Remarks of the Executive Director of UN Women at the 3rd National Policy Conference for Women


Remarks of the Executive Director of UN Women at the 3rd National Policy Conference for Women Brasilia, Brazil, 14 December 2011.

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I want to thank the government of Brazil for having invited me to this Conference, which is for me a real privilege. To see here, women of all ages, from so many places and representing the millions of citizens of this big country — as the result of a democratic process that is wide-ranging and free — is a lesson for us all.

A process that began some months ago, back in the municipalities, reuniting fighting women from the most remote places in the Amazonian forest, the sunny coast and rustic north-east, the periphery of the great metropolis, and the rural communities of the south, all aware of the daily struggle of their peers and ready to pursue together one agenda and to bring to Brasil their proposals and aspirations.

Nobody knows the needs and demands of women better than you, and the opportunity that this Conference provides in addressing these needs and demands is of extraordinary value. You are the voices of all the Brazilian women who speak through you, and shake the rafters of this enormous auditorium.

The initiative of the Secretary of Policies for Women was crucial in terms of bringing us here today, but equally crucial, is the work of the organizations and movements of women, which every day, in spite of many difficulties redouble their efforts in search of a better life for all. Using an image from soccer, organized women can chest the ball, score a goal and defend, all at the same time. I want you to know that UN Women is with you, and is always going to be there.

This is a very special night for me. This is my first visit to Brazil in my capacity of Executive Director of UN Women. I feel a great affection for this country, because as I started out as Executive Director of UN Women, Brazil had elected its first female President, my dear friend Dilma Rousseff.

Some thirty years ago, we both experienced some very difficult times when we were younger and involved in political advocacy, in extreme difficult political environments for democracy in our countries. At the time, the presence of women in high positions was still a dream, but today, as President Dilma says: “we can do it."

Indeed it is about democracy that I want to speak in the first place. We can characterize this year as the beginning of the “fourth wave of democracy. As we could see in the dramatic events of the “Arab spring, women are actively involved in the new wave of demands for political freedom and dignity. In the streets of the Arab capitals, we perceived the presence of women of all classes protesting and raising their voices in favor of democracy and citizenship.

I had the privilege of attending in Oslo, Norway, the delivery of the Nobel Peace Prize that this year was given to three women, who have played essential roles in the processes of peace negotiations in their countries, and in the conquest and extension of forums for political activity, in hostile and adverse environments.

We can witness the same admirable advocacy with regard to Latin American women and their organized movements that have contributed substantially in the last decades to the efforts to fight dictatorships and to make democratic conquests. Many of those organizations are today pillars for societal control mechanisms, indispensable for the deepening of democracy, the fight against corruption, and the formulation of public gender-sensitive policies and diversity in its multiple manifestations.

Nevertheless, unfortunately, these achievements have not been translated into the presence of a significant number of women in positions of power and political activity. These territories are still kept separate on account of the traditional division of roles.

The reasons are many and are well known: the recent presence of women in public life; a contamination of political activity as the result of practices that, instead of bringing people together, alienate people who could be interested; the masculine dominion of the machines of political parties and the resources of the electoral campaigns; the lack of experience of women with regard to the exercise of power; and so many others. Nevertheless, as in everything and especially in life, we learn by doing.

Women represent nowadays a majority of the Brazilian electorate, a reason that is more than sufficient for ensuring that they are present in all the environments on a basis of parity with men.

The election of President Dilma, as well as the increasing presence of women in positions of decision-making, here in Brazil, must serve as an inspiration for many women, offering a unique opportunity to rethink political and electoral systems, and adjust these to reflect this new reality.

And speaking of power, experience has demonstrated the importance of suitable settings that make it possible to take advantage of the cross-sectional policies that unite all the areas of government around a high-priority issue, at the highest level of public management subject to compatible budgetary allocation. That is, sound institutions, installed in the center of power, that promote the empowerment of women, with a technical apparatus and sufficient resources, these being indispensable to guarantee progress and to prevent turning the clock back.

