Michelle Bachelet remarks at the Japan Parliamentary Caucus for UN Women, Gender Equality and Development


Remarks by UN Women Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet at Study Meeting at the Japan Parliamentary Caucus for UN Women, Gender Equality and Development. Tokyo, Japan, 13 November 2012.

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Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to join you today and I would like to thank and compliment three women who do great work every day for women and who made this meeting possible.

They are Ms. Yoko Komiyama, President of the Japan Parliamentary Caucus for UN Women, Gender Equality and Development, Ms. Kumiko Hayashi, Acting President of the League, and Ms. Yuko Obuchi, the Caucus' Secretary-General. Thank you very much.

I commend the Caucus for all you do to bring the voices of women to the Japanese Parliament. Today I am proud to bring to you the greetings and goodwill of my colleagues worldwide at UN Women.

We are the newest United Nations agency. UN Women was created in 2010 to advance gender equality and women's empowerment. We were established with support from women's groups and UN Members States, and the hopes are high. We were created to deliver on a promise in the UN Charter: the equal rights of men and women.

UN Women has a universal mandate and we're working with partners, including Japan, on several key priorities. We are working together to advance women's political leadership and economic participation. We are working together to end violence against women and girls. We all have to Say NO to violence against women.

We are working together to fully engage women in peace talks and peace-building. There can be no peace or security when women are denied a seat at the peace table and suffer sexual violence.

And we are working to promote planning and budgeting for gender equality. We do so because policies and programmes should equally benefit males and females and have a solid budget behind them.

My friends, we are working together to deliver on a promise… a promise written by the founders of the United Nations in the UN Charter, the promise of the equal rights of men and women.

I applaud every individual, government and organization working for women's empowerment and equality.

Today I will focus on three of our priorities: advancing women's political participation and leadership, enhancing women's economic opportunities, and ending violence against women and girls.

During these times of economic crises, social upheaval and political transformation, we can no longer afford to leave women out. Women's full and equal rights and participation are vital if societies are to become economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.

Women's representation is essential to justice and democracy. Women constitute 51 per cent of the world's population and should be equally represented in elective decision-making bodies.

Women's political participation is central to UN Women's work worldwide, and we are delighted to know Japan joins us in putting this as a priority. I would like to commend Japan on its leadership in co-sponsoring the resolution on women's political participation adopted by consensus last year by the United Nations General Assembly.

The world needs more women leaders. Today women make up less than 10 percent of world leaders and one in five members of parliament. Here in Japan, women represent 13.4 percent of members of parliament.

UN Women encourages Japan and governments around the world to adopt special temporary measures such as quotas to increase the number of women in parliament and positions of decision-making to advance equality.

Today 33 countries have reached the critical mass of 30 per cent of women in parliament and 26 of these countries achieved this through temporary special measures such as quotas.

UN Women is privileged to be a part of the process in most of these countries. Countries have increased women's political participation by passing laws and reforming constitutions, building coalitions, training women leaders, and supporting women's movements and women voters.

Our position is in line with international standards-the international women's treaty, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence and Discrimination against Women, and the Platform for Action of the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women.

Women's full representation in politics is a matter of straightforward justice, and it is also a matter of improving the democratic quality of representation. By having more women as legislators, more concerns - different concerns, will be brought to the public arena to respond to the diverse needs of society.

Women leaders have proved themselves to be strong advocates for many issues including sustainable energy, decent work, equal pay, childcare, healthcare, and pensions for the elderly. A study of 19 OECD countries from 1970 to 1990 found that women's representation in parliament was significantly correlated with the strengthening of childcare and leave policies.

Having more women in politics also has a positive effect in terms of creating positive role models and a new vision of the future and what is possible.

As I have learned: When one woman is a leader, it changes her. When more women are leaders, it changes politics and policies and hopes for the future.

My friends,

In a democracy with free and fair elections, we often focus narrowly on numbers. While a critical mass of women is necessary to ensure women's representation, the quality of that representation and effectiveness as political leaders is equally important for sustaining that leadership and for advancing gender equality as elected officials.

We know from recent research - as well as from our own experience at UN Women - that for women parliamentarians to be effective leaders, and advocates for gender equality, they need to work together with civil society partners, women's movements, men, and allies in academia. It is only through working in partnership that true change happens and can be sustained.

We also know that lasting change requires parliaments that respond to both the needs of men and women, in its structures, operations, methods and ways of working. The collection of laws and policies for promoting women's political participation are necessary but insufficient. There must be capacity building - not only training but also mentoring and networking, and awareness raising to tackle harmful gender stereotypes and increase the electability and perceived legitimacy of women candidates.

And we must acknowledge once and for all that gender equality and ending violence and discrimination against women are not only matters of concern for women. These are issues that can and should be taken up by everybody. Gender equality benefits men, women, boys and girls and society as a whole.

Now and in the future, our economies and societies will increasingly rely on women's ability to realize their potential. The World Economic Forum reports that greater gender equality correlates positively with per capita gross national product. Countries with greater equality between women and men have economies that are more competitive and grow faster.

It is estimated that if more women joined the labour force in Japan, GDP would rise by 1.5 percent. By strengthening women's economic role and economic rights, economic recovery can be faster and growth can be more inclusive and more sustainable.

From my own experience in Chile, I know that policies that help women and men to balance work and family life, such as childcare, and parental leave, have a positive impact.

Creating equal opportunities for women in the economy boosts growth and also contributes to social protection and pensions for the elderly.

The 21st century is the time for gender equality and women's empowerment.

And parliamentarians play a central role in shaping laws to advance gender equality and women's empowerment, and in holding the government accountable for delivering to its own people and to women around the world.

Parliamentarians also play a vital role in ensuring respect of the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women—in debating and adopting legislation that conforms to the Convention, in ensuring timely reporting under the Convention and follow- up to the concluding observations of the monitoring Committee.

All over the world, we are making progress and we could make even more with increased resources. At UN Women, we count on contributions from Governments and I thank Japan for its support and look forward to strengthened collaboration.

I commend Japan for its achievements to promote equal opportunities so that women and men can make genuine choices about their participation in the economy, society and at home.

Today all over the world, there is greater understanding than ever before that women's empowerment and gender equality are not only goals in their own right; they are also critical means to an end—peace and progress that is just and sustainable.

We look forward to working with all of you to strengthen equality, justice and democracy.

I thank you.