Women leaders transform politics, policy and livelihoods


Opening Speech of Michelle Bachelet, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women at the Leadership Summit Dialogue for Change: Women Leaders Transform Politics, Policy and Livelihoods. Jaipur, India, 4 October 2012.

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Honourable Ministers,

Distinguished representatives,

And last but not least-Elected women leaders from South Asia,

I am so happy to be here today with all of you. I thank you for being part of this Leadership Summit. This is an exciting day for all of us! We are here to launch the Regional Centre of Excellence on Promoting Women's Political Leadership and Governance in India and South Asia.

I thank the Government of Rajasthan and the Government of India for their support for this Summit. It is wonderful to be in this beautiful, historic and colourful city of Jaipur.

This is my first visit to India as the Executive Director of UN Women. We were created in 2010 and began operations 21 months ago with support from women's groups and UN Member States, and with high hopes for greater progress for women the world over.

Today UN Women has a presence in 75 countries. Together with partners like you we are working to advance women's political leadership and equal economic participation, to end violence against women and girls, to fully engage women in peace talks and peace-building and to promote planning and budgeting for gender equality.

I am proud to be the first leader of UN Women and salute the progress being made in this sub-region. South Asia has a population of 2 billion people and 1.5 million villages with an estimated population of 3 million elected representatives. Half of the elected representatives are women.

I am an ardent supporter of temporary special measures such as quotas for supporting women's equal participation. With the exception of Bhutan, the youngest experiment in democracy in the world, all other South Asian countries have promoted women's political participation through the system of reserved seats in legislatures and local councils. In that sense the experiment has been successful.

I salute the women leaders who are here today. Your leadership is inspiring. I would like to quote one leader who is here. She said that when women can stand on their own feet, then development comes for all in the community.

Her name is Bhavana Damor from Dungarpur district in Rajasthan. She is serving her third consecutive term as Sarpanch of her Gram Panchayat or village council. She was elected from the reserved seat for the first two elections. By the third election, the seat was declared unreserved, and Bhavana faced stiff competition from her male candidates who were determined to win and end female leadership in the council.

But Bhavana was not deterred. On the contrary, she did what women have always done, she rolled up her sleeves and kept working—so girls and boys could go to school and women could read and write, so roads were built and villagers could have clean water and sanitation. The women in her village rallied behind her and she won the election for the third time.

Now like all leaders, Bhavana is looking to the future-to see that every woman in her village is engaged self-help groups for economic empowerment, and are literate so they can fight for their rights.

Bhavana, congratulations. Please stand. And congratulations to all women leaders. I ask all women leaders to please stand. Let us join in saluting the indomitable spirit of the women leaders of South Asia! They are a force for change and there is no stopping them.

And one thing is for sure. Together we are stronger when we support each other.

That is why I am so happy to see all of you here, from all levels of government, and civil society, and both men and women. I truly believe that if we work together we can achieve our goals and realize our vision.

A world where girls and boys have equal opportunity and can reach their potential. A world where women and men share leadership and decision-making and share responsibilities at home -including the three Cs—cooking, cleaning and childcare. A world where human rights and dignity are for all, and where women and girls can finally live free of violence and discrimination.

I am proud of our work and partnerships here in India and throughout South Asia. UN Women's programme on governance reaches half a million women, and it focuses on research, training and capacity building, and knowledge sharing. The overall model is one of partnership, mutual support and cooperation.

During the last decade, more and more countries have engaged in gender responsive budgeting. Maldives and Bhutan are taking their first steps. India, Nepal and Bangladesh are making concerted efforts to take this work forward. It is time to critically assess what impact gender responsive has made and determine the next steps.

Another area where we need more insight and innovation is women's economic empowerment. UN Women believes that sustainable development in India and South Asia will not be possible without a paradigm shift to a more holistic approach to livelihoods and women's empowerment. We hope to build a deeper understanding on these issues and together chart the way forward.

In our work to promote women's political leadership and governance, we take a two-pronged approach. We focus on making institutions of governance, planning, and social services responsive to issues that concern women, including sensitive issues such as domestic violence, and sexual harassment and abuse. Therefore, we concentrate both on training and enhancing the capacities of women and also on reaching out to male leaders, and local governance institutions.

In this context, I must express my heartfelt appreciation and acknowledgement to the Government of Rajasthan for passing a law across the state to ensure that Mahila Sabhas (village council meetings exclusively for women) are held prior to the Gram Sabhas (village council meetings). Without government support, no large-scale and long-term change in women's situation in society can be effective. Therefore this measure by the Rajasthan government is a major inspiration and encouragement for all of us.

As mentioned in the outset, the Regional Centre of Excellence is a major milestone for the UN Women governance programme in South Asia.

I want to emphasize however, that while we are initiating the institution, we are not the custodians of the Centre of Excellence. It is you, the elected leaders, national governments and civil society of the region who will own and shape the structure of the Centre as well as sustain it long-term. In order to ensure joint ownership, we imagined it to follow a hub-and-spoke model with multiple centres spread across South Asia.

Again I thank you for your commitment to equality, democracy and justice. Ending discrimination and violence against women and girls requires all of us - the state, civil society, elected leaders, the international community, and ordinary men and women. It is only by coming together that we can advance human rights and dignity for all. As we say in my home country of Chile, No hay marcha atrás, there is no going backwards. We will keep on moving forward!

I thank you!

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