We live during a very special time, also because finally we are arriving at a consensus in the international community about the importance of the inclusion of the women.

All the powerful voices are saying it: governments, economic blocks, the organizations of international cooperation, the banks, the great corporations and others. It is not an accident that UN Women has come into being at this moment. On the basis of valuable previous work by other organizations, UN Women arrives with all its energy and courage, to say to the world that there will be no development, there will be no sustainability, there will be no possible future without women being meaningfully taken into account and included in all the activities, in all the areas and at all the levels.

As it can be imagined, UN Women has great tasks ahead. We have defined through a participative consultation with NGOs worldwide, experts and governments, 5 high-priority areas of work for the coming years: to face the violence that is experienced by women in all countries; to increase their economic autonomy; to promote more female leaders in policy and all the crucial areas of the development of the country; to increase the participation of women in efforts to achieve peace in countries in conflict and countries that are experiencing political transitions; and, finally, to collaborate with governments to obtain budgets and programs with a gender perspective.

To this end, we are working unflinchingly to put together the financial resources that are necessary in a quite adverse context of economic crisis and reorientation of investments.

We trust that the international community will fulfill its commitments with regard to the empowerment of women, but we are also are looking for “nontraditional financial support, such as major transnational corporations that have shown sensitivity and an inclination to invest in the promotion of the autonomy of the women, as a decisive contribution in terms of overcoming poverty and inequality.

Speaking of poverty and inequality, this great country that during decades was “the country of the future is giving a lesson to the world. When it is stated that, over the last ten years, almost thirty million Brazilian women and men have emerged from poverty and joined the middle-class, we could arrive at the conclusion that there was considerable work, leadership and much investment involved in this process. But, most important of all, there was political will, which, as we know, makes all the difference.

The dream of “Brazil without poverty finally seems viable, and with no need of a miracle.

Brazil has accumulated substantial experience of work with gender, race and ethnicity, with regard to combating poverty. The Brazilian programs in this area, today called “a social protection floor, have much potential for being replicated in other countries.

Here in Brazil, we have been present for twenty years, acting through historical alliances with various agencies of the federal government, organizations and networks of social movements and women's movements, research centers and public and private companies. I can say that, since 1992, we have played a role in all the national initiatives for supporting the empowerment of women and the elimination of violence based on gender, where very important progress has been made.

From these initiatives, I would like to emphasize the intensive consciousness-raising work for nondiscrimination against women and Afro-descendants, work that the office of Brazil spearheads throughout Latin America, especially vis a vis the production and analysis of statistics. We all know that inequality affects even more deeply women who are Afro-descendants and indigenous women, but we need to see this reality reflected in public policies aimed at improving the living conditions of women.

In 2006, we published, in collaboration with the Foundation Ford and the NGO CEPIA, a report that became a benchmark. I am speaking of the “Progress of Women in Brazil", the first extensive review of Brazilian women, with data and analyses updated on the situation, and detailing progress and setbacks in various areas. In the days ahead, we are going to launch a second edition of this Report, more comprehensive, updating the previous data and analyses, establishing comparisons and incorporating new subjects.


As I was saying to you, we have prevailed in the goal of tackling head-on violence against women in all the parts of world, independently of culture, tradition and the existence (or otherwise) of specific legislation. This is a complex and deep problem, that will continue to demand much work and resources, and from which no country, unfortunately, can claim immunity.

Days ago, we made a call to world-wide leaders, so that they mobilize political will and investment to guarantee a life without violence for women. We are proposing sixteen measures, which are to strengthen the implementation of anti-violence legislation, such as the Maria da Penha Law, and measures that allow for greater and better access of women and children to justice; to develop national and local plans of action, counting on National Pact of Confronting Violence against Women as an important benchmark; mobilizing actions and efforts to ensure that the mass media make a commitment to this issue, given that they — as we are never tired of pointing out — have an essential responsibility and a role in the promotion of cultural change when we speak of violence, inter alia.

