Remarks by Michelle Bachelet at the official launch of Colombia’s National Public Policy Guidelines for Gender Equality for Women


Michelle Bachelet's remarks at the official launch of Colombia's National Public Policy Guidelines for Gender Equality for Women. Wednesday 12 September 2012.

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My friends,

I would like to begin my speech by thanking President Juan Manuel Santos for the invitation he has given us to participate in events that are not only momentous for women in Colombia but, in fact, for the whole of the country, irrespective of gender.

I would also like to take this opportunity to extend my thanks to Cristina Plazas—the Presidential High Counselor for Women's Equality-who has worked relentlessly around the clock in formulating National Public Policy Guidelines for Gender Equality for Women, following an extensive consultation process with organizations and networks of Colombian women.

Today I am visiting the outstandingly beautiful country of Colombia in my capacity as Executive Director of UN Women, a new United Nations organization that exists to promote Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, which came into being in July 2010. UN Women has had the opportunity of pursuing these objectives as a Technical Secretariat.

And here I would like to express to you my considerable personal satisfaction in view of this accomplishment which is a veritable milestone for society as a whole, and I would like to repeat to you once again, President Santos, our commitment for continuing support of the implementation of this keynote policy.

The work of UN Women throughout the world revolves around five strategic areas: focusing on the concerns of women while also providing them with greater opportunities for leadership and participation; increasing women's economic empowerment; eliminating violence; strengthening the implementation of an agenda that promotes peace and security for women; and ensuring that gender equality priorities are mainstreamed in plans, budgets and national, local and sectoral statistics.

However, the fact remains that no country in the world can claim to have in place complete equality between women and men. In fact, obvious or insidious cases of discrimination against women exist all over the world, whether they involve violence or the violation of rights, unequal opportunities in the educational field, access to health and even access to work or possession of land and property, and the dead weight of cultural prejudices which is a factor that operates all too often to the detriment of women's interests.

That said, in fighting for equality, we can count on many allies, both women and men, authorities, parliamentarians, civil society, the mass media, academics, and international organizations that are committed—and that have, in fact, taken concrete steps-in achieving gender equality and that are in a position to infuse this endeavour with a new energy, through harnessing the various talents and combining these efforts in order to produce an effective vehicle for change.

And this effort is currently being made in every part of the world. Some days ago I participated in the Pacific Islands Forum which was held in the Cook islands and for the first time in the parliamentary history of eight island states a declaration was signed, recognizing that violence against women and girls is commonplace in these countries, with a commitment being given to respond effectively to such a societal malaise.

It is actions such as the one that I have described that ensure that the issue of equality and the fight against violence and discrimination that affects women forms an integral component of public agendas and that governments commit to making progress by eradicating these practices, strengthening, as a result, the very fabric of democratic coexistence.

And today's meeting is testament to the fact that the Colombian state is keen to demonstrate its staunch and ongoing commitment to gender equality and the empowerment of women, and this will surely prove to give a positive momentum to transformations within Colombia, and the influence wielded by women in relation to policies and measures aimed at the country's development.

The National Public Policy Guidelines for Gender Equality for Women will serve as an instrument that will make it possible to bolster political dialogue between the Colombian government and civil society and especially to make progress in guaranteeing the rights of Colombian women.

We at UN Women highlight the accomplishment of having included in this policy peace-building efforts as a strategic issue that is key to the effective enjoyment of women's rights.

Nowadays, Colombia is at a political crossroads, which has resulted in dialogue that is aimed at ensuring the peaceful living conditions that all Colombians long for so much. The quest to achieve this goal is, in fact, an ideal opportunity for consolidating democracy and extending and enhancing coexistence which will, in turn, result in an improved, and more comprehensive, development process.
However, let me add here that these peaceful conditions will not be achieved if the participation of women is overlooked.

In the context of armed conflicts, the vexed question of sexual violence was, and over a considerable period of time, not accorded the attention that it deserved, the fact that this issue has a disparate impact on women being entirely glossed over. As of now, sexual violence is classified as a war crime and the United Nations Security Council recognizes that this phenomenon constitutes a threat to international security.

