Remarks by Michelle Bachelet Executive Director of UN Women at Rio+20 high-level event on sustainable development in an unequal world


Remarks by Michelle Bachelet Executive Director of UN Women at Rio+20 High-level Event on Sustainable Development in an Unequal World. Wednesday 20 June 2012.

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Good afternoon. It is great to be here. There is a real sense of urgency. We have come to a point that I had hoped I would never see—a real and dangerous threat to the Earth's natural systems, on which we, as humans, and our civilizations rely.

We cannot continue on our current path of rising inequality, an unstable economy, and environmental decline.

We see that the free market is not free. It has costs that people are paying for every day, costs that need to be accounted for and addressed in public policy.

We pay a high price for unemployment when young women and men who just graduated from college cannot find a job. We pay a high price for polluted water that children and their families are unable to drink. And we all pay a price for the continuing social exclusion, sexual exploitation and violence against millions of women and girls.

I have just one message today: A world in balance requires gender equality.

That is why UN Women and the Government of Brazil hosted the Women Leaders Forum, which started yesterday, and the Women Leaders Summit with Heads of State and Government tomorrow. Women's voices need to be heard.

We need to move towards a new model of inclusiveness, social equality and protection of our environment.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not saying that women can solve everything. I am saying that women and men, and young people, need to take decisions together. Our world is out of balance and we can no longer afford decision-making monopolized by men.

We have come to a point where we can no longer afford to leave women out. We need more women working alongside men in parliament, in high public office, at peace negotiations, and in the executive office and boards of private companies around the world.

Sustainable development requires equal rights, equal opportunities and equal participation in society, politics and the economy.

When women bring their unique insights, perspectives and wisdom to decision-making, they help solve the world's problems. Studies find that diversity leads to decisions that are more sound, practical and responsive. When one woman makes decisions, it changes her. When more women make decisions, it changes policies, plans and priorities.

We have all come to realize that market forces and gender blind economic policies cannot deliver sustainable development, social justice and equality.

Rising awareness is marked by a reemergence and strengthening of social movements. Movements and uprisings that question the current models of growth and development that are fuelling inequality, breaking social contracts, and undermining the human rights of people to food, education, health, decent work, equality, safe drinking water and sanitation.

Our collective challenge is to reorient institutions to protect the well-being of current and future generations and ecological systems. The report of the United Nations Secretary General's High Level Panel on

Global Sustainability brings a fresh perspective to this debate. It recognizes that is not just about the markets, but about the women and men who drive and are affected by them. It is not just about the companies, but about the women and men who work there. It is not just about economic growth but about how growth is generated, where it goes and what it does to women, men and families, and the environment.

Gender equality brings development dividends in all the dimensions of sustainability: social, economic and environmental.

A growing number of reports find that gender equality improves the performance of economies. The World Development Report 2012 finds that the productivity gains, enhanced growth prospects and improved outcomes for the next generation are associated with women's greater access to employment and productive assets such as finance.

The Food and Agriculture Organization finds that giving women the same access as men to seeds, fertilizers and tools could increase national agricultural output by up to 4 percent and reduce the number of hungry people by 100 to 150 million.

Studies show that countries with a high human development score highest for the Gender Inequality Index based on three dimensions: reproductive health, empowerment measured by seats in parliament and secondary education, and labour market participation.

My friends,

The solutions are loud and clear: we need to place human rights and dignity and gender equality at the center of the sustainable development discourse and actions. We need to advance equality so that women and girls can reach their potential.

Women's empowerment and gender equality are fundamental to healthy societies and economies, and sustainable development. Women are on the frontlines, especially in rural areas, and their full participation is absolutely essential to address the key issues of sustainable food, water and energy.

Everywhere I have traveled in the world, I have met resilient and dynamic women who use their ingenuity, their entrepreneurship talent and their knowledge to create wealth, reduce poverty and transform their families, their communities and their societies with very little resources. They are a driving force behind all the pillars of sustainability, be it social, economic or environmental development.

We are here in Rio to address the ‘gender equality crisis' within the framework of the sustainability agenda.

Women need full and equal access to and control over productive resources, equal rights and opportunities in political decision making processes, and universal access to quality and affordable family planning and other sexual and reproductive rights and health services.

It is time to advance social protection, alleviate women's unpaid work burden, and position women in green growth and green jobs.

The future women want is a world that is healthy, free from hunger, fear, violence and poverty. A world that prioritizes equity, human rights and gender equality. A world where women and men, girls and boys have equal rights and opportunities and equal access to resources, education, healthcare, employment, leadership and decision-making. A world where women constitute a dynamic force for realizing the benefits of sustainable development for present and future generations.

All of us at UN Women look forward to working with you so that the future women want is the future we all share.

I thank you.