In addition to being a strategic subject of the work of UN Women everywhere in the world, and significantly involving part of our efforts and resources, the elimination of gender violence has received, since year 2008, exceptionally important support from the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon. I am speaking of the world-wide campaign “Unite to end violence against women and children, through which all people, especially men, are summoned to help in saying ‘NO' to violence and are urged to stand up and be counted on this subject.

Many outstanding men already have done so, among them the ex-president Lula, athletes, soccer players, leaders, public artists and figures in several parts of the world. This is not only a cause for women, but also for a cause for men. No longer is there any doubt as to the necessity to invest in a new culture of peace and dialogue in gender relations so that violence truly diminishes; and for that we needed clear working strategies to deal with the men who are aggressors.

This includes military, conflict and post-conflict situations. By virtue of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, finally women are being involved in the processes of negotiation and maintenance of peace. And Brazil has played a very important role in this area, through its presence in peacekeeping forces of the United Nations and in the training of international military troops to carry out their mission.

In Brazil, we have supported efforts to strengthen training for peacekeeping forces in regard to the gender approach, and the specific protection of women and children in conflict and post-conflict situations. I must say that the Brazilian authorities have shown great sensitivity and receptiveness in the course of this work, essential in terms of guaranteeing the fundamental rights of women and children, who by virtue of their status already face daily deprivations and innumerable aggressions.

In June of 2012, the Conference of the Nations United on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) will be held in Rio de Janeiro, on a key subject: the sustainability of life on the planet, in an effort to integrate economic development, social development and protection of the environment.

Already twenty years ago, Agenda 21 pleaded for the protection of the environment as fundamental for the survival of humanity. As recently as 2009 we witnessed the emergence of the recognition of the need to ensure equitable participation of women so as to face the challenges of climate change. Furthermore, the following year some governments spoke of a gender dimension with an agreement being developed to address gender equality.

Nowadays there is no doubt as to the centrality of environmental issues and the crucial role which women play in such issues. Women usually are first in feeling the impacts of climate changes: they support a great and increasing load in their daily activities as managers of domestic resources, such as water, food and fuel. Like small farmers, they cope with greater environmental stress because they possess far fewer resources than their male peers.

The empowerment of women reaps environmental dividends: in ecological health, in food security and disaster preparedness. UN Women has emphasized that climate change calls for a gender-sensitive response. The concerns of women must be listened to and their participation in all activities must be assured.

Last week there was a debate in Durban, South Africa, on this subject. There is evidence that when women are involved in decision-making and resource management, positive environmental results are achieved. A study carried out in 130 countries shows that the countries with greater representation of women in parliament are more inclined to ratify international treaties on environment.

World-wide, women only occupy six percent of environment ministries. Brazil is one of the countries that has (and has had in recent years) a woman in charge of this ministry. I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate you in this regard.

One of our initiatives for the Conference will be the Forum of Women Leaders on Social Justice, Gender Equality and Governance for Environmental Sustainability, for the purpose of deciding on a proposed agenda for the inclusion of women in decisions that will be taken there and that will affect the life of all humanity.


The issues that affect women are so many and the challenges in store are of an enormous magnitude. But we have an immense trust in the millions of men and women in the world who every day carry out their work to bring about more egalitarian societies, where rights for men and women are the same.

I wanted to close my remarks by expressing my admiration for this Conference that already is the third of its kind. I know that it will generate a proposal for consensus for the Third National Plan of Policies for Women, which you have all been working on since the beginning of the year, in an admirable exercise of democratic participation under the leadership of Minister Iriny Lopes.

When presenting your proposals and voting on them, do not shy away from challenges, do not be stricken with doubt; think about your responsibility, about the women whom you are representing, the enormous inequalities that still need to be overcome, and the privilege of making a real contribution to progress.

Finally, let us consider everything that has already been achieved and take this inspiration with us in order to inject it into the future, in the words of President Dilma: “Ladies and Gentlemen, I am confident that this will be the century of women.

Thank you very much and “muito obrigada".