to victims of Female genital mutilation (FGM) and also sensitizing against violence against women and harmful traditional practices.

I would like to express my optimism for the future of this country, for its stability and development. In the current context of economic and political crisis in the Sahelian region, Senegal gives us hope. Senegal also proves that democracy can guarantee peace and security.

As the Prime Minister recently remarked, “Les femmes sont une supériorité I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate UN Women's ongoing support to the Government and people of Senegal for women's empowerment and gender equality.

Thank you.