We hope that women will be included in this historical process, that they will contribute their vision, experience and know-how to this extremely important dialogue, and not only as victims who are crying out to be helped, but as leaders and agents of peace within their communities and at the national level.

And, in this connection, I would like you to know, President Santos, that you can count on support from the international community and that we at UN Women have both the resolve and the experience to continue in what is a successful partnership with the government and Colombian society as a whole.

Colombia has made palpable progress by virtue of recognizing the special status of women in the area of armed conflict. Significant in this connection is the Victims and Land Restitution Law, which was passed in June 2011, in the presence of the United Nations Secretary General, with this law designed to benefit, inter alia, those women who have survived the violence resulting from the conflict and thereby facilitating the path to the restitution of land.

Moreover, Colombia now has a great opportunity at hand with the constitutional reform known as “Framework for Peace, and that was passed last June.

The inclusion of women in this process will contribute to ensuring that their needs will be duly taken into account, and consequently manifold and considerable benefits will accrue to Colombia, these assets helping to heal the wounds of the past, and to ensure peace.


Our generation has not only been a witness, but has also been the protagonist, of cataclysmic transformations vis a vis women's rights. Over the course of the last century, progress in the fight for gender equality and the empowerment of women has become entrenched.

And the last century witnessed an unprecedented extension of the legal rights of women. A century ago, women could vote only in two countries. Nowadays, however, this right is practically universal.

Domestic violence, which up until just a few years ago was considered by the police, the law courts and even neighbours as a matter that should remain within the prívate domain is nowadays the object of specific laws and programmes for prevention and reparations. As I speak, two-thirds of countries have in place a set of specific laws that punish domestic violence. And I am delighted to be in the position to say that Colombia is one of these countries.

But, that said, nowadays both women and girls continue to confront increasing inequalities, which are indeed both glaring and shameful, and exist in the areas of poverty, non-remunerated domestic work, discrimination or access to justice.

And justice continues to be out of reach for women. And it is indeed the case that despite the fact that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has ordered States to establish legal protection for the rights of women on a par with those granted to men, and to guarantee the effective protection of women against all kinds of discrimination, many States still fall short by failing to comply with such commitments.

In Latin America, progress with regard to gender equality has in general terms been significant. Nonetheless, there still exist obvious shortcomings in two key areas: the political participation of women, and their economic empowerment.

Despite the fact that Latin America is one of the regions in the world that evidences the highest number of female heads of state and heads of government, the participation of women in decision-making with a view to playing their part in processes of development continues to be inconmensurable with that of men.

In our region, fewer women than men are at the helm of minstries and female ministers continue to occupy, for the most part, social and cultural portfolios (35 per cent) and, furthermore, continue to be under-represented in the field of economics and finance (only 18 per cent). And a similar under-representation is to be found in science, technology and environmental ministries, this disparity curbing the influence of women in key areas when it comes to allocating resources for gender equality and the empowerment of women.

According to official sources, in Colombia, out of 64 municipalities evaluated, only 8 had complied in a consistent fashion with the Law of Quotas that specifies a minimum quota of 30 per cent of women in decision-making positions.

Women are marginalized when it comes to decision-making and their participation in the economic, political, social and cultural lives of their respective countries is still minimal.

For example, despite the fact that women make up 43 per cent of the labour force, with this figure including agricultural workers, in developing countries, these women still do not have equal access to land and credit.

It has, furthermore, been estimated that if women were granted the same access as men to productive resources, these women could increase the productivity of their land by 20 to 30 per cent, thereby reducing potentially the number of people facing hunger throughout the world by between 12 and 17 per cent.

There continues to be a marked under-representation of women in the upper echelons of decision-making institutions. According to Colombia's Banking Supervisory Authority, in 2011 women occupied scarcely 14 per cent of positions of leadership in banks and only 15 per cent of women occupied positions as directors.

Moreover, these women occupy only 10 per cent of directorships within Colombian trade unions, and at the present time women do not hold any seats in organizations such as the stock exchange or the Bank of the Republic, the ultimate governing body for monetary policy in Colombia.

In the course of the last decade the pay gap between men and women has diminished gradually, due mainly to the increase in the level of women's education. Nonetheless, those women who work the same number of hours and who have the same levels of education as men earn less than 75 per cent of the salary earned by their male counterparts, as the ILO revealed in 2010.

