Michelle Bachelet Outlines UN Women Priorities at an Event in the UK Parliament


Speech delivered by UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet at a Parliamentary event organized by VSO UK, London, 17 May 2011.

[Check against delivery.]

Thank you for that warm introduction. And thanks to so many of you for the extraordinary support expressed in the film we have just seen. In particular I would like to acknowledge Right Honorable Harriet Harman for her staunch advocacy for the establishment of a strong UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women). I would also like to acknowledge the Right Honorable Andrew Mitchell and the Right Honorable Theresa May for your Government's continued support for UN Women and its generous financial support during the transition period.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

As many of you know, in July 2010 UN Member States adopted a resolution to consolidate four smaller entities into a new UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women). In creating UN Women member states sent the message that gender equality and women's rights are on a par with other global imperatives, such as ending poverty and hunger and combatting climate change.

Let me say that this would not have happened without the tireless work of women's rights and gender equality advocates, including many in government. Here again I want to acknowledge the strong support from so many of you, including Members of Parliament, women's rights groups and other civil society organizations, who campaigned hard to bring UN Women into being - and particularly the Godmothers, many of whom are here today, and their creators, Voluntary Service Overseas.

I recognize that many of you have organized and campaigned for years so that UN Women would come into being and now that it has, how much you want us to succeed.

And succeed we will. For in addition to saying that it is time to get serious about women's rights, our founding resolution was firm in its emphasizing the power of partnerships.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

In developing the Strategic Plan, we held consultations in more than 100 countries to learn from our partners how UN Women can accelerate progress on gender equality. I have also been traveling to numerous countries where I have met with government leaders as well as civil society organizations. Their feedback informs and supports the selection of five priority thematic areas that UN Women will focus on, specifically:

Women's economic empowerment; women's political participation and leadership; ending violence against women and girls, and engaging women and women's rights fully in peace and post-conflict processes and in national development planning and budgeting.

Each of these priorities entails research and data analysis in individual countries, looking beyond national and global averages to see what is happening to women in urban slums as well as rural villages; what is happening to migrant women, HIV positive women and women with disabilities. In all of these areas, we will prioritize the provision of high-quality support for UN inter-governmental processes, ensuring that norms, standards and policies on gender equality, the empowerment of women and gender mainstreaming are more comprehensive and dynamic.

Let me say a bit about our approach to and targets for each of these priorities.

First is women's economic empowerment, which is increasingly receiving attention by the UN system, the corporate and business sector, and international financial institutions. The World Economic Forum reports that across 134 countries, greater gender equality correlates positively with GNP per capita. A study of Fortune 500 companies found that those with three or more women board members outperformed others by 53 percent. And in all countries where women have access to good education, good jobs, land and other assets, there is stronger growth, lower maternal mortality, improved child nutrition, greater food security and less risk of HIV.

It is also true that women who earn their own income can challenge the way household decisions are made, demand the right to be free of violence and participate in the political arena. UN women seeks to address the economic policy challenges in ways that support women's economic autonomy, including opportunities for decent work and asset-building, basic social protection and labor protections for all workers, including those in informal jobs.

Success will depend on many factors, one of which is advancing women's political participation and leadership. Women's political participation is a basic prerequisite for women's empowerment as well as for genuine democracy. It facilitates women's direct engagement in public decision-making and is a means of strengthening transparency and accountability.

UN Women is creating a network of women politicians, especially parliamentarians, to advise us in our programmatic work to advance women's political leadership. Next month, for example, the UN Women Egypt office is organizing a round table of international experts in political participation. We expect members of parliaments from countries in the south, especially Africa and Latin America, to participate and share their experiences with women eager to play a leadership role in public life.

We are also moving to a more systematic training programme based in the former offices of the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women. When this comes online we will need parliamentarians —current and former—to help provide teaching and advisory support.

In the area of peacebuilding and post-conflict recovery, we will measure progress in ensuring the participation of women in all stages. We will look at the basis of proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments in post-conflict countries, the number of women who access transitional justice mechanisms and survivor-centered reparations programmes, and the percentage of women beneficiaries of UN-led temporary employment programmes.

The UN system has been asked to develop a more coordinated effort in support of Security Council resolution 1325 and UN Women is leading this work. By the end of the Strategic Plan, we are projecting that all directives for UN Peacekeeper Heads of Military and Policy in multi-dimensional Missions include measures to protect women's and girl's rights.

Ultimately, of course, women economic, political, and personal empowerment depends on vastly expanded efforts to end violence against women against women and girls. This scourge destroys the lives and hopes of millions of women and girls, and takes a tremendous toll on communities and societies. Governments and businesses are beginning to count the costs of such violence. In the US, for example, costs run an estimated US $5.8 billion a year in extra health and mental health care and lost productivity. In Canada, with a much smaller population and lower health care costs, the total is still US$1.16 billion.

Expanded access to high-quality services for women and girls who are survivors of violence, and increased action at all levels on preventing violence from occurring in the first place are key goals for which UN Women will support the enhanced engagement of men and boys.

Finally, on the internal institutional level, UN Women's support will focus on four priorities:

1) to drive more effective and efficient UN system coordination and strategic partnerships as well as play a knowledge hub role on gender equality;

2) to develop a strong learning culture founded on results-based management, reporting, knowledge-management and evaluation;

3) to enhance organizational effectiveness with robust capacity at country, regional and corporate levels; and

4) to mobilize and leverage significantly greater resources for gender equality and women's empowerment.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

The challenges we are facing are considerable. The increasing gaps in wealth and income that have accompanied global growth have deepened with the economic crisis and pushed millions of workers, especially women, into permanent informal employment. Political conflict and natural disasters are driving up fuel and food prices, threatening livelihoods and straining household coping strategies, in both developed and developing countries.

This does not have to be the case. Policymakers can be persuaded that things can be managed better, so that we can keep our countries safe and our economies prospering—by advancing economic and political women's empowerment and guaranteeing their safety.

In fact, we are seeing progress. Over 130 countries have outlawed domestic violence; 67 have equal pay laws, and 115 guarantee equal property rights. As we see in countries throughout the Arab region, especially in Northern Africa, women who once stayed out of the public arena are now standing alongside men to demand freedom and dignity, and the right to participate in revitalizing their societies.

So yes, change can happen. But UN Women can't make it happen alone. That is why I emphasize that partnerships are essential. Working with key partners, including UN agencies, civil society, the private sector, and especially parliamentarians, we are not only more comprehensive, bringing together knowledge and expertise from different sectors to tackle challenges holistically; but we are also more powerful—working to create the momentum for the results and progress we all want to see.

Thank you.