Executive Director Michelle Bachelet Addresses European Parliament


UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet is in Brussels 24-25 March 2011 to discuss strengthening the partnership between the European Union and UN Women.

[Check against delivery.]

Ms. Eva-Britt Svensson,
Ms. Eva Joly,
Mr. Alexander Graf Lambsdorff,
Members of the European Parliament,

Thank you for this opportunity to address you as the first Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, UN Women in short. It is a great privilege to be here with you today, and I look forward to our interaction this morning.

Let me start with outlining our vision: UN Women's vision is one where men and women have equal opportunities and capacities, and where the principles of gender equality are embedded in development, peace and security agendas.

Our overarching objective is to build national capacity and ownership to enable national partners to formulate gender-responsive laws and policies and to scale up successful strategies to deliver on national commitments to gender equality.

I am determined that UN Women will be a catalyst for change, offering new energy, drawing on long-standing ideas and values, and bringing together men and women from different countries, societies and communities in a shared endeavour.

Within specific country contexts, UN Women will focus on five thematic areas:

  1. Expanding women's voice, leadership and participation,
  2. Enhancing women's economic empowerment;
  3. Ending violence against women and girls;
  4. Strengthening implementation of the women, peace and security agenda; and
  5. Making gender equality priorities central to national and local planning and budgeting.

Let me say a little bit more about each of these five thematic priorities.

The first, enhancing women's voice, participation and leadership, is one that I know is dear to many of you. You are the men and women who can show what is possible, act as mentors and role models, and ensure that women can take their rightful place in all of the decision-making processes that affect their lives.

Having recently visited Cairo, as part of the United Nations Secretary-General's delegation, I want to say how inspired I was to see women determined to continue to play a part in these processes, alongside men, in order to bring about change and revitalize political, economic and social life.

I would like to emphasize the key role that women have played in the struggle for change throughout the region, and I hope that this will be reflected fully in the institutional changes now being debated. Women must be at the heart of these discussions.

Ultimately, advancing gender equality requires challenging the status quo. Recognizing this, the Beijing Platform commits governments, political parties, civil society and the private sector, supported by the international community, to take positive action to build a “critical mass of women leaders, needed to advance the status of women.

Looking at the most widely used indicator, women's share of seats in parliament, we see that progress has been steady, but slow; the global average is now 19 percent, up from 11 percent in 1995. In January 2011 women had reached or exceeded 30 percent in 28 countries, including seven in the European Union.

The fact that the 28 countries are spread across a wide spectrum of economic development indicates that gains in political participation can be brought about through the commitment of political leaders. Indeed, what distinguishes the countries that have reached this benchmark is that at least 23 of them have adopted some form of quota or positive action measure. These can be supported with additional measures, such as supporting and training women to seek political office and mount successful campaigns.

It is also true that women who are politically empowered can promote policies to empower women economically. Eight years ago, for example, Norway introduced a law that mandates that women make up 40 percent of board members in publicly traded companies. Today, women comprise 42 percent of such positions in Norway — by far the highest in Europe. In January, the French parliament approved a similar law, giving companies six years to comply. Spanish firms have until 2015. Italy and the Netherlands are considering quota legislation as well.

This makes sense. Talent is critical to staying competitive, but the female talent pool remains under-utilized. In Europe, women make up 45 percent of the workforce, yet they comprise only 11 percent of corporate executives. Studies have shown that when companies increase the number of women on boards and in senior management, economic performance stands to improve.

UN Women is partnering with the UN Global Compact to promote the Women's Empowerment Principles — an international corporate code of conduct on empowering women in the workplace, marketplace and community. These principles call for companies to ensure that women represent at least 30 percent of decision-making groups at all levels and to ensure equal pay for equal work.

I take note of the recent discussions within the European Union to narrow the gender pay gap, which averages 18 percent among member states. I look forward to see the results of the implementation of measures in the European Union aimed at improving employment opportunities for poor and low-skilled women, and secure a better work-life balance.

UN Women is committed to work with governments and multilateral partners to ensure the full realization of women's economic security and rights, including to decent work and social protection. This is critical in the wake of the global economic crisis, which together with renewed volatility in food and commodity prices has seriously strained household coping strategies — and the women who provide them.

This brings me to a third thematic priority, ending violence against women and girls. This priority is fundamental to women's empowerment in all areas, and one I also know is high on the agenda of the European Parliament and of the European Union in general.

Despite growing awareness, and an increase in the number of laws to combat violence against women and girls, it remains widespread throughout the world. In some locations, up to three-quarters of women report having experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. According to the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality, some 20 percent of women in Europe have experienced violence in close relationships.

This translates into very high costs — for lives, health, productivity, school achievement, public budgets and efforts to reduce poverty, stimulate growth and sustain development — in all countries.

If we are serious about ending this scourge, we must work on multiple fronts, supporting efforts to set up the mechanisms needed to enforce laws and policies and services that protect women and girls, with attention to both prevention and response, and engaging all sectors of society.

At a minimum, all women and girls who have been subjected to abuse and violence should have access to a basic package of emergency and immediate services to ensure their safety, care and access to justice, and to avoid repeat abuse. We are currently working closely with governments and civil society groups to maximize high-level support for this initiative in the coming months.

In this context, I would like to acknowledge the endorsement last week by the Committee of the report prepared by its Chair, Ms. Svensson. The report outlines a new European Union policy framework to end violence against women, calling for the recognition of rape and sexual violence within marriage, as well as family and intimate informal relationships, as a crime and for developing age-appropriate counselling to help child witnesses of all forms of violence to cope with their traumatic experiences.

Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you are aware, some of the most horrific instances of sexual and gender-based violence are happening in conflict situations. Yet, while women suffer brutal violence, their voices are missing from peace negotiations: UN Women has found that in 24 major peace processes over the past two decades, women formed less than 8 percent of negotiating teams.

UN Women has made the advancement of women, peace and security agenda a fourth priority area, and we are partnering with the UN system to support women in peacebuilding and to increase the numbers of senior women mediators and leading work on innovative pre-deployment training for peacekeeping troops to detect and prevent systematic sexual violence.

I would like to thank the European Union for its support to the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325. In particular, I commend the initiatives of the European Parliament in 2010 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the resolution, including the call for strengthened efforts in the European Union to implement this and the subsequent resolutions of the Security Council on women, peace and security.

As you can see from these brief remarks, the UN Women agenda is an ambitious one — as it needs to be. In meeting our goals, partnering with the European Union will be critical. An important step in this direction is the objective of the European Union Plan of Action on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in Development to strengthen cooperation with UN Women. In this regard, I also welcome the decision to establish a medium-term joint cooperation strategy between the EU and UN Women.

As I look forward to discussing our partnership, let me say that I am acutely aware of both the results that are expected of UN Women, and the challenges we face in meeting them. But meet them we will. I have seen myself that when afforded the opportunity, there is no limit to what women can do, from mothers who support their families in the hardest of circumstances, to women who become ministers of finance, foreign affairs, or heads of state.

Women's strength, women's industry, women's wisdom are humankind's greatest untapped resource. UN Women will endeavour to help realize this potential to the benefit of all.

Thank you.