In Colombia, according to the Labour Watchdog Office of the Ministry of Education, women earn 16 per cent less than men. Despite this fact, and according to data collated from the National Department for Statistics, in the course of the period 2007-2010 women at the national level worked almost 11 hours more weekly than men.

Colombia has in place an array of legislative instruments in order to ensure gender equality and the empowerment of women, and this in a number of areas. And Colombia was, in fact, the first country to pass in 2011 a Law for the Economy of Care, according due recognition to the contribution made by women to the economy of households and consequently the economic development of the country. Moreover, recently the 2011 Law 1496 was passed, with a view to establishing wage parity between women and men.

But for many people equality between women and men appears to represent more of a threat than an opportunity. Nonetheless, more women participating in the economy, more women contributing to the political debate, more qualified women equipped with the educational tools to carry out research, to think clearly and effectively, and to create innovative solutions for the problems facing both their communities and their countries, can only but have as their corollary innumerable benefits for the whole of their communities.

And we are talking here about harnessing no less than half of the population of Colombia, a great pool of human potential in terms of talent, energy, ideas, and that has the potential to enrich the whole country.

My friends,

UN Women supports women's national and regional organizations, by recognizing their rights, strengthening their capacities by fostering their involvement in cases of decision-making, building agendas that mainstream collective interests and by nurturing their political ideas so as to propel forward proposals that contribute to peace-building, keenly aware as we are that we have been accorded the honour of playing a key role in such progress.

As part of our mandate, we have been stalwart in encouraging dialogue between the Colombian government and women's organizations, a case in point of this invaluable partnership being the formulation of a policy that we are engaged in today, as I speak.

We must ensure that our words become action. And we must see to it that these are actions that ensure that decent work and fair wages are not just concepts, but that they are part and parcel of specific jobs that offer equal conditions to both women and men regarding conditions and remuneration.

And these must be policies that are implemented to ensure that violence against women and girls is eradicated, to be replaced by new attitudes that promote a policy of zero tolerance vis a vis these crimes that all too often are dealt with all too leniently.

Yes, I am talking about concrete policies that will ensure that the right to sexual and reproductive health is backed up by reliable and up-to-date information and that high quality and widely accessible health services are available to all.

And, no less important, these policies must ensure that leadership, nowadays still predominantly the preserve of men, will be based on merit and not on gender, with such diversity resulting in decision-making that is more deep-rooted, sustainable and efficient.

There is no time to waste as we set about this endeavour. Now is the moment to be truly decisive and to implement a gamut of actions in order to ensure that women and men have the same rights, opportunities and participation.

I am talking about ensuring that laws and public policies can be successfully passed through the provision and allocation of adequate budgets.

The implementation of the National Public Policy Guidelines for Gender Equality for Women is a considerable challenge for the government. The actions that it will take toward ensuring that these guidelines become reality will mark a quantum shift in Colombia's efforts to guarantee the rights of all women.

And it is also the case that a spectrum of women's organizations and movements, every day, and almost always while facing innumerable challenges, albeit with an inexhaustible energy, redouble their efforts as they strive to build a better life for women and men alike.

At this time, when the victory of Mariana Pajón at the Olympic Games in London is still so fresh in our minds, a victory that alongside that of María Isabel Urrutia, signified the first gold medals for Colombia in the whole of Olympic history, it is not only topical, but indeed imperative, to stake a claim for strengthening the participation of women in all spheres of national life: political, economic, social, cultural and in peace-building.

This is a sterling opportunity that we must seize, and expeditiously, to unleash the incalculable dynamism of women's energy, creativity and talent. The agenda for equality is an agenda for all, an agenda that is key to development.

All women and men face a challenge that they would be short-sighted to ignore: to build a Colombia which lives in a state of peace,and in which equality between women and men is a cherished cornerstone of daily life.

We at UN Women underscore our commitment with regard to this task, and we reiterate our readiness to offer you our steadfast support in the pursuit of the undertakings that I have outlined to you today.

Thank you all so much.

Michelle Bachelet visits Colombia

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